“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” —Simone Weil

 

I am lying on my back on a bath rug. My legs are draped over and into a full tub of water occupied by my two naked babies. Oh, but they are not babies any longer. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to hold on to their sometimes still-round bellies, they continue to grow. Both can submerge their heads under water in this oval, jacuzzi tub now. Whipping their hair back when they come to the surface again, they remind me of their father coming out of the swimming pool. This movement—my older boy Jonah picked it up from observation and has since passed it on to his little brother, Adrian. I am lying on the rug and I am experiencing a feeling inside in great contrast to the way that I have felt throughout the day. I relish my in-breath and experience a deep relaxation come over me as I exhale. My boys are playing “doctor” and caring for my “injured” feet. They’ve created a paste out of the eczema soap mixture I’ve given them to soothe their dry, winter skin and with it they smooth my own dry heals. I breathe deeply letting my day fall away, letting go of the nearly constant monologue of the many should’s and how-to’s and reminders of kindnesses and cleanliness and carefulness that I’ve been administering for nearly twelve hours now. I close my eyes and listen to the musings of the doctors at work—of Jonah, describing the way in which he is healing my broken toes and deciding that he is a water-scientist at work. Adrian stands and peers over  the side of the tub at me, water dripping from his long eyelashes. It is clear that he has recently submerged himself again. He looks at me through his chocolatey brown eyes and assures me that I don’t need to be afraid of being treated by the doctors, that I am safe. “Nana, is right behind you,” he says. He knows that Nana is my Mom and that I will feel safe if my Mom is near. I’m glad for that association.

Lingering in Adrian’s gaze has been an anchor for me in this time of changing routines and greater time apart. I meet him there whenever I can. Sometimes when he is finishing up a meal, sometimes when we are reading a book together and we come to an amusing passage and often when he is luxuriating on the potty as he is known to do. “I don’t need privacy,” he says while he is sitting there on his sky blue potty with the little bear on it. And he can sit for a very long while. Most of the time, I can find the presence to sit in front of him and just take him in in this wholly natural and vulnerable place. I know so well that this time will pass, although, my bigger boy Jonah— now five—would still have me sit with him and take in his dreamy, blue eyes in this very same way every time he uses the bathroom if I would! I sometimes do. This is all that my children long for in life —my attention and the attention of those surrounding them and dear to them. Not in a, “look at me,” kind of way—although there is quite a bit of that, too. Their greatest need, their greatest pleasure is in the single-minded presence of those who love them. They can spy distractedness, multi-tasking and living-in-one’s-head from a mile away, too, like a couple of little detectives. Watch them how they jump wildly from the couch. Watch them how they roar.

Back on the bath rug, Jonah decides that it is time to rinse off my legs. He inadvertently pours water not just down the front of my legs but also over the side of the tub soaking my entire pant legs. I cry out a little and try to jump up but it is difficult with my legs wedged the way they are. I finally raise up enough to swing my feet around and bring my face close to Jonah and we are both laughing and I am sort of breathless from trying to get up and just witnessing his full-body laughter. Looking at him in that free and joyful place of unencumbered laughter—like a wave—wipes away so much of the coarser back-and-forth that we had experienced together throughout the day. It wipes away so much and brings us face to face, heart to heart, once again.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” —Anais Nin

A few weeks ago, I found myself scurrying around my back door like a mouse, grabbing any warm hat and gloves I could find and rushing to my car. I was driving now hurriedly toward Portland and noticed that my gas light was on. I noticed that my heart was racing from the rushed babysitter hand-off, from the feeling of letting others down with my delay. I texted a friend to let her know I was still coming while I pumped fuel. I began to settle into myself as I began driving again and eventually lost myself in music. Deep in lyrics, I hardly noticed as the exits flew by. It is rare that I drive at night and I felt like I was living in another time. As my littler son Adrian approaches three years old now and has stopped nursing, I’ve felt that I can enter the world again. At least, I have been dipping my toes back in, oh-so-gingerly. I’ve been in touch with long-lost-friends who I’ve missed. I’ve picked up long dried-out paint brushes and felt a part of me come alive again. I’ve begun to care once more about what happens outside of my familial cocoon. I feel a little bit like a toddler, though. There is a certain “push-pull” that I am experiencing. Some days, I wish for a more stretchy cord. Other days, I’d rather be nestled back in a dark room, rocking a baby into slumber.

I pulled up to my destination and the parking area was filled. I felt my heart fluttering again. It was not the safest of areas. I drove around for a few minutes and noticed a parking lot on the corner. I pulled in and found a space quickly, gathering my things and making sure my handbag was zipped up closed. I approached the building where I was meeting my group, looking for the right door to enter. Finally after circling the building, I found it. It was marked, “volunteers.” I was greeted at the door by Tyler who showed me where to sign in, where to put my things and then he told me to meet him in the kitchen. There I was instructed to wash my hands and was assigned to a serving station. I was told that I was lucky to not have been assigned to the dessert station. Apparently, it can get quite heated there. My job would be to dish out a heaping spoon full of pasta and explain to anyone who asked for seconds that they would need to come back once they had finished their first serving. Even in soup kitchens there is waste. I had done this work before with Coalition for the Homeless, from the back of a van under bridges and tunnels in New York City, but it had been a while. I was rusty.

I watched in anticipation as the doors opened and a flood of people came in before me, mirroring the flood of emotions I experienced upon seeing them. They quickly formed a line and were upon us. They knew this drill all to well. I took each person in as they came to me for a helping of what looked to me like a really delicious meal. Only in Maine do the soup kitchens serve steamed mussels. I hadn’t eaten much for my own dinner and was aware of my hunger. There were so many bright eyes, so many offerings of gratitude. I was amazed at both the diversity and familiarity of the individuals that I encountered. It seemed that every age and race and nationality were represented. There were men that held themselves like college professors and men who hid behind their baseball caps. There were women layered deeply for the cold and some layered in tattoos. There were many very weathered hands holding trays and some behavior indicative of severe mental illness. Some were particular of where their food was placed on the tray and others would have taken it in the palm of their hand. One woman accused me of giving her a smaller serving of pasta than someone else because she was a woman. My throat felt closed for the first 10 or 15 minutes that I was serving and I could hardly squeak out a “your welcome,” to the many “thank you’s” that were offered to me. I was overwhelmed with compassion for the need that kept coming and coming before me. I almost couldn’t believe it when someone uttered, “well, that was the small rush.” Just after that another much larger wave of people entered the building and this group seemed to be even more weary than the those who came before them.

There were so many things that crossed my mind as I continued to take in each person who came before me. I imagined their stories. I imagined what they thought of me. I imagined what it would be like to truly know each of them, and to understand what brought them there. I was aware that some had jobs and it was apparent that many of them could not work. I saw how their personalities were like a microcosm of the many varied ways in which people may be—grateful, angry, bitter, elated, humble, funny, particular, easy-going, forgiving, uncomfortable, comfortable, discouraged and hopeful. Suddenly, and as quickly as it all had begun for me, a metal gate began to be pulled down before me and as I pealed off my now sweaty rubber gloves and put my metal serving spoon down, I caught one last glimpse of the sea of people before me taking in their dinner at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen in Portland, ME. The only thing I truly knew about any of them was that they had all—each of them— been a baby at one time. Each one of them had come into this world as precious to somebody, if only for a single moment.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” —Kierkegaard

I am grateful to have a garage that is connected to my home. It makes for easier winters and for fewer distractions when loading my boys up into the car for outings. From the  rearview mirror of my car drapes a pair of teal, prayer beads that I bought at The Kripalu Center this past summer. I remember seeing them from across the gift shop and hoping they could be mine. In the center of the necklace dangles a single clear colored bead. I often place that bead between my fingers, smoothing the fibers that hang beneath it before buckling my seatbelt, peering behind me to double-check carseats and then turning the key to start my engine. Something about climbing into my car and heading out on the road makes me more able to breathe, more able to sink into myself as I go. I savor the longer distances of rural living with the boundless trees to get lost in along the way. Journeying to the historical, port-town of Bath has become a favorite excursion for me. The process of creating a memory quilt for a beloved family member has taken me there recently. The owner of the shop that I visit says that her long-deceased grandparents make themselves known in her store quite often. It is my kind of place. The drive is not long, really, but as I drive, time begins to stand still and I feel overcome with a sense of expansiveness. The road widens and so do the possibilities of my life. Noticing the inlets that pepper my travels, noticing the way the water sparkles—like diamonds. Noticing the quiet. There is so much time for noticing. There are so many beautiful things to notice. Adrian, my littler boy, is with me. He is not sleeping, but he is still. Still and looking, too, out his own window.

It has not always been this way. There was a time when I drove this route and felt like a lonely, drifting balloon. I was new to Maine, new to motherhood, and new to driving after a long hiatus of thirteen years. I traveled to Bath for a weekly chiropractic appointment. There they gave out little quotes on tiny slips of paper—like you might find in a fortune cookie. I still have some of them secured to my refrigerator. A favorite reads, “There is nothing that makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is so.” I have noticed this to be true for the beautiful women that I know. There is another one that reads, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I long to make habits of pausing, of noticing, of lingering.

I was invited to attend a mother’s self-renewal group last weekend based on the work of Renee Trudeau. We were asked to bring one item from our homes that represented ourselves. I knew what I wanted my item to be but I also wanted to be certain that my choice was true to who I actually am, not just who I want to be. I asked my bigger boy, Jonah—nearly five years old, now—what item he thought best represented me. I was slightly afraid of what he might say. He might have said the vacuum cleaner, or the stove. He has many times seen me using these things. He might have chosen my phone or any number of books—items that I am frequently holding, perusing. He might have thought of one of my gardening tools or my new, nifty fireproof gloves for building fires in my wood stove. He might have thought of a paint brush. He didn’t say any of these things, though. I was in our kitchen when I posed the question to him and then—looking for his answer—I peered through an opening between where I was and the room where he was and I saw him—I witnessed him. He was standing, warming himself by our wood stove. He was thinking, looking up a little and then he began sort of squinting his eyes tightly, like he was thinking really hard. I relished that moment—his earnestness in answering my question, his deep commitment to connecting me with an object.  And then he answered. It was not what I expected or could ever have hoped he would say. He lowered his head back down and he looked at me. “A prayer,” he said.

