Surprise Hoedown and a Side of Grace

Sep 30 2013

I’ve always told everyone who loves me to never, ever, EVER throw me a surprise party.


Because is there anything more terrible than a surprise party? Is there?

I mean, I understand why some people like them. They’re the Extroverted people. The Enjoy Being the Center of Attention people. The YES, PLEASE CELEBRATE ME people. And I like those people. They’re fun.

But I am not those people.

I am one of the Thank You, But I’d Rather Be in Total Control of My Own Party people. And one of the Sure I’d Love to Talk to You But Back Here in the Corner of the Room people. And one of the Yep, I’m Loud and Crazy, But Still No, I Don’t Want to Be on Stage people.

So surprise parties?

Yeah. No.


But no one ever listens to me.






Especially not my sister-in-law, Kim. ^^^

Which is probably fair since I once published a blog post entirely about Kim’s  boobs. So, you know, lesson learned. Well played, Kim. Well played.

But the thing is, my surprise birthday hoedown?

The one with friends,


and family,


and my cousin wrestling my brother to the ground because cousins don’t let cousins wear hideous rat-tail braids underneath their cowboy hats?

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It was seriously awesome.

Unfortunately, for it to be awesome, I had to accept grace. Which is hard.

Turns out, I find it’s easier to give grace to others than allow others to give it to me.

Anyone else? Anyone at all?

Because when people do extraordinary and kind things for me – like a surprise birthday hoedown at a beautiful farm out in the country in the middle of a massive rainstorm where people show up anyway and there’s a band and my favorite kind of beer and completely ridiculous and perfect games like lasso-the-birthday-girl and a Prancercise dance-off, and people spent hours and days and money making this happen, I think But I don’t deserve this, and I can’t ever pay you all back.

Which is, of course, exactly what grace is.

And exactly the point.

Because grace is free.


And a gift.

I want to live in a world that extends grace.



Or even deserved but no one cares because no one’s keeping track, you know?

No record keeping.

No score chart.

Just grace because we’re all worthy of gross, unreasonable displays of generosity and love.

The problem is, there have to be recipients for this to work. We all have to be recipients. And that’s HARD. And I’m beginning to guess, just a few days into 40 Days of Grace, that we’ve taken this whole It’s Better to Give Than to Receive thing a little too much to heartI mean, we’re prepared to be the Givers, right? To be the ones with the emotional wealth and the bounty of heart to spill it out onto others. The Givers are the ones we want to be. We strive to be. Not the Takers. Never the receivers.

At least that’s true for me. But it doesn’t work that way. It can’t. Because if we’re all the Givers, then grace breaks down and doesn’t work at all. And it’s becoming painfully, wonderfully clear that’s something I get to work on this month.

Last week, my friends Heidi and Grace started giving me gifts for my birthday. Every day for 40 days. Which caught me off guard and unprepared and keeps making me want to say STOP because I feel jittery and overwhelmed when don’t know how to express the depth of gratitude I feel for friends who insist on being unreasonably generous.

And then, on the heels of we’re-giving-you-WAY-too-many-gifts-SUCK-IT-UP, there was a surprise party this weekend.

It was rad.


With people who are even radder.


And so I’m going to work on this:

Aging Gracefully

Yes, of course.

Aging in a way that’s full of grace.

Aging in a way that allows me to be a Giver of Grace.

Freely and without merit to all comers.

But I’m also going to work on this:

Aging Gratefully

Aging in a way that’s full of gratitude.

Gratitude for Grace Unwarranted.

Because it seems a world of grace requires both. Both grace given and grace received. And I’m grateful for ridiculous friends who give me a chance to practice.


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In conclusion, thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate, and special thanks to

my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Kim


my parents, Ian and Sandy,


Jim and Katie Moss of Madrona Ridge Ranch (GORGEOUS location, even in the middle of a torrential downpour!) in Gaston, Oregon,


Angie of A. Russell Photography (photo credits hers),


and all of the friends and family (Adina, Mike, Michael, Abby, Nathan, Leslie, more) who helped pulled this off.

You’re my favorites.

And I’m grateful I get to practice receiving grace at your hands.


P.S. About that Prancercise dance-off? Mm hm. I want you to know, they look like they’re laughing AT my Pracercizability, but I assure you, they’re actually cheering in amazement (and, let’s be honest, jealousy) at how good I am.




You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.


 Photo credits to the fabulous Angie of A. Russell Photography

On Letting Those We Love Be Perfectly Themselves

Sep 27 2013

I took the last 2 kids to school this morning and everyone was dressed including, I think, wearing socks and underwear.

Except me.

I was still in my nightie but decided that throwing a t-shirt over it and leggings under it and finding mismatched flip flops and not brushing my hair or putting on make-up counted as “dressed” since I would be well-hidden inside my van.

