making room

A few weeks ago I phoned my son Jack in Asheville. “How would you feel about me taking over your bedroom at home and turning it into a writing space?” I asked.

I’d hesitated for weeks before raising this idea. But Jack didn’t hesitate in his response. “Oh, that’s fine,” he said, “you can do whatever you want with my room.”

Although we have a tiny office on the first floor of our house, I’ve never written a word in it. The desktop computer is my husband’s and his in-box sits beside it, overflowing with not-urgent papers and clippings and instruction manuals. The window above the desk looks out to the driveway and whatever vehicles happen to be parked there. The counter is a repository for checkbooks and bills to be paid, stamps and envelopes. And the chair, just the right height for Steve, is not very inviting to me. The office is a perfectly good place to write a check or Google driving directions, but it’s not a space my muse has ever chosen to visit.

Most of the words I’ve produced over the last ten years in this house have come from a stool at the kitchen table, where I look out to a view of fields and mountains and sky. I’ve spent countless hours perched there, staring out the windows above the sink while trying to pull my thoughts together. As a mother, as a wife, as a cook and homemaker, and also as a writer, I’ve always been drawn to this room, my own home base, whether I’m chopping something, stirring something, washing something, or writing something. Soups and emails, jars of jam and blog posts, thank you notes and books, all have come from my kitchen. More often than not, several of these things are coming together at once, which means that the written work can easily be shifted to the bottom of my priorities list. No one actually cares if I write or not, but dinner does have to appear on that table every night.

And yet, as summer turned to fall this year, I found myself longing for some other kind of place, a place not in the middle of the action but away from it. A place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly. A place where there is nothing that needs to be chopped or watered or cleaned or stirred, where books of memoir and poetry would be easily at hand, and where my laptop and notes and papers don’t have to be put away at the end of the day so that placemats and napkins and silverware can be laid out in their place. [continue…]

to the mothers

Like the mother of the world, touch each being as your beloved child.  ~ the Buddha

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mother of grown children. My own two are in their twenties. The lives we all lead today – in three different parts of the country — are wildly different from the life we shared under one roof just a few short years ago.

And yet, although my duties have changed dramatically, I’m no less a mother today then I was then. In fact, most days I manage to find some opportunity to bring a bit of maternal energy into the world – perhaps on the other end of the phone with a son, or simply by watering a thirsty houseplant, offering a meal to someone who could use one, or sitting quietly with a friend.

Which makes me think: Aren’t we all mothers, whether or not we have biological children of our own? To be fully present for another is, in a spiritual sense, to be a mother.

Each time we support the dignity, health, and growth of any living being, we are mothering the world within our reach. To be a mother is to nurture life. To be a mother is to love without condition or expectation. To be a mother is to recognize the divinity of all beings, everywhere. To be a mother is to honor the invisible and the intangible – kindness, humility, tenderness.

More than ever, our broken world is in need of mothers — mothers of all ages and shapes and sizes, mothers who are both life-giving and life-affirming, mothers who know in their bones what it is that we’re really here to do: Take care of each other and of our precious planet.

I made this video for all of us moms – and for the many beings we mother, human and otherwise. It’s my early Mother’s Day gift to you, in honor of all that you are and all that you do. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I loved creating it. (Big thanks  to my own spiritual daughter, Lauren Seabourne, for putting my words and images together so beautifully.)

And while we’re on the subject of mothers. . .

In honor of Mother’s Day, May 14, I’m offering personalized, signed, gift-wrapped copies of all of my books (some at special discounted rates — while supplies last). Details below.  But don’t delay: deadline for all orders is Tuesday, May 2. 

 

books!   

signed, sealed, delivered, they’re yours 

– in time for mother’s day

Want to order a signed book (or several) for the special moms in your life? It’s easy. Here’s how:

1. Click here.

(Note: This link will brings you to my own landing page on my husband’s website, Earth, Sky & Water.  Steve sells beautiful posters, note cards, and laminated nature identification guides. And because his business is already all set up to take online orders and fulfill them quickly, he’s kindly offered to handle this special sale for me. While you’re there, feel free to browse his offerings, too.)

