Five months without a kitchen: Almost. There.

December 2014 was the

Last time we

Drew water out of our

Kitchen sink.

For five months,

While Joe completely

Renovated our kitchen

Down to the studs,

We’ve been


In the dining room:

The old yucky white fridge

In front of the window,

A borrowed microwave

On the buffet,

Its extension cord

Stretched across the

Doorway into the kitchen,

Our water source the

Bathroom sink.

“It’s kinda cozy,”

My stepson remarked

Back in January,

And at that time,

I actually


Our temporary kitchen

Surrounded our

Dining room table

Family-farm style,

And that area became the

Locus of the house

Since both the kitchen

And basement,

Which is through the kitchen,

Were off limits.

Our family

Consolidated well.

For all my

Yearning for


Square footage on our

Little urban plot,

We did okay with our

House essentially


Through this process,

I learned a few things.

One: Joe and I have

Vastly different

Decorating styles;

Choosing cabinets,

Paint, flooring and tile

Became an exercise in me

Reigning in Joe’s

One-off wildness–

Fire-engine red cabinets!

Hammered copper ceiling tiles!

A tangerine accent wall!

A $3,000 built-in coffee station!

I felt badly

Quashing his ideas

One by one,

Like the ants that used to

Emerge one after the other to

Plod across our

Old kitchen floor,

But I promised him a

Man cave someday to


Without interference.

A few more things I learned

From the experience:

  • Water out of the

Bathroom sink



  • Crockpot cooking

At first seems like a


Why don’t we do this


But the novelty fades as you’re

Crouched on the

Edge of the bathtub,

Scrubbing burnt cheese out of the

Ceramic insert.

  • Disposable plates and

Silverware are a

Gift from God.

  • Frozen lasagne is

Also a gift from God,

Although I’ll give it a

“Thanks but no thanks”

For the next, say,

10 years.

  • Without the structure of a


I devolve into a


Cobbling together “meals” from

Crackers and

Candy and

I don’t even know what else.

  • Joe just pretty much

Stops eating,

Subsisting on Clif bars–

When he could get to them

Before the kids heard me

Accidentally utter the words

“Clif bar”–

And can after can of

LaCroix sparkling water,

Our new beer.

The critical lesson from all this

Has been about

Our friends’


This renovation was

Supposed to have been

Done by a contractor friend,

Who started the job,

Tearing out our appliances and

Demoing our old kitchen down

To the lathe.

He then

Disappeared into his addiction

Leaving Joe and me to

Cope with the

Biggest crisis of our


When we told our friends

What had happened,

We got more offers for

Help than we

Could have possibly

Taken people up on:

Frozen lasagne and

Crockpots full of stew,




Handy guys.

All Joe had to do was


And a friend and

His tools were

There for us.

We were hurt by one

But helped by many,

Which is,

I’m starting to think,

How life kinda works.

And we’re

Deeply grateful for the



Especially the

Amazing new kitchen

My husband,

The most competent man I’ve ever known,

Built with his own hands and with

Help from his friends.


His handiwork:

WP_20150601_18_28_08_Pro WP_20150601_18_25_03_Pro WP_20150601_18_24_40_Pro WP_20150601_18_23_48_Pro WP_20150601_18_28_53_Pro WP_20150601_18_27_37_Pro


Done calling myself “busy”

thIf a life is like a

Jar full of rocks,

My jar is objectively

Pretty full.

I’m married,

We have four kids

Ages two to fifteen.

My husband and I both

Work full-time.

I spend time every week with my

12-step program and my church.

I see friends frequently.

Exercise daily.

Have a blog, and am

Working on a novel.

And yet,

I made a decision at the

New year:

I’m going to stop calling myself


A rich life?


A busy one?

No thanks.

When people asked

How I was, I always answered,



The “busy” somehow a

Qualifier to the “good.”

The busier I thought of myself

And the busier I told people I was,

The busier I felt.

Just saying the word


Tightens my chest like

Twisting a piece of cloth.

The panic of

Not enough time,

Feeling like I’m trying to do the


Fit more into this span of time

Than the limitations of our world

Allow for.

Or, to tack on to the

Rocks-in-jar metaphor,

To try to cram more rocks

Into the jar than

The jar can hold.

(Pushing down on rocks to

Compress them

Is a futile exercise,

A waste of time and energy,

And can break the fragile jar-vessel.)

There have been times when I’ve

Glimpsed the

Self-induced spin I’ve

Put myself into.

Sudden breaks in the action when,

Between this and that activity,

I have an unexpected blip of unplanned time,

And I’m at a loss.

I actually grasp for the

Next thing

(Or my




Because I’m so

Unpracticed at just

Hanging out.


There’s also a

Self-importance to my

Busyness, and an

Implication that

I don’t really have time for


So if I’m standing here

Talking to you,

You’re imposing on my



(Even if I have a smile on my face.)

In the last few months,

I started to suspect that,

Maybe I’m not as


As I think I am.

I’ve got a lot of rocks in my jar,

But there are

Spaces between the rocks.

And room at the top for

New rocks,

If I want there to be.

Thinking of myself as


I cut myself off from the


I’m so focused on

The next thing to do that

I don’t even see all these

Cool things and

Cool people

Happening around me.

