Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Parental Adolescence, Retirement, Teens, Tweens, Twenty-something

Mothers~Permission to Retire!

Once upon a time, with a college degree and honors, I embarked on an unexpected and ambiguous career.

21 years later, I’m ready to retire.

“You can’t retire,” my sons tell me, even though they both shave.

Why not? My contemporaries are doing it. They’re leaving the office and the classroom and the police force, and not only are they celebrated, but they’re expected to reward their years of effort with relaxation–to allow their minds soften into something new.

“I’m worried that I’m living like I’m retired,” a friend says, on a Tuesday morning, in the cafe at our local co-op, after we realize that we’re sitting at adjacent tables.

I turn my chair toward her and explain that I’ve been considering just that.

“Why are we expected to jump into the next thing without the opportunity to get to know ourselves again?” I say.

She nods her head, “I’m not the same person I was before.”

We both know that our partners lives have been reshaped by parenting, but they’ve been able to move forward with their careers and identities, while ours have snagged or circled or more often, met dead ends.

Although we’re are a decade apart (her oldest and my youngest are peers), my younger friend and I share a mounting anxiety about what we’re supposed to be doing, and if we’re doing it wrong, and even worse, if what we’re not doing… is unfair, particularly as our children come of age.

“We have to claim this time,” I say, “Not just for ourselves, but for all the other mothers (and fathers) who come after us.”

I tell her about another friend who once asked in a panic, “Is it okay that I keep changing my mind? Taking jobs. Leaving them. I don’t know what I want. I can’t figure out how to manage it all.”

My friend nods knowingly.

“We should write a book about this!” I say.

We both laugh, accustomed to bouncing big ideas like this off of one another, in between conversations about our most pressing realities: homework and driver ed and emerging sexuality.

“Too bad one of us doesn’t have her PhD,” I say.

My friend shakes her head. Our parenting years have robbed us of the illusion of (and the inclination toward) expertise.

“We have to start by recognizing caregiving as a career,” I say. “There is so little understanding and appreciation of its dimensions, particularly after the early years.”

What follows is an extended back and forth about all the ways that parenting a teenager and even a young adult require careful attention and artistry. I tell my friend about an elderly mother that I met with my husband over the weekend. She came to town to help her son through his divorce. My husband was touched at this act of motherly devotion, but I felt something else–An awareness that this career never reaches a finish line.

My friend glances at the time on her computer. “I have to get to some errands before I pick up the kids.” We hug goodbye, and I turn back to my computer to outline the trajectory of the caregiving role.

The hours of the primary caregiver:

  • Newborn: 24-7
  • Infant: See above
  • Toddler: See above
  • Preschool age: Overtime
  • School age: Full time
  • Highschooler: Night shift
  • Young adult: Contractural

When I finish the list, I realize that I’m twenty minutes late to pick up my son from Driver’s Ed.

Later that evening, on a way to an event, I tell my husband: “I’m frustrated when others ask what I do. Everyone raises kids, but it’s what people do for a living that distinguishes them. It’s as if consciously raising two human beings is some small thing.”

Suddenly the enormity of my devotion occurs to me:

Two human beings.

“I’m so proud of me,” I say. “I want a party and new pair of Birkenstocks.”


(all of the above from the audaciously insightful Penelope Trunk)

UPDATE, September 2016:
MY NEW Birks!

Full disclosure.
Splurged on a second pair!

(One for each son!)

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Parental Adolescence

What’s so funny about…

Donald Trump, Emperor's New Clothing

Lately my mind keeps drifting to The Emperor’s New Clothes, and not because of Donald Trump–though to be sure there’s plenty to unveil there–size aside.

The bill for my own outlandish outfit came today. The outfit I wore on Valentines Day. The one that resulted in an ambulance ride and Emergency Room care.

The one that apparently didn’t demand any of that.

My heart insisted otherwise.

Why then did companions laugh?
Cops joke?
Medical personnel smirk?

Why did Facebook friends write:
This is hilarious.
You were trashed.
So funny.

This is the case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, I said, only I wasn’t sure which part I was playing.

I’ve since read Chapter 9 of Chocolate to Morphine, Everything You Need To  Know About Mind-Altering Drugs, and apparently what I insisted was so, wasn’t:

  • Overdoses of cannabis are unpleasant, but not medically threatening.

