Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

the end of my rope

July 16th, 2017    -    31 Comments

 

This post was written seven years ago when my daughter had just turned 11, what I  now recall as a particularly anxious year in the life of a girl and her mother. Truth is always true, though, so perhaps it is what you need today.

Yesterday morning trying to pry my daughter out of bed and off to school was so completely awful, so terrifyingly bad, so angry, so loud, so confounding, that I thought: she needs a new teacher, she needs a new school, she needs a new attitude, a new diet, a new bedtime, a new mother, and short of that, an exorcism. I trembled with the weight of the disaster all day after. Something big would have to change, right away, and I had no idea what that could be.

This morning was different. A radical change occurred overnight. It’s called “a new day.” I never know for sure exactly what my daughter needs, but when I’m at the end of my rope what I need is more rope.

There are a lot of contrasting parenting styles and an endless supply of dos and don’ts. You’ll find a parenting expert of the day on the daily morning shows, and that expert isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong: every bit of information that comes your way can be helpful. If I have anything to offer it’s just my ever-renewed trust that our babies will be okay. If I have anything to give you it’s just more rope.

I always invite people to stay in touch with me, to write me with their questions and concerns. Sometimes they do. They might ask about discipline, handling sibling rivalry, overcoming their own parental fears and anxieties, or how in the heck to get the kids dressed, fed and to sleep through the night. It might sound like I’m giving an answer, but what I’m giving is simply rope – the lifeline that keeps us bobbing aloft until the blessed rescue of a new day.

Do you know who makes the day new? Only you.

 

this is love

April 20th, 2017    -    3 Comments

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea.

About six weeks ago I heard from someone trying to find a passage I’d written that she called “one of the most compassionate and eye-opening pieces of writing I have ever read.” It was about forgiving your parents for all the ways they failed you, and she wanted to share it with a friend as soon as possible. I told her that every book I’d written was more or less about that very thing, but having long since tired of reading or remembering my own words, nothing in particular came to mind. A few hours later she wrote back, having easily found what she was looking for at the beginning of Momma Zen.

Babies seem to be coming back into my world these days—babies and grandbabies of friends, family, and readers. It’s quite a joy. Meanwhile, I am feeling the cumulative weight of my own selfish errors and oversteps as a parent. It seems like the right time to remember how easy it is to find love, and how easy it is to give.

Just go back to the beginning.

It strikes me as best to begin with love. The word will never again mean so much.

Of course you love your spouse. You love your parents and brothers and sisters. You love your friends. You love your home, and perhaps your hometown. You love your dog. You may love your work. You might attest to loving your alma mater, mashed potatoes or reading on a rainy day.

But this is love. The feeling you have for your child is so indescribably deep and consuming that it must qualify as one of the few transcendent experiences in your plain old ordinary life. It occurs spontaneously as part of afterbirth. It is miraculous and supreme and irrevocable. It makes all things possible.

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea. You will love your child as your parents loved you and their parents loved them. With a love that is humbling and uncontrived, immense and indestructible. Parents err, of course, and badly. They can be ignorant, foolish, mean and far worse, in ways that you can come to forgive in them and try to prevent in yourself. But this wholesale shortage of parental love at the crux of everyone’s story must be the product of shabby and self-serving recollections. Now that you are a mother, set that story aside, forgetting everything you thought you knew about love.

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the secret of a good mother

July 6th, 2016    -    9 Comments

broken We say, “A good father is not a good father.” Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. — Suzuki Roshi

The quote above is often misunderstood. How do you understand it? I’ll answer for you from my own experience. One who thinks she is a good mother is not a good mother.

Zen can sound like doublespeak, but it’s always as plain as plain can be. When you think “good,” that is not good. The moment you step back from total involvement in living life as it is and go up into your judging mind to evaluate it, you are completely mistaken. Do you know that place? Have you ever judged yourself to be comfortably ahead of the game? Or woefully behind? With an edge, an advantage, a method, or for that matter, a reason, excuse or handicap? Maybe you think all those things in a single day! When you indulge in either self-congratulation or self-criticism you are no longer present. You might even say you are no longer alive. Dead fathers are not good fathers.

One who thinks he is one of the worst may be a good one if he is always trying with a single-minded effort.

I have a teenager now, as if it isn’t obvious. And in the course of writing, however vaguely, about what I am experiencing, I hear from kind-hearted people of a venerable cast, folks who have a longer view of the road we tread. They tell me about inexplicable disappointments and deep sorrows, happy turnabouts, miraculous resolutions, and ultimate acceptance of what they didn’t know then and couldn’t have guessed would happen in a million years. Life is a tricky business, and no one knows how it will go. We all know this, and yet we don’t.  Not until the illusion shatters.