Of course, the children never actually close the van door when they get out at school, racing as they are to make it inside the building in the final 11 seconds before they’re late (which counts as on time, in case anyone’s wondering), and so, despite hollering CLOSE THE DOOR out the window at them, I always face this choice:

a) Hop out of the van in my fashion-forward ensemble in front of the school and all the other frantic, rushed, last-minute parents who are in a hurry and want me to move my car already since they have only 6 seconds now ’til their kiddos are late late late… and close the door, and dash back around the car to hop in the driver’s seat, and promise myself I’ll get up earlier tomorrow (earlier than 22½ minutes before school starts, anyway), and be more organized overall, and for once make more for breakfast than Just Find Something in the Cupboard, Kids,


b) Try to shimmy out from underneath the steering wheel and vault into the back seat over the center console while not kicking over the cup of melted ice cream from 2 days ago, or stepping on the first grader’s precious and irreplaceable favorite stick which is almost completely hidden under protein bar wrappers and discarded coats and school papers and goldfish crackers so I can grab the door and shut it without stepping foot outside. And then, you know, reverse my course to fit myself like a 3-D puzzle piece back into the driver’s seat underneath the steering wheel while all the other frantic, rushed, last-minute parents want me to move my car already and … well, you get the idea.

This morning, I picked option b and executed it flawlessly.

Then I drove home, walked in the house, breathed a sigh of relief, opened a new bag of coffee beans, and set them carefully on the counter where they spilled anyway with a terrific, cascading crash as the beans skittered all over the floor. The sound was actually quite beautiful. The next sound was aw, sshhhit.


I had an anxiety attack last night. Not the kind where I feel anxious. The kind where my body pays no attention to the fact that I feel fine and decides to respond like I feel anxious anyway.


It’s like my body goes, “You’ve been feeling good lately, right? Pretty much totally functional? Nothing setting you off? Meds working well? Yeah; that’s weird and CANNOT BE. So, here, Beth; here’s a racing heart, for old time’s sake, and extremely sensitive skin, and – just for fun, fun, FUN – the general suspicion that you’re doomed and the world is doomed and, specifically, your children are doomed, and, also, you’ll never be well. P.S. Greg is blowing his nose that way on purpose. At you.”

And then my body cackles like the evil step mother in every Disney film, all high-pitched staccato and gleeful mockery.

Gosh, I love that.


In other words, it’s been a completely normal couple of days, and the only real downer is I have to keep dealing with me. It’s as though I’m always here, never fully put together and perpetually needing something or spilling something or feeling something. Blerg. And, well, I just wish sometimes that I’d give me a break and shush for a while, you know? Let me rest.

Thomas Merton wrote:
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves.”

This is one of the great keys to parenting; letting these little and big people we love be fully themselves, which is perfect. And imperfect. And perfect.

If there’s one thing my twins have taught me, in fact – twins who are very, very different despite being raised in the same chaotic environment – it’s that kids are who they are who they are. We parents can challenge them and champion them and channel them, hopefully for good, but we cannot – and I’d go as far as to say we must not – change them. Not at their core. Because they are, like every last one of us, divine. Made in Love’s own image. And also deeply flawed. Perfect. And imperfect. Which is perfect.

The beginning of loving our weird, wonky, wild, wonderful families is to let them be themselves.

But if that’s true – if people are who they are who they are – if we’re all flawed perfection, then I have to face the inescapable truth that I am, too. And so are you. At our core, we’re divine. And worthy of being loved exactly as we already are.

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves.

And so the beginning of loving myself is to let me be myself.


My mad, muddy, magic, mundane self.

The bad news is we’re always at the beginning. Always at the start of the race. Always learning to love people – including ourselves – for who they really are, and never perfect at the already loving of them.

But the good news is new beginnings are allowed every minute. Every second. And the beginning we can do. It’s our only job. To begin. And begin again. And begin again. And then to let those we love be. Perfectly themselves.



You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

Thoughts on Kindness: 40 Days of Grace

Sep 26 2013

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.


Even though it happened six years ago, I remember it precisely.

I remember what I was wearing and the way my jacket pulled just a little too tightly across my shoulders.

I remember wondering if I would ever have a successful pregnancy.

I remember being afraid that, if I did grow a baby, my three children who grew in other women’s wombs might question their place in my heart. I remember thinking that I was selfish to keep gnawing at that baby dream.

I remember thinking that my shoes were too clunky and so was my body.

I remember that the floor was sticky and that I was in hurry.

I remember that my bucket was full of doubt and worry and inadequacy.

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.

But I think about her all the time.

I wonder about her.

