The Friend That Every New Mom Needs

My That’s Ok Friend

I believe in friendships that last a lifetime, and not because you stay connected on a weekly basis via phone, coffee date, email or even facebook.  But I believe in friendships that last a lifetime because for as long as a lifetime lasts, there is someone out there who values the characteristics that are unique to you (good and not-so-good) and feels the same level of appreciation and respect for you that you feel for them.  

A true friend doesn’t come with obligation or guilt to remember birthdays or reciprocate social invitations.  A true friend comes with the security and power of knowing that they love you always, celebrate your successes no matter what, and feel your heartbreaks deeply.  

I have one of these true friends and she is about to move hundreds of miles away.  She explains it well when she says that a friend doesn’t just know you, a friend gets you and loves you anyway.

This particular friend is my “That’s Ok Friend” because she’s cool with everything.  If our opinions differ, that’s ok.  If I don’t call her back, that’s ok.  I met her when our children were very young and at a time when I needed permission for everything to be ok.  New to my role as a mother, yet still without a revised self-identity I was in a foreign world, wading my way through motherhood and life in the suburbs.  It’s a stage in life that can be full of self-doubt, loneliness and opinions from others who are also trying to navigate their own way through.  

But not my “That’s Ok Friend.”  We have a mutual approach towards one another to just appreciate who we both are and not expect anything else.  I like to think that we share a common trait of viewing the world around us, including things that are different from ourselves, through a lens filtered by curiosity, not judgement.  Sometimes we recognize that we have a lot in common, and sometimes we recognize that we don’t have much in common with each other and with others.  And that’s ok.

During our first conversation, our babies crawled on the floor around us and she revealed to me her plans for securing her children’s admission to an Ivy League school (it involves making a move to South Dakota when they are teenagers).  I loved her wacky but brilliant theory and liked her instantly.  

As our children went from toddlers to preschoolers to grade schoolers, she continued to provide me with knowledge, laughter and intellectual stimulation during a stage of life that often lacks those things.  

She confirmed my suspiscion that when people say they went to school in Boston, it’s really code for going to Harvard.  I bounced ideas off of her and secured feedback on extra curricular activities for the kids.  We debated religion, politics and a moral compass with settings unique to each individual.  We played cards and drank cabana drinks.  At parties, she would go outside for a smoke and while not smoking, I’d join her in the cold night air, just for the chance to steal a few minutes of solo conversation and laughter with her.

She encouraged me to start writing years ago.  And when I finally did she cheered my successes.  

When my life turned upside down after my second child was born unexpectedly still, she offered support in a perfectly gentle way.  She didn’t force conversation.  She just kept persistently inviting my toddler and I over for play dates, simply offering a safe place and way to get out of the house during those long winter days.  

The visits were never fussy or high-maintenance.  She had post-it notes with spelling words for her kids stuck to her walls and I explained to her how to make a crock pot meal.   She wore her high school cheerleading t-shirt and I wore my maternity jeans five months postpartum and that was ok.

A few years later when we were celebrating the anniversary of my daughter’s death and birthday, my dear friend sent me a prayer and helped make that day a little closer to ok.


I still share this prayer every Thanksgiving:

On this day, looking around this table, we naturally think of what God has 
taken away from us.  And, you know, I’m still pretty angry about it.  
But right now I am looking around this table at my friends and family 
and just thinking, wow, Look At What God Has Let Us Keep.  
And for that I am thankful.”

She knows that this is a valued part of our holiday even without a big heart-to-heart conversation where to I told her as much.  And that’s ok.


When I was pregnant with my third and fourth children, I didn’t discuss baby names with many friends or family members.  But I asked this friend for her opinion on names and listened intently as she offered it (even though she admittedly named her daughter after a soap opera character).

That soap opera name is written in black Sharpie on the inside of many of the sweaters hanging in my daughter’s closet.  We receive her hand-me-downs as they come through a clothing trail our friends use to pass on the stuff their kids don’t wear anymore.

  
As our kids grew older and we got busier with their schools, our paths didn’t cross as often.  But when we did get together, it was always treasured time.   I loved hearing about her family vacations around the world and she appreciated our adventures.  We swapped thoughts and philosophies on a continued variety of topics.

Now our oldest children are turning ten and she is moving from the Midwest to the East Coast.  I know how this will go, and that’s ok.  

We’ll keep in touch casually with a text every so often, and she’ll give me a facebook “thumbs-up like” every now and then, but she’ll never post anything.  And that’s ok.

I’ll send her a holiday card every year and she’ll send me an email to let me know how much she likes it, but she’ll never send a card back.  She doesn’t do cards.  And that’s ok.

On the birthdays of my kids she’ll send a text with well wishes and I’ll feel her warmth over my phone.  But I’ll never remember to reciprocate.  And that’s ok.

And someday, I’ll read about how one of her kids is a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court or Nobel Peace Prize (no, kidding, I really will!), and I’ll think to myself, “oh look at that….she did such a good job raising those kids.”   I’ll be so proud of my friend, even though I won’t have talked to her for years.  And that’s ok.

Its all ok because that’s how a friendship for a lifetime goes.  As we all know, we go through stages and phases of life.  Along the way we pick up people who need to be there to accompany us through that particular stage.   During this stage of adjusting to young motherhood in the suburbs I needed this friend for a sanity check as I navigated through both everyday stuff and life crisis stuff.

But just as this stage comes to a close, the friend who was an important lifeline is moving away.  And that’s ok.  

Because I know, and she knows, that life is continued movement.  And things always go most smoothly when that movement is in a forward direction. But every so often, we’ll get caught up in wave of nostalgia and look back on this stage of life with a reverence reserved for only the most sacred of times.  This is the phase where we discovered ourselves as mothers.  And the people who surrounded us during this most sacred of times will hold the most tender spots in our hearts.

And so my friend is off for a new stage and new phases, and that’s ok.










Mommy Sabbatical

It was Mother’s Day and my husband handed me a homemade certificate for a spa treatment.  I feigned a “thank you”.  Both he and I knew that I would never use it.  I never had in the past.  Not for any big reason, but just because it became something more that I needed to coordinate in the family’s calendar.  Calling spas, researching prices and making the appointment, all for a service that I’m not totally familiar with and don’t always appreciate the value in.  So the gesture, while appreciated, always became just that…a gesture.

