Tuesday, September 29, 2009


1 a : a pupa of a butterfly; broadly : an insect pupa b : the enclosing case or covering of a pupa
2 : a protecting covering : a sheltered state or stage of being or growth

Last Wednesday, B and a friend found a caterpillar. This caterpillar was different from the ones normally populating our yard in the spring. This one, B claimed, would turn into an actual butterfly. The girl has good instincts. Turns out she was right. She fed the caterpillar leaves from the plant she found him on and discovered that these were the only kind he would eat. She gave him a name (Artie), took him to school, looked him up online, carried him with her on a sleepover and cleaned his jar regularly. And Artie has rewarded her efforts by attaching his chrysalis to the lid of the jar so that we can watch him emerge as butterfly.

B's 2nd grade teacher from last year kindly shared her butterfly tent, which is hanging from the ceiling in our sun room so that Artie doesn't get jostled loose from his connection to the lid. I've already learned a lot from this guy and B's care of him (more to follow on that), but today I've been thinking about his time in the chrysalis.

I'd love to wind a net around myself and curl up for ten days. I would love the silence, the lack of motion, the lack of stimuli. I'd especially love to emerge as a new me at the end of those ten days...

I have been guilty of over-scheduling myself recently. Just this morning, I backed out of chaperoning a field trip for B on Thursday because without that day free, I would have two straight weeks of some commitment every day. That's just too much for me. I feel like an over-stimulated infant. Like the caterpillar, who ate everything in sight before going into his chrysalis, I have been allowing far too many inputs to worm their way into my brain. So I need to follow up my gorging on interaction with a bit of time alone.

And what would I do if I could find a chrysalis? I would bring along a good book, a well-weighted pen and a journal. I would read and write. Then write and read. Those are, after all, the only ways I know to encourage a new me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


1. Pushy, obnoxious, crazy mothers who force their kids to act, model, or enter beauty contests, usually turning them into emotionally scarred adults who hate their parents.
2. Something I never want to be.

A auditioned for Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker last Sunday. As she was lined up to leave the waiting room and go into her audition, I realized she still had her skirt on. It was a below knee ballet skirt that she wore when we left home because we were going to church beforehand. When she put it on, we both intended that she would take it off before the audition.

But there she was, lined up amongst 20 other little girls, about to walk out the door. Should I call out to her? Stride across the room and ask her if she wanted to leave her skirt with me? Or just let her go? Would they tell her to remove the skirt if it interfered with them seeing her dance? Would it make A more nervous for me to interrupt her just before she headed into the audition? She had done such a good job of keeping herself calm during the hour between registration and audition. Would it throw her for me to dash across the room to her side?

I'll admit I wasn't thinking solely about A. I also didn't want to be one of those moms. You know the kind. Living vicariously through their daughters, primping their hair, reminding them of their best angles, pushing them to do their best and then some.

I would never have chosen dance as something for my daughter to love. I thought it encouraged an unhealthy body image. I was a little scared of the other parents (still am, honestly). And a lot of dances that children are taught are just flat-out inappropriate for young girls.

But A loves to dance. Loves it, loves it, loves it. And her body was made to do it. She came home from a class last week so proud that she could put her forehead to her calves without bending her legs. (Give that a try at home, folks.) I'm not sure how she could be so graceful, and genetically descended from me. Yet she is.

I want her to use the gift she has. But I don't want to push her. I want dance to be joyous, fun and energizing for her. I want her to do it because she loves it, not ever because she thinks we want her to do it.

So instead of making her stretch before her audition, I let her read. Instead of dashing across that room to tell her to take her skirt off, I let her go. I want her to be what she wants to be, even if that means she's a dancer. And I'll just be her mom, instead of a stage mom.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fear

The following post is a continuation of a fiction story that has been posted in installments on WordGirl. If you are interested in reading the story up until this point, click here.

I wake the next morning to find breakfast outside the door. The tea is somehow still warm and savoring it helps me shake off the vestiges of sleep. As I settle in to eat, my eyes fall on the clean white paper and pen awaiting me.

Sighing aloud at my stubbornness, I ponder whether I should be more motivated by not doing as Irene suggests or whether I should just do as my heart says and write.

Picking up the pen, I try to clear my mind of Irene’s suggestions as to what to write. What do I have to say? What do I want to remember about the journey so far? What do I want to forget? Maybe that’s the place to start.

