Monday, October 24

I finish brushing her hair on the front porch,
Her brother already pacing the end of the driveway,
Always afraid to miss out.
One last tug through her long gold hair,
Gold in the way that only a child's can be,

And I zip up her backpack,
Gaping like a yawn,
Okay, I say,
And it might as well have been the starting pistol.
She is running through the gold morning light, 

Hair glittering in a trail behind her.
Have a good day! I call.
Her answer comes back.
Either, I will! or Hi, Will!
Is she still with me or

Is she already  greeting the neighbor boy?
She is running as fast as she can in her pink cowboy boots,
Her lunch bag swinging wildly from one hand.
I am called inside by the littlest one and by the smell of coffee,
But, from the kitchen window, I watch her and her brother
At the end of the drive, waiting for the bus to take them away. 

Thursday, October 13

Tear Water Tea: Part Two

Last summer I heard Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home and was so struck by one of the chapters that I actually wrote a blog post on it. The chapter recounts how Owl makesTear-Water Tea, which is just tea made with his own tears. The chapter recounts how he numbers the things that grieve him (pencils too short to be used and mashed potatoes left on a plate because no one wanted to eat them and music that can't be sung anymore because the words have been forgotten.) until he cries enough to fill his teapot.

Almost a week ago I was so disturbed by some things that were said by a presidential candidate that I have spent the last week engaged in a similar practice. The words that were said (I'm sure you can look them up yourself because I won't be reprinting them) described an assault and at first I couldn't figure out why I had such a visceral reaction to them. It isn't often that reading the news actually makes me cry, but I did. I also got very angry. There were a lot of people who went online to justify or excuse what was said and I found myself growing even angrier and more shaken by it.

I took myself off-line for several days and tried not to pay much attention to the news. I baked bread and did laundry and read books and I got calmed down.
Then, to try to make sense of my own reaction, I took an inventory. 

When I was a sophomore in high school we went to a really crowded school and a boy once grabbed my butt in the hallway. It was so crowded I wasn't even sure who it was.

When I was 18 I started waiting tables there was the night that a man offered me $20 to bend over so he could get a good look at my rear-end. He was eating dinner with his son. I wouldn't, so he didn't leave me a tip at all. I didn't tell my manager. It never even crossed my mind.

One summer I was on a mission trip and we took a day to go to the beach. My mother was with us and she had never seen the ocean before, so it was exciting. I was standing and talking to her when a guy came up behind me and ground his hips into my backside. I was so startled that all I did was say, "Excuse me" as though I'd been in his way. He walked off with his friend, laughing. 

When I was very pregnant with Jonah I was at Walmart and a man walking toward me made eye contact and then smiled while he checked out my body. It wasn't in a friendly way and I went to find my husband because I thought I might not be safe if I was alone.

I'm sure there are other things that I could recount if I took the time to really think about them, but I don't want to. I don't want to grieve these things anymore and I don't want to feel embarrassed by them. I'm fairly certain that most women could think of times when they were touched or spoken to or looked at in a way that made them feel more than uncomfortable. Maybe they felt angry or embarrassed or dirty, as though there was something that they did that was wrong. These things grieve them and they grieve me because they point out a brokenness and emptiness that can't be fixed. They highlight the danger women face in simply being who God created them to be.

I drink tea in the evenings, sometimes. Especially when I want to feel cozy and warm and relaxed. Drinking Tear-Water tea is actually not all that different. It gave me a chance to sit with the things that sadden me, and to just feel okay with my own sadness. I'm okay again, and maybe even a little more aware of how dangerous this world can be to me and to other women. I'm also glad to offer my own witness to other women who are acutely aware of how dangerous our society can be for women. Tea is always best drunk with friends.

This is what I know for sure: There are a lot of broken things in this world that and I will name them and I will not be shamed for naming them. Names are powerful things.

Wednesday, June 29

Finding Your Voice

Very recently I was talking to two women I deeply admire. Women who write and blog and speak publically. There was a time when I thought that I would do the same. I wrote often and blogged more than five times a week. I had something to say and thoughts I wanted to share. 

