my portal to the dark side

I am bothered by parents who constantly check the parent portal, sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. I’m not sure they realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. — An irritated teacher

Reading this, I am beset by a sudden, sinking feeling. It is the same feeling I had fifty years ago when I was riding my bike and a police car pulled up behind me, siren blaring. I knew what I’d done, and it was bad. Faced with the choice to do the right thing, I had nevertheless given in to the impulse to ride, rather than walk, my bike through the crosswalk. I was busted.*

Last week I came across an article on the pros and cons of student information systems, or parent portals, to view grades, attendance, and assignments, and I found the quote above. My first thought was: who checks grades only 5 or 6 times a day? My second was: they knew.

Everyone knew. The school knew, the teachers knew, and my daughter knew. Everyone knew what I am about to say for the first time.

My name is Georgia’s Mom, and I was a parent portal addict.

To my mind, it was a unavoidable. I was practically forced. They opened the vault and shoved me inside. Sometime around 2013, our school district adopted student management software. I can barely remember how sweet and simple life was before then. From kindergarten to fifth grade, there weren’t any number grades. The report card would have an O for outstanding, an E for excellent, an N for needs improvement, and a P for practically perfect in every way. One year, my daughter got an actual award for Being An Awesome Young Lady!! Admittedly, she was only 6, but I found this to be a quite sufficient and extremely accurate record of progress.

But no, they had to come up with a “way for both parents and students to stay involved in the student’s academic life.” Oh, you want me more involved in her academic life? Just watch me.

I remember how involved my parents were. Not. They saw my grades when I brought home my report card. They signed it and went back to watching Jeopardy. That’s how I learned to be involved by myself.

I was your basic recreational user of the parent portal until I went hardcore in high school, specifically 10th and 11th grades. Those are the years that matter, I’d been told, those are the years on the transcripts that are sent to the colleges, the grades that determine everything going forward, the rocket fuel for one wild and precious life. So naturally, I upped my involvement. I learned a lot over that time period. I learned, for instance, that some teachers load grades only intermittently or haphazardly, leaving your child with a mysterious missing assignment for days upon frantic days and nights. I learned that attendance records are erroneous and require an immediate text to your daughter to tell her to confront the faulty roll-taker today. I learned when the math teacher graded tests (after 2 p.m. on Fridays) and when the English teacher graded essays (after 11 p.m. on Sundays). I learned that getting final semester grades in real time requires refreshing the page, oh, 50 or 100 times a day over Christmas break so that you can heave a sigh minutes before your child strides out from her bedroom saying “I made an A-minus!”

But mainly what I learned is what a gnarly beast of an ego I carry around, haunting myself and terrorizing others. “No one else’s parents are like you!” my daughter would cry in self-defense. “I’m afraid to tell you anything because you are so OCD! It makes me feel that you don’t trust me to do anything right.”

Gulp.

By senior year I knew I had to go cold turkey, so I swore off. I never checked the portal, not once, so I didn’t see that shocking F on the March 13 quiz in economics. Whatever. I told my husband that it was his job to stay on top of grades, which he didn’t do, and would have never done, so I had to do it just a little. The bottom line is that the die was cast; she was on her way to where she would have gone anyway, and without me.

The saving grace of college, by the way, is that they go without you.

Reflecting now on my shame and regret, it seems that the parent portal is just more technology sold in the name of connection that causes infinitely more disconnection. I realize that there is no privacy in our world. Someone is looking over your shoulder all the time. What I can do is quell my own beast and swear that the person foolish enough to distrust my daughter will no longer be me.

*Do you want to go to jail? the policeman yelled at me. I was 11. He let me off with a warning.

invisible from earth

My smiley 13-year-old came home from school one afternoon, stepped into the kitchen where I stood at the sink and instantly blurted out a stream of gibberish that sounded like so-and-so asked me if I wanted to date him and I said yes.

I’m pretty sure I paused in thoughtful reflection before I said the wrong thing. I’m pretty sure I paused because 1) I’d never heard of the boy named so-and-so, and 2) I couldn’t conceive of how two children their age could go on anything approximating my idea of a date. My next question came from genuine puzzlement.

What does that mean?  

I DON’T KNOW! The words flew out of her in a sobbing scream and she covered her face with her hands. That right there was a pretty convincing indication that we’d entered a perilous new phase of this zen motherhood thing, a phase where neither one of us knew what was going on.

