best books for mindful parents
— and a give-away

 

FullSizeRenderTwenty-five years ago, as a new mother trying to figure out what kind of mom I wanted to be, I went in search of books to guide me. I hoped to find some wise mothering mentors who could shine a light on the path at my feet and say, “Here, follow me, come this way.”

Looking back on those days now, I realize how much things have changed. Back then, there were no cell phones, the word “text” referred to print on a paper page, and news of the world arrived via the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning.

We bought our first computer in 1990, when Henry was three months old, so I could begin working from home at my new job editing The Best American Short Stories. My Apple IICX could run two programs at once, Clarisworks and Filemaker Pro, which meant I could do word-processing (an outdated phrase if every there was!) and keep a database of my two hundred-plus magazine subscriptions. I dialed in for an internet connection, kept all my reading notes on file cards, and corresponded with authors and friends through the mail.

There were no blogs to read or online parenting forums to join, there was no Amazon to browse nor any algorithm recommending books for me to buy, there was no Facebook. My husband took photos of our new baby boy with his 3-pound Nikon, we dropped the rolls of film off at CVS, and then carefully placed our 4 x 6 prints into a photo album, sending dupes off to the grandparents.

It all seems pretty quaint in retrospect, so innocent and simple. But at the time, working and raising children and trying to do it all and have it all and give it all to them, I still sensed that life was moving too fast. Much as I yearned for less pressure and more fun, my days were spent juggling: too much stuff, too many choices, too many obligations, never enough time. [continue…]

dog love

photoIf we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life can give us.” ~ Martin Buber

D
ear Tess,

So, okay, I was wrong.

Love at first sight is possible after all. I wonder, though, was it the same for you? Did you really know I was your person, and that we were your family, just as immediately and as surely as we knew you were our dog?

I can admit this now: I didn’t actually believe I could give my heart away again — not so completely, not even to another black and white border collie with a paint-dipped tail and a coat of silken cowlicks.

Besides, I’d finally gotten sort of used to the pet-free life. Sleeping  a little later. Saving money on dog food and vet bills. Skipping the morning walk, the poop patrols around the yard. Staying in out of the rain. No one’s bladder to keep track of but my own. No dog hair on my black yoga pants, no stray bits of kibble crunching under foot, no new holes under the azalea or scratches in the pine floorboards. No one eating the appetizers off the coffee table or barking at the door to go in or out or staring at me with imploring eyes, telegraphing the unmistakable late-afternoon message: “Shut your laptop and put on your sneakers.”

photo copy 3Sure, there was an emptiness around here, but I’d almost stopped noticing it. Just as the silence after Henry and Jack first left home, crushing at first, became part of the fabric of my days, my wrenching grief over the death of your predecessor had softened over the winter into, well, a new kind of normal. We humans can get used to anything.

And then May came. [continue…]

Daring, dreaming, doing — words to guide & inspire

TessI do have a dog story to tell here, but that will have to wait until I can do justice to Tess, the newest member of our family, a sweet border collie rescue girl who’s as happy to have a home as we are to give her one. At the moment, there isn’t much time for writing. We’re all pretty consumed with getting to know each other, mastering the basics on both sides. There are hikes to take, new lessons to learn, trust to earn, routines to work out. More on Tess soon.

Meanwhile, both our sons have been home this month, all of us here together for the first time since Christmas. Over the next week, Jack will return to Atlanta and Henry will leave for his summer job directing musicals at a theatre in the Catskills. For now, though, I’m grateful for every family dinner, walks and talks, the fullness of our days, the peace of nights when everyone I love is safely gathered under one roof. Soon, the house will be quieter, the refrigerator easier to keep filled, my days at home my own again. Plenty of time then for reflections and blog posts.

Still, I can’t resist sharing a few of the things we’ve been watching and reading and discussing around here, while hanging out in the kitchen and in between basketball playoff games and Red Sox losses.

Being in one’s early twenties isn’t easy – not quite launched into full-scale independent adulthood but no longer an adolescent; so much to figure out and no road map to point the way forward; so many choices while already a few doors are closing for good, the “right” path rarely if ever easy to discern.

Pursue a dream at all costs or take the first job that offers a modicum of security? What’s the real definition of success? What constitutes a good life? Is “good” synonymous with meaningful? How does anyone summon the vision to dream, the courage to dare, the will to do, especially when the doing isn’t part of the plan or involves some precipitous twists in the road? When, as a parent, should I speak up and when should I quietly reserve judgment and opinion? [continue…]

Happy Mother’s Day & a letter to my mom

IMG_4087Every year, I tell my sons what I’d like for Mother’s Day: a letter. Something, anything, on paper, that I can keep close at hand for a while, re-read  till I’ve memorized each line, and then tuck away in a drawer to save and read again. For me, words written from the heart are more precious than anything that could be bought from a store.  I don’t always get my wish, nor do I always take the time to write to my own mother. (Yes, it really is so much easier to buy a card, choose some flowers, indulge in a nice dinner out.)

This year, Jack is at home and we’ll spend the entire day together.  With Steve and Henry both on a trip, Jack offered to join me in my annual  spring “cleanse” and we’ve been partners all week in this challenging endeavor, juicing and eating raw fruits and veggies and practicing yoga.  His presence, and his willingness to try — wholeheartedly! — what he calls “the mom lifestyle” for a week has been a gift in itself.  (In a few minutes, we’ll have our Mother’s Day breakfast together: a green smoothie with kale and sunflower seeds. And then we’ll head off to yoga class — my idea of a very happy Mother’s Day indeed.)

I used to mourn the end of my sons’ childhoods, especially on Mother’s Day, nostalgic for the years of breakfast in bed, Crayola cards, my sons’ eager assistance as we planted the flowers my husband had helped them pick out at the nursery. But  I’ve finally made my peace with what is now long over.  Last weekend we watched Henry’s first class of jazz students perform at a May Day celebration.  It was a full-circle moment.  Nine years ago, he was the fourteen-year-old freshman trying out his jazz chops at the dessert cafe on May Day, and now he’s returned to his old high school to teach jazz himself.  My heart swelled, my eyes brimmed, just as they always did at every school event.    “Now” may be the only time there is, but “now,”  these days, comes with an even deeper appreciation for time passing, the moments layered with memories and associations and gratitude.  As I grow older, “now” becomes ever richer, deeper, more precious. [continue…]

Motherhood Realized

motherhood jacket imageFlying to the west coast recently, I found myself seated on the plane alongside a young couple. They appeared to be about twenty-four or so, the same age as my own older son. She, five months pregnant, was immersed in a how-to book about mothering newborns. He, sweet but distracted, played a video game on his computer.

I couldn’t help but watch them with tenderness, these two innocent parents-to-be with so many joys and challenges and unknowns in their future. The young woman spent a long time bent over a page of diagrams showing, in step-by-step detail, how to swaddle a baby. At one point, she summoned her husband’s attention to the page as well. She went through the motions of blanket folding in the air, concentrating intently, referring back to the directions. It was clear she wanted him to take the swaddling lesson as seriously as she did.

“We have lots of time to practice, honey,” her husband said, before turning his gaze back to the screen on his laptop.

Shyly, she turned then to me. “Do you have children?” she asked.

I told her I did, two sons.

“Did you swaddle them?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But not for long. That only lasted for a week or so. By the time I got good at it, they didn’t want to be swaddled anymore. And then I had to learn something else. That’s pretty much the way it goes all the way through motherhood — just as you get one thing figured out, your child is on to some new stage, and you’re trying to keep up.” [continue…]