"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011


If you have ever driven west out of Pittsburgh, past the airport, and through Weirton, West Virginia, you'll find yourself on the most magnificent feat of civil engineering: the Fort Steuben Bridge.  It will, quite literally, take your breath away.  I haven't been on it recently, but I passed over it many times to visit my grandmother while I was an undergrad at Pitt.  The amazing thing about that bridge, is you pass from one state to another, and all the while, you're suspended in mid-air.  Suspended. Like a tightrope walker.

The word suspended finds its origins in Medieval Latin, meaning uncertain.  And is there any worse sensation than uncertainty?  Indecision, stumbling anxiety, lacking confidence, absent conviction.  The honest response, "I don't know. I'm not sure."  Uncertainty is everything I despise.  To me, uncertainty is akin to despair.

And yet, suspension is the only way I can describe it.  Nothing is as I had hoped.  Expectations failed, failed beyond any shadow of recognition.  The last 18 months feel like a ride on an eternal suspension bridge. No border crossings, no progress, just endless linear movement, sometimes in reverse.  And I don't know.  I don't know if I keep going, pressure on the accelerator, eyes on the odometer, and just go.  And hold steady: commitment. Remain committed to my expectations, and refuse to be disappointed. Is that within my control?

And I don't know. I don't know if I stop, force on the brakes, eyes on the speedometer, and just go.  And walk away: commitment.  Remain committed to what I believe to be possible, and refuse to accept anything less. Is that within my reach?

What is the line between patience and stupidity?  What is the statute of limitations on effort?

I can do a lot of things. But I can't answer these questions. I feel just like I am sitting on that suspension bridge, desperately trying to get to the other side, but I can't get there, and people are counting on me.  I am more frustrated than I have ever been.  And it's all so ... pointless. Isn't it?

Most days, I distract myself with music.  I find some tunes to make me smile, a soundtrack for my days. I always start with All Along the Watchtower (Dave Matthews version), and from there, it's anyone's guess.  This Saturday, suspended in time, working on a holiday week-end, it was no accident that Florence and the Machine invited themselves into my space.  When she was finished, she left her lyrics behind, little drops of wisdom suspended in the air, within my reach, and for a moment, I left all of those unanswerable questions unanswered.  Let them wrestle with themselves for awhile. 

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough
And things go wrong no matter what I do
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you've got the love I need to see me through

Thanks Florence. You're right. I could stay on this suspension bridge all the livelong day.  I am not patient. But I'm not stupid either. There's a way out of this, or a better way to be in this, or for sure a way through this.  My view is good.  My soundtrack even better. And the company I keep, well, the company i keep is second to none.  But, I don't want to brag.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Medical History and Permission to Treat forms: Check.

PTO forms and PTO dues paid: Check.

Family contact information submitted to school directory: Check.

Baseball sportsmanship forms (one for each child): Check and Check.

Baseball Parental Conduct forms (one for each team): Check and Check.

Baseball Permission to Treat in the Event of an Emergency form (one for each child): Check and Check.

Soccer sportsmanship forms (one for each child): Check and Check.

Soccer Parental Conduct forms (one for each team): Check and Check.

Soccer Permission to Treat in the Event of an Emergency form (one for each child): Check and Check.

School uniforms purchased, washed, pressed, folded, and put away in new hanging closet drawers, organized by season and size(one set for each child, spring classroom, winter classroom, spring PE, and winter PE): Check, check, check, and check. Don't forget you haven't bought the PE socks yet. What's another $20?

Hair cuts (one for each child): Check and Check.

Sunscreen permission forms (one for each child): Check and Check.

Sunscreen purchased (one bottle for each child, and labeled): Check and check. MFR: Do not buy Water Babies brand because it is too embarrassing.

Extended Day Medical History and Emergency Contact Forms (one set for each child): Check and check.

Art supplies, including smocks, fine point markers, and baby wipes packed (one set for each child): Check and check. MFR: Do NOT purchase the baby wipes with the picture of the baby's bum on the front because that's too embarrassing.

Soccer uniform purchased and embossed with correct jersey number: Check.

Baseball pants, belts, socks, and shirts purchased (one set for each child -- color coordinated): Check and check.

Cleats! Soccer and baseball (one pair for each child -- color coordinated): Check, check, check, and check. (Thanks Duke!)

Soccer shin pads, socks, and shorts (one complete set for each child -- color coordinated): Check and check.

School supplies purchased, labeled, and packed for each child: Check and check. (Let's not forget labeling each and every crayon and colored pencil. It took an entire bottle of wine.)

