The Hard and Soft Work

The end of December has passed, the magic of the holidays not yet a distant memory. Snow is on the ground and in the forecast, and the wood stove has been roaring, full throttle, for days on end. I miss our Christmas tree that took up residence in the living room, its twinkling white lights brightening not only that corner of the room, but also our air quality.

If you’ve followed along with me at all, you might recall —three years ago — a trip to a Christmas tree farm, my daughters and me. It had been my first foray into single parenting at the holidays. Wielding a rusty saw had proved to be a combustion of curse words and frustration, the drama of which I’d somehow not anticipated. Fingers were frozen yet I’d been drenched with sweat. Smiling at the earnest faces of my children while uttering — inside my brain — the most unfavorable words known to womankind. I was ill prepared. Not yet emotionally fit.

Far from my finest moment — to be sure.

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So this Christmas, I wanted a do-over — for a lot has happened in three years. I’m still parenting solo, still reeling some of the days. But I’m rolling up my sleeves, tackling the hell out of it a large amount of the others. Packing lunches. Helping with homework. Firing up the snowblower (with more success). Walking the dog. Tickling the backs. Administering the Tylenol. Dropping off, picking up. Cleaning up the vomit. Throwing the backyard birthday parties. Baking the banana bread. French braiding the hair. Freelance writing. Creating a business. Paying my mortgage.

Some days I really nail it, this parenting + home-owning thing. I’m, like, varsity adulting.

And others, I do not. I don’t nail it even the tiniest bit.

I’m kind of okay with that ratio because, well, there are so many lessons to be learned in three years.

So as it was last time, we pulled into the farm with less than an hour to spare. This year, the earth beneath us wasn’t sealed with a sheer film of ice, like crystallized sheets of mica, and the temperature was slightly more palatable. But the moon hung high over our heads, and I was reminded of that day, what had been our waning daylight and my increasing anxiety. My eldest, now a teenager, taller than me and with a mouth full of braces, carried the saw while my littlest, suddenly soaring in height, lithe like a gazelle, zigzagged her way deep into the fields of trees.

“This! This is the one,” she shouted, arriving at a steep and lush fir, already casting her gaze down the next line of balsams.

This happened ten more times, as we found ourselves football field deep. I looked back toward the car, which was now far from view, and recalled — with a smile — the absurdity of our voyage last time.

“WAIT,” she called. “No. That one. That’s the winner,” she said, skipping along the path, her fingertips lingering along each spiny branch that she passed.


And she was right. There was our tree, like a fuzzy arrowhead, its barbed apex reaching high into the dimming blue-gray sky.

“Nice,” said the teenager. “Let’s get it done.”


Down on one knee, this time I didn’t hesitate. I got to work. I started slogging away, eager to take on the task. Yet again, the saw — now in contact with the base of the tree — was sticky, not at all what I’d pictured in my mind which was a little kicking of some balsam fir ass. I was sure this time I’d have the tree down in two minutes flat — because I’ve learned soooooo much (cue my own eye roll – because with tools I tend to be one part awesome, two parts nope) about homeownership over the last few years. But as the saw faltered, as it stuck on every other pass, I was reminded that this tree was a living, breathing body of life. I was carving through years of its growth — its existence — as it stood tall, rooted amongst its family. Generations of weather endured — of Maine wildlife milling around its acreage — with the sun rising overhead and setting each evening at the edge of the surrounding wood.


But I was halfway there, no stopping now. Overseeing the process were two expectant faces, and — frankly —  we needed a tree. Sharing custody is not unlike a 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Can’t do tomorrow, dentist. Not Wednesday, piano. Thurs/Fri/Sat, kids with their Dad. Sunday, tree farm closed. So the goddamn Christmas magic was going to happen, and it was going to be today. Never mind that the previous week, I’d driven past a dozen different outfits, where pre-cut trees were standing all purty, ready to be taken home. Scarred from the drama that had ensued the first time, this is the route I’d taken the last two years: pull into parking lot, select tree from lineup, stuff it into SUV.

But no, not this year.

I had let my pride get the best of me  — LOOK HOW AWESOME I’M DOING, HOW I AM NAILING THE MOTHERING — and headed straight to the source, the motherland, to not only pay twice as much, but to guarantee the full pedigree of Christmas trees.

“Well, I feel a little badly, taking this tree down,” I said, as I sawed with all my strength and, finally, the mighty greenery fell to the ground. “But she’s a beauty. We’ll give her a happy home.”

“Yes,” said my youngest, keenly, “And we can plant her in a BIG pot so we can put her outside in the spring!” So proud. Her face beamed.


“Ummm. Well. Not exactly, ” I said. “Because when you cut the trunk, it leaves the roots behind. In the ground.”

Her expression darkened. “What.”

“She can’t be potted, honey, because she won’t be able to take root. Her roots are here.” I pointed to the ground.

“I thought we were, like, getting a live tree,” she replied.

“Well, we are. But then we cut it dow—”

“NO. You cut it down.”

I let out a long sigh. “Yep.”

“You killed a tree,” she said flatly. ‘It’s dead now.”

“Well…” I looked to the teenager, hoping she would chime in.

And she did, rosy cheeked and irritated. “Can we go now?”

Back in the parking lot, the tree farmer helped me tie our dead tree to the top of my car. I use the word “helped” loosely, as he mostly heaved it on top, and I mostly tied the knots, which is why when we drove home, my youngest said to me, “Mom. MOM. It’s slipping. It’s hanging off the car.” I looked up, and she was right. Where once it had been covering the sun roof, it was now nowhere to be seen.

But we made it home, dangly Christmas tree intact.

I snipped the rope ties and carried it OVER MY HEAD like the friggin’ warrior that I was in that moment, and before you know it, said tree was standing proud and tall, neatly in its stand. White lights glimmering. Decorated with the memories of the years of all of our lives.

“Luminous,” said my youngest, eyes wide.

“Best one yet,” my eldest declared, a smile on her face.