“Wait, wait,” he offered, “the other choice that you have is for me take a week’s vacation from work and handle all of the day-to-day kid activities, while you…..just take a break“.  

He had me at the word break.  It had been a long stretch of diligence, and I was feeling bogged down by stints of taking care of the kids alone while he traveled for work and volunteer commitments at the kids’ school.  Motherhood is my greatest privilege, yet it was starting to feel like something I was soldiering through. 


For the first time in several years I was coming out of the cycle of being pregnant, trying to get pregnant, nursing and/or sleepless.  My youngest child was now two and I felt like I was able to start standing up straight again, literally and figuratively.  I was soon to be no longer hunched over a stroller, a nursing baby or a wobbly child learning to walk.  I could feel just a tad bit of freedom beckoning around the corner.  Deep breaths and rolled back shoulders would follow soon.  

I knew all of this space was coming, but was also acutely aware of savoring and clinging tightly to every precious moment with my young children.  Nevertheless, I was beginning to feel a bit lost in it all.  At times I couldn’t keep myself focused on a thought and seemed to forget things easily.  Sleepless nights and a mind spinning with child-related activities were clashing against the persistent chatter of three young children and making me feel like my brain was processing everything just a beat slower than the rest of the world.
This gift and offer was perfectly timed.  Without taking even a moment to ponder the decision, I handed back the homemade spa certificate and said I’d be happy to have him watch the kids for a week.  My husband has earned more vacation time then we have funds, or babysitters, to help us take advantage of it.  Finding sitters is always a stress without family in town and with a child with severe food allergies.  Even with grandparents able to look after our kids, its bit of a risk and poses the logistical snags of traveling them to us or vice versa.  

So I welcomed the idea of leaving the kids in the trustworthy hands of my co-parent, life partner and their father.  But what was even more appealing about the idea was that my husband would get a small glimpse into our daily life.  Its a daily life that he knows, but doesn’t feel in all of its messiness and strain.  He is a hands-on and involved dad, but he works long hours and travels often.  While this is appreciated, it also shields him from the day-to-day grind of car pools and extra curricular activities.  The sports gear, the snacks, the homework, the PTO dynamics, the backseat demands….its all par for a course which I’m grateful to be a player on.  But its all stuff that I was happy to hand over for a few days while he experienced the joy and chaos of it all.

Where would I go?  What would I do?  It didn’t matter.  I’d be on a break.  As much as I cherish time with my long distance friends I knew that what I craved right now is the space to sharpen myself, clear my head and get to that place of being able to take deep breaths again. 

Prior to having kids I enjoyed the times when I made work trips by myself.  Being in the airport solo and exploring new places on my own was empowering and refreshing.  Its part of the same reason that I enjoy jogging because these times give me the chance to be alone with my thoughts.  I am fueled in equal parts by friends, neighbors, loved ones….and myself.  With the constant presence of young children always in my ear, what I needed was alone.  What I needed was a sabbatical! 

The word sabbatical takes root in Biblical times and the commandment to rest and keep holy the seventh day.  More recently it is used to describe a break in regular responsibilities that many companies offer their employees after several years of committed service so the employee can rest, travel, do research, or whatever they choose.
That was it!  I would take a Mommy Sabbatical.  After nine years of dedicated service, I could use a break from my regular responsibilities and take some time away to recharge and refresh.
Immediately I knew how this would work. I’d take my sabbatical in late September.  Summer was right around the corner and already choreographed with weddings, block parties, swim meets and everything else that makes summer so fun.  Waiting until September would allow time for my husband to plan his work calendar accordingly.  Additionally, most of the craziness of those initial back-to-school activities would be past and a month in, we’d have our fall schedule fine tuned and running relatively smoothly.  Late September is a little window of calm after the hype of late August, but before the busy days leading into Halloween, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.  I knew that I was leaving some volunteer commitments behind, but I also knew that I’ve given a lot of my time to others and not much to myself.
Over the weekend prior to my departure, I asked many of you on my facebook page if I should make it easier for my husband while I was away and lay out neat little piles with the swim/soccer/school gear or let him sweat it out and deal with trying to unearth it all in our piles of laundry.  Some of you said I should make him figure it out so he’d have a true feel for how the week flows and appreciate what I do.  Others of you said I should organize it all for him since he was giving me such a gift (…and to minimize the phone calls when he can’t find something).
I took both responses and did something in between.  I made piles and lists to help him know the rhythm of who goes where when and what to take, but I also left plenty of room for he and the kids to create their own pattern and memories together.  I offered a few laughable but true tidbits like: 
  • depart at least 20 minutes before every activity, even if its only 2 minutes away…somehow you’ll need the extra 18 minutes.
  • upon departure go through a check list of three key things: epi-pens?  potty?  shoes on the right feet?  (please note I can never nail the last two)
  • Five minutes is a really tight turnaround to get from one school to the other.  Be strategic about which train track crossing you choose and bring your A-game!
  • You won’t have time to take a shower or properly use the restroom until Wednesday afternoon.  Plan accordingly.
  • In the middle of Tuesday night activities you’ll shake your head and say to yourself, “this sucks!”  And it will…but then it won’t.
So I took my Mommy Sabbatical and drove five hours away from home to a family cottage on Lake Erie.  It was no extra financial expense to us and certainly not glamorous.  But just the drive alone with my music and my decisions was lovely.  I took the long way, and stopped at random spots that interested me without worry of whether the car’s pause would wake a sleeping toddler or elicit complaints from others.  Upon my arrival, it was just me and my thoughts.  I took bike rides and wrote, and wrote and took bike rides.  And it was a glorious quiet, and a glorious wonderful.
Once in a while I ventured out to find inspiring places to write, and came up with these spots.  A winery, a light house, and the beach all served as a backdrop for me to soul search and dig up old stories.


I binged on old episodes of HBO shows, read trash magazines and had late afternoon snacks consisting of chicken salad, green salad and frosted cookies that served as both lunch and dinner.  I put myself on a Diet Coke detox and kept hydrated with water.  
Occasionally I’d get a text or phone call from my husband asking where a certain item was or what time  they needed to be someplace.  A few mommy friends reached out to tell me that he was doing just fine, they’d seen him arrive on time at school with everyone dressed and their hair combed. 
There was this text from him that clearly earned one of our daughters, Lucy, the best souvenir and first place standing in the Favorite Child Race, at least for today (just kidding, of course!…kinda).

