Poetry: Inside the House

through multi-colored glass
down simple carpet floors
white walls turn brass
tears transform into doors

shadow trees grow there
lightening flowers do too
whispers come for repair
howling monsters to spew

creaking boards hold ache
light bulbs illuminate pain
rafters rattle and shake
trauma flows like rain

lose yourself, my child
within safe caring walls
connect with inner wild
listen to phoenix’s calls

for inside healing house
nothing stays for long
come in quiet mouse
leave brave lion strong


*This poem was inspired by a comment left on my blog by Grounded African and is dedicated to everyone attempting to enter a building like this to heal and connect in therapy, especially my darling daughter. May you find your way through the dark.

Poetry: Roots

*trigger warning: mentions self harm

Cover her new scars
with your hand. Softly
remind her of monkey 
bars—how she magically

turned fear into calloused 
palms. It all seemed
simple then, tending those 
wounds. Band-aids, hugs, mommy

kisses. But you can’t 
help the same way—
palms have grown. Stars
have shifted. Instead, tell

her about rooted madness—
about pulling yourself free 
from ancient bloody soil
with trembling fingers. How

hope once flowed away
from you as fast
as a river, but
you didn’t drown. You

survived. Give her crystal
pools of fresh moon 
water, whirling seed pod
wings. Give her permission

to root herself differently—
for her path doesn’t
have to resemble grandmother’s
or great-grandmother’s or

anyone. Kiss her wounds
still. Let her sink
deep into your safe
ground and fall into

your familiar warmth. Sing
honey songs—bumble bee
whispers, fairy wings. Believe
her. Touch her scars

with sacred knowing fingers—
remind her not all
scars are visible. Wrap
her in thick layers

so strong she can
stand in any soil—
firmly rooted. For when 
harsh cold winter winds

bring hoards of lying
fanged monsters to roar
and rage and tear—
she’ll hear your voice

reminding her of small
hands on monkey bars—
how she magically turned
fear into calloused palms.


  • My daughter gave me permission to share this very personal poem.
  • “Roots” is inspired by “Whipping” by K.D. Harryman

Poetry: Current Mood

Crawl out of mismatched blankets to shiver write, heater broken again.

Cracked heels bleed in fuzzy grey socks, add self-care to today’s to-do list.

Must hold breath another week for mental health help, therapists get sick.

Tears fall fast in upstairs bathroom, moms know the art of hidden sadness.

Can’t take another hit, cold sore erupts fat, ugly on bottom lip.

Coffee in my cup is ice already, but what I need is some warmth.

Write, write, write all my crisp inside words, but does anybody want them?


Inspired by Brandon Ellrich, I used the format of the American Sentence this week to explore some of my current feelings. If you are unfamiliar with this poetic form, it was Allen Ginsberg’s effort to make American the haiku. It must be seventeen syllables and it comes from the notion, “poets are people who notice what they notice.” Thank you for reading my first attempt at these.

Poetry: The Princess and the Pumpkin

Once upon a time. Nightbirds
forget their songs. Twig fingers 
snap. Sunset shadows stretch beyond 
the dense thicket. Princess wakes.

Flowing red hair, starry blue 
eyes. Gossamer gown and dianthus 
lips. Sneaking outside with thin 
cobweb slippers and apple cheeks.

Tenebrous clouds tap dance through
black night sky. Faceless wolvie
packs roam the woods. Burrs 
grab delicate skin. She runs.

Gloomy twisty forest. An abandoned 
garden bed beneath a Linden 
tree. She curls inside orange
pumpkin’s sticky pulpy depths.

Empty dark monster hisses, spits 
poisonous lies. Heavy razor-clawed 
feet press firmly. Her golden
light slowly dims and fades.

Ravens call. Deers rush. Rabbits
thump. Her heart shoots free
flashing bright across the inky
wide open heavens. Fighting spirit.

Bold as sunflowers, lightning bolt
strong. She’s thick roots burrowed 
deep. An ocean wave thundering
along sandy shores. Princess survives.

*Dedicated to my strong girl. Keep fighting. I see you.