I built a fire in the wood stove and, in its twinkle, my girls and I took in the wonder of our beautiful, freshly watered Christmas tree. Its glow tunneled into all the corners of the room, mining into the nooks of our hearts and minds. Instead of it feeling bereft of life, its presence felt like a gentle zephyr of radiant magic bound by family and togetherness, of hard and of soft work, of heartbreak and of love.

Our day’s events — it’d had some challenge. Some hilarity. Some thoughtful moments. And this, I’ve learned, is how it goes.

It’s simply part of the contract of living a well lit life.


Summer Lovin’

It’s quiet at my house. The birds are gently calling. The air is still, no breeze to be found. One child is at her dad’s, gone for a long weekend while the other is hopefully enjoying her first ever sleep away camp. Even the dog is away for an overnight. So tonight, it’s the cats and me, and the silent solitary spaces in between.

The weeks leading up to this have been on overdrive with end of school concerts and homework projects. With fruit salads for homeroom, strep throat, and a couple of rounds of antibiotics. With a brown tail moth rash, and a verrrrrry sick pup relieving himself on not one, not two, but six rugs.

As spring rolled into hot summery days still spent at school, my girls started arguing over anything + everything. From who can jump higher on the trampoline to who gets the more robust piece of pie to — good grief — who’s better at brushing their teeth.

Man oh man. Little bitches need a break. 

Yeah, I said it. My people, they’re sweet and they’re surly, and even the littlest can serve up the sass. But oh, how I love them. 

Enter summer camp season. 

When I dropped my elder daughter at her lakeside camp earlier this week, it was a hasty goodbye. We’d buttoned up all the packing, entertained allllll the conversations. We’d already talked at length about the excitement, and also the nervousness. Of feeling ready yet wanting to stay tucked under the covers, under that cloak of safety of home. 

What am I going to do when I miss you?” she’d asked. 

So we spoke of letter writing and even poetry, of journal entries and other ways to illustrate the ups + downs. We both knew that sleep away camp meant life, offline. No calls, no emails, no texts; it was letter writing from here on out. So as her counselor offered us a quick tour of the tent and the surrounding grounds, I excitedly took pictures, filling the dips in conversation with nervous and animated snippets of nonsense. This was the moment we’d been working toward, the goodbye, and it was here. That time when I left my child — my charge — behind.

In the woods.

For three + a half weeks.

We hugged hard at her tent and she gave me the look, the one that says, Mom. I’m good. You can leave now. And so, that was it. I kissed her on the cheek, squeezed her so tight, and turned to climb the hill, where I got into the car and started the long journey home.

Deep sigh of relief. She’s good.

The ride home was of rolling hills and long vistas and it didn’t take but five minutes before the feelings came barreling around each bend in the road…she’s fine she’s fine she’s fine she’s fine, like a mantra, traveling around like laps in my brain. 

And I knew she was. 

Standing tall at 5’6, my child — no longer a kid yet clearly not a woman (because women don’t care to quibble over who brushes their teeth more skillfully) — she’s walking the slack line of betweenness. Turquoise braces fill out her smile and, at that moment, she’s clearly my baby girl but when she closes her mouth, I take in the porcelain of her skin and those almond eyes, the color of the sunshine soaked sea, and suddenly my girl is grown.

And yet. 

Will she remember to put the insect repellent on her clothes, and not her skin? Will she remember to reapply the sunscreen?

Have I abundantly taught her all of the things?

And so then, there came a squall of tears. It was at that moment that I remembered — like a lightbulb that’d been flickering off and on for some time, and had just now rested comfortably in the On position — that this child is not mine to keep. That she is here to learn, and to educate. To observe, and also to teach. That she is here to love, and to let go.

To love. 

But to let go.

I could barely catch my breath on those country roads, a lake glistening in the faraway distance, the clouds hovering like bundles of fresh cotton overhead. The wilds of Maine and its storybook summertime charm combined with the remembrance that I am only to guide this person — to guide both of my children — hit me sharply like a punch to the gut. 

You know this. We all know this. 

But then the human experiences of growth and age unfold and despite all of the minutiae — all of the day to day sports scheduling + screen time monitoring + lunch making — those bigger pictures of parenting, they are suddenly staring you square in the face.

Just like that. We’re air traffic control.

{Little left, that’s good, that’s good! No, right, go right, go right, goddamnit, I said RIGHTTTTTTT!}

It turns out, letting them go — even a little bit — can be deeply painful. I’ve had to acclimate to the many hellos and goodbyes with my daughters of divorce. To pack them up, and unpack them. Again and again and again. It’s a task that no parent desires: that unwelcome, revolving door. 

I won’t soon forget that time, dropping them off at a baseball game  — years ago, they were so little — their first to attend without both parents, and driving away from them, unable to detect the road through my tears. I recall arriving home, the air quality of my house stifling + heavy with stillness, and feeling as if I’d surely lost my limbs. 

Phantom pain, for my children.

To love (so hard), and let go.

After a long day in the car — to camp and back — my youngest and I sat down and composed a letter to her big sister. I watched her handwriting morph from careful penmanship to larger buoyant strokes, capped with lively exclamation points. The more she wrote, the more excited she became, catching her sister up on all the happenings of home — that had transpired in the 8 hours since hugging her goodbye. There it began, the dissipation of sibling rivalry, each time her pen hit the paper so that — as she finished writing  — she exclaimed in oversize letters, OK, THAT’S IT, I MISS YOU, TELL ME EVERYTHING XOXOXO

That one sentence. 

I mean, sure. I could have rounded it out with “Be brave! Be yourself! And allow yourself to have the time of your life!” 

Because I meant all those things. 


So succinct, I couldn’t have said it better myself.



Unicorns Are Pretty, But I’ve Never Actually Seen One

Social media. It’s a mystical place where unicorns frolic, where fairy dust is kind of a thing.

Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. The list goes on.