From where I stand now it seems a parent’s learning curve goes like this: it starts out hard then it gets easier, and then hard, then harder, then quite a bit harder, then much harder. Humility is the face of love.

The people I take comfort from are the humble ones. They are quiet but outnumber the prideful ones a billion to one.

So how do we conduct ourselves without attaching to good or bad? I like this story about the 20th century Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah who was giving a talk on impermanence. He could be talking about anything.

Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Read a transcript of the original talk by Suzuki Roshi.

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7 ways to be mindful with a teen

May 17th, 2016    -    11 Comments

QrYW7OmafWxuFeK7RAh5WwThese days kids are 2 going on 12. Mine is 16. What I keep in mind with my teenager is this one thing, the sum total of my old teacher’s advice on raising kids.

Become one with your child.

That may not mean what you think it means. It does not mean to fabricate phony friendship or rah-rah enthusiasm. Nor does it mean to harbor ambition, fear, hope, or dread. It means to become as your child is right now, meet them where and as they are, dissolving the distance from which you judge them. When judgmental distance disappears, you may see that the teenage years are very reminiscent of a far, far, earlier stage in parenting, when you tiptoed about, wanting nothing more from your child than that they sleep and eat, whereby they mysteriously and marvelously continue to grow.

Here is how I try to become one with my daughter as she is, the seven ways I practice mindfulness as the parent of a teenager:

1. Be quiet! — Teenagers become as quiet as the quiet you once wished for. They seem to disappear inside themselves, but they are not lost. Accept their silence within your own nonjudgmental quiet. The silence you keep between you is undefiled love. Trust, faith and respect grow in the silence. That way, when your teen speaks, it will be something they really want to share.

2. Do not disturb — You’re worried about whether your teen has enough good sense. But what do you give them 24 hours a day? Doubt and distrust? A nag, prod, poke, or push? An ominous warning? Anxious oversight? All of the above?  Imagine that your teen is now wearing the sign you once hung from the doorknob to the nursery. Baby sleeping. Don’t let your neurotic fears continually rattle the calm between you.

3. Feed yourself —Children learn to feed themselves. Now it’s your turn. As teenagers wrest themselves from their emotional dependence, parents can feel starved for love. Nourish your own neglected passions, purpose and interests. Fulfill yourself by yourself, and you’ll free your children from your emotional appetites. Now all your relationships can mature.

4. Draw no conclusions. — We are deeply attached to the illusory signs of  “successful” parenting. As in all of life, the next setback inevitably interrupts our self-congratulation. The only conclusion is that there is no conclusion. Stay on the ride. See where it goes. It keeps going forever.

5. Grow up. This is what I remember from being a teenager. As I reached the age where I could see my parents’ foibles and follies, I wished for one thing only: that they grow up. Like my daughter, I am trying my best to grow up.

6. Knock softly. For a few more years at least, your children are still guests in your home. As with any guest, be a good host. Give privacy; respect boundaries; ask permission.

7. Wait for the door to open. It will. Because there was never a door to begin with. You are not strangers. You are not enemies. Two blooms on a single branch: you and your teenager are one.

This may be a good time to read:

8 Reminders for Mindful Parents
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner
7 Tips to De-Stress Your Home
Rules for a Mindful Garden
10 Tips for Mindful Writing
5 Tips for Meaning in Cleaning
10 Tips for Mindful Work

***

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why don’t you just be the mom

April 26th, 2016    -    32 Comments

If you ever wondered what you are supposed to teach your child, please read this and learn from me.

It was Thursday afternoon about four-thirty. Georgia was racing through her mound of homework before we left for gym practice at five. (Do math, do science, write a poem.) The minutes were ticking.

This is where it gets sticky.

She’s finishing gluing drawings into her “Silk Road Journal” (16 pages, front and back, history project due the next day) when she lets out a high shriek. The glue has exploded out the cap from a hard squeeze and blanketed two whole pages. The booklet is a soppy mess. Her artwork is doused. She sobs. I stiffen. She collapses. I look at the clock. And what I think I see is no more time.

I really think that time is up.

How is it that a girl and her mother can get stuck between two pages of the Silk Road Journal? Wedged between the pitiless hours of four and five on a Thursday? Strung between almost-done and starting over? Knotted, tangled and ripped in two?

I don’t want to tell you.

I don’t want to tell you what I told her. About what she didn’t do, didn’t plan, and didn’t finish soon enough. About how little and how late. The cause and the fault. How I couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t know how to help.  And what did she expect me to do?

