Breathing With Leaves

Dear Welly,

The trees in front of this house are big and beautiful and every year in October, the leaves carpet the lawn and porch. Today as we shuffled through the piles that you proudly raked yourself, I was remembering the first time we raked these leaves together. You were eight weeks old and I had you wrapped up onto my body on the sunniest of fall days. Your dad was going to be working late so I decided to surprise him by getting some raking done. We only got a small corner accomplished that day but I will remember it forever.

I had spent the weeks prior in a very dark place. We were waking up every two hours in the night to feed you because you weren’t gaining weight. Your dad was in the middle of his busy season and was struggling to meet his work deadlines. My breasts were swollen, my bottom was torn. I felt so alone and had no idea how to reach out for help. I couldn’t shake the fog that had settled in around me and the feeling that I was sinking. During my brief stretches of sleep I had nightmares that you were floating down a river alone or that I had forgotten to feed you for days. I woke up with my heart pounding and always reached over to feel your breathing, not relaxing until I felt your chest rise and fall.

I cried to my mom on the phone and said, “What happened to my life. What have I done?” And let me be clear when I say that I was never for one second doubting why I brought you here, or if it was worth it. I was just doubting this arrangement that seemed so flawed to me. The one where you needed to rely on me with every ounce of your being while I was just barely holding on to my sanity.

My mom did the best thing possible during our phone conversation. She gave me hope that things would get better. Soon she promised. Soon. Before you know it. Your body will heal, your hormones will balance, your son will grow, your milk will flow. Things will be ok.

She told me the sun would come out and that before I knew it, I would be walking around in the fresh air, taking you for walks and showing you the world. There will be seasons, she said. You’ll get to watch the leaves change and fall and then grow again. Life keeps moving. Life will go on. I wanted to believe her so badly so I clung to that image of you and I walking around in the sunshine. Living, breathing, moving forward, seeing the light. And it did happen before I knew it.

So there I was raking leaves in the front yard with my eight week old baby and I realized that we had made it. We were both feeling strong and you had started to gain weight and sleep longer stretches at night. My body had healed so that I could walk around outside and for the first time, I believed that everything really was going to be ok. I told myself to take a picture in my mind that I would always remember, and I did.

I remember your tiny body pressed against me and your tiny baby toes brushing the flaps of skin on my belly. I remember believing for the first time that maybe I could really learn to be the mama I wanted to be. I remember looking up into the branches that were hanging over our heads and I remember how the sunshine looked as it filtered through the dead leaves. There were shadows, there was work to do, but there was light anyhow.

Tonight, four years later as you fell asleep, you asked if you could climb up onto my tummy. With your head on my chest, your legs dangled clear to my knees and the weight of you caught me by surprise. But even as your body grows, we are getting lighter every day, Love. It’s getting easier to move, easier to dance, easier to face our fears.

When I rolled you off my tummy and onto the bed tonight, I could see the shadows of the trees on the wall, the branches dancing outside our upstairs window. They have seen us rise and fall, rise and fall, so many times while we’ve lived here. Just like your chest does when you’re sleeping.

Rising and falling, ups and downs. Maybe they are just a part of breathing.



Welly in the leaves when he was two:


Lost and Found

The other day before we started playing hide and seek, Welly looked at me with his soul eyes and said, “Mama if I get lost, will you always always find me?”

“Yes Baby. Always.”

And while he ran off to find his perfectly obvious hiding spot in a cardboard box, my heart felt the weight of that question.

Yes! That is it, isn’t it? That is all we have to do. Perhaps the big work of our lifetime is to keep finding each other, over and over when we got lost and disconnected.

I remember what my parents would tell me at Disneyland or the shopping mall or the woods: If you get lost, stay right where you are. Don’t fight it. Don’t scramble around. We’ll come to you and it’s so much harder to find a moving target.

I used to think my job was to not get lost in the first place, or to control everything for the people that I love so they would never get lost. Especially with my kids. Somehow I thought that my job was to love them perfectly and the weight of that almost put me under. My fear of failure is what caused me to check out. It’s so hard to show up everyday in my imperfections and say, “Here I am. This is the best I can do and I’m offering it to you.”

