Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Granny Panties

When my grandma died, my mom gave me all her underwear.

Not my mom’s underwear, but my grandmother’s.

And not right away, of course, but after an appropriate period of mourning.

Of course, how long is the appropriate period of mourning when it comes to dividing up someone’s belongings? Their jewelry, their tchotchkes, or that paper bag full of extra-large cotton briefs with the name MARY written in black magic marker on the waistband?

While I suppose most of us would be mortified to think of our unmentionables being handed down for posterity, to be fair, my Grandma Mary was a thrifty woman. She hated waste. She lived through world wars, the Depression, and up until the year she died, she was still hand-washing her own clothes. She cooked and ate every part of the chicken – “everything except the beak.” She was known to pick her teeth with a bone after a good meal.

And she was tenacious. During WWII, she hopped the bus to the Goodyear plant where she learned to be a Rosie the riveter. My Grandma Mary was only 4’10”, but she constructed airplanes. Imagine that.

Sometimes, I look around my own house and wonder what, if anything, my children will want of mine after I am gone. Will anyone want the wobbly IKEA coffee table that has always been just shy of plumb? Or that green lamp with the slightly-too-small shade that I bought at the church rummage sale for 10 bucks?

Will any of my kids want my most treasured belongings? My books? Dog-eared and worn, with bookmarks comprised of whatever was within reach at the time – dirty Kleenex, clean toilet paper, used post-it notes. Will my children take time to read what I underlined or contemplate what moved me? Will they remember that Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live?” Will they swoon over Rachel Held Evans’s wisdom that all of us “live inside an unfinished story”? Will they pause and live differently because Mary Oliver asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

No, probably not.

As impossible as it is for me to envision, when my children are finally grown and tasked with the unfortunate business of boxing and dispersing the dusty shelves and closets of my life, my kids will likely take a long, hard look at the entire household and toss the lot of it.

Which, I suppose, is fine. Some other kids, some other families, can cobble together a life out of all those books and second-hand furniture. After all, it worked for us.

But if they will not keep my stuff, what will my kids hold onto that was mine?

I hope they will remember my capacity for laughter. I want them to chortle and maybe even snort milk out their noses when they of think me sledding into the river on that cafeteria tray or crawling through the doggie door when we were locked out of the house or combing the head lice out of their hair with a lavender shower cap on my own head.

I hope they will remember how much I loved them—even though it ruined me. How I began pre-childbearing days as a size 8 and never saw that dress size again. How my hair turned prematurely gray and fell out of my head at an alarming rate watching them play basketball, soccer, and t-ball…so very badly. I hope they’ll recall how their music recitals, no matter how terrible or off-key, never ceased to make me count my blessings and weep.

I hope they will remember that I held them when they cried, comforted them when they were afraid. And when the world was hard, I defended them with the fierce pride of a lioness.

It is my distinct hope that the day of my demise is a long time in the future. After all, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m still trying to envision life after childbirth, diapers, and the soul-killing monotony of packing school lunches. I have many miles to go before anybody sleeps. And as I do not need to tell anybody here, days with children are hard. It’s a lot of crying about the game and how it wasn’t fair or the bacon and how she got more or the bathroom and how it’s my turn or the elevator and how he got to press the button last time.

Raising kiddos is bonkers.

So I wake up every morning and don the pillowy armor of the past. I summon the courage and strength of all the women who did this gig before me. I slip on an enormous pair of my grandmother’s panties and stumble bleary-eyed, but supported, through the day.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What I Did Today Instead

I did not march today.

I thought about it. It seemed important.

I wanted to. But I didn’t.

I have been angry since November 8th. Just so angry. And tired. So tired of being so angry. I was worried that today would be just another day of anger. Dies Irae.

And, of course, like many who stayed away, I had reasons.

My youngest daughter had a birthday party to attend. Her first since we’ve moved here. It meant so much to her to feel included.

My oldest had a basketball game. It’s tournament season, and they were already down two players. She really wanted to play her part, and ended up scoring the only points for her team.

