We all have that one. The one that saved our life. For some of us, it was in high school when we felt like the poster child for awkwardness. Others of us discovered her far earlier or far later, and I honestly don’t know whether it’s the same for guys, but we all have that friend.

Mine is “Peaches.” She came in to my life right after Eve was born, before I knew I would need saving. Before I knew that those endless days stretched out before me would drive me right in to the looney bin. She showed up with her daughter and her endless optimism and her vast knowledge of local parks and her open-door policy and her bright, sunshiny love. She brought her imperfections without apology and her acceptance of mine without reservation.
Our burgeoning friendship felt warm and broken in from the start. Settling down with the perfect cup of tea (Peaches is from England and still makes the best cuppa I’ve ever had) to watch our babies and chat, I never felt awkward or unsure of how to say something. It was as though our newness as parents offered a buffer to any of the mistakes we might make in our new relationship as well.
The thing about a girlfriend like that is that you are still expected to have your own life, too. It isn’t like a new romance where the intensity is so great that you exhaust each other by spending every waking minute together. Peaches and I still traveled with our husbands, took our kids to visit grandparents and had other friends, all of which gave us endless things to discuss when we were together. Over the years, we became so comfortable in each other’s houses that our kids (by now, four of them – two mine and two hers) began calling us their two mothers and were often just as likely to come to either of us with a question or concern when we were all together.
Three years ago, Peaches and her family moved back to the UK, just as our daughters were about to turn seven years old. Seven years of growing up together, taking art classes and gymnastics together, sharing holiday dinners and having their first sleepovers at each other’s houses had formed a bond that was difficult to stretch from here to England.
Three weeks ago, they came back for a visit. They stayed with us for a week and it turns out that the bonds held just fine. The kids played together from sunup to sundown and had a neverending sleepover. Peaches and I cooked together, parented together, folded each other’s laundry and chatted for hours over cups of tea. Our friendship feels like that favorite book from your childhood that you go back and read throughout your life. Each time, you see it through a slightly different lens and learn something new, but it never fails to cheer you up and remind you why you fell for it in the first place. Time and distance haven’t got anything on me, girlfriend!

My mom moved to the Oregon Coast when I was in 6th grade. I’m sure I had been there before, but discovering it as an adolescent during the summer before I entered Junior High school was breathtaking. I didn’t yet know anyone in town and that meant I was entirely free to be exactly who I was. No posturing, no primping, no peer pressure. I was simply free to be a kid frolicking on the beach.

Three blocks from our house there was a beach access road that led to some of the best tidepools I had ever explored. I quickly mastered the art of the tide tables printed on the inside front cover of the phone book and became a beach rat. I hopped from rock to rock, venturing farther out each time to peer in to these miniature aquariums and watch hermit crabs scuttle around, feel the sticky Scotch tape tentacles of anemones, and watch matchstick sized fish dart through the seaweed. Supremely secure in my athletic abilities, I was comfortable leaping from one jutting rock to another over wide expanses of water and sand, landing just shy of getting my sneakers wet. I would come home with pockets full of abandoned shells to set on the back porch and my mother just shook her head.

“Don’t you want to find some friends before school starts?”

“Nope.” The truth was, I was pretty shy, anyway, and I wasn’t sure I would know what to say to anyone. And that summer between sixth and seventh grade is a tricky one for girls. I wasn’t ‘developing’ yet, but I knew all about it, thanks to Judy Blume books, and I wasn’t comfortable talking to Mom about any of that stuff. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to have anything to do with puberty. I was pretty safe in my little kid cocoon and I was sure that making girlfriends would change that. Tidepooling gave me a way to escape and do what I wanted when I wanted to. The kids who had lived in this little town forever were probably sick of the beach, anyway.

For weeks, I continued collecting the bounty of the beach. I found Japanese fishing floats and one morning I arrived at the beach to see a group of retirees clustered around a dead sea lion, shaking their heads and wondering how it got there. Another day I discovered that the beach was blanketed in blue jellyfish the size of my hand. This place was a vast playground for a curious adolescent. I decided I would never tire of it.

