What a beautiful mess.

I gathered with three friends last week and we were discussing details of an issue I am working through with my daughter. They thanked me for sharing. They gave me a high five for how Big Man and I were handling things. They said we were being proactive and preventative. It felt weird to accept praise because when you are inside something you simply do the best you can.

The only thing I really know about parenting is that it will kick you six ways to Sunday. No matter who you are and how well you think you know your kid, it is impossible to really understand everything that is going on inside them.

You can do all the "right" things and read the books and all the research and proceed with all cylinders firing and still be thrown for a loop. "Good" parents can be looking and still not see. "Good" kids can still shock you. "Good" kids can still be good and do bad things. "Good" kids get to explore the world right along with the rest of us and sometimes it means they may use poor judgment. I am not saying that you can't know your kid. I am just saying each kid has their own journey. The minute you utter, "My kid would NEVER..." is a way of dishonoring what they just might need to learn through a mistake AND it becomes the exact moment you need to start eating your words. I shudder when parents are unable to admit that their child just may have taken a wrong turn.

I just really hopewishprayencouragebelieve that if we could cut the crapdenialpretense and collectively throw up our hands and say, "Hey! I am trying! I didn't know! I thought this about my kid and I was wrong!" we'd all just really be so much more comfortable when the shit does hit the fan in reaching out to others with our fears and uncertainties and our mistakes. Ours and our kids.

We are not perfect. Our kids are not perfect, and in the end we are all just sort of shooting from the hip. Anyone who has spent time in a formal learning situation knows that reading a "how to" manual is radically different than live learning. Parenting is the ultimate in on-the-job-training and while practice does make better, it is does not make perfect.

I refuse to wear rose-colored glasses. I can list for you a thousand ways in which I love my child and I can list for you a thousand things I love about my child. I can get all Mama Bear with the best of them, but at the end of the day the best thing I can do is share my doubts and admit that it's quite possible I screwed up. It is quite likely I missed something. It is quite likely I had a parenting fail. Or two. Or sixty. And maybe, just maybe, my kid was human and messed up too.

I wish we could all be like this.

Yes, we need to be on the side of our kid. But that side also has to be willing to admit defeat, mistakes, and imperfections because that is where real growth happens. That is when you get to open it up to what I have come to believe is one of the most glorious words in the English language...help.

Thing 1 has some struggles and I am not going to define them as good or bad or right or wrong. What has come from these struggles is that she admitted to them and we were willing to see them. We had been suspicious. Our parenting guts suggested something was off, but it wasn't until we saw some things in writing and she opened up to us that we could really move forward.  None of this has been fun. However, I am completely convinced that the more control we think we have, the more we are deluding ourselves.

I am thankful for my friends who have borne so much from me this year. These people have cheered and lifted and quietly prayed and burned candles all in the name of me and my family and then taken the time to say, "Well done!"


This feels like so much to take in and hold and yet it is exactly what happens when we share and open up and let down the walls.

We are alone as we go about our days and yet when we share, we are together in our messed up and glorious imperfections. I feel like the very best and most perfect thing I can do is admit this and cradle and cherish and be thankful for my particular mess.

I am.

I so am.

And I just really want you to be able to do the same. It is freeing and humbling and what all of us needs to move a little more gently through this wonky world of life.

Only Kindness Matters

I have been thinking a lot about kindness. You know, me and Jewel.

But it's not just Jewel. George Saunders turned a commencement speech into a New York Times best seller and more recently, The Atlantic shared the results of decades of research into how kindness affects marriage.

Mark Twain

and Mother Teresa

and the Dalai Lama have chimed in as well.

So thinking about kindness is not new or revolutionary, but I have been thinking mostly about how it works inside families.

Thing 2 in in Y camp this week. There is someone who is not kind and this niggles at him so we have talked about how he should handle this person. I have reminded him of times when he himself has chosen to be unkind, especially to his sister, in the hopes that he might make some sort of connection as to what causes a person to act this way. He hasn't really figured that out yet so the agreed method is to cast a wide berth around the persistently unkind kid and let the chips fall where they may. This kid isn't in his life forever so it seems ok to let him be unless physical harm occurs. Then it becomes a different matter.

And this makes me think of how much easier it can feel to be kind to strangers than to those you love most. Thing 2 may never have to cross paths with this kid after Friday, but he will be with his sister and us for the rest of his life.

Why do we hurt people closest to us? The persistent messiness of daily life just gets wearing, I guess. Years and hurts stack up. They start to weigh on us until it feels hard to remember not having them. There is no baggage in helping out a stranger. The absence of a mental tally of who did whom wrong way back when and for how long makes the gentle offering of a hand or a dollar to someone unknown much easier.

