And Then There Was a Teen



Dear my sweetest son,

I’ll wake tomorrow with a teenager in my home. I’ve seen this day coming for a while now. I’ve seen you grow taller; taller than your friends, taller than your grandmother, then taller than me. I’ve heard your soft voice turn into a deep baritone. I’ve heard your giggly belly laughs turn into deep, loud chuckles.

I had no idea what I was doing when we brought you home. I remember panicking in the back seat as I watched you squirm in the car seat. I literally had no idea what I was supposed to do with you when the car stopped. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself when the car stopped. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life, your life, the world, when the car stopped. It was the slowest, longest drive home.

I held on tight to the scheduled feedings and sleep training rules and beneficial music and language classes. I held on tight to anything I was told I was supposed to do so that I wouldn’t drown under the weight of such serious responsibility. I held on tight to the rules and shoulds so that I wouldn’t fuck you up.

Through the years, thankfully for all involved, especially your pediatrician, I exhaled and learned to trust myself and you. Turns out despite my questionable parenting and character flaws, you are an amazing human being. I’ve watched you grow comfortable in your own skin. I’ve watched you cultivate a quiet confidence in your own being. I’ve watched you do really hard things, really scary things, and I’ve watched you realize you’ve survived them all. I’ve watched you work so hard at learning coping skills, at learning to sit in negative feelings, at learning to accept things aren’t fair. I’ve watched you take the high road when it would feel so much better to lash back.

I’ve watched you face disappointments and rejections and failures. I’ve watched you suffer losses through death, ridicule through teasing, longing for a person you’ll never get. It’s in these moments my heart breaks for you, and it fills simultaneously. It fills with pride that you are navigating life’s ups and down and turns with an amazing maturity, acumen, resilience.

I watch you make decisions based on principles and values. I watch you demonstrate kindness and empathy and grace. I watch you see there are grays in this world, that good people can sometimes act like jerks, that good intentions aren’t always enough, that there are rarely any singular right answers. I see you struggle with the nuances of life.

I see all of this contrasted with the moments where you’re being a kid. When you lash out at your sister and call her names as you seethe with anger. When you get caught up in silly kid play and someone gets hurt. When you come up to me and ask me for a hug.

And again my heart breaks with pride and love. You have done so much amazing work in actively deciding who you want to be. You have done so much work in owning your feelings and your actions. You thanked me the other day for doing such a great job in raising you. I need to thank you for being such an amazing son, an amazing young man.

You forced me to be a better person in every way. Thank you. You make the world a better place every day. I can’t wait to see how you continue to impact this world with your love and thoughtfulness and kindness and grace.

I will never have a greater success. Some moments I chuckle out loud and marvel that I might have actually done something right. The moment you were born and they placed you on my chest, I cried. I felt the world shift. In that one moment everything changed. Part of that was probably the fact that I’d been laboring for almost 24 hours and I was grateful I could finally stop pushing. But mostly it was because I felt everything inside me shift. And settle. For the first time in my life, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was born for that moment.

I want you to take these lessons you’ve learned, and recognize all the moments where you’re supposed to be. And be kind and graceful in those moments. Be courageous and helpful in those moments. Always remember it’s OK to be scared and brave at the same time, and that taking risks is the only way to live fully. Do good works and do hard work. Do all of this even when you panic and have no idea what you’re supposed to do with your life. Eventually life will unfold as it will, and my God, it is a glorious life.

You already embody so many truths of this world, truths that took a lifetime to learn for me. You kick ass in all the ways that count. I can’t wait to continue to witness your growth as my son, a brother, a citizen of this world. Now please, remember to use deodorant daily and stop harassing your sister.

Happy 13th birthday, my sweetest love.



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Grace in a Box


I do not go to church often because I don’t seem to find God there. I find Him at the beach, I think we are kindred spirits. I also find him at Holy Cross Abbey during silent monsatic retreats. Some years ago, I discovered during a retreat, that God comes to you. Indeed, He does.

