My daughter is ruining being a teenager.

Jul 31 2012

My daughter needs me.

I know it’s true.

Even (and especially) now that she’s a teenager.

It’s more obvious all the time that my oldest baby needs occasional babying despite my natural inclination to only baby the babies.

Sometimes I succeed at giving her what she needs.

And sometimes I fail.

But let’s talk about me, shall we?

Let’s talk for just one minute about what I need.

I need my daughter.

I need her.

I do.

Not to baby me, of course. Although if she occasionally wanted to bring me my slippers, a book, a cup of coffee, and silence, I wouldn’t say no.

No, I need my baby to make me feel better about myself.

In particular, I need my baby to help me continue to justify my own, long-ago teenage life. To help me understand that the ways I was a complete, fundamental awkward mess were normal. Routine. Absolutely the same as everyone else.

And, while I don’t use this space often to complain about my family, I need to get this off my chest.

Abby totally bites at making teenagers look pathetic.

She does.

She just does.

Like today, for example, when she played with make-up and fashion and didn’t have the decency to look awkward or insecure.


Do you see?

She is wearing a schmear of bright blue eye-shadow, y’all. And – gosh, I’m so embarrassed to say this – it looks good.

My daughter can’t even screw up blue eye-shadow. And – I’m pretty sure I’m right here – if you can’t screw up blue eye-shadow, you’re doing teenager wrong.

The End.



Dear Miss Abby,

I hope you don’t think your mama’s too hard on you. I know – I do – that you’re only in your second year of being a teenager. You have time – years and years of time left – to consider the error of your ways and make corrections.

I want you to know, even though I’m old, I understand. Despite glimmers of early teenage promise, I didn’t get into the full swing of being a holy terror and making my parents question my sanity, my judgement, and my taste in eye-shadow until I was sixteen.

Baby girl, it’s OK to be a late bloomer like your mama. Do not be discouraged. I love you love you. To infinity. Even though you’re messing everything up.



We’re on (naked) vacation!

Jul 29 2012

Dear Friends,

We’re on vacation this week (woohoo! relaxation! restrejuvenation! fun family vacay!) in Sunriver, Oregon which is important for you to know for two reasons, as follows:

  1. Blog posts this week may be sporadic and short.
    Or frequent and long.
    Or sporadic and long.
    Or frequent and short.
    Who knows, really?
    Our family vacations, while always memorable and bonding, rarely go according to plan.
    Which brings me to…
  2. We left every single boy suitcase at home.
    Every. Single. One.
    We planned our packing.
    We packed our bags.
    And then we loaded all of the girls’ suitcases in the cars and left the boys’ suitcases on the landing at the top of the stairs.
    Or we left them downstairs by the front door.
    Or we left them outside next to the garage.
    if you’re in Sunriver this week
    and you see our naked family walking around,
    please do introduce yourself and say hello.
    Frankly, we can use all the friends we can get.

More soon.



Wardrobe Malfunction: Do What I Say, Not What I Do

Jul 27 2012

One of the greatest blessings of unmanageable chaos is the acceptance that I can’t do everything.

Or, more accurately, if I don’t always accept that I can’t do everything, at least I believe that if I do do everything most of it will be crap.

I’ve come to believe lately that my life is an experiment in holding things loosely and dropping balls. And then tripping over the balls I drop and stubbing my toe. And then cursing in front of the kids and apologizing for the cursing. And then trying to be retroactively gracious about being a Ball Dropper. So, you know, motherhood.

I suppose I just didn’t expect “dropping balls” to mean “going to work less than dressed.” Which is a funny expectation, really, because I’ve found myself getting in the car more than once on a workday with only my tights on and no skirt – true story – so there’s clearly a precedent. But I’ve always caught myself in time, and, blinders intact, I didn’t see this coming.

I told you I quit my job because I’m going to write. I didn’t know that I quit my job just in time because they were gonna haft to fire me for walkin’ around nekked.

My wrap dress is green and white knit, and it cost me an amazing $7 at the Old Navy outlet at the beach. It looks just like this,

except it bulges a tad more at the middle and it’s lumpier at the top and it requires a lacy tank top underneath because hello, ladies! 

Now, I admit I should’ve known that I’m not the right person for a real wrap dress. You would’ve known. You would’ve told me. You would’ve stopped me on that shopping expedition and said, “Beth. I know it’s only $7, and $7 is a steal. But this is no faux wrap dress, Beth. This is a real wrap dress with a real tie holding the entire contraption closed. And you are Janet Jackson at the Superbowl. There is no way that thing’s gonna stay tied. And when it comes untied – and it will, Beth; it will – don’t go yelling, EEK! Wardrobe Malfunction! like you didn’t know what was gonna happen. Have you even met you?”