I catch myself now.

When people ask me how I am,

I don’t tack on the



I’m trying to focus more on the

Spaces between the rocks,

The air in there,

The nothingness.

Those spaces,

That’s my paradise.

That’s my wandering without aim,

My earplug-quiet and darkness

Just before sleep,

My Sunday mornings when we

Skip church,

My clocklessness,

My finding myself with

Nothing to do,


Not reaching for my

Smart phone.

Paradise amongst the






My brother’s wedding: first big family event since our mom died

10672363_10204471243522534_8656715992297499162_nIt was the

First big family event after

My mother’s death:

My little brother got married.

Doug’s now-wife,

The incomparable Sarah,

Had come into our family

Three months before our mom

Died of Alzheimer’s.

Unfazed by the

Slow-burn trauma

Our family was slogging through

At the end of Mom’s




Sarah plunged right in.

She and my brother exchanged

The giddy first Christmas gifts

Of their relationship

In the sick room where we

All had gathered.

No squeamishness,

No wariness,

Just a deep empathy,

And an intuitive sense of what

Needed to get done–

Meals cooked,

Thank you cards written after the funeral.

During those dreadful last months

Of my mother’s life,

There were flickers like

Lightning bugs of

Laughter and lightness and

Hope for the future,

And Doug’s relationship with Sarah

Was one of them,

And Sarah herself was another.

WP_000005The day of the wedding,

I carried in the palm of my hand a

Small, round picture of my

Mom and my brother

When Doug was probably about five,

His hair white blonde,

Sucking in his bottom lip the way

He used to as a child,

My mom in her late 30s–

Probably my age–

Pretty and happy to have her

Favorite little boy in her lap,

Looking slightly above the camera,


As we walked to the wedding together,

I silently showed the

Picture to my brother,

And we put our arms around each other

And he said,

“Thank you, Jen.

Thank you,”

Blinking tears.

I’m the one who cried for

Much of the ceremony,

Looking down into my palm

At the picture,

Or at the empty chair in the

Front row

Laid with a bouquet of yellow roses.

It was Mom’s little boy

Getting married,

The one she got to care for,

Who let her care for him,

Making sure he had flannel sheets

On his bed in the winter,

Patching up his

Favorite blanket over the years.

My brother gave

My mother the kind of

Motherhood she was suited for,

And now there he was,

Under a pure blue sky,

Starting on the next part of

His journey,

With Sarah.

With my mom, too

In a way,

But also very much

Without her.

Later at the end of the reception,

In the soft,

Other-worldly glow of the

Tent lights

It was me and a dozen or so of

Doug and Sarah’s friends left,

Dancing to an iPad playlist.

It was fun and wild and

Most people were pretty wasted and

Feeling the music in that

Drunken way

I remember

(or don’t remember).

There was my little brother and his


Their friends gathered round and round,

Laughing and moving their alive bodies,

It was a joyful and sweet moment,

But what would’ve been just a

Tinge of nostalgia about

Change and

New life journeys

Was instead a wave of grief.

Our mother,

Doug’s mom,

Was dead.

She was dead.

Her ashes moldering in a

Cemetery 80 miles away.

And our lives progress on.

Grandchildren born and

Children married.

There will only be more and more

Events and even


She will have missed.

This: Doug and Sarah’s

Life together,

She won’t see it.

They won’t get the

Benefit of hearing her say,

“I’m so proud of you.”

And indeed,

For all of us young,


Healthy people

Dancing under the

Glowing tent,

This is our moment to be

Heedlessly alive in this world,

But it’ll pass.

We’ll die, too.


I’ve learned,

Is a voluminous container that can

Simultaneously hold

Sadness and joy,

Bitterness and gratitude,

Fear and faith,

Pain and freedom.

And that night

Dancing with my little brother,

I was buffeted with them all.

It was almost

Too much to bear,

But as we do,

I bore it.

And I laughed,

And I cried,

And I danced,

And I cheered their dancing:

Doug and Sarah’s.

Our epic trip to Europe, recounted for your reading pleasure

We’re back from our trip:

A three-week tour of Europe

That we’d planned for nearly two years.

Here’s a brief outline of some trip highlights.

Arrival: Munich, Germany.


Trey, Joe and Victor feasting at a Munich beergarden.

Hotel concierge directed us to a

Beergarden where waitstaff wore lederhosen,

And we feasted on pretzels, meat and sparkling water.

Next day, Neuschwanstein castle

Which the Disney castle is based off of, and our first


Cassidy, Trey and Victor with Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps.

Taste of castles being at the top of a hill

You have to walk up.

Kids were troopers on a hot day.

Germany surprise:

Joe’s high school German

Bubbling to the surface, and

He as astonished as anyone that he could

Read a few signs and

Understand snippets of overheard conversations in German.


The R.V.

Next day: picking up the R.V.

From a company with the baffling name McRent,

And getting lost trying to leave Munich by

Relying on an offline maps app I’d downloaded.

I literally realized we were

Going the wrong direction by the

Angle of the sun.

And later that night,


Postcard of Prague at night.

As we drove into Prague at midnight,

I was using landmarks like the

Havra River and the Prague castle to navigate by.

