What I Know about What She Knew

What She Knew

When preparing for a recent work trip which promised much time on airplanes/in airports, I went through the familiar ritual of checking out the “Kindle Daily Deals” in hopes of finding something inexpensive to occupy my mind. With much reluctance, I selected What She Knew by Gillian Macmillan.

As the mom of 7 and 9 year old boys, I had much trepidation about diving into a story that centers around the disappearance of 8-year-old boy. I promised myself that if things got rough, I’d put the book down, back away slowly and resort to crosswords and gossip rags.

To say that I ended up devouring this book would be an understatement. I spent more than one night in my conference hotel reading until my eyes shut on their own, compelled and obsessed to know how it all turned out. It’s not only that the story is an exquisitely-crafted mystery.

This story delves so deeply into the many ways we humans punish one another and ultimately ourselves in times of crisis. When things go awry, we’re so quick to judge one another, judge ourselves…blame one another, blame ourselves. Too often, little room is left for being human, showing compassion…even and especially to ourselves.

In the end, I was left feeling that this wasn’t just a good book for me to read…but an important book for me to read. I found myself weeping and whipping out my notebook to write down passages more than once.

Those who know me well will not be surprised to read that—like lots of folks—I’ve seen some things, survived some stuff. There are dark corners in my mind that are sometimes hard to escape. When I got to the part of the book that reads, “…There are some events and uncertainties that you take to the grave, and they threaten to tumble you every single step of the way…” I wept and wrote and felt understood.

I wept and wrote some more when I read, “I understood in that moment…that being a mother had given [her]…a single silken strand, strong as a spider’s web, which had tethered her to her life. It was the string that had led her, time and time again, out of the enveloping, dangerous depths of the labyrinth that was her depression. It had prevented her from slipping fatally and completely away into the dark seductive folds of melancholia…” I thought of the days when I’ve only had strength to sit sandwiched on the couch between my boys and hold onto them for dear life…the days when I put something light and funny on the TV and just wrap myself around them until I regain the energy to get up, make something to eat, behave like a proper mother.

When I read, “…here’s the thing: none of us deserve a thing. That’s an illusion we all exist under…I should simply have been grateful for what I had. I should have celebrated my life as it was, imperfections, sadness, and all, and not forensically examined its faults…” I loosened the grip on some grief, some guilt.

And finally, when I read, “…I count my blessing every day for my blemished, damaged family, which is full of love, and this is fine, and that is all we need…” I thought, “Amen, Sister!” What I know about What She Knew is that I’m glad I read it and I hope others will do the same. There are books that are read to fill the time and there are books that are read to fill the soul. For me, this book was definitely the latter.Classic

The Season of Realism

For many, the New Year is an opportunity to reflect on all that has come before and ponder all that is yet to come. For those (like myself) who have birthdays on New Year’s Eve, the New Year is a time for double reflection…not just thinking about the past year but about all of life. Am I anywhere close to where I thought I’d be 20 years ago? If not, does it matter? What do I hope for the coming year, the next 20 years, and beyond?

Alien CakeAs I reflect and ponder on the doorstep of my 44th birthday, there is much I have surmised. For starters, I can confidently say that while the glittery, unrealistic dreams of my early 20s have faded, so have the cynical sorrows of my late 30s and early 40s. Like many of my contemporaries, I started adulthood with a few delusions of grandeur (e.g., Maybe I’ll open the world’s first nighttime poetry bakery so that I can sleep in, bake cakes in the late afternoon, and write/perform poetry by night!) When I was shaken still by the realities of parenting and mortgages, traumatic injuries, and the relentless grind of life in my late 30s and early 40s, I spent a fair amount of time being angry and sad…wondering how I could have been so wrong about what my life would become. Though the cocky confidence of youth didn’t seem to fit anymore,Pink Hair at times, I still kept trying to wear it. Other times, I found myself feeling most comfortable in a dark shroud of doubts. Even while cocooned comfortably under all that fabric, somewhere inside I knew that those doubts didn’t fit right either.

