Borrowing Words and Worries

Someone once said not to borrow trouble. I’m not sure who it was, but the sentiment makes a lot of sense. I went searching for a quote tonight. I thought I could find a quote to create a tidy little post, not too heavy, and not too revealing, but the perfect amount of “I’m struggling” and “I am learning everyone is struggling” and “let it be.”  I’ve wanted to write for a few days, but responsibilities, mood, and timing kept me from doing so.

Damned if I couldn’t find a single thing that didn’t seem lazy, trite, or just not right. The truth is, I am struggling, everyone has some sort of struggle or pain, and the best we can do is let it all be. No need to borrow, plagiarize, or mail it in. I have a great life with peripheral troubles that mostly can be managed. Every once in a while something is brought into focus that makes me think, “Holy shit, I’ve had it all wrong” or “Good grief, I didn’t know how good I had it” or “I am scared.”

The truth is I have no wisdom on this. I am doing that adult thing of being torn between terror and taking it minute by minute. No matter what, I know that the best things in life are being present (not in a judgey stay off your phone way, but in a screw-ten-pounds-from-now or until-I-have-blank-number-of-dollars-in-the-bank, what I have now is awesome kind of way) and acknowledging you can’t control everything.

Yeah, it’s cryptic, a quote would’ve been better. Instead you get me, fretting and yet completely in love with my girls and the way they dive in and then explode back into a moment.

I guess all I needed to do here tonight is say thank you for being with me and I am wishing you happiness in the moment you are in.


Deciding Not to Lie About My Past

WishesI made a promise to myself, and the girls prompted by the rapid approach of puberty. I vowed to be straightforward about whatever might come, not because I think talking about body changes or not fitting in are easy topics. I realize attempts to sanitize my past contradict my efforts to raise women who can speak for themselves and survive poor decisions. If I were to gloss over the parts of my life that I am ashamed of then there might come a moment when one of my girls would think they were fatally flawed, beyond what the teen years already have in store for them. Ashamed, that’s not even the right word, I just don’t think redacting things, whether they were of my own doing or not, can contribute to helping my girls.


I figured this out last year when my younger sister, Abigail, inadvertently spilled the beans. Finley is fascinated by the idea that I was a kid and a sister. When my sister and I are together she watches us with awe. We were going through old photos at my parent’s house. As we were laughing and grimacing, flinging pictures into discard and keep piles, Abigail said, “Ooh, look at Manda with a cigarette.” I gasped, Finley’s eyes got big. We were all smokers in my family, but I hadn’t ever felt ready to say that I had been one. The moment seemed to last forever.


Ab had every reason to believe I’d told the girls, what better way to drive home the don’t smoke message than to say that I did and that quitting was the best decision of my life. Only I hadn’t.

I have no plans to sit all three girls down at the table and tell them the story of my teenage and college years. Deciding not to lie means as it is age or situationally appropriate, I will answer honestly. They have asked me what to do about other kids in their schools being ready to do things that they aren’t – for instance, dating.


“None of you are going to be exactly like me or perfectly in step with your sisters. We go at the pace that we go. Anyone who tries to rush you or force you to do something that you don’t want to do isn’t a friend.”


Avery, said, “Is it ok if I change my mind?”


I answered without hesitation, “Yes. Here’s the thing: every day we get to make decisions, and so do other people. Sometimes people will make a decision about what they think about us, which we really can’t change. What someone thinks of you isn’t what or who you are. You are in charge of that.”


Already it’s transformed how I manage this time we’re in, with Briar 4 months away from 12, Ave 10, and Finley (unbelievably) 8. We’ve talked about eating disorders and the fact that I used to do things to hurt my body because I believed that I needed to be a thinner version of myself, that who/what/how I was wasn’t good enough. We’ve talked about how there may be years when their dearest friends will be a book, each other, and our dog. We’ve talked about marriage equality, alcohol and drugs, the idea of moderation and risk. We have not talked about rape yet, but I know that we will.


Looking back at the picture of myself with a cigarette in one hand did more than embarrass me; it opened my eyes. I can conjure up the veil of adultness I felt pausing to shake a Camel Light out of the box. Turning the dial on the radio to my favorite station and feeling flutters of excitement. I had what I believed was solid reasoning for doing what I did. These flashes of then give me compassion and insight to what my daughters are moving toward. I can be the parent while also acknowledging that I was not perfect. Am not perfect.


“I hope you won’t smoke, but yes, I did.” They watch me, “Quitting was hard.” Every once in a while Fin will murmur, “I’m glad you haven’t smoked since I’ve known you.” I always say, “Me too,” and try to stifle my shudder.


We talk about courage and the fact that having it does not mean that you don’t feel afraid. We talk about not always feeling happy, but not knowing why. They’ve asked me about giving up and I’ve felt a reflex to tell them to never give up, but that’s not fair. Everyone should have the option to give up, but they should also know about regret and its weight.


“You can always choose to give up, but maybe reserve the option to try again. Like I did with skiing. I hated it and swore I would never do it again.”


“Like which word did you swear? Was it the s one?” Avery asked.


I laughed. “No, I promised that I wouldn’t do it again.” She nodded. “Then your dad asked me to try it again. I wanted to say no, but I didn’t and now—“


“You love it!” they yelled.


It feels good to know that I don’t have to manage an ongoing editing process. The thing it doesn’t fix is the stories that I have that demonstrate life isn’t fair and we can make the best decisions and still not be safe. I’ll be honest about that too, because I don’t want to protect them from life, I want to prepare them to live.