My experience of imminent death from an edible, however, is validated by a 911 call–from a police officer–who ate the pot brownies he confiscated from an arrest:

To my horror, I find myself laughing. Relieved by his suffering. Of my own.

Some other cannabis (worth mentioning and personally affirming) facts from the textbook on mind-altering drugs :

  • The effects of marijuana are hard to describe because they are so variable — more so than those of other drugs.
  • The main problem with oral use is overdose.
  • Taken by mouth, rather than smoked, marijuana is a more powerful drug, slower to come on, with longer-lasting effects.
  • Marijuana can cause illusions of time and space.
  • People can become extremely disoriented and delirious, as if suffering from a high fever, which is often followed by stupor and hangover.

(Chocolate to Morphine, Everything You Need To  Know About Mind-Altering Drugs by Andrew Weil MD and Winifred Rosen, 2004)

As I look down at the bill for service–more than a thousand dollars–for emergency care that was not medically necessary–I feel ashamed.

When they released me from the hospital, I was told that I didn’t have to worry–that I just had to let it wear off. But the truth is, knowing what I know now, I would still seek medical care if I felt the way I did that day–by far the worst day of my 52 years.

I wanted to be cool. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But my responsibility to my life force trumped all that, and anything anyone else had to say.

Which brings my mind back to our would be Emperor.
Farce or real threat to our democracy?

Pot Cookie

Click here for the previous post:
Releasing the Role of a Lifetime

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Takes a Village, Twenty-something, Uncategorized, Wisdom of Youth

a meditation on toxicity, part II

Embroidery and graphite on fabric by Ana Teresa Barboza

Over the weekend, I wrote–Loved Ones: a meditation on toxicity–and was surprised to see so many readers drawn in, particularly on a Saturday night.

I wrote about the sluggishness that came in the aftermath of my son’s initiation… into the family… tragedy. But I didn’t explain that I was equally weighed down by the residue of a respiratory infection. Loitering congestion. In my ears and throat and lymph nodes.

I realize now that this led me to the provocative image that I chose for the piece–or that chose me. After the piece was published, the image continued to play with my consciousness as I found myself responding to a request on Facebook:

Ok, Saturday-night-stay-in’s – if you post a picture i will write a poem about it. Just say, “Hi dug- pic poem, please.”

Kelly Salasin’s Kill Strategy
a pic poem by dug Nap
(For Kelly)

Anytime she’s
not so sure
kelly always goes
for the jugular

I was stunned by the violence of this tiny piece. Had the artist read my article? Was he judging me? Why hadn’t he taken a scientific angle on this anatomic study–which could have been on the kitchen table, on any given morning, of my childhood, before my father left for the operating room.

When I went in to see the doctor last week, she put me on the table, and massaged down my throat, coaxing toxins from my lymph nodes.

I hadn’t realized that I was so filled.
With rage.
Until my son read a single line from the email he received.
(He refused to let me here more.)

I grabbed his laptop. I pleaded:

“Please don’t respond again. She’ll only be more venomous. She can’t handle boundaries.”

My son was amused by my passion. He insisted that I didn’t need to worry.

I shared the spontaneous visions that were occurring in my mind’s eye on his behalf:

Tearing flesh with fanged teeth.

Ripping jugular veins as a three-headed beast.

Becoming a thousand insects, devouring her brain.

Faced with the mythical proportions of his mother’s protective instinct, he turned toward his father:

“Where are your feelings,” he demanded.

“I am so used to this,” my husband explained.

“But she cc-ed you on the Goddamn email,” he said. “She fucking invited you to watch as she kicked your son in the face.”

My husband remained silent.

I was quieted by my inability to help.

We went to bed numb.

As I settled under the covers, it occurred to me that my vision could potentially injure the Other, so I mustered metta to send to the One who had attacked my child.

A week has past, but the meditation on toxicity continues to force itself into another day. This morning, a Mary Oliver line comes to mind:

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

My gift is knowing that a boundary was crossed. Long ago. In my own family of origin. And I failed to defend it.

benzank-400x391My husband’s gift is the understanding that he never learned that boundaries were possible–among loved ones–from whom he must claim where he begins… and they end.

