Beneath the dust and love

by Tessa Meyer Santiago

Often in the past twenty years, I have been surprised by a feeling: as if I’ve woken to find myself in a place not altogether unknown, but surprising all the same: walking down the hallways of the high school, I expect to see Karen and Patrick hanging out by the book room, as they did in 1983. I know, intellectually, I’m 43 and on my way to pick up a child for the orthodontist, but pushing through those glass doors into the high school smell, I feel the sixteen-year-old thrill of walking down the hallway, hoping against schedule and tardy make-up, that he will be there today. And there he is, walking towards me, his basketball calves stretching Allen Iverson-thin into his khaki Dickies. My heart skips a beat, as I watch him saunter toward me. That he calls me “Mom” stuns me into present. To my surprise, the lanky man-child walking toward me with that half-hitch in his step, braces glinting, is not Derek, but my son, Christian.

A post-midnight with sleeping bodies in beds, lights off everywhere, except maybe over the sink, a cup of rooibos tea in hand, curled up on the leather couch, book on the arm, listening to the noises of the night house. I’ve spent so many nights in this position at this same time, that, if I am very still, and all I hear is my breath and the same heart beating inside me since before memory, it is hard to tell whether the breathing coming from the other room is my father or my husband; am I seven or forty-three?

Can I be all three? Because, sitting on the couch in my forty-three-year old body, I can still feel the hot flush of shame that fills a seven-year-old body when she realizes she is wholly out of step with the majority, that what she thought was normal was, in fact, quite startling. I can still remember taking my mother’s hand to cross Main Road in Claremont, spacing my fingers to fit between hers, feeling the warmth of her palm cup against mine. My son Adam holds my hand as we run through the parking lot after the game (not as often as before but sometimes still) and when his little fingers fill the curves at the base of mine, for a moment I cannot quite tell whose hand is whose. I am simultaneously small Tessa, knobbly-kneed in green school uniform, and someone’s mother. The years run through me like it was yesterday, today and tomorrow at the same time. Continue reading

Dear Mrs. Gray,

This is a letter of a different kind, an actual letter to an actual mother. It’s a letter to aspire to receive some day…remember this one the next time you’re teaching your children how to share and show compassion:

Dear Mrs. Gray,

You don’t know me, but I wanted to write you a letter.

My family and I are from Southern California, but we were visiting Utah last week for Thanksgiving. Last Sunday night we were trying to drive from Salt Lake to Park City, where we were staying with friends. A snow storm had blown in and the highway had several inches of snow by the time we made our way up the hill to Park City. The snow plows had not yet made their way to our stretch of highway and quickly we realized we were in trouble. Our California tires were no match for the snow and of course we didn’t have chains. We were following in the tire tracks of a big semi for a while, and so we were making progress up Parley’s Summit, but then our semi got stuck and we quickly came to a stop. Once stopped we couldn’t get the car moving again. There were cars all around us who were also getting stuck. If you didn’t have four wheel drive or some really good snow tires, you were out of luck. We thought we would have to wait a few hours until the snow plows came through and then have someone tow us into the plowed path. It was getting late, and our kids were tired and ready for bed.

You might wonder why I am telling you this story, but at this point your son Ben came to our rescue. He was driving behind us in a red pick up truck and when my husband got out to see how badly we were stuck, he asked if we needed help. Your son tried to give our bumper a push but we just got stuck again, the tires spinning and spinning. He could have just driven around us and been on his way like the hundreds of other cars, but your son pulled his truck in front of ours and grabbed a strap out of the back and tied our front bumber to the back of his truck. And then he pulled us ever so slowly up to the summit. Once we got to the top, he untied the strap (we were worried about braking on our way downhill and didn’t want to slide into his truck). But then he offered to follow us all the way down the hill to our exit in Park City, to make sure we didn’t get stuck again.

And so I wanted to write and tell you about your son, and the kindness he showed my family. I’m guessing, in typical teenage fashion, that he didn’t tell you what had happened that night. I’m betting he just came home and mentioned the storm in passing on his way to the fridge to grab a snack.

But I wanted to make sure you knew, and to thank you for raising the type of boy who would stop to help a stranger, even when it delayed his drive home by an hour or so on a dark and snowy night. My family and I are so grateful.

Sincerely,
Brooke Reynolds and family
. . .
Brooke is a mother of two, book designer, amateur sew-er, and lover of flip-flops. A former senior art director at Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Kids, she writes at Inchmark, where this post first appeared.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Katrina Kenison is the author of Mitten Strings for God and The Gift of an Ordinary Day. She blogs at Ordinary Day Journal. (Thanks to Gabi for passing along this great clip.)

Babies cry, don’t take it personally

When my baby was born into this world, I was struck with the reality of it all. She is mine, my baby, nobody else’s. It felt like one of those reality shows when you get to play a part in someone else’s life for a while–but don’t get too comfortable, the camera crew is on its way with the annoyingly chatty host.

Our strange existence as modern women of the 21 century brought many of us to the realization that by the respectable age of 30, we rarely had a chance to handle a newborn, to change his diaper, to feed him or watch him nurse. That was me anyway, a total novice (not to say a nervous wreck). Before my baby was born I wouldn’t have wanted to hold a newborn. I was afraid to break them. I regarded every new, seemingly relaxed new mother with great admiration. “How does she do it?” I asked myself (and her, if I gathered enough nerve). They all looked like mother earth to me. Relaxed and natural.

Imagine my surprise when my turn came to play mommy. Continue reading

Helping myself

My sister set a New Year’s resolution to try to live her life as if she were 20 years older and suddenly had the chance to go back and do it all again. I have been thinking about that. I know so much more now. I would do things differently. Fifteen years ago I was 30. If I could go back and visit myself, we would sit on that old green couch that got the afternoon sun while the kids napped, and this is what I would tell myself: Continue reading

Was it something I said?

When I was a girl my mother told me this:

“I’m glad my daughters aren’t beautiful.”

(She had four of them.)

“My daughters are interesting and smart and clever instead.”

We were sitting at a stoplight at Stapley and University.

I don’t remember where we were going.

I had heard this in little bits and pieces all my life, but somehow, maybe my age, maybe the stillness of the car, maybe the car itself as holding cell for an unwitting prisoner—this time especially, the words stung.

And penetrated deep into my soul. Continue reading

Like Mother, Like Superhero

I’m delighted to be able to share the parenting wisdom of one of my favorite writers, researcher and social worker Brené Brown, here on Letters to a Parent. If you haven’t found her site yet, set aside some time, click over, and prepare for a treat. This post is especially appropriate this week as we put away our holiday trinkets & relaxed schedules and return to our routines at school, work, and home. Enjoy! {And thanks, Brené!}

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In January, Ellen and I ran into Nordstrom so I could pick up some make-up. While we were there, we decided to check out the sale in the children’s shoe department. I had on my workout clothes and was looking pretty ragged. When we got to the shoe department, there were three moms picking out shoes while their young daughters tried on boots and sneakers. These women were stunning and their daughters were equally beautiful.

As I tried to stay out of the swampland of comparison, I saw a strange blur of jerky movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Ellen. They were playing a pop song in the neighboring children’s department and Ellen was dancing. Or, to be more specific, she was doing the robot.

At the very moment that Ellen looked up and saw me watching her, I saw the magnificent moms and their matching daughters staring right at Ellen. They looked horrified. Ellen froze. Still bent over with her arms in rigid formation, she looked up at me with these eyes that said, “What do I do, Mom?” Continue reading