At some point, though, school started and I did make friends. I became more interested in clothes and boys and school dances and talked on the phone for hours at night, stretching the eight-foot phone cord around the corner from the kitchen so as not to be overheard by my mother. But at least three afternoons a week, I escaped to the beach to clamber up the rocks and watch life in the tidepools by myself. This place was my sanctuary.

I miss the beach and every time I go back, I find a way to get out there by myself and climb around for a bit. I think that the most important thing I learned from those years was that no matter what was going on in my life, having that one place or activity that was just mine was vital. The beach was a place for me to just be and somewhere along the way of marriage and motherhood I lost the ability to respect the need for such a place. Today, that place is here, on my back porch with the dog lying next to me, listening to the birds flit from feeder to feeder and stop in the fountain for a quick bath and a drink of water. There aren’t any tidepools here, but one thing is the same; when I’m here, I am just me. Not Mom or wife or co-worker. This is my place to just be.

I do love people’s stories. Judging by the immense popularity of memoirs, I’m not the only one, and for a while I just assumed that it was because human beings are voyeurs and left it at that. But the other day I got to wondering if there was more to it than that and several ideas struck me.

As a child I wanted the world to be black and white. I was presented with the notion that there were two ways to do things: right and wrong, good and bad. The world was laid out before me in fairly simple terms and, for the most part, I liked that. I don’t know whether it was my own mind that extrapolated this rule out to fit the rest of life or not, but I quickly decided that this notion of absolutes meant that if I wasn’t the most-liked child on the block, it meant I was the least-liked. If I wasn’t the winner of a game, it meant I was a loser. This led me to two things; a competitive spirit and lying. While I was certain of the knowledge that lying was one of those “bad” things, somehow I deemed it more important to avoid being a loser and as long as I didn’t get caught lying, it didn’t really matter that I was being bad. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I got caught. I suppose it might have helped if I wasn’t so overzealous in my attempts to become popular that I explained to the neighborhood children that my father was gone often because he was an astronaut who routinely traveled to the moon to bring back green cheese for his beloved children. That was, admittedly, a bit overboard.

It was here that things got murky. Now, I was not only not the most-liked child, but I was a known liar to boot. And still, my next door neighbor wanted to play with me. It seemed completely wrong that she should be interested in anything about me, but she insisted that as long as I apologized for lying to her, we could climb trees and play hide-and-seek together again. I didn’t quite trust the footings of this relationship for a long time, but as she was my next door neighbor and my age and her mother and mine were best friends, I said I was sorry and we moved on.

Needless to say, as I progressed through life, no matter how mightily I attempted to fit the happenings of my days into the neat and tidy categories I wanted them to go in, life was messy. I became quite preoccupied with “the principle of the thing” and often neglected to consider anything else. I wanted the boundaries to be clean. Except that I myself couldn’t fit neatly in to any of those categories, either. So I continued to try and convince everyone around me that I could. Perhaps if they thought I was a good girl, it wouldn’t really matter that I was completely unable to adhere to all of the tenets of good-girlishness.

Somewhere in my early twenties, I discovered that I couldn’t be human if I wasn’t willing to be messy and uncategorizable. Mostly, I figured this out by listening to people’s stories. People who were close to me that I had already decided were “good” or “bad” began sharing information with me that made them decidedly human and much more interesting than I had previously thought. They also became funnier, more vulnerable, and more lovable and I started to wonder if, because they were willing to be human, maybe that meant it was acceptable for me, too.

Working in healthcare for many years after college, I was lucky enough to hear hundreds more stories. Amazing stories. Courageous stories. Devastating stories. Stories of human beings. I got to the point where I couldn’t walk down the street without seeking out people’s faces and imagining what kinds of stories they had in them. What things did they have to say that I couldn’t possibly expect? I still love to coax stories out of friends and family members; especially those who think they haven’t one interesting thing to share because they are usually wrong. Even if they think that the thing they are about to share with me is deplorable or shameful or frightening, I soak in their words as a reminder that the world is not black and white. Absolutes are very rare in nature and what makes us human are our stories.

“Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have while trying to write one.” Robert Byrne

Thank goodness I haven’t reached that point yet! Of course, my livelihood doesn’t entirely depend upon my selling my writing and I’m not altogether consumed for lengthy periods at a time by writing. My writing life is constantly interrupted by the needs of children and animals, conversations about insurance and home repairs, cooking and laundry and those things often seem more pressing than putting words on a page. Perhaps that is why my brain has evolved away from having the actual craft of writing be associated with getting the words down.

I do my most effective “writing” when I am completely and utterly alone, generally outside of my house and physically occupied. Taking the dog on long walks through the same boring neighborhood is incredibly fertile ground for my creative consciousness. On occasion, I can come up with some brilliant notions while standing in the shower. Driving for long distances by myself, while rare, is also a time where the other side of my brain can turn on. I suppose it’s because there is no physical way I could accomplish the tasks I am normally responsible for at home, but it is only when I am alone and otherwise busy that I can truly “drop in” to writing. Unfortunately, unless I have access to my computer shortly after my brain lets loose it’s most recent wave of creativity, it will most likely be lost in the shuffle when I re-enter my Mom/Wife World. Thankfully, I spent several years as a medical transcriptionist and am able to type upwards of 110 words per minute, and my children are fully accustomed to me dashing in the door, heading for my laptop and yelling, “Don’t talk to me! I have to get this down before it flies away!”

I know that everyone has their own methods and rituals for writing. I never would have expected mine to be as unorthodox as they are, given that for most of my life I was known as (and fully embracing of being known as) “anal retentive.” Writing schedules that are rigid simply make me feel claustrophobic. I obsess over the fact that I only have X minutes left to write before I have to go do something else and can’t get anything to leap that blockade in my brain. Or I find excuses why I couldn’t possibly work for those hours on this day and promise myself heartily that I’ll make it up to myself another time. This willy-nilly, take-it-as-it-comes and get-it-down-before-it-goes method has so far worked for me. I know that by letting those thoughts percolate in my brain until they simply can’t be held down anymore, they are leaping out of me with an enthusiasm that translates to the page. Fortunately, my children are old enough that I have the freedom to do that and, when I don’t, my iPhone has this nifty application on it that allows me to record voice memos so that at least I can spit the ideas out and hope to pick up the threads later.

Eve asked the other day why I chose to be a writer. She has heard all the stories of my past jobs – veterinarian assistant, medical assistant, surgical assistant, office manager, and patient advocate, to name a few – and wonders how I came to this. The only answer I had for her is this: “Honey, I don’t write because I have to or even because I necessarily want to (although I do). I write because I can’t not write.”

This week, the book I have spent five years researching and writing got a little closer to being published. For any readers who are new to my blog, this project is very close to my heart for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it spent over a decade percolating in my brain before I decided to set it loose.

The book is a series of fifteen stories that detail a woman’s journey through the most difficult decision she may ever make – whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. My interviews were focused on the process of making the decision more than the actual choice they made. I was interested in how each individual approaches the process of deliberation; do you ask yourself moral, practical, religious questions? Whom do you share the information with? How did issues of age and marital status factor in for you? The women were incredibly different in so many ways – age, background, socioeconomic status, marital/relationship status, whether or not the pregnancy was planned – but bonded together in their isolation. Regardless of their differences, each of these women was faced with trying to make a decision in a finite amount of time that they could live with for the rest of their lives. Each of these women was ultimately the sole decision-maker.

I had to force myself to stop interviewing after three years. I was so touched by the response that I got when I put the word out that I was looking for women to talk to. I was even more touched by the trust each of these women placed in me when she agreed to tell me her story. I was fascinated and appalled, saddened and proud to listen to their stories and I honestly could have gone on forever, but for the compulsion inside me that reminded me these stories needed to be heard by others as well. I chose the fifteen most compelling stories. Stories of planned and unplanned pregnancies, adoptions, abortions, fertility treatments and genetic anomalies. Stories of women who are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts and co-workers of some of us. Women who could be any of us. I hope that the stories educate and inspire and touch some center of compassion inside each of us that transcends politics or religion or laws and allows us to simply read the stories and acknowledge the difficulty each of these women faced and perhaps enlarge our capacity for understanding other individuals around us.

