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. 



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.

downsizing, 10 things my mom taught me
& a Mother’s Day offer

IMG_8557In a few weeks my parents will say good-bye to the antique red house surrounded by woods and fields that has meant “home” to our family for nearly forty-five years. At eighty and seventy-nine, my folks could have chosen assisted living or even a simple condo for this next chapter of their lives. Instead, in good health and always game for a project, they’ve built themselves a small, fully accessible cottage on a pond just eight minutes from where my husband and I live now. Still, this move calls for a major downsizing. And as anyone who’s helped an elderly parent move knows all too well, letting go can be tricky emotional territory, for both generations.IMG_0433

Our old family homestead is a charming Cape built in 1765, with many original details intact but enhanced by a spacious later addition, designed by my parents and complete with a porch, master suite, spa, and a generous living room. Filled with the antiques and special pieces my mom collected over the decades, each nook and cranny of the house is cozy and welcoming and uniquely beautiful. My mother’s special touch is in evidence at every turn – a collection of birds’ nests displayed on an old glass table, a row of white ironstone pitchers on the mantle, a small, antique oil painting propped amongst the gardening books, a wicker chair in a sunny corner.

The new, small cottage has a different feel altogether – spare and clean and open, with white walls and simple, modern lines. A few of my parents’ favorite things are making the move with them. Most of their furnishings and possessions, however, either won’t fit or just don’t “go” in their new, downsized quarters.

IMG_8581Months ago, at my parents’ request, my brother and I did a walk-through of our childhood home, looking for things we might want for our own houses, taking measurements and promising my parents we’d get back to them with our lists. I don’t know about my brother and his wife, but Steve and I found it hard to return to our own fully furnished house and see places where a mahogany table or an old pine bookcase might fit. I stuck my list of “possibles” in a file folder and let it sit there.

Now, though, the time of reckoning has arrived. [continue…]

mother, daughter
& a special mother’s day offer

IMG_6492 - Version 2My mom and I just spent ten days together at my parents’ house in Florida. We didn’t go anyplace and we didn’t do much. What I most loved about our time was that it was so quiet, so spacious, and so much our own. Introverts by nature, my mother and I have this in common – we are connoiseurs of companionable silence. We like to relax into our own rhythms, side by side but with plenty of breathing room between us.

She brought me coffee in the mornings. I made us healthy salads for dinner, except for the night we ordered a pizza to share in bed while watching TV. Most afternoons she took a nap and I swam naked in the pool. We read a lot. And in the evenings we got into our pajamas before the sun went down and then stayed up till after midnight, catching up on the last three seasons of Mad Men.

I didn’t blow dry my hair or put on lipstick for a week. There is something to be said for letting things slide. It wasn’t at all exciting, but it was what we each needed — time to hang out, time to read and write and think and be. There was no one to cook for or take care of, no one to worry about or sleep with. A perfect mother-daughter vacation.

At seventy-eight, my mom is moving more slowly, more cautiously than she used to. She’s not a great fan of the cane she needs for walking distances but it’s better than the alternative, better than risking a fall. She has dizzy spells and she can’t always trust her balance. She tires more easily. So, she paces herself. And when we run out of avocados or half and half, she lets me drive to the grocery store rather than insisting on going herself.

I’m moving a bit more slowly these days, too. It’s been nearly six months since my orthopedist pointed to a narrow, shadowy place on the x-ray of my hip and showed me why it hurts so much to walk up the stairs: bone on bone. [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…]

Happy Mother’s Day

Every year, I tell my sons what I’d like for Mother’s Day: a letter. Something written from the heart and offered freely rather than bought from a store and wrapped neatly. 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 will be a first — my boys will be in two different states on Mother’s Day, my mom and dad will be away together, and I’ll be driving home from a writer’s workshop in Massachusetts. Thinking of the many friends who have already lost their mothers, and the few who have lost children, I am deeply grateful that what separates us, for now at least, is merely distance. It won’t always be so, and there is no way to prepare for that fact other than to appreciate the moment that is. My sons know that they can please me on Sunday with a phone call or an e-mail, and that much as I love their words, the very best gift they can possibly give me is their own happiness, the very fact of their busy, full, well-lived lives.

