Could’ve gone so differently, at so many different moments.

I was taken by surprise when Alden first expressed his upset, and only realized it because I heard him saying to the dog, “Hate you, Raisin, Hate you Raisin” as he got her bowl and put down her food.

“Were you saying, ‘hate you’ to Raisin?” I asked, genuinely confused. “You enjoy her, so much of the time… I know the dogs can be annoying, but, I don’t understand…”

“YES,” he said, frownyface and screwed-up-tight-shoulders telling me something was UP. “And I said “BAD DOG” when I put her food down.”
The heck? I thought, and felt myself shift into gear. “You sound pretty mad,” I said. “I’m not sure why, but I can sure tell you are mad.”

And, as almost always happens when I have the presence of mind to observe, comment, and WAIT… a few minutes later, he dissolved into tears and said he was mad because Daddy went to (our good friend) Brendan’s house and Alden didn’t get to go.

And only more time of patiently listening and reflecting and not rushing to fix helped me realize that he was upset because A) Alden had WANTED to go visit Brendan when he and Josh went for a bike ride earlier, but Brendan hadn’t been home; and B) he hadn’t REALIZED Josh was going to go over while Alden had to go to bed, until Josh left. This is all on top of C) it being 8:30 at night after D) a big busy and social day.

It wasn’t easy to just let him cry, hard, over something that, to me, shouldn’t be “such a big deal”… except, emotionally, I know what it feels like. Alden and I are pretty similar, in a lot of ways, emotionally. For me, when something has pushed past the defensive perimeter and caused hurt,  and I’ve started to let it “out”…. well, it sometimes feels like it has a scary uncontrollable energy. I think to myself, “how would I want someone to respond to ME, when I am feeling stupidly, annoyingly, out of control, emotionally? I want them to not rush to FIX it, not try to distract me–until I am ready– and not to abandon or reject me.

So that was my response to Alden, tonight.

When he asked for the lavender-flax heating pad for comfort, I heated it right up, and asked him if he wanted an extra blanky. When he wanted to read a few extra Shel Silverstein poems to each other I said sure.

I know that some would say I was indulging a child who was having an irrational tantrum. That I am teaching him that he can get away with disrespectful crappy behavior. I don’t know. Believe me, I second guess my choices all the time. But here’s what happened tonight.

After all that nurturing, patient stuff…. after the reading and the hugging and the heating of the flax pad and the getting of the extra blanky and the turning off of the light, and after I’d settled down at the computer, I heard steps, Alden, out of bed, asking me, “Mama, where’s Raisin?”

“She’s out back,” I said, rising, and following as Alden headed out back. “Buddy,” I asked, as he petted her and stroked her head, “did you want to make up with her a bit? From before?” Still petting her, he nodded. “Dogs are really amazing at forgiving,” I said softly.

I watched him make up with the brown furry friend he’d taken his anger out on earlier and thought about the easy release that it is, to unload on someone who can’t really fight back. And about the emotional healing that forgiveness offers, if we are strong enough, and feel deeply enough, to ask it.

He went back to bed after that, and again, he cried, I heated up the flaxpad, and helped him snuggle once more into his soft and warm bunk. And I headed back to the computer to write this and think to myself about the many, many ways it could’ve gone differently.




Thankful 2011


Two years ago the advice columnist Dear Sugar asked readers to send her a short statement about what they were thankful for. I was so thrilled when she chose mine (and 93 others 🙂 ) to publish as part of her Thanksgiving column. (original Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus here).

I really loved the Dear Sugar column — if you’ve never read it, take a look. Some of the best pieces are also collected in “Tiny Beautiful Things” which outed the author of Dear Sugar — who, until that publication, was anonymous. It was, of course, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. I wish she still wrote Dear Sugar, but I bet she’s been kinda busy, with the best-seller and movie-making and all. 🙂

Below is the piece I sent Dear Sugar.



For eight years I was the founding director of a school for young children. It was hard, big, beautiful work, and my days were full of hugs, bills, questions, and creative energy.

At the end of every school day, the children in each classroom gather in a circle, along with their teachers and any parents or grandparents who have arrived a bit early, and each person in turn “says a thankful.”