2. Want your book(s) personalized? Leave instructions for me in the “ORDER NOTES” FIELD on the shipping address page.  Include the book title(s) you’ve ordered, the name for the inscription, and any special message you’d like me to write.

3. If there are no instructions, I’ll simply sign your book(s), gift-wrap them, and have them sent to the address specified.

4. For Mother’s Day, I’m offering a reduced price that includes free gift-wrap by yours truly. Spend $80 or more and your shipping is free. (Use promotional code 4JOY on the shipping address page.)

5. Every copy of my NEW book, Moments of Seeing, will include a bookmark featuring quotes from the book.

6. Hurry!  Deadline for all orders is Tuesday, May 2.

is video game addiction
a real thing?

It’s January, 2009. I’m sitting at the desk in my older son’s bedroom, putting finishing touches on a memoir about the fleeting beauty of ordinary life — a book I began in an attempt to hold on, just a little longer, to my two children as I  want to remember them in these years right before they grow up and leave home: tousle-haired, always hungry, generally happy, busy, and still (blessedly) around.

I’ve been writing The Gift of an Ordinary Day while living it for a while now, living it with a bittersweet awareness of just how good life is when we are fully present to its small mysteries and miracles. Despite the inevitable complexities of parenting adolescents, for the most part our family life seems rich and satisfying. And this winter, the end of the writing is in sight at last. I have only to complete a brief, upbeat afterword — a glimpse of Henry midway through his freshman year of college and a trip I’ve just taken to visit him — and the book will be done.

However, even as I’m revising these final pages, the plot of our family story is taking a new, darker turn. The irony is not lost on me. I’ve just spent the better part of a year celebrating and honoring our family’s life together and now, it seems, our family is falling apart. And I have no idea what to do about it.

One gray winter afternoon, I email my editor that I’ve finished, attach the final pages of my manuscript, and hit the “send” button. I bundle up and go outside for a walk, to clear my head.

And then I return to my computer and Google the words “video game addiction.” [continue…]

parenting advice
from a 24-year-old son

A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.

I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory.  (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)

At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world.  Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling.  Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.

But I think he’d  agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training.  In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy.  Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.

And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call.  “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said.  “I do,” he replied.  “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]

the family we choose

IMG_2949“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”
~ Chinese proverb

I always wanted a daughter. Last year, I finally got one.

She arrived not as a newborn into my arms, but into my heart instead, and fully grown. And yet the mysterious, compelling process of attachment has changed us both. Perhaps that’s because as long as we’re fully engaged in forging deeper relationships with others, we’re also continuously being formed ourselves, sculpted and honed by the invisible hand of love.

The first email from my daughter-to-be came a couple of years ago, through my website:

Hello…. Today I watched the Ordinary Day video and found myself crying in my cube at work. I am not a mother (yet). I am a Connecticut native who became a transplant in Atlanta – working and dating with no long-lasting luck.

Your video moved me because even though I am 32 years old, I have always longed for my parents, or perhaps more so my Mom, to share with me her feelings like you did. . . .Funny enough, I am much like you: Nostalgic, and with a plethora of stories of the five kids I grew up babysitting, and I long for those “ordinary days” even for myself!”

Lauren wanted to order a book for herself and one to give to her cousin for Mother’s Day. And, Lauren being Lauren, she wanted to make her gift special by having me inscribe it.

That was the beginning – an innocuous exchange similar to hundreds of others I’ve had over the years. But, Lauren being Lauren, she followed up her request for books with a thank you note. What’s more, she told me she’d now read The Gift of an Ordinary Day and sensed in me a kindred spirit, the kind of mother she herself aspired to be one day.

Fast forward a few months, to early autumn 2013. [continue…]