After that, I didn’t know why she had occasional migraines and mysterious stomach aches, days when she begged to stay home in bed or pleaded to leave school at lunch, had what seemed like twice-weekly panic attacks, called me crying from the girls’ bathroom, lied, drank, and smoked in her bedroom the night before finals as if we couldn’t smell the smoke from under her door. And so I didn’t understand why one day her hope soared and her heart healed, she got her groove, and surfaced on the other side, alive.

So yeah, I don’t know about any of that.

I’ve been talking to some friends lately, friends whose daughters are 13 or 14. They are dealing with issues of boundaries, setting limits, and having endless arguments over how much time a day is safe to let a teenager disappear into the phone. These parents are worried, naturally. They mean well, I know they do, because I always mean well too, even when it doesn’t look like that. But what I end up saying to them is something like this: It won’t work. The signal won’t reach.

Adolescence isn’t a place in-between childhood and adulthood. It’s not like a long road trip where you pass through Kansas City to get to St. Paul. Adolescence isn’t even on the map, and get this: our kids know it, so underneath the mask of anger and rebellion, they are terrified and alone.

For me, that day my daughter walked into the kitchen was like an alien landing. And for her, it was the first step onto the dark side of the moon. A world where she doesn’t know the words or customs, where she has to let go of old things and grab hold of new things, take risks, make mistakes, get angry, be lost and the whole time act like she isn’t.

Two days later, so-and-so said that he no longer wanted to date her.

I don’t have a name for the dark stretch of deep worry and difficulty, but astronomers do. They call it the new moon, so hopeful and full of promise, and entirely invisible from Earth.

Somebody else may tell you exactly what to do about it. But all I have to say is what you don’t want to hear: step back, have faith, and give it time.

under florida skies

A Day of Meditation
Sat., May 25, 2019, 8-4
Southern Palm Zen Group
meeting at
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton

I’ll be a guest teacher for a day of practice including meditation, a dharma talk, the opportunity to meet privately, and a delicious vegetarian lunch.  Suggested donation is $45.  Please RSVP by May 22 to southernpalmzengroup@gmail.com. Seating is limited; the sky is endless.

an abundance of exclamation

When my daughter was in seventh grade, I became alarmed at her overuse of an addictive stimulant: the exclamation point. And not just one, but a scattershot of exclamation points exploding across her texts, emails and essays. I felt like asking the language arts teacher when she would start teaching language. But I didn’t. The teacher didn’t need a critic; she needed a volunteer. So I offered to teach descriptive writing to the class.

My goal was to convince the 12-year-olds that they had a vast vocabulary of words to express feelings without overpunctuating a sentence. At our first lesson, I asked the kids to tell me different words that meant “happy.” Then I asked for words that meant “sad.” Emboldened, I went for the gold, asking if anyone knew a word that described a mix of happy and sad. One brave girl volunteered.

“Bipolar?” she said.

It was bittersweet.

I didn’t ask how she knew a word from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I didn’t want to know. She might have learned all about it on Instagram. But I worried just the same.

Not long ago I was talking to the mother of an incoming kindergartener who was anxious about her child’s readiness. Pre-K prepares a child for kindergarten, I said, kindergarten prepares for first grade, first grade prepares for second grade, and so on. Middle school is really about preparing for high school and high school is all about college. It’s a refrain you hear every year at Back-to-School Night, and I guess it makes us feel that our kids are getting somewhere. But where, exactly? More to the point, at what price to our children? We can probably answer for them, because we already know what it feels like to spend our whole lives anxiously trying to get somewhere else.

A local high school junior disappeared after being dropped off one Saturday morning at an SAT testing site. It wasn’t the first time she’d taken the SAT, her frantic parents told reporters. She’d taken it many times in order to keep improving her score before applying to colleges. This wasn’t like her, no, she was a straight A+ student in the running for valedictorian at an extremely competitive high school! But in the end she skipped out and took the train to San Francisco instead of filling out the bubble sheet one more time. She sounded like a very smart girl.

Before senior year my daughter went away for a month as part of a pre-college summer program. She was excited and so was I. This was going to be a blast! You can bet that when a university brings a couple hundred footloose 17-year-olds to campus there is a lot of communication involved. In the last email from the college before arrival, there was a packing list, a move-in schedule, and a list of emergency contacts. What I wasn’t prepared for was this highlighted reminder: Make sure that you have taken all necessary steps to secure the mental health resources your student may need while they are here.