Thankful circle can, to visiting adults, seem an interminable exercise. Some children say the same. exact. thing. every. day. “I’m thankful for playing on the playground and having lunch.” Some children say whatever happens to come out of their mouths, and they seem just as surprised as the rest of us. “I’m thankful that my dog, his name is Buster, he’s brown, and sometimes, he tries to get on my bed, and once, he ate a whole stick of butter off the counter, and…” until a teacher gently suggests, “how ’bout just one more thing?”

Some children never say anything at all, just a barely audible “Pass.”

But whatever the child says, or doesn’t say, each, in turn, has a turn. An opportunity to be heard, with respect. A moment that is theirs, to shape, to decide about, to offer something to the world if they choose.

I am thankful for that moment. For the chance each of us has to offer that moment to others though our listening and our respect, and the chance to make what we choose of that moment when it’s our turn.



I keep an ear out, but I haven’t met her yet.  Her– the woman who writes poetry that makes me say, THAT. Yes. THAT. And not only that, but YOU??!!  I like the way you see the world. Come on in. Let me get you a beer. Hungry? Wait, I LOVE that album, too. You are my new best friend.

There are several men poets who I feel that for….. the weirdly connected feeling, like we’d get along.  I haven’t yet met a woman poet who I feel that way about.

I had high hopes for Adrienne Rich. Loved “Living in Sin” when I was 21, confused about my going-no-where relationship, and aching to be worldly….

She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.

I mean, that IS awesome, and resonated with me big time…. but I don’t feel connected to her….

And Mary Oliver — I love me some Wild Swans but I sometimes… feel.. a bit…. Oprah-ish, about her poems. A bit formulaic.

1. Notice Natural World.

2. Feel Big Feels.

3. Connect, and remember I am both small and big.

Don’t get me wrong– it’s an awesome formula. But…. well… like THIS ONE.

Then there’s Naiomi Shihab Nye.

I have two of her books, and liked her well enough. Then she wrote THIS and it got shared really widely and I just love it— but I don’t feel like I could go have a beer with her and talk.

Maybe that’s not a fair standard, but…. I bet I could go have a beer and talk with Raymond Carver. Richard Hugo. Billy Collins. I would be freaked out to have a beer and talk with Galway Kinnell but I would try it.

Is there a woman poet who writes about the small (spitup, wine, haircuts) and the big (grief, fear, pain, love) in a way that makes me want to bump into her at Charlie B’s?

I am open to suggestions.

A Haircut

by Raymond Carver

So many impossible things have already

happened in this life. He doesn’t think

twice when she tells him to get ready:

He’s about to get a haircut. He sits in the chair in the upstairs room,

the room they sometimes joke and refer to

as the library. There’s a window there

that gives light. Snow’s coming

down outside as newspapers go down

around his feet. She drapes a big

towel over his shoulders. Then

gets out her scissors, comb, and brush. This is the first time they’ve been

alone together in a while – with nobody

going anywhere, or needing to do

anything. Not counting the going

to bed with each other. That intimacy.

Or breakfasting together. Another

intimacy. They both grow quiet

and thoughtful as she cuts his hair,

and combs it, and cuts some more.

The snow keeps falling outside.

Soon, light begins to pull away from

the window. He stares down, lost and

musing, trying to read

something from the paper. She says,

“Raise your head.” And he does.

And then she says, “See what you think

of it.” He goes to look

in the mirror, and it’s fine.

It’s just the way he likes it,

and he tells her so. It’s later, when he turns on the

porchlight, and shakes out the towel

and sees the curls and swaths of

white and dark hair fly out onto

the snow and stay there,

that he understands something: He’s

grownup now, a real, grownup,

middle-aged man. When he was a boy,

going with his dad to the barbershop

,or even later, a teenager, how

could he have imagined his life

would someday allow him the privilege of

a beautiful woman to travel with,

and sleep with, and take his breakfast with?

Not only that – a woman who would

quietly cut his hair in the afternoon

in a dark city that lay under the snow

3000 miles away from where he’d started.

A woman who could look at him

across the table and say,

“It’s time to put you in the barber’s

chair. It’s time somebody gave you

a haircut.”