Poetry: Nostalgia

I’m not sure what the snails
thought when you gathered them in
your tiny hands and raced them
across the slick glass back door

maybe they liked the chalk rainbow
you’d drawn as a finish line  
or how you happily cheered each 
one saying, “you can do it!”

or maybe they were terrified they’d 
suffer a fatal fall but kept 
going anyway because your belief in
them was greater than their fear

whatever they thought all those years
ago in our tiny wild backyard
the echoes of your joyful voice
still manages to make me smile

The Blackberry Quest | A Short Story

It isn’t easy to surprise your mother when you are five years old, but Henrietta doesn’t mind doing hard things for the people she loves. For the last several hours she’s been on a hunt for blackberries to give her mother for her birthday. A tiring barefooted quest that’s led her to the very edges of where she’s allowed to go on their small farm.

Despite checking the ditches along the road, the field behind the animal barn, the banks of the small creek, and the apple orchard, her little wicker basket remains empty. Henrietta thought finding the berries would be easy as she’s gone with her mother to harvest them many times, but she never paid attention to where they picked them and now she wished she had.

Mother does so much for Henrietta and she loves blackberries and cream. She can’t go home empty-handed. She simply must keep looking.

Stuffing her left hand into the pocket of her favorite purple linen dress and swinging the basket in her right, Henrietta skips along the edge of the property marked by a two-rail wooden fence. Her thick, blonde braid bounces against her back and she sings a song about blue jays and mockingbirds with a sweet high voice her mother says is “purely delightful” but her new teacher calls “truly distracting.”

Pink-cheeked, she stops abruptly when she spots a dirt path leading into a patch of scrubby-looking old trees she’s never noticed before. Perhaps that’s where the berries are hiding. She stares at it for a long time, wrinkling up her nose and twirling the basket in her hand.

To follow the path means she must break the rules. It’s beyond the border of the wooden fence—the one she swore to never, ever cross. Closing her eyes tight she pictures the joy and delight on her mother’s face when she hands her the basket of berries and the decision is made. She has to go for it.

Hiking up her dress, Henrietta carefully climbs over the fence and lands with a thud on the other side. Her heart races as she sprints to the clump of scraggly trees, certain a huge blackberry bush will be waiting among them. It isn’t. There are only rocks, dirt, and weeds. She picks up a round grey stone and throws it in frustration. The berries must be just a little further.

For the next few hours, she follows several winding paths through a mostly dry forest of thorny weeds. She knows she should turn back but she keeps thinking she sees the dark green leaves of the berry bushes just around the next corner. Just a little further.

The path suddenly ends at a lumpy hill covered in swaying, yellow grasses. With hope still wrapped around her like a tiny silken cape, Henrietta tucks the basket under her arm and climbs on all fours like a bear to the very top. Thorns make her palms and bare feet burn and itch. Just a little further.

On the hilltop, Henrietta watches the dark purple wild lupine flowers sway slightly in the warm breeze of the now late summer evening. Tiny golden hairs escape her thick braid and curl around her ears. Still no sign of berries.

Scrambling onto a small boulder, Henrietta stands on tiptoes and reaches for the puffy white clouds in the darkening blue sky. She’s certain eating one would make things better. It certainly can’t get any worse.

Suddenly her left calf starts to cramp and she yelps in pain, tumbling from the rock into a patch of scratchy brown weeds. Curling into a ball she uses her thumbs to try and massage out the pain but it doesn’t work. Tears from her soft blue eyes make tracks down her bright pink cheeks. It’s not fair.

Rolling onto her back, she lands in a patch of soggy mud and feels it soak completely through her thin dress. Mom will be furious at the stains. She’s stupid and dumb for wandering away and getting lost. A useless baby.

These kinds of thoughts aren’t like Henrietta at all and she wonders if perhaps the wind is saying these awful things to her. She’s simply lost. That’s all. There’s no need for name-calling.

“Stop it wind. Stop being mean.”

As if in response the wind gusts across the hilltop causing the long stems of the flowers to lean almost to the ground. There’s a high-pitched sound, like when mother’s yellow tea kettle is ready, and Henrietta covers her ears and closes her eyes. She isn’t sure she wants to look for berries anymore.

When the wind stops, Henrietta sits up, expecting to see her beautiful mother appear over the crest of the hill and rescue her. When she doesn’t, Henrietta wipes the tears from her eyes with the muddy hem of her dress and sniffs loudly. Being brave is getting harder and harder.

