Sunday, May 10, 2020

You're a good mom

You've been on the internet again, reading.

The last time, you read something called “Confessions of Bad Parents.”
Like one of the bad parents, you once forgot to go to an event at your child’s school.
You froze with panic and guilt when you realized it.
But it was worse when the good moms offered their sympathy: “It was fine, we just had her sit with us.”

This time, you’re reading about “Secrets of Successful Parents.”
What they know.
What they do and don’t do.
What everyone should do if they want confident, responsible kids.
What no one should do if they want confident, responsible kids.
You are on board with half of each list.

You’ve cried in front of your kids and told them why.
You’ve yelled at your child when you were really upset with yourself.
They’ve heard you gossip on the phone.
They’ve seen you make the mistakes you will tell them to avoid. 

You’ve defended your child to a coach when it would have been better to stand back.
You’ve hijacked their problem, comparing it to one you had at their age.
You know kids need to have the floor.
But they like knowing you got in trouble too.

You’re a good mom.

You explain your parenting decisions, but you are really defending them.
You hear yourself criticize other moms for being “too” – too accommodating, too selfish, too controlling.
You know about that, because you have "toos," too.

You take pride in your mom-intensity. You call yourself a mama bear.
But your child doesn’t need a bear to face the everyday world.
She only needs what you already give.

Although, you, once in a while, could use a bear.

You put pictures on Facebook of your smiling children.
You spend too much money on them.
You hide their flaws from others.
You hide your flaws from them. 

You learn that you’re modeling perfection.
You know it can be fatal.
You stop.

You’re a good mom.

You sulk when they eat out with friends at the last minute.
You complain when they aren’t polite.
You get upset when you have to clean up after them.
You feel unappreciated when they know you’re sick or sad and still ask you for a ride somewhere.
You explain this in clear terms.

You’re a good mom, better than you think.

You don’t breathe or count to ten, you go ahead and lose it over a teen’s attitude and raise your voice. 
You tell him that a big mistake was his fault and not someone else’s and what's his plan to fix it?
You hate it when you’re right.

You ask questions, a lot of them, trite stuff – is it supposed to rain tonight? – to hear yourself talking to your teen again.
Your teen wants to talk when you’re ready to go to sleep and you say, “Sure, what’s up? Come on in.”

You shouldn’t solve their problems, you don’t have to, they don’t want you to.
You talk to them, even when they need space and you need quiet time.
You shouldn’t check their school and work schedules but you do because that’s what all of your friends do.

You’re a good mom, you’ll get it.

Later, when you’re by yourself, you smile at something funny she said once.

Later, you fold a t-shirt and some shorts and suddenly remember the way waistbands on toddler shorts always slipped below those full baby bellies.

Later, you remember the births.
You stand, mesmerized by the memories before your eyes.
The cry, remember? It was more like a squawk.
Those navy-blue eyes, roaming, searching for yours.

There are so many good moms looking at each other, wondering…
…who loses their patience?
…who feels like running away sometimes?
…who thinks their child is selfish, ungrateful, or unkind sometimes?
…who hides in the pantry, just to think? Anyone else?

Good moms do. All the time.

Much later, you go for a long walk with your college child and she says “my friends tell me 'your mom is awesome'." 
You say, “They haven't met me.”
She says, “I know, but I tell them about you.”

You fall in love with that compliment forever.

You don’t need the report card that you will always find in the eyes of others.
Look for the questions in eyes of your child.
Show them the answers in yours.

And then, let it be you who says to the young moms out there, looking for who they are in everyone else’s eyes, not yet able to see it in their own:

You’re a good mom, oh yes you are.

You’re a good mom.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The moment

I could look at these for many
many moments.
I'm reading a lot lately about this place we're all trying to get into like a covered bus stop in the rain which is: 

The moment.

Stay in the moment.
Be in the moment. 

There’s not much to say about the moment, it’s where we always are. But until now, it wasn't a place where we lingered, for the pull of next week, next month, and so on. 

Now that we're faced with so much "right now," we are getting a lot of advice on getting there, or more accurately, staying there.

In the moment.

The moment is not a big place.
It’s where you meet up with your senses.
What you smell, hear, taste, feel, and see.
There’s not really a lot else going on.

Except for feelings.
Surprise, irritation, anxiety, wonder, inspiration, relief, joy,

And reactions.
Gasps and tears and laughter and sighs – of wonder, of grief, of amazement.