Notebooks covered with contact paper, single-handedly the most frustrating task in the history of school supplies: Check and check. (Coming in at a record 12 notebooks this year, could not be done while drinking wine because it requires too much dexterity and concentration).

School lunches ordered and entered into mom's master schedule (a different selection for each child, each day): Check and check.

New NIKE backpacks purchased and labeled (one for each child): Check and check. (Thanks Duke!)

Water bottles purchased and labeled (one for each child -- color coordinated to their sports uniforms and backpacks, of course): Check and check.

New this year! Athletic supporters purchased and presented to each child (one of whom thought it was a computer mouse -- not so fast, buddy.): Check and check. (Duke, this one is all yours next year).

Google calendar updated with every sports practice, game, skills training, husband's travel, board meeting, hair appointment, medical appointment, holiday travel, visitor agenda, and Patriots/Red Sox game: Check.

Team Mom duties performed on behalf of son's U12 soccer team: Check.

Director of Marketing duties performed on behalf of childrens' youth baseball league: Check.

Babysitter secured for PTO Parents' Night Back: Check. (I might never come home).

Let the games begin, boys, because Mama's got to get back to work.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reaching Our Homecoming

My boys come home in 65 hours (or so). And it's sort of been this long, lonely summer through which I wandered aimlessly. Not really having any the comforts of my attendant shadows to guide me, remind me, inspire me, or bring me purpose. I filled the days, but they all seem a little blurry. No husband near, no big kids near, and no little kids pushing against my heart and stealing my breath.

You know, when you practice yoga, it is all about the breathing. It's all about the stretching. How far can you stretch yourself? Can you challenge yourself more? Push harder? Can you show yourself grace? Can you be gentle with yourself? Can you dig a little deeper into authenticity? Can you stand firmer? Can you balance?

Push down to lift up. Lift, push, stretch, reach, and breath. Bend, fold, hinge, and breath. Push down to lift up. She's only trying to keep the sky from falling.

People say, "Why do you do so much?" I reply, "Why not?" but what I'm really thinking is, "Why do you do so little?" People say "You're too hard on yourself." I reply, "Nonsense," but what I'm really thinking is, "You're a hack." You know what they call people who aren't hard on themselves? Amateurs. And listen up, I'm NOT living my life in a perpetual amateur hour. It's a choice.

And when my little kids aren't near, when my husband is perpetual distance, and when my big kids are too far away -- it's just me. Just me. Just me, and my stretching and my reaching. And I can always reach higher, I can always stretch farther. Because it's always on offer. It's always waiting. And soon enough, there'll be a homecoming, and the boys will be stealing my breath and pushing against my space, and forcing everything back into balance. And there'll be bigger things, sweeter things, higher things to reach for. Up! Up! Up! Why stop now boys? Why do less boys? Your mama's not raising amateurs. Get out there and reach.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Simply the Best

Here are ten things that are good for the soul.

1. Waking up next to your husband.
2. Going to church and taking communion.
3. Doing a headstand for a few minutes.
4. Playing the piano.
5. Toasted german bread with liverwurst and soft boiled eggs.
6. A strong Starbucks.
7. Getting a package in the mail, surprise from a friend three time zones away.
8. The intrigue of a good book.
9. Hearing your children laugh.
10. The grace of another day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When You Feel Defeated

This week-end, I drove to Ohio to visit my grandmother in her new home, a care facility where she was admitted against her very strong will. At 98 years old, and with a broken leg, she just couldn't reasonably care for herself independently anymore. This was the best, although certainly not the easiest, solution for her safety. On my way there -- through the Township Roads, that wove me so far off the Interstate that I was concerned I might never be found again -- I received very few radio stations. To my good fortune, NPR came through loud and strong and I was able to listen to the winners of a recent essay contest. During one essay, I heard a beautiful phrase, that I will quote to the best of memory. "My biggest dilemmas in life have been answered in moments, not in words."

I enjoyed a thoughtful and caring visit with my grandmother, in which she bossed me six ways til Sunday. I tucked her in and left Saturday evening more fatigued than my busiest days managing a household of seven people. This I know is true: she's getting even with me. That little voice in her head, saying, "Well Nettie, if you're going to make me stay here, I'm going to make you work for it." And indeed, she did.

I stopped in again before leaving town on Sunday morning and found my grandma in bright spirits. She was sitting in her arm chair, putting her make-up on. Preparing for Coffee Club with her friends at 10:00. After applying her lip stick and brushing her hair, she looked up at me, with such innocence and asked, "Nettie, do I look garish?"