I attend these retreats not because I’m a religious person, but because I’m a spiritual person, and sometimes I need to reset. I go to ground myself. Re-center. I go to dig deep and find the reservoirs of grace and forgiveness and loving kindness that I have buried deep in me. I go to meditate. To still my thoughts and to practice Being Here Now. Each time I go, I find that God does come to me.

I’ve been struggling to find Grace. I gravitate towards people who seem to have an inherent baseline of grace in their DNA. I have an inherent baseline of impulsivity and absurdity. So I am always working on grace. Practicing grace. Remembering to invite grace to be my friend and come to happy hour with me.

On this retreat, God came to me, and brought me grace. Meet Grace. This is what she looks like today:

See, I recently had to put my 20-year-old cat down. It was the most traumatic decision of my life. I never wanted to be put in that position again, to have to decide to take a life even when I knew intellectualy it was the right thing to do. La Chica, however, thinks I’m much more resilient than I really am, and has been begging for another cat. The Boy only grunts these days, and he too grunts his agreement. I stood firm, No cats.

Then, after hours of hiking, hours of sitting by the Shenandoah River, hours of reading, hours of meditating, all in silence, a fellow retreatant pops up and asks, “Want a kitten?” I had been looking for God, and once again, God came to me.

This was the cutest, cuddliest, meowiest kitten ever. She seemed about 6 weeks old, and starving. She was found in a bucket in a horse stall in an abandoned barn. There were no signs of her mother or siblings. The foxes would surely feast on her soon. I explained why I couldn’t take the kitten, but we both felt bad returning her to the barn and to an almost certain fate. We decided to hold on to her for a bit and ask the monks what we should do.

As we walked, I asked the retreatant her name, “I’m Grace,” she said. Well, that did it. I’m a big believer in signs, and a woman named Grace offering me a kitten in a place that is sacred to me cannot be ignored. You don’t just turn down the gift of Grace.

So my heart was torn. I melted for this cat. Yet I didn’t want to be put in the position to potentially put another pet down again. I realized that fear was living 12 years from now, and I needed to Be Here Now. The next right thing was to bring the cat home. Today is what I have, and I was literally holding Grace in my hands, and Grace was meowing at me.

On this retreat, I was reminded about many things through meditation, reading, and Father James. I was reminded about unconditional/conditional love, trust, faith, empathy, being human. About enjoying moments and people and things for the value of those moments and people and things, and not for an end goal or future outcome. Those were all wonderful and timely reminders. But as I sat in those, I knew God had not come quite yet, until she did.

I came looking for God and Grace. They both came to me in their own time, as they always do. And Grace came home in a box.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Apple of My Eye

Image courtesy of pixabay

Image courtesy of pixabay

It’s apple season. And apples really don’t fall far from the tree. I have always said La Chica is an apple that didn’t fall far from the Momma tree. It’s clear she’s stubborn, fierce, and feels things much more intensely than the average bear. I always used to think the Boy had pieces of a younger me, the anxiety, the shyness, the quest for perfection. I saw shades of me in the Boy, but I never thought his apple fell that close to me.

Now, I’m reminded I always underestimate my children. This Boy, I used to think he was who I used to be when I was a child. He started his life slowly, hesitating, unsure. Afraid to try new things. Afraid of his own shadow. Afraid and uncomfortable to be in his own skin. He slowly dabbled in things to see if they’d fit: fencing, horseback riding, robotics, soccer, lacrosse, scouts, orchestra. He’s slowly learning to feel what resonates with him.

As he knocks on the door of Teenhood, he has outgrown and discarded his former shell of his youth like a molting crab. I turn around and suddenly there’s this Man-Child. And I’m both simultaneously proud of him, and exhausted. You see, I pack more into a day than the average bear does in a lifetime. I realized long ago that this one life we are given is one hell of a life, if you make it one. So much to see, so much to do, so much to feel. The possibilities are endless, if you see opportunities instead of hardships and obstacles.