Now, I feel like I’m settling into my style…or at least the style I’ll wear for the next season or two. This new style is eclectic…a bit of the pop and color of youth mixed with classic touches of realism. Doubts and confidence are great accessories but should be used sparingly. When it feels like I’m wearing too much of either, I’ll do my best to shed something in pursuit of the ultimate in comfort and style.

Boys' StyleAs my boys grow older and develop their own style, it’s difficult to speculate what trends lie ahead or how my own style will be affected or influenced. As I stand grasping the threads of who I thought I was with one hand and the threads of who I’m becoming instead in the other, I hope that I my instincts will guide me to put aside the colors and textures that no longer suit so that I can weave something beautiful and comfortable from what remains.

XMAS 2015


I sleep fitfully in the early morning hours, nervous that the alarm will ring and wake the lot in our tiny house. I stir and drift, stir and drift until the alarm is imminent. With one swift movement, I force myself awake. Armed with tiny smartphone flashlight, I navigate the fog and ink…tugging on workout clothes, tiptoeing through blackness, silently slinking into the car and easing down the driveway without starting the ignition to avoid waking my still-sleeping, easily-roused first born.December 2014 014

At the gym: Do I have the right form? Am I striking the right pose? Working hard enough? Responding coherently? High-fiving fervently?

At home: Does everyone have the weather-appropriate/organic/sustaining/hydrating/environmentally-friendly everything they need for the day ahead? Has homework been done? Chores? Is everyone acting civilized? Have the pets been fed and exercised? January 2015 027By the way, how’s my husband? What happened on his shift yesterday that I might need to know today? Was I supposed to bake for the class? For work? Speaking of work…best get on the road before all the good parking spaces are taken! Where’s that non-dairy/non-gluten/non-processed lunch I packed last night and nutritious breakfast I prepared this morning?

January 2015 085Morning drive: News of the world…sad, inspiring, beautiful, strange, terrifying, thought-provoking.

Office: Meetings, trainings, emails, voicemails, writing, planning, editing, facilitating.

Afternoon drive: More news. Call Chris. How was the day? Where shall we meet? What time are you off? What’s next? Baseball? Basketball? Karate? Soccer? Who needs gear? A snack? Am I coaching? Team momming? Snack shacking? PTAing? Book Clubbing?

At night: Dinner for the boys. Straighten the house. Feed and exercise the pets. Shower for the boys. Snuggles and kisses. All tucked in! Time to read to the boys. Dinner for the adults. Prep for tomorrow. Read a bit of that Book Club book. Maybe see Chris, maybe not. Sometimes…self-doubt. Am I doing too much? Not enough? Am I giving everyone—including myself—what they need? Am I making the most of being a human in this place at this time with these people?January 2015 031

Inside this dense forest of shifting attention and substantial remembering, sometimes things get lost for a while. Perspective, time…passwords. And so it came to pass that almost one year ago, I lost the password for this very blog. Since password retrieval was set to send to my now defunct old work email address, it seemed at times that the blog was dead, that access would never again be granted, that I would wander around tormented by the typos I would never be able to fix, the posts I would never be able to write. I searched the recesses of my mind unsuccessfully so many times that I started to give up hope. I almost called off the search. One day—for reasons I’m still trying to understand—a flash of clarity penetrated the forest and revealed the location of the long-hidden magical password.

Now that I have once again been welcomed into the land of the blogging, I can’t say that I’ll have lots of time to write. This said; I am thrilled to be back, to be able to post when I can, to have a handful of you indulge me when I manage to put something up. After a year of serious Momnesia, BEHOLD THE RETURN OF COMIC BOOK MAMA!

My Comfy Valentine

Valentine’s Day…that once-a-year-Hallmark-opportunity to reflect on hearts and flowers, love and chocolate. In the wake of a year that has at times chewed me up and spit me out a bit, it’s sometimes been hard to get in the mood to feel celebratory. From the holidays to the last week of vomiting, asthmatic, attitudinal kids and late night, no-sleep baking marathons…it’s been hard to really feel the magic that holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day are supposed to illicit.