Thinking back to walking out of those first four rooms, I hardly feel like the same person. Each step along the way has changed me. But a constant companion has been fear. Sure, I walked through that heavy door, leaving my fears and exposed hopes there, but I didn’t really leave them all behind. Maybe I just bundled some of them up, leaving a token few at the threshold and shoved them into a backpack that weighs me down, slows me down, keeps me down.

“So let’s empty the backpack onto paper,” I think.

Writing “Fears” in bold letters at the top of the page, I pause. What are the fears I carry around? I feel their presence, I know they are there. They are intimately familiar, almost a part of me. But I don’t ever examine them closely. If anything, when one pops up, I shove it deeper into the backpack and pretend it isn’t there. Closing my eyes, I reach inside myself for a fear.

Cradling it in both hands, I feel the weight of it and recognize it as one I have carried for a long time. Its familiarity is oddly comforting. I open my eyes to see the fear of failure staring me in the face. Failure looks up at me brazenly, unflinching beneath my gaze. Its reds and yellows scream caution and its blurred edges make it difficult to see exactly where it starts and stops. I find it hot, drawing my hand back quickly after a tentative touch. The edges are covered with tiny, spiky tentacles and its covering is carapace. Reaching underneath, I find it surprisingly soft and discover I can gently cradle it.

I put it on the table, realizing as I do so that this is a burden I will have to put down many times before it stays away. Even as I close my eyes to examine the next fear, I feel failure begin to inch back onto me. I thrust it away mentally and try to examine the slippery fear I now hold.

It feels slick, gelatinous, shifting in my hands. As I try to edge around its borders with my fingers, it seems to change beneath my hands. I open my eyes and get a quick glimpse of the fear of exposure before it disappears before my eyes.

Surprised at what I’ve found thus far, I once again close my eyes and picture the heavy backpack that has been with me through crevices, canyons and fire. The next fear that I cradle makes no attempt to flee. It sits, heavy and solid, in my hands, roughly the shape of a potato, but so heavy I can barely lift it. Blinking back tears, I see this is the fear that I am unlovable. The fear that at the end of this journey, or any journey, there will be no one waiting, no one who cares whether I make it or not.

I look at my large piece of paper with three small words on it and wonder how they can take up so little space on the paper, but feel so large on my back and in my heart.

And now what? I can't simply banish these fears. So what do I do with them now that I've named them? If nothing else, I now know what I carry around with me. So the next time failure bursts in my mind, flowing through my veins and my vision, I will know it for the intruder that it is. Because as much as these and other fears feel like a part of me, they aren't. I have, for one reason or another, chosen them. Maybe others gave me these fears to carry - either to spread their own burden around or to hobble me on my path. But I was the one who willingly fed the fear, watered it, let it take root and grow. And now it is not so easy to just put the fear aside. Now, I need to chip away at the fear bit by bit until it is gone.

Wanting a symbol of my resolve to fight fear, I pause to think about how to do this. How do I get past failure's spikes? How do I penetrate exposure's rubbery covering? What do I do to or with unlovability's density? Feeling the impossibility of my task bear down on me, I want to get up from the desk and retreat to the bed. I fight this urge, knowing I must do some small thing to fight back.

I use both hands to drag my fear that I am unlovable closer. Its smooth, cool surface seems impenetrable, but I nevertheless reach for my pen. Scratching lines so faint they can't be seen, I write J's name on the rock. I pause, then add the names of A, B and K. While they may love me only in the innocent way children take parents for granted, they do love me. I consider writing my own name on the rock's surface, but know this would not take away the fear's power but add to it. Maybe eventually I can confidently scrawl my signature as testimony that I am loved, but not yet.

I look at the rock. It sits there implacable, unmoved by my coarse scratchings. Needing a break from this thankless task, I stand and stride from the room, deliberately leaving my backpack and its contents behind.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


: a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also : the contents of such a site

I haven't been posting as much to my blog lately. It's partly that I haven't done a good job of protecting my time to write, but also a function of indecision on my part about what type of writing I should be doing. When I started this blog, it was scary. I wrote for a few weeks before letting family members know about the blog - and I still hesitate to share it or discuss it with friends or family that I'm worried will be judgmental. But I've become more comfortable with the voice I use on this blog and with that comfort, I've felt a nudge to move out of my comfort zone to submit articles to magazines. So the last few blog posts I've started have turned into longer form essays that I hope to eventually send out for submission.

Like starting a blog, this is scary for me. One thing I love about blogging is the lack of editing required. I tend to let a post percolate in my mind, type it up and publish it. But when I'm writing something "bigger" I want to edit and edit and edit. I want to polish it until it shines. And I need to find the balance between using my real voice in a piece and fine tuning the piece until my voice is safely hidden behind perfect adjectives and well constructed sentences.