"Of course not, Grandma. You look like the lady you are," I replied.

We talked for awhile. About this. About that. I put my hand on her leg, told her I had to leave. And in that moment, without any words, everything changed. She laid her head back against the chair and lifted her feet slightly off the foot stool. She seemed so small, swallowed by the enormity of it all. The realization she was staying. That I was leaving. And home -- for both of us -- was somewhere far away.

She closed her eyes, and pulled her arms across her chest, and just began talking to me, so quietly: her back hurts, she's lonely, she doesn't get the rest she needs, she wants to go home, the bed isn't comfortable, her leg is sore, could I get her a Tylenol before I go? And then, everything changed again -- in the moment not with words. She put her feet back on the foot stool, readied herself, and turned her wedding bands on her fingers. My grandmother, the widow of almost 30 years, still wearing her wedding bands. "I just need to give myself a good talking to."

And in that moment, she taught me, how you behave when you feel defeated. You put on your lipstick, you comb your hair, you indulge a moment of despair, and you let it pass. You cling to the things that fortify you: a husband, a wedding band, a memory. And you are firm with yourself.

It was hard to leave, but it always is. Leaving is one of those things in life that doesn't get easier the more you practice it. As I was winding my way back to the Interstate, on roads that have long since been forgotten by the Department of Highway Safety, Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" forced its way through the speakers of my Subaru. There is so much determination, so much intention, so much spirit in the opening of this Act of opera. It's impetuous, it's stubborn, and it's willful. Forget the ways in which it has been used in political history: it is undeniably beautiful, majestic, and complicated music. And I couldn't help but envision my grandmother, head down, shoulder forward, charging down the carpeted hallways of her nursing home, whipping the wheels of her chair, all 4"8' of her, marking her 10:00 arrival at Coffee Club. Singing her battle cry, just like a Valkyrie would.

And so I learned, when you are feeling defeated, be indomitable.

Ok, grandma. I will. Thank you for the moment.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Soundtrack and Scenery

The soundtrack and scenery of motherhood is always in our ears, it's all we can see. It will never cease. This morning, I looked around and saw two growing boys. Baseball bats have replaced pacifiers. Equipment bags have replaced the diaper carry-all. Gatorade bottles have replaced sippy cups. And in that never-ending soundtrack, the click-clack of cleats on pavement have replaced the hum of stroller wheels across the park.

The house smells like Irish Spring body wash instead of baby powder. The washing machine churns with endless varieties of sports uniforms instead of onesies. The pitter-patter of tiny feet on tile replaced by the thump of two wrestling boys. Sports Center replaces Baby Einstein. And time marches on.

It can change. All of it can change, except for one thing. Just this one. May it always be, that after every ball hit, after every pitch thrown, after every out made, after every serve returned, after every ace spiked, after every base stolen, after every "A" earned, after every award achieved, after every good deed done, may my boys always look for me. May their eyes continue to search for me in the crowd, where I will always be, so that we can say, in our silent soundtrack that no one else can hear, and so that we can show through our silent exchange that no one else can see,

"Mama, did you see that?"

"Yes baby, I did. And I am so proud."

Sunday, May 8, 2011


When I look around me, I see nothing but riches. And I hold these truths to be self-evident. There is nothing in the world more gratifying than to love and be loved in return. To bear witness to the love you have nourished as it spins into lightness and comfort, like sugar into a cotton candy stick. To be cared for, and cared about, by people who actively welcome you into their hearts, into their spirits, into their family, and call you mother.

To be adored by the ones who call you mama. To be understood by the people who call you daughter. To be mirrored by the one who calls you sister. To be honored by the lives of the ones you call brother.

And to look into the mirror and see reflected, the deeply satisfying place you call home. The place you share with the mate of your soul, wherever he may be.

And there is nothing -- almost nothing -- in the world that can't be soothed by an afternoon of baseball.

It's self-evident. You just have to look.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


May 2 is a noteworthy day in my life. It is a day that changed my life forever six years ago: one in which new doors opened and old doors closed. It is nothing short of a threshold.

When I reflect on everything that has happened between May 2 then and now, I stammer for words. There were moments early on -- facing truths that pulverized me like waves too strong to stand in, but yet I kept trying. The undertow getting the best of me, dragging me away from the places at which I started. Sometimes pulling me under when I least expected it. The rush of seawater into my lungs that would leave me coughing for years. The sand disappearing under my feet as the tide washed away, leaving me searching for truth, slipping for balance.