In my 42nd year, I guess I’ve been having something akin to a midlife crisis. My body isn’t as strong or fit as it used to
be. I’ve had to come to terms with the nightmarish realities of what I had thought would turn out to be my “dream job.” It’s been a year of feeling like things just don’t quite fit…from my shoes to my pants…to my career…to my life. There are times that I haven’t even enjoyed being with myself so I’m heading out on a limb to surmise that others didn’t have any interest being near me either. In such moments, inevitably it’s those closest to the epicenter that get hit the hardest, sustain the most damage. So…I’m guessing that there have been many moments this past year that Chris hasn’t exactly been feeling the love.

486: Valentine's DayWhat I’ve sorted out from all my moody broody moments is that there comes a time when one must reconcile dreams with realities…where one must let go of everything they thought, hoped would happen and embrace what’s actually happening instead. In recent days and weeks, this is what I’ve been working to do. In the midst of such a space, it may sound jaded but—from the perspective of an old married lady coming off of a tough year—the most romantic and poignant thing I’ve heard this Valentine season was uttered by Ira Glass on the February 7, 2014 edition of “This American Life.” He said…

“…one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door…and so if something is messed up in the short term, there’s the comfort of knowing that like, we’ve made this commitment so we’ve just got to work this out. And even if tonight we’re not getting along or something between us just doesn’t feel right, there’s the comfort of knowing we’ve got time to figure this out. And that makes it so much easier. Because we do have times when we hate each other’s guts. And the ‘no escape clause’ is a bigger comfort to me than I ever would have thought…”

So…cheers to love…the new and shiny unsoiled kind…the intense and crazy passionate kind…and mostly—for me—the old and married and comfortable kind. On Valentine’s Day and any day, what more could a girl hope for than a guy who holds her hand and keeps plodding through…even and especially on the hard, grey, murky days.January 2015 037

Spazzy Intensity

Behold the extrovert: Front and center and hamming it up. Behold the introvert: Brooding in the background.

Behold the extrovert: Front and center and hamming it up. Behold the introvert: Brooding in the background.

The current dynamic in our house is this: We have one very intense, sometimes melodramatic introvert and one spazzy, in-your-face, wacka-wacka-wacka extrovert. Mr. Intensity can often be found reading or playing in the corner by himself while Mr. Spazzy does his level best to draw Intensity out by peppering him with questions, trying to show him stuff and—if all else fails—being as annoyingly adorable as humanly possible. This often results in Intensity punching or insulting Spazzy and Spazzy (who is also the Town Crier) tattling. We are typically treated to every excruciating detail of Intensity’s misdeeds and usually none of the details related to Spazzy’s part in the fallout. It’s only after a major effort to extract information from tight-lipped Intensity that we are able to piece together something resembling the full story. My hope and dream is that eventually these two will balance each other out. My current experience is that they drive each other to the brink of madness and often bring me and their daddy along for the ride.

A perfect example of this dynamic presented yesterday on the drive home from karate. In the last couple of days, Oscar has been caught sneaking treats. This resulted in the loss of the privilege of dessert. Following the loss of privileges, much dramatic sadness inevitably ensues. I have learned that trying to reason or explain in such moments is futile. If I have any hope of inserting a life lesson, I must bide my time until the emotional storm has passed.

And so it was that in the relative calm of yesterday’s post-karate routine that I decided to say, “Oscar: Do you know why it’s so upsetting to me and Dad when we catch you sneaking and being dishonest…even just a little bit?” Beautiful brooding Oscar set down his book, let out and exasperated sigh and said, “Why?” “Because,” I said, “It won’t be long before you’re out in the world without us and we want to have faith that even when we’re not watching, you’ll do the right and honest thing.” “OK,” he said and resumed reading. After a short silence I asked, “Do you know what defines the kind of person you are?” Again, he set down his book and huffed, “No. What?” “It’s the kind of person you are when nobody’s looking. My dream for you is that—even when nobody’s watching—you’ll choose to do the right and honest thing.”