The text made me feel good because it was acknowledgement that I’m doing a good job from one of the little people who I do it all for.  And in the midst of my glorious time alone, my heart felt a little pang. 

  

And there was a phone call when our daughter was crying about going to school.  I offered a few suggestions to my husband about how to work with her on breathing and bravery.  I assured her that I’d see her the following day and hung up the phone.  The call made me feel sad that my little girl was having a hard time and I wasn’t there to hug her.  And my heart felt a little pang. 

And finally there was a text from my husband letting me know that our bathtub was out of commission due to a leak and he wasn’t sure how he was going to wash our youngest child.  I suggested that he put her in the kitchen sink just like when she was a baby.  I told him to bring down her rubber ducky and make a big game out of it.  He was relieved with the suggestion and responded, “oh good idea!  Vivian will love that!”  The idea made me feel happy because I knew she would love it.  And my heart felt another little pang.

So a bit later, there was this photo.  Still lapping up my alone time, I found myself checking the iCloud camera roll on my phone and found this snapshot her special kitchen sink bath time.
  
The snapshot made me laugh.  She did love it.  It was a good idea!  And my heart felt yet another little pang.  

All of those little pangs in my heart on my Mommy Sabbatical made me realize that the beauty of quiet and nature helps give me the clarity to breathe deeply and discover the old stories deep in my soul.  But the beauty of chatter, chaos and children is creating new chapters.  My family’s story is right there unfolding in front of me everyday.  Its just a matter of being able to see it.  So if getting away helped me sharpen my focus to a point that I am more mindful of these moments and stories as they are being presented, then a Mommy Sabbatical was just what I needed.

An Ordinary Day (with Food Allergies)

A rushed evening. With kids aged 9, 5 and 2, all of my evenings are, it seems. But that night was particularly rushed. Not only was it Curriculum Night at the kids’ school, but my husband was flying in from a work trip, our dining room ceiling was torn up from a suspected bathtub leak above and the floor was littered with post-vacation laundry (never mind that the vacation was two weeks earlier). Back-to-school papers and leftover birthday cards bumped into each other on the kitchen table and I scurried around trying to get the kids fed before picking up our babysitter.

Pretzel dogs — its what for dinner! Throw down a cup of mandarin oranges, a glass of soy milk and a microwave steamed bag of green beans and we’ve covered all the food groups, right? It’s not our usual, but would have to do for tonight, anyway. Now, if I could just get them eating, I’d have a minute to make sure I didn’t have stains on my shirt or smell too badly. I still had to organize the papers that my role as Kindergarten Room Parent required me to arrive with in the classroom that night and baths to give.

Plop, plop, plop, swish, swish, swish. Three plates were filled with food and three plates were distributed via a push across the countertop to three hungry kids.

“No, I don’t know when Daddy will be home.”
“Yes, the babysitter is coming tonight.”
“Well, go potty then”
“What’s wrong, why are you crying?”

As they usually do, my 5-year-old and 2-year-old daughters claimed the energy of the room with their requests and chatter. My 9-year-old son, with a bit more maturity (a bit!) and the appetite of a boy his age, fist-pumped the air when we saw the pretzel dogs and let out a “for dinner, really?!?” I sighed and nodded. He enthusiastically responded with a “Yes!” before digging in and taking a bite.

Despite the chaos of his little sisters, the house and the to-dos for the evening, a thought managed to present itself to the front of my mind. Shoot! I didn’t double-check the ingredients on the pretzel dogs when we purchased them at Costco the past weekend. We’ve had them many times before, but in the craziness of the Sunday afternoon family shopping trip, I didn’t remember to actually read the ingredients this time.

I’ve been reading ingredients on everything we purchase for the past nine years, ever since my son, Jack, at just 15 weeks of age, went into anaphylaxis in response to his first sip of formula.  Since then, our household has been free of his allergens — dairy, egg and nuts — in order to keep him safe.

“Wait!” I said to my son, “I have to check the ingredients!”

Obedient and respectful, he paused immediately, “But I’ve had them before, Mom”

“I know,” as I pulled open the freezer door, “it’s probably OK, but sometimes, the ingredients can change.” I only saw plastic bags of the pretzel dogs, but no exterior box with the ingredient labeling. I remembered that in order to make freezer space, I hadn’t saved the box.

“Just wait a second” I asked and went out to the recycling bin, where I flipped over box after box and couldn’t find it.

I hurried back in and told Jack that I couldn’t find it. I reassured him that it was probably no big deal, but we needed to check. He was getting a bit more concerned now and reporting that he just had one bite, but didn’t feel itchy or anything. He followed me around and I pulled up the Internet browser on the laptop.

“What was the brand? What was the brand?” He and I did an image search and our detective work was rewarded when we recognized the black box and red writing.

“That’s it!” he declared. I could tell that he was very hungry and really wanted to eat the pretzel dogs… and I could tell that he was getting a little worried and really wanting to know that the ingredients were safe.

“Good, here it is,” I said as I scanned the ingredients. Suddenly, I landed on the words “contains milk” and my body stiffened and jumped into action. Racing through my mind, I was thinking about how I wasn’t sure that this was the same box online that we had purchased… how in the past they had been fine… how he said he felt fine… but most importantly, how we needed to confirm.

Jack sensed the quick change of pace, as did the girls. Everyone was suddenly alert.

“Jack, get your EpiPen and come with me! Stay close. Girls, stay right there.” Jack grabbed his EpiPen and I grabbed my cell phone, poised to dial 911. We ran outside to the alley behind our house and tore open the garbage can. It was hot and humid, still 90 degrees at 5:30 p.m..  Dressed in white pants for a meeting that started in just 30 minutes, I flipped over the garbage can and began digging through food scraps and bathroom tissue. Jack kept reporting that he felt fine, he’d just had one bite.

“It only takes one bite, Jack,” I responded as I tore through the garbage.

Halfway down, I located the box and together, we read the ingredients on the back. I started laughing out loud and said, “Whew! Its all fine, Jack… same ingredients as before. You can go eat dinner.”

We started walking back towards the house and his fussing little sisters. Sweating, I wiped the hair off my forehead as Jack patted my back and said, “You’re a good mom!”