So I venture out and explore the world, I give my time and efforts back to the community, I create relationships with others to feel feely things. I work hard, raise my family fiercely, and fill my soul intensely. I am always making, doing, being. I do hard things. I am scared and brave. I believe that I can do anything, and I do. Anything. And everything. Sometimes not well, but I do them anyway. The kids have always seen efficiency at it’s best, and worst, in me. I am mindful to do and be as much as possible to fill my soul and be a good citizen to this world. Sometimes I’m successful at the juggling act, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I’m cranky, sometimes I’m at happy hour. They bear witness to this every day . I do all of those things not only for me, but because having children forces me to be a better person because there’s always someone stalking me.

And someone’s been taking notes. I can’t get mad at him for that. But my God, I don’t know how I’m going to manage our schedules. The Boy has suddenly decided he’s hell bent on leadership positions in scouts for both altruism and self-improvement. He’s also decided he’s volunteering, a lot, at a horse rescue shelter, which happens to be very, very far away. And he’s decided he’s improving his self-defense skills by adding another class to his schedule. All while attending Chinese school on weekends, playing the cello, working towards his Eagle rank in scouts, and doing well in school. And yes, somehow he still finds time to complete his chores, read for pleasure, fight with his sister, and play like a Boy should.

And I was just calling him lazy yesterday. And in many moments, he is. In many moments, I am too. I had no idea this little apple had been watching me grow and reach for the light. I turned around last night after he begged to be able to volunteer in a leadership position, and I realized he’s taking root and reaching for the light too. I caution him about being overscheduled, he nods and continues to reach for the light. In that one moment, I see that he has goals for his life, and he’s working towards those goals. I see that he’s developed the perspective and attitude that we prioritize and do what we need to, just do it. I see that he’s willing to do the hard work it takes to achieve. I see that he’s choosing to fill his moments with activities that fill his soul. I see him settle into his own skin. I see him making calculated decisions to be an active participant in this world, instead of just sitting and being, hiding in shadows, in my shadow. Just in time, he’s starting to bear fruit.

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Timing Is Everything

7/8 time signature, timing, life lesson, expectations, timing is everything, shoulds

There is something you must know about me. I hate math. And math hates me. I hate numbers. They confuse me. The only numbers I understand are the number of shoes I own, and that gives me great comfort. Otherwise, numbers give me great agita. So when my drum teacher sat me down, very excited about teaching me a new song that has both 4/4 time and 7/8 time, I tried really hard not to throw a chair or my drum sticks at him.

So instead I threw glares at him, because I love him and am allergic to restraining orders and assault charges. He explained what 4/4 and 7/8 time meant, and I made him explain it again. And again. And again. And again. He told me not to think about this as math, that it’s not math. They’re not fractions even though they look like fractions. It’s about counting.

And this is when I got pissed, and uncomfortable. What do you mean you can have two different time signatures in one song? How can you just shift tempos in one song? And what is this 7/8 business? This 7 beats in a measure business? I told him I needed a minute.

See, up until now, my drumming world was in 4/4 time. Those were the parameters and rules and expectations and shoulds of my world. I knew what to expect. I knew how it sounded. I knew how to count it. I knew what to do and when to do it in a 4/4 world. This, this 7/8 business, shook my world. I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how it sounds in the end.

Life continues to provide opportunities to learn, continues to provide gentle reminders. I need to be reminded that I like having parameters, expectations, shoulds; and that just because I like something, doesn’t make it a reality. I grew up thinking the world is one way. And in that one way, everything fit neatly into compartments, boxes. And each of these compartments had clear operating rules. You go to school, work hard, get a good job, and live a comfortable life. You date, you get married, it’s hard, but everything works out in the end because happily ever after. You get the picture. Every box had a formula, standard operating procedures, and a clear story ending. That was my understanding of life.

Until I started living my life. I dated. I got married. I had two kids. It was hard. I got divorced. Wait a second. That was not supposed to happen. Let me tell you, that shook my world off its axis. That made me realize everything I ever understood about life was not true. The expectations, the shoulds, the formula, none of that was true. I didn’t know what to expect anymore. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t know what to think or want anymore. I didn’t know how to be anymore. I needed a minute. Or two. Or five years. I had to make sense of what no longer made sense. And in this, I learned there are no shoulds or expectations. There is only doing the next right thing, gently, kindly, graciously.