Maybe it’s time to go home and give mother something else for her birthday. Henrietta’s thinking about putting together a bouquet of wildflowers when a horrible screeching sound causes her to look up. Two rather ugly birds sit on the rock she fell from. They are covered in black feathers with bright pink naked heads, hooked white beaks, and intense black eyes.

She scrambles backward further into the mud puddle and the birds laugh at her. It’s a horrid sound and it makes her mad. Jumping to her feet, she places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot sending a spray of mud up around her.

“Go away you mean things.”

“We aren’t mean things. We are vultures. Don’t you know anything?”

They take turns speaking, each saying one word at a time, with matching slow growly voices. Henrietta feels her cheeks heating up and she twists the hem of her dress in her left fist. The birds smell terrible so she plugs her nose, causing her voice to sound strange.

“I know lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“I know how to spell my name and count to 100.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I know all the names of the flowers in my mother’s garden; pansy, bellflower, iris, candytuft, tulip, wisteria, and hydrangea.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I can snorkel in the water all by myself and know the names of all the fish in the lake; trout, salmon, bass, catfish, perch, and pike.”

“Everyone knows that.”

The vultures laugh again, scraping their shiny black talons loudly against the rock and clicking their beaks. Henrietta thinks nothing of this warning but instead grabs a handful of mud and throws it at the birds. They dodge it easily and then dive toward her with loud, terrifying squawks.

“Oh, no!”

Realizing a bit too late she’s in danger, she turns quickly and sprints down the far side of the hill. About halfway down she discovers she’s going too fast but can’t stop herself. Instead, she falls forward until she’s rolling like a wild croquet ball spinning towards a field of wire wickets.

“Help! Someone help me!”

Within seconds a mass of blue and white swirls around her, circling wildly with tiny quick moments too fast to fully see. There’s a sweet sugary smell in the air and a low rhythmic humming Henrietta associates with lullabies and bedtime. She’s scared but also very curious.

The creatures move faster and faster until they are able to stop Henrietta’s forward movement and suspend her in midair upside down. She looks from the delicate soft creatures to the sky beneath her wiggling toes and giggles.

“Thank you, but I think I’m pointing the wrong way.”

The swarm of blue and white butterflies lightly laugh, flip her around, and gently ease her dirty feet onto a patch of soft green clover. Holding out her arms and spinning in a circle she dances with them until they eventually disperse and fly off into the darkening forest around her.

“Wow. What was that?”

“Butterfly effect.”

The fast breathy voice comes from inside the branches of a large sycamore tree leaning slightly to the right. Henrietta moves closer and finds a tiny squirrel climbing up and down the branches grabbing acorns from a pile at the base of the tree and then storing them inside a hole midway up the tree’s trunk. Its long bushy tail twitches up and down.

“Did you say butterfly effect?”

“I did.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“The butterfly effect?”

“Yes.”

Henrietta laughs in frustration but the squirrel doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t add anything further. She leans down to examine the fat brown acorns touching one of the wooden caps with her fingertip. A terrible squeaking sound erupts and the squirrel rushes toward her.

“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!”

Henrietta quickly pulls her finger away and takes a step back.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at them.”

“Had to purge my other spot…got too busy. Too busy. Industry moving in. Those beavers have no scruples I say. No scruples at all. They just take and take and take. These are mine. I collected them. Mine. Mine. Mine.”

Henrietta covers her mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping and then smiles gently at the squirrel who has stopped moving to look at her closer. It sniffs her hand with its twitchy nose and she can see the forest reflected in the shiny black of its small eyes.

“You lost?”

Its voice is slower and softer. Henrietta thinks it sounds worried about her. Looking around the thick forest of tall trees she finds nothing looks familiar. She really is lost.

“I guess I am. I was looking for blackberries for my mother’s birthday and I didn’t find them and then…I kind of got lost. I don’t know where I am.”

The last words bring a few tears and Henrietta quickly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She feels like she should be tougher, after all, she’s a kindergartner now and can go down the big twisty slide without anyone to catch her at the bottom. The squirrel takes another step toward her with its head turned to the side.

“Can I help?”

Henrietta brightens at this.

“Maybe….do you know the way to my house? It’s the big blue one with the white fence behind it.”

The squirrel shakes its head sadly and they both sit quietly for a few minutes staring at the forest floor. Henrietta feels bad for stopping this kind of creature from its work but then she has an idea. An exciting idea.