We made it through Curriculum Night and the busy days that followed. With everything going on, I didn’t think about the chain of events surrounding the pretzel dogs again.

In fact, I didn’t remember anything about the pretzel dogs until two days later, when I watched the interview with Natalie Giorgi’s parents. Natalie is the 13-year-old who died at a family camp after accidentally taking a bite of a dessert with peanut butter in it, despite being administered three EpiPens and practicing a lifetime of diligence. Her parents spoke out last week about the need for allergy awareness in hopes of starting a national discussion. As I watched them speak, I cried. Actually, I wept. The floodgates opened and out came my fear and sorrow as I wept for Natalie and her parents, siblings and friends. And I also cried for all of us living with the everyday fear of food allergies, be it in a convenience-based pretzel dog dinner or a celebration-focused camp dessert.

I vowed to follow the Giorgi’s example and their call for increased allergy awareness. I am encouraging friends and family to watch the documentary, Food Allergies in America: An Emerging Epidemic, narrated by Steve Carrell and airing on The Discovery Channel.  My son created a team to support food allergy research and awareness by joining a FARE Walk for Allergies at the end of the month. I have re-promoted a piece I wrote last spring about what its like to be an allergy mom and recalled the pretzel dog story to family and friends and now, to you.

The events surrounding our pretzel dog story may seem unremarkable because of their (thankfully) happy ending. Yet this story is important because it showcases a snapshot of what life is like when you have a child with food allergies. In fact, these fleeting moments of panic, interwoven between everyday life, are remarkable because they are so unremarkable.

You can learn more about supporting food allergy research and education at http://www.foodallergy.org.

This post appeared on The Huffington Post.  Click here to read more from Carissa on Huffington Post.


When a Choice Makes You

The following is a guest post for 5280mama.com and originally appeared on that site.
Over the last few months, Elayna at 5280mama.com and I have been corresponding about motherhood, careers, friendships and many things in between.  She asked me to write a few notes in the form of a guest blog post about why I chose to be at stay-at-home mom. 
However, when I sat down to write the post I had some trouble for a few reasons.   For starters, while we all appreciate each other’s perspectives, it can be dangerous to lean too heavily on what any other person says.  I really don’t want to be a spokeswoman for stay-at-home moms, working moms, or any other mom.   I just want to be a spokeswoman for me. 
And for me personally, that has been a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a working part time from home mom and a working part time away from home mom.  While I’m happy (on most days) and grateful for my situation, this is not the choice I intended to make.   As I said in a piece I wrote about Leaning In for The Huffington Post and LeanIn.org, I think its true that many of us can have co-existing dreams.
A series of unexpected circumstances and resulting decisions has brought me to this place and this perspective.  This perspective allows me to focus not on the outcome of a woman’s decision to stay at home or work, rather to focus on the universal difficulty surrounding this decision.  And whether it’s a decision that we get to make, or that is made for us, we as women should celebrate each other for surviving the deliberation, and surviving the difficulty logistically and emotionally in landing where we land.  For me personally, it’s a choice that has provided both sacrifices and gifts on both sides of the decision and it’s a difficulty that has both haunting and rewarding.
Prior to having children, I didn’t expect to land here.  Yet due to a series of medical situations and resulting life decisions, professionally I’ve arrived at a place that allows me to be full time stay-at-home with our three living children and use the skill set I’m honing as a mother to make regular contributions to Huffington Post Parents. 
There are certainly times when I fantasize about what life would be like with a hearty second income.  And there are times when I’m relieved to receive a phone call from the school nurses office and know that I can be there in minutes.  I hear myself tell my daughters and son a little too emphatically about my days when I worked in advertising and I worry is my example enough. 
I’ve lost a bit of who I was…that drive, that energy, that pace.  But I’ve gained a bit of who I am….that cheerfulness, that softness, this pace.  I think that perhaps I’m a bit more lover and a bit less fighter, which is both good and bad.  I miss the working me, but I am proud of this me. 
And that pride is what I need to know that my example is enough.  Because my example isn’t based on where I am or what I’m doing — my example is based on who I am and who I want to encourage my children to be.   I want my children to be happy, strong, smartand to use these things to contribute.  But better worded, I want my beautiful little maniacs to be grateful, courageous, wiseand to use these things to give. 
So I’d love to roll my shoulders back and proudly claim the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, or to be a working mom.   But it wasn’t the choice I expected to make, rather it’s a choice that made me.  So all I can do is roll my shoulders back, give myself a pat on the back for surviving the deliberation and proudly proclaim that this seems right for me….at this moment.
This post originally appeared on http://www.carissak.com.  You can read more from Carissa by following her on twitter @CarissaK, liking her facebook page http://www.facebook.com/carisskwriter and on The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carissa-k

Full Moon Rising




In this back-to-school season there’s a lot of talk about how we want to freeze time because its moving too fast and our kids are growing up.  I’m guilty.  I say this because its true!  It can make my heart literally ache to watch my children march off to a new grade level each fall.  Each year a higher number, a taller kid, bigger back-to-school shoes to purchase.  I want to take hold of time, of them, and just not let go.

Its late August and tonight is the final night before the reminder, “its a school night”, finds a nagging place in my voice.  And so on this last night of summer we pushed bedtime and played.

My husband took the kids to the school playground that will claim recess in a few days, while I stayed home and completed school forms.  The forms; the place where I struggle to find the right words to describe what I hope for in the school year and try to sum up my child’s unique characteristics in one sentence.  I’m always torn when I complete those forms.  On the one hand I’m so maddeningly ready to get the kids back to school, but on the other hand also so filled with emotion that summer is over and I have to hand them over again.

How do I capture that I want to hold them tight, but also let them go?  That I think they’re amazing always, but also so annoying right at this moment.  I want to say, “he’s contagiously curious and loves science….but boy, is he driving me bananas these days!”

The forms, the questions.  As a parent it’s our one chance to provide a small snapshot about our child and shape how they are perceived.  But really it’s up to our child to conduct themselves in a way that reflects the lessons we’ve tried to teach them.  We give a one sentence answer on a form, but they have seven hours a day to be who they are going to be.  We have no choice but to trust that who they reveal themselves to be will match the description we provided and hope for.

So tonight was my date with the forms and I sat home and waded through the tricky emotions associated with the answers, while my nine-year-old son, Jack, played in the spot where he will start 4th grade in just 36 hours.

