Category: writing (page 1 of 11)

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.

How I Met My Mentor

We moved to Brooklyn eight years ago. Manchild was about 4 months old. I was starting grad school at NYU. The program I had been accepted into was an interdisciplinary program and was not what I had planned to do. In fact, I only applied to it after NYU rejected me from the journalism program. However, they had helpfully recommended that I apply to this other program just a few weeks later. I was accepted into it, and promptly turned down two other journalism programs because I knew that New York was really where I wanted to be. I planned to fill my elective hours with journalism classes—assuming I could find a teacher that would let a non-journalism student into his class.


So I did some research. I looked at the intro-to-reporting classes. And I googled the professors. One of them stuck out to me. He had a daughter who shared my named. I sensed an in. So I emailed him. I asked him if I, as an interdisciplinary student with an interest in journalism, could take his class. And I held my breath and waited.

Within a day or two he responded. Sure, why not? was the gist of it. I showed up on the first day of class to find Tim, a somewhat rough and gruff guy who had all the softness of an eggshell. (I know several of my classmates felt like they were walking on eggshells whenever he addressed them . . . .) But I surprised myself by not being intimidated. My pathetic attempt at a news story was the first he critiqued in front of the class and I didn’t even cry when the first paragraph was deemed too long and too wordy and too academic. Actually, I felt . . . grateful. I knew I wasn’t any good. That’s why I was there. To get better. And I appreciated that Tim didn’t bother to sugar coat anything.

I didn’t love being called out and put on the spot, of course, and I also put a lot of pressure on myself to not let my status as a new mom be an excuse for me. So I worked hard. I completed my assignments on time and I stepped out of my comfort zone even more to pitch some of my student work to real newspapers.

By the end of the semester, Tim was asking what I was doing in a silly interdisciplinary program and I was telling him I didn’t really know. He told the head of the journalism program that I was in the wrong place. The head agreed, and let me reapply and be accepted into the journalism program.

The next semester I was a full-time student there, in the second half of Tim’s intro-to-reporting class. I would say that the rest is history, but Tim has continued to mentor and encourage me, even though my career has been mostly fits and starts since I graduated. In fact, it’s often Tim’s voice I hear in my head when I am feeling a little skittish or timid about taking a step forward.
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There have been times when I’ve wondered if I really should have gone to grad school. I’m willing to bet that not a lot of journalists have a graduate degree. But I’m sure I couldn’t have found a mentor like Tim without going to school, and without his encouragement, I’m not sure I would have done anything or gotten anywhere.

So cheers to Tim.

(Photos are from Tim’s lake house. He’s kind enough to invite us out every year.)

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)

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)

River Rocks

I want to write a thousand or two words on this. I want to say everything about it and say it beautifully, the way the images are in my mind. But if I try to do that, I’ll never write anything and it will be just another thought that was laid to rest in the graveyard of good ideas. (My section of that particular plot has grown quite a bit this year. Sigh.)

Sometimes things happen. Sometimes they are little things, and sometimes not so little. And sometimes those little things make big changes in your life. Sometimes things you think will change everything actually change very little.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Terri Gross’s Fresh Air episode memorializing Tom Magliozzi, who with his brother Ray, did Car Talk on NPR for a long time. The brothers got started on Car Talk (or more accurately, on fixing cars) after Tom had a near miss with a semi-truck. He wasn’t even hit, but it was close and it shook him deeply. He quit his job, started living on unemployment, and was rethinking his life when Ray came in to help him figure things out. It was from that event—the near-miss—that they started their garage, which led to their radio show, which led to much advice and laughter and philosophizing—and a legacy worth celebrating.

It is hard to believe that they weren’t born into that life. They seemed like such naturals. But they did, in fact, have very different lives planned.

And then a rock tumbled into the river and turned it a completely different way.

The way that it turned was not direct. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t as if the rock fell in, blocked the way, and they looked around and said, “Oh, you’re right, we should be heading that way.” It was a slow process. It was gradually feeling things out and seeing what worked and what didn’t—where the good ground was and where they needed to adapt a bit more.

That adaptation led to uncharted territory that was, I’m sure, both beautiful and strange.

There have been times in my life when I have waited with eager anticipation to find out how my life would adapt to rocks and logs and that I have seen coming into my path. And there have been times when the ground I thought was solid was suddenly washed away, changing the course and the shape of my life abruptly and unexpectedly. I’ve been caught off-guard by how easily I, and others, adjust to what initially seemed to be life-altering events. And I’ve been equally surprised by how little things can force major changes.