And it was heartbreaking to me to realize that I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel like I have things to say or thoughts to share. I'm not certain of myself anymore

I think I may have just lost my bearings. There was a geomagnetic reversal and I was left walking in the wrong direction. I got so turned around that I don't have a context for anything anymore. Things that should feel familiar have felt alien and frightening.

I was so embarrassed when I was listening to them talk about the things they were doing and that they wanted to do and what worked well for them. I was quiet and I smiled and felt ashamed. I was afraid they'd figure out that I'm a fraud. 

The more I think about it the more that conversation annoys me. Not what they were saying, but my own reaction to it. I've read enough (okay, I've read way too much) Brene Brown research to know that when you feel shame you have to confront it or it's just going to eat you up. Brown also said, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

So, now I'm wishing that I just said, "Man I want to write more! Motherhood has really thrown me for a loop creatively and spiritually. I really admire you both and I really want to get back on track to being where you two are."

Why is that so hard to say?  Why on earth should I ever feel ashamed that I struggle with being a mom? I'm not completely sure, but I suspect that most mothers aren't practically perfect in every way like Mary Poppins. Most of us get tired and burn the candle at both ends and don't do as great a job at the work we want to do because we're trying to do a great job at being a mom, too.

I'll be completely honest and say that I'm equally ashamed that I haven't done more with my Storytelling degree. That's complicated because it's not just an art form that I enjoy; it's also a student loan debt that I am repaying and part of my identity that I allowed to atrophy because so much of my life was being pulled in other directions. I am an adjunct professor most semesters, but I don't make nearly enough to repay that debt and I'm not teaching storytelling. 

There's far more to the story of my disorientation than that, but that story is reserved for a cup of coffee and a small, private audience. 

It does little good to recognize your shame without addressing it, so I have a few goals:

1. Make an actual, concerted attempt at organizing a Story Slam at OC this coming semester. 

2.  Write at least 6 blog posts before my birthday in September.

That's it. I'm not aiming too high for now, but that's mostly because I know my limits and I've been burning the candle at both ends and I know for sure that I don't want to do that again. 

Thursday, May 12

Books that Change Everything

Sometimes there are books that change your life.
When I was 5 I read Bears in the Night. It was an old book that was mostly about bears who sneak out of the house at night and get scared in the dark. It was light on plot but it was as good as a door opening for me.
When I was 11 I read The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews. I wanted to write. I wanted to fall into my imagination and get lost.
When I was 21 I read Jane Eyre and The Yellow Wallpaper and I started really reading poetry. I read a lot that year.
When I was 23 I read Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan and I wanted to be a storyteller. A Storyteller. I wanted to tell those stories.
Tonight I finished The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness and many things I thought I understood about myself fell away.
I think I first heard the folktale of The Crane Maiden when I was a child. Maybe on Reading Rainbow? Thematically it's related to the story of Bluebeard, Mr. Fox and Fitcher's Bird (which are all variants of the same story, really), as well as a story called Skywoman's Basket that a friend of mine tells. All of them are lovely stories that I've read and reread and some that I've told. I know this story. In many ways, it was and is my story.
Aboriginal Storytelling traditionally does not explain the stories they tell. Instead, the repeat them until they eventually understand them. I wonder if I hadn't repeated those stories until I wasn't listening to them anymore.
Patrick Ness turned this story sideways and upside-down and inside-out and handed it back to me. I thought I knew this story. I thought this story was my story and that it belonged to me. I thought it was about me and about who I was. I was wrong.
Or maybe I just became wrong. The understanding I had of who and what I was changed because I changed. The story is the same as it always was but I see it differently now. It is part of me in a different way.
I remember the first time a story changed for me. I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin in high school I honestly think that having teenagers read that story is a ridiculous idea. It's like giving Joseph Campbell to kindergarteners. They simply don't have the context to really understand the complexity of the story.
I reread the story a few years ago after I'd had children and after I'd lived a little of my life. It wasn't a different story, but I was a different person. I had a lot more empathy for the main character.

We all want to think we're the complex one in any story. We are the hero. We are the righteous ones. But, sometimes you are Psyche and you end up wandering the earth to try to regain what you've lost. And sometimes you discover that you are Bluebeard with blood on your hands. Sometimes you realize you're the wolf. You're the husband who has locked up his wife's seal skin. You're the witch with a deep resentment for the lovely step-daughter you've inherited. You're the black bride. You're Jack's eldest brother.