So stay with me. I'll be back here with thoughts and maybe those thoughts will be springboards for things worth sharing with others.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


1 : partly or totally unlike in nature, form, or quality : dissimilar different>
2 : not the same: as a : distinct

A and B both participate in a program at school that pulls them out of their regular classroom for enrichment. Each year, this program sends home information for a fundraiser. Each year, I ignore it. It's not that I don't like the program. I love it. I just hate fundraisers.

This week, B came home on Wednesday and as I looked through her folder she saw the fund raising information and said, "I want to do that! If I sell blah, I get blah blah. I can ask Blah and Blah and Blah. Can I take it to church, too? Will Daddy take it to work for me?" In the face of her enthusiasm, I couldn't say no. I mentally added the cost of a magazine subscription to my monthly budget and waited for A to demand I do the same for her.

But the next day, A came home from enrichment. As I looked through her folder, she said, "I asked the teacher not to give me the fund raising information. I don't want to do it." Her reaction was so different from her sister's. Now, this shouldn't surprise me. They are very distinct individuals and have been from the start. But it still catches me off guard sometimes.

When I was pregnant with my second child and found out it was another girl, I had a flash of disappointment and thought to myself, "Oh, that's too bad. I know what girls are like." To this day, I think God must have had a good laugh as he made B. She is not at all like the girl I already had and I marvel that I could ever have been so simpleminded and shortsighted. When K came along, I knew better than to think she would be like her sisters.

My daughters do share some traits: they are all imaginative, books are beloved and brown eyes rule the day. But they are so unlike in nature, form, or quality that it amazes me that they have the same set of parents.

I can't quite put into words how much I love this about them. I love that they each bring their own gifts, talents and quirks to the family table. I love that they learn from each other, riff off of each other's inventions and create unseen worlds populated only by them.

I used to hate anything different about myself. I longed to blend it, fit in, fade into the background. My daughters have taught me many things, but one of the best lessons they've taught me is how beautiful the word "different" really is.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Note

The following post is a continuation of a fiction story that has been posted in installments on WordGirl. If you are interested in reading the story up until this point, click here.

Perhaps oddly, this did not surprise me. I was grateful and had learned to expect the unexpected since leaving my known world for this one. Small, unasked for graces abounded. I was thankful and sat to eat.

Upon finishing, I picked up my plate, thinking to rinse it in the stream. Under it, I found a note. I put the plate aside, opened it and read.

Sweet Shannon,
I hope you are recovering nicely and finding comfort here. Many have sought shelter and solace here before you and others will follow your sojourn here.

Do not rush. Rest. Rest. Rest. You will find a box of books under the bed and your other needs will be met in due time.

You may long to dive into a book as you read these words, but I urge you to first use the other gift you find here: set pen to paper and begin to understand why you are here. Free your fears, your wounds, your hopes. After airing them out, you will know whether to re-pack them for the next stage of your journey or perhaps leave some of them here.

You may feel ambivalence, frustration and anger as you think of me. Why did I leave you to walk that high wire alone? We will talk about this, I promise. But even now, you know in your heart that there are paths meant to be walked alone.

I will see you again. In the meantime, I wish you

I slowly refold the letter and place it back in its envelope. Instead of picking up paper and pen, I look under the bed and find the promised collection of books. Amazingly, there are only two that I’ve read, leaving me many to choose from.

I pull out a few, studying the covers, reading the backs, flipping them open to random passages. I select one that feels right and place it on the pillow, then slide the box back into its place under the bed.

Now, I pause. Do I climb into bed with the book or do as Irene suggested and write? If I’m completely honest with myself, I do want to write. It’s having been told to do it that makes me resist. For someone who spent decades following the rules, I certainly chafe at the merest suggestion or hint sometimes.

Still, why should I listen to Irene? She’s one reason I’m here. Part of the reason my feet ache, that I’m alone in an abandoned hut, that I have all of these emotions waiting to be processed on paper. How dare she tell me what to do?!

Stubbornly ignoring the clean white paper and pen, I turn on my side and open my book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Water

The following post is a continuation of a fiction story that has been posted in installments on WordGirl. If you are interested in reading the story up until this point, click here.

I reach the stream just as the note said I would and it is all I could have hoped for and more. Magnificent oaks line the bank and it is along the root of one of these that I make my way into the water.

