The stories of us

People's stories matter. I think that is why I read so incessantly.  I read to know I am not alone and to feel inspired and to find nuggets of good buried within the onslaught of agonizing headlines.

I have always believed people's stories matter. But I learned about it in a different way after Andrew Wilfahrt was killed exactly two years ago today.

Despite being stunned and stricken with grief, his kind, loving, and articulate parents chose to use Andrew's story as a catalyst for a great movement that still has legs in the fight for marriage equality within the state of Minnesota. 

What is interesting about this to me is that Andrew was who he was before he was killed. Those facts never changed, but in the telling of who he was other people began to look at who they were a bit differently.

I don't wish for anyone to lose a child, but I am gobsmacked every day by people who find ways to rise up in honor of their children, grief be damned, in order to create a world that is bearable for them to walk around in.  This, of course, cannot ever be done because no world will ever be better without their child. But someone else's might be because of your words.  It would be too easy to check out, to give up, to anesthetize and numb yourself to reality, but sometimes people make the choice to walk on wearing their loss like a new coat that doesn't quite fit.  And God bless them for finding a way to keep loving and living so that we might glean just a little bit of wisdom that they so painfully learned. 

Because of this, I will never give up on our stories. They are so rich and deep and filled with longing and loss and joy and wretched pain. In they end, our stories are all that we own and all that we have to offer-- a beautiful gift of our complicated, messy, fraught selves. 

When we choose to share them, people feel less alone. They feel as if somehow their own load has been lightened. 

And sometimes, our stories can change the world

Thank you Andrew, Jeff, and Lori for reminding me of this. 

Why parenting is hard

Thing 2 got out of line this past weekend in some words he used. We've noticed his experimentation with language when he is upset has grown more colorful in the last two months.  It would be more fun to blame it on a grandfather or the fact that he listened to much of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand on CD while we were travelling over the holidays, but it's more likely that he just wants to see what happens when a few words fly.  The first round brought a conversation, the next round brought the removal of a favorite item/activity, and this last round (directed specifically at Big Man and myself) brought the immediate revocation of an entire afternoon of fun with a friend. 

Listen, I don't want to have a conversation on parenting techniques. We all do the best we can, we do what works for us, or we limp and grasp at straws for the one little thing that seems to make a bit of difference so we thought this might make a dent in the message we were trying to send.

What makes parenting hard is this:  Big Man got the fun role of hanging with Thing 2 during what we dubbed THE LONGEST AFTERNOON EVER. But when I arrived home, I was shocked to feel an almost pleasant vibe in the home. Big Man shrugged his shoulders when I looked at him and then he pulled me into the kitchen.

"Listen," he said. "Thing 2 started singing in his room When he came out for a snack I asked how he was. He said he was fine. He didn't care. I said, you don't care about what? He said I don't care about my play date. And if I don't care about my play date then it's not punishment.  And then he went back to his room to sing. He has been downright pleasant all afternoon."


We know he cared, but what we can't figure out is how he arrived at this way of dealing with such disappointment. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and Big Man has to mentally shut down/check out in times of distress.  

Later in the day as I was folding laundry in the hovel we call our laundry room,  Thing 2 clearly went out of his way to find me. Without a word he walked in, gave me a hug and left. 


Much later in the day, Big Man said he was so glad there were two of us to raise Thing 2. Thing 1, despite being a female tween, is predictable.  Thing 2? Not so much.  His sometimes sophisticated brain baffles Big Man. It baffles me too, but I am used to being stymied by basic math, people, and life in general. I wander about much more at ease with my uncertainty.  But Big Man is smart and gets paid to give people advice and identify solutions to innumerable problems. Poor guy. I think we can all agree parenting has far more problems than solutions.

So this is why parenting is hard. I thought I got my kid, but I didn't.  