Part of living a growing life might partly be the process of being able to see the part you really play in the story and being able to discern the part you want to play.

Thursday, January 28

On the Telling of Stories

"One of the less obvious powers of storytelling - not the storytelling to prove a point or a moral lesson - but the story that truly engages the mind and heart - is that it keeps the capacity for envisioning possibilities alive. We have to keep communicating with open heart and pauses; seeing from different perspectives. We need to give up on using our own opinions as truth. Othewise fear overwhelms and suddenly business seems the only solution. That is what happened in Germany and is becoming normal in the US and around the world. We need to eat but we need to remember how to cook, where the food comes from, how roots need water and how to share whatever we have." (cLSimms2016)

On my first outing as a student in the Storytelling program at ETSU, I told one of my favorite stories: The Gunniwolf. It's sort of like Little Red Riding Hood except there is music in the story and no one actually gets eaten, which is all the better to tell to preschoolers, my dears. I was accompanied by my eternal partner in crime, Matt, and my professor, Dr. Sobol. Afterward, we ate at a Golden Corral, which has no bearing on this story at all, but is kind of funny in light of my sister's starring role in one of their commercials several years later.
I digress.
Anyway, at the end of the story, the little girl has learned the secret of getting around the Gunniwolf and is safe in her own home and somehow, as a novice, I'd forgotten that I needed to know what I wanted to say to end the story, so I did something that came naturally. I moralized the poor thing. 

"And the little girl never went out into the woods without her mama again."

Even now, many years later, I cringe. 
This is a beautiful story about a little girl learning that danger and threat can be overcome without resorting to violence, but by her wits and keeping calm in the face of danger, but I turned it into a story about an errant child who learned her lesson and didn't become anything more than an errant child who got lucky. Heed her example, Children!!

Dr. Sobol was kind enough to point out that I had done this, because it's likely I wouldn't have realized it, maybe ever. I grew up learning all the stories in the Bible and the end of them always had some moralizing lesson that we were given. I'm not sure anyone ever thought about it, much the way I did not think about it. It was just a neat, tidy way to wrap up the story.

Some part of us craves the easily understood and formulaic ending that comes with moralizing a story. Some Bible stories are hard to know what to do with at all if we can't find some overarching moral to them. What do we do with the death of David and Bathsheba's child (and that is why we do not sin!)?  What do we do with the rape of Tamar (and that is why father's should be more involved in their children's upbringing!)? What do we do with the death of Judas (and that is why betrayal/love of money is wrong!)

I'm just not sure that we have to do anything with these stories. I realize that I've completely destroyed your bible school curriculum, but I don't apologize.

How is the mind and the heart engaged when we talk about the death of Bathsheba's child with David?  I personally feel an overwhelming sense of compassion for both of them. I can't imagine a worse thing than losing a child. Moralizing this story is unkind and dismissive of their grief. It dismisses the questions that we all ask when someone innocent dies even though we pray fervently for their healing. Where is God when the young suffer? Is God listening when I pray for their healing? Is there any point to prayer? 

How are the heart and mind engaged when we talk about the rape of Tamar? Did this girl deserve to be assaulted? Should she not have been alone with her brother? Should she not have been taking care of him, so intimately, when he was sick? How can her life be over because of the terrible actions of 

How are the heart and mind engaged when we talk about Judas' fate? Even now, is it our job to hold this man up as an evil figure? Was his despair inevitable and deserved?

But, as I said, there is no neat and tidy way to wrap these questions up. Moralizing these stories is unkind and dismissive of their grief. It dismisses the questions that we all ask when someone innocent dies even though we pray fervently for their healing, or when senseless violence happens to someone who was trying to do good, or when someone realizes how lost they are and can't see a way out of it.

It is far more difficult to practice compassion and mercy or to become empathetic than it is to point out all the ways in which someone has done wrong and brought bad things on themselves and others. When we moralize we are essentially looking for ways to make a checklist that justifies us.

Instead, we must begin to look for the root of the root and the bud of the bud, which is the love of God. God looked down on David and loved him, even though he did not grant him the life of his child, God looked down on Tamar and on Amnon and loved them, and he looked at Judas and loved him, as well.