“Could I help you?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course! We can use my basket to gather up the acorns and then I can climb up and dump them inside.”

Nodding its head vigorously they get to work putting the plan into action. Henrietta climbs trees in the orchard all the time to help her mother get the apples near the top, so climbing with the basket isn’t hard for her at all. Before the sun sets another inch in the sky, they are done.

The squirrel rushes around the tree chirping excitedly and Henrietta feels proud of herself. She loves to be a helper. It makes her heart feel as if it has grown big and full inside her body. Her mother would be so proud.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it chants over and over in time with its twitchy tail.

Stopping mid-tree, a thoughtful look breaks across the squirrel’s face followed by more frantic running and squeaking. Henrietta laughs hard and this time she doesn’t hide it. Bouncing on its back legs as if ready to spring high into the air and take flight, the squirrel talks super fast.

“I have an idea! I have the best idea of all the ideas in the woods. Will it work? I don’t know. But it’s a good idea. A fine idea. A wonderful idea. He owes me a favor and he has to be able to help. He has to. It’s a good idea. A great idea. I can help you!”

“You can?”

“Yes. I know someone who might be able to help! Wait here!”

With that, the squirrel scampers away at top speed mumbling “great idea.” Henrietta sits on the forest floor and picks out thorns from her dress and tosses them as far as she can. She wishes she’d asked for one of the acorns because her mother loves to draw little faces on them and line them up along the kitchen window. She decides she will ask the squirrel when it returns.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. You can’t make me talk. No. No. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”

A gruff voice breaks through the woods and within moments Henrietta sees the squirrel walking slowly beside an old, fat, grey rabbit with a slight limp. It’s shaking its head, making its long, floppy ears flap all over the place. Henrietta thinks it’s the cutest rabbit she’s ever seen and has to sit on her hands to avoid reaching out to touch its soft fur.

“See! She’s nice and she needs our help.”

Stopping a few inches away the rabbit stares at Henrietta for a long time. She’s not sure if she should say something to it, and after what feels like forever, it nods once.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. But I’ll show her the berries. For her mother…”

Henrietta jumps to her feet, sending both the squirrel and the rabbit into a nearby bush.

“Sorry. I’m just excited.”

“It’s okay. I’m no snitch, but let’s go. Don’t tell anyone I told you okay? Nobody. I’m no snitch.”

“Oh, I won’t tell a soul.”

The squirrel rushes to its pile and then returns to Henrietta with an acorn in its tiny paws.

“For you mother.”

“She will love it! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

Henrietta wants to touch its soft fur but decides it might be bad manners and instead blows the squirrel a kiss before turning to follow the grumpy rabbit into the forest. They walk slowly in silence for a long time around fallen logs, through patches of bright green ferns, and around several large colorful mushrooms.

The sky beyond the trees has turned golden orange and purple. Soon the moon and the stars will be out. Her mother must be so worried about her and it makes Henrietta feel terribly upset. By the time they reach a large blackberry bush hugging the edge of a small stream her enthusiasm for picking has been replaced with utter despair.

“Here you go. Now, remember, I didn’t take you here. I’m no snitch.”

Henrietta begins to sob. She can’t help herself. All she wanted to do was make her mother’s birthday special and she missed the entire day, broke the number one rule, and probably won’t ever find her home again. Thinking about her mother’s crying green eyes makes her feel sick as she clutches her stomach.

The rabbit hops into her lap and looks at her with concern in its dark shiny eyes.

“You can pet me if you want.”

Henrietta does and is surprised to find it makes her feel better. The more she strokes the soft, grey fur the calmer she becomes. The babbling sound of the nearby stream draws her attention to the blackberry bush and she feels a renewed sense of purpose. This day can be saved!

“Thank you, rabbit. A million times thank you.”

It hops from her lap and she runs toward the bush and begins picking the fattest, prettiest blackberries she’s ever seen until her basket is filled to the tippy-top. Mother will be so overjoyed she’ll forget everything else. Henrietta pops a few of the berries into her mouth and chews them happily.

“Excuse me…”

A deep voice causes Henrietta to almost drop her basket and she’s shocked when she turns around to find an enormous deer with huge antlers pawing the ground a few feet from where she stands. It occurs to her in an instant that the berries must be his and he’s going to be really mad.