Which were lovely at night, BTW.

Prague is magical,

Even when it is midnight and

You’re driving an R.V. down

Questionably narrow cobblestone streets with a

Car full of strung-out, jet-lagged kids.

Spent our first night in the R.V. in a

Parking lot of an apartment complex

Because our campground had

Locked its gate for the night.

Next day: Prague.


Us on the Charles Bridge, Prague.

Wandering the Old Town,

Charles Bridge up to the castle.

Hot, and again,

Castle at the top of a hill.

Kids troopers.

Souvenir of the day:

Green Bay Packers Russian nesting dolls,

Number 12: Aaron Rodgers.


Rocky, Cassidy, me, Trey and Victor having lunch in the catacombs of a Prague monastery.

Lunch of pork shoulder,

Dumplings, sauerkraut in the

Catacombs of a medieval monastery.

Delicious hot shower at the campground.

Next day, I asked the campground owner to

Show me on a map

How to drive to Krakow, Poland.

I wanted highway numbers,

But he laughed and shook his head.

“Here we don’t use highway numbers.

Just follow signs to the

Next town,

Then the next town,

Then the next town

Until you’re there.”



But it mostly worked.

We stopped at a Tesco hypermarket

On our way out of town to load up on groceries

We didn’t really end up eating

And got to Krakow before dark.



Cassidy, Trey and Victor in Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland. Chandelier and floor and everything is made of salt.

Joe and the kids were intrigued by the

700-year-oldĀ Wieliczka salt mine, where

Miners had, over the centuries,

Carved sculptures and cathedrals 200 feet underground,

So we went there first.

Konrad the tour guide picked us up at our

Campground and drove us there.

He informed us that

We could go home after Krakow

Because it was the best city in Poland.

The salt mine was strangely interesting,


Sculpture of the seven dwarfs carved of salt in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland.

Enough to keep the kids occupied for

2.5 hours on a guided tour.

The tour guide kept saying the miners had

Carved all these sculptures and

Underground chapels and a cathedral in their free time,

And I was surprised to think miners had

That much free time.

After the salt mine,

Konrad the tour guide

Drove us to Pod Wawelem restaurant in the

Shadow of Krakow castle where we


Cassidy and Trey about to dig into their massive fish platter at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow, Poland.

Feasted on pierogies,

Sauerkraut, beef tartare,

Polish mushroom soup,

Fresh fish and weinerschnitzel for a total of about



The two-floor kids play area at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow.

And the kids played in the

Two-floor indoor play area.

After that,

We strolled around the Krakow main market square,


Main market square in Krakow, Poland.

Which is delightful.

Krakow, like Prague,

Was spared during the war because

Hitler didn’t consider it Slavic

As opposed to Warsaw, which was utterly destroyed–

And rebuilt.

That night at the campground,

We watched the Netherlands-Spain World Cup upset

With a bunch of Dutch campers who had

Decorated the outdoor T.V. viewing area with

Orange streamers and who

Passed around shots at

Every goal.

The next day, we drove to Gdansk,

Stopping at Lodz where we got

Turned around at a gas station with a


Chinese restaurant with Route 66 sign at a gas station in Lodz, Poland.

Restaurant attached that had a

Route 66 sign but which served

Chinese food from a Polish-only menu.

Joe ordered number 12

(Aaron Rodger’s number),


Trey, Cassidy, Rocky, me and Victor in Gdansk, Poland.

We spent the next day in Gdansk,

Parking the R.V. in a lot outside the Old Town and

Walking in.

The Old Town is lovely,

And we all bought souvenirs and


Cassidy feasting in Gdansk, Poland.

Had our second-to-last gluttonous restaurant feast

Before taking the ferry that night to Scandinavia

Where only Arab royalty and

Russian oil magnates can afford to

Feast in restaurants.

When we got back to the R.V.,

We had our only minor disaster of the trip:


Attempted R.V. break-in in Gdansk, Poland.

Someone had tried to break into our R.V.

By jimmying the side door open.

They didn’t make it in, though.

The damage would cost us the 500 Euro deductible,

But at the time we just chuckled at the

Incompetence of the would-be thief,

And we were glad we’d brought our passports with us that day.

On our way to the ferry,


Victor, Trey, Rocky and Cassidy frolicking on the Baltic Sea beach in Sopot, Poland.

We stopped in the resort town of Sopot on the

Baltic Sea which looked like a

Communist-era resort town for

Party higher-ups.

Sopot was the only place we

Drove the R.V. too deep into a

Narrow dead-end cobblestone street and had to

Slowly back it out of the trap.

It was an overnight ferry we took from Gdynia, Poland to

Karlskrona, Sweden,


Buffet feast on the overnight ferry from Poland to Sweden.

On the ferry, we feasted at the buffet before

Jerry-rigging Rocky’s pack-n-play between two bunks in our cabin

And passing earplugs out to Joe and the kids against the

Drunk Euroteens squealing and pinballing down the hallways.

The next morning, we drove to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden,

Where Victor and I lived in 2006-07.

I haven’t been there since, and


Caroline and me in front of St. Andrew’s church in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I got a chance to spend time with my

Dear friend-of-Bill’s


Who had seen me through the

Scary, wondrous months of early sobriety and the

Uncertainty of divorce.