Asking why is part of maturing. Observing what was learned and celebrating the good we find in any situation is worthwhile. Sometimes a story is about knowing and understanding and bearing witness, and we cannot forget that.  

Tuesday, December 22

Peace: the word of the year

I don't usually make new year's resolutions. They seem kind of stupid, to be honest. Most of the time I'm not particularly good at the follow-through when it comes to major changes and it's embarrassing to try to start something that you don't finish, or don't even get very far. I tried to do NaNoWriMo this past November and my kids managed to be sick just as I got going. The month was shot before it really started.

But part of the problem is that I want to make huge changes in my life that I'm not always totally motivated to make. I do great when I know that the change is important or that someone is really watching me to encourage me. If I'm doing it just for myself I don't usually get too far.

But this is different. In the past, I'm sure you've heard of people having a word for the year. It's a new way of having a New Year's resolution, but it's different. Having a word for the year means having a theme that I try to incorporate in my life and this particular theme is one that is a no-brainer for me.

A dear friend suggested that I read Walter Wink's Jesus and Nonviolence: a Third Way and I have been awakened to an entirely new set of ideas and possibilities in my life, as a result. That probably sounds ridiculous, but we live in a culture that glorifies violence, and yet many of us practice a religion that specifically discourages it. We've done a lot of justifying where Christianity and our culture meet and it doesn't sit well with me anymore.

When I talk about peace I'm talking about a way of life, not just an absence of war or disapproval of guns, though those are certainly part of it. I want to really love my neighbor as myself. I want to really lay down my life for my faith. I want to really trust in my God to provide everything I need. There is an inner peace that I want to pursue this year. One that I can see in the bIble and I can see in the lives of a few other Christians and I want to know it. I want to live it and I want to be able to teach it to my children.

Wednesday, November 4


Sometimes I don't know what to do with my kids. I think any parent with any amount of honesty would say the same thing. Sometimes they're hard to be around or upset or angry and the motions of a little are a force to be reckoned with, even when they're happy.

Caroline is especially difficult at times. When she's upset she gets wound up and does a lot of wailing and lashing out. It might be something as simple as telling her she can't have a piece of her Halloween candy or getting on to her for hitting her brother. Whatever the impetus she takes the feelings inside her and lets them expand until they explode in a shower of anger and self-righteous misery. When she is upset everyone knows it.

Caroline is her mother's child. Embarrassing, but true. You'd think I'd know how to calm the tempest in her, but really her tempest has a tendency to stir my own. In the best of circumstances I have to clamp down in order to control myself, but when I'm tired or not feeling well, or I haven't had enough time alone, I have a very difficult time holding on to myself and riding out her storm.

Lately I'm making it a practice, when I don't know what to do, to default back to the most basic thing that I know she needs: Love. Maybe she needs discipline or calm or some sort of reality check, but in that moment I'm not always sure, so I try my best to just love her.

It's a principle that I try to extend to myself as well. In those moments when I'm out of sorts or wanting things I can't or shouldn't have I try to reset and show myself the greatest amount of love possible.

Friday, October 9

Tear Water Tea

This summer I started getting audio books on my Kindle from the library for the kids. It makes it easier to spend time in the car and we have a family literary vocabulary. So far we've been through half of the Fudge series and most of the Ramona Quimby books as well as Miss Piggle Wiggle and some Amelia Bedelia books. I decided to get some for Sadie to listen to on her own since she and I are often in the car for a while waiting for the bigguns to get out of school. I got Mike Mulligan and Curious George and a book called Owl At Home. It's an easy chapter book that we started reading at story time at the library on Monday, but we didn't get very far. 

The third chapter is called Tear Water Tea and it's about how.Owl make tear water tea. He sits in a chair with his tea kettle and begins to think of sad things like pencils too short to be used and mashed potatoes left on a plate because no one wanted to eat them and music that can't be sung anymore because the word have been forgotten. Soon he's crying great fat tears and fills his kettle. He makes tea, which he says is a bit salty but it is always good. 

Owl making tear water tea.

There is something very simplistic but also true about this chapter. Sometimes you have to bear witness to all the sad things and take them in something about that is both strenuous and also nourishing and soothing. 