Even (and especially) in my failures and struggles, I am teaching my kids about real life. We’re stumbling around, misunderstanding, taking things personally, and sometimes living out of old wounds. That is the reality of this world.

We’re lost and found a million times every day, but more times than that, we’re reaching for each other. It’s the reaching that matters. Again and again, we’re showing up when we feel like checking out. We’re trusting and drawing close when we feel like lashing out, or repairing things after we do. We’re finding our way back and making new pathways to each other.

That is the work of finding and being found. That is the work of love.


A Pearl is Born

I usually don’t know what to say about Pearl’s birth. But today for her first birthday, I will try.

When her brother was born, the labor was longer and more difficult in many ways but there were pauses and space to breath. Not so with Pearl.

I had barely realized I was in active labor when I felt her head diving into the birth canal with so much pressure, I thought she would fly right out and leave me in pieces.

My midwife walked in the front door thinking she would check on me and probably settle in to wait awhile. Instead, she heard the noises I was making and sprinted up the stairs.

“I’m not ready” I said.

“It’s almost time to push,” she told me.

Bryan slurped his milkshake and I shot him a dirty look.

Some random songs were playing on Pandora. The birth tub wasn’t full and the water was lukewarm.

It didn’t matter, I couldn’t get off the bed anyways.

My body started pushing, with or without me.

I reached down and up and felt a fuzzy head.

The next few minutes were a blur. As I continued to push, my midwife saw some things that concerned her. We transported to the hospital for what we now know were precautionary reasons. I’ve thanked her over and over for being on the safe side.

I puffed little breaths as I held her in on the way to the hospital. My midwife put pillows under me that she brought from my house. She listened to my belly, smiled, and said, “your baby is happy.”

When we got there, to the hospital, the doors flung open and we were rushed into the room where Pearl was born. Fifteen minutes later.

She was peaceful and sweet and looked up at me like she wondered what all the fuss was about.

Her birth was as beautiful as I expected, but for completely different reasons than I planned.

Having children, bringing them out of their warm dark places, raising them in a world we scarcely understand; it’s all a mystery. There are so many unknowns, and so many moments every day where the only appropriate response is surrender.

Sometimes I am slow to surrender, preferring to drop little bits of control along the path while I still carry the armload of trying to figure it all out.

But when Pearl was born, there was nothing to do but let her out in the way she needed to come out, in the place we needed to be, in the moment that was her birth time.

I did the best I could, and that was enough.

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!

Me in labor:


Pearl Luciana:


Pearl and I on her first birthday:


Christmas Memories, Barefoot Fields

This Christmas Wellington pranced around the house in shiny black Mary Janes (two sizes too big) that he decided were his “ballerina shoes.”

It made my heart ache a little bit, in a good way, to see his eyes shine when he buckled on those beauties and high kicked and jigged so earnestly. It takes a lot of courage to show up with your soul shining like that; to know what you love and to do it with so much focus.

Also on Christmas, Pearl shocked us all by saying “baby” which sounded more like “buh buh,” when she unwrapped a baby doll gift and then kissed it over and over. I stared at her, and really saw her for the first time in awhile, knowing she was crossing some invisible line of growth and that from now on, I would only remember the tiny baby that she was in snatches.

Laying in bed that night I thought about both my kids and how they’re stretching my heart in places that I didn’t even know I had. They’re challenging me to my core, asking me to be awake when I’m much more comfortable numbing out and isolating the parts of my life that need light and breath and healing.When something gets stuck in my life, I can no longer just detour everything else around it.

For a long time I’ve been wanting to find the right way to be their mom and the right way to be everything else that I think I need to be. If trying to get it right actually got me anywhere, I’d be halfway to the moon right now. It’s exhausting and I’m ready to move on.

Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

That field is where I want to be all the time. I’m going to find that field and flop my tired bones down in it for awhile.

I have a memory of my best friend and I as teenagers, running through the hay field next to my house under the full moon. The hay had just been cut so the stubble was sharp but if we kept moving, it didn’t hurt our feet too bad through our flip flops. Everything glowed – familiar and new at the same time, and we ran until we couldn’t run anymore. Then we crept back inside to eat some Doritos and paint our toenails lime green.