And then I fell off the trapeze and hit my head. I work in a biomedical research field. My career has been submersed in research findings, data, evidence-based best practices. We have a hypothesis, we gather data and discover things and new understandings, we publish papers about it all, we tell others, we provide treatment based on this knowledge. Except each specialist over three and a half years swears by a different theory and diagnosis, and thus a different treatment plan. And each of these specialists can provide research and data supporting this theoretical framework, diagnosis, and treatment. Wait, how is this possible it seems like no one knows what they’re talking about, or that everyone knows what they’re talking about but no ONE person is right? How is anyone supposed to get better? How am I supposed to get better? I needed a minute. Or two. Or three and a half years. I had to sit with the reality that no one really knows anything definitively, and that our knowledge and understanding of something, of everything, shifts through time and additional data points. Science may be written in sturdy textbooks, but it’s not written in stone. And so I learned there is no one right answer, and that I needed to choose what felt right in that moment in time.

And so I’m learning that a song can have more than one time signature, in fact it can have many. Tempos change, it feels odd, it feels like there are stops and starts. And as a whole, it sounds beautiful, interesting, and just the way it should. Learning how to play it can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. Learning to really live can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. But in the end, it’s just the way it should be–both music and life–and it’s beautiful and interesting. There is no one end, there’s just the next right thing. The understanding of our realities shift through time. Timing is everything.


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Full of Fear


fear, brave, courage, scared, bravery, afraid

I am full of fear. And that’s a good thing. It’s all the rage now to proclaim oneself “fearless.” I understand the sentiment behind that proclamation, but I don’t think it’s the right word. It means “free from fear, lacking fear.” A healthy dose of fear is, well, healthy. Otherwise, we’d all be completely reckless and make impulsive decisions and never learn great life lessons. And let me tell you, I was reckless and impulsive when I was younger, and I was still completely consumed by fear. Bravada about being fearless doesn’t actually take the fear away. You just ignore it and believe it doesn’t impact you, which isn’t true. We need to understand how fear drives us, how, why, when.

We need fear to guide us, to warn us, to keep us safe. We should be afraid of tigers, tornadoes, stalkers. These things will hurt us. We should be afraid of love, judgment, failure. These things will hurt us.

Does this potential for hurt mean we never go on safari, spend time outdoors when it’s cloudy, partake in online communities? No, of course not. That would make us paranoid recluses. That would make for an isolated, cold existence. These fears tell us to appreciate the majesty of tigers from afar, respect Mother Nature and head down to basements when tornado warnings are issued, and to use proper precautions online while enjoying the ability to meet people you’d otherwise never have access to. We also should not ignore our fears and play tag with tigers, run through fields during a tornado warning, or over-disclose to strangers. Otherwise, Darwin demonstrates yet again he was on to something.

Does this potential for hurt mean we should put on protective armor and be emotionally unavailable, aim for perfection, or shy away from risks? No, of course not. This would make for a lonely, boring, small life.

It is in the midst of these fears AND failures that life really happens. It’s in the falls and mistakes and messiness that real life occurs. These things WILL happen regardless of if you acknowledge the fear, if you name it, or not. People will judge you, people will condemn you, people will disappoint you. Hurts will happen. Again and again. And yes, one more time for good measure. Even when you don’t get too close to someone. Even when you try to be who people expect you to be. Even when you underachieve.

So when you find fear, you are in a place that matters. You can only be afraid of something if there’s a potential loss. This place where fear lives is a place that matters. There’s a good chance you might lose your dignity, your heart, your reputation, so don’t be fearless. You should be afraid. This fear makes you human, makes you real. Sit right there in this space. Because when you lose these things, it doesn’t mean you’re lost.

