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 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)



Health & Fitness & Oreos

In Defense of Head Lice

We have it again.

Not all of us this time. Not even most. But enough.

The tiny combs are unsheathed. The bedding has been bagged. The house smells like coconut oil and eucalyptus. Also frustration.

We should probably cancel the play date we scheduled for Tuesday. And alert the school nurse just to be safe. For a little while, anyway, we’ll be that family.

Which isn’t exactly fair, since head lice do not choose their hosts. They do not hand-select the most slovenly or ill-behaved among us. They simply cling to hats, pig-tails, and hoodies, and wait to catch a ride on the next person who leans in for a hug. If anything, you might say that head lice, well, they follow the love.


But that’s not what it feels like at first.

When you find a bug on your kiddo, it’s disgusting. Serious heebie-jeebies. And for every one that you see, there are usually a bunch you don’t, including dozens of sticky little eggs (nits) cemented to your child’s hair. Of course, that grossed-out-ness morphs pretty quickly into annoyance. Because getting rid of head lice is a pain. You really do have to comb out your kid’s hair repeatedly, strand by strand, removing bugs and eggs as you find them, being sure to dispose of them in chemicals or bleach, in order to prevent them from crawling right back in again.

And even once you get the infestation under control, then, there’s the embarrassment. We can’t let anyone know. Once you are outed as a head lice family, it feels like the whole town is pointing. As though you purposely infiltrated their homes or gave bugs to their kids during baseball practice. Sometimes it’s enough to make folks shy away from befriending your kid. Which, of course, is heartbreaking. All over a couple of bugs.

So, I am here today to try to reframe the experience. It does not have to be like this.

Because, in addition to everything I have already said, having head lice is also kind of…nice.

Yeah, I said it. Lice can be nice.

If you are (un)lucky enough to discover a louse on one of your children, or (gasp) even on yourself, from that moment, you enter a holding pattern. Whatever you had planned is canceled. Wherever you were heading, you’re not. Instead, it’s kind of like a snow day. You are calling in sick and staying at home. To treat head lice. Which, while irksome, is also among the most old-fashioned of parenting rituals. Like churning butter. Or dipping string into pots of hot wax to make candles. There are plenty of monotonous tasks that bring people joy – weaving, knitting, chanted meditation. Combing out lice can be similar.

I know folks like to hire professional nit-removal companies to handle outbreaks. But I maintain that having head lice is an opportunity – to withdraw, bond, and connect with your kids. We use oil treatments instead of chemicals here at our house. But with either medium, I can’t handle it and do anything else.  When I comb out my kid’s hair, I can’t cook, or clean. Or fuss with my computer. Or play on the phone. I just have to be there, right next to my child, and detangle and talk, and talk and detangle, and try to take the bugs — and the stigma — away.


It is a long process. If you comb out your kid’s hair in less than an hour, you have probably missed a bunch of bugs. So take your time. Enjoy this forced opportunity to gaze at your kiddo for longer than usual. Savor the break from the busy-ness of customary days. It’s like a vacation without the fuss of packing and actually going anywhere.

And as annoying as head lice can be, it is an opportunity for teaching perspective. It is okay to be initially dramatic. To panic and blame and kvetch. But it is also an opportunity to show kids the difference between an actual problem and a mere nuisance.  To discuss issues that are bigger than a few bugs on a comb. During our most recent louse bout, my daughter and I talked about peer pressure and dating, the Syrian refugee crisis, and veganism. We made plans to work at a soup kitchen over Thanksgiving weekend and to someday hike a portion of the Appalachian trail.

In this way, head lice was a little bit of a gift to us. It afforded us time to talk about things that matter.

If all of that is not enough, there’s the very phrase itself. When you comb eggs out of someone’s hair, you are quite literally “nit-picking.” In almost every other situation, this is an insult. Nobody wants to be nit-picky. But head lice gives you permission to be fastidious. To destroy every last invader. To painstakingly finish a task. I carry around lengthy To-Do lists and end nearly every day with dozens of tasks yet undone. There is something quite satisfying about giving into your inner nag, and completing a picky job.

And finally, a case of head lice is a chance for solidarity. No matter if it’s one kiddo infested or everyone, I always treat my hair, too. I douse it in coconut oil infused with a few drops of tea tree, and lavender, rosemary, or thyme, and I wrap it in an old towel or hair net. I do this for three reasons:

  1. I’m paranoid. It you ever have lice in your house, you will psychosomatically scratch whether you have them or not.
  2. It smells good. There’s nothing like a little aromatherapy to soothe a stressed-out soul.
  3. It is a message to my kids: I will not let them suffer humiliation alone. For all my preaching about the niceties of lice, other kids will sometimes ostracize, ridicule, and judge. I want my kids to see me in this battle with them. I share their discomfort and I am on their side.

If ever these little buggers hop on your little buggers and hitch a ride into your home, take heed. And take advantage of the time. Call off work, mix up some sweet-smelling oils, and grab a tiny comb. And accept the invitation these invaders offer – to be fully present for your children during a time of embarrassment, distress, and love.