 

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” —Aristotle

Autumn has been meandering here in Southern Maine. In the orchard at my bigger boy Jonah’s school, the yellow jackets have hung around well into this colorful season sampling the plentiful apples. The leaves have transformed into magnificent shades of tangerine and amber and burgundy even as our winter jackets have remained tucked away inside. It is only in the last week that cooler nighttime temperatures have allowed for us to feel justified in lighting a fire in our wood stove, not just for the first time this season but for the first time in several years. In winters past, I’ve blamed our lack of a home fire burning—in this snowy, cozy place—on the diminutive size of the stove, on the lack of a window to see how the fire is faring, on protecting the little ones from hot surfaces. The truth is that there was something more holding me back.

Sometime in late summer I began to know that this would be the year that we would strike the match at last. I could feel embers simmering in the core of me. In anticipation, I shared with my husband thoughts of lowering heating bills, of warming our home with a deeper, more resonating warmth. I talked of getting in the habit of using the stove and describing how then it would become a part of us. These too were ideas dancing around the real reason that I needed to bring this fundamental, earthly element with all of its heat and passion and warmth into my life, into the lives of my children.

I lit our fire somewhat unceremoniously the first time. My husband was trying to leave to run an errand and I told him that I was going to light a fire and asked him did he know which way the handle on the side of the stove was supposed to be turned so that the smoke didn’t come billowing into our home. He said, “no” and went upstairs to get his socks. I think I needed to light that first fire in that way for the same reason one might pull a bandaid off quickly. I needed to just do it and see that I could. I didn’t really understand all that it was tied to for me at the time. I did know how I would feel once it was lit. That first fire did not disappoint. Within moments my two beloved boys and I were cuddled up around it. With the surge of the flames, I felt an inner warmth come alive inside of me. I felt Jonah and Adrian settle down into themselves, eyes fixated on the flickering wonder. I felt grounded and capable and secure—all at the same time. There was nothing wrong with the size of the stove and the doors could be easily propped open with a screen so that we could take in the golden blaze.

For years now, weekends have been a time of reunion with my husband for both me and for our children. I have been reticent to take time away by myself to refuel wanting to create memories of the four of us together, wanting to not put that pressure on my husband after a long week of early rising and late nights. But lately, with a chronic medical condition flaring, it’s become less of a choice for me. It was for this reason that I found myself being dropped off at home by my husband and two boys on a grey, Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know whether to cry or drink in the silence as I walked inside. I put down my things and headed straight for the wood stove. I pulled on my stiff gardening gloves and opened the creaking, cast iron doors and began gathering together logs and kindling. I took off my gloves so that I might better ball up a couple of sheets of newspaper and tuck them between the wood and the kindling. I leaned forward onto my knees, rolling back the igniting mechanism of my lighter, then pressing down, listening to the clicking sound as I moved it forward into the stove. The papers were lit and the flame quickly spread from newspaper to birch bark to wood. Despite the afternoon hour, the room felt dark and I sat back on my heels opening my chest, opening my heart to the firelight. It was then that I knew. It was then that I knew what had been holding me back from this glorious experience of this essential element. In that moment—my inner glow expanding—I experienced a fleeting memory of a time in which I had surrendered myself to motherhood, a time in which I had surrendered myself to my marriage, even. There with the warmth of the fire bearing down on me, a sensation traveled through me, reminding me of a time when I had convinced myself that I would only loose myself for a short while. That this would be ok. I convinced myself that I would only give myself over completely, temporarily. It was with this realization that I was reignited. A part of me that I had given away—albeit small—rejoined me then. It was the part of me that lights fires, of course. It was the part of me that makes art. It was the part of me that has time. It was the part of me that makes time. Attempting to savor that feeling was like trying to catch a snowflake in a gusting wind. It hasn’t mattered, though. I’ve remembered. That’s all it takes. Even on warmish days, I have found reason to light a fire in our home and I plan to do so until winter is no longer.

 

 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” —Alexander Pope

My family traveled inland a bit to Sebago Lake in the last weeks of summer. It was one of a few outings we made in those days—my husband lifting his head from deep in work and suddenly realizing the summer days were winding down. The sprawling, warmer, more-swimmable waters we found there were different from what we experienced on our typical ocean beach days that had made our summer so salty. There I found myself drifting on a pink princess water float—it was all they had left in the raft shack—with my bigger boy Jonah. He had changed in the summer—filled now with the budding confidence of a soon to be five year old, filled with maturing ideas about the world, with maturing movements and expressions and other ways of being. No matter how I try, I cannot keep him small. Jonah was willing to float on that raft all day long, no matter the purpling of his lips, no matter the slight shiver I noticed in his still slight body every now and then. I was chilly myself but I cherished this time alone with him and reveled in our companionship. Together we noticed a ladybug crawling up his arm. He suggested we make a wish on it before it blew or flew away. I’m not sure if I had imparted this idea of wish-making on ladybugs to him. It certainly sounded like something I might have shared. I made a silent wish for peace and harmony in my life and in my home. Jonah closed his eyes with a little squint and made a wish too. After the ladybug had gone, I asked Jonah what he wished for. He said we couldn’t share it with me or it wouldn’t come true—something else I might have inadvertently imparted. I really wanted to know his wish! I knew his wish of course. And it turns out he knew mine as well. I proposed the idea of guessing each other’s wishes and asked Jonah if we guessed them, would that keep them from coming true? He didn’t think so. “That would be ok,” he said. And so with a little grin between us, I asked him what he thought I wished for. “Peace and harmony,” he replied without skipping a beat. My eyes widened and I laughed with surprise. He grinned ear to ear. “What did I wish for?” he asked. “For chocolate ice cream,” I replied nonchalantly. I had only the slightest doubt in my answer. “Yep!” he said laughing. That memory is golden to me. I see the sun shimmering on the water and on my dear boy’s face. I feel my hair dripping and the freshness of makeup washed away. I notice the contentedness in Jonah, soothed and settled by the rise and fall of the raft for so many hours.

I had just given Adrian—my littler one—a bath. He’s standing in front of me in our long hallway, filled up with a plan for racing, for running from end to end. He isn’t noticing his little, compact body like I am—still with a diaper bump that will last not much longer. He isn’t noticing his round, soft cheeks. His hair is damp. I can almost smell his freshness. I am alone with him and before reading his bedtime books I am being challenged to a race. He guides me to the starting line at my bedroom door and gets his little body crouched into ready position and then in his deepest, loudest voice he shouts, “on or arks, et set, goooo!” Indeed, his call can be heard from neighbors all around, I’m certain. And as we begin running I feel as if I am in slow motion noticing the way he uses his whole body to propel himself forward, noticing the way he hoists his elbows up vigorously behind him. I am just behind him but looking over him as we run, fully taking him in, fully knowing that this exquisite time will pass. The diaper bump will be no longer. The desire to always be with me will fade away.

It must be very difficult if you read my blog and imagine that all of my moments are like these—if you imagine that I am always capable of noticing, of making the right choices. It must be difficult if you imagine that I have it all figured out. I want to assure you that I do not. Our family has struggled in the last few weeks. We’ve been challenged by illnesses and diagnoses, by transitions and logistics, by the very experimental nature of parenting in the way that we are. I have faltered. I have cried. I have made others cry. And the only thing that I have figured out is how to be an attentive witness of myself. Sometimes even as I am deep in this place of witnessing, I see the things that I do that are surely not the right things to do and I do them anyway! I do not despair, though. And neither should you. In my mind, intention goes a very long way and the intent to mother consciously, to mother mindfully is in the very fabric of my being. I trust in the end result of that. I trust in the end result of loving so much it hurts. And so should you, dear mother. So should you. Thinking of you all with love.

 

“There is nothing permanent except change.” —Heraclitus

This time last week it seemed that our family could have morphed into a collection of sea creatures—our bodies so well acclimated now to the sun and sand, to the salty sea air. It seemed that summer should go on forever. For days and days we had been soaking in the soothing warmth of the season surrounded by rocks and waves. Living in a climate in which these golden days are bookended by so many chillier ones made our experience all the more glorious. Just as I was beginning to bemoan the end of summer, the tide changed abruptly, reminding me of the cyclical nature of life, reminding me that the only constant in this life is that things will always change. A trip to the beach earlier this week was reminiscent of a dinner I had with a group of friends in New York City a decade ago. We had been like a family with our very own share of dysfunction and delight. After traveling through the many ups and downs of our late 20’s and early 30’s together we finally parted ways after a dinner party in which a candle was knocked over and the table cloth literally went up in flames. We left that dinner and immediately the season of our friendships as we knew them came to an end. This is how I felt when we left the beach earlier this week—as if the curtain had been drawn on our summertime production and the finale was, well, final. There had been a fierce power struggle over lunch, a family walk that ended in a stale-mate and enough tears to fill the sea itself.

By the grace of the Universe I had a singing group to meet with that same evening. There we learned songs—mostly in a style called “Mood of the 5th” that uses a central A tone and moves gently around that tone with undramatic beginnings and endings. In my mind, singing in this way, in a high-pitched voice—no matter your natural range— creates an ethereal setting allowing us to preserve for our children their ties to the heavenly realm from which they came. We use these songs to remind them of their oneness with the world and usher them (back) into a place where they know and feel that they and the world are good. That night, surrounded by a sisterhood of laughter and honey-sweetened and fresh-from-the-garden, peppermint tea, I learned three autumn songs and allowed my day to fall away. I remembered in those two brief hours of communion with other women—with other mothers—that both I and the world are good. “Golden in the morning, golden in the glen,” began one very sweet song. “Rosy apples glow,” started another which was a beloved favorite of a dear mother and friend. “Come away, said the river,” was the third, slightly melancholy yet precious song.