“I’m sorry. You can have them back.”

She’s about to pour the basket onto the ground when the deer laughs. It’s not mocking like the vulture’s cackle but rather a gentle soft chuckle between friends. Tilting his head he nods to her.

“My forest friends have told me you are trying to get home for your mother’s birthday. You are almost too late little one. Mother moon has opened her eyes and her starry children are rushing out to play. The day is almost over.”

Tears reform in Henrietta’s already swollen eyes as all the feelings of the day flood through her again. She falls to the forest floor letting the basket of berries tumble from her hands. Nothing is as important as being with her mother and she should have never left the farm. Love and time together are the most important gifts of all.

“It’s okay,” the deer says. “It’s all going to be okay.”

Henrietta looks up to see all her new forest friends gathered in a circle around her—big deer, grey rabbit, twitchy squirrel, and the swirling mass of blue and white butterflies. They gather the berries for her and return them to the basket. They kiss her on the cheek and help her onto the smooth back of the large deer. She can feel his breath beneath her and her own breathing slows to match his.

“Time to go, little one. Your mother’s waiting for you,” the deer says.

“Thank you!” she calls to her friends who stand waving until she’s out of sight.

The journey takes no time at all and soon Henrietta sees the fence at the back of the orchard. Her mother stands near the treeline with her back to her. She’s wearing a long purple dress covered in tiny white flowers. The moonlight makes her hair look sleek and silver.

“Henrietta! Where are you, daughter? Henrietta!”

Sliding quickly off the deer’s back she kisses him on the nose, leaps over the fence, and runs toward her mother.

“I’m right here! Mother! I’m right here!”

Her mother scoops her into her arms and kisses her from head to toe, the basket of berries falling to the ground beside them.

Author’s note: This was a hard week for our family. We gathered together in my sister-in-law’s home as my strong loving mother-in-law gently faded away from us in her upstairs bedroom. We held her hand, kissed her face, and brushed her hair. We made sure she knew she was loved but also that it was okay to leave us. It was a beautiful and incredibly hard week.

My short story, written mostly in one sitting, was inspired by my love for her and many of the wonderful moments we’ve shared over the years. There’s a little Alice, a little Blueberries for Sal, a nod to family history, and a lot of grief. I’ll miss you forever, Janet. Your loving legacy will not be forgotten.


Short Story Challenge | Week 34

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about an interrupted journey. We had to include butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, and useless.


Write With Us

Prompt: A conversation between artists
Include skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, ponder


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Apple Carrot Muffins

The same old silver grater, clear
glass bowl, dented wooden spoon used
to make round applesauce cake for
first birthdays 
today 
made muffins for freshman and senior 
year. Instead of watching from your 
wooden high chair, bass boomed behind 
closed bedroom 
doors 
while green granny smith apples, bright 
orange carrots joined honey, oats, almond
flour for you. Another day of
beautiful childhood
fleeting
before lovesick eyes not done soaking 
up all the wondrous firsts, seconds
of motherhood’s dance. Don’t blink they
tell you;
blink
blink
blink

Poetry: Inside the Cave

Another fiery hot headache erupts inside your skull
turning pale cheeks crimson. Disappearing beneath
a thin, black blanket—you retreat into the cave’s deep
crisp darkness. I suppress bubbling anger’s hot breath
tight inside infinities compassionate heart; draining
like cups lining crowded cracked windowsill. Please,

be okay. Worry lines crease, carve my aging mom face—
chiseled rock tracing waters long cascading movements
through life’s echoey darkness. Foamy pools of cooling
relief sit waiting for moments to pass, for pacing eons
to eek by into light’s laughing return. Heart remembers
every nighttime outcry, each soothing back rub. Please,

be okay. Reaching through foggy depths flash flooded
with writhing madnesses ugly nightmares, your fingers
wind tight around blankets edge; my feather-soft motherly
kisses on soaked brows do nothing. Anger ripples dirty
clothes piled high igniting guilt’s powerful ringing rage
pounding ancient rocks into fine powdery dust. Please,

be okay. Fear transforms uneven tapering columns
into screeching monsters to slay. Drawing wet sword
angry words drip, drip, drip through silence too thick
for thinking. Screams soften by plunging heavy, headfirst
into icy water’s depth to see through stinging eyes past
adventures where love’s sweet patience held fast. Please,

be okay. Lashing, tearing with pain’s tired hoarse voice
blame begets blame until desperate razor-sharp rockslides
throw open windows repose letting sweet swirling wind
signal truce. Whispered kindness wipes at particles left
stinging, laughing off this dance, forgetting how darkness
clung everywhere at once—embracing love’s shining light.