I know, I know.

I know.

And I just want to say,

Thank God for breezes.

THANK GOD FOR BREEZES and for undeserved mercy.

Thank God.

Because, without those wintertime breezes – those rapid pulses of freezing air – that whipped again and again through my tights in the garage as I went to jump into my car, late for work and late for school drop-off and late for coffee, I may not have remembered in time that tights are not enough clothes and that I must also put a skirt over the top of them.

And without the breeze Monday morning – that warm gust of summer air that smelled like cut grass and gasoline – that blew my wrap dress WIDE open as I walked across the parking lot to my office for my very last Monday of work, I would almost certainly have walked into the office wearing an unwrap dress on just my shoulders and sporting my mid-thigh, flesh-colored, off-brand Spanx, my mostly-flesh-colored-except-for-the-Kool-Aid-stain-where-my-son-used-my-breast-as-a-napkin bra, and an inch and a half of actual, stretch-marked flesh playing peek-a-boo between my two undergarments.

“Go out with a bang,” they say.

I say, never trust a saying that hides behind “they.”

I say, don’t go out with a bang. That is TERRIBLE advice.

I say, keep your clothes on, Beth.

In conclusion, do what I say. Not what I do. For this is the root of all wisdom.


Two Lessons in Lament: a story of sorrow and Mike and Ikes

Jul 25 2012

One of my five-year-olds missed out on the entire box of Mike & Ikes last night.

The Mike & Ikes were there, you guys, and then they were suddenly all gone. Vanished. Whoosh! Just like that.

Cai grieved.

And I mean he grieved.


I’m just barely mature enough at age 38-and-three-quarters to understand that I don’t get to pick which things grieve others.

This is the first lesson of lament. I don’t get to pick griefs from a menu or meander down the sad smorgasbord. Nope. Griefs pick us.

It’s a new revelation for me, and I don’t like it much, but since I also don’t get to pick which things are true, I’m trying to put on my big girl pants and take the news graciously.

If you’re like me, maybe you’re a tiny bit controlling, and maybe sorrow makes you feel panicky and lightheaded and dizzy and like you need to put your head between your legs before you pass out in your own vomit.

I want you to know, it’s OK. We’re OK.

Sorrow is hard and painful, and it doesn’t always end when we want it to be over which is usually in approximately 60 minutes if you account for 15 minutes of commercial interruptions.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable sitting in pain – both yours and others’ – and it’s OK to want to find a way out.

It’s also OK to practice the sitting. That’s the bulk of life, right? The choice to keep practicing.


One of my five-year-olds missed out on the entire box of Mike & Ikes last night.

The Mike & Ikes were there, you guys, and then they were suddenly all gone. Vanished. Whoosh! Just like that.

Cai grieved.

And I mean he grieved.

Oh, agony. Torture. Misery. Woe. The Mike and Ikes – those far-better-than-jelly-beans jelly beans – were gone. And Cai was terribly, horribly, awfully sad.

Like any good mama who’s been thinking lately about grief and movie theater shootings and being intentionally present to people in the middle of the muck, I tried to shush him. To quickly soothe him. To drop off a few kisses, drive-by style, on the top of his head so as to miss any of the leaking bits on his face. Anything, really, to hurry his wails along and put his sadness aside because I had stuff last night.

Important work.

Things To Do.

That’s when I remembered in a blinding and brilliant moment of Godly clarity (a moment that sounded a lot like Oh, CRAP!) that I’m practicing sitting in the pain with the people I love.

I sighed dramatically because everyone knows that dramatic, passive-aggressive sighs are the very best way to say I ALWAYS have to do the hard jobs around here and NO ONE ELSE helps EVER and I NEVER get to do ANYTHING I want, and then Jesus rolled his eyes and told me it was chore time anyway, no matter how much I sighed, and that if I didn’t fix my attitude pronto, he’d be happy to give me another chance later to practice doing my jobs cheerfully.

Fine, Jesus. Whatever.

I lifted my pathetic Mike-and-Ikeless baby off the soggy floor, and I folded his long, skinny body into lap origami. We snuggled down deep in the Velveteen Chair, and it’s funny… my smarmy attitude evaporated as soon as his knobby body hit my squishy middle. It felt just like coming home.