Then she turned to me, through her sobs and streaked cheeks, and asked me the one thing that is still so hard for me to do.

Why don’t you just be the mom? Why don’t you encourage me?

Why can’t I just be the mom, and not the taskmaster, the lecturer, the appointments manager, the critic, the cynic, and the know-it-all? What is more important to show her than love? What is there always time for?

All great people, in their profound humility, remember their mothers most. They remember a mother who believed in them. And no matter how late, believed that there was still time. No matter how little, that there was enough. No matter how dismal the prospects, that it was possible. A mother who loved without measure, without schedule and without hurry. A mother who was just the mom.

So we blew off the timetable and moved to the dinner table. I gave her all the room she needed. She spread out and started over, using all the time it took. It went slow, but I encouraged her. She might have learned a lesson about glue, but I learned a lesson that I pray will stick.

When we realize that our child is not the child, then we begin to practice parenthood. It’s never too late to for me to grow up and be the mom. In fact, it’s time I did.

Originally published on Feb. 27, 2012, proving that it’s always time to just be the mom.

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after the accident

January 6th, 2016    -    8 Comments

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Last year about this time I told my husband our new azaleas were dying. The leaves looked like rust, and I thought I knew why. Not enough water, too much sun, the wrong plants in the wrong place, the money for nothing, the work wasted. Before pulling the dead ones out, he snipped some leaves and took them to the nursery. That’s when I learned something new.

The leaves of some evergreen azaleas turn red in winter.

Even good drivers in the morning rain

don’t see the other car coming.

Paint nicks. Glass cracks.

One world ends before another.

You are not safe.

So remember what your mother has told you:

Effect is the noun. Affect is the verb.

When in doubt, leave out the comma.

Add salt. Use butter.

Never serve food you haven’t tasted first.

Rinse stains in cold water.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow

but soon and for the rest of your life.

You’ll see.

In springtime, flowers bloom.

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a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    25 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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broccoli in the mac and cheese

September 24th, 2015    -    29 Comments

MacCheeseBrocCaulThere comes a day as a parent when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish.

I have a strange relationship with readers. Or rather, they have a strange relationship with me through my books. Some of them are new to parenthood, and so they find me musing about the first terribly shocking and sincere years of raising a child. Some of them are at a later stage and so they find themselves on the outer edge of midlife with grown children. And then there’s me and my family, defying the demography, crossing the currents, merging the streams.

Sixteen years of personal research into parenting and I can tell you this much: it doesn’t work. My conclusions have been premature. The early signs were irrelevant. We do not raise our children. They do not conform to a graph, a glyph, or a stamp. We do not mold them. We have been thoroughly misled and mistaken.

I started clapping before the scene was over; stood up to leave before the encore. There’s a twist, an alternate ending, an extra feature, a director’s cut!

They grow up to make their own choices, and it doesn’t matter if they liked asparagus at age three.

It doesn’t matter if you hid spinach in the meatballs, zucchini in the muffins or broccoli in the mac and cheese.

They have their own interests, and their passions are not based on how many evenings you read them to sleep.

It doesn’t matter if the preschool aide called them a “genius.” I, for one, will never forget that day.

They don’t floss just because you nagged them nightly until they were twelve.

They don’t care just because you do.

Nothing was lost by waking up four times in the middle of the night; nothing was gained by sleeping through.

They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.

Their own feet, and you cannot steer them.

Their own voice, and they do not speak the words you sounded out for them so long ago.

My child will not be a giraffe when she grows up (her first choice), not a superhero, a princess, or a cowboy. She probably doesn’t even know what a cowboy is. Or was.

My daughter was born premature, but I was the one ahead of myself. Every expectation has been erroneous. I can finally admit that I don’t have any idea what will happen next or when. I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.

I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. We are ordinary people who love and need each other in ever-changing and unpredictable ways. Let’s hope I can keep the broccoli out of it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

8 ways to raise a mindful child

September 16th, 2015    -    13 Comments

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***

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commencement address

May 28th, 2015    -    13 Comments

beautiful-rain-photography-3

Two mornings ago, dropping my daughter off at the curb, her mind a muddle of wind and worry with the end of the school year, I turned on the radio for the ride home.

A set of triplets has been admitted to MIT, where the admission rate is less than eight percent.

It’s the time of year the waves seem flooded with this kind of triple-rainbow success story, however rare it occurs in real life. The lower the odds, the more is made of it. I remember this one because of what came after it.

Twenty-four dead in floods and 13 in a tornado, including an infant sucked by the storm out of its mother’s arms.

And I am overcome by the cruel arrangement of high and low, the valedictorians and the victims, among them four vacationing children flung from a floating house into the tidal surge of a timid river, now but a whisper on the lips of a radio news reader.