There have been moments of guarded silence and moments of raucous hope. These have been years in which love and fear almost tore me apart -- but didn't. There’s been tiny single-mom apartments and a large family home stuffed full of seven loving souls. There’s a big yard, and first day of school pictures, and potty-training, and sweet 16 parties, and karate classes, and soccer games, and pre-school field trips, and new cars. Countless nights on the deck or by the firepit, drinking wine while my husband smoked a cigar. There’s been long talks with my big kids, the purchase of prom dresses, growing a garden, shoveling snow, building fires in the hearth, family dinners, loads of laundry, emotional battles waged, positions defended, victories, losses, stalemates, white flags, and change. Jobs and projects and income and interviews and background checks and new beginnings.

My family divided as our future multiplied.

Until finally, I landed on my yoga mat yesterday and during our final shivasnaa, the instructor read this passage, and I have to believe he was talking directly to me, although he never could have known, but surely he always has. "How long are you going to hold on to past hurts? For how long will you stand cloaked in your self-righteous suffering when you have the strength to let go? All you have to do is open your hands and lay down your most cherished fears.”

And with that. I did.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Running with Scissors

I remember learning that the root of the word "decision" is "to cut". I checked myself on www.dictionary.com this evening, and my memory is correct. The root is Latin, evolved to Middle French, and then Middle English meaning literally: a cutting off.

Maybe that's why decisions are so hard to make. Maybe that's why it is sometimes so hard to live with our decisions. There is, quite literally, an amputation involved in every decision we make.

I often find it difficult to appreciate the spoils of my decisions, because I spend so much time lamenting the casualities. What a special kind of warfare.

When we were married, my husband recommended that we be always like the blades on a pair of scissors -- forever connected at the center and cutting anything that comes between us. Careful to never harm each other. I suppose I can accept the decisions I make as long I have the balancing strength of both of our tandem blades.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

To Pieces

When we were little, I remember my dad saying, "I love you to pieces." I didn't really get it at the time. For some reason, it always reminded me of potato sticks (remember that silly snack that came in a can? Messy to beat the band. I could never really get a full mouthful of those things. They just made your hands greasy and litter the front of your shirt with salty debris and potato detritus). Anyway, I can't explain the mental connection between being loved to pieces and potato sticks. Maybe, quite simply, I just found them both to be messy propositions.

Lately, I've been thinking about what holds us together. Isn't it the same thing that breaks us to pieces? Think about it. If we walked around each day, fully aware of all the love that we hold in our hearts, surely we would shatter to pieces. There would just be, no feasible way, that we could function as human beings, if we were cognizant, at all times, of all the emotion glueing us together. The weight of the wonder would surely make us crumble. We would love to pieces.

Maybe we put it at a safe distance. A space that we can tolerate in our ordinary lives. But moments come, when the distance between us and that safe space collide, and the same force that is holding us together is the very force that breaks us apart. All that emotion, brewing, brimming, stirring, and stifled rushes in to raise us and raze us.

Paradoxically, the days when I am standing on the shoulders of giants, are usually the days that bring me to my knees.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Swing for the Fences

I'm pretty high-strung. Baseball is one of the only things that relaxes me. I love it's predictability, it's symmetry, it's order. Three outs, nine innings. Top and bottom. Baseball just makes perfect sense.

The other thing I love about baseball? Baseball deals hope.

Every pitch is an opportunity. Everyone gets a second chance. You just gotta believe. Even the worse curse can be reversed.

I love baseball. l love the hope of opening day. Every pitch is an opportunity. And if you strike out looking, well, guess what? That just means the pitcher was better than you. And that's ok. Because you'll see him again. And you'll get him next time. And if you strike out swinging, well, guess what? That's ok too. It just means you put up a fight -- you went out swinging. And your mama would be proud.

Every pitch is an opportunity. Swing battter batter swing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Prince

It doesn't always work out the way we plan. Accept it? I will. Here's why.

For far too long, I have placed too much importance on my professional accomplishments, and was far too driven, madly some may say, to achieve great things -- professionally. A colleague recently referred to me as "unsinkable" and a former employee earmarked me "an ox". Flattering, isn't it? That's certainly the legacy I want to leave on this earth: an unsinkable ox.

But, that's just work. I'm other things too. I'm a mother mostly, a wife, a friend, a sister, an aunt, a faculty member, a 4th grade classroom coordinator, and most recently a Little League caoch. My mother recently asked, "Did you write the book on time management?" I can only answer, "No." Truth be told, I've never actually written a book ... but it's on my list.