The next morning I brought out these verses over breakfast clean-up and continued to explore them throughout our morning together. I saw my boys in a slow and present way as I sang and found myself lingering over each word—living in each word—and noticing the tone I was making with my voice. I sang very, very slowly aware of a settling coming over our home. I sang these songs over and over until Jonah—my bigger, 4 year old boy— pointed out that I was singing autumn songs and we discussed the new season coming. Like golden leaves falling, each of us fell into our place as I sang.

Autumn is my favorite of all of the seasons. For me it has always marked the opportunity for a new beginning and I look forward to it coming here again very soon. For now though, summer lingers here in Southern Maine with very high temperatures even as the hay is baled. We were at the beach again today. I was glad for the opportunity to begin closing the door more gently on this special, salty season.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anais Nin

The year was 1952 in Pittsburg, PA. My Grandma Korba—as we later came to know her—was 38 years old. Her given name was Stella but my Grandpa (Elmer) had nicknamed her Poofty back when he was young and suave—always with a comb in his back pocket ready to slick back his handsome, curly locks. Stella was married late in life for her time at 25 years old and had met Elmer at a tea house where she worked. He was a good, Catholic young man who attended mass regularly with his Hungarian parents who were less than thrilled with Stella’s Lithuanian descent. She was beautiful though—an equestrian at the time and a lover of all sports for as long as I knew her. Mysterious scars covered much of her abdomen. We knew they were from being left alone with matches as just a babe and that she had lived at times in foster homes. She never spoke of these struggles though except to occasionally mention her sister Josie who she referred to as a drifter and who was buried out in California at midlife. My Grandma—my Stella—must have shaken those early years off well for when I knew her she radiated a lightness about her. Her bright blue eyes twinkled, she exhibited a wry sense of humor and and easygoingness to be admired. I remember her once saying, “Oh, I could hang my hat any old place.” In the years that I knew her, she was always an early riser and when I was visiting her as a young girl, I remember coming into her kitchen before anyone else had awakened and finding her sitting at the table, pouring over her newspaper with a cup of very light colored coffee beside her—she too liked a little coffee with her cream. She would look up at me, eyes brightening. And it was always the same. Even when she was a very ripe 90 years old, she would look up at me and she would say, “what can I getcha?” In those final years I would lean over her sloped body and put my cheek next to hers and just take her in. I would experience the softness of her skin against mine. I would notice that she always, “had her lips on,” as I do now. I knew then that I wouldn’t have her forever and I missed her even before she was gone.

Back in 1952 though, I do not know how she was. I know that she had a 10 year old son, Regis, and a six year old daughter, Kathleen (my Mom) at home when she gave birth to her third child—a baby girl—in a local hospital. My Grandpa—Elmer—was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Rail Road. A fly on the wall back then, I would love to be. When my Aunt Eileen—that third precious baby—was born, my grandparents were not made aware at first that anything was different about her. They came home from the hospital on a cold February day, I imagine, feeling as happy and blessed as any parent of a new baby would feel.  It isn’t clear how long it was before they were given the (then) very tragic news that their daughter was “a Mongoloid” as it was put to them. What the doctors meant was that our darling Aunt Eileen had Down Syndrome.

In the days that followed, my grandparents went to their priest for guidance. He told them that Eileen would never talk or walk or contribute to society in any way and advised that they put her in a home and forget about her. It was a decision that many, many people made at that time. My grandparents made a courageous choice instead and kept Eileen safe in their home and brought her up with the expectation that she speak and live and contribute in all of the ways that her brother and sister did. Eileen blossomed. She spoke beautifully, she danced with abandon, she was an excellent bowler and swimmer—eventually winning medals in the Special Olympics. She became the love of my Grandfather’s life. He called her “Dolly Babe” and she doted on him. As an aside, Elmer stopped going to church for 30 years because of his priest’s heartless recommendation and would often tell us that he was going instead to, “St. Mattress with Father Pillow officiating.” He had a way with words. When he died, there was an ornament symbolizing their love buried with him from his Dolly Babe. Eileen remained my Grandma’s companion, living with her and eventually helping her until she passed away at 92 years old. My uncle and my mother often refer to her as “Saint Stella” for her undying, life-long devotion to and love for Eileen. At my wedding, we made a special request of the band to play the song, “Come on Eileen” in her honor and to celebrate the special relationship I had with her throughout my life. Without missing a beat—and representing her parents who were both gone, Eileen—then 55 years old—came bounding to the front of the dance floor and led 200 people in an out-of-a-movie dance routine. Her contribution to this life has been nothing less than stellar.

When I began writing, I imagined that this post was going to be about the butterfly bush that I planted in Stella’s honor four years ago and needed to move this summer. I thought I was going to write about how attached my son Jonah had become to that plant and how each butterfly that fluttered by reminded me of her. I will leave that story for another time and let this post instead be about honoring Stella—a woman who lived with courage and was ahead of her time. A woman who allowed her daughter—who has Down Syndrome—to bloom at a time when there were no support services or support groups or even a proper name for this condition. This is a post about a woman—a mother—who I admire and will always hold near to my heart.

 

“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” —Henry David Thoreau

It was the final day of an eight day stretch that I had spent alone—largely in solitude—with my 4 and 2 year old sons, Jonah and Adrian. As we sat together on our living room floor that last morning, memories of popsicle painted faces and sand covered floor boards—of transferring slumbering toddlers to cozy beds at the end of long and salty days—left us all content in only the way that happy summer exhaustion can. My strategy had been to treat our time together like a treasured vacation. We had explored tide pools aplenty and ridden rickety carousels and filled the tub at the end of the day with sand and suds. My boys were well worn-out and when I asked Jonah if he would like to go to the beach or have a “home day” that morning, he seemed almost wistful in his reply that he would like to stay at home—this coming from a boy who would eagerly make an impromptu plane trip at bedtime in a snowstorm. This is how the three of us found ourselves late that morning—still in our pajamas—sprawled out on the living room floor putting together a wooden necklace. Jonah and Adrian doled out the pieces. Adrian would have circles. For Jonah, squares.  And for Mommy, stars and ovals. Jonah decided on the pattern. First, Adrian would put on his pieces. I watched as Adrian slid the shoelace style string through the holes in his multi-color circles, Jonah encouraging him and commenting on his, “nimble fingers.” Next it was Jonah’s turn. He was more independent and quick in his contribution. I took my turn next—slowly—noticing the energy of our work together. Noticing the peace. There was a synergy to our interactions that had come alive in the long hours we had spent together in that week unencumbered by plans or appointments or obligations to keep. We worked this way for a while. We chatted about whose turn it was and such. Then Adrian stood up—a little abruptly—and began backing away from Jonah and I slightly. I didn’t have time to wonder what he was up to when he suddenly turned to Jonah and I both and closing his eyes—just a little bit—and with a tiny, little bow he said to us, “Namaste.” In our living room surrounded by wooden blocks and of his own volition, Adrian presented himself to us—as if on a stage—and shared this powerful word in what could only be described as a reverent and loving voice. My heart was marked in that moment, my breath taken away. Jonah and I quickly joined in responding back to him with the same word and with our own little bows. Jonah and I then looked at each other in amazement and giggling a little and with wide eyes we celebrated what Adrian knew that we did not know that he knew. As I write this, I can hardly believe that this scene actually unfolded, but it did and I know that in that moment Adrian was sharing with us that he felt the presence of love between us all. He was letting us know that he felt seen and that he could see us too. There are so many moments that I treasure and hope to always remember from these precious years with my boys. This moment will surely stand among the most dear.

 

“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”—William Wordsworth

Yesterday was a scorcher by Maine standards. Temperatures in the upper 80’s sent those of us without central air-conditioning scurrying to the beach. My two boys and I were among the earliest to arrive. Traveling down a winding, narrow road to reach a far-away, sprawling spot on the ocean with tumbling waves and a desert like quality, felt like an adventure. Once we arrived we were like camels making our way from the parking lot to a distant tide pool a football field’s length from the entrance. Even from our tide pool we were still another long stretch away from the rolling waves. It was worth the journey. My boys—Jonah with his wide rimmed, navy blue sun hat, Adrian with his ripe orange baseball cap—took their buckets, shovels and wave board into the shallow pool and were busy at play within moments. Adrian piled sand ice cream into his bucket while Jonah pulled the buckets around on top of the board. I set out our blanket and then lying back on the small bag I had packed, took in the rocky cliffs in the distance thinking about the turn of events that brought me there alone with my two boys instead of where we had planned to be—back in the place where I grew up, surrounded by family, cuddling my little niece and nephew who I missed like a drought misses rain and hadn’t seen since winter winds were blowing snowdrifts at Christmastime.

I was sitting in the parking lot of a very large adventure travel store when I received the call. My husband had run into the store to pick up a last item for our travels. The following day he was heading West for eight days for work and I was heading to a family summer home to be with my sisters, their children and my parents. I was looking forward to the companionship. I was looking forward to the comfort of “home.” I was looking forward to the fun of all of our children being together. A few days before, my son Jonah had come down with a virus that gave him two painful sores in the back of his mouth and a low-grade fever. He was feeling well enough to travel though and my sisters had agreed that exposing their children was not ideal but that we should come anyway and just be mindful of washing hands, of separating sippy cups. I had not thought about my Mom, though. I had not thought of the terrible illness she had battled this past winter and how exposing her to something now—even something minor in the world of childhood illnesses—would not have been wise. With an immune system compromised, she could be a magnet for such a virus. She told me as much when she called. She didn’t want to say those words—she wanted to say anything but those words—but she had to and in the blink of an eye we were staying home for the next eight days without any activities planned and quarantined from our friends because of the illness. My husband would be 3,000 miles away. I sat stunned in the car wondering how I would break the news to Jonah who was deep in sleep in his carseat now.