My daughter tells me she is anxious these days, and I can see why. She has been wrestling with questions that have no answers. Where is the right place, the right way, the right time, the right choice, where should I go, who should I be, what can I do, what do I want. Some would say her thinking is precocious; some would call it a curse. I cannot save her from these waters. She has to swim across, and I have to watch and wave. The wind drowns out any instructions I shout from the shore.

They made incredible sacrifices growing up by taking the most difficult courses, their father said.

And I wonder when it all became so difficult. The river so high, the odds so low, the rain, the wind, the storm that twists a mother’s entire life right out of the baby carrier on her chest.

There is no higher ground, people. No safety, no shield, no fix for the fix we’re in. I can’t say more without getting carried away. Watch the news for yourself, if you can bear it. Love everything and let go.

One will be speaking at commencement and her message for other students is simple: Just relax, have fun and do what you love.

 

value the child

May 11th, 2015    -    6 Comments

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the price of monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else. It’s not a lesson to learn once.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to label.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. Yes, I know: a mother’s work is never done. But the next time you see your child, act as if it is, and smile.

26 things I can’t teach your child

January 20th, 2015    -    2 Comments

stack-of-booksToday someone contacted me with a question I’ve been asked more than any other. I appreciate any question that comes to me directly. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to email me, which happens far less frequently these days. (Maybe because I don’t have any answers.)

The question was: How can I teach my child to ________.

It doesn’t matter how you fill in the blank. Pick one, pick another, I can’t tell you squat about any of them.

a. sleep through the night
b. go in the potty
c. share
d. stop fighting
e. start reading
f. make friends
g. make better friends
h. eat right
i. wear appropriate shoes
j. make better grades
k. not quit
l. respect others
m. lighten up
n. do their work
o. listen
p. focus
q. be quiet
r. be kind
s. love
t. help
u. know right from wrong
v. take responsibility
w. quit bothering me
x. do what I say
y. be who I want
z. meditate

I won’t make light of them; these are big time questions. I don’t have any answers, but I always respond to people who have the courage to ask a stranger for advice. I say, “Just for one teeny, tiny minute, believe that your children are fine. And then take whatever you want to teach them and make sure you do it yourself.” Everything, everywhere, every time begins with you. And the miraculous thing is, it doesn’t end there. It goes on and on forever.

***

You might like these:

Teaching children to meditate
8 ways to raise a mindful child
How to raise a Buddhist child
The myth of the teachable moment
Bring your own cookies
The child is not the child

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best laugh

January 7th, 2015    -    8 Comments

il_570xN.664617919_ill0They don’t give awards to people like me.

My daughter said this right before the eighth-grade graduation ceremony, when I learned that there would be awards for certain graduates that night. The fact is, I was instantly uncomfortable. I don’t like awards. I don’t like that we live in a competitively obsessed, elite-driven culture that creates phony contests out of false comparisons, but I tried to stay positive. Maybe you’ll get one, I had said.

There were lots of awards that night, for basketball stars and class officers, for those with perfect attendance and perfect grades, for teacher’s favorites and then two very special top awards for the one boy and one girl who in the principal’s opinion did absolutely everything best. My daughter was correct. She didn’t get one.

I sometimes forget how life really is, or at least, how life is for my daughter. As a parent, I’m usually tripping out on toxic levels of either false pride or fear. Oh, how I want her to do well! Oh, how I want her to keep up! Oh, how I want her to get in, get out, and move on! Oh, how I want her to be happy! Oh, how I want her to be liked, and loved and noticed! Oh, how I want her to be someone who does something important!

A few weeks ago the holiday cards started to arrive, and with them, the holiday letters. We still hear from folks we haven’t seen since our kids were in preschool or kindergarten, in scouts or swimming lessons, kids who are in high school now, where the pressure is amping up toward that final launch into . . . where, exactly? Our sophomore loves Pre-Calc and Latin and is extra busy with AP/Honors course work, staying up late every night and weekends while on the soccer team, volunteering, and taking ballet 18 hours a week.

I’m not that keen on holiday letters either.

Monday was the first day back at school, a cold and unwelcome day when my daughter would find out the results of finals and her semester grades. I texted her at lunch to see how she was doing. She was overwhelmed, she told me, and then came this. Apparently the class votes were tallied, and:

I won Best Laugh in the 9th grade!

She also won Best Friend.

She was right. They don’t give many awards to people like her, but that doesn’t matter to people like her.

***

Above: The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter. — a quote by E.E. Cummings hammered on a vintage, silver plated spoon on Etsy.

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