All places where, while sitting behind a screen, we can curate the best images, tell the most HI-larious stories. We can layer seven coats of mascara and filter filter filter it for 43 attempts at a good selfie. We can download an app to smooth our skin (!) and then, finally, angle the camera to capture our best side.

We display the laughter.

The celebrating.

We zoom in on the loving.

It’s where we are our best selves.


And yet.

I can’t totally subscribe. It’s the folks who show off only the good parts, the shiniest slivers, that are potentially strangers to me. This is why when a friend said to me recently, “Your life looks like something to be envied,” I almost choked on my beverage.

“You cannot be serious,” I said.

And then I thought about it: how I hadn’t posted anything of late that wasn’t a pretty sky or a choice shot of nature. Something darling about my kids. Because they’re always so darling.

—-> Cue InstaDarling in 3…2…1.


But perhaps a part of me has noted that when someone asks — hey, how are you doing? — they likely don’t want to hear how you’re really doing. Because, honestly. Who’s interested in the story about your bathroom flood or the tree that came down in a storm, landing across your driveway? (Thanks SR + CH for your biceps in action.) Nobody is at the edge of their seat, waiting on the exciting details of how your adorable puppy was almost hit by a car — twice — when he barreled into traffic. Or how a couple of weeks ago, when you had to run one child to school and the other to the orthodontist. And your car battery was dead — again —  because although, intellectually, you know you need a new one, your brain at times acts like a gushing sieve and why the hell did you let that AAA membership run out because, oh I remember, you’re an idiot. Or how you went in for that ultrasound — “it’s probably just a slow moving kidney stone” — and the intake nurse asked you for an emergency contact to which you replied with a small voice and a weak shake of the head“Ummmm, maybe my mom?”

Because, you know, you’re 11.

And besides. It was only a little E. Coli.

I mean, really. Somebody cue the violins.

Being divorced in a small town that is, well, pretty married, requires some gumption. Because you feel like maybe you colored outside the lines. With an unsharpened crayon. Being a single parent, however, when it’s 10 degrees and the snow is up to your thigh and you are the notsoproud owner of the iciest driveway known to mankind (because they simply don’t.make.enough.salt) — and wait, did I mention the new puppy? — this takes something a little closer to badassery, a superpower I’m pretty sure I don’t possess. We aren’t wired — as humans — to be alone. We aren’t. It takes a village to raise a child, they say. To love + nurture. To buoy.

But what about the grownup, the one raising that child?

Holy mother of PEARL, it’s not easy. It requires shoring yourself up enough to ask for help. To be that person. And, wow, do I hate being that person, to appear weak or needy.

Because no one likes a whiner.

I mean, wouldn’t you rather rest your eyes on this handsome ball of fluff?


But this snippet of conversation with my friend, it reminded me. It reminded me that I’m a terrible pretender. Like, awful terrible. When I feel something, I experience it on a cellular level. I wear that experience on my face, it’s coursing through my veins.

Of course, last I checked, it’s tough to make out cells on Instagram. Up close, anyway.

But we’ve been over this. No one loves being or even hanging out with the victim.


Because honey, nobody’s inviting you to the party when you bitch about your snowblower, how it wouldn’t start in two feet of snow, even though you did all the things, all the things you were taught, because goddamnit, you paid attention. And you’re a grown-up.

And you can do hard things.

Like snow blowing the hell out of an outdoor extension cord. Yeah. This takes finesse. The extension cord that helps to start this same snowblower when it’s Arctic outside – you know, like, ZERO. When your fingers simply cannot artfully operate that pull starter thingy.*


*this was not a particularly great day

Because no one wants to hear about your shit. They have their shit. They do. Everyone has a pile. If you don’t, you’re a unicorn and I would like to keep you in a stable in my house, but no. Unicorns aren’t real, so therefore the perfect life, it doesn’t exist. Everyone has an albatross. Their burden may come packaged differently in the form of illness or a job loss or the death of a loved one. Maybe their kid has a learning disability, or maybe they’re caretaker to an aging parent. Maybe they can’t make ends meet or maybe they are simply hurting. For whatever reason, they are hurting.

Maybe they have real, more pressing problems.

All I know is I’m not alone in this world of hurt + love + yearning + gratitude.

There are so many of us. 

And if you know someone, who plays that role — the victim — I assure you. They don’t like it either. They’re in pain. And hopefully learning. Give them a little latitude and if they keep it up, well, perhaps you defriend them in real life.

Or hell, maybe even befriend them. Maybe they’re in need of a little extra love.

Like when my girls get louder, more needy, more imPOSSIBLE, the whining comes at me with unstoppable force. I’ve learned to stop, to sit down and look into their eyes, to take their little hands in mine and listen to their words. Deposits of attention into their emotional bank accounts, those moments of feeling heard, this is what their behavior requires. They’re simply too young to ask.


None of us have the perfect life. We don’t. We are all a work in progress. And there’s something to be said for that process.

For me, I know going forward I need to be more authentic, this message comes to me from the deepest parts of my soul. I don’t want to be Facebook worthy. I want to be real life worthy. Full of heart + spirit. I also know I need to do more for others because there’s far deeper suffering than a puppy who likes to pee on the new rug. Far more than most of us can begin to believe. And it’s often in giving of ourselves, in opening our hearts to others, that our own problems begin to diminish.

Online, my photos may appear as if all is swell. Because in the grand scheme of this overarching thing called life — even paired with a scathing + acidic political landscape —  it is.  But my kids busting out the eye roll, not posing for the camera or when one scratches the other, very very deeply? (Meow.)  Now that’s more connecting because, as parents, we can let out a collective sigh. Phew. Her kids are also pretty awesome at assembling a shit sandwich. 