We went to a 12-step meeting at St. Andrew’s Church,

Which is where I attended my first 12-step meeting on

Oct. 1, 2006.

The next day, we drove north along the Swedish coast to

Oslo, Norway,


Therese and me.

Where lives my best girl and muse,

Therese, whom I hadn’t seen in more than six years.

As we drove toward Oslo, I was telling Joe

All the parallels between Therese and me:

How we’d met and became close friends,

Working together at a magazine in Minneapolis in 1999.

Me a reporter and her a graphic designer,

When she was married to her American husband, Noah.

How we’d both moved to Scandinavia, her to her native Norway,

And me to Finland around 2003.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our


Milla (wearing a Minnesota Rollergirls cap) and Victor, both born in 2005.

First babies, Victor and Milla, born in 2005.

How we’d both gotten divorced and then

Remarried to men who had two older kids.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our


Liv, wearing her American (and Norwegian) colors in honor of our visit, with Rocky. Both born in 2012.

Second babies, Rocky and Liv, born in 2012.

The highlight of my trip was

Sitting at Therese’s kitchen table

After the kids were all in bed and the

Husbands watching World Cup,

Drinking tea and talking


It’s still there:

That otherworldly connection of a

Good friend.

Therese, Milla and Liv

Took us around Oslo,


Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway.

To Vigeland Sculpture Park,

The largest sculpture park in the world made by one artist,

Depicting family relationships in

Various forms.


Rocky, Joe, Trey, Victor and Cassidy in front of Joe’s favorite statue at Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway.

Joe got a picture of himself with a

Statue of a man juggling

Four babies,

Summing up,

He said wearily, his life.

(Poor guy).


Trey and Cassidy with a 16th century Norwegian barn at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo, Norway.

We also went to the

Norwegian Folk Museum

An outdoor facility with buildings from various points in

Norwegian history,

Back to a Stave Church built around 1200.


Cassidy and Trey with a Stave church built around 1200 at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.

As a history geek,

I love this kind of place,

Standing in a centuries-old farmhouse and

Imagining the daily tasks and

Worries and small joys of the long-gone inhabitants.

I could’ve spent a whole day there.

We left Oslo the next day,


Victor, Rocky, me, Therese, Liv and Milla about to say good-bye in Oslo.

An easier parting since

Therese and her family

Will be in Minnesota next summer.


We drove across Sweden to the east coast,

North of Stockholm,

Where we caught an overnight ferry to Turku, Finland.

This ferry wasn’t as fancy as the first one.

It was mostly for truck drivers.

And there was no internet,

Cass and Trey noted.


Entering Finland!

Then, Finland!

Victor had been asking through the whole trip,

“When will we get to Finland?”

And once we drove off the ferry,

He sighed, “I love Finland.”

This is where he was born,

And where he spends summers with his dad.

It’s one of his homes.


Victor, Rocky and Trey and Victor’s grandparents’ country home in southern Finland.

We spent that night,

Midsummer Eve,

At the country home of Victor’s grandparents,

Where Victor’s dad presented him with a real crossbow,


Cassidy and Rocky in the sauna.

And we took our first Finnish saunas

In the beautiful sauna Victor’s grandfather had built.

In Finland,

The sauna is a sort of sacred,

Meditative place,


Joe in the sauna.

And it’s where you bathe,

By soaping up and pouring water over yourself.

The best is to get really steamed up and

Then go stand outside to cool off.

It’s not for everyone.

Cassidy was a good sport

And tried it out

But it wasn’t her thing.

Joe, Trey and Rocky liked it.

The next day we went to a

Railroad museum where you can

Joe, Victor, Tapio, Cassidy and Trey taking a break from pumping along the tracks in southern Finland.

Rent the two-man train cars you move by

Pumping with your arms.

That evening,

We went to my cousin’s summer cottage and

Had a sauna there


Joe taking the native sauna plunge in southern Finland.

And jumped naked in the cold lake.

We had a delicious meal of

Smoked fish, vegetables and small, Finnish strawberries.

And watched World Cup soccer with my cousins.

Next day was the family gathering at another cousin’s house where I


Katri, me and Jenni , cousins, in Turku, Finland.

Got to see my Finnish cousins and good friends,

Katri and Jenni,

Whom I first met in 1997

When they came to Minnesota during their trip to America.

I got to meet some new cousins, and was

Treated to my cousin’s Iina’s lovely hospitality.


Midnight in southern Finland in late June.

That night back at Tapio’s parents’ country house,

Victor, Trey and Tapio played army in the woods

In the late night dusk

Before taking one last Finnish sauna.


Me, Riikka and Victor with the Helsinki cathedral.

The next day we spent in Helsinki with Riikka,

Victor’s aunt, and we went to Suomenlinna, an island fortress

Off the coast of Helsinki


Victor and me in Helsinki, about to say good-bye for the summer.

We said good-bye to Victor for the summer–

Always hard and sad.

And then me, Joe, Cass, Trey and Rocky got on our last ferry ride

From Helsinki to Germany,

30 hours through the Baltic Sea,


Rocky on the ferry from Finland to Germany.