Cai and I got our lament on, y’all.

We lamented so hard, my shirt is still lumpy with boogers and soaked with spit and tears.

And while we lamented, we had this conversation…

“Oh, Cai Cai. I’m so sorry you’re sad. You’re lamenting. Do you know what lamenting is?”


“Lamenting is being sad. And we’re lamenting together. Did you know that there are whole, huge parts of the Bible that are all about lamenting?”


“Did you know that God cares to hear our laments and not just our joys?”


“Do you want to pray together and talk to God about your Mike and Ikes lament?”


I can pray for you if it’s too hard for you right now. That’s the good thing about lamenting together. Do you want me to talk to God about your lament?”


“Do you at least want a kleenex for all that snot?”


“Is there anything I can do for you, Cai Cai? Any way I can help make your lament better?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Oh, good, Cai Cai. Because I really want to help you. What can I do for you?”

“Stop talking, Mom.”


“Stop talking, Mom. This isn’t talking time. It’s being sad time.”



Oh, hello, second lesson of lament.



Where else would you build your nest?

Jul 21 2012

Our front porch is covered with wisteria, a jungle invasion at odds with the manicured lawns at our neighbors’ houses but somehow complementary to the flowering, resilient, eye-high weeds that welcome visitors to our house.

Erin came over the other night in her red strappy dress and high, urban heels to announce her engagement to Stephen. Erin, who I forced years ago to call me Cousin, even though she’s technically Greg’s cousin and only, therefore, my cousin-by-marriage. My cousin-in-law. As though family should ever be so narrowly defined. I earned it, I told her after sitting vigil by her bed in the Intensive Care Unit, crocheting row after row after row of snowball afghan, praying with every other sweep of my wrist that she would live. God, let her live, I prayed with the ventilator down her throat and her mama sitting beside me.

When she woke up days and days later, I said, Enough. Enough, Erin. There will be no more cousin-in-law crap from you. Understand? No. More. From now on, you will introduce me as your cousin. Not your cousin’s wife. From now on, I am Cousin. And that is all. And she knew I meant to say, You terrified us, Erin. You terrified me. Stay with us. Stay. And I love you love you.

She knew.

She said, Okay.

She knew.

Erin, my cousin, came over the other night in her red strappy dress and high, urban heels to announce her engagement to Stephen. And I WOOHOOed the way she knew I would. We sat on my back porch together with kids running wild and filthy around us until the thunder started and we moved to the front, under cover of the wisteria jungle, safe from the rain and lightening that never came.

Safe from the rain and lightening that never came.

The kids played with popsicles, swiping them on our arms and legs until I said, STOP and gave them the hairy, I-mean-it-this-time eyeball, and then they filled my empty beer bottle over and over with water, dumping it on themselves in classic frat boy fashion. I laughed right out loud just like I shouldn’t do, and they laughed with me.

It was the night before the shootings in Colorado. The night before another reminder that safety is an illusion and Bad Things Happen. And a big, fat robin kept flying over our heads, squawing at us gently, in and out of the wisteria jungle. In and out and in and out and in and out.

Erin packed up Stephen after the mosquitos started biting. And our other family and friends who’d wandered over for the fun in their sweaty workout clothes wandered out. And I was left to usher dust-covered children to bed, to bed. To shush them and wash them. To soothe them and bless them. To kiss them and put them to bed.

With their eyes closed and their breathing heavy and the air saturated with the imminent storm that refused to come – not yet, not yet – I headed back to the wisteria jungle to pick up the pieces of popsicle and to find the beer bottle half full of water and to see the robin flit-flitting in and out and in and out and in and out.

And of course, I thought.

Of course, Mama Robin. Of course you’re here in the middle of the jungle. In the middle of the unmanicured mess. In the middle of the chaos and the crazy and the uncertainty and the illusion of safety.

Where else would you build your nest?


Boldly Go (or, An Announcement about Your Reckless Encouragement)

Jul 19 2012

I don’t know for sure, but I think Star Trek ruined something in me.

It’s probably Jean-Luc Picard’s fault.

Jean-Luc Picard with his certainty and his strength. Jean-Luc Picard with his strangely perfect bald head and ability to look hot in a unitard. And Jean-Luc Picard with his mesmerizing British accent and deep, compelling voice.