But here is what I hope and what I strive for in my own family of four and beyond.

I hope that I can be the kind of person to pour the first glass of wine, to let the past go, to forgive myself and others, to look for what transcends history, to see beyond disappointments and baggage and fear to clearly identify what is here and now.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 went on a walk together yesterday and in some sort of temporary cosmic shift, there was no bickering. In fact, they were giggling when they returned home and I felt stunned by the ease of their companionship. Rather than call any attention to this event, I allowed myself be quietly hopeful.

I have this same sort of hope inside my extended family and Big Man's family as we navigate aging parents and grandparents and ponder what we should have said or done. I hope for the absence of malice and the spirit of kindness towards each other in the moments that present themselves.

We all have things to let go of and I am working hard to just see and experience what is before me because what is before me is really grand. I would hate to miss it by looking too far backwards.

An exercise

So I wanted to share something I worked on while I was up in Bemidji.

I also need to take the time to say that I learned so much in a short amount of time with Rebecca Brown. She is a brilliant listener. She would lean back in her chair with pen in hand, scribble a note or two while we were reading, and then open it up to the class.When we were done, she would chime in on THE THING that needed to be said. Sometimes other listeners picked up on it, but they would merely hint at THE THING she so clearly heard. I am still learning this. It is different to listen as a writer. This is a real thing, to read and listen as a writer. I soaked up a lot of what she was discussing. I read some of her writing before class so I knew that how she values words shows up in the care of her choice of words. She is precise in the way poets are and not a word is present without just cause.With practice it becomes habit until you don't even notice that you are flash- sifting to find just the right word before it hits the page. I can just now feel myself starting to do this. It's not so much thinking before I write but having what I have learned become part of how I write.

I hope all that just made sense.

About this next piece:

I was taken with a few vignettes written by Kevin Sampsell. They are a collection of chronological memories that seem spare at first, but they are rich. My attempt was nothing like his, but what did happen for me was that I worked more consciously than ever to take what I see in Rebecca's work and think carefully about each word and let the story sort of just tell itself.

I chose to write about what my day was like on 9/11. I chose this for a few reasons. First, we all know what happened to us on that day and I think it is worth a simple recording if only to share with our children and grandchildren. Also, I can see this part of a larger collection and it's impact will be much different in the context of other work. I envision other ordinary days, some full of loss and regret and joy and it will be interesting to see how they fit next to each other.

For now, it stands alone and what I like more than anything is my effort. I am in this piece, but it is a stretch for me not to belabor a point. I feel good that I tried.

9/11, Madison, Wisconsin

We were living in Madison, WI and my husband was in his last year of a family practice residency. He had just gotten home from a long call night and went upstairs to take a shower. He always took a shower when he got off call no matter what time it was. He liked going to sleep clean.

It was hot and humid and our only relief came from a tiny window air conditioner in the living room. That’s where I was, sleeping on the pull-out couch with my three-month old baby.  I woke up when I heard the shower running, sticky from leaking breast milk.  I pulled my daughter closer to me, switched on the television, and began to nurse.  I was half in and out, tired from my baby’s fitful night.  I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I saw masses of blue sky. I saw dark billows of smoke. I saw that one of the twin towers had been hit.  I knew I was looking at the World Trade Center, but why would a small plane just fly into it?

I stared at the screen and tried to make some sense of it. Another plane appeared.
“Hey Bob! Get down here, please! This is so weird. Bob! Shouldn’t a pilot see a tall building?”  I knew he couldn’t hear what I was saying, but I kept talking.

Bob walked into the living room just as the second plane hit. He settled in next to us and we stared at the tv together. I couldn’t stop wondering out loud.

He was quiet, tired from a long night, and I couldn’t tell if he was really paying attention to me. After a bit he said, “It was probably planned, honey.”

“What? Why?”

He never answered my questions and I stopped talking. We continued to watch tv, three of us stretched out on the pull-out couch, the baby in the middle. We drifted in and out of sleep, me waking to nurse, him to find a snack. My chest was sore from the constant feeding, and the exhaustion pressed in around us.

I don’t know how much time passed before he reached for the remote and said, “Let’s turn this off.”

I remember how quiet that room was, except for the cranky sounds coming from the air conditioner. My entire life was curled up next to me on a pull- out bed  and I remember feeling like the world had changed.

I couldn’t help but replay the smoke and crumbling towers in my head until I joined my family in sleep.