At about that moment, we arrived at the front of the pet store and I instructed the boys to sit tight while I ran in to purchase some sawdust for the guinea pigs. I returned to the car moments later, to this excited report: “Mom!” Boris said, “Oscar said he can’t relax with you in his life!” Oscar summarily issued his brother a sideways stink-eye. After summoning much strength to push down the bursts of uncontrollable laughter that were bubbling up inside me, I said, “Oscar: I’m not trying to stress you out. I just want you to understand why Daddy and I make the decisions we make. I want you to understand where we’re coming from.” “OK,” he said as he returned to his book.

I have no way of knowing if any of the seeds I am planting will grow or if they will simply blow away in the wind. I can turn the soil, add water, try to coax out the sun. Still since I am growing a completely new and unique species, this is all a bit of an experiment. I may fail to provide the right nourishment, bugs may come to eat my spoils…all I have toiled to produce may die on the vine or fail to sprout in the first place. For now, I am enjoying my time in the garden. I remain hopeful that someday I will taste the sweet fruit of many years’ labor.

The camera doesn't lie. Spazzy Intensity abounds.

The camera doesn’t lie. Spazzy Intensity abounds.

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

All the flats I could wear when my cast was first removed. With some effort, I can wear a few heels now too.

All the flats I could wear when my cast was first removed in the Fall of 2013. With some effort, I can wear a few heels now too.

2013. What a year. I would scarcely know where to begin to describe the transformations, peaks and valleys that have characterized the past year. While transformations are still happening and there is certainly still much to sort out, I would say that in 2014–more than anything else–I am planning to shift from the fire-in-the-belly, take-on-the-world mentality of the 20s and 30s to the quiet contemplation of the 40s. I no longer feel the need to prove my worth. More than anything, I wish to whittle down to those who see my worth already, who value me for what I am, and accept me for what I am not.

Unlike the careless kitty I was in my youth, I see that I do not rebound quickly from the hard falls anymore. I don’t possess the will or facility to dust off and carry on as effortlessly as I used to. Rebuilding is certainly possible but it takes time and struggle and meditation.

Because I’ve lost count of the lives I have left, I want to savor and cherish what remains and feel comfortable while doing it. I want to let go of all that no longer serves me. I want to slip into the beauty of my own skin. I’m clearing out all that is impractical and uncomfortable. I am wearing the shoes that fit.

The Importance of Rembembering

In the hussle and bustle of life, it is so very easy to forget…to get wrapped up in one’s own little triumphs and tragedies…to let go of the gravity of happennings outside one’s own head, own house, own neighborhood. And then there are moments when the bubble is broken…when everything so seemingly important becomes instantly insignificant. Suddenly humility and reflection are the only options. While conducting an internet search for an old work project tonight, I came across this article, these pictures, this video.

Suddenly everything that I thought I needed to accomplish tonight was overwhelmed by a need to stop and remember…to hold in my heart the families that are still mourning, the holes that will never be filled.

Also were thoughts of an amazing community that came together in just 3 short days to hold hands, have hope in what seemed a very hopeless time. When the clouds parted, voices lifted and togehter we dared to dream of something better. I’m still dreaming and hoping and remembering. I know I’m not the only one.

Not Always the One


Earlier today, I sent the boys off to their last day of all-day karate camp. It’s been an exhausting week…especially for them. With Daddy out of town and Mommy hopping around one-footed trying to make it all happen, we’re all a little worn out–both physically and emotionally. We’re all craving a return to normalcy.

The boys have been SO amazing. They have really learned to soldier up, to help out and–aside from the occasional epic meltdown–they’ve done it. They’ve both become masters of making their beds, watering the garden, feeding the animals, and helping with meal prep and cleanup. Chores are a regular part of their day and that’s a VERY good thing.