Space, Picard said at the beginning of every Next Generation episode, and I fell into a trance. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

It was the best part of the show, no doubt. That opening sequence. And I bought what Jean-Luc sold. Oh, maybe not the crinkly wrapping; I can do without space travel, I think, what with its lack of air, excess of Earl Grey tea, and affinity for naked wedding ceremonies. But I bought the heart of what Jean-Luc sold. The longing for new life. The belief that other people are worth finding. And especially the desire to boldly go.

Oh, how I long to boldly go.

And oh, how stuck I’ve felt at different check points along life’s journey.

How enmired and entrenched.

How unworthy and small.

How certain that I’m wasting this one life I have.

How frustrated and lonely.

And yet.

And yet, and yet, and yet.

I long to boldly go.

It tugs at the heartstrings, this idea that we dare to venture into uncharted territory. That we explore the edges of our safe space. That we discover new principles and find engaging ways to communicate. That we tell new stories, or find that the old stories are still true in new places.

We ache to boldly go. Don’t we? But we feel sometimes as though all the land has been trampled and used up. Like the space is occupied. Like we’re nothing new or special or unique. That someone else has stories that tell truth better or more thoroughly or even just louder.

So we squash our boldness, and we shove it down, and we tell it that there’s no room for it. No place to go because we’re not inspiring or creative.

We’re bland, we think, and bland and bold don’t go together.

But when we think these things, we’re wrong.

Because we must Boldly Go lest we miss out on life.

And if we walk the paths that others have trod, well then, good for us. Good for us for finding any path at all through the wilderness and for recognizing a way forward. Good for us for honoring the path-makers by smoothing their work and keeping it in good repair.

Sometimes, we must boldly go where others have gone before. I’m starting to suspect that it’s the Bold Going – and not necessarily the space – that defines us.

I’m about to boldly go, you guys. And I’ve been wandering around in internal circles trying to figure out how to tell you. I considered, in fact, not telling you at all. I considered waiting until my Bold Going is a success I can trumpet… or a failure I can roll up in a rug and lug from my house in the dark of night and sink in wet cement at a nearby building site where no one will ever discover what I’ve done. But that’s not how we do things around here, is it? That’s not how this corner of the blogosphere works. We don’t hide our failures and pretend that only successes happen.

So here’s the deal:

I’m quitting the job I love with the organization I adore because I’m writing a book.

I’m writing a book.

It’ll be a book. Written by me.

Most people announce things like this after they have, you know, a book deal. Or interest from publishers in a book deal. Or something more substantive than, “Hey, you guys! I’m taking a giant leap in the dark, and I have no idea where I’ll land!”

I thought about being like most people. But meh. How dull.

Here’s the hard truth I’ve discovered. I want to do a lot of things, and I want to do them all well, but the more things I try to do, the more they all suffer. So I’ve spent months buckling down, thinking, pondering, praying, and talking with Greg. I’ve thought a lot about what’s safe for my family and what’s risky and what role I play in this world. I’ve spent time agonizing over finances and taking deep breaths. And in the end, I decided to take the advice of a wise man who said to me, “Life is full of choices. You can do what’s safe, or you can do what’s right.”

Life is full of choices. You can do what’s safe, or you can do what’s right.

So I’m off to take a chance to do what’s risky and right. Even though it might be a gigantic failure.

I’m going to do what’s risky and write.

I’m going to boldly go, although the Bold Going looks a whole lot like being terrified and choosing to free-fall anyway.

And I’m asking you to jump with me.

Because here’s another truth I know. Writers are only a piece of the book pie. Readers are the ones who make writers’ dreams come true. Readers make us. With every Like on Facebook, every blog comment, every time you share a link online or in person, every HOORAY – KEEP GOING, every encouragement, you help us Go, and you help us find our Boldly.

So you who’ve been my family and my friends for a very long time… and you who’ve become my friends here… you who are my authentic, complex, both/and, hilarious, commiserating, uplifting community… you who’ve asked for this book in comments and e-mails and in person… I am so very grateful for you and your reckless encouragement.

Because it’s not really Jean-Luc Picard’s fault, this risky, risky attempt I’m making.

It’s yours.

And I’m thrilled we’re in this together.


P.S. In the weeks to come, I’m assembling a team of folks to help promote this effort. If you want to help, leave a comment below, and I’ll use your e-mail address (private to only me – never, ever shared!) to assemble a list of folks for e-mail updates and to let you know about specific ways you can help. Did I tell you yet how grateful I am for you? I am. So grateful.

So your bathroom smells like pee…

Jul 17 2012

Some people offer slippers or nice, cushy socks to guests who enter their homes. The floors stay pristine in their unscuffed beauty, and the guests are comfy.

