Monday, March 23, 2015


Sometimes in parenting, I feel so clueless about what to do that I can only laugh.

Or cry.

I have been doing both recently.

One of my children is in a phase of recurrent, amorphous aches and pains.  It is utterly unclear whether these pains are psychosomatic or a systemic illness, if they are a severe food allergy or utterly self-persuasive case of school avoidance.

We visit them most mornings, some afternoons, before church, occasionally in the middle of the night, and always with a long frowning face.

My least favorite experiences parenting is feeling ambivalent -- ambivalence and helplessness being the double whammy.  There are other terrible things, like fury and impatience, but at least if I rage, the storm hits hard, my own shame harder, and apologies heal.  Ambivalence, though, is quiet and slippery; it lingers with a vague sense of unsafeness.

It's been weeks no, even months, that I have been plagued with ambivalence.  What does this kid need -- to be pushed or protected?  A kick in the pants or head stroked and song sung?  When is it all right to stay home from school or get picked up from the nurse's office if there is no visible nor measurable ailment?

With each question I tie a knot until I'm so knotted up, I'm not sure I'll untangle.

This morning after birthday presents and banana waffles (Silas is 9 today!), a morning that seemed all smooth sailing, a fashion crisis and shock of "illness" hit fast and furiously.  Two minutes before the bus arrived, everyone was in a fit of panic.  There was actual pushing children out onto the front stoop, and I think everyone cried.

How to communicate -- you are resilient!  You can DO it!  You can ride through discomfort!  You can arrive at school without your beloved coat, wearing your ski coat instead, and still be intact, beautiful you!  And how do I also listen, nurture, and get kids out the door before the breathy bus barrels past?

These are the questions I'm asking every day.

Yesterday at church, before the service was over, in fact in the middle of a song, the 70-something woman behind me leaned up and started talking loudly.  I was taken aback, gave her a small polite smile, little nod, and turned around.  But she had things to say and kept talking, so I had to turn around again.  I looked at her eyes, and she talked on.  She launched into a story about her daughter, whom she adopted as a teenager -- one of the three children she adopted as a single woman.  This daughter was a prostitute and has been in and out of jail for years.  There were lots of hard times parenting, she said.  You do the best you can.  You can't do everything but you do what you can.  Looking back over the decades, I can see how God never left her; you don't do all the parenting alone.  She said a lot of other things, but those are the words I remember.  She didn't even know my name, but she struck my need.

Today, between bouts of anger at my kid and myself and Ben for not knowing what to do, at this sickness that moves like a shadow, at the exhaustion of these same questions dragging over the months, I am thinking of her words looking back decades.  I'm blind by my own zoom lens right now, stuck at a dead end I can't navigate -- or can't see how to navigate.  But these are months of a decade-long story...  You do what you can.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I am sitting at the kitchen table.  On the eve of the first day of spring, the forecast has suddenly swung back to snow (1-3" predicted for tonight!) -- a typical DC thaw.  Tomorrow morning I'm teaching on Japanese forms of poetry for writing workshop, inspired by Rattle's latest issue.  Here's my haiku for the evening:

                      snowdrops to snowfall
                      the weight of a crying child
                      mid-March fevers burn

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I don't know whether it's the long winter; the fact that it's finally giving up; the incessant bursts of snow and frozen ground; the melt and freeze on the front flagstone I finally slipped on yesterday; the rotating pile of snow clothes -- damp and dried -- from box to mountain at the door again and again; the sloshy thaw everywhere; fog and rain and shoes caked with mud; no sign of anything green yet; or just a general funk -- whatever it is, I've been feeling scuzz.

In the past couple of days, exhausted though my body feels, I keep finding myself pawing through everything with a trash bag at my knee: drawers, bedside tables, the shelves in the kids' rooms, the pantry, closets of clothing.

This must be what is called "spring cleaning," a phrase that sounds tidier than the angsty impulse to start again, to make space, to do away with, to throw away the kids' vaguely mildew-smelling mittens for good.

I am feeling that need for making space internally as well.  I'm craving a new season, a new rootedness.  In the midst of my hands making efforts, I've felt my own needs, too, emerging in the thaw.

Something happens in our need.  As winter ends that something seems echoed outside, in the earthy smell as we open the front door.  It's a rawness.  It's a hunger for -- and actual emergence of -- softening -- muddy and lacking control, the mystery of life rich and rooted just beneath the surface.

Last night I was reading Frederick Buechner who said this:

For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond 
the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps 
the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day 
lives one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness 
as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel 
of the world... It is not objective proof of God's existence that we want but... 
the experience of God's presence.  That is the miracle that we are really after.  
And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.

Presence in the midst of "the fragrant muck and misery and marvel" -- yes.

Monday, March 09, 2015


I am sitting outside in a cotton sweater -- !  Snow still covers the yard -- icy, slushy snow, but the metallic smell of thaw is in the air, rising from the creek, seeping into the softening earth.

Maeve, almost 2 1/2, is finally talking!  She fancies herself quite grown up, though it's still hard for the unpracticed ear to identify most words she says.  She doesn't yet know the word "conversation," but daily tells me, talk more, Mama, to ensure our conversation won't end.  There isn't a lot she expresses fluently at once, but she is trying, using all sorts of joiner words like "actually," "also," and "so."  Our conversations often go like this:

Um.... Mama?  Umm, soooo, Mama.  Ack-y (actually) umm... Mama.  
My bock! (block).  Ah-so (also), Mama, ummm...

One thing she does quite a lot is interpret and assign feelings.  More often than not, this has to do with her doll, Luckycia (named by Eden, age 3), whom Maeve calls Duckycia:

Duckycia not hhhhhoppy.
She's not happy?
Mah eh-bow huhts. 
She's sad because your elbow hurts?
...(one minute later)...
Oh!!  Duckcia hhhoppy!
She is?
Yesh!  Mah eh-bow no huht!

This running commentary hits all of us.  Often when she and I are driving somewhere, and I am lost in my thoughts about where we're going, what I have to get done, someone I want to talk to, a recent conversation -- something -- from the backseat I hear:
My Mama hhhhhoppy.

There is nothing to say to that voice, but yes.  Yes, Maeve, you are right, I am happy.
And suddenly I realize that I am.