I can still remember what that running felt like and now that we’re older and worn down a bit from the hard work of raising kids and being married, all the while trying to grow up ourselves, I still imagine that we’re sixteen, dancing under the moon. Our metabolism has changed though so Doritos are out.

When I look at the people I love most, including myself, I hope that I can find the courage to bring my whole heart to them this year and to meet them in the kind of field that Rumi talked about. The one where we give up on trying to get each other to change or affirm how right we are.

There’s enough space in that field for all of us to live in all kinds of ways, and to need all kinds of things. Also I think there is power there that can repair our broken hearts and heal us.

Much love and Happy New Year to you all!


Do You See What I See?

Sometimes I go into crazy-control-freak mode. It’s usually when I’m trying to avoid some emotion or other without knowing it.

When I’m in this state, it’s easy to think that my kitchen needs retiled, my hair needs to change, the kids need a new wardrobe, and my husband needs to change his personality entirely. Less than half of those things are true.

Also the house must be spotless and twinkling with Christmas lights NOW. Oh and we must be smiling while holding hands and singing carols. Even the baby. I become sure I’m the only one in the whole town who doesn’t have their sh&$ together enough to make their house sparkle. I start grasping and striving and It’s hard to prioritize and decide what really matters to me.

After I cry, or take some space for myself, or reach out to a friend, I can see things more clearly. The crazy-control -freak thrives on isolation, so once I connect with love, inside me or through another person, I come back to myself again.

And with my own two eyes, I see things differently. I see how I’m here with ratty hair, a messy but loved house, and one strand of battery operated Christmas lights sputtering on the porch.

Thoreau said, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see,” and tonight what I see is beautiful, and perfect, and more than I wanted.


Notes to Self About Family Gatherings

I have the dearest of family. Really I do. I never get tired of the ones who live close and I count down days to see the ones far away. I love them and enjoy their presence.

Still, there is something about gathering us all together in one room that can make some strange trigger sparks fly. It’s just that we’ve known each other so very long and so very closely, we could light a campfire from all the psychological friction.

Complicated parent-child relationship, rub, rub, spark. Messy divorce. clink, clink, ka-POW. Sibling assumptions, crackle, pop, ROAR. Thanks for humoring me with the sound effects. Can you tell I live with a three year old?

With family, it’s easy to assume we already know everything and we don’t have to listen. Also it’s easy to think that people never change and we can just slip into the same old roles we’ve always played that while comfortable, often lead to feeling misunderstood by the people we want to be closest to. Everybody deserves the space to grow and change and to be valued for who they really are.

So here are my notes to myself as I enter the holiday season. This is what I will TRY to do.

1) Listen when people are talking. To the words actually coming out of their mouth. With awareness and an open heart. Without calculating my response.

2) Notice when I’m telling myself a story: “oh she always does that,” etc. Special note to myself: any story that assigns a motive to someone else’s actions is definitely a story. A tall, tall tale.

3) Notice my triggers. When old bottled feelings crop up, they will probably tell me a story about myself or someone else (see #2). I will just notice that it’s happening.

4) Choose love. I want to open my heart and feel the love that I have for my family and that they have for me.

After all, the saddest thing is for everyone to be holding hands around a turkey, but secretly feeling alone in the parts of their life that matter the most.

To all of my family, I love you and can’t wait to eat lots of cookies and catch up.

To myself. Good luck.

Myself and Pearl last Thanksgiving:


This is Me Saying Thank You

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
-Mary Oliver-

Thanksgiving has always been a mixed bag for me. In the past I approached it as a time when I “should” be thankful. It reminded me that no matter how hard I tried, and how many lists I made, I didn’t really feel grateful.

I knew that my circumstances weren’t to blame since my external world had always been full of abundance. I wondered what this meant about me.

I wasn’t sure, but this was my hypothesis: many people in the world were worse off than myself. I had no right to complain.

Not surprisingly, this attitude did NOT make me more grateful.

