Category: musings (page 1 of 29)

The Long Con

We were waiting for the train the other day when Little Miss informed me that her baby brother was one of her favorite people. I told her that he’s one of my favorite people too, along with her and Manchild and Squish and their dad. It turns out that there is a lot of overlap in our list of favorite people. But unlike my list, hers doesn’t have any girls on it. Just boys. Three brothers and a dad.

I didn’t make the list, she said, because she doesn’t like to go running with me. And I know that. But I’m over half way through my current marathon training cycle (race day: November 12th, near LA) and some of my weekday runs are too long for me to finish before the boys have to go to school. So she rides along and keeps the baby company as I do laps around the park. She sometimes takes books or toys or snacks. Last run, it was sunny and in the low 70s. She had a cheese stick and a hard boiled egg and she took a nap for a couple of miles. And for this I am not one of her favorite people.

I was a little surprised that she didn’t also mention the reading. She can read now, though it is slow going. She needs practice, so when we have story time I have her read to me. It has just been in the past week or two that she has really made a lot of progress and one day last week as I was searching for a book on the bookshelf, she was standing next to me and saw one with “Boy” in the title. She read it and I, being somewhat surprised, praised her effusively and sincerely. I was hit in the face several times for my troubles.

So she dislikes that I make her read, too. And that is probably another reason why I am not one of her favorite people.

(If pressed, she might also add to the list the fact that I strongly encourage her to eat her breakfast, but I don’t press.)

Honestly, aside from the baby—who does bite the hand that feeds him but also looks so longingly at me when we are more than a few feet away from each other that I forgive him every time—I don’t think I am a favorite with any of the kids.


When I tell Manchild that I am the best mom he’s ever had, he’ll point out that I’m also the worst mom he’s ever had. And Squish will think carefully before coming to the conclusion that Dad is actually superior in just about every way. When Micah bemoans the fact that the baby doesn’t give him the time of day, I remind him that I get them for the first two years, and then I become chopped liver.

But that’s fine by me. I’m not competing with Micah for favorite parent, and I am grateful that they think their dad is the best because he is.

More than that, however, I’m willing to sacrifice being the favorite for a few years—or even a couple of decades—in the hope that my patience and persistence in simply being there will pay off and in 20 years or so, with a little more wisdom and perspective, the kids will be able to say, My mom was always there for me.

When I got out of school, there she was, waiting outside the door.

She sat through my piano lessons and got me to practice better.

Every morning when I woke up, she was there, asking me how I slept.

When I came home from a friend’s house, there she was with a glass of milk and a listening ear.

She waited outside my door until I was ready to talk.


At the school there is another mom, quite a few years older than me, whose son is a year or two older than Manchild. She loves to see our little family and often brings treats from the dollar store to share with the kids. She moved to New York from Bangladesh 20 years ago. One day last year, after I had carried sleeping Little Miss from the train station while wearing the baby in a wrap, she sat and talked to me as we waited for the kids to be dismissed.
“Your children,” she said, “they will be like flowers in a garden. They will surround you, they will be beautiful surrounding you, when they grow. Right now it is hard, but you are always there. You are always with them, and when they grow, they will be beautiful around you.”

It was a message I needed to hear on a day when I was worn down physically and emotionally, wondering if I just make my own life harder than it needs to be. A reminder that really, I just need to be there, available, attentive.

I am always there, I am always with them. Sometimes I am invisible to them and they don’t see me picking up their dirty clothes or packing up their backpacks or scheduling their appointments. Sometimes I am the punching bag, the scapegoat, the reason they hate reading and playing the piano. Sometimes I am annoyingly cheerful—laughing while the rest of them are crying in the elevator. (And if you have never been in an elevator with 4 crying children I highly recommend it. It’s an unworldly kind of music.)

But there I always am. I see when they are hurt or confused or excited or sad. I am aware of the stresses and the struggles and the joys and the anticipations. I can tell when they need a break and when they need a push, when they need a treat and when they need a nap. I’m willing to listen to the rambling recaps of the book they read or the movie they watched or the game they played at school. I am also willing to be pushed or yelled at or pinched or ignored without reacting in kind. (Though with a good talking to later, when tempers have cooled.)

As time goes on, if my game plays out right, as they look back on the story of their lives they’ll see things they didn’t see before and understand in a new way. And they’ll realize, I hope, that Mom was always there. And while it was annoying and weird and startling and embarrassing at the time, well . . . *fingers crossed* it worked.