I was ready for a break from touring

And it was nice to sleep in and nap in the

Ferry in our room,

And take a long sauna, and watch World Cup.

When we arrived in Germany, we drove through the night to


Cassidy, Trey, Rocky and me in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Rothenburg, a medieval, walled town

Where we spent our last full day of the trip

Wandering cobblestone streets,

Feasting and

Buying souvenirs.

Everyone but me was ready to go home,

And Trey got a little homesick.

We spent the night in an R.V. parking lot

Just outside the walled down where we saw a

Huge R.V. with a Florida license plate.

A little foretaste of home.

The next day we returned the R.V. and

Flew home where

Rocky waited until we were in line at

Customs and immigration to have his only

Epic meltdown of the trip.


Overall, the trip was lovely.

I loved seeing the sights and

Eating the food and the twice-daily ice cream.

But as I’d hoped,

The best part was the


Everyone on the ferry to Suomenlinna in Helsinki.

Quality family time.

No devices,

So we had to interact,

And it was fun to come up with inside jokes:

“Is that a bird up there?”



“Crabby card.”

“Suomi in my belly.”

I had never spent that much time with my

Stepkids and I enjoyed having these new experiences with them.

It was gratifying to know that we could

Make this happen

With some planning and saving,

And I’m inspired to do something like this again,


Keep those passports handy.

Now that we all have our passports…


Even when it’s about you, it’s about us

CAM00318I’m one of those parents.

For gifts, I give people tchochkes

With pictures of my kids on them.

This year for Christmas

It was one of those mugs you can

Put pictures of your kids on and,

In just a few tips and taps of your keyboard,

Be done with your holiday shopping in like

Ten minutes.

Did I stop to think about whether

The recipients

Needed or


Another coffee mug?


I assumed that,

Because these are picture of

The Kids,

You know,

The Kids,

They’d be interested.

The grandparents,

I’m pretty sure,

Actually really like the mugs.

But I felt a little sheepish

Handing over the two

Uniform little boxes to my

Brother and his fiancee,

Who had gotten everyone in our

Family something

Individual they might actually like.

“Even when it’s a gift for you,

It’s about us,”

I joked as they

Very graciously

Admired the mugs after

Prying them out of the unbreakable

Styrofoam packaging.

It’s true.

I don’t have time to think about

Much else besides

Keeping my kids and myself


No small feat.

But I do recognize that

It must get tiring for people to

Ask how things are going,

And have me talk

All about

My kids:

Ear infections,

New sports season starting up,

All the school closings this winter.

What’s worse,

When people tell me

About stuff going on in their lives,

I’m really good at

Co-opting their experience

And providing a corollary about my kids:

“You say you’re recovering from a

Car accident that almost killed you

And left you fighting for your very life?

My son’s favorite movie used to be Cars!

He was really scared of that scene

Where the semi-trucks fall asleep on the road…

I bet you get why!

Ha ha!”


I’m starting to realize

(And this is not to news to

Childless people, I’ll bet)

That most selfless of activities,

Actually makes people


Self-centered, not less.

How can this be,

You bluster,

Imagining scenarios in which you’d






For your child?

Here’s how I see things:

I pretty much think of my kids as

Part of me.

Maybe it’s because they came out of my body.

This is mostly a good thing.

It’s what makes me sure I’d

Jump into oncoming traffic to snatch my child

Out of danger.

Or scrape poop off my 1yo’s butt with the

Edge of his wet diaper

(Because I can’t find the wipes)

Then go finish eating my dinner

Without gagging once.

Same with boogers.

Your kid’s boogers?


My kid’s boogers?

Whatev. I’ll blow my nose in that tissue later

‘Cause they’re practically



See how this works?

So if my kids are

Part of me,

My self-centeredness

Has now expanded to

Include my kids.

Now instead of one

Self-centered person,

You get a three-fer.

I’m not really sure what the

Point of thinking myself into this

Paradox has been

Except to acknowledge the grumblings of the

Childless population who

Complain about how

Oblivious parents can be to

Anyone around them except their

Little precious.

I’m not wishing this parenting time away

Because I know these years and days and minutes are

So dear,

But it will be nice,

Once the daily tornado of child-rearing is over,

To come up from the cellar

And have a nice chat with my neighbors

About anything


My kids.

Happy birthday, Baby: A celebration of a deeply flawed marriage (and I love you so!)

photo7“When are you going to

Write a blog post

About me?”

You asked me a few weeks ago.

“All about you?”

I asked.

“Not just where you’re mentioned?”

“All about me,” you said.

Well, it’s your birthday,

And since I never know what to

Get you unless you

Tell me specifically,

This must be what you want.

I was looking at my

Wedding ring the other day

And admiring how



It is.

Remember when we were shopping

For the diamond

And the salesman kept reminding us of its


“Full disclosure,” he kept saying,

Making us look in his monocle

To try to see the

Cloud of inclusions he then

Mapped out on a piece of paper in

Little red dots.

And you and I laughed about it

On the drive home,

First because,


We couldn’t see the

Inclusions, and second because

Why would we want a

Perfect diamond?

That’s just a metaphorical disaster

Waiting to happen.

Even the setting didn’t turn out

Exactly how I’d envisioned it.