I offered my manuscript to five agents at a writer’s conference last week. One of them wasn’t terribly excited, but the others all seemed intrigued. Each of them asked me some variation of the question, “Who is your audience?” and, I must admit, the question sincerely baffled me. Knowing that the vast majority of book readers in America are women, and that women love to share their stories with each other, whether they involve difficult subjects or simply how our children misbehave when we get on the phone, I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t be interested in this book. So I began talking to other people at the conference. Perhaps the sample was skewed because these were other writers, but I got a tremendous reception from everyone I talked to, men and women alike. Because of the apolitical nature of the book and perhaps because of the popularity of memoir-type books, an idea for a book of stories such as this was very well-received.

When I got home, I was determined to find statistics to back up my intuition. I learned, via a quick internet search, that there are roughly 60 million women of “childbearing age” (14-40) in the US and, at any given time, fully six million of them are pregnant. One point two million of those pregnancies end in abortion each year, and half a million babies are born to teenagers each year. Adoption statistics are difficult to come by because many of them are privately handled, as are fertility treatment statistics, but I would think it’s safe to say that there are millions of people in this country every year whose lives are touched by the issue of pregnancy in general and who either have to make tough decisions about it or know someone who has.

I am hoping that the agents to whom I submitted my manuscript will come to this conclusion as well. For now, I’ll wait for them to read it and see what happens.

This sadness feels so good. Sharp, pungent, penetrating, specific. To be able to feel a sadness that is about a particular set of events is a luxury. For a very long time I’ve been afraid of that brand of sadness that seems to be about everything. The despair that nothing is right at this moment in time, nor will it ever be. That overwhelming crush of grey that shrouds everything and covers me like a blanket. Underneath it, I curl up as small as I can and shiver from the exertion it takes to just be.

But this sadness is finite. I miss my girls. I left them at the campsite on Tuesday morning with their grandparents, headed home to get myself ready for a writer’s conference. They stayed to fish and roast hot dogs over the campfire and go on long, dusty walks with Gram. The house feels empty without them and the knowledge that it will be several more days before I feel their thin arms wrap around me and hear their trilling laughter pokes holes in my resolve.

Driving away from home I acknowledge the sharp sadness in my gut. I slowly push out to the edges of it, examining it for depth and breadth and discover, to my delight, that there are edges. There are boundaries to it. I can celebrate this feeling because it is distinctly different from despair. I am excited at the revelation that I can feel sadness without sinking in to depression. It doesn’t make me miss my lovely girls any less, but it gives me hope that I can allow a full range of emotions access to my core without the risk of being consumed entirely by them.

Been camping for the last four days and now I’m off to the annual Pacific NorthWest Writer’s Association writing conference for the next four. I have so much to say that I don’t have time to process, so this post will have to serve as my journal, I suppose.

Camping was a riot! We borrowed the neighbors’ RV and took off early to meet my mom and her husband at a gorgeous campground at the base of Mount Hood. I literally couldn’t stop smiling for the first 120 miles, I was so excited. Bubba is not a fan of camping – he prefers a soft hotel bed and a hot shower every day. This place? No electricity. No running water. Toilets? Well, if you’re willing to dig a hole, you’ve got one! I love it. We were stocked with hot dogs, marshmallows, Hershey’s bars, fruit, chips, bottled water and wine, and plenty of blankets to snuggle up in at night. We canoed, fished, threw toys for the dog to fetch in the lake, hiked, cooked over a campfire, and sang silly songs. Even Bubba enjoyed himself.

The hard part came when Bubba and I left. He had to fly out early Wednesday morning for Boston and I had to get the RV back to the neighbors. The girls wanted to stay an extra day with their grandparents, so early Tuesday morning, we sat down to a big breakfast of bacon and eggs (cooked over the fire) and said our goodbyes. Well, sobbed our goodbyes. Eve and I were the biggest crybabies. I was a little furious that, even though we had planned this trip six months in advance, Bubba went ahead and booked a business trip to Boston on the last day. I was even more furious that it meant he had enlisted his parents to pick our girls up from my mom’s house and watch them until he got back from his trip after he had promised to be there for them while I went to the conference. Add to that the fact that I won’t see the girls again until Sunday night when I get home, and it was a recipe for a boatload of tissues.