I spent the afternoon and early evening mourning the loss of precious time with those I love so much—time that we have so little of. I felt angry, too. I wanted to blame someone but there was no one to blame. I cried and thought about how hard it would be to shift gears and refocus. I told my sisters and Mom that I was looking for the silver-lining but I couldn’t find it. By nightfall, though, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I could easily spend the next week regretting every moment not spent with family, or I could lift up these precious days and discover their purpose. My greatest concern was with how I would remain present and responsive—not reactive—to the mercurial nature of my children for—what to me felt like—a long stretch of time. I bow down to the wives of deployed servicemen for whom this is their nearly constant state.

At the beach, we were a few days into our time alone together and we were finding our rhythm. With our self-imposed quarantine and everyone feeling better now we were completely free to roam and go and play as we wished. We eventually left our tide pool and made our way down to the crashing shoreline. Jonah timidly dipped his toes in and observed his board bouncing around in the waves. I sat with Adrian and followed my breath noticing the way my stomach, my chest rose and fell with the waves. We meandered down little paths of water that flowed along the sand into bigger and bigger tide pools. We found ourselves finally in one pool deep enough to soak our bodies in and for Jonah to float on his wave board. I should have been tired—Adrian had made a before dawn wake-up call that morning—but instead I felt invigorated. I was pulling Jonah on his wave board from one end of the pool to the other and suddenly I began running with him in tow, splashing a good amount of water up onto my legs and some even onto my face. Adrian was in a very shallow part of the pool, lying on his stomach, propped up on his forearms. His face was filled with a grin. Soon I discovered that if I ran with Jonah for a long stretch and then suddenly let go of the string that was pulling him he would go sailing ahead of me with delight, riding on his board up onto the sand like a surfer with so much momentum. I was doing this for him over and over and at one point I was running and I could feel the water splashing my face and I could hear the pure joy in Jonah’s laughter and I could see Adrian luxuriating in the water and I let Jonah go and then I just stopped and I looked up into the sky. I stopped and I looked into the sky.

It was so vast.

It was so vast.

I could feel my heart beating from running and I could feel my heart expand.

It was so vast and beautiful and miraculous  it took my breath away.

I felt alive.

I felt so very alive and I knew in that moment what it meant to live.

I knew the ecstasy that is complete oneness with life.

“All good things are wild and free.” —Henry David Thoreau

This morning as I stepped into the shower I asked myself how I might spend my few hours alone in a way that would truly serve my soul, fuel my spirit. This was precious time and I wanted to spend it well. The answer came swiftly, poured over me like the warm water wetting my face now. Go and write in the woods. What about all of the gathering that needed to be done for a ten day journey with my children? What about the banking? Go and write in the woods. The message was strong and so here I am nestled in a little forest overlooking the Casco Bay. It is chillier than I expected even with a forecast of 80 degrees today. I am grateful that I wore heavier clothing than I originally planned— still I have goosebumps. It’s a crisp feeling though, almost like a taste of fall—my favorite season with its aroma of new beginnings. The sun begins warming me from a distance as I witness it’s glow through a grouping of trees separating me from the shoreline. An early morning hiker strolls by and says hello. I envy her sunrise routine.

I’ve been thinking about how I might better allow my boys to experience their true essence. I’ve been thinking about ways to preserve space around each of them so that their souls may always be at the forefront guiding them along. I’ve noticed how much correcting I do—especially in the summer months with so much more unstructured time together. I’m noticing how much stopping of activities and saying of “no” is coming through me. Often I am inserting myself just at the moment when wrestling becomes warring and someone is about to fall off of the couch. I am my children’s protector. Often I am interrupting conflicts when voices begin reaching decibels that could shatter glass. How else would they learn skills for peacefully resolving disagreements? I am their referee. I am their teacher. I am noticing that there is other correcting that could be withheld. I see the spaces in which I could loosen the reins and be more allowing. I notice it in the keeping of manners and the keeping of kind speaking. I could instead keep sacred more space for breathing and being.

I am thinking back to a precious moment from a recent family vacation.We were in a sparkling pool, overlooking the ocean. Caribbean music was beating rhythmically, languidly in the background. It was toward the end of our trip and there had been a fluidity in the way we had moved about our time away that has connected us all back a little more to who we truly are. My bigger, nearly four and a half year old boy, Jonah was standing on the steps of the pool snug in his swimming floaty. I looked over at him, taking in his sparkly blue eyes, the lightness in him. He looked back at me and then noticing a new song beginning to play, he started to dance. Like an old man, he brought his hands up under his armpits and leaned back a little bit shaking his chest from side to side. His lips were pursed together and turned up in a little grin. He knew how silly he looked and held back a little laugh while giving this performance. And while it was a bit of a show, I could see that his spirit was soaring. I could see that he felt free and was in alignment with his being, in alignment with his sense of fun. I was holding Adrian and he wanted to join in. I began bouncing him up and down in the water, in rhythm with the music, and he revealed himself also as a boy of great facial expressions. For him it was a little grin that came across his face and then with the music, he began moving his tongue in and out of his mouth with a little curl. His head jutted forward slightly with each tongue curl. He was teasing me with this little dance and laughing as he curled his tongue in and out. I hold dear that look on his face, that moment. He too, like Jonah, was fully alive and fully enjoying this world and his body and himself and me—his mother. Cultivating these sorts of moments is my greatest work. Yes, I am the protector of these two little bears always rolling about. Yes, I am their referee—at times—when they become more like little wolves than cubs. Yes, I am their teacher. There is so much to learn about living in society when you first arrive here. And most importantly, I am their guide. I am their guide to help them always remember the essence of their beings. I am their guide to help them remember that from which they came. And as their guide, it is my greatest privilege to step aside, get out of their way and allow them to be and to feel free in exactly who they are.

10 Gems for a Better Summer, 10 Gems for a Better Life

In the snowy wintery months that now seem so long ago, I discovered knitting again. It was with the encouragement of a teacher at my sons’ school that I found my hands nestled around a pair of slender, wooden knitting needles, my fingers gently finding their way in a dance with a ball of sea green, woolen yarn. It was while my younger boy Adrian was deep in play at our parent and toddler class that I found myself moving rhythmically in a rocker immersing myself in this meditative work so that Adrian may be freed to find his way around the room independently. The teacher—a lovely woman with a deep dedication to recognizing and cultivating the inner lives of children—helped me along. She used wonderful imagery of a fisherman’s work as a way of demonstrating the way in which my needles and yarn should interact. It was the same kind of imagery she uses with the children and so I was learning both about knitting and about ways that I may teach my own children. I fell in love with knitting again in that quiet room and since have begun a couple of very simple projects. Mostly I just make rows—back and forth, back and forth—creating rectangles that can be used as baby blankets or perhaps sewn together into hats or purses and such. I have found deep relaxation in this practice. I knit sometimes while my children play which has allowed me to be both present with them and interact with them while still transporting myself into a place of deep inner calm. I knit in the passenger seat of the car when my husband is driving which has deeply calmed my unnerving backseat driver nature.

Recently I was talking with Jonah about the various jobs that people have and he was explaining to me what he thought my job was. His description included my most important job of caring for he and his little brother, Adrian. He also seems to have picked up on the fact that I am a writer despite my never really having talked with him about it. And finally, he said that my job was “knitting.” I have thought long about what I would like for my children to remember about their childhoods. One aspect of that is what they will remember about what I was “doing” in moments when I wasn’t engaged directly with them. I am heartened by the idea of them remembering me knitting. I am heartened by the idea that my hands will be remembered as being filled with something as natural and colorful as wool and wood.

This addition to our lives has created a subtle shift. It has increased a sense of peace in me—especially at times when I might not otherwise feel peaceful. I can also use knitting as a meditative tool to come back to center when I am feeling out of balance. I’ve come to realize in life that real and lasting transformation often occurs with seemingly minor adjustments like this one. I’ve also been thinking—as the summer is so very quickly unfolding—about other ways in which we may all benefit from small changes that yield hefty results. These are a few suggestions that I have come up with. I hope that you may find a few gems here for yourself. Wishing you a rich and memorable summer. Wishing you peace. Wishing you continual growth and connection with your beautiful children for they are living miracles in our midst.