My son wanted to play soccer in the yard. And Frisbee. And Badminton. And Star Wars.

My husband was traveling for work.

Getting to a march seemed too much of a hassle, a disruption. Especially to go somewhere to be angry.

But the pictures I saw today were beautiful. So many people I love. And so many strangers. Emboldened. Hopeful. Strong.

But what were they fighting for? some dared to ask. Inclusion, equality, love. All the biggies. Ideas that have felt trampled in recent months.

Even though I did not join, I felt drawn in. I played my part at home. And I behaved differently today because of what was happening.

I have been a little wary of my neighbors since moving to this new town. Today, however, I went out and met some of them. We stood in the cul-de-sac in solidarity and civility, parents of different political persuasions and creeds, chuckling and conversing and watching our children ride bikes until sunset.

I called an old friend, someone I’ve been meaning to reach out to, but it always seemed to be the wrong time. Today, I decided, was the right time.

I had a nagging feeling. Would history judge me? Would I judge me? For cowardice? For silence? For being complacent on a day that demanded action?

But I chose love today. In my way. Quiet devotion to friends and family. Others chose differently. I respect that. More than respect it, I honor and admire it. And I dare to believe that many of you marched today with women like me in your hearts.

Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me of all the ways love can win.


*** Thank you Kirstin and Leigh Ann for the signs, and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for the sentiment. For anyone unfamiliar with his sonnet speech at the Tony Awards, watch here or read here.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What Do I Tell My Kids?

I tell them about suffrage. About the women and men who fought for all of us to have the right to vote.

I tell them about the Civil Rights Movement. That bodies were beaten and spirits were crushed, and still, the people fought and triumphed.

I tell them America was not ready for a woman President this year. But that will absolutely change.

They will ask, “But why did people vote for a mean man, Mommy?”

And then I will have to defend President-elect Donald Trump. I will say that he probably is not as mean as he sometimes seemed during this campaign. He is a father and a husband. He might not believe women can be equal to men. But he is wrong about this. And, in January, it will be his job to be a President for everyone, not just the people who voted for him. And, boy, isn’t that a hard job? Isn’t that kind of crazy? But every four years, someone has to do that. It’s how America works.

They will ask, “But what can we do now?”

And I will remind them about how we are going to visit great-grandma Mary tonight. We will give her lots of kisses and an ice cream cone. We will go across the hall and invite her neighbor, Betty, to come play cards with us. We will comfort the sick.

When we get home, we will put non-perishables in our backpacks for the fall food drive at school. We will feed the hungry.

And we will finish our Veterans Day pictures paying tribute to those whose sacrifices we sometimes take for granted. We will strengthen this nation.

We will be the changes we want to see.

And we will hug each other. When I smell the innocence of their warm little heads and feel the love in their strong little hearts, I will remember they are the future, and that love – not fear, not anger, not disgust, or even sadness – but love, love always wins.

*And after I put them in bed tonight, I will listen to this song on repeat for awhile. For anyone who needs simultaneous sadness and healing. It is not a Christmas song, but rather a day after Christmas song.  And it is just right.


When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:


To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music from the heart.


Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)



Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

We Are All Democrats. We Are All Republicans.

The kids and I went canvassing today.

We knocked on doors, distributed leaflets, and encouraged folks to vote early to avoid long lines at the polls. We answered questions about absentee ballots and listened to people’s excitement and concern about the upcoming election. Folks kept their comments appropriate, self-policing, I suppose, since children were present.

Most peeked through their curtains or hesitated before answering. I understood. I seldom open the door to strangers anymore. A midday knock can only mean someone is selling something – insurance policies, security systems, a subscription to a magazine. Sales pitches are so annoyingly awkward. How long do I have to listen to this person before I can politely decline? It is easier to pretend not to be home. In a way, I guess we were selling something – democracy, freedom of speech, America. But maybe because it was a sunny day, or because they saw my kids crunching leaf piles and petting kitty cats, most people came to the door.

I have never participated in a Get Out the Vote Campaign before. I have never been a very political person. But my 11-year-old hopped off the bus a few weeks ago angry about the one-sided opinions tumbling from the mouths of middle school boys.

