Category: writing (page 1 of 10)

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.

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Sisterhood in Motherhood

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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! lizzie@motherrunner.com

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.

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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.

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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.

Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

“Chores” Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

I’ve been accused of not letting people help me out enough. And I’ll own up to it. Sometimes it seems like it’s just easier to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than ask/teach someone else to do it. But even I could see that things couldn’t go on forever like that — especially since I have a growing labor force in my very own apartment. It makes no sense for me to feel overwhelmed by needing to pick up clothes, do the dishes, and sweep the floor when I could simply do one of them and give someone else a chance to feel useful and capable and like a contributing member of the family.

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Of course, I may never have taken the time to teach it if I weren’t also writing about it. And in the process of teaching it, I realized a lot of things: foremost among them is that it only takes a few minutes to save myself a lot of frantic pin-balling around the apartment as I bump from one task to another hoping that I hit everything before I collapse.

Here are the other things I learned as I passed off some of my homemaking/housecleaning expertise to the Manchild:

It’s Time For My 7-year-old To Make His Own Lunch

I’ve been really happy that, so far, there hasn’t been much whining and griping. At least no more than our usual Saturday chores elicits. In fact, the boy seems happy to help and pleased that he is being given more responsibility — for the moment, anyway. And while I do sometimes feel a little bad that he is often asked so often to help when his siblings are running wild, I’m coming to terms with the fact that people actually do want to help. Even if they are my own kids, and even if it is “chores.”

Safety, Trust part 3

Earlier this summer Manchild brought his Calvin and Hobbes book to me, as he often does, so I could explain to him why exactly he’s laughing till his sides hurt. This particular strip had Calvin shoveling snow, contemplating life, and complaining of the unfairness that someone as intelligent as he is was reduced to performing manual labor. It seemed the Manchild kinda got it, but was fairly distracted by the idea that a 6-year-old was allowed outside by himself.

So I gave the spiel about how Calvin lives in a different place and time than we live, and how Brooklyn isn’t the place for even 7-year-olds to be out and about alone. But all Manchild could do was give me a look and say, “You know what I’m thinking, right?”

“That we should move some place where you can go outside by yourself?”

“Yep.”

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We’re not going to move. Not yet. But I can sympathize with the boy’s predicament. I’d actually been thinking about it quite a lot before Calvin shone a light on the issue. I mean, do I really need to take Manchild with me every time I go to the laundry, which is just around the block? Or the grocery store, which is right next to the laundry? And if I don’t need to drag him away from his books, how can I feel good about leaving him alone?

And that is how this summer became the “Summer of Safety” in which I let Manchild spread his wings just a little bit. Longtime readers know that this is something I’ve thought about a lot (see part 1 and part 2), and this time I got to put my thoughts into action.

I wrote about our endeavor for Babble, and you can read the first 2 (of 3) installments here:

Bye Bye Helicopter Mom

Yes, My 7-year-old Is Old Enough to Stay Home Alone

Up until this summer, I thought I had been giving the boy age-appropriate freedoms and responsibilities, but I was wrong. I’m way behind on a lot of things (though part of that is because of well, Brooklyn) but I am much more conscientious now of the need — for both me and him — to be aware of things he can do himself, and to give him the opportunity to try.

Where are you and your kids with the balance of freedoms/responsibilities? And how do people view that kind of thing where you are from? (In Brooklyn, people seem appalled if you don’t have your kids within arms reach at all times. Today some ladies were shocked when I left Little Miss sitting in the stroller outside our building while I ran 20 feet down the sidewalk to help Squish get up after he crashed his bike again.)

Oh, I’ll let you know when the last post goes live.

Beauty and Brains

“You may say most positively that ‘Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,’ but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

We talk so much about teaching girls to be themselves, to nurture their talents, to not be afraid to do or be anything. But then we also praise them so much for being “pretty” or “cute” that it would be easy for them to get the idea that being pretty is the only thing to be. I am for sure guilty of this. My daughter is only 2 and it’s already a habit for me to praise her beauty every chance I get. It’s kind of a problem because she may get the sense that no matter what I say, her true value lies in being pretty.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I have definitely felt that way. Growing up, I was the Sandra to my sister’s Susan. Everyone told me I was smart. It seemed like they were complimenting me. It seemed like they were trying to tell me that this was a good thing. And yet it felt a lot more like a curse. I was told that is was probably the reason I didn’t have a lot of friends and the reason boys didn’t ask me to dance (apparently, my big brain was super intimidating?). Even my youth leaders seemed perplexed by what to say to a girl whose “intelligence” outshone her looks. It wasn’t until I was receiving scholarships my senior year of high school that I started to feel a small amount of validation that being smart was actually something to be admired and celebrated.

I know that there could have been other things going on. I am a reserved person. My face is hard to read and that makes me seem unapproachable. But during those extremely formative years of my life, all I could see was that the “pretty” girls (including my sister) were getting a lot of attention, and I was . . . not. I felt like this trait that I had, these “brains,” was talked about it like it was worth something but it wasn’t really valued at all. It was worthless and so was I.