Lately I’ve realized that some of those “complaints” were masking unmet needs. The more I tried to deny them, the sneakier they got at cropping up in my everyday life. I didn’t recognize them and I didn’t know how to own them. Instead of making me grateful, it felt like my long list of blessings invalidated this inner reality: that I often felt very empty and powerless.

Now that I’ve started listening to myself (when I can), I’ve noticed I have a greater capacity to listen to others. Their experience doesn’t always have to be about me, or mine about them.

I’m finding open spaces in my heart that I didn’t know I had. It surprises me that the spaces aren’t empty, but full and overflowing. And what they’ve been filled with is gratitude in the midst of a messy life.

So sometimes, on a good day, I notice myself and what I need. I notice the experience of others around me. I notice the gifts, big and small that are all around me.

Today I notice that I’m concerned about Welly’s injured arm and have a need to make sure I can care for him well. Also my body needs some sleep.

When I sink into that noticing, I receive a lot of other messages too, like the warmth of the sun and the food we prepared, the knowledge of our doctor, and the support that is palpable around our family. If I break down the dam of unmet needs, then the fullness of life comes rushing in.

Recently I’ve been coming across the idea over and over again that our work can be an act of Thanksgiving. I love this because it brings gratitude deep into my bones, not as an abstract concept, but as a way of moving.

I change a diaper, and I’m saying thank you :

Thank you for the beautiful, stink-making child, and thank you to her for being in my life. I don’t have to like wiping someone else’s poop, but the act of showing up and caring is gratitude.

I wipe sticky coatings off the dining room table that are unidentifiable and startlingly resilient. I may or may not get it cleaned, but as I show up with my raggedy washcloth, I’m saying thank you:

Thank you for this table, passed down from friends who gathered around it with their own family and banged it up with forks full of food. Thank you for the food that Bryan and I put on this table, even though I’m weary of chopping it and the kids sometimes don’t like it. It’s available and abundant. My pantry is overflowing with healthy food. Thank Goodness.

More and more, as I listen, I have space to notice the gifts that have always been around me. And I notice some crappy stuff too that may or may not turn out to be a gift also.

So this is me, upstairs among the dust bunnies, rocking a teething baby, creaking the boards and really occupying my place in the world.

This is me saying thank you in whatever way I can today. Join me if you want. I know our thanks will be noticed.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

iphone Photo by my husband. Actually, go ahead and steal this one if you want to :).

Foggy Morning

Clarity, direction, a clear head and a clear path. That’s what I’ve been praying for lately.

Last week I told a friend that my mind feels foggy and that this is a problem. I want to see farther. I want the whole picture. Sometimes I just want to know it all and get my act together.

But today I actually walked in the fog and learned something new. I could only see what was directly in front of me and around me. Everything else was hidden. Can you see the freedom in that? See how I can notice one leaf, one thread on the spider web, one crack in the sidewalk that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise?

There is grace in not having everything all at one time, in having some things clouded from view so that all you can see is this one step, now , and then the next.

Maybe this is the way to see more clearly after all.


Photo by my talented friend Joel Bock. Used with permission. Please do not steal it without asking him.

Baby Tears and a Soft Belly to Land on

Dear Sweet Baby Girl,

Tonight after crying in my arms, you flopped across my floppy soft belly and fell asleep.

In your sadness, you made your way back to the place where you began. Now I’m laying here while my stretched out skin rises and falls, rocking you there like when you lived inside.

You were so, so tired today but wouldn’t nap at your usual times. When your dad got home from work, I brought you upstairs again hoping you could finally get some rest. But you crawled around the bed and laughed and flapped your arms and rolled around.

I almost gave up and brought you back downstairs to play, but then I took a second look.

I thought of all the changes you’ve been through recently and how much you put up with from your sweet, wild brother. I thought about how flexible you are and how I always assume you’re doing fine, because usually you are.

But tonight I knew. You needed me to understand that things are not always fine and that in your own little baby way, you were struggling.

I looked in your eyes and told you it was ok to cry and your sweet little baby face instantly melted into tears. You extended your arms and squealed to shake out the frustration, then you squished up your eyes and wailed. Every so often our eyes locked and I nodded that I was still listening.