In the moment of now is where a song, a smell, a sound can drop you into a sweet moment of then.  I heard a black-capped chickadee last week and I was ten again, riding my pink stingray all over the world of my neighborhood.  

In a moment is where a look may cross a child’s face that wasn’t there before and make you realize how much there is to know about her.

In a moment, you might look around at your surroundings and think, I could make this all look better.

Or, you may look around at this place where you chose to live and think of all the other moments that happened here.

Maybe you brought a baby through that door for the first time. 
Maybe you walked your last college freshman through that door to a car that waited to go to the airport. 
Maybe you had a moment here when you decided what you were meant to do next.
Maybe you understood in another moment that all you need is in your life right now.

In a moment you may smell what you’ve made for dinner and think about what you’ll discuss tonight with your person.

In the moment is when an idea may run up to you and say, “Pick me! Let’s do this.”

You may become so overwhelmed with your luck and love in a moment that you don't want to move and startle the feeling away.  

A moment may hand you the gift of clarity on who you are, or would like to be, and damn it, will be, because when you are a deflated pool toy, some moments bring pumps.

In a moment that you didn’t ask for may be when you know the dog won’t make it, and pray the vet will come to you.

In a moment that you were afraid to hope for may be when you hear the words, “It was negative. You’re fine.”

It is in a moment that you see the first flakes of a first snowfall and might feel like a five-year-old.

I had a very large moment when I made the decision to stop writing and go back to work.

I had an extra-large moment when I went back to writing and got an email from a Washington Post editor that said, “I love it.”

It’s wonderful advice to be in the moment, and we know that we should try to stay there, but you know, life, right?


Arrows of worry. I have to return that sweater today.  I forgot to schedule that call. I’ll need to reschedule that dinner. I didn’t book the ferry. What if it rains? What if I can’t go back to work? What if I get sick?

What if.
What if.
What if.

I’ve never been good at following instructions to be in the moment, or telling a moment what it should bring me because the moment is already here with its gift of information. You don’t have to execute a process to reach the moment or organize a moment’s contents.  

You just have to stop walking away from it.

We have no plans right now.
We have nothing but the moment right now.

While we have no choice, and while it’s free from the pull of plans for future moments, I wish all of us attunement without struggle. I wish all of us the fullest of feelings and reactions to the moments.  

They're not always very big, and they work so hard. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

When this is over

Here is a  nice thing that is
 coming no matter what.
In  Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's book on writing, she discusses a kind of story-sprawl, when the possibilities for an idea can go in all directions, and overwhelm the writer. 

Says Lamott: “E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 

However long this period of "distancing" lasts, and even knowing that some things will change forever, you will look back on this. What you remember will depend on how far into the dark you tried to see and what you did about what you couldn't.  

We are dealing with frightening things, yes. Contagion. The stock market. Unemployment. Upended events.

Our daughter will give birth in less than three months. I've worried that I might not be able to be there until well after the baby comes. She worried that she might not be able to have her husband with her in the delivery room.

We don’t know.

But maybe I will be.

Maybe he will be.

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this how long will we be here period, I couldn’t see this day from there. I only hoped I had enough pantry staples and stuff to read. 

Two weeks ago, in the headlights, I saw extended opportunities to start and finish projects. I became more mindful of the people I don’t talk to enough, and asked them to tell me about their experiences, and I shared mine. Without interruptions or appointments or dates, I didn’t hurry to finish a piece, and I didn’t leave tasks unfinished.

There was now time for everything, some things I might not otherwise do.  

I’ve had long walks with people I love and have been reminded of how I need them.
My husband and I have become excellent at offering comfort and reassurance to the one of us who needs it most, and it isn't always me. Well, yes it is.  
Our conversations with our kids often stretch past an hour.
We’ve been silly and awkward on video calls with people, but have learned to actually like them a LOT.
We’re talking candidly with all of our friends and family about the deepest anxieties we share, and ways we are dealing with uncertainty. 

The connection that many of us have made so mindfully while apart, has made me understand that  proximity is a luxury. If you are sharing conversation, worry, humor, fears, you are sharing.  

That said.  

Eventually, all of us look into that dark and think, Wait, we’re still here?


We crave answers, we’re frightened when they don’t come, and for some of us, not knowing how long we’ll be here is akin to thinking we’ll be here forever.

We won’t be.