My teenage son suffers from chronic migraines. While I strive to be loving, kind, and motherly at all times, anger bubbles forth when he’s down. It’s anger at the situation, but it becomes anger at everything. We fight when it’s over as if we can keep it from returning by scaring it away. I’m not proud of this pattern and this poem is my attempt at processing my feelings.

How the Pandemic has Changed my Parenting

Being a parent is like walking blindfolded into the wilderness. You have to use all your senses, listen to your natural instincts, surrender any idea you know what you’re doing, and you can’t call it quits.

Before the pandemic, my kids were involved in all kinds of activities and I felt the rushing movement like a giant truck I was simultaneously riding and driving. We would fight to get out the door and I’d yell. There were too many car meals, bathroom clothing changes, and exhausted tears. I felt overwhelmed and busy, but confident. I did my best, and at the end of the day, I felt good about the efforts I put in.

During the pandemic, all the things my kids claimed to hate but secretly loved, stopped. The life I’d helped them cultivate away from media and technology suddenly revolved around screens. I was here with them all the time, yet I felt like I didn’t really see what was happening. Our lives became a series of solitary moments in our rooms with our phones or computers, interspersed by nature walks and car drives to nowhere. It went on forever, yet it felt like a blip or a bump we’d get past. We expected it would return to normal, but it didn’t.

The pandemic has transformed me as a parent.

This is not what I expected my life to look like at this moment. I suspect some of you, perhaps all of you, can relate in some way.

For me, the fundamental shift is this; my belief my kids will be okay has been replaced with fear and anxiety.

I can trace how it happened.

Early in the pandemic, my son was in a skateboard accident. He got a road rash on his face and arms, knocked out his front teeth, and had a fairly serious concussion. Each first responder and hospital staff member took a moment to yell at him, and by extension me, for him not wearing a helmet. They rubbed it in thoroughly, and I felt their words chipping away the image I had of myself as a mother. I felt bruised and beaten as I nursed my son back to health in a dark room for several weeks, blaming myself for his accident.

A few months later my grandmother died of Covid. I tried to call her once at the hospital, but she was asleep. I didn’t try again. I was scared to talk to her. There’s was so much unsaid between us, and I wanted her to get better so I could say the things. The lost opportunity felt huge while bringing fears of Covid closer to home.

While I tried to convince myself my kids were strong and would fight Covid easily, I was terrified of unknowingly passing Covid onto my mom, who has bad asthma, or to my mother-in-law who is elderly and fighting cancer. Each time I had a tickle in my throat, I’d worry it would develop into something more, and I’d be one of those who weren’t so lucky to fight it off. It wasn’t a rabid fear, but rather a slow-simmering background of fear which chipped away at me bit by bit.

In addition to Covid, I began to fear how people were acting. The division of those who refused masks contrasted with those hoarding supplies and preparing for a sort of social war. All of these things made leaving my house feel risky and dangerous. I stockpiled dried beans, rice, and bottled water. My neighbor and I talked about his guns and how he could protect us; the conversation felt appropriate at the time.

I watched my kids implode in a way I didn’t understand, and still don’t. It wasn’t simply losing school and friends; it was a sort of reckoning of what kind of life they wanted to have. The trajectory of their accomplishments stopped, and they had nothing to be proud of. They had too much time to think about the world, to see all the ugliness of it, and it changed them.

Six months after his first accident, my son had a second one. This time he was hit by a car walking to the store to buy a soda. The police came to the door as I was doing the dinner dishes and I followed in a daze to the hospital. More scraps, another concussion, and a fresh batch of fears for me. The moments of that day play over and over in my head and it’s hard to let him out of my sight. I’m only truly comfortable when he’s home. I worry when he’s at school or with his friends. I obsessively track his phone throughout the day in an attempt to ease the anxiety. If his phone dies or I can’t get in touch with him, I panic.