So this morning, I’m home alone, doing laundry and packing and readying myself for the conference. I’ve got a list of errands to run a mile long and while I know I’ll be much more efficient doing it without my girls in the back seat, I miss them so much my stomach aches. Even though I know I can go to yoga tonight without anyone whining that dinner stinks without me here, I would take their whining over the silence. It is such a balancing act to find space for my two passions – writing and mothering. I woke up first at the campsite yesterday morning, brought the dog out and started a fire. I stood and watched the flames for over an hour, trying to find a way to convince myself to blow off the conference and stay with the girls. I reasoned that it would save my in-laws a trip and two days of watching the girls. I would just send Bubba home with the RV and then the girls and I could ride the train home from Mom’s house together and not miss a minute of camping fun. I nearly did it. In fact, I think I did convince myself at one point, but when I truly listened to the deeper wisdom of giving myself this gift of time and space to write, it became harder.

I know that simply walking through these days, aching for my girls but serving myself and my other passion will help me grow. I would like to think that I can blame all of my angst on Bubba. That if he were just here to be with the girls like he promised I wouldn’t feel so badly, but I don’t think that’s true. I know that they will be safe and have fun with his parents and, even though they miss me, they will learn to trust that I will come back and be their mother just as before. That deeper wisdom, although constant, is very subtle, though, and the louder, keening wail of missing my girls threatens on the surface and is hard to push through.

In the meantime, I’ve got two appointments with agents on Friday to “speed pitch” my completed manuscript. I suppose my time is best spent figuring out how the hell to do that. If I can come home with some new tricks up my writer’s sleeve and having learned how to spend time in my own skin, this weekend will have been a success.

That’s what Bubba always says, and to some extent I believe it, although I’ve always been more comfortable with the notion that there is some concrete Reality/Truth out there somewhere that is discoverable. It gives me hope. It helps me to trust that I just have to buckle down, put in some elbow grease and keep looking until I can finally shout, “Eureka!”

Some days, this is why parenting sucks. Because while we can look at ‘norms’ and ‘averages,’ each of our kids is an individual and they have their own quirks and lovable qualities and refusals to FIT IN THAT DAMN PIGEONHOLE ALREADY.

So Lola has some quirks. Okay, a lot of quirks. But that is what makes Lola, Lola. (I know that comma doesn’t belong there, but I needed the pause in between the two Lolas, so I had to leave it there). About six months ago, she began complaining of “habits” that bug her. I noticed them a long time ago, but figured that as long as they didn’t cause her any problems and she was otherwise healthy, I was going to leave them alone. Time’s up, Mom. She had gradually become aware of a tendency to raise her eyebrows and then scrunch them down as far as they could go. She did this about forty times a day, generally when she was physically still, like playing a card game or listening to a story or working out a problem at school. She was afraid that the other kids would notice and begin to make fun of her and, frankly, it freaked her out that it didn’t seem to be something she could stop doing.

She progressed from this to what we call the ‘bunny face’ where the skin on the bridge of her nose gathers up and she puckers up like she wants a kiss. Finally, about a month ago, she began noticing a severe eye roll to the top left that, by the end of the day, left her with awful headaches. Add to this a tendency to “claw” her hands when she needs to use them for something that requires concentration (piano practice, card games, math problems), and she is frustrated.

Those of you with kids who don’t fit the ‘norms’ will understand what ensued next. As many disparate ideas as there are specialists. My therapist offered to score a test for ADHD (seems Lola scores in the 90th percentile for hyperactivity – duh). The naturopath suggested we test for more food allergies, B vitamin deficiency, and anything that can cause hypersensitivity. Bubba doesn’t see it. Or maybe he doesn’t want to because perception is reality. Or maybe it’s just that he rarely spends quiet time with Lola – they are usually wrestling or shooting hoops or chasing each other around the yard. Lola’s teachers haven’t expressed concern, but she’s in a nontraditional school setting – she’s allowed to pace while she reads to herself, work cross-legged on the floor, dissect lamb hearts and brains, and help design her own curriculum. What teacher would notice hyperactivity or tics in that setting?