And I don’t have special filtering apps, so a selfie of me is sure to include the freckles that come with age, the wrinkles of time that line my eyes. My bag of tricks consists of a strong cup of coffee and deep-in-my-belly laughter. And I’m pretty much an expert at crying, because too many things hit me right in the feels. Joy, despair, remembrance. I also cry with gratitude for the perpetual reminder from my daughters to simply.keep.going. {Loving + kind + big-hearted, those two.}

Because when you unpack your family of origin — the groundwater of your life — and the ensuing dynamics, your childhood and the role that you played in it, not to mention the trails you’ve been blazing as an adult, we learn as a people that it is so, so painful to be human. At times, the world around us can feel cinematic + caustic, but I am learning, through the deepest wounds, through those times of afflictive emotional injury, that our well-being comes from being. And that we need to be a brave + mighty presence during the mess — because this is living out loud, and there is compellingly deep connection in the truth.

It’s only in this being, this truth telling — this mash-up of who we were in our past and who we think, who we hope we’ll be — that we are able to capture the rawness, the beauty of this real + heartfelt life.


And we can do this, we can make that honest connection by simply being ourselves.


If We Were Amish

I’ve not been shy in talking about my love/hate relationship with mowing the lawn.


It’s so productive. Yet it’s a time suck.

Post-mow, it’s coiffed like beautiful Pebble Beach. But in five days, it’s an abandoned parking lot in Queens.

Three quick primer pumps and the lady starts up like a dream. But maneuvering her (oops! dropped another wing nut!) is a farm-style military workout. For which I didn’t sign up.

But with home ownership comes taking care of biz-ship. I have an acre of leafy trees and crabby grass, and gardens galore. It doesn’t self-maintain. Shit’s gotta get done.

Recently I decided to dedicate the afternoon to that shit. Pruning my Secret Garden. Pulling the hundreds of weeds that had cropped up since last week. The yogi in me says,This. This is a peaceful task, in which one can reach a state of Zen. Perhaps I’ll even come out of it a tiny smidge more enlightened. More relaxed. Yet I’d been out there for two hours, big sweat glistening on my brow. My shirt was damp with the heat and I had scratches from dead, spiky branches lining my forearms. Little pieces of lilacs, those tiny fairy-sized bugles, were woven through my hair — not in a pretty way — and I probably had one, maybe two ticks attached to my ankle.

Sure didn’t feel super Zenny.

My children, meanwhile, were lazing away inside, playing with their toys and enjoying some beloved screen time.


Arguing now and then, their voices, a stream of irritated consciousness, were traveling out of the wide open windows.



I wish they would get along. I wish they would be a team. Looking around at my back yard, I thought: Man, I wish I had a team.

And then. Wait.just.a.friggin.minute. I DID have a team. Those beloved little jerks inside — my lovable, sweet jerks — the ones screaming at each other…

“Girls?” I called from the driveway.

No answer.


They appeared at the screen door.

“What.” Their voices were flat, their tanned faces pinched.

“I’d like you to come outside, ” I said. The door slowly and reluctantly swung open and they stepped out.

Again, and in unison. “WHAT.” Not a question.

“I could use your help,” I said.

Their eyes wandered to the large pile of brush that had accumulated by my feet, to the half mowed lawn and the pruning shears nearby.

“I’m all set, thanks,” said my older daughter, as she turned to walk inside.

“Hey,” I called to her. “HEY.”

She paused, turned to look at me.

“I need your help.”

Little one piped up, ” Help with yard work? I don’t really want to, Mama.”

“Yeah, I get that, honey,” I said. “I don’t really want to either, but there’s too much for me to do it alone. I could really use a couple of extra sets of hands. And, well, we’re a family. This is what we do in a family.”

Blank faces stared back at me.

“Really, guys,” I tried again. “Honestly. This is family life. Helping each other out. Gotta do it.”

They just looked at me. Those expressions. So P.O.’ed.

Little one brightened. “Um, okay, will you pay us?”

“Yeah. I might do it. For money, ” said my 10-year old, perking up by a percent or two.

“No, I most certainly will not pay you. Again. This is what you do in a FAMILY. You help out. You don’t just live here and expect me to wait on you. So, I mean it. It’s time to help. NOW. I might even throw in a movie tonight before bed if you can put in a solid thirty minutes.”

Throw in? On top of what?” asked my eldest.

“Ummm. Well. On top of nothing. That’s it. Help out and you can watch a movie.”

“MOM. Seriously. It’s Sunday. I just want to relax.”

“Oh, this will be very relaxing, I promise. Almost meditative. You guys can sit right here and weed these beds, play some music. Really. You’re gonna love it.”

I averted their glances, could feel colossal stink-eyes boring into me.

Eldest responded with, “Yeah. I don’t think so. I’d rather go to church. All day. And tomorrow, too.”

Littlest had an opinion, too. “I’d rather watch five hours of her boring soccer games… than do this,” she sighed.

“Well, I’d rather have my toes in the sand right now. Or swimming in a pool. But you did that — all afternoon yesterday. So, today, I’m asking for thirty minutes.” Deep breaths.

I wrestled some branches of a River Birch to the ground, taken down in a winter ice storm and impeding my lawn mowing by about a thousand layers of frustration. I bent one back, could see it was dead but that it was also tenacious and didn’t want to comply, so I tried harder, bent it wayyyyy back, squinting my eyes closed so as not to get any pieces thrown into my orbits.


It snapped in two like a champ but took another branch with it that rebounded squarely on my mouth. 9964a333b59a4f448af7a902be985a24

Big. Fat. Lip. Awesome.

Yet my girls, they’re still going.

“Well. This is kind of your job, Mom. You bought the house. I didn’t,” said the 10-year old.

“Oh…wait! I know! You can just hire someone?” my youngest asked innocently.

I remind myself that I love them, but like a sledgehammer at the carnival, the one that you have to throw down with Herculean efforts just to get the little metal barrel to ring the bell at the top, I’d had enough. I’d so had enough.

“Are you kidding me? ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME. If we were Amish, you would be making GALLONS OF JAM right now. With a blunt knife and water that you had to gather from A PUMP. OUTSIDE.”

They stared at me.