  1. Put something in your hands that isn’t electronic. For me it has been knitting, for you maybe it could be wood working or clay molding or drawing or strumming a guitar. As I begin knitting I notice my heart-rate slow down. I notice that there is a space present in me that wasn’t there before. I can take it anywhere and both be with my children and also provide them a little space to just be in what they are doing. What would you would like for your children to remember you holding in your hands when they were young?
  2. Pack and travel lightly. There is a great temptation when we travel—especially with children—to bring every comfort of home along with us, even when we are just heading for a day at the beach. As a single woman I used to be notorious for traveling lightly—sometimes with only a small sling purse—and yet always having everything that I needed when I got where I was going. Embrace your inner Bohemian and try leaving some of what you think you need behind as you go about your adventures this summer and notice what happens. Great ingenuity may be found in times when we must do without or be creative and make things work. This practice may also be used as a metaphor. Choose to let go of some of the heavier things that you carry around with you in life—painful memories, grudges, injustices, mistakes—and notice how much more fluid your travels can be. Notice the lightness in the steps of your little ones when they see that you are carrying a little less.
  3. Learn about the true nature of self-care. I recently had the privilege of attending a woman’s retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to celebrate my 40th birthday. Author and teacher, Renée Trudeau introduced me to a more nuanced concept of self-care than I had previously considered. It went beyond the idea of self-care as simply creating time and space for ourselves as mothers—as parents—and explored more deeply into the realm of moment-to-moment intense listening to our inner voices, allowing our inner-wisdom to come forth and guide our days. This concept may be explored simply through a 5 minute dedicated morning meditation in which you create intention for your day or through studying Renée’s book “The Mother’s Guide to Self Renewal” or one of many other books which can be excellent sources of inner work such as: “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, “Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav or “Wishes Fulfilled” by Wayne Dyer
  4. Be open to what the Universe has in store for you and befriend the moments of your life. Befriend even the seemingly “bad” moments. Life is filled with so many ups and downs. Our most fiercely planned days often end up being the most disappointing. Let your children be your guides as you embrace each day with excitement and anticipation and curiosity for what it holds for you. Given the opportunity, each and every day is ready to wow us with it’s beauty. A simple stroll, a game of ball, a conversation met with intention can change your life and the lives of your children.
  5. Try new things. I am generally a gentle yoga, peaceful music kind of girl. I remember hearing Sean Corn—a well-known yoga instructor—interviewed on Oprah Radio talking about the proliferation of yoga studios across the United States today. She happened to mention that sometimes she recommends to her gentle yogis to try a more intense class and to her very active yogis to try a more gentle class. This message resonated with me and when I recently had the opportunity to try both Dance Yoga and Zumba I understood the power of this suggestion. After both experiences I felt invigorated in a way that I hadn’t felt since my days as a sprinter on the track team in high school. Drive home on a different route. Eat an ethnic dinner if you are usually All American. Try being an observer if you are normally the life of the party. Notice new and worthy parts of your being and enjoy.
  6. Try old things. My son Jonah has recently come to the age where he can really begin engaging in sports. We have set up a pseudo soccer field in our front yard and a basketball court in our driveway. It has been such a joy to play these games with him. I am impressed by his use of the word “diagonal” to describe his method of kicking the soccer ball into the goal and the way he processes the rules of basketball and how he is learning that in this instance it is ok to “take” or even “steal” the ball. Playing with him has also unearthed a part of me that I haven’t seen in a while. I’m remembering that I can feel a sense of excitement with competition. I am remembering how it feels to belly laugh when you get head to head with someone in a soccer rally. I am remembering what it means to play with my whole body. I am remembering. Revisit the parts of your being that you haven’t seen in a while. You will be welcomed back with open arms.
  7. Be process oriented. I recently heard a friend talking about the fact that the more she accomplishes on her to-do list the more she finds that she needs to do. I really relate to her sentiment and I am coming to realize that I will never, ever finish all that I think I need to do. At the end-of-the-day—at the end of our lives—the completion of all of these tasks will not matter so much as how we did them. May we all ask ourselves, how are we approaching these tasks and most importantly, how are we approaching these tasks with our children in-tow? Dinner at my house is infinitely tastier when my son Jonah has cut the carrots for the soup, when I have a happy Adrian playing with mixing cups at my feet. It is infinitely tardier and messier, but it is always a process that I can feel good about.
  8. Find peace in the chaos. There is a wonderful story that Eckhart Tolle shares in his book “A New Earth” about J. Krishnamurti, the great Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher who spent 50 years traveling across the globe trying to convey in words a message of inner peace and acceptance that can hardly be put into words. At one of his talks in the later part of his life he offered what he called, “his secret.” “I don’t mind what happens,” he said. That was all. This is not a message of apathy. It is a message of acceptance. I notice that in my life when I sit with this level of acceptance, the pain of chaos, the pain of things not going how they “should” is significantly lessened. I notice that in the joy I am not so afraid of fully embracing it. I’m not afraid of when it will leave me. Give J. Krishnamurti’s secret a try and observe a powerful shift occur. Your children will benefit most of all. It could even change who they turn out to be.
  9. Enlist the help you need. Parenting is nothing less than a transformational journey. Feelings—both old and new—have arisen in me since giving birth to both of my sons that I could never have imagined. How could I ever have known the sorrow that I would feel for Jonah recently when he shared a precious gift of nature with a friend and it was carelessly discarded? How could I ever have known the rapid change in my heart rate that would occur each time Adrian cried when I needed to leave him for even a short while? How could I ever have known the impact of my history on my children today? There is so much that I have needed to examine and even transform and release in myself in order to continue on the path of mindfulness with my children. I have not taken on these challenges alone. I have recently enlisted the help of a wonderful therapist in sorting out my old wounds. I have sought the help of loving family for support and encouragement. I have leaned on friends who are mothers (and some who are not) to share in our journeys and just be together in community. I have counted on my husband to travel along this path with me. Whatever your challenge may be in connecting with your children in a mindful way, know that there is no shame in asking for help. Whether you need a therapist, a clergy member or a friend’s shoulder for support, do not travel this path alone. Reach out. Heal. Release. Be renewed. I am here with you in spirit.
  10. Always be gentle and kind with yourself. I’ve said this before. Find at least one thing you could do for yourself to care for your own inner child. A warm bath, quiet writing in a journal or a long talk with a friend, will go a long way. The way we treat ourselves translates into the way we treat our children. Love, forgive and celebrate all that you are and all that you can be.

Hurray! Happy summer to you all …..

 

“We convince by our presence.” —Walt Whitman

I’m sitting on a lawn chair in my driveway. My palms are sitting upright in my lap and they are empty. I’m not trying to read anything, or type anything or accomplish anything. I am just sitting. I am just sitting and observing my two boys playing at a distance from me—huddled together under a family of Pines. They are as industrious as ants filling a bucket with soil and then bringing it back to a puddle by my side where they spill it out again, creating an impressive amount of mud. I celebrate these days in which fingernails are made to be black, and we play a game called “naked babies” in which my boys strip down when we get inside and run squealing straight to the bath—even before dinner sometimes. On these days, I know that they have lost themselves in their play.

I watch the two of them as they adventure away from me again. I notice their smallness among the towering Pines. They are getting so big, so fast, and yet still they are small. Their friendship has blossomed just as winter has turned to spring. I’m sitting and I’m seeing. It’s a sunny day—before the rains began—and I can feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and I can feel a little breeze and then all of a sudden, our buoy wind bell chimes behind me from our front porch. It chimes once bringing me further to attention in this glorious moment. I look out at my boys deep in play and it chimes again. If any part of me had not been there it that moment, all of me is there now. The sound of a chime, so distinct, so holy. I have often thought back to that precious and sacred moment as a means to landing myself here in this moment now.

Spring and summer can be seasons of striving—gardens in need of preparation, branches brought down by winter winds wanting to be cleared, camps to attend and travels to be made. Or if we allow it to be, it can be a time of deep rhythm and meditative work. In early spring, as the snow cleared and the warmer weather began to reveal itself, we discovered that our garden was overrun with a weed that my father diagnosed as “Creeping Charlie.” This moniker made it easy for me to lure Jonah and Adrian out into our garden to help me in the very laborious weeding process that is necessary for removing this prodigious interloper. Knees deep in the earth, I would dig my hand shovel down into the ground and rock it back and forth loosening the soil gripping the roots, finally extricating “Charlie.” Onlookers, ahem, my husband—born and raised in Brooklyn and not yet accustomed to this type of work—thought the experience must be grueling. I found it to be deeply satisfying and my boys couldn’t have been happier with all of the glorious mud I was creating. It reminded me of when I used to help put together a very large mailing for an organization I worked for prior to my life as a mother. My co-workers would tease me because I would say that I enjoyed the mailings, that they were “meditative.” The collective groan could be heard across the office.

I’ve noticed that  when I find myself deep in these kinds of tasks—in raking and weeding or even in the cleaning out of a closet—that my children fall steadily into their own work of playing. It is not the case if I try to use my computer or even a sewing machine. There seems to be something that settles them about my being engaged in tasks in which I must roll up my sleeves. It seems that there is something about my breaking a sweat that frees them to move into their own imaginative worlds of construction site work in our driveway or hamster play in our living room—a recent game in which they use tissues to make little hamster beds and then lay their heads down on them making funny hamster noises.

I am looking for this deep and meditative work to do this summer. I am looking for the tasks that will give form to my children’s play like a set of arms wrapped delicately and carefully—yet firmly—around them. I am looking for ways to be that bell that chimes so reverently for them, bringing them into the very place that they are.

 

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” —Albert Einstein

Etched in my mind is the image of my mother on the day she taught me to pray. She is sitting at a table, her back very straight, her hair curly. She brings her hands together in front of her, aligning her long slender fingers—one to the other—her elbows are on the table. Then speaking to us—a group of 10 year old catechism students—she intertwines her fingers and folds her head over against them reverently. She speaks of the, “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary’s.” She speaks of talking to God. I remember her at Mass in those years, coming back to our pew after Communion and settling into the position she showed us that day. I thought then and I believe now that my Mother said far more to God in those moments than the learned words of our Catholic faith. I don’t know what was in her heart but from her posture I knew that she believed that she was being heard. Although we never spoke of the exact nature of my Mother’s faith at that time, I believe that in watching her I first awakened to the idea of a higher being who was listening to and even observing me. This was sometimes comforting, sometimes frightening. I remember attending a youth retreat at our church in which a visiting priest interrogated me, saying to me over and over, “what did you do? what did you do?” because I was crying during my “confession.” My tears were tears of discomfort, tears of sadness even but this priest assumed I must have done something terribly wrong to be crying in front of him. He must have believed in a punishing God. I remember also a warm and loving priest, Father Balthazar from Hungary—lovingly referred to as “Father B” by the many who adored him. He hosted a day for blessing animals at our church and had a laugh that made you feel warm, like you wanted to smile. He was kind and remembered all of our names, the details of our lives, even in a very large congregation. I believe he knew a loving God.

I remember attending a warm and wonderful Baptist church in my teen years on many occasions with a dear friend. It was a humble place with after-service pot-lucks and the preacher’s house rested a stones throw from the chapel. Everyone was welcome. I remember several times looking around the congregation—with a lump in my throat—the many faithful were singing, hands raised up high in the air. I felt enveloped in love in that room. I felt envious and out-of-place and seen all at the same time. My prayer life continued and deepened in the years that followed and I attended both Catholic and protestant churches throughout much of college.