I’d picked a design off the store’s website

They didn’t even know they had,

One they were going to


Because of its lack of stability.

They had to solder it on one side

To make it strong enough

To let me walk out of the store with it.

The diamond,

A squarish “pillow” cut,

Is also a little crooked

When the ring is flush to the

Bottom of my finger.

It’s a deeply flawed wedding ring

And I love it.

I remember once my friend

Got a tattoo of her

Husband’s name

On her sacrum as a surprise,

And it didn’t turn out

Quite right.

It slanted down slightly,

And one of the letters of his name

Looked like another letter

So unless you knew what you were looking at,

It didn’t really make sense as a word.

She shrugged it off.

“I’m not perfect

So why should the tattoo be?”

I’ve always tried to

Love you like that:

Imperfectly but with the

Dogged ferocity and permanence of a

Tattoo needle.

(And now for your

Real birthday present:

Your name in the

Crease of my butt cheek!

Just kidding.)


We’re two

Deeply flawed,

Even somewhat sick


Grappling toward each other

As best we can

And I’d have it no other way.

There’s this essay a guy wrote

That’s a viral sensation right now

About how he


After being married for 18 months,

That “marriage

Wasn’t for him.”

(Wait for it.)

It’s for the other person.

A clever little

Twist on an

Idiomatic saying.

I wish I could

Twist an idiom for you,


And have it go

Viral with our wedding picture

For all the world to see how much you

And the state of being married

Has taught me about

Being a better person.

Because it has,

And you have.

I can be hard,

And you force me to be soft

Because with your


(“God, you’re over-sensitive!” I’ve been

Known to accuse.)

It wouldn’t work otherwise.

And that’s an example of

How our flaws


Can actually be our

Greatest strengths


Like two chipped and cleaved

Halves of a busted open


That fit nearly perfectly together.

It’s a beautiful thing

And you’re a beautiful thing,

And I want the whole world to know

How grateful I am

That you were born on Nov. 13, 1977

(Yep, I’m a cougar: two years and change

Older than you).

In your baby picture

You look like a little

Brown-eyed bird,

Stunned and blinking,

Surviving from one

Miraculous day to the next

As babies do.

I should be giving you a gift on your birthday,

But really,


You are a gift to me.

Fear and attraction: women friends

photo credit

photo credit

I romanticize a time

And a place

When women would

Work together in the

Fields, or at the river,

Partaking in each other’s births,


And all the mundane living in between.

I’ve had short stints of


Female relationships:

Situations in which

Friendships with


Flourish as a

Product of

Prescribed activities

Like high school.

Or communal living

Like college dorms and

Roommate scenarios.

I wish I had


Those delicious,

Hilarious moments of

Living with women

Instead of

Longing for the

Boy to

Call me back.

I didn’t realize at the time that

The majority of my

Adulthood I would spend in a marriage,

Making those girl-centered times

Rarefied and fleeting.


Has stretched thin some

Critical friendships over the years.

A sister-friend moves away,

Or I move away from her,

And am petulant that things

Can’t stay the same.

And yet,

Making new friends feels like


A careful,

Choreographed dance of

Nonchalance and


I’m wary of drama;

Done that,

Don’t have the appetite–

Or time–

To do it anymore.

I say that,

But the truth is,

I hide from you

Behind my husband

And kids.

They can take up

All my time if I let them.

And they need me


I envy my single friends

For their investments in their

Women friends.

(While they probably

Envy me my

Husband and kids.)

I admire how men

Seem to form friendships

Around activities:

To be blatantly stereotypical,

–Or use my husband

As an example

–It’s sports or

Music or

Spiritual interests.

They do stuff together.

It looks so fun.

While I text women for coffee,

Which really does feel like a


The fact is

My friendships


Sometimes they end

But not often,

Thank God.

When they have,

It’s been with pain

Just as traumatic as any

Romantic break-up

I’ve endured.

Maybe even more.


Not dissolution.

That I can be peaceful with.

I was in an art museum once,

Alone in a gallery

(That’s how this

Introvert likes to roll

At art museums:

In solitude.)

I was examining this tapestry of

Colors and


That was so vivid,

It gave the illusion that the

Bits that made it up were

Moving and

Growing and shrinking.

Two young women

Came into the room;

They were lovely–

I think it was somewhere in Europe.

They were laughing together,

Clearly close friends,

Or so it seemed to this outsider.

They passed by and

One of them

Smiled at me.

I looked back at the

Tapestry and saw it as a

Metaphor for all the

Women friends I’ve had over the years.


The sizes of individual

Pieces growing and shrinking.

And It’s okay for one friend’s tie to

Stretch across time zones

And even oceans,

And another friend’s tie to

Pull her closer,

To my neighborhood

Or my church

Or my 12-step meeting.

It’s okay.

It’s supposed to do that.

For my part,

Friendships don’t end.

They evolve.

Even if you move away,

Even if we don’t talk for months or


Even if we never speak again,

I am still your friend

And will love you from a distance

As well as I am able.

And for you whose faces I can set eyes on


It’s up to me to

Stop hiding out.

Modernity has put up some walls,

But I can have as much

Female community

As I want

If I’m willing to

Get out of my house

And myself

And find it.

Find you.