My husband reports that as he played, a similarly aged girl introduced herself to Jack explaining that she just moved to town and will be starting school in his grade.  They chatted and climbed until they found themselves perched on top of the monkey bars.  At one point he let her know that when school starts she isn’t allowed to climb on this part of the recess equipment.  But then offered, “but hey, why not do it now?!”  Legs swinging, they talked about fishing and travels and various things in between as they watched a blue moon rising.  Happy, simple…summertime stuff.  Including the fact that there won’t be a full moon on Halloween until 2025 (she and her dad spent a week figuring that out).

Back home, I completed my forms introducing my son and stating my hopes for the school year.  I sealed the forms in an envelope and neatly placed them on the dining room table then noted the darkness filling the windows just as my family returned.  My husband smirked and whispered the evening’s events to me.  Concluding with the fact that during the walk home, Jack revealed to him that he might have a crush on a girl.

And so tonight, in the twilight of summer, with its 3rd full moon of the season rising, and the echoes of busy school hallways lurking just hours away, I realized that there’s beauty in holding on, yet there’s grace in letting go.








Chin up, Class of 2026!

My daughter will be headed off to college…in thirteen years.   While that thought can put both a lump in my throat and a spring in my step, depending on the day, I do have some time to sit with it a bit.  In fact, I have until 2026 to be exact.  Yet this morning, it became clear to me exactly what story I am going to tell her when that time comes. 
In fact, I had the chance to give her a preview of the tale today, even though she is only five years old.  Similar to the summer between her high school graduation and departure for college, this is also a big summer for Lucy.  This one is bookended by preschool and grade school.  At age five, she is a full hand of spread out digits each one proclaiming a year on this earth.  It’s a hand waiting for a high-five from a world ready to congratulate her for it all.  Losing her first teeth, writing her letters, taking off on her two-wheeled bike…these are all feats that she shares with anyone and everyone from cashiers at the grocery store to tellers at the bank.  And these are all feats that earn her a high five and cheers from these parties who are generous enough to lend an ear to a spirited five-year-old.
Until she had a crash on her bike, scraped up her chin and crushed her tiny little spirit.  We saw a pediatric dentist and checked everything out.  Thanks to helmets, her chin was the only casualty of this very bad fall.  Even still, it’s kind of sad; I can tell that she doesn’t recognize herself when she passes a mirror.  And it’s kind of sad; her big brother exclaimed that she looks like she has a beard.  
Fortunately that same big brother, Lucy and I have been reading the wonderful book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, chapter by chapter over a number of bedtime sessions this summer.   This sweet and revealing book tells the story of a boy with a facial deformity going to school for the first time.  It is filled with precepts about many things including loving yourself exactly as you are and loving each other no matter what. Thanks to lessons from this book and lessons from life, we all know that a scraped up chin is really not a big deal.  Not really.  And she knows that too, but in my daughter’s little world, her red, raw chin is a big deal, right at this time.  And it’s kind of sad.
And so this morning, when she didn’t want to go to have fun at the beach with her big bandage and her scrape and her embarrassment, it was kind of sad.
Luckily, I had the just the right dose of funny to cheer up her sad.  I told her about how when I went to college as a freshman I had two huge black eyes.  I was in a car accident the week before and other than a totaled car, the only damage was a matching set of bruised eyes, swollen shut with only a small sliver of an opening from which I could see.  It was kind of sad to go to college and meet a bunch of new people looking like this, but what choice did I have really?   I did my hair and selected one of my favorite outfits, topped by a puffy face and two shiners.   I rolled my shoulders back and walked into my dorm room to meet a person I only knew as a name on a piece of paper, but would be living with over the next four years.  Paying no attention to my eyes, she said, “hi, I’m Amy”.  No doubt, this new roommate would become an old friend in no time.  

Those black eyes quickly became irrelevant as we swapped stories of our summers and plans for school.  Just hours into our newly formed friendship shared interests were discovered.  We were laughing about TV shows and high school experiences, and everything in between…including those black eyes. We made up stories to tell the boys in our dormitory about how I had a nose job, gone bad.  We used the eyes to make our way to the front of lines and they became a great conversation piece when we were meeting other freshman on our campus.  Everyone remembered me and my signature accessory.
As the bruises around my eyes shrunk, the friendship with my roommate grew.  Twenty years later, she is still one of my closest friends.  We currently live over 800 miles apart, but that feels close because at times we’ve been separated by oceans and international date lines.  In fact, other than those few years when we shared a bunk bed in college, we’ve never lived in the same state, or even the same time zone, at the same time.  Yet her friendship is one of the cornerstones in my life.
We give each other advice on parenting, and pick out handbags for each other.  We go shoe shopping together…on Zappos, while on the phone.  I can’t imagine going any significant stretch of time without talking to her on the phone or shooting her a text, either about a big life challenge, or about Katie Couric’s dress color.  And as for the black eyes, they’re rarely mentioned, except for on occasion like the one time in our late twenties, when she sent me a photograph of the freshman black eyes with a post-it note attached saying, “just remember this when you don’t feel so good about yourself.”
Just thinking about that note makes me laugh, just as I laughed this morning when I told Lucy this story and catered it to her five years of age.  I said that to me those black eyes represent a time when I was able to be brave and turn something kind of sad into something kind of funny.  And furthermore, they represent a time when I made a friend for a lifetime.  We talked about how great it was that my roommate didn’t let my appearance stop her from making a new friend, just like in the book we’ve been reading. 