The virus will be contained.
The death toll will slow and stop.
The market will come back.
Offices and businesses and schools will open.
The rest of our lives will resume and we’ll be free to roam again.

We will have lighter hearts when that happens, and I look forward to that. But the truth is, what you do while you wait, is what you’ll remember.

They will be memories of some connections we created or came back to. Parents will know their children better, friends will be more grateful for each other, partners in love will thank their stars for the luck in finding each other, neighbors will have practiced selfless acts of food drop-offs and well-checks that made them better people. Complaints over minor irritants will be a thing we used to do, now that we know what really matters.

It won’t be just the hard and awful stuff we remember. It will be the way we reached for each other if there was any way to do it, and learned to live with not-like-before-but-enough.  

I will remember my video calls with my daughter, in her glorious third trimester, and how, even if I could not hold her hand as I desperately wish I could right now, I will still have been able to look at her eyes and smile and hear her voice and say, “You just look so beautiful right now.”

I will remember talking through the anxieties and sharing the weird humor with my loved ones that comes from standing (six feet apart) in shared headlights, group-summoning faith that right things will be right again.

Right now, make the choice to practice acts, words, deeds, communication and gratitude that may have required exactly the fertile soil of these difficult circumstances to take root and bloom.

Never forget that for all the pain and worry and anxiety of unknowns, this time in life will end, and you will get to keep the gifts.

With love and gratitude,


Friday, February 21, 2020

When a parent listens: for my mother and my children

Here would be a nice place
to listen to someone you love.
There comes a time as you’re growing up, when you realize that your life would be easier if your parent would not always shine a big flashlight on the parts that aren’t quite right and start asking questions.

Because, when you’re growing up you just can’t know yet that everything is in progress. You are sure that what is true about you right now will be true forever, and some of those things, you’d like to keep to yourself, thank you very much.

And, you don’t need your parent asking you how you’re handling this, what you are doing about that, what’s going on with whatever that thing is that’s going on. Because, you don't even know yourself.

No, you would like your parent to notice the highs, not the lows, please. Ask about the achievements, not the missteps. Not worry about you.  See you the way you wish to be seen, as a smart, independent person who doesn’t need a parent hovering.

And so, that’s the story of you that you offer.
And that is what your parent does.
Your parent celebrates the story you offer.

A day comes later, when you realize your parent probably knew there was more to that story you told, but knew it was more important to let you sit with it for a while, maybe look back at a few pages, maybe do your own guessing about what would happen next.    

Later still, you begin to realize that what you say, what you look like, what you’re wearing on the outside makes people form opinions about you. And while only the outside cover of your story is available to them, you will eventually want to share some of the inside pages too.

Because, you have learned that trusting another with your inside stories, and hearing theirs, is also known as love.

There comes a time when you’ve grown up, and you realize the weight of your worth. You know your gifts, your capacity to love and be loved. You’ve accepted your flaws, and know your empathy. You understand compassion and pride. You realize that where your mind goes, your heart is already there waiting to ask your mind a few questions, just to make sure they're on the same page, looking out for you.

You like your story a lot now, even if you’re still writing it. You are still sharing it with your parent, because now, there are parts they won’t know any other way. You have learned that they will listen now, to learn about you again.

Later, when you have your own small child, they will begin to tell you their own first lines, and soon, it won’t be a page they give you, but a small stack of pages. You will know what they’re leaving out, and you will let them do that.

Being listened to has taught you that you are lovable as much for what you don’t show, as what you tell. 

Being listened to has taught you that for all you would give to those you love so much, if you have been listening, you have offered it already. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

When couples differ politically, it might feel like a test because it is.

Here would be a nice place
to gently discuss politics
My husband was scheduled to have surgery recently. It was a procedure that would require general anesthesia and so, the night before, without a hint of drama, he asked me to sit with him so he could show me how he’d organized our vital documents.

Now, he said, they were sorted and placed in a good sturdy binder with tabs and cover sheets that described them.

When I came in, he had the binder on his lap, and he laid a hand on it. "Everything you need is right here," he said, while I thought about the words, everything and need and the binder that will never exist to guide me toward them.  

My husband leans right and I lean left.  Sometimes, we lean so hard we fall over. But, fingers crossed, neither of us has been so “far” in either direction that we've lost sight of each other.

But in moments of intense disagreement, when I can’t square a conservative view with what I know of his heart, I have wondered how people like us remain close while feeling apart on something as important as politics.