For now I will go back to wringing my hands while offering up prayers, burning incense, consulting the astrological calendar, and may even consider witchcraft (the happy, positive, in-the-name-of-good kind) all in the hopes that everything, especially my Things, will turn out just fine.

Be brave

I was reading a little something about the difference between being fearless and being brave. I am not fearless, never have been.  I can remember a time going off to swimming lessons in a town that still doesn't have a heated pool. I used to stand at the side of the pool shivering with goose-pimply skin for what felt like hours willing myself to just jump in already into the cold morning water.  It's silly, of course. There was nothing to fear about cold water except the cold.

What I was fearing was getting uncomfortable, but I did it anyway and that makes me brave.

And once, in what seems forever ago, I was having a conversation with a woman who prompted me to get this blog going and we were discussing whether it matters or not if your fear is based on success or failure.  I still don't have the answer to that one.

Thing 2 and his friend X-Man were playing a very imaginative and inventive game yesterday. I couldn't and didn't try to follow it's development. All I know is that it grew organically from whatever nine year old boys discuss. They were all over the house talking, crawling, and using various voices.  Without warning, there would be intense and loud bursts of action. I gently steered them out of the kitchen upon the mild protest that, "Our whole house isn't big enough for this game!" I found myself wondering how many days I have left of this fearless immersion into imaginary play.

Soon enough it won't be cool. If I know Thing 2, his interest will linger long after others have moved on to team sports and Monday night football games. Will he be brave enough to admit it and persistent enough to find others like him?

If I think back to my little nine year old self waiting by the pool for a burst of fearlessness, I would still be there because fearlessness is not a part of who I am. I don't think I have ever had a truly fearless moment. Reckless, yes, but not fearless.

But I can be brave. 

And more than anything, this is what I want my kids to be. Some of us just aren't born with that "I'm going for it no matter what" factor. We worry about what others think and how we will look or perform or not perform. We weigh the risks versus our desires and often the risks win out. 

I just want my kids to know that being brave is feeling the fear and doing whatever scares you anyway. I fear  I am starting to sound like a self-help book from the 90's. Oh yes, here it is! I once owned a copy of this. I don't remember anything it said except for the title.  See? I was scared back then, too!  

At any rate, lead by example. It's time to get my brave on.  

Love is love

Love is love is one of my favorite things to say. Every time I am stuck....whether it be in my own head or in a problem with someone I hold so close to my heart that it seems I can't move, I think of these words and the different ways love manifests itself to me.

Love is love.

If I could be anywhere today, February 14, 2013, I would be in St. Paul, MN, advocating for the freedom to marry whomever we wish because everything I have ever learned about love is that love is freeing...not constraining or limited to a select few.

But my life is my life and I have other obligations.

So today I must occupy my own heart in other ways. Aside from finding someone to love, the most active, inspiring, and freeing love to be had is love of oneself. Total acceptance and adoration for who you are is not such a radical idea, is it?

Personally, I think it is much easier to love someone else. Our beloved does not natter  incessantly about all isn't, shouldn't be, couldn't be, blah, blah, blah. If they did, we would want a new beloved.  Why, then, do we say these things to ourselves? 

Or, maybe it's just me.

I bet not, though, and so I am issuing this challenge to you:  Be nice to yourself for whatever time you have today. For one minute or two or whatever you have to give to yourself, step outside and smell the winter air and think about all that you are at this moment. Shut that little nattering fool up for a few moments and think about the hard road you are on. Think about how you are doing it the very best way you know how and where ever it is you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.

Yeah for you!  You are a rock star!  I love you!

Ok. I might not know you, but you get what I mean.

You are the 


Age hasn't brought me great wisdom yet, but it has brought me recognition that the best partner on any adventure I take is me. And a great partner deserves love.

If you have someone else to love, do not take them for granted, but please don't look a gift horse in the mouth. That gift is you, and aren't you just a sweetie?  

I think so.

Go ahead and rock this day and every day..... you deserve it.