“I am so serious, you guys. You’d probably have to ride a HORSE. Or maybe even WALK, like, five miles to get to that PUMP. And then five miles BACK. In a long, very hot DRESS. With an infant carried on your hip. Without MINECRAFT. ANYWHERE IN YOUR LIFE.”

Still, they stared.

“And you, my dear,” I gestured to my oldest child. “You’d probably be out in the barn…like…butchering sheep…like, a lot…of sheep.”

They were horrified. I’d gone too far.

I have no idea where this even came from — my logic — so I threw the shears on the ground, stomped off to the shed and shut myself inside. Mommy tantrum needed a self-imposed Mommy time-out.

Wow, I thought. Just wow.

What had I done wrong? Kids do chores. Kids help out. Mine certainly helped with some things INSIDE the house, but outside? That falls out of their domain? I took a deep breath and walked out of the shed. My girls were both standing there with wide open anime cartoon eyes.

“Look, ladies. Sorry. But there’s a new sheriff in town.”

“Mom.” Eldest deadpans. “What does that even mean?”

“It means,” I said, “that you two need to chip in. When I say so. I carve out heaps of time for fun with playdates, games, screen time, movies, adventures. But guess what? I like to have fun, too. It also means I’m about to pull the movie. And a lot of other things.”

“Like, what, Mama?” asked my cherubic faced littlest. “What will you pull?”

“Um, well. A lot. I’ll start pulling a lot. A lot of things.”

They both stare at me. Non-believers. I stare back, and I stare back like I frigging mean it.

The girls let out a collective sigh and dropped down to the square footage of earth to which I was pointing, as if I was communicating with a dog who’s just strewn garbage all over a neighbor’s front lawn.

So — just like that — my daughters, they worked. Together they attacked a pretty substantial area of our garden. Sometimes singing, their little voices high like birds, chirping together in song. Small fingers tugged at the dirt, making piles of weedy, grassy greens. Soon the area surrounding the Japanese maple was clear. The day lilies seemed to stand taller, like yellow fingers reaching for the sky. High bush blueberries, less choked with ephemeral invaders.

And yet — somewhere in life —  they learned to follow the solar trajectory of time, because in exactly thirty minutes there they are, standing behind me. Like, out of a horror movie.

But they weeded the hell out of that garden, my girls did.

For me.

For us.

“Thanks, guys, ” I said to them. “I appreciate it so much.”

“No biggie,” said my youngest, as she opened the screen door to walk inside.

“Well, maybe a little biggie,” called my older daughter. “But, it wasn’t, like, a horrible biggie.

Manifestation in its simplest form.

Ask and you will receive.

It may not be painless. But it’ll be worth it.


O’ Christmas Tree


‘Twas the season. The season for counting our blessings, for giving to others, for merrymaking and gratitude… the season for family. All of those things that people with white picket fences do. We did those things.

Meeting Santa.

Singing carols at the town tree lighting.

Cutting down a Christmas fir at the local tree farm.

Listening to holiday music while decorating said tree, a roaring fire in the wood stove.

Sheesh. We were Pinterest pins.


But that white picket fence was something I grew up wishing for…for something that felt safe and intact. Containing, even. I’m not talking about a dude on a white horse, I’m talking about a clan, about people. The notion that someone or someTHING had my back. I wanted that. My parents had split when I was young and my brother ended up living with our dad, I with our mom. Despite two loving parents, my strongest desire was for a family. For a place where I belonged, that felt whole. And when I got it, it actually was pretty damn close to what I thought it would be.

Until it wasn’t.

Cue to present day. It’s Christmas time. Tree time. And lo and behold, Beyonce’s Single Ladies is my theme song. {Don’t read too deeply into the lyrics. I mainly like to do the dance.}

This isn’t going to be a Debby downer post, so you can breathe easy. Nobody wants to click on that little X in the corner  —  to close that negativity down — more than I do. Absorbing other people’s struggles, it’s heavy. Boo hiss. No thanks.

Which is maybe why I set out to do the following. Look at me. Look how freaking tough I am.

So, the tree. I was tempted to buy it at our town hall, where my girls and I picked it out last year. Dozens of them lined up in the parking lot, just waiting to be adopted for the season. The man who sold it to us even tied it to the top of my car, trimming a couple of inches off the trunk so that it would be freshly cut for water.

This year, I set my sights on the tree farm. I would simply saw one down and hoist it to the top of my SUV. I’m an active woman. I work out. Taking down a little tree would probably be the simplest thing I’d done this year. And despite the bitter temperatures, for this is winter in Maine after all, the timing was right. My girls and I would do this directly after school, rewarding ourselves with hot chocolate + extra marshmallows when we got home.

Easy peasy.


We get to the farm at 3:30 and grab a saw, merrily making our way deep into the balsams on a mission to find our pillar of Christmas hope.

We close at 4!” calls out a woman behind me, taking payment from the families lined up on their way out.

Eldest daughter decides, against my wishes, to leave her mittens in the car. Youngest daughter is wearing tights and a skirt but has mittens. I’m one for two in the hypothermic fingers department but am not much better off, wearing thin yoga leggings with a pair of slippery boots and a puffer coat. In Maine, that can almost pass for streetwise fashion though today it simply means I came straight from a class and now that I’ve cooled down, I already have a chill. I look up and see the high fuzzy crest of the moon. It’s 3:42.

A sheet of ice is there to greet us as we shuffle and skate our way further in. We don’t spot any winners, so we keep walking. And sliding. It’s a glacial afternoon and as one eye is measuring daylight, the other the path in front of me, my blood pressure begins to rise as I realize how far it feels we are from the car. Luckily the girls aren’t picky this year and we quickly settle on a very tall and slim tree sitting on the outskirts of a sea of firs. I begin to saw away at its trunk, feeling badly for plucking this beautiful thing of nature, only to bedazzle it at home and dry it out with baseboard heating.

Sorry, Tree, I whisper.