You may be familiar with a gentleman named Machiavelli. He wrote a book, a little piece called, The Prince. It is in this book that the phrase "the ends justify the means" is often mis-attributed: if the goal is achieved the measures taken to accomplish it are justified. Victory! But in life is always that simple?

I don't want to resurrect that tireless debate about working mothers versus stay-at-homes mothers. There are circumstances that compel any of us into any variety of choices, decisions, situations, compromises, and ways of being. I work by choice. And, for the longest time, I worked because it satisfied me. It was the thing that made me confident, it was something of which I was proud, it was a place I went to be challenged and enriched. I like to wear high heels, and work accommodates that. Recently though, I've refocused. I will still choose to work and I'll still wear high heels, but work is now nothing more than a means to an end, rather than the end which I am tirelessly trying to achieve.

I choose to work, not because I any longer need it to define me, but because work is the means that allows me to put my children in a great school. Work allows me to help my youngest son practice his lines and be in the audience when he plays God in the school play. Work allows me to be the baseball manager during his first season ever on a Little League team. Work allows me to never miss a basketball game, a tennis practice, a swimming lesson, or a home run. Work allows me to help with homework and read stories at bedtime. I worked this hard for so long, and for too long, I measured my success in the accomplishments I achieved at work. When, all along, it's the accomplishments I was accruing outside of work that demanded an inventory.

So, now, when I leave work, on time, to clock out, I am grateful. I am grateful for all the things that work allows. Work, a means to an end, not an end of the means.

Work allows my family comfort and stability. Work allows my boys to send care packages to troops we have never met, far from home, keeping us safe. Work allows me to buy plane tickets and college textbooks and kitchen utensils for my stepkids. Work allows for trips to San Juan with my husband. Work allows me to be at baby showers for my niece and basic training graduations for my brother. I choose this. I worked hard for this and I am happy to give almost all of it away.

So, yes, I work and I won't ever apologize for it again. I work because I am among the fortunate few that gets to play baseball with God.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saying My Piece (Peace)

It's been fits and starts. My husband bears the burden of my uncertainties on his indefatigable shoulders. Imagine if my Atlas shrugged. How would I ever recover my balance? Last week, he asked me if I had been blogging lately. I think he was suggesting that maybe it was time for me to process my anxieties and incoherence somewhere else. He knows me. Knows I need to reflect to make sense and find peace. So, I'm here. Reflecting. Searching for peace. Searching for the piece that always evades. My peace, my piece, my keystone to clarity.

Did you know I love words? The problem with loving in words is that I believe them to be true. I drink words, eat them for breakfast, sing them in the shower, post them, tweet them, text them, blog them, catalog them, speak them, hear them, seek them, absorb them, digest them, devour them, underline them, research them, adore them, and most importantly, trust them.

But words are fickle. Words are dubious. Words are unreliable. Words, meretricious words. Handle with care.

Words haunt me and taunt me through long sleepless nights. Echoes of words -- both those shouted and those unspoken -- tempt me, tussle my memory. All those lingering words hang in the balance. All those words uttered against my better judgement. No restraint. My impertinent tongue does not respond to reason. Not prudent. My voice box is often reckless.

I'll show you my soul with my words. I'll use my words to comfort you, abhor you, praise you, and deride you. I'll use words to express myself, define myself, and assert myself. Words as emollient, words as daggers. Listen, please listen. My words are me at my best, at my worst, my strongest, and my weakest.

So when you talk talk, and I listen listen, just know that I'm remembering remembering. A transcript of words, both yours and mine, catalogued, tagged, archived, and playing forever on the tireless tape in my head. Stuttering, puttering, listing, twisting, weaving, weary, proud, loud, smart, swift, truth, and dared. Words. Yours. Mine. Ours now. In perpetuity.

And when I can't silence it, when the cacophony hits a deafening roar on the inside, a clamoring jamboree, when words have failed me, I muster all my strength and push down harder on those mighty shoulders. Reaching tall, I stand on the shoulders of my personal giant, and he helps me see further, with greater clarity, more forgiveness, less judgement, and higher hope. Hope, "that bedraggled daughter of fear and desire". My Atlas deals me hope. And even though hope is not a brilliant strategy, it is a beautiful word.

Baby, please don't shrug.

ps: credit for this blog title goes to my good friend, Koreen Olbrish. Thanks K!