Lessons from a divorce five years out


My first husband and our son about a year before we got divorced.

I was talking to a friend

The other day

Who is going through a divorce.

One of a few friends

Going through it right now.

She had the shell-shocked look

I remember from my mirror six years ago.

“This is so

Fucking hard,”

She said.




I nodded

And nodded,

And could relate:

The hopelessness leading up to

The decision.

Then finally the decision is made and

There’s relief.

But now the process to

Wade through.

I listened to her grapple with

Her partner

Behaving with inexplicable


The things that are said,

Unprintable even in my

Immodest blog.

Fear masked as anger,



You were partners in

Instinctive survival:






And now it feels like

This person is threatening your

Ability to survive and thrive.

S/he wants to take your money,

Your time with your kids,

Your home.

Both of your survival instincts are flared

And pitted against one another’s.

Even the most amicable divorce

Requires concessions that,

By their very nature,

Feel cruelly unfair.

My biggest fear was that the


Would last forever.

The pain that was so much more


Than just

Getting dumped,

Or breaking the news to the kids,

Which is how I’d conceived of divorce

Until I went through it.

It was a dense and many-layered pain that,

At its peak,

Felt like it might be a major part of me

For the rest of my life.

But here’s my miracle:

Today I had a phone chat with my

Son’s dad

That wasn’t just civil

Or even friendly,

But was truly affectionate.

And the other day I stood on my

Front porch and chatted with

My husband’s ex-wife and

Her new boyfriend and




For her and

Hopeful for her future and

Unattached to what it all

Means for me.

My husband came home the other night

From meeting with his ex-wife to

Discuss some weighty matters

About their kids.

And the conversation,

As he recounted it to me,

Was so

Reasonable and


I got choked up listening to it,

Observing how this

Relationship between

My husband and

His ex-wife has

Grown since I’ve known them.

It’s not all perfect.

There are still difficult decisions ahead.

But I cannot tell you how


I am to

Get along with both ex-spouses in our family’s life.

It is a truly

Stunning evolution.

How has it all come about,

This friendliness?

After fucking things up good

And learning hard lessons from it:

I learned to make concessions to

Simply keep the peace with my ex-husband.

I sensed it was better for my son

For me to let him go for periods of time

Than to fight to keep him all the time.

That meant I was physically separated from him for

About six months

On three occasions.

And now he spends summers with his dad.

As of this writing,

I haven’t hugged or touched

My 7-year-old boy

For about 50 days.


I miss out on events in his life.

But I saw not fighting over my son

As a loving act,

Although to the outside it might look–

Well, who fucking cares

How it looks?

Also, I don’t care about fairness anymore.

There is no truly fair outcome of a


Especially with kids.

Everyone gets screwed.

If you pay child support,

It feels like too much.

It you receive child support,

It feels like too little.

The schedule is never quite right.

You might have to spend

Mother’s Day alone–

I did for three years in a row.

My ex-husband hasn’t had his

Son on Father’s Day since 2007.

Completely unfair.

I got used to it,

And then saw the weird beauty of

This little life lesson

Which has served me well in

Other parts of my life.

We can try for fair–

We do try for fair.

But we never truly achieve it.

These days, I prioritize my relationship with my

Son’s dad and

My husband’s ex-wife.

We try to do small things

To keep it friendly between us.

Little actions to build good will have

Countered any ill-will we once had,

And then some.

Besides which,

I truly care about both of them.


My friendly relationship with my ex-husband

And his family

Is one of the proudest achievements of my life.

And it’s not just about our son.

It’s about my ex and me, too.

It works for us to have an

Affectionate relationship that

Doesn’t revolve around our son at

Every moment of every conversation.

Time doesn’t heal all,

But it does help a hell of a lot.

I’ve heard bitter tirades from

Parents of grown children,

Divorced decades ago.

So obviously time isn’t a panacea.

But time is important.

When I look back

Six or seven years to the middle of the divorce

And right afterward,

My imagination was limited

As to what my life might look like,

Or what my ex’s might look like.

It felt like we would be

Forever tightly linked in this



Web of mutual distrust and


But today,

I’m free.

As I was standing talking to my friend

About her impending divorce,

I was noticing how physically

Tall and

Strong I felt.

Loose-limbed and agile.


I said to her that

It was the hardest thing I’ve

Ever been through

In my life

By far.

But I wouldn’t go back and

Change anything.

Happy Mother’s Day! I think I’m done having kids

547751_10151367700569149_189076974_nI think

I’m not having any more children.

We’ve talked,

Joe and I.

I brought it up.

“What do you think about

One more baby?”

“Aw, babe,” he said.

“I just don’t think I can.”

His reasons were sound:

We already have

Four kids.

Let’s just focus on the

Ones we have.

Let’s give them all our attention.

(And all our finite financial resources.)

I tried to wage an argument,

But I wasn’t enthusiastic.

The truth was,

I kind of wanted him to

Talk me

Out of it.

So now,

It’s a matter of

Getting used to the idea

That this is it:

My family.

A couple divorcees with an

Assortment of kids:




We have ’em all.

Somehow I’d thought that




Especially if it was a girl–

Would even everything out.

Make it tidy.

There’d be the two older kids–

Full siblings to each other–

Then two younger full siblings–

Then my son in the middle.