Sawsawsaw. It’s going swimmingly for the first thirty or so passes when the sharp teeth begin to stick. Hmm. Must.saw.harder. I’m using my bicep in a way it’s never been used before while also developing acute carpal tunnel syndrome due to the awkward angle. But there’s movement.


And then, suddenly, it stops. Won’t move an inch. No, I’m serious, not a centimeter. Surely I’m more than halfway, I think, as I peer down at the trunk. Barely a third.


I look up and the moon is there, smiling at me. It’s 3:52.

Okay,” I say to my kids. “Might be harder than I thought.”

Littlest child says, “You can do it, Momma. You’re strong.”

This fuels me. I AM strong. I am mother f’ing strong.

I’m sawing. My bicep is having a tantrum while perspiration beads up on my lip. And then, once again. Saw. Won’t. Move.

Eldest pipes up, “Why don’t I go get the woman by the parking lot? The lady you pay at the end?” 

I look behind me, at the distance we walked across ice and snow, how very, very far away we are from the parking lot.



Eldest shrugs. “Well. She might be good with a saw.”

It’s 3:56.

“NO. I am actually good with a saw,” I say, while giving it a firm kick with my boot. It moves. Back in business for another minute before it sticks again. “Good grief,” I utter under my breath (or that’s what I’d like to remember me saying) as I stand up and look at the tree. “ anyMORE,” I mutter-shout through clenched teeth as I assault the tree with a good shove. Like a flexible driveway stake that bounces back after the snowplow speeds over it, the fir sways back and forth, as if waving to me, Hello there! I have roots!

“Come. ONNNNNNN!” I say (yell) to the tree as I push on the saw with a force that is only displayed with crazy pissed off adrenaline. Swear words course through my veins and I finally give the saw another kick and then the tree gets another much bigger shove and then, finally — CRRRAAAAAACCCKKKKKKKKKK.

The bitch is down.

“Yay, Mommy!” my girls chirp. “You did it!”

Oh, I did it alright. The base of the tree sticks out of the ground with jagged pieces. If someone were to fall, they’d be impaled. I glance at the tree lying now on its side and its trunk, too, has craggy spears shooting out of it like nails.

Eldest looks at me. “Probably shouldn’t have pushed it, Mom.”

“Yep,” I say in a clipped tone. “I see that now. Thanks for the tip.” 

Because my 10-year old didn’t comply with the mitten order, my youngest and I carry the tree (did I mention she’s 8?) toward the parking lot. It’s so icy, she slips and I drop my end and the tree begins to slide down a small embankment. Big girl finally pitches in, despite the fact that she can no longer feel her fingers, and the three of us limp over what feels like the finish line: the parking lot. Tree lady is there waiting. The farm has closed.

“Hi,” I say. “Um. I had a little trouble with the saw.”

She looks down at the base of our tree and says, “Trunks have been kind of damp today. But God almighty, you sure did!” She inspects it and, shaking her head, begins to chuckle and calls behind her to the Mister. He comes out, saws some of the trunk off so it’s ever so slightly a cleaner cut.

All I can think is WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU ten minutes ago?

My fingers are red and raw and basically out of service, so the idea of tying the tree to the roof of my car is totally out of the question. In what can only be described as the opposite of “in a jif,” I have the seats down and the tree, rolled in the tarp, riding in the back of my SUV. With my children. I start the car and my girls warm their hands by the vents.

Tree lady looks at me and says, “Don’t got far to go, I hope?”

I shake my head, knowing that we if were actually setting out for a 400-mile road trip right now, this tree would be riding in the same position. Also knowing that if she attempts to get me to put the tree somewhere more appropriate, I’m going to detonate into a pile of tears.

I go to pay and see a sign that reads, CASH OR CHECKS ONLY. ONLY is underlined. A lot. I realize I’ve brought the wrong checkbook. The one attached to the joint checking account that is about to be closed. Because we are no longer joined. And because there’s no money in it.

That lump in my throat that had been suppressed, I feel it starting to rise. And then the tears come, so hypersonic I can’t hold them back.

The woman looks at me, her eyes softening. “I’m just gonna take a guess here. You haven’t done this before. Alone?” I barely nod and she puts a mittened hand on my arm and says, “It’ll be okay. I promise, I’ve been there. You’ll be better than your best.”

Better than my best. I like that.

We arrange for alternate payment and I drive us home. Hurdle accomplished, lesson learned. When we get home, my eldest gets out of the car and, without a word, pulls the tree out of the back, drags it by its trunk to the door and then — together — the three of us, my girls and me, we stand that tree in its base. One of them fills the stand up with water while the other puts away our coats and mittens.

I whip up the hot cocoa and as we sit down at the table, steaming mugs warming our hands and our hearts, I look over at my girls — a very giant part of my tribe — and remind myself that Pinterest isn’t real. That this moment here right now is what’s absolute and that it — so much, in every way — is a life worth celebrating.

Our stories can be messy and bleak and sometimes ugly and broken but they can also be graceful and kind, full of fellowship and love. New traditions can be made (perhaps with improved planning) and they can be as meaningful as the old. We aren’t Pins. We aren’t without flaws. But honestly, who wants to be? Because it’s only through this hilarious debris and this life and these stories, that I found my people, that I found myself.



An open birthday letter to my eldest daughter.

Dear Blondie,

You’re officially 10. Double digits. A tween. How in the world did this happen? And when I say how in the world, what I really mean is HOW IN THE HELL but that’s not okay for you to say right now because you’re 10.


But how in the in the hell of a world did this HAPPEN? You were just born. I was just holding you in my arms and you were falling asleep while I sang the lyrics to Blackbird. And why did I always sing that song to you, my newborn infant turned toddler turned girl child? Sunken eyes and broken wings, not so warm and fuzzy. A bit morbid for a baby. So nice to meet you, tiny human, now go to sleep while I sing to you about a dead bird. Of course, I get it, I know symbolism when I see it. But I find it compelling that I would sing to you about the Phoenix rising and you would lie there, having nursed, looking like a wee and happy drunken sailor in my arms. A perfect bundle with peach fuzzy hair and velvety pink skin. That little O you would make with those baby bird lips. Those teeny tiny fingernails, and how that one time I clipped your pinky because can it really be possible that fingernails come that small? It was, and you howled in pain and so then I cried, and then you drank from my breast and all was right with the world. Everything was always all right after those moments of closeness.