It has only been recently that I’ve started to unravel the truth that the value that I have as a person is something separate from whether I am pretty or smart or approachable. At that time, I had been working really hard to earn the love and attention of others. I wanted to prove that I was worthy. It was crushing when I felt like my efforts were ignored or unappreciated. But about a year ago something turned in my head — and my heart — and I could kinda sorta see that there were at least a few people who liked me because I am me, and not because I can bake pie or run fast or because I’m somebody’s sister or friend or because I am or am not “beautiful.”

Then last spring this idea came into focus a little bit more when I went to the Women in the World Summit and heard Ken Burns say, “Eleanor Roosevelt would not have become who she was if she had been made to feel like she was pretty.” So much of the work that she did — helping the downtrodden, fighting injustices, bringing attention to the overlooked — she didbecause she felt that she couldn’t get by on her looks alone, that she wasn’t worth anything if she didn’t do it. 

Later that same day I listened to a panel of women talk about how girls pin so much of their self-worth on whether or not the selfies they post online get a lot of “likes” or comments. It hit close to home for me. I admit it. I don’t post pictures of myself very often because I don’t feel like I get “good feedback” (or any feedback). And I let it tell me that I’m not beautiful, not worth praising, not worth anything — that people don’t like me. When Rashida Jones, one of the panelists, suggested that girls and women be encouraged to invest more in their “appreciating assets” — their heads and their hearts, rather in the “depreciating asset” of physical beauty, another small wheel turned in my head and this idea became a tiny bit clearer.

I’ve been thinking a lot since then about what it means to be “beautiful” or to be a “beautiful person”and last week I had the chance to sit down with a dozen other women to talk about it. There were so many insightful, thoughtful, and helpful comments. Some of the best:

“Every day I look in the mirror and I tell myself I’m beautiful. In fact, I’ve only seen myself ugly once. That was when I was angry. I told God, ‘Thanks for letting me see me ugly,’ and now I am never angry.”

“I want to tell people that I love them, but what I hear myself saying instead is, ‘You look beautiful today. I really like that dress.'”

“When I think of all you ladies, I don’t see what you look like as much as I see the things that you are doing, how you are helping others, that special moment I got to see between you and your child, your talents and what you are contributing to the world.”

“People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.” (Which is possibly the most freeing realization I have ever had in my life.)

“I have a friend whose default position is, ‘They like me.’ She just tells herself that everyone likes her, and then they do, because she’s not afraid of them.”

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With all this coming into focus in my mind, I was bold enough to post a photo of myself (not exactly a “selfie” since Little Miss was actually the photographer) to Instagram. It’s not a glamour shot by any means, but it is me — my face, my story. When I first posted it, I held my breath a bit and waited to see if anybody would “like” it — or me. But then I talked myself down and remembered: people aren’t voting on how pretty I am or how much they think I am worth. I posted the photo to tell my own story, and whether or not they like it is irrelevant. It’s fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that no matter what people think of my looks or my brains, I can still be a beautiful person — someone who is kind, generous, thoughtful, patient, selfless, sensitive, honest, cheerful.

Please Don’t Make Me Juggle

We talk a lot about failing and succeeding, about balancing and juggling, balls dropped or kept aloft. I just wish there was another way. Can’t we just meet each challenge as it comes? Decide what is the most important thing to do right now and do it? Hold on to what we have and move forward?

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I don’t want to feel as if I’m falling, like I’m going to hit the ground. I don’t want to fear that hurt, that abruptness of finding that I’m not able to stand on my own two feet. I don’t want to have to worry that I’m going to drop something and that everything else will fall in the scramble to prevent chaos — only to find that the chaos is inevitable.

But I don’t often get to choose. It’s not my life I’m carrying. I never know what things should be left, and what I should scramble to hold onto. Sometimes the things I think can be left behind or wait until I get back to them turn out to be someone’s most urgent priority, their most beloved possession.

So that is where I get tripped up: what is worth risking the twisted ankle and bruised shoulder for — because everything matters to someone. I may think it would be crushing if I didn’t go to the musical performance, write the napkin joke, sing the bedtime song. But, really, it would only be crushing to me. Someone else could live without it, might not even notice it’s absence.

But then, when I absent-mindedly push the precious, coveted elevator button, or add the last cup of oats to the granola mix, I sometimes tip the scales and set off a reaction that cannot be contained. The tears, the sadness, the anger spill out with unexpected power. They flow through the apartment, the day, and my own spirit. I try to keep a level head, maintain perspective, be understanding, and clean things up, make them better. But still. They seep and leech and before I know it I am covered inside and out with guilt, disappointment, confusion.

How did this happen? How did I get so off balance that I could cause such a devastating blow? How did everything change moods and directions so suddenly? Will I ever be able to wash out the stain from this particular spill entirely? Will I carry it with me, a sad reminder of my inability to be aware of everyone else’s feelings and prioritize them appropriately? Will I be able to purge it and start over again, clean, happy, pure . . . naieve?

Or am I destined to be sadder but wiser again and again and again, until I am burdened — and balanced — with that sadness and wisdom.

I guess that’s why we talk of juggling, of balancing. We worry about falling, and dropping things because we carry everyone’s feelings in our hands, and everyone wants to be on top sometimes. And the risk we take for trying to make that happen is that sometimes, they all fall down. Even our feelings. Especially our feelings.

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