Mom isn’t so bad. She’s actually not the worst. In fact, she may even be one of my favorite people. Because she listens. She won’t react. She’ll always be there.


When Time Stands Still

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The kids were running around in the yard, making up games, chasing each other, tossing their stuffed animals into the air and catching them. It was overcast, but warm. The sky gray, the trees green, the air slightly thick with humidity. Micah and I watched them from chairs near the fire pit and felt the moment settle into our brains, find a cozy place, and relax.

This. This was it. This was what we want, and wanted, and hope for forever and ever. Our kids, together. Laughing, playing in the great outdoors. The sun setting, the fireflies beginning to warm up. No schedule to keep, no people to please. Space to spread out, space enough that you have to yell to be heard but you don’t have to worry about bothering the neighbors, about getting yelled back at for being too loud.

And even while the moment made a home in our heads, it was an invader, an anomaly—something out of the ordinary. It is true that summer nights with just the right temperature and just the right amount of freedom (no work, no obligations the next day) are somewhat rare. But ours would normally be spent in the park with a hundred other families, or on our balcony with only the puny green trees across the street and our mini garden growing in planter boxes giving the illusion of “nature.”


Months ago, before our little baby was born, I sat chatting with my midwife about . . . life. About how, with all of the possibilities, we somehow find something to do and we do it. She said she thought it was a wonder that people aren’t just paralyzed by all the other things they could be doing at any given moment. Important things, fun things, “life’s work” kinds of things and “life’s play” kinds of things. Somehow we make decisions and we move forward, leaving all the others behind in the box with barely a backward glance.

It doesn’t feel like a choice most of the time. We have obligations, expectations, other people depending on us. Our choice seems made for us. We’ve put ourselves on a track through our choices and if they have been good choices, and we have been lucky, the track we are on is beautiful and comfortable and challenging and we rarely think that maybe there could be another one that is better.

But occasionally we get a view of one that seems like it might be better. It might be easier. It might lead to somewhere more interesting. And then we have to wonder how we got to here.

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The days and the years slide by quickly now. It’s hard not to think that there are “only” nine more summers before Manchild will likely be leaving home and stepping into his own life. Our life will probably change a lot before then, and after then as well. He’ll be part of those changes, but they may not all be part of him.

Will he remember the perfect summer nights? The ones where we lost time, shed space, and just were? Where we gazed at the stars, searched for the fireflies, chased the tiny pinpricks of light and saw them swell so that we knew how small we were?

Will he hear the laughter and remember the warmth of the night air in years to come?

How did we get to this place? Where spacious summer nights were a special treat to be enjoyed only once or twice a year? Did we do the right thing? Are we doing the right thing?


I got off track. I forgot about the people. The brave people we see, we know, we are inspired by everyday—people who are doing hard things and trying new things and working hard and doing good work. The strangers who give us kind words—words of advice and encouragement—and helping hands.

I forgot about the resourcefulness. The challenges. The determination it takes to figure out how to live here. The puzzles to be solved and accepted and lived with every day.

I forgot about how we get to absorb that energy, and put it back into the world with our own stamp on it. How strangers smile at the kids playing together on the train. How they are happy—or at least willing—to give up a seat for us. We get to serve in little ways, and we get that service back as well.

And even if it feels crowded sometimes, and even if there is never enough time, and even when it seems like there is too much to see and do and hear and feel, it is a blessing to be able to see and hear and feel so much.

And also. When we step back and step away—far away—into the green, gray night, thick with humidity and the sound of children playing . . . time stands still. And maybe it doesn’t matter so much that this is a rare occurrence—that we only get to spread our arms this wide and run this fast a few times a year.

Because when time stands still, a moment is all you need.

Take Care Of Yourself

I have a serious question for you all: What does it mean to take care of yourself? What does that look like to you?

I ask because . . . well, because I was on the train recently and had a delightful interaction with a lady who seemed happy to see a hugely pregnant woman and her 3 children. This is a rare thing to come by—someone who seems genuinely excited, and not just half congratulatory and half questioning my sanity—and so I listened to her. And she, in approximately 30 seconds (as we were about to transfer trains) told me how she has 8 kids, including a set of twins, that they are all grown now, and that it was a wonderful wonderful thing. She was happy for me. I could see her reliving her own young motherhood days in her mind, and it was a place she had enjoyed being.