Still, it breaks my heart a little to know that so young they have had to assimilate the truth that their Mama will not always be the one they can count on. Every day, in big ways and small, they will need to become more self-reliant. Sometimes–even their strong, do-everything-and-make-it-look-easy mama just CAN’T. This is a fact I had hoped to keep hidden at least a little while longer.

This morning, B had and especially hard time. A few times this week, he has commented on how tired he is. During breakfast, he fell apart. When the storm clouds cleared and we were talking about what’s going on with him, he said, “I’m just so tired. I just don’t like having so many things to do.” While proud that he’s able to so clearly articulate at the age of 4, I couldn’t help but well up a little, hurt for all the truths he’s had to experience this summer. There have been times when both boys were so exhausted and just didn’t want to suit up and head to the next activity. Alas, a ride had been arranged, the activity had been paid for so I would dry their eyes, comfort them the best I could, and send them off to their next assignment.

Oscar decorating my cast with two of the many lovely people who came to help out and uplift this summer.

I’m so thrilled to have the kind of community that is so eager and willing to surround us as they have. I am also sad that I have not always been the one. As their mom, I want to be the one to see them try and learn. I want to be the one to greet them with a smile and a kiss at the end of the day. I even want to be the one to correct them when they step out of line. Mostly…when they’re sad or tired or hurt, I want to be the one to comfort them, to hold them, to soothe them as only a mama can. 

This summer, I have had so many wonderful moments, so many opportunities to reconnect with lovely people as they come and go…so unselfishly giving of their time and talents to help us out. Words fail to express the genuine love I feel toward everyone who has done their part to get us through. Words also fail to experss the sadness I feel for the missed moments I will never get back.

What I’m looking forward to most when this is all over is being the ONE again. I can’t wait to savor simple pleasures like conversing the car, deciding spontaneously to stop for ice cream, raising my eyebrows in that special way that only a mother can to stop bad behavior before it even gets a chance to get going. Mostly, I can’t wait to see firsthand–as only a mother’s eyes can–the many ways in which my boys are miraculous, remarkable, worthy of my undivided presence and attention. Even though my boys have seen this summer how very much I can’t, I hope that they also see that if there’s any possible way I can, I WILL. I hope that when all is said and done, they also can’t help but want me to return to being THE ONE.

Everything Old is New Again

Recently, some bad behavior in our house resulted in some days without screen time (i.e., no TV, no video games, no computer, no iPhone). While an effective punishment for the boys, this was also a punishment for me given the current state of affairs. Since I can’t leave the house and my mobility is limited, loading everybody into the car and heading somewhere fabulous for some fresh air wasn’t an option. I was forced to dig deep and think of ways to pass the time from within the confines of our tiny house with nothing more than a knee scooter and some crutches to help me. The days were feeling long and simply reminding the boys that they have a house full of toys didn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

That’s when I reached deep and pulled out my old teacher self…the one who knows the newness old things can attain once they haven’t seen the light of day for some months or even years. Teacher Me realized that–on the cusp of 7–Oscar is now old enough to play games like Monopoly and Scrabble–games I had been saving until he was old enough to do things like count money and spell. We pulled out Twister for the first time ever and shook the dust of the Jenga game that had been gathering dust in our closet for months.

We also pulled out some play dough made months ago and were pleased to find it still pliable. Sure these activities required a little more effort than simply popping in a DVD. They were also more fun, more engaging, more memorable. So…while I don’t begrudge myself the ability to do whatever it takes to simply survive this summer of limited mobility…while I was thrilled when screen time was restored; I’m also grateful for some days off the grid. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to introduce (and reintroduce) my boys to some of the classics. I’m glad that we took the time to appreciate the joy of rediscovering treasures that had been buried for far too long.

Homemade Play Dough

1 cup salt

2 cups flour

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. cream of tartar

2 Tbsp. oil

Food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until everything is well mixed and the dough forms into a ball. Remove from the pan and knead a few times.  Store in an airtight container.  For a fun and fabulous twist, add glitter!