Our son wasn’t angry with either of us.
He was simply sad.
He wanted to understand:

How had we lived our entire lives without ever saying:



(The previous post: Loved Ones: a meditation on toxicity.
(The post after this one: toxicity, part III: legacy.)

Posted in Insight, Takes a Village, Twenty-something

Loved Ones~a meditation on toxicity

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.
~from the film, Spotlight


Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.


This month I’ve been forced into a meditation on toxicity. That which surrounds me, and that inside me.

For most of my life, I’ve been graceful, or silently resentful, or a septic combination of both.

Boundaries blurred. Feelings compromised. Self enmeshed.

This week my son showed me something distinctly different.

An elder dumped on him–wrote hurtful things–and he owned what needed owning; and then, he put up his hand. He said:  “No.”

He knew where he ended and she began.

I was amazed.

“Look at that,” I said to my husband, “That’s something.”

Despite his clear boundaries, he wasn’t unfazed. “My room seems cold and bare tonight,” he told us. We patted our bed to offer him space, but he’s 20. He went to sleep alone.

The next morning, he moved on with his life, while I slogged through the day with residue. The night before I had been surprisingly calm. I listened intently–leaving ample room for his feelings. There were visions while he spoke however. But they came of their own accord…

Tearing flesh with fanged teeth.

Ripping jugular veins as a three-headed beast.

Becoming a thousand insects, devouring her brain.


He was going to write her off. I encouraged pause.

“I’m not used to toxic people in my life,” he said, “I don’t need them.”

I was amazed.

“Listen to that,” I said to my husband, “That’s something.”

When we were his age, we took it all in. Harbored others pain and hurt. As if it was ours.

Our son knows the taste of pure water, and he knew this wasn’t it.

We were proud.

We had a lot to learn.

From him.

click here for: a meditation on toxicity, part II

resources for toxicity:

of discerning between grace and boundaries:
Everything is a Mirror (until it’s Not)

of owning feelings & needs without projecting thoughts:
Collaborative Communication (NVC)

beware hiding places for toxicity:
media, films, politicians, food

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens

when the end is near…

There was the afternoon
when i slid down the wall
in the hallway
in front of the bookshelf
and dozed there
with a lap full of journals;
until voices lifted my gaze
out the window
toward the hill,
where Aidan,
tall and lanky,
like a teenager,
used a plastic bat
to hit snowballs to his friend.

Unlike his older brother,
Aidan has lulled me,
with his child-like ways,
into the fantasy
that “we”
will always

(Emily was right…
How softly summer shuts, without the creaking of a door.)

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Teens, Twenty-something

Money Troubles

klimt-mother-and-childI’m having money trouble. On the inside.

I thought the pain in my stomach tracked back to summer’s surrender to fall (when my mid-life chocolate consumption spiked from a bar a month to a desperate nibble every shrinking hour of the day); but after some in-depth chakra exploration this afternoon, I realize that the pain came on last spring–as my self-employment income plummeted.

I’ve since restructured the budget, and found a greater place of ease; but my stomach is still talking.

I listen in more closely.

It flashes back… to a young mother, sitting at the top of the stairs, after a long day home alone, with an infant.

I’m weeping.
Or I want to weep.

“I don’t remember my last paycheck,” I say.

Twenty years later this seems a silly thing.
And a curious one.

It’s hard to remember a time when I was defined by a paycheck. I’ve spent so many years now prioritizing home and family that income has grown comfortable in the back seat.

In fact, when I sit down to shape my goals for 2016, I find that my visions flow easily, until I get to the category entitled: finances.

I try, but I can’t even begin to wish for more. I don’t know how. I feel wrong.

Apparently I’ve exchanged fear of not having enough to fear of having too much.

This is further complicated by my long established role in the home. Instead of bread winner, I’ve been budget maker, deal finder, abundance-shaper.

I keep thinking there will come a time when my role is no longer necessary, but as the kids come of age, it seems just as relevant, in new and different ways.

Over the years as a parent, I’ve chosen to have less, so that we can have more.

Can I have both?
More income and more…
What is the other more?

More me. More family. More connection. More values. More alignment. More passion. More contribution.

With this insight, comes release.
A big exhale.
A softening of the belly.