I thanked her profusely as we scurried out the train doors so we could scurry to the waiting train on the other platform, and she called out, “Be sure to take care of yourself. You take better care of them if you take care of yourself.”


I’ve heard that before, and I’ve believed it. But I’ve also kind of ignored it. I tend to think that I take pretty good care of myself. I have hobbies. I have ambitions. I pursue them. I shower nearly every day and I often put on foundation and curl my eyelashes (though I save the mascara for special occasions). I prioritize running and I make food that I want to eat—even if it doesn’t necessarily appeal to the younger generation’s palate. I have friends that I connect with regularly. We get together and we talk about all kinds of things—not just about our kids.

So yeah. I’m taking care of myself, right?

Or maybe not? I’m not sure. Because there have definitely been times recently that I’ve thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Or, “Something needs to change.” Or, “Today I’m going to do something that I really want to do. Just for me.” And then I think and think and think and think and . . . there’s nothing. I don’t know what I really want to do. I don’t know what would make my heart sing and my soul feel free.

I feel like I should want to go shopping. Get something new to wear—something that I actually picked out for myself because I liked it and I liked the way it looked on me. Or that maybe I should treat myself to a scoop or two of ice cream from Ample Hills that I don’t have to share. Or maybe sit and read a book all day.

But I don’t actually want to do those things any more than anything else. (Maybe because I do also have ambitions and ice cream and new clothes don’t necessarily get me any closer to achieving them.)

One time, I thought maybe I would hop on a bus with my laptop and some books and find a hotel room or an Airbnb for a couple of days. If nothing else, that seemed like a good way for me to tune everything else out long enough to figure out what I really did want and need to take care of myself.

But then I didn’t do it and eventually all my big emotions and whatever else blew over and I forgot about it . . . so maybe I didn’t really need to do that to take care of myself?


Generally speaking, I am a low maintenance person. At least I think I am. I don’t need a lot of attention, and in some ways it feels better to be ignored, or at least not constantly needing something. But I have plants that are supposedly low maintenance as well and they have nearly died from neglect. Even though I see them and I remember them and I water them at least every couple of weeks.

The point being that maybe I don’t know how to take care of things that are low maintenance. Maybe I don’t know how to take care of myself. And maybe one day, I’m going wake up to discover that I’m half dead and in desperate need of . . . something else, something more.

I just don’t know what that might be.

Which is why I’m asking you: What does it mean to you to take care of yourself?


Between Worlds

I’ve had a tab open in my browser for months now. I don’t read it a lot, but I do see it frequently, and when I do  I am reminded: other worlds await. I have felt this past year that I have been between worlds. There were so many parts of my life that were going so well just over a year ago. I was sure I was finally finding my groove as a writer, feeling comfortable as a mother, finding confidence in myself and my relationships.

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And then, both suddenly and slowly, that world ended.

*Wipe your tears


It’s not the end of the world.

It’s the end of a world.

The week after I miscarried (last November), I begged off a writing assignment I had previously accepted. I lost the many trains of thought I was trying to follow into interesting and thoughtful essays. I would sit in front of a blank page and realize it was reflecting my mind and heart back at me. There was nothing there. Nothing to share. I have yet to find my groove or find even a thread that I can follow back to where I was and what I was doing.

It’s the end of the world

you’ve known.

Other worlds await you.

Worlds you’ll inhabit.

Worlds you’ll create.

But in the blank space, there are important things I feel like I have learned about motherhood this past year. For example, washing the dishes is actually not part of the job description. I don’t mind letting them sit while I join in the fun and games for a little while. And that has solved two problems: feeling resentful that everyone else gets to have fun while I have to work, and feeling guilty that I am a mom who is always around, but not always present.


I have also made an effort to be more forthcoming and assertive in approaching difficult topics with the kids. They should hear things from me and Micah, and know that we are open to talking about anything and everything. We’ve had chats about miscarriage and the various ways babies can be born—surgically or naturally—in the past couple of weeks.  I hope that this lets my kids see me as a person who knows things and feels things.

However, I also look at my kids these days and see how chummy they are, how well they play (and fight) together, and I worry about this baby that is way behind my projected/hoped for schedule. Will he be part of the crew? Or always too little, too young to be included. I look at pictures of the 3 of them, and I can’t imagine another child breaking into that fraternity, and I worry for him, and I think of what might have been.