Then we talked about how Lucy’s chin represents how hard she has been trying to ride her bike on two-wheels and how sometimes you’re going to fall, but you have to get back up.  Plus, when someone sees that scrape, they’re going to think about how Lucy is brave.  And that scrape shows how interesting Lucy must be, how she has a really good story to tell! 
Lucy seemed receptive to my story and I immediately sent a text to my friend saying,  “just got to use your friendship and my college black eyes in a teaching moment with Lucy”.
She replied:

She is right.  I can’t tell this story only once while Lucy is five, and then not again until she is eighteen.  I need to keep telling it over and over.   So much so, that it won’t be a story, rather a part of the texture in the fabric of her being.  It will become so ingrained in her that she’ll forget that it’s not her original story, rather a blend of her story and my story.  Isn’t that exactly how it works, really?  Parents and children and true friends, we continue to be always interwoven…strengthening the durability of each other and adding layers of richness and beauty to one another by being a part of each other’s history and tales.
I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for this story to be told, with various renditions, over the years between now and when she goes to college.  But today, upon hearing it for the first time, Lucy laughed, put her chin up and confidently marched off to the beach, just as I marched into that dorm room twenty years ago. 
The world is full of discovery, lessons, hardships and laughs.  So in thirteen years when she is headed off to college I’ll have some general tips:  study hard and have fun (but not too much fun).  And some more specific tips:  when that first warm day of spring hits, go ahead and skip class and sit on an old couch in the front yard with your friends (you’ll spend the rest of your life reminiscing about that afternoon).  And a big tip:  study abroad (oh gosh, please study abroad).
But I’ll also have this, an interwoven story that blends my story and her story, a story about bravery and how I went to college with my black eyes and how she went to the beach with her scraped chin.  
In the meantime, first things first:  Lucy marches off to Kindergarten in just three short weeks!  Chin-up, Class of 2026!

The Gap

Your smile.  That familiar beam of light radiates from every aspect of you.  Its starts in your bright, twinkling eyes but quickly stretches out to your entire face, right down to the tiniest muscle in your dimpled cheek.
I know this smile.  I know this joy.  It is matched only by the joy I felt at the miracle of your birth.  Your lifetime ago, and in a way mine too, yet only five years ago.
When you were a baby I was swallowed up in this radiant glow as you nursed in the middle of the night.  As a toddler, this beaming smile would light up my world as you made discoveries at every turn.  As a preschooler, your smile would guide you to meet new friends and form new relationships.
It’s a familiar smile, but with something new – the gap.  Your first two loose teeth, gone and leaving a hole where the adults ones will soon appear.  The gap is a unique identifier to this exact age, and to this exact moment in your lifetime.  You’re no longer a baby, not yet a big kid.  Your baby teeth appeared with much fanfare and fussing and now have left you with far less fussing, but far more fanfare!  They’re graciously making way for their successors, the adult teeth who have not yet quite arrived.  You’ve outgrown one set, but not yet grown into the other.
At five, your mind is growing and your face and legs are starting to stretch out.  In fact, I’m not sure I can make out the last little indentation of a crease that used to separate one roll of chubby baby sweetness from another.  I used to fill those creases with Vaseline to avoid chaffing.  They’ve now given way to muscular legs that you use to kick a soccer ball and pedal bicycle.
You’re still creating dress-up outfits, but they are far less outrageous these days.  Gone are the days of you making a belt out of a TV cord around a tutu and princess dress.  I’ve seen you observing older girls on the beach and at the pool in their swimsuits.  You’ve asked about how your little practical Land’s End tankini will show more of your tummy.    You want your toenails painted and ask about growing your innocent bobbed hair out to a longer version.  It amuses me that you still confuse the words cheerleader and teenager, but I know you won’t for long. 
You’re starting to write letters and understand the early concepts of reading.   You can listen to and understand a chapter book that stretches over weeks to read night after night.  You’ve taken off on two-wheels.  You can both keep up with your nine-year-old brother and play with your two-year-old sister.  The other day when you had a friend over, the two of you complained that the boys were making gross noises while you played with Barbies.  Later that afternoon you cuddled up on the couch and watched Caillou and asked to take care of your sister’s baby doll.
Together we just picked out your much-anticipated monogrammed backpack for Kindergarten.  It was a process!  I had to hide certain selections from you and your sweetly eccentric and colorful tastes knowing they may not be appealing to you in Fifth Grade as your self-awareness grows.
Your smile has confidence and strength, humor and beauty.  This is the beaming smile I hope you will know throughout your teenage years and into your twenties and beyond.
But as your mother I can feel it:  a changing time with a changing smile to prove it.  While your radiant beam is consistent and true, your ray of light now shines through the gap.  This is the gap between being a big kid and a little kid.  This stage and this time is fleeting and rare, just as the gap in your bottom row of teeth is fleeting and rare as it will only be here for a few weeks before it is filled with the teeth meant to stay with you for the rest of your life.  

I often don’t realize how fast you are growing until after the stage has passed.  Suddenly your pants are too short, or you can reach a shelf you couldn’t before.  But your toothless smile is a tangible way of being forced to observe this exact stage, at this exact moment.  

And so I acknowledge that just like most everything else, the gap is a true gift, if I’m able to see it.  I will treasure this moment, and treasure this gap that holds me to this version of you, right here, right now.

Sunday Morning Interrupted

A new day dawned on the quiet summer colony. A Sunday morning met by a dewy and damp ground, leftovers from scattered storms over the previous few days.  Despite the Canadian breeze from the north it was that type of morning that already felt warm and well on its way to hot….even in the early 7:00 hour.  As summer has its own rhythm, we were squarely in the middle of the season’s ebbs and flows.  A few lingering lawn flags and porch buntings remained from the Independence Day holiday a few weeks earlier, yet not officially into the dog days associated with August.

The sleepy summer cottages started to show signs of their residents’ rising.  Shades were drawn.  Newspapers gathered.  Dogs walked.  Grandparents bounced babies while the sleepless new parents, who provided the connection between these generations, took some rest after a long night of infant-related trouble shooting.

The swish, swish, swish of a broom pushing away the sticks from the sidewalk.  A storm had passed through and graciously spared the lake community any substantial damage, but left just enough debris and sticks to make its presence known.  In the background a train’s horn rolled over the corn fields and bounced off another sound from the other direction…one of summer’s treats.  Were those waves?  Yes!  Another gift from the storm…the Great Lake would have great waves today!  The kids would be so excited…it was going be a good beach day.

As my family started to stir in their beds, I quietly put on my sneakers.  I hoped to sneak in a quick jog before the flurry of activity that is breakfast and beach preparations overtook my morning energy.  Although we should be well practiced at this by doing it on a regular basis, our family of three young children and two adults can still only be propelled to the beach by a chaotic whirl of applying sunscreen, searching for swimsuits (it was right here last night!!), packing snacks and selecting beach toys.

As I took off on my regular route my senses immediately picked up an unusual presence on the quiet streets.  A bright yellow firetruck, accompanied by an ambulance.  They looked like giants among the tiny cottages.  Black police SUV’s and people stepping off their porches, headed towards the beach with a quickened pace.  I slowed to a walk, steadied my breathing, paused my music and pulled out my earphones.  Seeing some familiar friends, I asked what was going on just as a police car pulled up.