My daughter, through the isolation from her peers and anxiety of the world, has developed some mental health struggles. I won’t share the specifics to maintain her privacy, but I missed the signs for too long. I felt another blow to my parenting ego, but worse; I felt a terrible sense I’d let her down in all the ways that matter. I had missed the big stuff. I felt selfish and scared.

All of this has changed me as a parent.

I find it hard to return to the way we were before because much of my mental energy has transformed into anxiety and fear.

My kids miss a lot of school and I don’t care about homework. I let them hang with their friends as much as they want, drive them to therapy and support groups. I’ve put thousands of miles on my car listening to their music and hoping they will feel better.

I want them to feel better.

I am also not requiring enough of them so that they can grow in the ways I know they need to. I’m scared to push and to hold them to the standard I did before. They are not falling short; I’ve simply grown fearful of requirements because I don’t want to lose them. I don’t push.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve been more worried about my kids dying in the last two years than I did the entire time they were little. I was all about letting them climb a tree, or take a risk. I thought it was good if they got hurt because it showed them a boundary and allowed them to grow.

I’ve lost that.

Now, I fear pushing them will result in dire consequences.

It’s a tightrope of wanting to require more so they feel proud of themselves and grow, but also holding back because I see them as fragile. I know they aren’t as fragile as I’ve made them out to be, but I am.

It feels perilous.

And scary.

How do I become the right kind of hard while still protecting them and myself?

I don’t know.

There’s another component, a sort of social reckoning. What they have experienced has shifted the momentum of their lives. They see their life path, their goals, as something far different than I did at their age. It’s no longer as an individual, but rather how they will be in the world.

They are examining complex things: gender constructs, systematic racism, global warming. There’s a sort of punk rock attitude forming; a kind of new version of the “fuck the man” mentality. Instead of music and drugs, they want marches and social justice reform. They want the world to do better, to be better.

They aren’t going to sleepwalk through their lives, moving from one checked box to the next like I did; high school, college, career, house, kids.

I moved through each thing as if I had no say in the matter; as if all the decisions of my life were preordained and I was simply saying the lines written for me. After all the boxes were checked, I felt cheated and empty. I missed so much because I did what I thought was expected of me. I didn’t slow or pause to examine if the path was what I wanted or if the roles I’d cast myself in fit me anymore.

My kids aren’t doing that.

They think about the kind of lives they want, and although the images are still so unclear, I don’t think they will settle. They don’t believe the story my generation did, and they don’t want the same outcome. I see them looking at me and their father and shaking their heads at how much we don’t question things or fight for a better world. They check us on the language we use and talk about things it’s taken me over 40 years to recognize.

They are facing forward and not shrinking from it. While I see them as fragile, the evidence doesn’t support me. If they can look at the problems in the world with a sort of determined energy of change, how can I see them as weak?

I have hope that all this social awareness is leading to something amazing for their entire generation and, not to be too grandiose, the planet. This outward focus and the ability to accept and empathize with all kinds of people has to be leading to a better world for all of us.

None of this, however, makes it easy to be a mother right now. There are days, more than I care to admit, I wish I could hop into a time machine and do a better job of protecting and shielding my kids. I’d put them in a bubble and not let anything in.

I know that’s not actually true and it’s the fear and the pain talking.

It’s my desire for growth to not hurt, but that’s not how it works.

It hurts.

The story my kids are living, well…it’s their story. All the things they have been through are shaping and molding them. And they are incredible kids.

My challenge has become to support them, to love them, and to go slower. To continue to sit with them in the discomfort, to listen as they question things, and, most importantly, to see my fear as separate from their experience.

The last one has been the hardest for me.

I have to work on healing my own fears around losing them, and not let my decisions be based on either guilt for what they’ve lost or fear I’ll lose them permanently.

I’m trying my best.

Maybe the pushing will come when it feels right, but for now, I observe and I listen. I try and see the ways I can nudge and build on those. These kids have been through so much, and it’s made them strong.

They are freaking rock stars.

My daughter has started having friends over again and they laugh so much. She pours herself into her artwork. It’s for her, not for show or attention. She does art to express her feelings and she holds people accountable for their actions. She sets boundaries, even with me.