Mourn now,

my child

Mourn this world

coming to an end.

Grieve the dreams

that will never come to be.

And if my kids’ relationships cause me angst, so do many of my other relationships. I gave myself a pass this year on so many things—including interacting with people. I had no energy for anyone or anything. And so I drifted. I can see and feel the distance in many of my relationships—and in my work, and in my hopes.

I see it and think of it and I wonder how I’m ever going to bridge the gap, to get back to where I was, or even to somewhere better. It feels like too much and I wonder if maybe I’ve just stopped drifting, but I’ll never get up the strength to build anything new, to build any momentum, to become anything new or to go anywhere other than where I am.

I try to remind myself that I have to give it time. I may not still be falling apart or falling away, but it takes time to rebuild, and especially if I am to grow into something stronger and better.

After every apocalypse

you will rise again,

my child.

One world ends,

another begins.

I think of that passage from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, about the house that is being remodeled, about walls being knocked down, new wings and towers and courtyards being built. About becoming a palace. I think of that, and I am comforted, but I also wonder: what if it never gets done? What if the walls get knocked down, but they never get rebuilt? What if the roof is always leaky, the drains are still backed up, and everyone agrees it was better off the way it was before?

After this year of sadness

there’ll be an ascension,

the joy tomorrow

is already inside

the grief today.

I have been waiting and hoping for signs that I am being rebuilt, that my life and my relationships and my family and my work will not suffer permanent, irreparable damage from this past year. I have a seriously hard time imagining myself ever saying, “It all worked out for the best,” even though I can imagine seriously good things rising from the rubble.

But I have also realized that if good things are going to come, if I am going to stop drifting, I will need to pick up the slack. It will take work. And sacrifice. I will need vision and inspiration. And commitment and patience. Lots and lots of patience.

With the new year dawning, I feel more and more determined to find what other worlds are out there, what other places I will find and people I will be, what my relationships will become. I am imagining what it will look like, and gathering my courage to go after it.


Other worlds


Worlds that you’ll make

with your hands.

Dreams of seeds

watered with the now tears. 

I know so many women who have been through similar experiences, whose lives have taken unexpected turns, whose hopes have fallen apart. I see them and I see that life can and does go on, that hearts are healed, that flowers still bloom after even the harshest winters. I am grateful for their lives, for the world they belonged to before they came into mine, a different being. And I hope that, like them, I can move forward. Begin again. Try again. Grow again.


*poem by Omid Safi

Simple Summer with Big Steps

In the mornings, we often go out. We ride bikes, stop at a playground, kick a ball around. And in the afternoon, we play and build and invent and imagine in the air conditioned comfort of our apartment. It’s simple and nice and pure and pretty much perfect—even though it fights a little bit against my idea of what summer should be. I mean, shouldn’t we be camping? Shouldn’t we be at the beach all day every day? Shouldn’t we be traveling and seeing the world?


But then again. Shouldn’t we be climbing trees (or playground structures, as the case may be)? Shouldn’t we be creating ziplines for our stuffed animals in our bedroom? Shouldn’t we be reading all the Magic Treehouse books and then imagining that we get to play soccer at bottom of the tallest oak tree in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania? Shouldn’t we be wearing capes as we run around the park with our friends?


Yes. Yes we should.

I worry sometimes about these city kids I’m raising. No trees of our own to scamper up, no backyard to build forts in. Playground rules state that I can’t even send them there by themselves. In some ways, I feel like the gatekeeper of their childhood adventures—which seems to squash the very idea of childhood adventures just a bit. But despite that, childhood seems to be finding a way. It may not be as far flung or un-accompanied as some other childhoods, but it’s happening. They are making their own adventures, learning to do handstands and cartwheels and to ride their bikes with one hand.


What more could a mom ask for? Especially this mom, this summer. To see them experimenting and taking risks, trying new things and making adjustments as I am on the cusp of launching my podcast—doing the exact same thing on a completely different level—well, it’s pretty great. It gives me a little courage.

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After all, we’re all learning with what we have—and maybe what we have isn’t the ideal. We’re all just making it up as we go along. And maybe we start these new endeavors a little awkwardly, a little unsure, a little cautiously. But I’ve seen Manchild go from hardly being able to scootch halfway up a pole to making it look easy to adding little challenges to himself in just a matter of weeks. I’ve seen Squish “accidentally” learn to ride his bike one-handed. And I’ve also seen Little Miss climb a little too high and need a little bit of help getting down without getting hurt.