I remember sitting on an airplane when I was twenty-two years old and opening a book titled, “Living with Joy.” My older sister had given it to me and I was trying to ignore the fact that the forward of the book claimed that the writing had been “channeled.” I was trying to ignore the swirling, purple and pink cover so typical of late 90’s New Age books. It was the same year that my sister began telling me that she loved me. As I read the words in this book a tremendous peace began to come over me. I have often thought back to those tranquil moments. I can see myself then—as if on a movie reel—peering out the oval window to my left at mountainous clouds, taking in the warmth of the sun streaming in on me. Although I was ten thousand feet up in the air, I remember finding myself feeling grounded and settling into two very big new ideas. I was settling into the idea of being incredibly valuable just simply in being myself, all that I inherently am—imagined and created by the most magnificent energy in the Universe. In those same moments, I was settling into the knowledge that I was a part of something so much bigger than I could ever begin to be alone. I did not recognize what each of those feeling meant at the time, I just knew that I felt safe and at peace and in control and free and loved and cherished and a part of something and just very, very good for maybe the first time in my life.

I carried that book around with me for months and like an elixir, every time I read the words within I was healed. A fundamental change occurred for me with that book. It was a simple yet profound little book (along with the dozens of other like-minded books and teachers that followed) that took the many pathways that I had been traveling toward God and led me directly to *Him. It was then and over the course of the next nineteen years that I came into my beliefs about the God which I hold dear to me today. I believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that we are here to grow and expand and to heal and become whole. I believe that we have the opportunity to co-create with God through our intentions and our words and even our desires and that we may not always understand why we have created that which we have. I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. I believe that God hears us and sees us and knows us but in a way that is mysterious and with a wisdom so colossal that it cannot be explained. I believe that communication from God may come through the wisdoms of many different religions and spiritual traditions as well as from the headline of a newspaper or a graffiti scrolled on a highway bridge. I believe that there is a piece of God inside of us, near to our hearts, that is always accessible, but that we are free to ignore for as long as we choose. I believe that God is in the world around us—the acorn with it’s little perfect hat, the curl of a wave. I believe God is in our children—the miracle of their creation, the miracle of their coming here into our lives.

My desire is for my boys to start with God where I found him in my twenties. My desire is that they only know a God of love, not of guilt or need for repentance. I hope that they will know a God of comfort and guidance and feel powerful in their ability to co-create their lives and know their purposes by listening to their hearts. I want for them to know that the best expression of their love of God will be a life in which they use their gifts, are true to themselves and loving toward others.

I’ve been surprised at how readily my four year old Jonah has embraced the idea of God. I’ve been careful not to be heavy-handed, knowing that within him he has access to a truth that for me I’ve had to unearth. I began with regular night-time prayers when he was around 2 years old but then backed off when it began to feel forced. Instead we now do spontaneous praying when the moment feels right. From time-to-time I will pray for guidance in front of him and my littler boy Adrian. We frequently pray for our family and share the things we are grateful for surrounding our breakfast and dinner. Together we attend a weekly service at a Unitarian Universalist Church and Jonah has stated that we go there to learn about God. He likes our having a church. He likes the Pie Sunday tradition that we experienced last week. Adrian does not like being left in the nursery and enjoys speaking loudly over the reverend when we bring him into the service with us. When my husband and I were married we chose to honor the religions and traditions of both of our families and so our wedding was officiated by both a rabbi and a priest. During the preparations, our priest was required to have us sign a document declaring that we would raise our children Catholic. A wise and incredibly loving man, he assured us that all this meant to him was that we would raise our children in a house of love. Let me be a loving example to my children. This is my greatest desire in sharing God with each of them.

Jonah has struggled at times to be gentle with his little brother. It has not always been easy for him to share me and to share my husband with another little soul. Witnessing this has allowed for me to see my older sister in a different light (here is an example of God’s wisdom that I could never have orchestrated myself). I have urged Jonah to listen to his heart so that he may know how to treat his brother. Developmentally I am not certain that it is correct, but I am listening to my own heart when I guide him this way. Last night, as he and his brother were bathing together, Jonah shrieked out in the most delightful and excited way wanting to share something with me. He said, “I listened to my heart! I listened to my heart!” He used a voice that could only be described as overflowing with pure joy. He went on to explain that he had experienced an urge to be less than gentle with Adrian and that all of a sudden he had listened to his heart and made a different decision. I shrieked out in joy with him not because he had done the “right” thing so much as because I could see the light of God in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I will tread so very lightly with this knowledge and try not to “use” it or manipulate this new knowledge of his in any way. I want for him to settle into the truth of his own heart in his own way and at his own pace.

 

*I refer to my idea of God as “Him” simply for editorial ease. The God I know is much too all-encompassing to be categorized as either masculine or feminine. He just is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” — Helen Keller

I was recently contacted by the website, 27goodthings.com, with a request that I share three things that I feel are good to read, good to watch and good to use. I found the exercise to be interesting and thought it might be worth sharing. These are my three good things. What are yours?

Three Good Things to Read:

There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Wayne Dyer
As a mother, I am met with countless challenges throughout my day. To someone without children, these hurtles may seem minor and kept in perspective, they really are. Things like, negotiating with a little one who doesn’t want to go be strapped into his carseat. Removing a toy being used as armament from clutched fingers—in a gentle way. Comforting hurt feelings and smoothing out misunderstandings between two boys who have only been walking around on this planet for less than five years combined. Maintaining patience and mindfulness for marathon lengths of time. Alongside these experiences, I am a human being with a journey of my own, sometimes struggling to overcome the various ways in which life can feel like an uphill climb. All of Wayne Dyer’s teachings speak about the wisdom we may find within and from our highest source, if only we take the time to look. It doesn’t matter if we are taming toddlers or negotiating world peace. This book in particular sits in plain view in my home always reminding me that I have a choice to choose a spiritual solution in any situation no matter how big or small a problem may be.

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
This is a book that was required reading for my husband if we were to continue dating more than eight years ago. To this day, we remain spiritual partners even when we have days when it doesn’t seem that way. Especially when we have days when it doesn’t seem that way. This book holds a special place for me because it opened my mind more fully to the idea that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience and that each person we encounter may be—if we allow them to be—a spiritual partner. Along with Zukav, I believe that even when our agreements aren’t conscious, we are all teachers to one another, constantly changing roles and living out various story lines as needed for our souls to grow and become more fully whole.

Quotes and Writings by Emerson & Thoreau
My favorite memories, my favorite days with my children take place almost exclusively in nature. Watching my two boys spin around and around looking up at the sky, then falling down at the beach last week with bare feet exposed but still snuggled in winter coats was pure heaven to me. Leaning back against a stone wall, heated by the sun, I thought about how time at the beach has long been a place of solace for me—the rhythm of the ocean grounding me and settling any rough waters I may be experiencing within. As I’ve grown more devoted to mindfulness, my love, my attunement to nature has expanded as well. With this I have discovered Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and all of the Transcendentalists in a new way. Choose a quote of theirs, any of them and just sit with it. Sit with it in nature and discover a whole new way of looking at the world.

Three Good Things to Watch

Water Dripping
Last week I was traveling to an appointment when I suddenly realized that I was supposed to drop my car off for an inspection. I had to change directions, the loaner car that I was given was almost out of gas and when I arrived at my appointment one minute before I was supposed to, I felt anxious and ungrounded. In the waiting room there was a water cooler with a hot-water nozzle to make tea but there was no water bottle present and so to make tea I needed to allow a very slow drizzle of  the left-over water in the machine to make its way out onto my tea bag. I crouched down comfortably and allowed that moment to begin calming me. I watched as the water came out so very slowly. I noticed the way the tea bag appeared when the water dripped onto it. I breathed. I settled into myself and I made tea. These moments in life in which we must wait, the stop lights, the long lines at the market, can be incredibly grounding, incredibly soothing if we allow ourselves to slow down, sink into our bodies and just take them in.

Your Breath
In my mind breathing is incredibly underrated. It is that which ultimately allows us to continue living in this wild and magnificent and monotonous and exciting and lonely and loving and thrilling place that we call life. Sitting and closing my eyes, first deepening my breath and then beginning to watch and notice the circular nature of my breath—beginning to watch and notice all of the places my breath touches—I settle more deeply into myself. If all we do is begin to notice our breath, we begin to live more deeply, more meaningfully and with greater joy for all of the little miracles of being alive.

A Child’s Face
There is no more lovely place than a child’s cheek. With your eyes, trace their lashes, notice the precious nature of their lips, the curve of their hair. Observe a child’s face when they laugh, observe them when they cry or protest or are surprised. Watch them especially when they are watching you. Watch them as they take it all in and learn from you how to live. There in a child’s face are his joys, his concerns and all that we need to know to help him along.

Three Good Things to Use

Intuition
We have five senses that are commonly counted on to take in the world around us—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Peppered in between the messages we receive from these senses are other signals found sometimes in our “gut” and sometimes posted on a billboard as we drive along a highway. Conserve time and energy in your life by tapping into and using these messages as guideposts along your journey. If you pay attention and tap into this powerful Sixth Sense, you will know clearly which job to take, whether or not you need to move and who to call at the exact moment needed. Among others, author and teacher, Sonia Choquette, was one of the first messengers who awakened in me a powerful appreciation for my intuitive gift, a gift we all have if only we may listen.

Forgiveness
It can be very difficult to let go of painful experiences and forgive those who have hurt us — it is a practice that has not always come easily to me. However, when we do choose and use forgiveness as a regular practice in our lives, we can move on more quickly to the real purpose of our being here. Carrying around pain, whether recent or very old, can be like carrying along an extra weight in everything we do. Knowing that we are choosing forgiveness as a way of being will set us up for easier encounters when situations arise that are potentially hurtful to us. This is not to say that we should allow people to continually injure us without some consideration for their role in our life but more of a plan to travel lightly. Unload the pains of your past, plan to keep your luggage light and move forward in being all that you were called here to be.

