to read again and again

One Saturday I was at the library alone, just wandering and looking.  I happened upon a book titled Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition by Pia de Jong.  Opening it, I stood in the aisle reading for a long time, captivated.  I checked it out and devoured it over the next week.

Saving Charlotte is the memoir of a year in the life of the author, her daughter Charlotte, her husband and their two sons.  

Charlotte was born with a rare form of leukemia and given very little time to live.  Devastated and without promising treatment options, Pia and her husband opt out of conventional medicine (to the shock of the doctors) and take their daughter home.

Pia weaves together the story of the year that follows with amazing artistry.  Instead of a chronicle of medical benchmarks reached, frantic internet searches for a cure, or prognoses given, the reader walks with this mother through her swirling world of fear, exhaustion, anger, unexpected friendship and deep love.

The author’s home along a canal in Amsterdam becomes the family fortress, protecting Charlotte and her family from those seemingly well-meaning people who are merely curious, critical or morbid in their attentions.  The sentinels outside the gates are three men from the neighborhood, who, without a single intrusive word or note of condescending pity, quietly protect and support the family within, each in their own way.

By following her motherly intuition, Pia creates the healing space her daughter needs to rest, be loved and slowly gain strength.  In time the family, with Charlotte, reenters the world outside their fortress and continues their life together.

The book is a beautiful portrait of the deep love and courage of a mother and her infant daughter’s response of tenacious strength.  It inspires me to mother more intuitively, to know that my presence is often more important than medicine, and to put up fortress walls around my family when they’re needed. 


teaching writing

I need to teach my 8 year-old to write.

The curriculum we have is boring, dry, dull, tedious. No life or inspiration. I’ve given it a month.

This summer he became a reader. He could read well before that, but now he wants to read. I don’t know how or why that happened.

But writing is different. At 8 writing is hard. Because holding a pencil and forming the letters is still hard.

So who wants to use a boring curriculum to do something that’s already difficult?

Not me. So I’m changing it.

He will still work in his handwriting, phonics and vocabulary workbooks regularly, but writing will be different – it’s own thing.

(I’m indebted to Julie Bogart at Bravewriter for much of what follows.)

We won’t be focusing on sentence structure or five sentence paragraphs. I won’t be correcting punctuation mistakes.

He won’t even be writing anything down.

All I want are his ideas, the original thoughts coming from him. And I will write them down.

Right now he doesn’t know the value of his own thoughts or his ability to form them. That’s what I want to change. It’s taken me decades to value my own ideas enough to take the chance of writing them down.

His creativity with words can only grow if he has space and freedom to use it, uninhibited by the mechanics of holding a pencil and spelling correctly.

So I’ll give him space and freedom to be creative, to take the risk of exploring and valuing and sharing his own thoughts and new ideas.

And maybe we’ll both become writers.

vikings and cancer

Two things made me thankful today:

  1. I don’t have cancer.
  2. I’m not living among the Vikings.

My friend has cancer. She found out yesterday and doesn’t know much yet about treatment or prognosis. It’s a rare form. She’s younger than me. She has lots of kids. I keep thinking about her, about her family, wishing I could DO something. Wondering what she is feeling.

And then underneath those thoughts is the almost guilt-ridden thankfulness that I don’t, that my family doesn’t, and that maybe I should be awfully glad about that. That maybe I should stop complaining about the things I don’t like and just be really happy that I get to spend another day with my husband and children.

Then the Vikings: my 3rd grade son and I are learning about them. It occurred to me this morning what life was probably like for most of the women then – either slavery or freedom that looked something like it. Then I thought of all the periods of history in which it would not have been ideal to be a woman (most of them), and then broadly of all the humans who have suffered horrendously, year after year, in the past and present.

So many.

Yet I just happen to live here, now, when it’s pretty damn good to be a woman. And I’m thankful for that.

And it’s good to be thankful.

But then I get an inkling that maybe there should be more to the thankfulness. Maybe it’s never supposed to be static. Maybe something like real compassion can emerge from it. Compassion that compels me out of the comfortable – beyond thankful – to walk next to someone who is suffering now.

Maybe. I hope so.

tied to a place

My parents keep talking about selling their house. Today when they mentioned it again I realized it could actually happen.

It’s the house I grew up in from age 7. There are so many memories packed into it I couldn’t begin to recount. Now I have many more memories packed on top of those with my own family in that same house.

But today what struck me is that I can’t imagine my parents without that house. I can’t imagine them living anywhere else.

Could Thanksgiving or Christmas even happen at their house if they didn’t live there anymore? It doesn’t feel like it.

The lines comes streaming in: “It’s a house…what matters is the people you’re with…home is where your family is…” which of course is all true. Yet so much is tied up in that place for me.

With aching heart I may have to say goodbye to it sometime and witness the unimaginable moving-in of other people. Thanksgivings and Christmases may happen at a different address. And I tell myself that it will be fine because that’s life.

I’m not convinced yet.

parenting enigma

For the last four years I have read parenting books. I have researched health issues that might be coming into play. I have changed our diet. And yet still I don’t have the answers I’ve been looking for. She still thwarts my efforts. I still do not have it all together. And I’m still frustrated.

When we had one child I knew what I was doing. I had it all together and I was in control. And then she was born and everything I knew wasn’t useful anymore. Nothing worked like before.

So I started reading, searching, trying so hard to figure out what to do – how to be what she needed me to be in a way that brought peace to everyone. Some things helped but nothing has been the key that unlocks the magic door.

The truth is that there is no key because there is no magic door.

I’m starting to accept that.

And maybe my acceptance is a step up from anywhere I’ve been before. Maybe if I accept her in all the complexity, without a key, I can make a real start at being her mother.

Maybe now I can let each day be new.

in-between season

It’s not summer anymore and it’s not quite fall. We’re in the in-between of seasons. The monarchs are still here eating, hanging, spinning, breaking free. The sun is still warm during the day and the leaves are almost all still green.

But the nights are cool and the leaves are tired. They were so excited to break out and be alive in the spring, but after the many days of sunshine and warmth they are winding down, almost ready to begin their colorful finale.

But not quite yet.

The flowers and leaves along the road have begun to change into reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Mums are being sold at grocery stores. Why is it always mums?

This is the farewell to summer and the anticipation of fall. There’s a sadness and an expectancy. We’ll miss the brightness and warmth, but would never want to miss the brilliance and mystery that’s coming.

And for now we’ll live in the in-between.

through the tunnel

My two year-old, curly blond-haired son and I peered through the tunnel of wooden blocks we had just built, our eyes meeting from either side. We sat up and smiled.

This was fun.

And all of a sudden I realized how happy I was that I was the one looking through that tunnel at him. Not a daycare worker, not a nanny, not a teacher or even his grandparents – me. I got the exclusive and unrepeatable privilege of seeing his curious face stare through the tunnel at that moment and then smile because he found me on the other side.

Through the rainstorm of monotony, discipline issues, self-doubt and dishes I got a glimpse through the tunnel of reality: because of the choices I’ve made I get to be here, right now, with this amazing little person.

I couldn’t give it up if I tried.