So this is where we are. I don’t have words, but I’ve been saving up a primal scream of exclamation points. Is anyone listening? We have to do better than this!!!!!

steps of encouragement

1. I understand, I know it’s hard.
2. I think you can handle it.
3. Want to give it a try?
4. When you’re ready . . . fly.

SPIDEY HOT DOG BOY
Made for the 2019 NYU 48 Hour Film Festival.
Levi Kaplan as “Spiderman”
Georgia Miller as “Pink Power Ranger”
Yarin Neuhaus as “Boyfriend”
Georgia Miller as “Girlfriend”
Natalia Ferrara as “Wacky Brooklyn Hot Dog Hat Guy”
Directors • Chelsea Eisen, Natalia Ferrara
Producers • Georgia Miller, Chelsea Eisen
Writer • Sam Dinerstein
Story • Ensemble
Editor • William Lancaster
Score • Brian Niles, Andrew Villeneuve
Director of Photography • Jeremy Herron
Location Sound • Chelsea Eisen
Color • William Lancaster, Jeremy Herron
1st AC • William Lancaster
2nd AC • Ethan Dean
AD • Sam Dinerstein
Casting • Georgia Miller

working up to solid food

I have a friend who likes to hike the trails around here and for a while we were going together every week. She’d call in the morning and ask if I wanted to go. If I was free I’d say yes but I had to be home by three to cook dinner. Single and childless, she didn’t have those constraints, so she didn’t quite believe me.

Every day? Every day you have to cook dinner?

She made it sound like dialysis. But yes, at least five days a week for as long as my daughter was at home I cooked dinner. And I didn’t just cook dinner, but I gave considerable thought to what was lurking in the refrigerator and what I could make from it and when it would be ready. Because it had to be ready for her to eat before gymnastics, or before tutoring, or even just before she tore into the tortilla chips and ruined her dinner. And then after she ate I’d ask if she liked it and if she’d want to take the leftovers for lunch the next day. She usually said yeah, sure. I did quite a few things with my time during that span but I’d have to say that packing up leftovers for her lunch felt like my lifetime achievement, and it happened nearly every day.

Nowadays when people ask me how it’s going, they mean how is Georgia adjusting to college. I hesitate to say much, because there are highs and lows. Then they realize that the real question is how is it going for me. How’s the empty nest?

People talk a lot about the empty nest. But let me tell you, nothing really happens in the empty nest. Nothing happens every day.

So I’ve noticed how much of the last 20 years I invested in the every dailiness of parenting. Like the constant, nagging responsibility for nutritious meals, a healthy body, a growing brain, a good night’s sleep, clean towels, paired socks, and a well-made bed. Good, straight teeth. The fever, rash, earache, and sprained ankles. The doctor, the dentist, the orthodontist, the teacher, the tutor, the coach. The drop-off, pick-up, dues, forms and permission slips. These things seem like they’re ever mounting, but all along they are slipping away until nothing happens every day.

I am tired of taking leftovers, she said when she was 19.

Since she’s gone, there doesn’t seem to be a need for so much food or even to eat. For dinner, I make soups, mostly. A few weeks ago we had an overnight guest, and I made soup. By way of explanation, my husband made a joke:

We are working up to solid food.

what keeps me going

J0OfawB

About twice a year I spend six hours sitting still and quiet with a small group of total strangers in the converted attic of a century-old house in a tricky neighborhood near downtown LA. That’s what I call a beginner’s Zen meditation retreat. These days, an event like that is probably considered old school. But that’s how we used to learn and practice meditation, and some of us still do: in real life in a real place with real people in real time. When I got home, I had a message from an old friend who said she wasn’t calling for any particular reason. That’s what friends used to do too. Just be friends for no reason.

Today, these two events are so rare, so nearly impossible to believe, that it makes me want to write them down. I don’t write many things down anymore. Someone asked me about that recently. He said, “You don’t write on your blog much anymore.” And it’s true, I don’t. I tried to give him an answer why. There’s the matter of privacy, and the wrenching realization that I have exploited much of my life and family for the sake of . . . just for the sake of me! And then there’s the sad situation that not as many people read anymore. They say they do, but they don’t read blogs, don’t read books, and don’t even search the internet as much as they did last year, let alone last month. It’s even true of me. I read a whole helluva lot all the time but I don’t buy books very often anymore. I borrow them for free from my library’s digital database. And you might argue that kind of reading still counts but I know it doesn’t count for the author or the library.

