Listen to Us

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This poem, by Shel Silverstein, always made me sad. When I was a little girl, I had an audiocassette of him reciting it, and his warm, avuncular voice is the one I hear in my head when I read it.

The Little Boy and the Old Man

by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the little old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

It’s hard not to feel heard. Little children sense that they’re being ignored even if they can’t express it well. They may do other things to get the attention of grown-ups: break something, have a tantrum, or find other ways to force that grown-up to take notice. Old men may quietly do what they want, or give up entirely, but they have an understanding of who they were when they were young men — that they ignored their elders, that they paid less attention than they wished they had, and the empathy they have might lessen that feeling of sadness. These are expected responses.

But what about women? Continue Reading…

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I’ll Hold Two Hands

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I have two nurturing, empathetic daughters. Both went away to overnight camps this summer and came back with appropriately maternal nicknames. One daughter was affectionately nicknamed “Nancy,” a name her camp friends said sounded like someone’s mom, because she greeted her friends each morning with “did you sleep well?” The other daughter, equipped with a bag of crocheting, another bag of butterscotches, and sipping a can of ginger ale, felt called to wake her friends in time for class in the morning; they called her Grandma.

I glowed with pride when they told me.

Because their loving natures make them muse regularly about what it will be like to have their own children, I feel full approval to imagine myself as a grandmother, someday. My grandparents were not a part of my life, but my daughters have been lucky to have two grandmothers and a grandfather, giving me a window into all the choices I might have someday about how to conduct myself in those magical, far-off years. I have thought often about the way I want to behave. After all, becoming a grandmother does not end my tenure as a mother, nor as a wife. How to proceed? Who will I be? Continue Reading…

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Just Show Up

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I’m thinking a lot about the phrase “show up,” as in, “be there” or “do the right thing” or “offer support.”

“Show up” as in, “put your face in front of the issue. ”

“Show up” as in “put your time and your body into something:” a cause, a friend’s crisis, a co-worker’s concert.

Show up: present, ready, open.

Continue Reading…

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I Was Always There

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I hate this picture.

I hate that my daughter — normally so sunny, so funny and vital and affectionate and bright — asked me to take this photo. She asked me because she wanted to keep a record of her time staying in the cardiac intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, where she was trapped after surgery to move her aorta from where it was crushing her esophagus. She asked me to take this picture — this haunting, heartbreaking picture — because I’d suggested that she keep a journal of each day, mostly so she could see herself getting better each day. I hadn’t anticipated that she’d be awake for the photos the first day. Somehow, though, she pried her eyes apart and did her best to smile, right there, as the sun was beginning to set on day one. Continue Reading…

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The Power of Community

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When my children were five and almost-two, we moved roughly 2 miles north. We sold our sweet little townhouse in a quiet courtyard in the city and moved to a big single-family home in the nearest suburb north. For the most part, we moved so that our five-year-old could go to a school with smaller class sizes and so that she and her non-sleeping baby sister could have their own bedrooms. Too, there was a part of me that had glimpsed at the process of looking for high schools in Chicago and wanted to avoid it at all costs. We moved for ourselves, thinking only of the life within the walls of our home and the school our kids might attend.

Until then, I’d been living a mostly isolated life as a parent. In our city courtyard, there was only one precious family with identically-aged children, but those children slept like angels — long naps and early bedtimes, short windows of free playtime compatible with my daughters’ chaos. In retrospect, it was an outright blessing and not at all a small thing to have found myself hugely compatible with their mother, someone who became one of my dearest friends and a great teacher to me on topics too great to write here. Still, in those toddler/preschool years, the company we could keep was not daily, and because of my younger daughter’s constant illness in her first two years, I’d not been able to make any other friends with other families. I spent my days largely without adult contact. It was incredibly, incredibly lonely.

When we moved north, then, I didn’t expect much of my life to change. The preschool where my youngest was finally healthy enough to attend was part of a day care center, a remnant from my days of working when my oldest was my only, and so I never knew the other parents well. No one stuck around to chat long — everyone was at the beginning or end of long days, and if I saw them, it was only on the rare occasion that I brought my youngest to preschool at the very beginning of the day or picked her up at the very end. For the most part, I saw the teachers, the barista at the coffeeshop, and my husband. When I moved, I expected that to stay mostly the same.

I was wrong. Continue Reading…

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