Gratitude
Oh-how-differently I feel when I choose gratitude. Like most people, when I examine my life closely and not-even-so-closely, I see that I have much, much more to be grateful for than to complain about and when I choose to focus on these things, I inevitably feel happier and more focused, more loving and connected to the meaning of my life. If only you may count three reasons to feel grateful at the start of your day, you will notice a tone of gratefulness rippling across your life and creating tremendously positive waters.

 

What are your Three Good Things?

“Freedom is from within.” —Frank Lloyd Wright

A meeting with Jonah’s teachers at his lovely, pink straw bale school house fills my early morning. A babysitter is home with my boys and I steal a little extra time to stretch my legs and my soul at the local YMCA. It’s a rare luxury these days, time alone on a treadmill mid-morning. I have forever loved exercise but lately my spare time seems to be filled-up with errands and long ignored doctor’s appointments—or with just finding a quiet place to sit and breathe. On the treadmill now, images of Jonah brought to life by his teachers swirl around in my head. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his depth, his wide-eyed observations of the world. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his “goodness” and how he—like all of us—is also interested in discovering the other, varied sides of himself, the varied sides of life. I am reminded of my own struggle to be accepting of the many facets of my being and how I would never want for Jonah to feel the need to live up to an unreachable standard—a need that I have been working to shed for nearly two decades now.

Nostalgic and poetic lyrics speak to me through my headphones and I am transported away from thoughts of Jonah—away from thoughts of my entire family who are almost always the main occupants of my heart and mind. On this day, I am no longer exercising at a YMCA in rural Maine, looking out at a wooded, still-wintery scene but back in New York City instead. I am meandering through the city with my dear friend, climbing over the Brooklyn Bridge. I have no diaper bag in tow. It’s September 11th now and I am stepping out of my apartment looking at the ash on my street and wondering if I should flee. I am meeting with a another friend in her Upper West Side apartment, plotting to save the world. I am looking for love in all the wrong places. I am schlepping giant paintings on the F train to fringe art shows in Brooklyn. I am being photographed on a tire swing, under the Manhattan Bridge—feeling like a dolphin. I am taking a leap of faith and buying an apartment, buying my first set of real furniture. I am dressing up as Pippi Longstockings for Halloween and staying out until dawn. I am picnicking in Central Park on my 31st birthday, falling in love in a better, more final way. I am so very, incredibly free and yet so incredibly filled with longing.

I’m walking on the treadmill and as these images flood my mind—and my heart, and my soul—I am wondering how that girl from long ago can be the same person who is now the mother of my two boys. I am wondering how that free-spirit with her total disregard for bedtime can be such a force of reliable rhythm for her children now. How can that young woman who teased her then boyfriend—now husband—about his constant need for an itinerary now be the one often in need of more certain plans. How can that girl, then on a constant roller-coaster of emotions now be the one kneeling down before her boys—often creating a lap for two—offering comfort and stability. I am wondering which parts of that girl have been tucked away and which parts of her have permeated her (my!) life today.

A few weeks ago my husband and I had a morning to ourselves and visited a few art galleries in Portland, ME. There was one studio that caught my eye from a distance—it was the vibrant colors of the paintings in the windows, colors in my own palette, that drew me in. We made our way toward the gallery and stepped inside, discovering an artist at work amongst his many paintings for sale. He and I had an instant camaraderie—we shared my maiden name. He was around 80 years old but his eyes were as shiny and tickled as a twenty year old. We chatted for a few minutes and he asked us where we were from. We said we were from “here.” He said, “Hmmm. I would have thought you were New Yorkers.” His comment made my heart sing a little. That life in New York—that decade plus a few years—unfolded me. It made me into the woman that I am today. It made me into the mother that I can now be to my two precious sons.

It turns out that artist—my namesake—is looking for someone, an abstract expressionist like myself, to take over his studio so that he may go away for a while. It did cross my mind that maybe our meeting meant that I should be the one. Ultimately, I knew that it was not for me. Crossing paths with him did reinvigorate something within me though. It reinvigorated my need to not  fall in line. It reinvigorated my need to live unabashedly and to allow my children to do the same.

Looking around my home and at the way in which I live my life, I see that girl has been making herself known in the best way that she could between diaper changes and nursery school pick-up. I see her in the colorful drawings pinned-up in nearly every room. I see her in the picture collage on our hallway wall. I see her in the wild imaginations of both of my boys. Still, as my little ones grow, I hope to unearth her further and share with them a little more of the fun that can be had when we set ourselves free.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m driving down a country road heading to pick up my big boy Jonah from school. I notice that the fields—blanketed in white for many months—are now patterned like a patchwork quilt or a checker board, the snow only a fraction of the landscape. I am donning a spring green shirt, light in weight and with white dots peppered throughout like so many Easter eggs in a field of grass. In my car I notice that my blouse is too breezy for the still chilly weather. I turn up the heat to warm me and it makes me feel drowsy. Adrian is in his car seat behind me chatting away. He loves to be at home and often when we are out and about he will ask to, “go to mine home?” I’m thinking about how my husband called me a, “tough cookie” this morning at breakfast when Jonah left the table prematurely and I asked him to come back, sit down again and make a request, “to be excused.” I can be tough about good manners. And kindness.

A few nights ago, my boys and I were headed upstairs for our nighttime routine. We sing a little song that Jonah learned at school, “fol-low, fol-low,” as we climb our tall staircase.  When we reach the top of the stairs each night, my boys love to run away from me to Jonah’s room and jump around and play like little bears, tumbling and bumping into one another. With Adrian still small, I usually do my best to either stay with them or herd them right back to the bathroom, with the gnawed bristles on their tooth brushes and their “Overtired and Cranky” bubble bath. Instead I thought that night that I would just let them be free and play alone while I got the bath filled, the toothpaste on the brushes, the pajamas laid out. I could hear them laughing and clearly having fun and then I heard a sound that all mothers are loathe to hear. It was the sound of a thump—the sound of a thump that only a head can make. I ran down our hallway sliding on my SmartWools and finally reaching Jonah’s room. Adrian was lying on the floor on his back looking stunned. Jonah was standing on his bed looking sheepish. I regretted my decision, was grateful for the thick rug on Jonah’s floor and I gingerly pulled Adrian to my chest. Jonah told me of bed-jumping on his little low-to-the-ground bed and arms flying and Adrian flipping. We all made our way to the tub, my heart the only thing thumping now and everyone in one piece.

A few nights later I was putting Jonah to bed. Adrian was already fast asleep and so I was lying in Jonah’s bed with him. It was later than usual and I was eager to get Jonah off to dreamland so that I might have a few moments to myself before another day began again. Jonah and I were facing each other and he reached over and squeezed my nose. He was expecting me to make a honking noise—a game we have long enjoyed and one that is not conducive to rapid slumber. I paused, then honked. He laughed hard and I couldn’t help myself, I laughed too. He did it again and there was just something in my honk that night that was hilarious to us both. He squeezed, I honked, we laughed. I gave myself over to the game and to laughing with my son. He did eventually fall off to sleep and I think I might have responded to one or two of the hundreds of e-mails in my inbox that night.

Mothering, to me, is like breathing. Pulling my children near and caressing them like an in-breath. Releasing them and setting them free like an out-breath. And at the same time experiencing them, each and every day, each and every moment that I let them, as the very oxygen that I breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” —Henry David Thoreau

My newly four-year-old Jonah has an adventurous spirit. In a past life he must have flown fighter planes or climbed mountains. He loves to go to new places and together we have already begun a sort of “bucket list” of adventures we can look forward to exploring together when the time is right. At the top of his list is visiting “the desert,” riding on a roller-coaster and going on an African Safari. He is also fascinated by space and imagines himself becoming an astronaut. Sometimes when I am lying in his bed with him—erroneously believing he is about to drift off to sleep—he will suddenly perk up and announce, “Mommy, do you know that it is really, really hard to get up into space? And did you know that the sun is very, very hot?” With a long-standing wanderlust of my own, I very much enjoy imagining the experiences to come. I try not to think of the many adventures he will choose to have without me.

It was with this curiosity, this need for exploration in mind that I decided recently to go outside of our normal routine and take my two boys to a community play space that we had never been to before. Clearly not Kenya, but still a little farther from our home than we would normally travel and unexpected, so exciting for Jonah. I felt excited too as we journeyed down the highway, glancing in the rear view mirror at two happy boys.

The play space was very “hip” feeling and very promising with it’s industrial frame, cafe with lattes on the menu and a wide variety of toys new to my boys. All three of us bibliophiles, we bee-lined for the book room. There was an old Walter Farley book, “Little Black Goes to the Circus,” that we read. I winced at the themes, the images that seemed so coarse now. Adrian—my littler guy—found a familiar book, “Mr. Brown Can Moo,” only this version had even more sounds to make than our smaller copy at home. We snuggled up. I felt at peace. I hadn’t eaten though and there was that cafe so we ordered some food next and the boys wandered off finding various other toys and children to play with. After a while I noticed another mother come in with her two children similar in age to mine. They settled into play at a large barn with many animal figures surrounding them. Jonah became interested in these new faces and in what they were playing and found his way to them.

In the meantime, I was sprawled out on a fluffy couch with Adrian where he was surrounding himself with cushioned blocks. I needed to stay near because I thought he might bounce right off if I left him. Jonah was not far and I could see that he was struggling. His horses were acting rough, like they were wild—a little too wild. I thought it might be a tip-off to his being tired, too much “travel and adventure” after a full morning of play at nursery school. Or maybe this was Jonah’s way of exploring the full range of how life can be. Jonah is well acquainted with the beautiful—the kind doctor and heroic life guard, the delicate nature of a flower petal, a sweet song. He seems now— as his 3T’s become high-waters—to want to complete that circle of knowledge. He is so interested in discovering and understanding the scary dragon now, the “mean guy.” Oh, how I wish I could keep him from ever wanting to know about the “mean guys” of the world.