I’ve wondered where and when those rocks will fall, that ground will erode, the logs will catch and hold and even looked ahead to see if I can see them coming. But I’ve rarely pondered the beauty they leave in their wake: the raging rapids, the slow and sinuous stream, the still ponds—serene and secretive, or the rolling falls dropping in powerful plumes, showering and spraying and misting, mystic and mysterious.

But even with that anticipation, and even trusting that those obstacles will lead to unimaginably beautiful places, the process of adaptation is uncomfortable, uncertain, undeniably distressing. Carving new ground is hard. Finding solid footing is fraught with potential failure. It can be disheartening and dizzying to feel things out, seek a new way, wade and wind and bounce against boulders.

Then again, beating the boulders, finding a way, moving and adapting and following through—that is where the beauty is made. That is where lives are changed and loves are claimed and new ground is discovered and legacies are built and shared.

What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.


Sisterhood in Motherhood



I have four biological sisters. Eight sisters-in-law. A handful of friends who have honorary sister-status in my mind and heart. And dozens and dozens of others who are my sisters in motherhood.



We have cried and fought, borrowed clothes and lent baby supplies, shared secrets and shames. We’ve looked after each other’s kids, spent hours talking on the phone, stayed up too late laughing, and then brushed it off to spend another day doing laundry, making meals, cheering for first steps, and teaching to read.




These are women who have my back, whose advice and judgment I trust, who are beyond mom-shaming and cat fighting.

This month I’m celebrating sisterhood here on Mother Runner—from the big ways my sisters in motherhood have supported and inspired me to the day-to-day words and acts that sometimes get me to bedtime without breaking down.




Some of these relationships have grown and matured over decades (my sister no longer sits on me and demands that I name the top 10 cutest boys in my class) while others, though younger, skipped the superficial stages of friendship and went straight to the heart sisterhood from our very first meeting.




I would love to spend the next month in a weeks-long Girls Night Out with all my girls (or GNOFF—pronounced “guh-noff” as my sisters and I call it) reminiscing and recounting and eating too much chocolate, but I can’t. Everyone has too much to do. Kids and husbands and life and all.

But I’m pretty sure that sister month on Mother Runner is the next best thing. Or close enough, anyway.


If you have a story about sisterhood to share, let me know!

Commentary, Here and Elsewhere

I honestly didn’t know when I wrote my last post that I would be “expanding my reach” so soon. I pitched Motherlode a month ago and had been thinking it was time to move on and shop my essay around elsewhere when I found out they wanted to run it. You can read it here. Along with the commentary. Oh, yes, the commentary!

That’s something I’m learning to deal with. The questions. The insinuations. The declarations of disgust. Not just on my writing, but on my life in general. I admit that I bring it on myself because I do live my life relatively publicly—via my writing and my cycling/running/walking. I—and my family—are often out in the open. We’re not cocooned in a car with the radio turned up, deaf to whatever anyone else may be saying about us. It’s hard for me to not want to respond to everybody. I really want to get the last word, to clear up misconceptions, to give the whole story, not just the little bit I am able to share in 750-1000 words.

Mostly, I don’t read the comments on my essays. Mostly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear what people say. Today, as I loaded up the bike with all my purchases from Costco (yes, I rode my bike to Costco), some lady walked by mumbling something about the crazy lady with her bike. Mumbling about me. Just loud enough for me to hear her. Some other women had walked by earlier and mentioned how brave I was. I know the line between ‘brave’ and ‘crazy’ is sometimes a thin one, and it’s probably true that I am often dancing all over it. I don’t mind. I think other people are crazy and/or brave for the way they choose to live their lives, too. So I tried to shrug it off as I rode steadily and surely back home.

Which, I suppose, is the best anyone can do in the face of criticism, whether thoughtful or off-the-cuff. Sift out the bad and hold onto the good. It’s clearly something on my mind because last week when my friend Koseli asked me to contribute to her new blog, Bored Moms, the best thing I could come up with was this: that it’s worth dealing with the criticism to be part of the community—and I mean both the physical community we encounter riding around on a bike and the virtual community we encounter when I share my experiences online.

I hope that the net result of sharing, of being seen, of living my life authentically and boldly, is positive. For me and my family, of course, but for those who take the time to notice and engage and comment, too.


Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.


But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

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