“What do you want to do about it?” I asked her.

“I think I want a yard sign,” she replied.

I have written about kids and politics. In the past, I believed it was important to keep my vote a secret from my daughter, at least until she was old enough to talk about issues, and not just personalities. I still believe this is true. I think it is both risky and reckless when we indoctrinate our children with our beliefs before they are old enough to really understand and develop their own. Which is why we are canvassing twice this year: once for a Democrat and once for a Republican.

I want my kids to see the common ground, which is, let’s face it, where most of us work, live, and eat. I am supporting the Democrat because of her intelligence, her public service record, and her position on early childhood education. I am supporting the Republican because of his courage, his military record, and his plan for reforming foster care. Especially now, in the most vitriolic and divisive presidential campaign that I have ever seen, I think it is essential to remember my job as a parent—to teach my kids love, to remind them that goodness is everywhere, and that we can learn from anyone, even from those with whom we might disagree.

A few weeks ago, I heard a speech by Seth Moulton, a congressman from Massachusetts. I am not from New England. I do not live in his district. But his words stuck with me. “You should want your representatives in Washington to work for you. You should want us to get things done.” To do that, he insisted, they had to speak to folks on both sides of the aisle. They needed to talk to people with whom they disagreed and seek compromise. The most effective bills, after all, are those with bipartisan support.

The need to talk to people with whom we disagree. . . . I confess I have felt afraid this election season. Two days after my daughter placed her first and only political sign in our front yard, it was stolen. It disappeared from a patch of grass near our front door where she had pressed it into the dirt so proudly.

“Who do you think took it?” she asked.

And I could see her mentally scanning the neighborhood. Was it that mouthy kid on the bus? His older brother? That lady down the street who plays her music too loud when she drives by? I did not like the way the theft made her distrustful of our neighbors. More importantly, I did not like the way this election season had emboldened someone to steal. When did freedom of speech become abhorrent, rather than the one idea upon which all of us can agree?

Election 2016 seems to have done this: made enemies out of neighbors. We are willing to hurt people to get our point across. We think that if we just shout a little louder, the argument will resolve in our favor. But it seems pretty clear that such tactics have merely ensured opposition, ire, and stalemate from representatives who ought to be working for us.

You and I will disagree on some things. That’s a statistical likelihood. I hesitate to put myself in a box, but I tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. No matter who I vote for, he/she will not represent all of my viewpoints. Nor do I expect her to. I learn the issues, listen to the candidates talk, and punch the name on the ballot that seems to jive best with my vision. That’s what voting means. And then I expect that person to do battle for me, to argue and compromise, and ultimately, get things done. If that doesn’t happen, I vote for somebody new next time.

After all, we are in charge of our lawmakers, and not the other way round. If you don’t believe me, grab a handful of flyers with the hours of your local polling place. Take your kids. Bring the dog. And go knock on the doors of your neighbors. Chat about potholes or petunias, or whether the city is doing a good job picking up autumn leaves. Talk to folks with whom you disagree. Our politicians might want us to build walls, but we know – we have always known – that bridges are the future.

dadvmom-com_weareallindependents_flowergrowingfromthewall dadvmom-com_weareallindependents_holdinghands


A version of this essay also appeared on the Huffington Post.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Other Mother’s Day

Let me begin by saying I love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all these years of unconditional love, laughter, and great cooking. Your guidance and care echo in my heart every day.

Now let me continue for everybody else.

We are all mothers today.

We all mother.

Even if you are a childless man, you mother.

If you are a moody teenager, you mother.

All of us nurse, protect, cherish, and tend to the people we love in this world. At least, we should. And THAT is what this weekend is reminding us. To mother.

Sure, take your mom to brunch if that’s what she really wants. But the day is not about seafood omelets or exclusivity. Mother’s Day is about celebrating mothering. Let’s minister to the sick, defend the weak, nurture the young, the old, the rich, the poor.