Last year my hometown library canceled my library card because I hadn’t been to the library for two years. I called up, confused and upset. I told them I read about three e-books a week from them, and they said, but you haven’t been to the library. And you might say setting foot inside a library doesn’t count, but I know it does count when it comes to keeping the library open. Every year they have to fight the good fight at City Hall—where the not-so-hard choice is between keeping the library open or providing water and sanitation services—and so they keep cutting the library hours into fractions of fractions of fractions. They renewed my card because I asked. Librarians will do that for you.

Two weeks ago I heard from a writer at a magazine who was working on a story about “the evolution of iPhone Buddhism and someone said I should talk to you.” I told him I didn’t know what iPhone Buddhism was (although I could make a cynical guess) and he confirmed that my guess was right. Someone is seriously suggesting how important the phone is for the dissemination of Buddhist teachings and practice today, and I admitted that I don’t use a smartphone so I couldn’t comment, but I could suggest a revolutionary new mindfulness app: put the goddamn phone down!  The advanced version would be: turn the goddamn phone off. He said that was the most profound thing he’d heard anyone say on the topic.

Whenever I do a beginner’s retreat I am reminded why people would leave their homes, turn off their phones, take off their shoes, come up two flights of stairs and sit with strangers in silence all day.

The reason why is that something is missing from our screens. There’s no social in our social; no life in our life. There has to be something real, something that can’t be digitized, monetized, and sold. And there is. It’s what keeps me going, and perhaps it will keep you going too.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
March 31, 2019, 9-3
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Register by email

This post was originally published on Mar. 21, 2016, and look! It’s still going.

truer colors

This is a picture of my daughter and some of her friends before they went to prom last spring. When I posted it on Facebook, people kindly said they looked like movie or rock stars, brilliant and beautiful. That’s true for all young people, and yet it seems especially so for this group of young actors, writers, and filmmakers.

In the foreground is my daughter, Georgia, with her favorite cinematic artist, Dylan.

When people ask me how my daughter enjoyed her experience at an arts high school, I rarely give the answer they expect. The fact is, it’s hard to be an artist. There is doubt, discouragement and rejection. There are endless obstacles and outright impossibilities. You don’t get the part; you don’t get the prize. You fall apart. So I say something else. I say the life of an artist—like each of our lives—is a life of pain. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the song gets sung.

Right now, Dylan is trying to raise money to make the final film of his high school career. It’s such an outsized undertaking that he has to ask for help from strangers, and that’s where I come in. Even if you can only give a little drop in the bucket, that helps enormously. As a small-time author, I carry a bucket, so I know that every drop counts. If his campaign link isn’t visible below, you can find it at this Go Fund Me page.

Since I’ve been spending some time looking at this year-old photo, I’ve realized that everyone is still pursuing their art, even with personal setbacks, turnabouts, and a fair share of rotten luck. They haven’t given up on themselves, and they haven’t given up on each other. These are the seers and scribes, the poets and storytellers, who will paint tomorrow’s world in truer colors. Take inspiration from them, and if you can, give a little bit back. Encouragement is never wasted.

Dear friends, I am profoundly and deeply grateful for your gifts.

writing to you

A few days before my daughter left for college, the air between us was not air. It was more like tar. Neither of us could budge from our opposing sides. Inside her room, she was petrified; outside, I was petrified. You’d think that at a crossroads like this we could’ve shared a sentiment. But no, if you can’t share the oxygen in a room, it’s unlikely you can share anything else.

That’s when a thought came to me. I’ve written about her, but I’ve never written to her. I scooted out to Staples and bought a red-covered Moleskin, then filled the first dozen pages. I told her what I knew and believed beneath the sticky pitch of my fear. Whatever I wrote, it was quick. I don’t remember any of it.

I knocked on her door and handed the journal to her. I’ve written a little bit about you, and now you can fill in the rest. A few minutes later she came out in tears. We shared a long embrace.

After she’d landed cross-country in a world of her own, I continued to write to her. A letter a week, perhaps, because what else could I do with myself? Although in person most of what I say is a tiresome nag, the words on paper were love.

She told me that she’d started to write in the journal, and then one day she wrote to me. When I told people that my daughter had written me a letter, they all responded the same way. On paper?

Yes, on paper. Words on paper, written to me.

***

About my books, some people say This is drivel, irritating, unhelpful. I couldn’t finish. Don’t bother. At the same time, other folks will say You have cracked me open and read my thoughts. I underlined the whole thing. This book is for everyone. 

It’s a curious thing: how people see or hear each other so differently when at the deepest level we are all alike.