The girls would bookend the assortment.

A fifth child to

Tie it all up

In a neat,



Our family has felt like a

Work in progress for

So long.

It’s hard to imagine

That we’re

Finished adding to it.

But I held a newborn baby in my arms

Last week

And felt none of the


To have my own.

The boxes of maternity clothes in the

Basement that

I was hanging onto

Just in case

I’ve promised to a

Pregnant friend

(Whom I feel no envy toward in the least).

My two sons were

Screaming with laughter in the shower


Last night.

They’re the only ones

I’ll physically bear

It would seem.

My first boy and

My baby boy,

I call them.

It seems a shame to

Retire the ol’ reproductives when they

Still have something in them.

But then again,

It’s nice to think of

Having myself to




Never again the

Intrinsic sharing of

Resources and

Energy of a pregnancy

Or breastfeeding.

And our family?

Definitely untidy.

Three last names

You will spell wrong

If I don’t spell them

Very slowly

For you over the phone.

Pictures reflect our

Mish-mash schedules.

Different combinations of kids

Depending on who is around that weekend.

When we go to bed at night,

I have to think for a minute:

If there was a fire,

How many kids are home

To rescue from the flames?





It could be any of those numbers.

And the different


I do to them all.

I’m a different person to each of them

Depending on their needs.

When I think of being a

Mom and a


The first word I think of is


It really is just a

Hell of a lot of fun.

Not every moment,

But there is much to be amused about.

Much to laugh at.


It’s hard.

But it’s gotten easier over the years.

I’m grateful for my

Four kids.

They are each divine in their

Own ways,

And they each teach me about the

Divine in me.

An open letter to Sheryl Sandberg

SandbergDear Sheryl,

I have to admit,

I was

At first

Irritated by the whole


Of your book:

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Here you are,

An obscenely rich,

Harvard-educated executive,

Presumably employing

Nannies and

House cleaners,

Telling me I need to

Work harder to become

Part of your

Rarefied circle of



Chief executives.

I thought,


I don’t want to think about this.”

I know,

I know.

A woman gets paid three-quarters what a man earns.

Women still do

Twice as much

Housework and

Childrearing duties as men

Even while working the

Same number of


Women make up only a fraction of the


Most powerful people in

Business and government.

I know.

But I’m too busy

Working my job,

Making my living,

Raising my children and

Dealing with my house

To worry about this

Big picture stuff,


And Sheryl,

What does

“Lean In” mean


Lean in to listen to


Hold forth on how

All of us


Mothers and

Workers should

Somehow get our husbands to do

50% of the housework and

Childrearing duties?


They already think they do!

So I got out by myself for a walk recently,

And I was swiping through the

Public radio podcasts,

And there you were,

An hour-long interview with my favorite

Public radio host.

Oh Jesus Christ,

I thought.


Let’s hear what you have to say.

And I listened to you talk about

The statistics:


Only 20 of the Fortune 500 companies are

Run by women.


Women still make only $0.77 to the male dollar.


Women only make up 20% of Congress, and obviously,

Have never held the most important position in the world:

President of the U.S.

(“Why can’t girls be president?”

My son asked me,


Just the other day.)

And it matters,

You said.

It does matter.

Because decision-makers

Make decisions

Based on what they know.

And we still have


Making most of the decisions for us

About policy in

Government and in our


And those men

Just don’t know.




They don’t know how


An eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leave is because





And the argument is,

I guess,

That we’ll have eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leaves

(Mostly unpaid, BTW)

Until we get some decision-makers who’ve

Had a


Okay Sheryl,

You know what?

You might be right.

Maybe it does matter.

This uneasy truce I’ve had with

The world as it is

Is based on the fact that,

For the most part,

I haven’t experienced a lot of



Or so I tell myself.

I think I’m doing pretty well for myself.

My job pays decently–

Indeed, I make more than my husband.

It’s flexible,

Work from home, flex-time, etc.

My husband and I both think

We do more than half the

Housework and childrearing–

Or so our arguments would have you think.

Things are fine for


But you know what Sheryl?

I think you’re right.

It’s not just wages and power positioning that have


It’s my imagination for

What’s possible.

I’ve stagnated into thinking that

Because my life is

Reasonably manageable,

Everyone else’s must be, too.

(But the statistics don’t bear that out.)

And I tell myself:

Maybe a 12-week maternity leave

Is enough.

Maybe it’s okay that women don’t

Make as much as men.

Money isn’t everything.

But those are lies

I’ve been telling myself.

So as I’m writing this,

I look at my husband across the room,

Playing his guitar,

Absorbed in his task,

Oblivious to his wife

Seething with gender injustice

A few feet away.

And I know he’s not the enemy.

He’s not trying to

Keep me down.

Out of the 3 billion men

In the world

Wielding outsized power over


He’s the one I have to

Sleep next to every night.

I can’t go to war with him, Sheryl.

And I know that’s not

What you’re asking me to do.

But that’s the old

Model I have in my


I sense that it starts in the house,

For me anyway.

It’s not just money–

It’s time, too.

Time and energy.

So I’ll reflect,


You’ve given me something to

Think about.

And I’ll buy your book.

Not that you need the money for it.