So if, in this new podcasting endeavor, we (meaning my team) are a little bit awkward and clunky at first, it’s fine. If we have a few hiccups, I’m not worried. And if we happen to get ourselves in too deep, I’m trusting our audience to bear with us while we figure things out.

I am really, really, really happy and excited about that we have done so far. I’m proud to put things out into the world. But I also know that we’re going to get better at it. We may be climbing playground structures now, but we have our eyes on bigger things.


ps You can listen to the Cocoon Stories trailer at the website, or on iTunes. Take a listen, share, and subscribe!

Never Gets Old

We are home from our 3 week summer vacation to the west—land of mountains and space and infernal temperatures without the infernal humidity.

poolkidAlso, land of lightning. Not that we don’t see lightning here in Brooklyn, but as we drove from northern Utah to southern Arizona we could see, from the safety of our rental car, lightning storms practically surrounding us. And each strike was cause for oohs and aahs, for a bit of disappointment from those who missed it, for hope that the next would be bigger and brighter than the last.

It never got old.

And neither did hearing the kids wow over it.

It got me thinking, of course, about all the lightning strikes we get in life—the things that we can, at times, anticipate and look forward to and that are fresh and surprising and awesome every single time. They leave you feeling both big and small, both full of life and love—and wanting more.


My brother finished his first triathlon while we were in Utah. We cheered him on through the finish.

Things like a baby laughing.

Or seeing your child’s excitement about her birthday.

Watching a little boy stand and stare in awe as a freight train grumbles by.

Or the first snowfall of winter and the sight of the first blossoms of spring.

Witnessing an act of kindness among strangers.

Receiving encouragement from a stranger.

The feeling, at the end of a run, that you did something today.

Watching someone do something hard, and struggle, and succeed.

Creating something—anything—that is beautiful.

hugthewallWhat did I miss? What are those moments that fill you with wonder and awe every time they happen?

Leave No Man Behind

Competition is inevitable. And it is true that we have encouraged it. “Who can get their pajamas on first?” and other such nonsense. You know, for our mental health, if not the health of their relationship. (Priorities!)

But you know, sometimes it backfires. Like when Squish ends up in tears every afternoon on the way home from school because his legs are not as long as his brothers and he comes in second in their daily race down the ramp. (Little Miss is just happy being able to run at all.) 

We’ve tried to encourage Manchild to go easy on his brother, to ease up and let him win every now and then. See how nice it feels to make someone else feel good? Even better than winning! (He didn’t buy it.)

Last week, though, suddenly and strangely, something shifted. Suddenly I’m hearing: “Partners?” “Partners!” I’m hearing them cheer each other on. I’m hearing teamwork. 

And I’m seeing this:   


Holding hands. Climbing the slide together. Leaving no man behind.

This development struck me especially hard last weekend when I heard a story about a couple of brothers who got themselves in a tight spot climbing a cliff and life was literally on the line. Micah and I couldn’t breathe for a few moments while we imagined our own offspring in the place of those boys. Gah! What would they do? Would one of them fall to his death? Would the other have to watch his brother die?

And suddenly, it seemed as though we could, perhaps, do a little better at encouraging cooperation instead of competition. We’re not in this to beat each other or come in first, right? Even if we do our best, isn’t it better to finish together than to be alone at the line? (Well, maybe not in an actual race, but you know, in life.)

The question now, then, is how to keep it going. Make sure we’re on the same team. A six-legged race, with each of us tied to the other. The victory is not in winning, but in learning to run together, to pick each other up when we inevitably stumble, and, eventually, to make it to the finish line in tact. 

Sometimes You’re the Kite, Sometimes You’re the Anchor

It’s really not fair. Anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that Micah gets to go to work each day, that it matters what he wears or if he has bedhead. It’s not fair that he gets to sit in meetings where he shares ideas and people listen, that they appreciate his expertise, that they will take his advice.

He doesn’t live his life with a capricious and mischievous two-year-old as a constant companion, a little being who can turn a simple trip to the grocery store into an epic battle of wills. He can have insightful conversations with the people he spends his days with. He doesn’t have to remind his co-workers 7 times in a hour to sit and do their work, or revoke various privileges when they once again lose focus and start chasing each other and fighting over a stuffed monkey.