I had the power to make it better.

I won’t lie, becoming your mother was one of the most soul-satisfying jobs I could ever hope to have. And I haven’t looked back, not even for a fraction of a second. My Dad, your Grandpop, always used to say that in college I majored in People. I think that’s about right. I dig community, I’m like an archaeologist of the spirit. With perhaps a minor in Connection.

And so, connect we did. From the day you were born, you were keen and enthusiastic about life. Always up for an adventure. Always gratified in nature. Chock full of giggles and guffaws, you laughed at any and every thing. Comedy was your bag. You have always adored animals and used them as pillows whenever the opportunity allows. You have always had a kind heart, sensitive to others who are hurting, aware when friends are feeling left out. And dogmatic from the start, you were my little CEO — right out of the gate. No one was going to push you around. Boys that were bigger than you and being unjust? Knuckle sandwich on a plate — that, my dear, is what you’ve always served.


Some of my favorite moments with you are the dance parties in the kitchen, where we Cha Cha and breakdance and moonwalk, channeling Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise in his Risky Business or even couch jumping days. The history of dance so often takes a tour of our living room. I also love having you come into my bedroom, as you do each morning, and Velcro-ing your long body next to mine. Still my baby girl but not unlike a big foal, my lanky tween, all arms and legs.

You are a love. And also, some days a bit of a crab. But unfortunately I’m your mom, not your friend. Saying that is a little tough for even me to swallow, but it’s true. I’m doing my best to guide you to the edge of the nest. I’ll keep your wings appropriately clipped for now, but when you’re ready…and I think we’ll both know when that day comes…I’ll be here to watch you go, to support you and love you and to stoke the home fires for those days when you return.

Meeting you was the best day of my life. Yet knowing and loving you has meant so much more.


And that Phoenix? That’s not you, my sweet girl. You’re the baby bird and there’s a vast expanse of blue sky out there waiting for you. That bird, rising from the ashes, will be me. Because when you and your sister are grown and have gone out into the world, I know myself. I know my heart. That space that you both so lovingly fill will be broken wide open, and I will have to light my own way. Finding a path of not only having just been your mom, but a path that leads to a place of so much more, having known and loved you as my own. And just as I have tremendous faith in you, so do I in me.

Happy birthday, baby. Now would someone please spin for us a little PYT.






Finding love in the Whole Foods parking lot

On a recent Saturday in July, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all do it. Maybe we slept poorly, or ate or drank something the night before that didn’t agree with us. Maybe we were awakened at midnight by a feverish child or we had a weird dream. Or, maybe there was no good reason at all. Just a funk.

Or, a midlife crisis. Whichever.

Upon waking up to this mood — because it was right there to greet me when I opened my eyes — I felt my breath catch and my heartbeat quicken. Pretty sure I’m having a heart attack, I thought. My breath began to stop and start, big pauses in between. Anxiety crept in.

Well, shit. This is going to be a bad day.

So I started breathing. If there’s one thing that yoga has taught me… it’s been this: BREATHE.LIKE.YOU.MEAN.IT.

Hearing your breath, you can’t help but start listening to it, listening to YOU. The flow of oxygen wakes everything up, and for me it hits the ignition on that force of my life, connecting me back to myself, connecting my body to my mind.

The day dragged on. I breathed through it, accepting that it was an “off” day. I drove to Whole Foods, where I figured I’d pick up a few items and head home to watch a movie, alone. Had a bit of trouble parking. Nothing new there.

But I finally managed to slip into a sliver of a space. As I was getting out of my car, I received a text from my friend, Kate.


This involved driving northward 15 miles to get home, where I’d have to rifle through my closet and find suitable attire. Maybe apply some makeup. Be wedding-ready. Only to turn around again and head south 20 miles for the oceanside ceremony and reception. Hmm. Well, let me think abou-


Last minute invitation to a wedding to celebrate two excellent people? With a band and a whole lotta dancing?  You noticed she said ten minutes, right?

Total no brainer. I so love a party. I so love to have fun. But, mostly I love to celebrate people.

Nineteen minutes later, I was dressed and Kate and I were cruising to the wedding. I had met the bride and groom once before, and I liked their energy and big hearts. They seemed like two people who unabashedly loved to love. As we arrived, I tried to blend in with the crowd…of whom I did not know a single soul. Going to a wedding as a last minute date felt a little like eating at a restaurant, alone. Little out of my comfort zone. But did I mention there was a band? And oceanside views?



The ceremony was gorgeous, and I’m actually not talking about the seascape. Seeing the bride come down over the grassy hill, her Mom and Dad on each arm, I began to cry. Such a sweet, sweet sight. Such LOVE. The way Dad looked at his daughter’s radiant smile, the way Mom’s fingers were so tightly sheathed around her youngest daughter’s hand. And the dimples on the bride’s face so visible, her face beaming like the bright sun.

For a moment, my less than splendid day got a whole lot worse as old movie reels began to play in my head surrounding my own parents’ divorce. And as I thought about parenting my own children without a partner by my side. But lest I get swept away by my own sentimental seas, the ceremony continued with beautiful music and words, each reading recited with heartfelt affection. In what felt like a minute, with the ocean so mesmerizing and glimmering behind their heads, the bride and her groom were married, sealed airtight with a kiss, and the lively reception began.

I mingled. And mangled. A couple conversations. Still a little unable to turn around my day, I pushed myself to socialize and meet new people. Everywhere I went, there was tremendous girl power. It seemed every woman there owned her own butt-kicking business or had penned a book that I added to my mental bookshelf, or was a wellness educator or a love coach or who was simply and wildly, compellingly awesome.