In recent years, I have seen women crying on Mother’s Day, weeping openly during the “Ave Maria,” or muffling sobs in contemplative prayer. Last year, a friend told me Mother’s Day was when she missed her mom the most. Of course, it is a day to remember, reflect, and pay homage to the women who birthed us. But we need not leave it there.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to check ourselves. Do we mother our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough? Do we nourish, tend, and enrich others on this planet the way we should? The way all our mothers taught us to?

That’s right…mothers. Those who birthed us AND all those Other Mothers–the many women and men, both young and old, who held our hands and guided us along the way.

I am blessed to have many Other Mothers. I have auntie-mothers, and boss-mothers, and sister- and brother-mothers. I have a father-mother, and a grandma-mother, and a former-next-door-neighbor-mother. I have had teacher-mothers and student-mothers. I even have a husband-mother. And, of course, a mother-mother.

Let’s all be mothers today. Definitely call your mom. Give her your love. Chances are if you are close, you do this all the time anyway. But call one of your Other Mothers today, too. Don’t weep because you have lost someone. Well, you can do that, but don’t let it be the only thing you do today. Thank an Other Mother. Let that person know he/she loved you, led you, nourished you, and mothered you. And that you are always there to mother right back. Pay it forward and backward today. Let Mother’s Day heal.

Be the mother all your mothers taught you to be.



Originally posted May 9, 2015

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Be One Another’s Cul-de-sac

A friend and I spent the evening at church tonight. We broke bread with families who needed some. We listened, laughed, and prayed.

After the dishes had been washed and the food put away, we lounged together in a basement rumpus room. The kids invented a new game — ping-pong dodge ball — and the adults daydreamed about a cul-de-sac community where we could let our children play safely all day. Some nights, we all mused, we could wheel our barbecue grills out to the curb for a neighborhood buffet instead of cooking and eating dinner alone.

I drove home feeling both thankful and dispirited. So many of us have so much. We build our homes up and out and bigger and more. We have dishes for twenty, but only ever use five. We build fences where we could plant flowers. We schedule ourselves so tightly that there is no room for generosity, magnanimity, or an impromptu dinner with the people next door.

We make it easy to forget to share.

But we can be better. I can be better. In a world of gated communities, security passcodes, and election seasons that divide rather than unite, summon your kindness, and unleash your love. Be one another’s cul-de-sac.


Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

The Party Is Just Getting Started


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music from the heart.

Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

One of my least favorite jobs of the year is taking down our Christmas tree. For weeks, it holds a place of honor in our living room, regal and pine-scented in all its branched and baubled loveliness. Then, we undecorate it and toss it on the curb. I’m told the city recycles it, mulches it into something that will breed life again. But I can’t help but feel a little emptiness as we put the lights and angels back into their boxes, and tuck Christmas on the shelf in our garage, to sit and wait another year.

The Christmas season is like a movie trailer – all breathless anticipation and excitement. My kids and I can hardly wait for the big day to arrive. We are so utterly beside ourselves – baking, wrapping, decorating, frolicking. It is easy to wish such easy joy could last. That our friends and family would always open their homes to us so eagerly. That we would always have this much candy lying around to nosh. That we would always feel this warm and wonderful and good and golden about all of humankind.

But if I am being totally honest, the Christmas season is almost too much for me. There is so much fullness, so much chatter, so many crowds. I consume so many cookies. The gifts are torn open with such rapidity. And as much as I love a good party, I find myself limping a little around the new year, craving salad, yoga, and stillness. After so much Christmas-ing, I need to regroup.

Today, with the end of Christmas heavy in our hearts, our family visited a church on a hill in search of a new vista and maybe a new message to begin a new year.

We found it in an a cappella hymn. “The Work of Christmas Begins” burned right through this dim day, and warmed my heart. Because it turns out that the day when we place our lifeless tree on the curb, well, that’s the moment when the real ministry of Christmas starts. In these quiet days after the hullabaloo, now is when we compose ourselves and live the words that we ate, drank, and celebrated only a few days ago. With the tree gone, we have more room to feed the hungry and welcome strangers. With the travel completed, now is the time for our real Christmas journey to begin. To minister to new parents, and offer gifts to the poor. To set aside judgment of faiths and families different from our own. To offer thanks for shelter, warmth, comfort, and love. Now is the time to follow bright stars and dwell in the goodness of all that is possible.