Last week I mailed my daughter one of my books, the one called Hand Wash Cold. It was a blind leap, but she was feeling lost and hopeless, and I knew that feeling well.

Then I got a text. I’ve been reading all night.

How could it be that the words I’d written for me would turn out to be written for her? Because of love.

***

I want to write to you today about writing, since we now share writing with each other. It blows my mind that you are reading my books and loving them. That’s because I put love into the words when I wrote them, even though I can’t remember writing them or even what they were.

If you take anything from the old, dried-up words on a page, it is love, because love put them there. And the same can be true of every word you write and every word you say, even if it’s someone else’s written word. It is your breath and your blood that brings words to life. So you, too, will always have the power to bring forth words that will help other people even as the words help you.

This is how we bring the broken pieces of ourselves back together.

***

Photo by Brandi Redd.

raising your child to be

Years ago after Hand Wash Cold came out, I traveled around to people’s homes and gave talks about the book. I called it my Kitchen Table Tour. Folks all over the country were kind enough to host me for a gathering of their friends and sometimes even let me, a complete stranger, spend the night.

I visited a home in Silicon Valley where I gave a short reading and then took questions. One guest quickly raised her hand. I noticed that she’d brought her own copy of the book, which was plastered with sticky notes. She’d done her homework. There was a particular passage that provoked her question. It was the part about how my husband loads the dishwasher differently than I do, and that the way I’d dealt with his unorthodoxy was to just re-wash the dishes, if they needed it, in the morning. Specifically what I’d written was this:

The miracle does not occur in the machine. The miracle does not occur in the second wash. The miracle occurs when I don’t say a word about it.

Why couldn’t I just teach my husband how to load the dishwasher correctly? she asked, adding that she had two sons and she fully intended to raise them knowing the right way to load the dishwasher.

I can understand that way of thinking. We want people to do things the right way, which is often our way, so they will be coequal to household tasks and other critical competencies. Why would we waste the opportunity to produce better, smarter people? It makes perfect sense, so I knew my answer wouldn’t satisfy her.

Because I already know how to end a marriage, and I need to learn how to keep one. 

I think about this episode when I see someone write about what they are raising their children “to be.” Aren’t we all raising our children to be something better? You bet. It’s a fill-in-the-blank kind of thing. We might be trying to raise children to be kind, honest, self-reliant, or emotionally resilient. A loyal friend, a compassionate listener, a good citizen. Raising sons to respect women or raising daughters to respect themselves. We have all kinds of worthy ambitions for our children, I won’t deny that. But how do we teach that? By edict, insistence or imposition? I’d answered that question before too, in Momma Zen, and it might not be satisfying.

My child will do what I do and say what I say, but she will never, without coercion, do what I say.

The answer is that I have to be what needs to be. I have to be honest, self-reliant, and resilient. I have to be patient, tolerant, and optimistic. I have to be open and encouraging. A good listener and a devoted friend. Strong, brave, and self-respecting. I have to be that for her, even now, especially now that she’s gone.

These days when she writes to me, which isn’t often, she says more or less the same thing: that I’ve shown her what a strong and intelligent woman looks like. Here’s how I would answer that.

Not quite yet, but don’t give up on me, and I won’t give up on you.

 

they didn’t see

If you don’t see the Way,
you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

—Identity of Relative and Absolute

Over the last 20-plus years, I’ve heard my teacher tell a lot of stories. Actually, I’ve heard him tell one or two stories a lot of times. One of them is about Maezumi Roshi visiting a psychiatric hospital.

A member of the sangha was having trouble, and she had ended up in psychiatric care. When Maezumi heard about the powerful drugs the doctors were giving her, he said, “We have to go get her.” So they went to the hospital. Maezumi was wearing his traveling robes. There were many times Maezumi wore Western clothes, so for this trip, he must have thought the robes were appropriate.

They were standing near the day room talking to the staff about a discharge. The room was full of patients. Some were visibly disturbed or aggressive. Maezumi just stood there, a funny little man in a weird get-up, and didn’t say anything. One of the patients walked up to him carrying a chair. He signaled for Maezumi to sit down in it. Maezumi sat. Then the guy pulled up a chair and sat right next to him. And so did others. Soon Maezumi was sitting in a circle of psychiatric patients. Everyone was still and quiet, like it was nothing special.

When you walk the Way it is not near, it is not far
If you are deluded you are mountains and rivers away from it.