The water seems to be more than just water. It cleans me, but heals me, too. The soles of my feet emerge still red, but less blistered, less cracked, more whole. Grateful for this relief, I dress and sit by an oak, my feet resting in the cool water. I think back to my last moment of rest and solitude – it was near water, too, I guess: the river bed, where I contemplated whether or not to go with Irene to the settlement or return.

Had I made the right choice? I wasn’t sure yet. Going forward had brought more pain than I had reckoned and it was still too fresh for me to be blasé about having felt it. But one thing was certain. There was now no option of going back. Even if I could find my way back to the high wire, I wouldn’t be able to scale the face of the cliff to try again. But what would going forward look like from here?

Should I try to find the settlement I’d seen? Irene was presumably there. I’d seen her walk the high wire just before I fell.

And that memory of Irene triggered other thoughts. Not just thoughts, but feelings. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Irene just now. Part of me expected her to show up any minute, as she had on the precipice, in the meadow. But another part of me was glad to be alone right now, even if it meant finding dinner for myself.

Standing and carefully drying my nearly healed feet, I made my way back to the hut. Once there, I find a candle flickering and dinner on the table.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


: marked by numerous ups and downs

The past few days have been an emotional roller coaster. I spent a good chunk of last week working on an essay to submit for a magazine contest. After surprising myself by writing something quite fanciful (not my typical M.O.), I attempted to write a more straightforward, classic essay version. I offered both pieces to a few close friends for feedback and got discouragingly mixed results. While this started me on a loop-de-loop, it was just the beginning.

Concurrent with the writing exercises, my husband and I were looking into buying a new house in East Nashville (well, not "new" new, but new to us). While we are pretty happy in our current place and love our street and our neighbors, we have a three bedroom house with tiny closets and three daughters. You do the math. B & K share a room and our evenings go something like this:

8:00 - Put B & K to bed, including saying prayers, tucking them in, kisses all around
8:02 - K emerges, "I need to go to the baff-room." Parent responds, "OK. Go."
8:05 - B emerges, "Can I have a drink of water?" "A small one. Then go to bed."
8:07 - "K, are you still in the bathroom? Get in your bed!"
8:10 - Giggling, thumping, tussling sounds can be heard through the wall of B & K's room
8:15 - "Girls, stop playing and go to sleep."

Repeat cycle for another quarter to half an hour, depending on whether the night is a good one or a bad one.
So when we saw a 5 bedroom home with (ahem) 4 full baths and a completely renovated kitchen, it seemed too good to pass up. We toured the home a week ago today and the entire family was pretty wowed. (Cue the roller-coaster on a steep ascent - we were gaining altitude.) After seeing the home with our agent on Thursday, we made an offer Friday night. (And here we pause briefly at the peak to take in the view.)

Alas, we were too late. Another offer came through before ours. One that wasn't contingent upon the sale of the buyer's home. (Sharp decline. Stomach ends up in throat as we plummet.) We couldn't match that, so the lovely home with huge closets, hardwoods throughout and space for three teenage daughters will go to someone else. (The coaster levels off, we regain our breath.)

Now, we don't need this house. I'm not sure our closets can accommodate the wardrobe needs of a straight laced eldest, a hippy chick middle and an anything goes youngest daughter, but we're doing OK for now. Even as I write, I am sitting at my sweet little desk, with the window open in front of me. I love this spot. But... we had all started to imagine ourselves elsewhere. Each girl had chosen a bedroom. I was mentally rearranging furniture. (We pull into the loading dock, thankful to get off the coaster. Feeling a bit weak-kneed.)

And, perhaps hardest, I had wondered whether instead of writing, I was meant to focus my energies on selling this home and preparing us for a new one. The writing, after all, was tanking before my eyes. If I couldn't even write a simple essay that would please my own friends, what did I think I was doing with all of this free time? Why bother? (I consider climbing back aboard the coaster, if only to delay the inevitable return to real life.)

But I bother because I want to write. I want to write. And I want to do it well. And I'm old enough and wise enough to know what art does not come easy. It takes draft after draft, crumpled page after crumpled page, to achieve that initial vision. So in spite of a clenched stomach, I'm going to end this post and give that essay one more shot. Then, no matter how I feel about it, I'm going to submit something to the contest. Because I owe myself that much.