Later, away from such moments, when I am wondering what I need at the store, or whether to submit this or that piece, or want to share something my husband will find funny or poignant or surprising, I remember those moments and shake my head to understand:  politics does not just create arguments, it creates arguments that dwarf everything else that is important.

Political differences are more illuminating than our similarities. They reflect who we’ve become on the spectrum of personal change as we age and experience. They challenge the couple culture that formed around earlier versions of ourselves. If we’re some of us, political differences drive us to shore up the core and remain connected in the ways we always were. If we’re others of us– even people who have weathered far worse storms – they are grounds to separate from each other.

Our most resilient bonds lie there, at that core where it isn’t about politics but our family and friends and feeling for someone who is struggling, and whether our children are okay, and what we want for dinner, and how to communicate so that we think about the way we’re heard more than what we want to say.

At the core is the worry and joy we share when things happen to one of us, in the world of both of us.  Like surgery. 

Do I have to remember that when we disagree? I do. We’ve worked hard to respect our differences without seeing each other differently.

Our president’s divide-and-conquer mentality, and the vulgar way he demonizes those not willing to support him unconditionally, have taught his more combative followers to see those with whom they disagree the way our president sees his critics. The exchanges that are caught on video are heartbreaking.

In these times, in many of those minds, you are or you ain’t.

You’re right or you’re left. You’re Trump or you’re Warren. You’re a liberal who cares for the less fortunate or you’re a conservative who tells homeless people to get a job.

My husband and I are mindfully closer to the middle. He still makes me breakfast on Sunday and I still make beef stew when we're snowed in. We watch stuff on TV together, and I encourage him to think about a second dog because it would be good for him. He asks me about my writing and my ideas. When one of us isn’t well, or happy or sure about things, the other one steps up to reassure, comfort, make jokes.

We have had to learn new ways of having simple conversations if disagreement is likely. He has had to stop interrupting, and I have had to stop making bad faces. Both of us are learning to say to each other and to others from whom we differ, “Tell me why you see it that way,” and not, “Let me tell you why you’re wrong.” 

Before Trump, we were and still are, parts of the past, the present and the future that we imagined for ourselves. The future, as it always has, will borrow from that core that brought us together and make us stay put.

My husband’s surgery is in the past now, and he is fine, I still have everything that I need and I know two new things. Where the documents are, and that what exists between people who love each other is not about what stays the same, but what lasts.

Thursday, January 30, 2020


Here would be a nice place  to visit right now.

A while back, having not lied about my skills but fluffed them up a bit, I was hired into a position that was too big for me. I mean, I was thrilled and told everyone about it, but a few weeks in, despite good performance, I still felt like a worried forest animal all the time.  

I was not suffering from feelings of incompetence, I was suffering from thinking I should know more, right now.

A few special words turned things around.

I might have seen them once in the Ask Beth column that I read in my teens, or they may have been scrawled on a bathroom stall in college, but they circled back years later to tell me :

“Act as if you already feel the way you want to, until you do.”

With practice, I could imitate a feeling of confidence, until it came naturally. I lost the feeling that at any moment, I would be discovered and eventually, my eyebrows came back down.. 

The terms “imposter syndrome,” and, “fraud complex,"  refer to the fear of not being truly matched with, or passionate about, or skilled enough to live up to a hard-won goal, despite measures of success. They get tossed around a lot, particularly by young people in their first significant jobs. 

It had been exactly that suspicion I grappled with back before it became a syndrome.  I felt I’d been nailed selling myself long when actually I had not yet tested the reach of my experience and had to, as they say, "fake it ‘til you make it.”
I like my adage better, but here’s the word that makes both of them worth putting on a post-it and sticking it where you’ll see it every day: until.

Not only because of its truth – that all things – flying, public transportation, presentations – become less daunting with exposure, but also because all wrapped up in the word “until” is the reminder that the present, with all its power, comes to our lives just once, to inform what will come next.

Because, as I have told myself, my friends, my children, and sometimes their friends, and occasionally strangers and fretful dogs,

Everything, up or down, is just right now.

All moments that come after right now, suggested by the word until, will be influenced by those that came before. Whether they’ve made you richer or poorer, or educated about how to live better, no moment will find you less knowledgeable than you are right now, only more. 

And imagine that, what you can do with those moments of smarter.