Well, it’s way too late for our floors. That ship sailed a decade ago, and these days we regularly beg our guests to remain shod. There are two things that are unknowable: 1) the day and time that Jesus will return to take us to Glory, and 2) the mysterious ways of the omnipresent goo and gunk into which you will certainly step at my house. For Heaven’s sake, people, keep your shoes on.

But filthy floors don’t mean I should relinquish my hostess duties entirely, and the tremendous lowering of my standards doesn’t mean I can’t try to accommodate my guests in new and meaningful ways. And that’s why I’ve decided, rather than a Longaberger basket of funky, fun, fuzzy socks, I will heretofore keep a giant tub of Vicks VapoRub at my front door and offer an undernose schmear to any brave enough to enter.

The truth is, I can clean my house by shoving things in closets and cupboards like the best of ’em. I can pull off parties and events, and only the people who come over very regularly know to comment on the difference between my Usual Housekeeping and my Presentable Housekeeping. Only my family, for example, watched me move my couch last Thanksgiving to make way for the Thanksgiving Table and scrape lakes of petrified milk from our cheapest of the cheap Ikea laminate floors.

My fake-it method of housekeeping, though, loses steam when it comes to the bathrooms.

THE BATHROOMS, you guys. The bathrooms which we let our boys use, and which I suspect will someday require a thorough gutting down to and beyond the subfloor in order to eliminate the persistent smell of pee. And I’ve tried – I’ve tried – to stuff the urine smell into closets and cupboards along with all the other superfluous clutter, but it refuses to be stuffed and lets itself out from its prison to run roughshod over my guests.

I’ve Febreezed.

I’ve lit smelly candles that give people blinding headaches.

I’ve shut the door and prayed this prayer,

Dear Jesus,

Let no one need to use my potty.


But Jesus is funny about the prayers he answers in the affirmative and the ones he doesn’t.  And Jesus remains very stubborn about acting like the magic wand I think he should be.

So my bathrooms are consistently hideous and terrifying, and I’m consistently embarrassed that I can’t completely cover up the smell.

I came home from camp on Saturday, and the house was clean. The clutter was picked up. The dishes were done.

It was almost bliss.

Except for the bathrooms.

Of course.

Because they’re a force of nature.

Even the upstairs bathroom. The one that’s out of the way. The one that’s seldom used but manages to smell like old pee anyway because that’s the popular thing for bathrooms in our house to do, and, I swear, if the downstairs bathroom jumped off a bridge, then the upstairs bathroom would jump, too.

Except this time, the upstairs bathroom smelled even worse than old pee.

It smelled like the Old Pee invited his friends over for a party after which they all vomited, passed out, died, and left their rotten pee corpses behind for giggles.

And that’s when Greg discovered it.

The Ocean of Urine.

In the bathtub.

With a washcloth blocking the drain.

Because someone, or as I like to call them, someones, thought it would be a super fun game to see how high, over days and days and with a cleverly blocked drain, they could fill a bathtub with pee.

The answer, for those of you keeping track at home, is about 1/8″.


About an eighth of an inch of urine at the high spot, accounting for the crusty, ring-around-the-tub evaporation effect.

I tell you this story because I love you, friends.

I love you. I do.

And I know that we mamas sometimes hang our heads, shame-faced, over our housekeeping shortcomings.

We blame ourselves for shoving clutter into closets and faking clean houses.

We pray that no one will need to use our potties.

And we apologize, apologize, apologize for our imperfections, unconsciously raising the bar of comparison higher and higher.

But I am here to tell you, friends, if your bathroom smells like perpetual pee, you are not alone.

And if you lack a Pee Ocean in your tub, you are, in fact, ahead of the game. You should sit straighter, mama, and hold your head high and banish shame.

And me, too.

Me, too, even with my anointed tub. I will also banish shame to the same place my pride and my dignity went – never to be seen or heard from again – ’cause who needs ’em?

As for me and my house, we will pray to Jesus. And arm ourselves with Lysol. And burn our tubs to the ground. (Or at least douse them in enough chemicals to ruin the local water supply for the next 20 years.) And offer our guests generous schmears of VapoRub for their upper lips. Because I will do what I can do, and I will release what I can’t do, and I will  live life love-loving my little pee-ers.

The End

Except, thank you, Greg, for taking on the Ocean. You really took one for the team. True truth: men who clean up oceans of pee are sexy, sexy beasts. (x’s and o’s, baby. x’s and o’s.)