Yes, the parties are over.
But the celebration is just beginning.
And this healing real work of Christmas lasts all year long.


Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Honor the Space

Tonite there is a space. A deep breath before the holidays burst to life, the visitors arrive, the food is served, and the festivities begin. There is a space. A quiet part of us that misses someone. Or, a lot of someones. And whether this space is new this year or it’s something you’ve grown to understand & have learned how to do, that space is still sacred. And quiet. So tonite, in the stillness before the season, I honor that space in you. And I honor that space in me. I pray that our hearts keep healing & that someone puts their arms around you & tells you that you are loved. Because you are.      — T. M.

My wise and altogether wonderful friend, Terri Mervenne, shared these words today and it was like a blanket for my soul. I suppose, too, that I read her note at an opportune time. Every surface of the kitchen was coated in flour. The living room looked like a stuffed animal breeding ground. There was an unfathomable amount of toothpaste on the bathroom floor. The only thing prepped for tomorrow’s feast was pie crust. Next to the refrigerator, there was a To Do list that had not been adhered to, and a 3-Day Master Schedule that had been woefully ignored. I felt, as I often do at the start of the holidays, on the verge of a meltdown.


We all have this idea of how seasonal gatherings are supposed to be. And every year, between late November and early January, we are faced with the reality of how our holidays actually are. Sometimes that disconnect is encouraging. Perhaps we grew up in a quarrelsome family, but we marry into a clan more placid and accepting. But a lot of the time, the disparity between what we desire during the holidays and what we actually experience can be quite painful. And it is hard to know what to do with all that, what to do with the empty space.

My father is one of ten children. As adults, they fanned out around the country from Hawaii to Maine. Whenever they gathered for holiday photographs, they honored the missing siblings, and would assign inanimate objects to stand in. “Gina is the lamp,” they’d say before the flash. “Tommy is the dining room chair.” For years afterwards, that everyday item became the placeholder for the missing sister or brother 2000 miles away from the turkey dinner.

During the holidays, many of us do that same thing. We make grandma’s turnips or a great-aunt’s secret apple pie in an effort to hold a space for folks who have come before us, for loved ones who began our traditions long ago. But those marshmallow-covered yams and those green beans drowned in cream are such a far cry from the whole and wonderful person who once shared our table.  Often, the very things meant to honor the empty space end up exacerbating it.


I have lived away from family for most of my adult life, and I have grown accustomed to the empty spaces around my table where siblings, parents, and cousins ought to be. But it wasn’t always easy.  I remember one Christmas Eve, years ago, before the kids were born. Ken was in the Navy, deployed somewhere in the Pacific. And I sat alone on my front porch with a Christmas tree lodged in the doorway. I was pruning its branches with a letter opener when Tom, a neighbor I hardly knew, walked by and asked whether I needed any help. I told him I was fine and turned to shove the bedraggled tree towards a stand in the living room.  When the broken-branched pine fell over for the third time, I looped twine around its trunk and tied it to curtain rods and the fireplace grate. I gazed upon my own personal tannenbaum with simultaneous triumph and defeat.

I had not been “fine” and Tom was kind enough to notice that. He and his wife invited me over that same night, and to this day, I am ever-so-grateful that they did. They saw a space in me and honored it, not by trying to assist my attempts to recreate Christmas past, but by welcoming me to their table.

dadvmom.com_honorthatspace_katie makingpie

Since that night, I have cobbled together my fair share of hobo holidays — thrown-together affairs with lasagnas and Yorkshire puddings, rooms full of expats or enlisted kids too broke to fly home. One Thanksgiving, our tiny party abandoned the turkey to its half-thawed fate, and dined entirely on apple pie instead. As much as I cherish the Rockwellian memories of my childhood, I know they are rose-colored reflections. There were spaces at those tables, too. Over the years, I have grown to love the custom of opening our home and welcoming the stranger. I honor the space in my heart best when I am honoring someone else’s. In this way, the emptiness connects us.