I may have to think about that chapter for a long time. I know there's more to that story than just sadness and tea. 

Thursday, August 13


When Jonah started school I hardly flinched.  Jonah is a social creature with lots of energy and he love to learn, so it seemed like a natural part of his life to send him off to school. I never cried because he was so happy to go. Like most kids he had some regrets a few weeks in, but after a few tearful days he got over them and threw himself into learning.

This morning was different. We purchased a new backpack and she had a new outfit and I did her hair. She had a lunch with a freezer pack and all the supplies were turned in yesterday. She chose her seat and she wrote her name "much fancier than anyone else's."  But it's different.

Caroline hasn't been excited about school. She worries about whether she will make friends and I worry about whether she will like it. Whether she will listen to her teacher or whether I'll find a pile of finished homework stuffed into the floor vent in the summer. There were tears last week about it, and I imagine there will be more tears to come.

It's a humbling thing to have a child so much like yourself. Each new milestone brings back memories, but sometimes they aren't pleasant. I remember when and how I struggled and I watch her do the same thing. I see how she wants to please me and also how she wants to be herself. She doesn't understand that those are not two different things.

I talked to her earlier in the summer and I told her that we are very alike. I told her that we have a tendency to he a bit selfish and nervous about being around other people. Her eyes lit up and she was so excited. She wanted to be like me. Yet another way that having this child is so humbling.

I don't think there was anything that my mother could do to have made school easier for me. I simply didn't want to sit and do the things they wanted me to do. I'd rather read a book or explore the play ground or climb up in my tree and pretend I was someone- anyone- else. I'm waiting for the inevitable realization that her life is going to be taken up by mundane things. That there is not magic around ever corner. I'm mourning it already.

Last night I was filling out the paperwork for her teacher and there was a question on one of the forms. What do you most want me to know about your child?

I sat and stared at that question for a very long time. There wasn't enough space to explain Caroline. To explain all those worries I had. I wanted to say that I didn't want my sweet girl to lose her belief in magic, as I had when I was in school. I didn't want her to doubt how wonderful and special and beautiful she was. I wanted to say that she is one of my dearest treasures, so pleasepleasepleasepleasePLEASE don't let her be disappointed and broken and sad. She's vulnerable in a way that other kids aren't.

And I realize that every parent wants to say that, but in many ways, when I say it for Caroline, I say it for myself. I haven't cried yet. But I probably will.

Tuesday, July 21

...and they lived happily ever after.

In stories there are neat little endings. That is why we say that everyone lived happily ever after. However, even in stories, the endings are not exactly neat. Traditionally, at the end evil is punished and since it is eradicated there are no further conflicts in the kingdom. 

Real life does not do this. Evil is not eradicated. Nothing is neat. Conflicts do not disappear. Time keeps moving and life is constantly changing. Very few things are truly resolved in any final way. You pass from one phase in life to the next, always confronting new issues and new challenges and the old ones either grow less important, fade away, or have to be confronted again and again in ever shifting forms. 

So, we might live happily ever after, or we might not. Or we might live in a state of general tolerance. In any case, we live. 

I am learning to be content with the unresolved nature of life... or at least I hope I am. It's hard to wrap my brain around the idea of being in the beginning of things, the middle of things and also the end of things, all at the same time. It's especially difficult when the endings seem so small that they go almost unnoticed, in an anticlimactic turn around a corner. You expect to see a continuation of the story once you step around, but instead you find a whole host of other things coming up that distract you from the fact that there was no resolution. There was no definitive moment when you were able to let go, you just kept moving and found yourself in the middle of the next beginning. 

I can look back on the last couple of years of my life and see so many stories that faded like a mist as new plots popped up. Letting go and accepting that part of my life is over and I can't get it back is harder than I imagined in some ways. There are relationships that I can't go back to, seasons of mothering that I can retrieve, and moments of joy or innocence that I will only ever be able to revisit in my own memory. 

Often we are asked if we would change our pasts if we could go back and redo it. Those stories make up part of who we are, and changing them, even if we could, would change who we are. For me, that would be a difficult thing to consent to. I may not be especially unique or even all that special, but the journey I made to get to be who I am is important.  Who I am in the end, is important.