Sometimes when I give my boys a bath I will sit on the floor beside them reading as they play. Tonight though, bathing them before coming out to write, I curled up on a towel in front of the tub and emptied myself to them. I set aside my worries for what life could do to them. I set aside my fears for how I will handle it all. I even set aside my hopes and dreams for all of the beautiful ways in which the world will open up and allow them to unfold. I dedicated those moments instead to truly seeing them. I saw them outside of what I want them to do and or not do. I saw them for more than what I hope for them and fear for them. I saw them only as the incredibly beautiful and magical creatures in my midst that they are—new and fresh and oh-so-very-full-of-life. First I witnessed Adrian, reveling in a little time in the tub all by himself. It is rare for him—play without the directives of a bigger boy hovering over him—and he seemed so at peace. He spun three little wash cloths around with his still-tiny-hands and toyed with a baby duck sitting in an inner tube. When Jonah joined him, the water became less calm, but I observed how they moved about each other like a flock of birds flying in a v-formation, only rarely running into each other and causing a commotion. Then I saw Jonah. For a brief moment, the boy he is so very quickly becoming—older, more aware, less pure, decisive—was gone. Instead I saw him in a total state of purity, knowing that on some level this still remains. This still remains in all of us. I saw his rosy cheeks. I saw how earnestly he played with a little plastic monster, joyously squirting water from it’s mouth. I saw his body, so vulnerable still. Leaning forward I asked if he would like for the monster to sing a little song. He wasn’t sure at first but then suddenly, eagerly agreed and I took the monster and sung a silly song with a funny voice that I hadn’t done in a while. He remembered and his face absolutely lit up and he began to laugh. His laugh is contagious and his brother and I both began laughing too. There was no listening or not listening in that moment. There was no getting along or not getting along. There was no past or future. There was only bliss. Pure, simple, heart-warming bliss.

 

 

 

“From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.” —Aeschylus

I am sitting in a cozy, almost empty cafe, my body arranged sideways in my seat—an attempt to avoid lower back pain brought on by exercise done too enthusiastically after a long hiatus. It’s a few days since a gorgeous snow storm left our Pines heavily coated, the view from our home looking perfect—all flaws blanketed with the snow’s immaculate coating.

There are so many things that I should be doing—things that matter to me hugely but that I put on the back burner instead. Bills unsent yet nearly due, children’s clothing piling up and needing to be organized, dear friends and family neglected for months—for years even. Given a few moments to myself, though, I almost never want to tackle my to-do list. My inbox remains full, gifts un-purchased. I long for breathing instead. I long for connection with the part of me that has dreams bigger than a balanced check-book. I long for the part of me who is loved despite being out of touch. I choose in these moments—even as I write—to be with who I am beneath all of the stuff, beneath the powdery surface, down in that very perfect place where I am as real as soil and seeds.

In these precious times I push away the should’s and the need to’s even just for a few hours knowing that it is in this rich and fertile place that I may connect with the possibilities of my life. In these moments I quietly sink into who I really am, knowing that when I return to the responsibilities of my life, I will have something of value to share. Here I connect with the life that I feel called to experience. Between my breaths (and yours), in the space behind my thoughts (and yours) there is great wisdom. There is guidance. There is even great love and forgiveness for all that we as mothers (and fathers and human beings) do and fail to do.

When help is scarce, I know that these moments may also be experienced in the presence of my children. When I’ve allowed myself to, I have found this deep inner silence among my two little boys, cherishing a quiet moment inside of myself when I see that they have embraced each other in play. I have found these moments in the space between the pages of a story I am reading, anchored on either side by warm, little legs. These magical moments can even be experienced in seemingly painful times, like when I am waiting out my two-year-old son Adrian’s cries as he himself expands—wanting and needing to be in charge. There are certainly occasions when I fill my time alone with shopping, the endless gathering of foods and things—and there is absolutely a time and need for this. But I have found, over and over and over that filling myself instead with breath, with connection to the source of all that is beautiful and magical in this world is so very, very beneficial to me and to my children. I come back to myself, I come back to my children a more complete and centered being.

While the covering of our (last?) snow of the season was experienced as so magical and made everything look so very beautiful, we—in our home, and in my soul—are eager for the first signs of Spring, for the unearthing of our garden, for the further unearthing of ourselves and for digging our hands into the earth, planting seeds and growing in the process.

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” —Aristotle

It is 2:30 am in a hotel room in Wisconsin. I am awakened by the sound of my son Jonah—a shiny, new four year old now—crying from the queen bed next to mine. He’s twisted in his sheets.  “My leeeeg huuuuurrts,” he sobs. This pain has been happening to him on and off now for over a year and seems to be related to his growth, both mental and physical. The wind howls outside along with him and I crawl into his bed trying to soothe him. I’ve learned that these moments need to be waited out and so I whisper my words of comfort and allow him to cry. I’m temped to remind him of the man downstairs who complained of our family making too much racket the night before. I restrain myself and wait. I think about the fact that my alarm will be going off in less than an hour so that we may get ready and catch our 7am flight out of Milwaukee. We are heading home from our Christmas holiday away. Jonah suddenly realizes he needs to go to the bathroom and jumps up from the bed. I follow him, grabbing his clothes already laid out for our travels. I change his first layer. He’s calm now as I walk him back to bed and he snuggles right up in his fresh skivvies, pants and turtleneck. With Jonah nearly dressed, I decide that we will try to transfer Adrian into the car in his sleep and dress him at the airport. I turn my alarm off knowing that my day has begun. After quietly showering and getting myself dressed I go back to Jonah and sit near him. He is in deep slumber again. The bathroom light illuminates the room enough for me to gaze at his cherubic face. He still has soft baby skin and even his chapped, rough lips look beautiful to me now. I stroke his hair and kiss his cheek gently. I bring my face so very close to his and tell him I love him.

I think about how at home I lay with Jonah every night as he drifts off to sleep in his new big-boy-bed. I’ve been advised not to but I do. Sometimes he will tell me what he is thinking about while we are laying there and his thoughts go on for a while. He turns back and forth from one side to the other and I am meant to turn in whatever direction he does although recently he’s taken to our facing each other. He tells me that he likes to look at me and we hold hands. Sometimes he drifts off very quickly, having been like a spinning top for twelve hours straight. Sometimes he will sit straight up and put his hands behind his head and then slowly fold back down, like a man in a hammock. He resists closing his eyes until just before he is deeply asleep. Sometimes I fall asleep too. Once he’s drifted off, I always lean over close to him and kiss him softly and tell him I love him. I tell him that I will always be there for him. I whisper the things that I want for him to know at his very core, at the place before his thoughts. I wish for my words to wipe away any indication I might have given him otherwise. I want them to wash away my impatient outcry at his rivalry with his little brother. I want them to wash away all of the many, many “shoulds” of the day. I want for my words to become his words to himself, the place where he lands as he grows into a man.

I finish dressing Jonah in his sleep. I delicately pick up each foot and put on his shoes. I sit him upright and put on his sweater—thankfully, a zip-up. He’s an excited flyer, so as I’m finishing I begin to tell him that it is time for us to get up for our flight, and he is happy about that. He manages the early hour very well. I walk over to where Adrian is still fast asleep. Before I wake him, I lean down slowly, bringing my cheek so very near to his, giving him a kiss and a testament of love.

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.” – Henry Ward Beecher

It was quiet in the house for the first time since Friday’s news. I imagined for a brief moment what it would mean for my home to be quiet for reasons besides napping and an outing with Daddy. I nearly crumbled. I called my sister and cried hard for the first time. Those faces. Those beautiful, lovely, angelic faces—imprinted on my mind since catching a glimpse of the news reports at a sporting goods store. I was on my way to an appointment with my midwife and stopped to buy my husband a pair of new sneakers, a surprise for Christmas. There, huddled around a TV—hanging above a treadmill—patrons looked on in dismay. The store clerk made a point of stating that the shooter was (at that time) thought to to be the son of a teacher from the school, an adult son. I had actually heard of this horror via a New York Times text notification a few hours before but seeing the story unfold on the television, without my children at my side, brought it home in a different way. I held back what could have easily become sobs. Looking at another woman’s face who stood watching, I could see that she was doing the same. A collective sob could be felt across the globe.

Everyone seems to be asking, “why?” Why would someone commit such a horrendous act? Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why haven’t we done anything about gun control and better mental health screening in this country after so many atrocities? The list goes on and on. I have not been able to go there yet. Gazing at my son Jonah engrossed in a book, all I can think is, “how?” How will those parents ever go on? Observing my smaller son Adrian, his sparkling eyes, the ways he says, “niiiice” when I stroke his belly, I wonder how those poor souls will ever recover. Looking around our home with the fingerprints on the fridge and the sticky noodles in the floorboards—unchanged—I wonder how some parts of our society go on so swiftly? Many, many are in the grips of this tragedy—many of them parents—following every related news story. Many are getting to work—signing petitions relating to gun control, raising flags about the state of mental health care in this country. And some are moving on either unaware of what this tragedy really means for those who have lost or just too afraid to face what it means that something like this can happen in this great and prosperous place. My heart weighs heavy. I watch almost none of the coverage on television—wanting to shield my children, wanting to shield myself. There is a newsreel going on in my own mind though. There is one child—an angelic little girl—with eyes like my son’s. There is another with eyebrows arched like my nephews’. I shutter a little every time I think of them. I think of them all the time.

Those poor parents will benefit from any changes we may be able to make to prevent further tragedies like this one. With this they may feel at least as if their children have not died in vain—that this devastating event was a turning point for our country. What they will want for us to know, though, is what we must do. For them, we must treasure every single moment that we possibly can with these beautiful creatures in our midst. For them we must embrace it all. Every single cry and protest. Every single expression of joy. Listen, so closely, they would tell us, for the laughter. Listen to their questions, their many, many questions. And touch them so gently. Forgive them for being little and not knowing. Allow them to learn at their own pace. Appreciate them and cherish them and let them know how very much you care. Spend with them, each day, as if it were their last. For in truth, we can never really know when that time will come.