It means you’re found. The pain and hurt that accompanies losing your heart and your pride and your perceived security, that’s what makes you who you are. And who you are is someone brave and courageous. It is the brave who continue to get up every day, show up every day, to do the things that scare you. That isn’t a loss. That’s a gain.

The problem with fear is when we allow ourselves to be dictated by fear. When we say, “You’re right. I’m not good enough.” When we say, “I can’t, I just can’t bear to get hurt again like that.” When we say, “I can’t risk trying, what if I fail? What if I look like a fool?”

When we give in to these fears, when we let them control our behaviors, they control how big or small our lives are. How bright or dark our lives are. How full or empty our souls are. We think giving in to these fears keeps us safe. You’re not safe. You’re just scared. And that’s OK.

Because you can be be brave and courageous AND afraid. We can’t ignore the realities of judgments, rejection, loss. True courage is acknowledging those realities, and risking in the face of those realities. Courage is saying I am full of fear, and I am also full of life and light.

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Hello From the Other Side

tween, teen, individuation, growing up, teenager, parenting

I call home and a strange man answers, “Hello?” I’m silent for a moment, unsure of what to say.

“Hey,” I say, as I wonder if I’ve dialed the wrong number.

“Oh, Hi Mommy!” my 12-year-old son answers cheerfully. As he tells me about his day, I am only half listening to the content. I’m listening to his voice–the pitch, the tone, the cadence. Every now and then, I can recognize the eager, innocent little boy that once lived in my house. But mostly I hear someone growing into his own skin, growing into his confidence, growing out of my house. This has been happening daily for months now. Without fail, the deep “Hello” is still jarring and unfamiliar to me.

His voice is deep and rich now most of the time. I had been watching out for the squeaky, awkward voice change that’s a tell-tale sign of puberty. But he seems to have bypassed that and went straight to deep baritone, as he has hair sprouting everywhere like a Chia pet. Every now and then when he gets super excited, I can hear my little boy.

Most moments now, he’s pensive. He’s a thoughtful one, in that he ruminates and examines ideas in his head silently until it’s time to ask a question or make a proclamation. He’s a planner, he has long-term goals and over-thinks his plans to achieve them. He’s a dreamer, he loses himself in books for most of his waking moments. When he was little, I told him about this magic aspect of books. I had no idea he’d be so taken by the spell of losing oneself in another world.

Every now and then, I look at him in my rearview mirror or from across the room, and when his head is tilted a certain way, I can still see the 2-year-old version of his face. Every now and then, when I catch him playing with his Lego minifigures or Pokemon, I can still see the 7-year-old version of him.

This weekend I sent him off to scout camp for the week. Last year was his first away-camp, and I was fine with it. This year, I’m not sure why I’m having such a difficult time. Maybe because everything points to the fact that I have a man-child living at home now. Last year, he was still a child.

Maybe it’s because we live in a very polarized world right now, and I’m not ready to release him into it. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough with how to cope with sadness, anger, frustration, hope. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to try to remember we belong to each other, and that love and kindness are always the next right thing. I don’t feel like I’ve taught him to see the greys in life instead of holding on to false, mutually exclusive certainties. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to be a better person than I.

Sure, I don’t want to release him yet because time did fly by too quickly and I didn’t appreciate all the moments everyone told me to. But I’m also sad and scared for him, that this is the world I’m sending him off into. A world where it’s so easy to judge and criticize each other. A world where it’s so easy to follow or friend, but so hard to truly connect. A world where posturing and filters are more important than authenticity and vulnerability.

It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing who he is anymore as he grows into his own self. It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing what this world is anymore as people react from fear and hurts instead of acting mindfully and carefully and empathically. It’s in these moments that I find myself wondering how he’ll choose to navigate this world.

It’s all too fast, too much. I much prefer my illusion of certainty and safety when he was an infant and toddler, when being held by me was enough for him to feel safe. Enough for me to feel safe. When no matter how bad the day was, ending it with a story and lullaby made the world OK again, and we knew tomorrow was another day.

So tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow brings him one day closer to leaving this house, brings him closer to being someone completely independent from me. And yet it feels like with each day that he steps away from me, his home in my heart grows .