It must be nice, I think, to be compensated and appreciated. To be able to be promoted. To switch jobs if necessary.
But then again, it’s really not fair and anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that I can wear my pjs all day and it would be totally appropriate. It’s not fair that I can sit and watch “Clifford The Big Red Dog” in the name of quality bonding time. It’s not fair that I can write whatever I want and work on whatever projects interest me the most.

I don’t have to worry about making enough money to take care of the family. I don’t have to set my own ideas aside or refashion my creative impulses to fit somebody else’s vision. I don’t have the pressure of so many deadlines or the worry of what could happen if I didn’t make them.

And I’m sure he thinks it must be nice to have the best hours of the day open to whatever I want: a run in the park, a get-together with friends, a lazy day of reading and playing make-believe.

Sometimes it feels like I am the anchor to Micah’s kite, letting him soar up above the trees where he can see spectacular views and feel the rush of the wind in his hair. It feels like I’m stuck on the ground, nothing to see, nothing to do but watch and wonder what it’s like up there.

But other times, I feel like I am the kite: flying, diving, tossed about. Beautiful views, yes, and exhilarating speed. But a bit unsteady and unsure. It must be nice, I think, to be on solid ground and surrounded by people and things, to be able to sit and relax for a bit, instead of always being pushed around.

The truth is that sometimes I am the kite, and sometimes I’m the anchor. And sometimes Micah is the anchor and sometimes he’s the kite. Sometimes we are a little bit of both. And sometimes it feels like we are both caught in the tree, tangled and trapped without any feet on the ground or any heads in the sky.

But that is the price of marriage and family and love and life. And it’s boring and it’s crazy and it’s a drag and it’s a party. And I’ll take it any day of the week. (null)

Good Grief: guest post by Heather Cosby

A few months ago, my friend Heather posted some thoughts on her blog about grief and motherhood. It really resonated with me and over several weeks the topic kept finding its way into my conversations with other friends. I finally asked Heather if she wouldn’t mind sharing it here on MotherRunner, and she graciously agreed. Without further ado, here’s Heather.


As I sat nursing my baby, Emily, this morning, I saw my phone sitting on the ottoman at my feet. I thought of a funny text I could send to my husband, Sam, but I knew if I picked up my phone I’d end up fiddling around on it till Emily was done eating. Knowing this was one of my rare moments of peace during the day with my son at preschool, I resisted and instead shut my eyes and tried to focus on the weight and warmth of Emily’s body against mine, her hand brushing my skin, her contented little mmm’s as she ate.

Eventually, my thoughts turned to my son, Levi, as they often had lately. We always seemed to be battling one another and we were both exhausted by it. And though I was trying not to wrestle with his formidable will, the other ways I tried to connect with and motivate him weren’t working, so we almost always resorted to threats to get things done. This of course left him feeling angry and me feeling guilty.

Though recently, I had started reading, “Parenting Without Power Struggles” by Susan Stiffelman and it gave me plenty of parenting wisdom to ponder on this quiet morning. Stiffelman suggests that at times when your child won’t be getting his way, you should approach them as if they were grieving. After all, they’re experiencing a loss of something important to them. As she detailed the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression or sadness, and acceptance—I realized these were exactly the emotions and tactics my son was experiencing several times a day.

levi copyOur job as parents, Stiffelman says, is to walk our children through those emotions more quickly and as allies. That way they then come to accept the situation on their own, without our forcing it on them. Instead of wading through the refusals, bargaining, yelling, running away, whining, crying, and resentfully cooperating, you give your child the freedom to mourn their loss. You’re on their side as you tell them how sorry you are to see them sad, and they feel supported as they come to understand they’re not going to get their way. So far, it had worked with Levi. He finally felt like someone was listening to him, and I was more compassionate towards him as I saw him grieving.

My thoughts then slid, as thoughts do, to what my life would look like in the context of grief. In the past several years I’ve dealt with anger, depression, and nearly constant change. I thought maybe moving too often—seven times in eight years—was the source of pain, but I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve seriously considered going back to school or work, but when it came down to it, I knew I would regret not staying home when the kids were small and we had the resources to make it possible. I’ve struggled with medications and injuries. But in the last year and a half, all that has gone away and I still get flashes of deep sadness or feeling adrift or feeling like something is missing.