Still, knowing that my years of receiving breakfast in bed and hand-drawn Crayola cards are over, I do feel the bittersweet bruise of change upon my heart. The truth is, I sort of miss being the center of the universe to two little boys. And this manufactured holiday can be a bit painful, a bittersweet reminder of what was, what is no longer, what will never be again.

I wonder if my own mother ever felt nostalgic for the passing of my childhood. I wonder if she realizes that she is still at the center of my universe and always has been. I don’t often pause to think about it, but of course she is the one person who has been right there, at my side and on my side, from the moment I drew my very first breath. How to ever fully appreciate the woman whose presence and love and example have shaped me into the adult I am? How to capture even a small part of the sharing, sacrificing, and support she has given me over the years?

I can’t possibly do you justice, Mom, nor give voice to all the memories, but here are just a few that come to mind:

I remember the bracelet, dark red and blue shoe-buttons strung on elastic, that I made for you in kindergarten when I was five, the first Mother’s Day gift fashioned by my hand. I remember seeing it for years, tucked in the corner of the jewelry box on your dresser where you kept it, loved and treasured if not worn.

I remember soft pajamas with feet and Sunday night suppers served on TV trays in the living room. You gave us Welsh rabbit on Saltines, milk in gray plastic mugs with brightly colored rims, The Wonderful World of Disney, and a bedtime that was the same every night. I remember lullabies and “Mairzie Doates,” and “Tell Me Why the Stars Do Shine” and the comfort of knowing, because you told me again and again, that I was good and well-loved and would always be taken care of.

I remember the first deliberate lie I tried to get away with, and how you somehow saw right through it and gave me time to figure out for myself that the truth would be better.

I remember that I could not, would not, put my face under water at the Air Force pool. I remember that, to my huge relief, you didn’t make me do it. And I also remember two small Dutch dolls, a girl and a boy, with wooden shoes and painted faces. I remember you giving them to me on a hot summer day for no reason at all, except, perhaps, because that was the afternoon when I finally coaxed my terrified self all the way into that pool.

I remember peeking through the keyhole of your bedroom door late at night, hoping for a black and white glimpse of Danny Kaye on TV, and hoping I wouldn’t get in too much trouble if you found me crouching there. I remember you taking me by the hand and leading me back to bed and tucking me in with a kiss.

I remember the only good part about being sick: your cool hand on my forehead as I knelt in front of the toilet bowl, retching up dinner. The comfort of being held. A cool washcloth. Clean sheets, a night breeze through the window, peace.

I remember a bedroom done over, just for me,

I remember a bright pink corduroy jumper that you sewed on the green Singer, and a shirt with daisies growing up the front, and playing dress up in your filmy blue nightgown and pearls, tottering down the driveway in your shoes, feeling like a princess in your grown-up things.

I remember Easter baskets and Easter dresses and your hand on my knee in church. The ting-a-ling on Christmas Eve, the tiny bronze angels pinging against the hot chimes as you read the story of Jesus’s birth from the book of Matthew. I remember watching you stuff turkey after turkey after turkey, a lifetime’s worth of turkeys roasted and holiday meals served and cleaned up after. I remember the kitchen table set with plates and silverware and folded napkins, every single night of our lives.

I remember finding your most precious books in a chest in Grammie Stanchfield’s attic, studying your careful, girlish penmanship, absorbing the shock of your maiden name inscribed all those years ago on the faded inside cover of “Black Beauty.” I remember being stunned by the realization of your childhood, the fact that you had once been a little girl yourself, and that you had had a whole, complete life before me.

I remember summer evenings, you reading out loud as we sprawled on John’s bed, scratching at mosquito bites and patches of poison ivy. The Family Finds Out, The Borrowers, Misty of Chincoteague. I remember wishing the books would never end, that you wouldn’t turn out the light, that the day didn’t have to be over so soon.