He showed us photos on his phone of three young girls.  Had we seen them?  They had been missing since the night before.  Their shoes and bikes were found at the beach.

A pit in my stomach.  I didn’t know these girls.  But they were children.  I wanted to hug them, I wanted to protect them.  I wanted to wrap them tightly in a giant towel and whisper in their ears that everything was going be alright.

A racing mind.  As soon as the question came to my tongue a neighbor was already asking it as we seemed to have not only a collective concern but a shared brain wave and thought pattern.  The police officer provided information.  Question, question, answer, answer.  Another five questions met with only two answers.  Pop, pop, pop.…a rapid fire exchange, but instead of from a weapon with intentions to hurt, from emotions with intentions to help.  Everything was suddenly very fast and very transactional.  Exchange of information and calls to action.  They were last seen around 12:30 am.  AM?!  At a party.  A party?!  Grade school aged.  So young!?  With their mother.  Mother?!   She was missing too.

In a community that claims multiple generations of family members returning year after year to partake in long fun days of summer recreation, everyone knows everyone, or at least thinks they do.  But no one knew this woman.  They’d noticed the woman in the last few days and her kids unattended.  She didn’t appear to be stable.  Not the night before, not all week.  Someone mentioned that the police had been called earlier in the week.  She wasn’t familiar and no one could recall her being here before.

Another foreign presence, a helicopter in the sky above.  And on the beach, not umbrellas or beach chairs being set up for the day.  Rather a yellow rescue boat steadily making its way back and forth running parallel with the shoreline and further down a police boat mimicking its route.  This all felt abrasive and in stark contrast to the peaceful backdrop of the waves lapping up on the beach.

I rushed back to our cottage, quietly got my husband’s attention and stayed with the kids while he hopped on his bicycle to help out.  I stalled our kids who were eager to check out the waves at the beach and my husband and I took turns out on the bike riding the neighborhood.  The Block Watch had been activated and several neighbors visited our cottage asking us to check our yard, storage shed and to report in if we saw anything.  Auxiliary Police volunteers in neon vests came by with the same information.

Whispered voices, tense faces, hurting hearts.  While the feeling was somber and palpable in the neighborhood I was relieved that my own children were happily playing with their dolls and yard toys.  They were an oasis of uninhibited laughter and typical sibling bickering, unaware of the concern all around them for three children, similar in age to them.

My husband returned and I took my shift on the bike.  I rode the beach where a small crowd had gathered and was standing on the shoreline, their hands to their brows, squinting at the waves and rescue boats.  What did they see?  And then I saw it.  A sight that took my breath away and filled my eyes with tears and my heart with fear.  A human chain moving perpendicular to the shoreline.  Synchronized in their slow and methodical movement, guided by a fireman and blow horn, a chain of men, women and children of all ages held hands stretched yards upon yards into the lake

I was vaguely aware of reading in the news about a human chain being used in New Zealand to save a drowning child.  But I’d never, ever seen anything like this.  Some of the people in bathing suits, some in their clothes.  I counted at least 47 heads bopping up and down, with outstretched arms walking hand in hand, waves in their faces as they walked east, then turned around all together and going back west.

Admittedly when I first saw this image I was rattled and chills ran up and down my spine.  But then the image was reframed for a moment and hovering above that human chain, linked hand by hand I saw goodness.  I saw community.  I saw spirituality.  I saw action and it was inspiring and uplifting.  Warmth filled my heart and while it didn’t replace the fear, it surrounded it.

In this image of goodness I was reminded of a quote I once heard about how many people turn to God as their last resort, when really we can turn to Him as our first resort.  Prayer.  How had I forgotten prayer in the morning of activity?

When I returned to our cottage my five year old asked what was going on at the beach.  I had hoped to shield her and her innocence from this unpleasantness.  I wanted to keep her away from this awareness that bad things can happen.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted her to know that some children may not have someone who is protecting them in the same way I was trying to protect her.

But I realized that to shield her would not truly protect her.  Instead I needed to give her the tools to find strength when life gets messy.  And the reality is that it will, in some form or another, be messy at some time.  But right now, at this young age, I can teach her how to utilize her own inner voice and spirit to steady her sails when the storms hit.

So I gave her a brief and age appropriate version of what was happening.  Her wide eyes showed the same concern that everyone in the community had.  I told her that the best thing we could do right now was to say a prayer for their safety and to ask that peace will surround their family right now and in the future, whatever it may hold.

My daughter reverently sat down on the cement stoop, folded her hands and said her prayer.  Then she stood up and rubbed my upper arm and said she thought that the kids were probably scared.  I nodded and said we should add a wish for their courage and protection to our prayer.  And so on a humid summer Sunday morning, amidst a flurry of activity and rescue efforts, my daughter and I had a moment of stillness and a moment of surrender.

Just as I saw goodness and spirituality in that human chain in the water, I felt goodness and deep spirituality in our own moment of stillness, meditation and prayer.

After a few hours the search was called off and the mother and her children surfaced, not from the lake as everyone had feared, but rather from deep sleep tucked away, far from where they were expected to be, but where they likely had spent a rowdy night before.

Instead of focusing on the sensationalism of the outcome of this situation, and while prayers for this family are likely still needed, I am going to focus on what I witnessed that Sunday morning in that moment.  While no one in this community really knew this mother and her children, everyone felt as I had initially.  The one thing we knew was that they were children.  And the collective we wanted to find them, to save them.  To rescue them and tell them it would be okay.  We wanted to protect this family we didn’t even know.  If this act of human kindness is a snapshot of human kind, then I am proud to be a part of it.

A reverent Sunday morning.  A Sunday morning interrupted.   Families on our way to church, brunch, exercise or the beach were stopped in our tracks.  Our paths redirected towards each other, community and a call to help.  Not in the walls of a church, but certainly in the sanctity of a summer beach community, holiness was present and goodness was at work.

Pink Sunglasses

I wrote this piece as a lunchtime assignment while at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival in June.  Its an Inner/Outer Story.