You may love feeling free and independent and mobile until you learn that your maturity and self-awareness have left you with gifts to bring to a relationship, maybe a marriage, maybe even at some point, small people who will spend years literally, and then figuratively looking up to you. 

You may be frustrated with the cost of living and bored with the job that once terrified you until you realize you have also earned the courage to go after the thing you’d rather look back on in a couple of decades.  

You may be new and awkward in a strange place until you master your surroundings and wish to build a new memory of conquering change because, look! Now you know how.

You may be tired of understanding and learning and changing your mind about yourself, until you realize that at the same time, you were also understanding and learning and changing your mind about others too.

The word “until” is weighty. It suggests that you can stay or go, but are always on the way to something else that will draw on your cumulative smarts, and hopefully enrich your spirit and sense of humor about life.

Whether you long to leave, or dread when you will have to, “until” is a word equally full of promise and relief that gently asks you to trust the future, while you get ready to create it.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

How to put a little more "Guess what I did?" in your life

This looks like a place where you
could do some good reflecting,
not the tedious kind.
I love and don’t love my reflective nature. On one hand, it serves my writing, particularly fiction.  

It's also helpful to be this way when too many issues have been left hanging, or when I suspect that a thing I’ve been blaming someone else for is actually a thing of my making.

Reflective time has shown me that it can feel good to be wrong. 

And, when that happens, a reflective nature can help you person-up, unless you’d rather remain difficult and wonder why others can’t just be more like you.

Other times, a reflective nature is a needy, slow-talking neighbor who stops you when you’re on your way out the door, ten minutes late, with no gas, and a headache.

In this blog, I’ve talked about many things that come down to giving yourself a break – not reinventing yourself which, okay  – but just giving yourself a little breathing room.

For most of us, the years ahead have the potential to be satisfying and illuminating, but many of us, and truly – because I read and read and read about how we are – many of us are stopped by mistakes of the past or doubts about the future that line up at the steps of that future like little bouncers and say, “Yeah, but wait. What about this?” 

This is how "wish I had" happens. 

It isn’t terrible to have a file in your head called “Wish I had,” in fact, try and reach forty without having such a file in progress. “Wish I had” feelings happen to everyone, but they are not meant to just lie there and be useless. They are not meant to punish you for blowing your only shot because there is no such thing as "only shot."

Rather, “wish I had” feelings are meant to pry your eyes open to the things you have become ready for, or are trying to become ready for with just a little more age, growth and experience that is not like anyone else's.  

People can be maddeningly reluctant to pursue their known dreams. They can fill your head with so many ideas of why that is, you’ll start to agree. These are people who need reflective time; not the tedious neighbor kind, but the good, centering kind, . 

A while back, I knew an unhappy someone who was so averse to coloring outside the lines of her life, she could only trivialize the activity of reflecting and redirecting by calling it"navel-gazing."

But all of us, even that unhappy someone, are reflecting all the time - when we cook, when we drive, when we run or walk, and when we sit on planes if we are not next to people who take off their shoes and socks and eat chips. 

Reflective time was born to solve "wish I had" problems before they take over whereas navel-gazing is passive and hurts your neck. 

It's active, and like drinking water or moving our bodies or avoiding people who psychologically injure others, it supports good mental health. 

A well executed, reflective pocket of time - with a solid question at the center - can quiet the mind enough to hear the soul speak and unless the soul has been bound and gagged and put in the attic where it can't urge you off the path of "have to," the soul knows what it's talking about. 

So here is a fun activity that worked for me and might work for you and that unhappy someone if she ever looks me up.

Imagine saying to a person who loves you, “Guess what I did?”

Imagine the person saying, “What? What?”

And imagine telling them a thing you did, which at this moment, seems like nothing you’d ever attempt, but in this fantasy-exercise, is something you planned for, then went ahead and did.  Try it on.

"I decided to open a restaurant."
“I decided to run for office."
“I decided to change careers."
“I decided to sell my art.”
“I decided to see a therapist about…”

I had this imaginary conversation before I went back to school, and it made me feel too good to abandon the idea. Abandoned ideas that feel good never really go away.

If you’re lucky.

So, practice this.

“Guess what I did?”
“What? What?”

But make the loved person you’re talking to your very own self.

And make some plans without pressure, but with the counsel of your  soul. You may be surprised. 

Caution: You may not act right away. You may only have created a nice fantasy to visit now and then. But that's how many, many good things happen, and not for nothing, how a whole lot of fiction gets written.