My son began working out at the gym and he plays basketball with his friends. He plays guitar in his room for the pure love of it, not caring to impress anyone or show off. He makes everyone laugh, can size up his teachers, and isn’t afraid to call them out when they are being unfair. He forgives me when I hold too tight or freak out, but doesn’t let me off without a fight.

My kids talk to each other all the time. It’s not fake. It’s not superficial. They talk about real stuff and lean on each other.

All of these things are beautiful and real.

My kids aren’t fragile.

I am.

I’m facing forward and I’m doing the best I can, and for that, I need to give myself grace.

No comparing.

No looking back.

I’ve come to realize, parenting doesn’t get easier, and maybe that’s part of the complexity of my own feelings. A bit of sadness my kisses and hugs aren’t magical anymore. A bit of the rose-colored glasses slipping as my kids enter the imperfect world-not the careful world of fairies and magic I crafted when they were little.

While this part of my life feels unsteady and hard, all I can do is keep loving them and trying to do better. As the Everly Brothers sang:

Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and mars
Any heart, not tough
Nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain
Take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain

Turn and Face the Strange

Sometimes my teenage daughter’s anxiety gets too big, and I pick her up early from school.

I know her education is important, but living through a pandemic has changed my priorities and perspective. When she calls me, I don’t hesitate and I don’t make her feel bad. I get her.

Last week I picked her up after a flurry of upsetting texts. She told me her mental health was bad again. It scared me. It scared her. She’d kept it from me for weeks because she didn’t want to make me sad. My heart broke she’d tried to protect me, and I felt I had to say the right thing.

“We face what is,” I said.

These four words felt important.

I repeated them.

“We face what is.”

This opened the door for her to share, and for me to listen. We made plans for her to get new kinds of help, and to pursue roads to healing we hadn’t considered before. I reminded her she isn’t alone, and I’m more interested in her truth than in feeling comfortable and happy.

The next day, I was sitting alone and spiraling out about my eyes.

My eye to be specific.

I’ve got one good eye and one lazy one. It’s been this way my entire life, and normally it’s not on my mind. But lately, I’ve had trouble seeing when I read, or when I’m on the phone. Things were blurry and I couldn’t read the instructions on a medicine bottle. I bought a pair of reading glasses, and it helped. This should have been the end of it.

However, my anxiety over the experience grew and grew. It became unruly, demanding more and more of my attention and emotional energy.

I’d convinced myself I must have some horrible disease, most likely brought on by my weight gain and laziness. I began to tally all the ways I’m failing at caring for myself. I don’t wear my sunglasses all the time. I spend too much time on screens. I don’t blink enough. I got bacon grease in my eye on Christmas morning, which was irresponsible and preventable if I’d paid better attention. I haven’t done enough research to see how to protect my eyesight. I don’t eat enough green leafy vegetables or omega-3 fatty acids. I’m going to lose my ability to see, and it will be my own fault.

As I sat still, berating myself, those four words I told my daughter came to me.

“We face what is.”

I looked up the number of an optometrist near me and made an appointment.

As I sat in the waiting room, all the anxiety and blame thick about me, I kept countering it with those four words. Whatever the eye doctor tells me, I will face. I have family and friends who will love and support me. I can’t face what I don’t know.

As I went through the exam, I made lots of self-deprecating jokes. I knew I had to keep the mood as light as possible, and I had to keep talking.

“Which is better? One or two? Three or four?”

Each question was scary. The letters I couldn’t see felt ominous, surely indicators of something serious. I kept trying to hear it in her voice, waiting for the bad news to drop.

It didn’t.

My eye’s fine. I’m getting older. It’s normal.

Normal.

She prescribed reading glasses, the same kind I’m already using. She told me I’m okay.

We face what is.

I have some other health things I have to face. I’ve put on too much weight. I have pains in my hips and back. I’m concerned I might be pre-diabetic, it runs in my family, or I could be putting too much strain on my heart. I’m taking steps to correct my health, which means facing things like the scale, a check-up at the doctor, and returning to the gym. All of these things feel hard, and damn, there’s a lot of judgment and guilt around them.

However, I can’t do anything without turning toward what is. I have to stop ignoring the truth for some pretend comfort. I have people who count on me, and I have a lot more I want to do with my life. There’s no reason to run from perceived scary things or to let myself build them up until they are monstrous. It’s far better to shine a light on them.

We face what is.

My reading glasses and the chair I inherited from my grandmother.