Ariana Grande and Growing Up

Sean is the playlist guy around here, followed quickly by Briar and then Ave. I enjoy the detail that I wouldn’t manage on my own, except it has started to hit me that music makes things more enjoyable. When I start the coffee pot I say to Alexa, “Alexa, play music for us,” more often than not she responds with, “Here’s a station you might like: Ariana Grande.” The first time she did it I laughed out loud. The girls weren’t with me and it seemed preposterous that she would be my music of choice, except the thing is I enjoy it. When the girls came down they start snaking between the counter and me to grab things, dancing along the way. They sing along and mornings became a lot more fun.

I read the news about the concert in real time on twitter just before bed, the next morning I wasn’t really thinking about it as I raced to get things done. Briar turned to me stricken, “Mom, what happened? Everyone is putting Ariana Grande things on Did she die?” The light from the screen shone on the right side of her face and morning light streaming in the window to her right bathed the other side of her face.

“No, she is fine, but people—kids were killed at her concert,” I said simply. The death of children isn’t new to her.

“22, it says 22 people, mom. And 50 are injured,” she read and then turned to me, “Why? Why all of this death everywhere? And even just at a concert?”

I had no answers and the collision of fury and defeat inside me were deafening. “I think that people want to show their hate and the more innocent the people, the stronger they think their message gets.” She considered that, blinked, and went inward as she murmured, “Why…”

Yesterday she and I were driving home from the optometrist with her new glasses. I was asking her about an article I’d shared with her on Twitter, showing ways to talk to kids about crowds, separation, and communication.

“Did you read it?” I asked. She nodded and said, “No, but I hearted it.” I smiled, this is our new way, navigating communication through social media and understanding how each of us uses it. “I just saw it at lunch and was like, heart,” she smiled at me.

“Ok, well it talks about things to do to make sure you are safe,”

“I still can’t believe those kids were just killed at a concert.”

“Me either, sweets. I do want to talk about the article though, it talks about the idea of writing a phone number down in sharpie on your arm. If my phone died I wouldn’t know your number or Ave’s, and, in situations like the concert, if you were hurt, people would know who to call.”

She thought about what I’d said. I think this is where some of the disconnect between how I, as an adult not raised in a time of lock-down drills, and Briar, just weeks of a bomb threat at school see the world. “We have to think about things like keeping your phone charged so you can contact us. What would happen if it died at school and you needed me?”

She turned to me and said matter of factly, “Oh, that totally wouldn’t matter. We aren’t allowed to call or text during a lockdown.”


“Yes, no contact outside of the school, because what if parents just showed up and we couldn’t get out? Also, if you guys knew and you came, more than just us students and the teachers would be killed. It could be parents and sisters too. Have to follow the rules so the least amount of people will die,” she looked unbothered.

I felt like I was going to be sick. I rolled down the window and made a sound I hoped sounded like “Uh huh.”

“Ok, well I think it still makes sense to think about battery charges,” which as I said it sounded so insignificant and futile. She looked at me, “Ok.” She looked like she was 18 months old and 18 years old in the same minute. Bubbles of hysteria made my arms start to prickle. How do we even get to 18 years? No movies? No concerts? Homeschool? No travel? One month from today she flies to Paris.

I am not in control.

I cannot fix everything.

Time doesn’t stop.

Me: “I love you.”

Her: “I love you too. Can we do face masks?”

Me: “That sounds perfect.”

Then it was home and on to voice lessons. Finley was singing My Favorite Things and the normalcy of it all broke me. We have to keep going. Loving, nuzzling puppies, and allowing childhood to happen with all its warts and wonder.


One Day More

St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans—a scrawled message on the mirror made us happy through and through.


Our arrival to the next phase has been an exercise in time bending. My friend Lindsey Mead often says, “Years are minutes,” which to me is breathtaking in its truth. I can still feel the sensation of nursing the girls, whether for sustenance or to ease an injury. Their tiny heads nestled in my arm, impossibly soft fingers patting my side or stroking my chin. I remember the chill of the hard lift chair at Pico beneath me as I watched the three of them ride the lift alone together for the first time. Just like that, it was over, they ride together now.

It was the perfect metaphor for how the success of parenting is in shepherding the kids to be able to move just out of your reach, susceptible to danger, and leaving your arms empty. Sean laced his arm around me and whispered, “You ok, mama?” It won’t be the last time he says those words.


Since December Briar has been rehearsing for her role in Les Misérables. Avery was working on a production of her own as a performer, as well as another where she was on the stage crew. They are 20 months apart, bonded in a way that people tell us is not normal, and still, as different as night and day. They are both drawn to the stage, but in it seek very different things.


The pull to different schedules and the shifting of the spotlight are challenging, but when done within the tumultuous emotions and energy of puberty it can be heartbreaking. This isn’t because they are girls; it’s a natural evolution between siblings and family unit to spider into new territory, specifically in ways that are not laced together. During Les Mis the song One Day More is threaded throughout, sometimes a cry for one more day, other times a lament to get through one more day. I witness Briar and Avery testing new things, time apart, comparisons, and declarations of identity, I feel caught between the meanings of one more.


First, there was a trip to Sephora to explore make-up, not to look like other people, “It’s really like art and I think being able to express myself on my face would be great.” Then there was a late night talk about fitting in and figuring things out, requests to stagger bedtime for alone time or one-on-one time with me, ragged sighs over being interrupted, and eyes rolling over countless things. I can’t buy them clothes anymore, they want to steer toward what they like, which I don’t innately know.

They are often so caught up in what they are doing that my voice doesn’t register. I ache for the fresh-from-the-bath giggles and scents, but a touch on my shoulder and the words, “I can do that for you” is wild.