Long, straight hair, not quite blond, not quite brown.  Shoulders rolled back, the tall stance you’ve been taught as an adult, but with the adolescent habit of shifting your weight from one long and pale leg to another.  Your hands gesturing as if reaching for the confidence that your steady voice, although forced, is carrying.

In your university-issued yellow t-shirt you rattle off historical facts about the buildings that surround you and the ground that swells beneath you.  Someday soon you’ll claim this place as your Alma mater.  And someday soon, a handful of the members of your audience will claim it as their school.  As a crowd of anxious parents and their wide-eyed teenagers listen and eagerly nod their head, your voice carries just enough inflection to engage, yet not enough to embrace.

You’re duty-bound to your university, your upbringing and your family.  Guided by your Midwestern morals, it feels natural to help others who are new to this path.  A few years in, you’ve been this way before.  You have it all figured out, but do you?

You fit the mold, except for your one piece of unique expression popping out from the uniform of standard-issued college student tour guide — your pink sunglasses.

Take them off, lower them a bit.  Perhaps they keep out the intense light and dim the realities that surround you.  Perhaps they cover the dark circles of a haunting previous night.  Perhaps the fun accessory with the feminine color carries special meaning.  While they undoubtedly have a story all of their own, they are guarding your story.

Dear College Tour Guide, you show them this place with memorized facts and antidotes, convincing them to make a choice like yours.  But show us who you are and tell us about your choice.  For just a moment pull down your pink sunglasses, and connect.

I know you Midwestern state school girl, but do I?  You’re playing a part I know well, but I can’t see what lies beneath.  Your pink sunglasses shield, but please reveal.

I know a thing or two about shielding.  And I too have a stamp of unique expression that wardrobes my standard-issued uniform.  Contrasting against the practicality and frumpiness of my mom gear, my stamp has a story all of its own.  But rather than guarding my story, my stamp tells my story.

Enjoying the colorful world of a college town on a humid summer Saturday afternoon I passed the new/used vintage storefront.  Browsing is not a luxury that a mother of young children affords herself.  My feet moved forward by habit always in the direction of what’s next.  But my eyes stayed locked on the window, intrigued by the colors and designs.   My core reversed the momentum set in motion by my feet and propelled me into the store.  Why not?  This was my weekend away from the kids.

My hands felt beaded necklaces and textures of fabrics while my eyes processed unusual combinations of colors and hues.  Dresses and wallets, shoes and hats.  This all felt foreign and fascinating.  Since most of my days are spent in big box stores in the suburbs, a simple and small, earthy store in a college town felt gritty and thrilling.  Clever stationary and animal-prints blended with florals.  This wasn’t Target and there weren’t three children tugging on my skirt.

Skimming a table top, my hand gravitated towards the stripes.  Black and white, kind of classic, kind of trendy, the shape round and Jackie O.  Oh come on, I’m a Midwestern, Middle-aged Mom, no Jackie O!

But this was fun.  I thought the kids might get a kick out of them…or be embarrassed by them.  They could be a good lesson to show them self expression and independence.  I set them down and thought ‘seriously, when will I wear these?’  Certainly not in the school car pool line.  I don’t have the physique to carry them off.  Not anymore anyway.  Really, who did I think I was?  Really, who am I?  Mom to others.  Wife to other.  Always someone to others.  But who to me?  

I thought of you, College Tour Guide and your pink sunglasses.  And with those sunglasses in mind I changed my course and made a choice to buy myself the striped pair.  Just a small souvenir of a weekend away from it all, a weekend to focus on my own interests and hobbies.  A tiny step backwards in restoration, and an even tinier step forwards in rejuvenation.

While not pink, my pair is unique and carries their own story.  They too shield and reveal.  Perhaps they too will shield me from my daily realities. But perhaps they will also reveal a little something about a girl I once knew.

I wore them today for the first time.  No one noticed but me.  That’s ok.

The Sun is Out Today

I wrote this as part of an assignment at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival workshop a few weeks ago.   Its a real memory from my childhood, but told from my brother’s perspective in an attempt to capture a little boy’s voice.


An army of tiny ants on the move.  There must be a million of them, maybe a trillion.  It’s a big brigade.  They’re crawling all over my bare feet and tickle in a way that feels differently than the rough rub on my big toe as it explores the grooves of the patio cement.
I look up and squint at the sky.  Maybe this is what they mean when they say “sun-soaked”.  It looks like the sun is touching every single spot of a giant ocean of blue and a white puffy hippopotamus floats by as it attacks its fluffy friend the walrus.  “I’ll get you, Walrus!”  “You can’t, Hippo!!”
In the background I hear The Voices.  Muted, but familiar, they’re always arguing or kissing dressed in their fancy clothes.  I don’t know them, but every afternoon they talk to my mom from the TV.  I imagine The Voices must be the logic behind ‘They’ when Mom says, “well you know what They say”.  No doubt, The Voices are who made up the term sun-soaked and told my mom that I shouldn’t let the ant army crawl on my feet ’cause I’ll poke out an eye or something.  
Smash!  I crush one of the ant soldiers into the cement and pick a stick up from the ground and snap it in two.  Now I feel kind of sad and sorry I killed the captain of the ants.
I really just want to play in the woods and put Carissa in that jail that Mom made us.  Its just pretend, don’t worry.  She tied rope around three trees and made Triangle Prison.  I’m going to capture Carissa today and then come back as a bandit to release her….maybe.  I’m not sure yet.  I might get stuck in the brush of evil thorns before I return.  But I’ll use some leaves for handcuffs for sure.
Humph!  The capture has to wait for the queen high on her perch.  I stare up at her.  She’s standing tall and mighty on the picnic table.  She’s barefoot too.  I hope she gets a splinter in her big toe.  The table has a lot of splinters to give.  I get one almost every time we eat dinner there.  
Carissa better be careful.  I know it.  The table is going to give a splinter to her feet.  They arch and she taps them, then stretches to her tip toes.  A stick for a microphone, she’s swaying back and forth as she sings, rather yells, “the sun will come out, tomorrow!”.  She thinks she is Little Orphan Annie.  She might be….after all, she’s not getting any splinters.  A full three worldly years and four months older than me, she is pretty convincing up on her picnic table stage.  The sun shines all around her as she hops in and out of its beams.
“Stupid, Big Sis”, I think as I study the ant army changing its formation to overtake my pinky toe.  “The sun is out today – lets go play!”

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