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She Said Stop


rape, rape culture, sexual assault, no means no

One of my favorite sounds is the laughter of my children. When they’re tickling each other, when they’re chasing each other, when they’re wrestling with each other. The infectious belly laughs and squeals warm my heart. One child tickles, the other screams and laughs. The tickler laughs too. The tickle-ee screams “Stop!” and keeps laughing, and tickles back. And this continues, over and over, until the tickle-ee screams, “I SAID STOP!”

I said Stop. But she was laughing, and tickling back. She was playing along. Until she wasn’t.

I see kids, not just mine, play out this scenario every day. When boys are wrestling. When kids are teasing. When kids are pestering each other, following each other around on the blacktop, in the cafeteria, in the backyard, playing one more video game. It starts out with a mutual agreement to have fun. Then one party starts to tire of it, and verbalizes a “No,” or “Stop it,” or “Please go away,” or “Not now.” But these seem like feeble attempts, because the tired party continues to engage in some fashion, or doesn’t scream it loudly the first time, or doesn’t disengage and flee.

I see adults cajole kids in this similar fashion as well. By “adults,” I mean me, and you. Granted, a lot of this is used to reframe or negotiate an issue to get a child to finish homework, or eat their vegetables, or take medicine. But adults do it too. To kids, to each other. “Oh come on, stay out a little longer. One more drink.” or “Oh come on, cut out of work early to play some golf.” 

It’s usually harmless, and we all do it to some degree. There’s a fine line between persuasion and pesky. A fine line between negotiation and coercion. Kids don’t naturally know where this fine line is. To them, positive reinforcements can be seen as bribing. To them, a parent pressuring a child to finish his vegetables can be generalized to it being OK to pressure other people into doing things. And so it becomes even that much more important that we step in and discuss these interactions in real time. 

Now, more than ever, we are outraged at our current rape culture, this understanding of the world that permits the entitled taking of something not yours to take; this disregard for boundaries; this inability to understand where I stop and you begin. This is a good thing, this outrage. Outrage will only take you so far though. We need to teach our children how to negotiate this world, and with each other. We need to teach our children that this rape culture starts years before one is sexually active.

Girls and women are taught at an early age how to try to prevent rape and sexual assault: we shouldn’t wear short skirts or cleavage-baring tops, we shouldn’t get too drunk, we shouldn’t walk alone at night. You know, because otherwise, you’re just being stupid and not being safe.

What are we telling our boys and men? Now, more than ever, we’re telling them to respect women as humans. Yes, we need to do that. We also need to start teaching our little babies that no matter what, No means No, and Stop means Stop. Even when they’re five- or seven-years-old, and it’s a raucous pillow fight or tickle session or wrestling match or freeze tag. Adults too often ignore these innocent squirmishes because they’re having fun. Their squeals and protests are background noise. It’s innocent play. Adults don’t intervene until someone gets hurt in that pillow fight.

It’s innocent, until it’s not. We need to teach boys and girls early on that no matter what the circumstance, no matter how the game started out, the second someone says No or Stop, it’s Hands up, Walk away. No cajoling, no negotiating, no pressuring. It doesn’t matter if he or she is still laughing and engaging. We need our children to understand this concept in all forms.

We need to teach our children to respect everyone’s boundaries in all aspects of our lives. Sure, we tell kids that, we tell people to respect each other. But those directives are so abstract, they don’t know what it looks like, what it feels like, how to do it. We need to teach them what it feels like to be disappointed when her playmate no longer wants to play that game, and that’s OK. We need to teach them what it feels like to have his boundaries respected, so that he knows what it feels like when someone’s not respecting his boundaries. We need to teach them to honor and respect others, to be honored. We teach these concepts through the games and interactions they know now, not just by talking at them.

We have a rule in our house: I better not hear “No” or “Stop” more than once. But do I? Of course, they’re children, and human. We all need opportunities to practice. And we do, every day. Because she said Stop. And we need to honor that.

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