As I sat with my eyes closed, snuggling my tiny baby, I finally asked myself, “Is there something you’re grieving or mourning?” Without knowing how, it was like a weight was removed from my heart. It’s not that I don’t love my life or my family. It’s not that I regret the choices I’ve made, because when I look back they really are indicative of my true desires. It’s that as a young woman I had expectations for my life and myself that have not been realized, and I am mourning them.

I had expected to be more involved in my community through a career or intense volunteering. I had thought running would always be a part of my life. I thought I’d be as healthy as I’d ever been. I thought I’d be an energetic and creative mother. I thought I’d have new friendships as deep and lasting as my old ones had been. I thought I’d be the person others needed rather than needing other people so often.emilyandlevi copy

In the same way that it was hard to say goodbye to my grandmother and grandfather who I loved and admired deeply and who gave me hope, I was finding it hard to say goodbye to the woman I thought I would be, a woman who is strong and smart and fit and kind and capable and seems to be all of those things all of the time. I’m mourning the loss of her possibility.

Realizing this, that I had seen the long, slow fading of a remarkable woman who had long been my companion, tears came to my eyes. I was filled with compassion for myself. I sometimes feel so torn inside and feeling like there’s no reason for it just adds to the pain and shame of it. But stepping back and seeing myself in grief and mourning lets me be kinder and gentler. It lets me sit with the pain, quietly, and let myself say goodbye again, as many times as I need to.

When I was baptized into my church, I promised God I would be “willing to mourn with those that mourn… and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We are able to do this because each of us knows sorrow in our own way. Life never happens the way we expect, and when that woman who seems to be all the things we want to be holds our hand, or cries with us, or sits in silence with us, we know that she too has mourned her own losses and dreams.

Somehow, through that sisterhood, and through our quiet hours grieving with and comforting our own broken selves, we are slowly reborn. As we say goodbye to the person we thought we’d become, the person we are becomes more real, more true. Like a new child, we are small, fragile, and tender, but the weight of our hands and the warmth of our touch are undeniable.

A Different Kind of Watchfulness

I haven’t changed a diaper in weeks. In my mind, this was always a long way off. Diapers were, I suppose, the last vestige of babyhood, and my babies were never going to grow up. We were never really bottle people. Sippy cups were always short-lived. Cribs and highchairs became superfluous long ago. But diapers were eternal.

Until a few weeks ago when Little Miss refused to wear one any more and very suddenly developed the motivation to use the toilet.

She’s not perfect at it, of course. We still have to watch her, still have to look for the potty dance and be in tune with her liquid input/output ratio. We’re not always great at reading the signs, which is why the other night, when she woke up with the strangest cry I thought she just wanted me to lie down and cuddle with her for a minute. It wasn’t until we were both lying in a puddle that I realized that cuddling was not her most urgent need.

But really, I’m not here to talk about pee.

It’s more about the watchfulness. Watching for Little Miss’s dance, listening for her distress, yes. But her particular milestone is probably the most obvious thing to watch for these days. Her needs are still so physical, her emotions roll around on the floor and jump upandupandupandup. There’s no hiding them, and it’s easier to address them.

The boys, however, are growing too. I no longer feel like I need to watch them so closely on the train platforms. I don’t always need to hold their hands as we cross streets. They spend so much time at school and then do homework and read and eat dinner and go to bed, it almost feels as though I don’t need to watch them at all.

But then again. They are away from me so much of the day. There is so much I don’t see or hear about. It’s not so much that I don’t need to watch them as much as it is that I need to watch them differently. It’s not their physical safety that preoccupies me like it did when they were younger and more impulsive. They—especially Manchild—are old enough to hide their feelings, to downplay the things that are most important, to feel it keenly if I don’t attend or respond as they’d hoped.

So I try to watch for the subtle smiles and blushes of pleasure, the quick blinking of downcast eyes, the dragging feet or involuntary bouncing. Their emotions don’t always roll and roil, bubble up and spill over like they used to. But that is, I believe, because they are felt more deeply. To not see them, or acknowledge them, would be to draw a curtain between us, one that could blind me and prevent me from warning my kids of dangers I could have protected them from—dangers that could leave scrapes and scars and bruises and burns that no one, not even they, can see.

They’re such good kids. I say that often, because it is true and because I want them to know it and because I need to remind myself of it. But I hope that by saying it so much I don’t let it become a shield or blinder against more urgent issues—and leave us all lying in a puddle of shame and regret.(null)

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