Don't feel bad for Ben

In case you aren't a frequent reader, my son has strong opinions. He can dig his heals in unlike anyone I know.  Last night we made it through a major hurdle....the school concert.

Ben does not enjoy singing. He especially does not enjoy singing in groups. And most of all, he hates being on a stage. As luck would have it, his particular class had to stand in the front row.  Aside from the very nature of the event, there were many other things wrong with this particular concert in Ben's eyes. One was they had to wear a red flower pinned to a white shirt. "A flower?" he shuddered. "I cannot believe they are making us wear a FLOWER!" 

Oh well.

And so leading up to this concert, the goals we set were simple. He would go, he would dress accordingly, and he would move his mouth. That was it. I didn't need him to be a show pony. I just needed him to show up.

And he did.  

He looked miserable. His eyes were cast downward the whole time, but I was smiling big  because he was there.

I ran out of the gym so I would not have to endure too many "What was wrong with Ben?" comments from well-meaning but ill-informed people. But I ran into a staff member who got it and Ben. She gave my guy a high five and I gave him a hug.

And then we set off to get some ice cream.

Some might quibble with my standards. Maybe someday I will regret that they aren't high enough, but I told Ben (and I believe it) that doing something you don't want to, especially if it makes you scared, is something I will always be proud of.  

So don't feel bad for Ben or me.  

His head may have been down and he may have looked miserable, but he was there. He wore that flower the entire time, and at the very end of the very last song, I caught his eye as he risked a quick glance up and out at the audience. He admitted later that his neck was sore from looking down for so long, but it was worth it because, in his words, "I did it, didn't I?"

It's easy to take for granted what to others is no big deal. I think as parents, if we are watching, we understand what the big deals are even when others don't.  My job is and always will be to remain Ben's number one fan.

On that score, we are more than fine.

If you don't have anything nice to say....

I have been quiet, it's true. It's not that there aren't things to talk about...that pesky pope surprising his heard, those Scouts waffling on their decision about being exclusionary (move on already!), a little snow out east,  and people literally up in arms about guns. Those were just the days headlines.

But I am just sort of floating for now. I am feeling restless and hemmed in at once. Big Man is wrestling with his own work-related issues and I am the Queen chauffeur, nursemaid, tutor, chef, and assistant to all.  Frankly, I have found it hard to concentrate on any one thing that might matter just to me. 

I met Pam Houston the other night at a lovely author dinner  held in our local bookstore. She was profoundly kind, honest, and funny. I saw sadness there, too. Of course no one really mentioned that because that wouldn't be popular to say. But she has lived an extraordinary life that has some deep holes that I feel when I read her words. I certainly felt those holes when listening to her speak and saw them when looking her in the eye. That she eloquently offers up what she has lived through and felt is a gift to anyone who chooses to pick up one of her books. Authors on book tours, if they truly engage with their readers, are so very brave. I don't know how many people see it that way, but to put your heart on the line, day after day, has to be hard. People, I imagine, can say some crazy things. You can't control what a reader brings to the table and perspectives can be wide and varied.  In the end, what you are defending are the choices you made as a writer and in some respects, who you are.

Later, she took the time to have a little discussion about memoir and fiction with me. I could have talked her ear off, but I didn't want to hog her. She left me thinking about that book I have in the back of my mind in a new way. And so I am trying hard to look on the bright side.  I am hoping that this space I am in, one that is unsettling, disgruntled, unfocused, and seemingly unproductive, might just be some sort of marinating.

Or stewing. I have always been good at that, but I am trying to remain positive....I really am.

Or, maybe I am simply a writer and this is how it is and always will be for me. I found this article from the The New Yorker. There is a bit of a kerfuffle among writers happening right now about how great or not great the writing life is. Within this article I found this gem.  "We write because we are constantly discontented with almost everything, and need to use words to rearrange it, all of it, and set the record straight." this makes sense. But it does not make it easier.