My teacher says that none of the staff or doctors even noticed what had happened.

“They didn’t see,” he would say everytime he told the story.

I used to wonder what it was that they didn’t see, and why. For awhile I thought he was saying that the whole event was come sort of glitch in the matrix, a hidden world on the other side of the space-time continuum. Zen students can be deluded by woo-woo like that.

“Oh,” I’d repeat, “they didn’t see!” still not seeing.

Not so long ago I realized what the doctors didn’t see: what was right in front of them. Reality. What most of us don’t see even as we walk on it.

In taking a seat and wearing robes, observe it for yourself later on. — Case 32, Book of Serenity

It used to be that if I was giving a talk or leading a workshop, I would put on a sleek J. Jill outfit and use a PowerPoint. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, or alarm anyone else, by doing anything Buddhist. I was an entertainer of sorts, and I was good at it. But entertainment doesn’t last. So I gave up trying to be popular and started going out in my robes to do what we do in Zen: sit. Instantly, it made everything easier. I didn’t have to make up what to say, and even strangers were consoled by it. I realized that it wasn’t me that made the difference, it was the robe.

In Zen, the teaching is said to be conveyed from teacher to student by “the robe and the bowl.”

The robe is the Dharma, or the teaching. The Dharma is as it is with nothing extra, nothing fabricated. It’s a powerful thing—what is—and it heals—when nothing is added to it—so maybe that’s why Maezumi wore his robe into the room where people were sick and suffering, their minds spinning in psychotic storms. It must have seemed like heaven to step into the quiet calm of his non-distracted presence, or samadhi. A passerby might have thought he was one more crazy person in a room of crazy people. And that would have been true too. Wherever he went, Maezumi left no trace of himself.

The robe was a signal that he was there to share the Dharma, pure presence, which shares itself when we don’t add our judgments to it.

The Great Way is not difficult;
it only avoids picking and choosing.

—Verses on the Faith Mind

I ran across a survey the other day asking “What is the greatest challenge Zen faces in the West today?” That’s a pretty common question among those who compare good versus bad, right versus wrong, past versus future. People have opinions. The truth, however, could not be clearer. The Way is not difficult. Reality is not hidden. There are no challenges to being present except the walls we erect by our judgmental mind, liking one thing and disliking another, cherishing our views of this or that.

It reminds me of Maezumi Roshi in the psychiatric ward. The doctors and nurses whizzing past, lost in their expertise, seeing only diagnoses and prognoses, cases and labels, in a room full of human beings just like them.

The more you talk and think about it,
The further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
And there is nothing that you will not be able to know.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
March 31, 2019
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Register by email

a book I didn’t write

My daughter gave this to me for Christmas. She said I could write in it.

I took it as a sign. Perhaps like me you go looking for signs. Not actual signs, which tell you exactly what to do, like No Parking On Wednesdays Between 12 and 3 p.m., but the kind of sign that you can read into. A sign that you should write that next book, for example. The book about how to be the mother of a teenager.

Shortly after Momma Zen was published a few people said I wish you would write about parenting a teenager!  Yeah, right. I had a six-year-old. It was like asking me to write about the moons of Pluto. You take it on faith that the frozen rocks are floating way out there, but who cares? Later on, in the thick of age 14 or so, I knew what those parents had been asking for, but I couldn’t write about it until I’d stumbled out of the wilderness and into the clearing.

The thing is, it’s a really big wilderness.

Along the way, I marked a trail. The first thing I learned was that the teenage years start long before the teenage years. Like around age 9 or 10, when the sunshine dims and shadows creep. Soon, it became obvious that the only thing I could carry with me on the trip was love, extravagant love. And by love, I mean wide open space and silence. Trouble is, I was a slow learner. Stripped of the false sense of accomplishment, humility was my steady companion. Determined not to repeat my mistakes, I aimed to be just a tiny bit useful. To find the way, I’d have to listen, and more than listen, trust. Every step was a lesson in letting go. It’s scariest when you’ve gone just about as far as you can. But right about then, the light dawns. You’re back home, but it’s somewhere else entirely.

There are five moons around Pluto. That’s one book I can’t begin to write.

your child is a boat on the ocean

boat-on-ocean

Your child is a boat on the ocean. There are clear skies and calm nights. There are storms and rain and fog. You cannot control the course. Every time you exhale, the boat is carried toward the horizon, its distant harbor and home.

You are the breeze.

I am reposting this from the forgotten past. Because it is so true, and I forget what is true.

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