Space is funny like that. It can either keep us distant or help draw us close

Whether you spend tomorrow at a soup kitchen, in your own kitchen, or at your great-aunt Hildebrand’s eating soup, whether you share your dinner with 27 people or 2, I pray that you will, as my friend Terri so lovingly put it, “honor that space” in everyone you meet.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Too Many Children

I hate school mornings.

I loathe the insistence of my alarm clock.

I dislike my kids’ complaints, moans, and grumbles as I compel them out of bed.

I hate the swift nutrionlessness of weekday breakfasts – the bagels, the granola bars, the hurried toast.

I detest packing their lunches, slicing vegetables they will not eat, peanut-buttering bread that hopefully they will. Knife work in the morning is good for nobody.

I abhor the drop-off line in front of school. Too many parents driving too quickly. Too many kids dashing in between.


But most of all, I hate the thought that hate would ever be the prevailing emotion that my children feel as I send them away.

Because there were children in Oregon who never came home from school today. They were older kids, but they were somebody’s children. And they will never come home again.


My challenge for tomorrow: find a way for love to break through the hate.

I think maybe that is everyone’s challenge.

Go hug your kids, folks. Hug your parents, neighbors, teachers, and friends.

May we weave a blanket around our communities so this never happens again.


Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

That Woman

We all know who she is. That woman who can’t quite handle her kids.

It isn’t fair, of course. Since there are plenty of men who struggle to keep their own children in line. But for whatever reason, we give those guys a pass. It’s that woman. She is the one we notice, and in our weaker moments, gossip about. And we all know who she is.

Her kids scream at her in the grocery store. They slug one another during school pickup. They tantrum in the slushy line at the carnival.

We see them. We see her. We know who she is.

And we judge her. She is obviously doing something wrong. Otherwise, her children would act better, especially in front of all of us. They wouldn’t cuss each other out over the last French fry or lie when they broke another child’s toy. If this woman were a better mother, her kids would have the good sense to save their bad behavior for home. Like ours do.

We pity her, this woman whose children bite, shriek, and scratch. We feel so very sorry that she wakes up to this mayhem day after day. We can’t imagine how exhausted she must feel. We wouldn’t want to do it.

We are also a little thankful for her. But for the grace of God. . . . She reminds us that we are okay. We aren’t the worst parents in town. Sometimes we don’t feed our kids any vegetables. Some days we like our children best when they are asleep. But at least they don’t hit each other in the face with t-ball bats. Our offspring never pee on the tree in front of church. We love our kids a little more because they aren’t as bad as hers.

Some of us try to advise her. We share our success stories, about potty training or that one time our kid threw a fit at the mall. She listens politely to our unsolicited advice. “You know, if only you would ___.” Or, “I’ve found that when my kids say ___, it is best if I ___.” She nods and makes us feel helpful. But the next time we see her, we shake our heads. There’s her daughter mouthing off again. There’s her son punching the dog in the ear.

We all know who this woman is. We disdain, pity, value, and preach at her, but how many of us ever hold her hand? Do we walk together or offer comfort when she cries? Do we keep her children and send her to yoga, to church or to bed? Have we brought her a meal or asked her to tea? We say we know her, but have we ever tried to understand how she lives? Have we lightened her load? Have we ever helped her breathe?

We are not alone on this journey. And, like it or not, whether we have nine children or none, whether we are experienced parental ninjas or still figuring out how to fold the stroller, each one of us will have a turn being ‘that woman.’ Because that woman is inside all of us. (It was my turn the other day in the Trader Joe’s parking lot when I lost my cool about the melted ice cream and the baguette that was to be for company but which the kids decided to lick.  Sorry to all who heard the yelling.) We are all in this together. We are one another’s keepers. We owe it to ourselves, our communities, and our world — the world that our children will inherit — to comfort instead of criticize, to offer ease rather than pity, and to make each other’s burdens light.