I remember that you always called your mother on the day of the first snowfall of winter. I remember the day you lost her.

I remember when you allowed me to buy “Magical Mystery Tour” and bring my phonograph outside on the back deck and play The Beatles really loud. I remember being in the back seat of our red Plymouth Fury as you drove along, eyes on the road, and explained to me about sex. And I remember being disappointed that it sounded so weird and unfun. I remember, cringing a bit even now, the first bra you bought me and how embarrassed I was — by the color (red!!), the name (“Little Me”), the prospect of wearing it, the very possibility of breasts.

I remember countless long walks in the woods and one picnic lunch on the stoop of an abandoned house, and an early morning breakfast we carried up into the low, embracing branches of a special tree. I remember admitting to my best friend at school that you were my best friend.

I remember how good you looked on a horse. Back tall and straight, hands quiet, heels down. I remember how nervous you were about riding and that you did it anyway. I remember the day you flew a plane by yourself — and I remember thinking, “I will never do that.”

I remember confiding in you ahead of time that I was going to sleep with my boyfriend, and then realizing that you might have preferred not to know. I remember wanting to tell you all about it the next day and forcing myself, for your sake, to keep quiet.

I remember going out to lunch, just you and me, the day before I left for college, at a long-gone place called The Avocado, and ordering a drink, and feeling sadness and excitement all mixed up together, already missing you on the one hand and, on the other, just itching to be gone.

I remember that you filled a house with hearts and flowers on Valentines Day, when you thought my lukewarm romance needed a little push, and that I was mortified and touched and then had to give you credit. (Would I be married today, if not for those ridiculous cut-out cupids and candy hearts and strategically placed love poems?)

I remember the two of us, eating lobster and drinking wine, two nights before my wedding, and how much fun we had picking flowers and making bouquets for every single guest room. I remember a moment just before the ceremony, when we stood in the bedroom in the house in Maine, and said something that felt like a good-bye and a hello at the same time. I remember your funny, relieved curtsey in the kitchen on the morning after, when every wedding task was done, and I was finally married to the right man, and you could relax at last.

I remember when Henry was born, how you somehow managed — despite your dread of city driving, despite not having any idea where the hospital was — to get there anyway, to be right at my side when I became a mother myself. I remember how completely, utterly glad I was to see you.

And I remember the night, three years later, when my water broke and I told you not to hurry, there was plenty of time. I remember that you ignored me and jumped in your car and came anyway — just in time, of course, for Steve to rush me to the hospital.

I remember all the ways you have loved and cared for my children these last twenty-one years, how gracefully and joyfully you became a grandmother. How much I’ve needed you to help me through the hard days of motherhood. And how, when there is something wonderful to report, you are always the first person I need to tell.

I remember — and I know this still — that you have always believed in me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself. We have believed in each another, taken care of one another’s hearts, and shared one another’s joys and sorrows for half a century. On this Mother’s Day, I rejoice in our good fortune, the blessing of each other and of our lives as mother and daughter.

Today, I wish for myself, for all mothers, the simple gifts of love and gratitude. May we remember that in living our own lives well, we offer our children the gift of good lives, too.

From The Parent’s Tao te Ching

Words of Life
–by William Martin

You can speak to your children of life,
but your words are not life itself.
You can show them what you see,
but your showing and their seeing
are forever different things.

You cannot speak to them of Divinity Itself.
But you can share with them
the millions of manifestations of this Reality
arrayed before them every moment.
Since these manifestations have their origin
in the Tao,
the visible will reveal the invisible to them.

Don’t mistake your desire to talk for their
readiness to listen.
Far more important are the wordless truths they
learn from you.
If you take delight in the ordinary wonders of life,
they will feel the depth of your pleasure
and learn to experience joy.
If you walk with them in the darkness of life’s mysteries,
you will open the gate of understanding.
They will learn to see in the darkness
and not be afraid.

Go for a slow and mindful walk.
Show them every little thing that catches your eye.
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for great lessons or seek to teach great things.
Just notice.
The lesson will teach itself.