It wasn’t easy for me to hear you cry like that. I had to wrestle with my own desire to just make it stop. But I’ve learned how healing it can be to cry with somebody who accepts you, and I wanted that for you.

When you were first born, I intended to make sure you knew that all emotional expressions were welcome in our home. I had learned a few things the hard way with Welly and I was anxious to put them into practice.

But then you hardly ever cried. Not much anyways.

You came out seeming so comfortable in your body and so calm. A part of me breathed a huge sigh of relief because it feels so good to know that you are able to be at ease in this world in a way that is mostly foreign to me.

Tonight though, I want to give you permission to feel whatever you want to feel.

You don’t have to be the happy one, the one who has an easy time and makes my life easier. I want to release any preconceived ideas about who you are and allow you the space to grow and change every day.

We’re all becoming new every day baby. Tears are a gift that help us chip away the old layers to reveal what is happening in our lives.

Yes, yes, whatever you need to feel will always be ok with me. Unless of course you’re a teenager and you FEEL like your mother is sooo old and embarrassing. In that case you can just stuff those feelings on down :).

Sweet Dreams Pearly Lou.


The Listening List

“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich

Dear Welly,

This week while we were visiting your grandparents, I took you shopping at a consignment store.

As we walked into the store, something didn’t feel quite right to me. It might have been the fluorescent lights, the rushing people, or the haphazard boxes in the corner. I saw your eyes glaze over in the way that you and I both do when we’re overwhelmed.

Still, you liked looking at some of the toys and I held out hope of finding a good deal on winter coats, so we stayed for awhile.

Then you spotted it: a rickety, rusty, old red bike that wasn’t your size. And you wanted it oh so badly. You hung all your hopes and dreams on this truly crappy old thing that must have been beautiful to you. It took you just seconds to imagine yourself racing around the neighborhood.

When I said, no, I saw your bottom lip start to shake and your body slump. I could tell, because I know you well, that this was no time to push forward with our shopping. I scooped you up, we waved goodbye to the bike, and headed to the car.

Once we were buckled in, your grandma drove and we talked about the bike. I tried to explain with endless amounts of words and reasons, why this wasn’t the bike for you. How would we get it on the airplane? I was being so logical and hoped you would think so too.

I want a red bike, your voice quivered. Over and over, no matter what I said.

I started to tense up in the way I sometimes do when I can’t fix things for you.

My jaw clenched tight as though I could squeeze hard enough to hold back the hurt for both of us. I was uncomfortable and I had conflicting voices running through my head about how I should handle this.

Empathize and move on, one voice said.

He needs to be grateful for the tricycle he already has, said another.

And the worst enemy of all parents, the voice of self-criticism said: you’re not handling this well and he will be damaged.

All of these voices took my focus away from you.

Then something kind of miraculous happened. I stopped listening to the voices and just noticed them. I also noticed the discomfort in my body and that’s when things started to shift and I was able to really hear you.

You really loved that red bike, I said. You paused and looked up with big eyes so I continued:

You were really hoping to bring it home. You must have been so disappointed when I said no. You nodded.

I don’t know when, but someday we’ll get you a bike. Would you like to tell me about the kind of bike you want and I’ll make a list so we don’t forget?

All of the sudden your body relaxed. You knew you were going to be heard. Instead of frantically repeating your requests while I talked over you, you were able to articulate your wants and set them free.

And just because it’s so adorable, here is the list:

1) I want a red bike.

2) I want it to be huge.

3) I want it to look like Abraham’s but he has a black seat so I want a red one.

4) I want training wheels in the back so it doesn’t tip over.

5) Actually I want training wheels in the front too so that I can go really fast without tipping over.

Oh my sweet, driven little boy. I’m really really glad that you know how to assert yourself boldly and be clear about what you want. These are skills I’m just now learning as an adult.

It doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but it means you believe in your own worthiness enough to ask. Chances are, it means you’ll respect others when they ask for things too. That is my prayer anyways.

Keep asking my love, I promise I’m learning how to handle it!