Space to Dream

I remember watching the adventures of the attendees of BlogHer 2007 from a distance. I had not said out loud that I wanted to go, which was unfair because when I did it was too late. I robbed Sean of the chance to support me and I robbed myself of the permission to quest. Since then I have attended at least 4 BlogHer conferences and today I am sitting at the Mom2.0 Summit.

This time is sacred, not for the mind-boggling accommodations at The Ritz or the incredible programming, or the bubbly people eager to talk about their brands; for me it is sacred because it represents a yes from my family, my business partners, and myself. I am here and not there, though anyone who has seen me face-timing, cooing at bunnies to snap pictures and send them to the girls, or running my hand along my purse borrowed from Briar, you can see I am also there.


One of the themes I have heard several times here is that all of us need to find ways to scoot all the things in our life away just a touch, “I love you and right now I am taking care of me” (thanks Jessica!) The to-dos and the shoulds, the have-tos and the but-you-promiseds. It is essential that we have time, whether it is to write, to play guitar, to dance, or to wonder.

I am aware of each minute here and like a drop of water, they seem to roll about, changing color and threatening to burst. There is sadness and joy in each one, and I accept and honor that duality, because that is what life and writing are for me. Being here, invisibly flanked by my family and palpably cloaked in my longing to have time and be a template for a fully realized life to my girls, is very special to me.

Whatever happens tonight with the awards will not take away from the absolute clarity of time and offered, received, and honored vulnerability.


My Vote

On Tuesday September 4th, 1984 I was 11 years old. My babysitter Allison Dodge took me to a rally in downtown Eugene to see Geraldine Ferraro. I had grown up in a family deeply invested in social justice, with my grandparents campaigning, contributing, and passionately advocating for everything from women’s rights to the plight of farm workers to student activism. I remember my mom hissing at a broadcast of an interview with Phyllis Schlafly. Ultimately, it wasn’t so much the issues that I was being taught, as it was the idea that we have the privilege and duty to use our voices and our hearts to make the world a better place. Every time we don’t act or speak up, we are not carrying our weight.


As an adult I understand more keenly that our visions for “a better world” will vary greatly. I knew it as we prepared our daughters for the reality that not all of their classmates would be supportive of a gay marriage. I’ve known it as I have chosen to have children and a career. I’ve known it as I advocate for more truth-telling in the divide between white and black America. I’ve also known it as someone who believes that there is such a thing as rape culture.

I remember asking my grandfather a question about choice. I was confused about the pro-choice vs pro-life language. He explained very evenly that those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choice place the emphasis on the word choice and that the people who use the term pro-life do so because their emphasis is on the unborn life. He was gentle as he said, “I am not anti-life, just as I don’t truly believe that others are anti-choice.” It has helped me through the years to not be vicious. I think politics, faith, and the spectrum of morality have become exceedingly vicious in our country.

I don’t hold any side less culpable in the hate, we all carry that weight. I cannot control how others behave, but I can speak up. I have held my ground in twitter battles as I have been called hideous names. I do not name call. I have apologized when I have been wrong. The girls are listening and learning, moving from very simplistic Republican vs Democrat viewpoints to learning more about issues and the grayness that exists in the spaces between parties, beliefs, and individuals. They are exploring, sometimes with more candor than I might have. They are refreshingly unweighted by fear of some sort of later-date retribution, which brings a much-needed honesty to the surface. That being said, I still warn them about what their opinions and actions can mean, as well as the fact that speaking up isn’t the same for everyone—there are differences between men and women, black people and white people, young and old, gay, trans, bi, or straight.

I was not an Obama supporter at first, but I came around. My first choice had been Hillary Clinton. I have been grateful for all that the Obama family has done, including paving the way to this election.

Today I will cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.


The Answers Are All Around Us





Listening to the girls talk about their days at school, I wince at the ongoing drama from their bus rides, I feel the weight of the things one daughter wants to sign up for, and the complete lack of interest another daughter has in anything organized.

 Are they doing enough? Too much? Should I push harder? If I say yes to this, will it fix that? Too late to bed? 

This doesn’t even begin to cover the cloud of marriage and self.

Am I giving enough to either for fulfillment? Can I separate parenting and partnering without guilt? Can I take care of myself and my marriage? How can I stretch to do this? 

My heart and mind collide again and again, battering my resolve and my body. Tugs, cracks, splinters, and fatigue. I make these choices with eyes wide open, but I resent them. Looking for someone to blame or a specific thing to lament, all I see is my own wake.

The dust I kick up trying to solve things keeps me from seeing. I miss that not all things need fixing, some are meant to be survived; it is living. The easy way is tempting, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. I long for my girls not to hurt, but I want them to have the strength and confidence that comes from survival.

I stood waiting for the bus yesterday and found myself drawn to a spindly birch tree. It was bent nearly in half, craning out and toward the light. As I scanned the woods to see the tree’s base, the sun made rat-a-tat-tat pulses on my face through the pine boughs. I heard a woodpecker and ducked my head right and left to try and find it in the tallest limbs. The sun kept hitting my face and as I squinted I laughed.

Everything that I am going through is like the birch tree. It is bending and extending to find the sun, learning to live with the moss that grows at its feet, and coping with heavier, dense branches that hold it back. Like that birch, I am understanding that life comes with cracks. Some of the cracks leave marks on us and others let the light warm our skin.