As a group, we collectively danced to the band as if we’d all won the golden ticket to the best concert of our lives. The vibration in the room, if you can call a tent next to the ocean a room, was sky-scraping. The energy was buzzing – so much that I felt if I reached out and touched an arm, the arm of a stranger –  there would be an electrical stream of some kind, permeating my soul.

When I finally came face to face with the beautiful bride, she pulled me in for a titanic hug. So glad you could be here, she said in my ear. It’s so… perfect. And then. That current. That SPARK.


These people are all so HAPPY, is what I’d thought just a few hours before. These people have found Utopia and apparently it exists right here in Southern Maine.

Yet I’ve studied enough about yoga and Buddhism to know that these people actually hadn’t found Utopia at all. They’d created it themselves. Each of them, in their own way, had made a choice. Carve out a space of contentment and live there. Or retreat into a place where you’re always searching. Searching and fact finding for a supreme sense of well-being that GUESS WHAT?

Already resides inside of you.

I know this to be true, this was not a newsflash. But this concentrated version? This extensive group of specialized awesomeness all in one latitude?

They were sending me a message.

You woke to a not so special day. You’re feeling a little dispirited.

So lift yourself up again. And this time, try living there.


It doesn’t mean there won’t be another lousy day. Or that those we love won’t pass on. Or that illness won’t become a part of our own immediate landscape.

This life cycle, it happens. I wholeheartedly understand that.

But it does mean — and this is a choice — that contentment is available to you. It’s simply a matter of opening your heart up enough to reach out and capture it.



She’s a poet and she knows it.

Growing up, the thing I always liked most about summer was its speed.

So slooooow.

It suited me so well then. It still does. My get up and go pretty much ups and leaves come June 1. My body craves the sound of the ocean, the bright blue sky days with sun blaring overhead and cloud conversations softly sailing by (that one looks like a man’s profile! that one, a unicorn!). The warmth of the heavy evening air. The feel of crisp, cool sheets on the bed and the trilling of birdsong out my window.

God, it’s so good.

Go ahead and grab some for yourself. Grab it with all you’ve got.

It’s a quick season — even in all of its slow splendor.




The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Lately I find myself doing too much. Too much around the house. Too much outside of the house. Too much brainstorming, too much tidying, too much errand-running, too much picking up of the cat poop. Too much driving, too much rushing, too much cooking, which then brings that dreaded cleaning part.

Too much time spent in my head.

Oof. That’s the hardest one.

Maybe that’s why I’ve had a headache for three weeks. 

Yet how to get away from it? I can’t just lock it up, go on vacation. It’s a BRAIN. Things are pretty freestyle up there.

So, you know what I’m going to say, right?

Yoga. It all comes back to that for me. I realized — as most yoga teachers do at some point in their teaching — that I wasn’t working on my own practice. And if I was, it was to “practice” teaching. (Brain to self: Did I already do the twist on the left side??)

Gee, that’s relaxing.

Spending more time on my mat means bringing the yoga teachings into my everyday life. Into my every. single. day. When I connect with my breath, it’s as if the world comes ever so slightly back to its axis. Sure. There will be slip-ups and PMS and a day from hell. But at its core, yoga nurtures and feeds the spirit. It reaches back behind the motherboard (I don’t really know what that is either) and starts to rewire the brain. It fires up new neurons.

You, old dog. Yoga, new tricks.

Let’s not forget: doing the actual poses, that’s awesome. But yoga is much more than that. It’s the time spent on the mat that preps you for the rest of your day/week/month spent off the mat.

Yoga on the mat + off the mat. It’s the perfect marriage.


For those of you don’t practice yoga, or think the postures (asanas) are too hard or too slow or too sweaty or too boring or too woo woo, I assure you it’s not. Maybe you want to lose weight, or calm your anxiety, or maybe you want to restore both your mind and spirit (there’s nothing maybe about that). If yes, give it a try. And then give it a try again.


You may not reach enlightenment with one practice. But you’ll have put yourself on the very road to get there.

She liked it.

The other day I spent half the day cleaning out and organizing my 9-year old’s bedroom.

She’s in training for Hoarders, something had to be done.

Silly Bandz, Rainbow Loom elastics, books upon books upon books, so many that she could institute her own personal Dewey decimal system. Gobs of Polly Pockets (have you ever stepped barefooted on a Polly Pocket doll? It’s an 8 on a pain scale of 1-10), lone American Girl socks, several broken necklaces, endless supplies of sea glass, 19 acorn caps, several reams of stickers, probably 52 dried out markers, 5 booklights that don’t work, koala bears that cling to pencils, the contents of 17 goodie bags, and Valentines from the last three years of school. This was just the first bin.

Did I mention the number of animals on her bed?


What can I say about my earnest yet life-curious let’s-bring-in-all-my-stuff-for-a-hug kind of girl?

Collector girl.

Adventure girl.

Collector of song lyrics and gum wrapper girl.

Lover of all things animal/nature/theater/the written word girl. Hater of any of the above being passed along or, gasp, thrown away.

So let’s just say I tidied up a bit. Did a furniture re-org. Made some space on her dresser and hung a few pictures. It felt good — it looked even better.

When she came home home from school and walked into her new room, she blurted out, “Wait a minute. Wait. just. a. minute. You redid my room and DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME?”

The fury.

I braced myself. I could handle it. It needed to happen.

She flopped down into the beanbag, her new reading nook, and flashed a giant smile.

“I LOVE IT. This is the nicest room a girl could ever ask for. Thanks, Mom.”

Relief. She liked it.

She paused, looked pensively out the window, thin slats of afternoon sun falling over her hair and face.

“It’s just missing one thing,” she said.


“Well,” she paused. “A ball pit. I’ve kind of always wanted one. Like, with a bridge — so you can jump into it.”

Right.  A ball pit. Maybe next time.