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…]

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…]

saving Jake —
a mom’s story & a give-away

51w9S21cSJL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Since writing last week about my son Jack’s addiction and first steps in recovery, I’ve been inspired and humbled and deeply moved by the stories so many of you have shared, both here on the website and in private emails. This conversation, still ongoing, is a beautiful, necessary reminder that we are all connected — not only by our struggles but also in our hope for our loved ones and in our compassion for one another’s challenging, complicated journeys.

Our culture is obsessed with perfection – and with hiding our problems. But what a liberating thing it is to realize that our private battles are, in fact, universal. And that they are also our richest opportunities for being able to fully share in both the grief and the joys of others.

And so, in that spirit of compassion, I would like to share with you an intimate, courageous book that made a profound impression on me.

Last May a reader of The Gift of an Ordinary Day wrote to say that my book had been “a balm” to her “roughened mother’s soul.” D’Anne went on to reveal that she’d come to cherish life’s quiet, mundane moments by way of a different path: “My 23-year-old son is three years clean from Oxy and heroin.” [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…]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue…]