Friday, September 4, 2009


2 b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perspective and about how my perspective has shifted as I’ve grown. When A was three, we were lucky enough to find a public Montessori school for her to attend. The circumstances leading up to it were uncanny:
  • We found the school after I happened upon it while meeting my husband for lunch one day. I was a bit early for lunch so I was driving aimlessly around a new part of town. (A was only three, so we weren’t even looking at schools yet.)
  • The week I found the school was the week of open house.
  • The open house was immediately prior to an admissions lottery.
Had I found the school even one week later than I did, my daughter would not have been able to attend because we would have missed the deadlines. So it felt like my husband and I had pretty clear indications that we should send my daughter to this school. Surely all of these coincidences pointed us to something…

But deep down, I always believed that all of that happened because I was a bad mom. I thought we needed to send her to school early so that she wouldn’t be around me all the time. It was hard for me to have A & B at home with me non-stop and it came as a huge relief to have A in school five days each week, where she was stimulated intellectually and socially in a way I could not provide at home. While I was proud of her, I felt a little guilty that she had to go to school because I was a bad mom who couldn’t give her all of this at home. If I had been craftier, or more organized or better with kids, she wouldn’t have needed a Montessori school.

A started fourth grade a few weeks ago, so all of this happened seven years ago. But it’s only been in the last three weeks that I’ve really gained a different perspective on the situation. My perspective has shifted because K started kindergarten in a traditional classroom this year. She loves it. She enjoys coloring worksheets with each letter of the alphabet. She loves saying the letters and the sounds they make. She tells stories about her classmates and what she does in art class. And she is not bored. Instead, she is thrilled to be joining her big sisters each morning, thrilled to start the process of growing up. She is perfectly suited to Kindergarten and is right on track to do well, but likely not excel, this year.

But had A waited until she was five to start school, I believe that would have been a disaster. Kindergarten was her third year of full-time school. Two weeks in, they tested her reading level and found she read like a second grader who was halfway through the year. Not stopping there, by the end of the year she tested as a mid-fifth grader. Would A have been satisfied with Kindergarten like her sister is? No way. She would have been bored. She might even have been disruptive. And she almost certainly wouldn’t think that school is a fun way and place to learn.

I tell you all of this not to brag about my child, but to illustrate a very needed perspective shift. I saw this situation as being all about me: my failings as a mother, my need for time without my children, my inability to challenge them without help from educators. But it was really all about my daughter and what she needed. I realize that everything is not personal, but this requires a constant shift in perspective. It is so easy to go back to thinking about ourselves first and everyone else second.

Sometimes we are bystanders in our own lives. Events take place that effect us, but don’t have much to do with us. We are there just to play a role in someone else’s life. I would do well to remember this in the big and little things in life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Hut

As I approach the hut, I wonder whether I should call out. It clearly is a structure that has a purpose and has been cared for. Yet I don’t call out. I find myself hoping it has been abandoned, so that I can explore it, satisfy my curiosity. So I keep quiet – or as quiet as I can, hobbling through pine needles on scorched soles.

As I get closer, I see a word is burnt into the lintel above the door: Welcome. Oddly enough, I do feel welcome in the midst of these tall, quiet pines, the shade so different from the searing pain and light of the fiery water.

“Hello?” I call quietly, hoping for no response. I push open the door and look around it into the hut.

The small space is tidy, inviting, as welcoming as the lintel indicated. The planked floor has been swept clean and a red woven rug lies between a small bed and a table for one. The space is small, with two or three steps separating the table’s chair from the bed. But it feels cozy, not cramped.
The bed is covered by a hodge-podge quilt of many colors and fabrics. Washed denim coexists with emerald velvet, bleached, pale seersucker and thin linen. On top of the quilt is a neat stack of clothing with a note atop reading, “Please leave your clothes when you depart and wear these fresh ones. You’ll find a stream 20 paces to the left out the front door.” Unfolding the clothing, I find a crème wrap around skirt and a soft t-shirt a few shades darker.

I turn to the table and see another gift: crisp white paper and a pen. This needs no explanation and I find none as I look through the stack of heavy stock.

What I find instead is a table top, stunning in its beauty: the sanded wood has been carved intricately and colored in ocher, yellow and red. As I pull out the chair to sit and examine it more closely, I see it holds a surprise as well. The seat has been upholstered with an elaborate interweaving of fabric. Purples mingle with blues and reds splash through, making this simple space feel suddenly more throne room than hut. Feeling too simple and dirty to use such a stunning chair, I decide to clean off in the stream the note indicated.

As I turn back to the door, what I see elicits a gasp. The door, sanded but unfinished on the outside, contains a white beach bordering an ocean of fire. Bloodred wave wash up on a white shore, licking at the heels of a body laying there.

Too stunned to move, I catch my breath and wonder who did this. How did they know? Did someone see me wash ashore? How could they have known the water burned like fire?
Needing space to think, I head out the door, going several steps to my right before I recall that the note pointed me in the opposite direction.