I cannot have it all and I can. They remember when they were little and many times need to revisit it as much as I do. “Can you tell me things about when I was little? Just until I fall asleep? I want to dream about it, kind of like being little again.”

I smile in the dark and do my best to follow my memories back. Finley is not yet pulling away; she dives deep into goofiness and togetherness. Nearly everything is more enjoyable when she has a sister with her, or me in a pinch. Suppressing the impulse to cajole them into playing together is gritty work; ‘fixing it’ undoes all the work we’ve all done. Then sometimes it just happens.


I think about one of the things I’ve had on repeat lately, which is the idea that each day we get the chance to (re)define ourselves. It’s particularly helpful when something crappy happens—harsh words spat in a moment of anger at a sister, something humiliating on the bus, a bad grade.

“This isn’t who you are. Your next test can be different. Any time you want you can choose to do things differently. It doesn’t take away all the hurt, but other people don’t get to say who or what you are.” I’m figuring out that I could stand to use a lot of the wisdom I try to dish out to them.

Day by day we try, holding our tongues for different reasons. This phase we’ve hit takes all of us to new places and understanding how to be who we want to be without losing who we have been and who we love is hard work. There is wistfulness and rage, heartbreak and hilarity.

There is also Finley, a tether and an invitation to joy in the most irresistible way.

She is uncomplicated. I watch the girls use her as permission to play and also as a safe zone. She helps us all articulate why things change and in doing so it feels slightly more gentle. Mostly though, she helps us remember to love for one more day.


Here We Are & There We Were

The last ten years have been growing up all over again, from learning how to be a partner in a marriage, to learning how to be a parent and a business partner. Talk about all-elbows and knees, and if I’m honest, stubborn chin and chips on shoulders. I never imagined how closely raising myself and raising my kids would overlap. I suppose I thought time would give me the courtesy of allowing me to figure myself out before it became time for me to stand at the edge of precipice after precipice with blue eyes on me asking, “Do you know what to do next?”

The saving grace has been that for the first time in my life I’ve trusted myself. As a mom, while I know I don’t know it all, I’m confident that I have it in me. If I could go back to the teenager who got pressured, tricked, and frightened into doing things and say, “Amanda, ride the fear out, you’ve got this,” I totally would, but I can’t. I relive bad decisions I made, twisted moves that were made on me, and moments that I survived by the skin of my teeth and I am grounded.

I’ll give them what I denied myself, not what anyone failed to give me or teach me, but what I simply wouldn’t let myself have. Each question and each touch with my girls I meet with a fearlessness that surprises me. They press their fingers into my flesh and call me on my stuff, but they also look at me without anticipating I’ll be skittish about talking.

“Why don’t ladies let their fur grow under their arms like boys?”

“Will you just get a baby if you have your period or does a thing have to happen?”

“So you did the thing three times?”

It’s a dance, to be sure, and I never thought I could dance.


Photo credit: Sean Magee <3


Each time I find myself in one of these completely unscheduled and unexpected heart-to-hearts, I stop worrying about where my feet are or how I look. I just take a deep breath and give myself to honesty and pacing. They’ve taught me they’ll help moderate what they can handle. The only thing that ever trips me up is my own aging and the impulse to apologize for it. “I’m sorry that I can’t do this because it will hurt my back,” or “I’m sorry I have dark circles.” Foolish and unimportant, maybe, I think it’s the lesson of time.

I don’t want to tell them to rush or to savor, to change their pace based on my understanding as  person 30+ years ahead of them on this road. I want them to be kids, want and encourage them to rush and dawdle, meander and shoot like rockets toward their dreams.

I want it for us all.

Superpowers We Don’t Acknowledge

I can hear myself saying, “I’m not crafty” and “I am a disorganized mess,” but the truth is that I’m crafty and organized in my own way. It sounds like a way to justify a mess and never throwing anything away, and maybe it is, but the messiness is what helps me pull together forts, spice up last-minute gifts, and change a boring Saturday into something more.

I think it’s easy to feel less-than in the era of Pinterest, DIY celebrities, and #OOTD amazingness. I am clinically slow to recognize talent or accomplishment in myself, when I do manage to muster a bit of, “Damn right, I did that” I tend to fall apart in some other area. Case in point today I made a last minute switch to Finley’s costume and helped Sean apply a set of false eyelashes I just happened to have, but when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror at work I looked haggard and the outfit I thought was polished looked sloppy. Suddenly all I allowed was the assertion I couldn’t look good for work, not that my kid was happy or that my husband was killing it in his costume.

Saturday there was a Halloween-related event I needed to attend downtown. I knew the girls would get a kick out of it and it was a surefire way to shock them out of their all-consuming boredom with the dark rainy day. I helped them put their Ghostbuster costumes together and then ducked into the bathroom. I thought maybe I could do myself up a bit like a ghost and surprise them.

As I crouched to search under the bathroom sink I remembered purging case after case of unused eyeshadow, sticks of liner, and the Halloween make up from last year. I felt flustered and blew my hair out of my face. I wasn’t ready to give up. I gathered everything that was left and set it in a heap on the counter. Slowly I created hollows beneath my cheekbones, lined my eyes with red and black liner and dusted green eyeshadow (don’t ask) on  my forehead and around my nose.

Twenty minutes later, with baby’s breath tucked in my hair, and a dress accented with ripped netting I emerged and called Finley into that hallway.

“What? Mom? How did you do that awesome? Like, it’s so, wow! Girls come look!”

I could have done anything to my face or just worn a a strange hat and they would have been wowed. The thing I realized is that I can adopt an attitude of why not and create a magic that money can’t buy and events can offer. It’s me jumping both feet into their world, that’s the superpower.

Let me tell you, even as they tried to bust the ghost that I was, it was entirely awesome. You don’t have to use it every day, but don’t ever doubt your power to make a little magic.


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.