The therapist and the doctor see it. Lola feels it. She admits not telling her father about it because she’s embarrassed. In the meantime, I’m loathe to medicate her for ADHD since those symptoms don’t seem to be causing her problems and, what if they take away the essential Lola-ness that she has to be funny and crazy and impulsive (well, I could lose some of the impulsivity…). Are the tics Tourette’s? I long suspected that Dad had some form of Tourette’s, but he’s gone now and there’s nobody to corroborate that.

I’m at a crossroads and wondering whether there is some concrete Reality/Truth out there that is discoverable. If so, should I kill myself to find it? If not, what’s the best course of action? And whose perceptions trump whose? Is Bubba’s reality more real than mine? What about Lola’s?

As I looked ahead in my crystal ball, I could see that Bubba’s got a lot of travel coming up this summer. Right-quick I secured a babysitter for Sunday night, figuring we could have a summertime date while the weather was warm. The problem was, now that the weather is gorgeous, the flowers are all blooming, the raspberries are nearly ripe and the grass hasn’t yet turned brown from lack of water, by Saturday afternoon, neither of us could think of anywhere to go.

“I was actually thinking that it would be great to just lounge around on the deck and make ourselves a really nice dinner,” Bubba said sheepishly, knowing I’m loathe to give up any opportunity for a date.

Hmmm, that gave me an idea. “How about we send the kids on a date with the babysitter?”

I purchased tickets to “Despicable Me – 3D” online for the three of them, gave the babysitter cash for treats and sent them off at 4:30 on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Bubba was busy in the kitchen forming lamb and mint meatballs, mixing up yogurt sauce, caramelizing onions and I started a pot of rice and whipped up some mojitos using the mint from the herb garden. While the meatballs sat to meld flavors, we parked ourselves in the sunshine on the deck and chatted. The dog settled down in between our chairs, the cat perched close by in the sunshine and all was peaceful.

Feeling a little tipsy (I was a little generous with the rum in the mojitos, it seems), we finally wandered in to the kitchen to do one of the things we did BK (Before Kids) – cook together. We have an easy relationship in the kitchen. I admire Bubba’s penchant for inventing things on the fly and I love to watch him as I flit around behind the scenes doing the support work. Normally I’m cooking solo, so when we get the chance to collaborate on a meal we both know the kids wouldn’t enjoy nearly enough for the amount of work that went into it, it is a genuine pleasure. Plates laden with rice, slightly crispy, fragrant meatballs, caramelized onions and roasted peppers in pomegranate molasses, and yogurt sauce, we headed back out to the deck to enjoy our creation and the evening breeze.

Looking out at the fruits of our labor in the yard, tasting the fruits of our labor in the kitchen, and relaxing in a place we feel most together was the perfect Sunday afternoon date. Bubba’s off to Detroit on Monday, but this quiet respite from parenting re-connected us and grounded us and, I must say, having a date free from interruptions of wait staff or children was incredibly enjoyable. The kids came home thrilled to have been trusted with “going out” without a family member, Bubba and I were thrilled to have missed at least one of the ‘summer blockbusters,’ and the night was much more inexpensive than it would have been if we had gone out.

I’ve gotta do this more often!


When I decided to leave my paying job, I was looking for something that would keep my hand in writing. Preferably something with a deadline and an editor, so that I could be kept on a short leash and didn’t wander off to fill my days with mothering and other things not related to writing. I found it at Feminist Review. Every other month, I get to choose my top five new books/CDs/movies from a list of just released items, and they choose two for me to review. I have just completed my first two reviews and they’ve been posted on the site. Please take a minute to hop on over there and read them. This site is dedicated to providing a clear, honest look at how new media affect and illustrate the lives of women all over the world. If you love to buy books, watch movies, listen to music, or hit the theatre scene, there is undoubtedly an intelligent look at some of the things you might consider soon on the site. They post new reviews every day.

This month I reviewed “Forced to Care” and “Female Nomad and Friends,” two nonfiction books that are pretty spectacular. Thanks for visiting!