I wonder if she says random, kind things to strangers often? Or if, like me, she only does it when she feels compelled by the strange inner voice?

I wonder if she felt exposed and a little stupid when she walked away from my lackluster response.

I wonder if she questioned whether I was offended by “pretty” and if I wanted to chide her about equality and the expectations of women in our culture.

I wonder if she noticed the scars on my face from the accident I had when I was a child.

I wonder if she thinks it was worth it to put herself out there.

I wonder if she knows that I think about her kindness still, six years later.

ID-100152654Sometimes, we throw small bits of grace and compassion out into the world and they float away like helium balloons so far that we don’t know what becomes of them. Or we put in the hard work, or we wipe the wee bottoms, or we cook the twelve-thousandth dinner, or we tell our baby girls and boys that we love them and love them, or we smile at a stranger, or we feel compelled to scoop out chunks of our hearts and leave them in the canned food aisle at the grocery store.

We give those moments and then they’re gone. And it’s OK because they were meant to be given.

But sometimes, someone hangs on. We don’t know to which moments. We don’t know to which kindnesses. It’s simply our job to keep making more balloons.

I own a piece of a stranger’s heart. I wish I could tell her how very much I cherish it. And I wish she knew that she has mine.


This is reposted from February 2012 as part of


You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.


If you have a story of kindness to or from a stranger, please share. In fact, I can’t imagine anything I’d like to hear more. Unless you’re offering to babysit for a couple weeks and comp me a trip to Hawaii; in that case, feel free to use that as your Kindness to a Stranger story. I’m open. 😉


Blue Balloon image credit artur84 via

40 Days of Grace

Sep 24 2013

I spent the other night on the bathroom floor because I like to be sick like I mean it.

Traditionally, I’m an big fan of “go big or go home” where there’s only one right answer – GO BIG, of course – but the older I get the more I’m starting to question whether I’m allowed to change my affiliation and sometimes just quietly go home. I would’ve liked that option the other night, but noooooo, I had to shrug on my bravado, zip it up tight, and GO BIG. Really, REALLY big. All night long. With moaning. And keening. Lots of keening.

Greg moved the kids to the far end of the house because he was afraid they would think I was dying.

thought I was dying.

My body showed up, slapped me around, punched me in the gut, pushed me down and kicked me while I was there. And then I curled up in a little ball on the foam mattress Greg brought me, and I rocked myself to intermittent sleep. Between the keening.

I’m now in the phase following massive gut upset when I’m afraid to eat; a fear I will no doubt overcome soon and with great enthusiasm. Not Eating is a fun novelty while it lasts. It just never lasts long.

Now, here’s how much of that you needed to know: 0%.

But I have a point – cross my heart – and it’s this: I’M GOING TO BE FORTY.

Just like Sally of When Harry Met Sally fame.

Sally: What’s the matter with me?
Harry: Nothing.
Sally: I’m difficult.
Harry: You’re challenging.
Sally: I’m too structured. I’m completely closed off.
Harry: But in a good way.
Sally: AND I’m going to be forty.
Harry: When?
Harry: In
eight years.
Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end.

My friend, Grace, turned 10 earlier this year, and I’m about to turn 40.


It’s just sitting there.

Except “there” is suddenly much closer.

I mean, I’ve been saying I’m going to be 40 for years now; like Sally, someday. And now, someday is only 20 days away.

And I feel … ready.




I’ve never had a problem with aging, not in the traditional chase-youth, celebrate-my-annual-29th-birthday, do-botox kind of way. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of the wrinkles between my eyes or the way my boobs keep making a break for it by sliding out the bottom of my bra, but in general I feel aging is a privilege. After all, not everyone gets to do it. I honor the people I’ve lost by living this messy life with gratitude and loving my people recklessly and laughing with abandon… and occasionally by pouring a beer for Gloria while I sit crisscross on top her grave and listen to the wind which I secretly think is her voice.

There’s something significant to be said for this silly, sincere life, even though we have to age to have one.

And so I’ve spent the last year pondering What To Do for My Fortieth. To mark the years past. To celebrate the years to come. To stop – just for a little while – and be.

But all the ideas I had felt like work. Ideas like planning a family trip. Or a solo trip. Or a backpacking adventure. Or having coffee with 40 friends. Or learning to knit socks. Or sky-diving. They all sounded fun, minus sky-diving because that is infinitely crazy and also hell, no, but I couldn’t muster the energy to make the effort for any of the ideas, you know? Maybe because Homework for Five Kids currently has my “extra” time completely buttoned up. Filled to the brim and overflowing.

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And that’s when I remembered my friend, Grace, who celebrated her 10th birthday with 10 Random Acts of Kindness. Her whole birthday party consisted of her mama (go, Heidi!) loading a gaggle of girls in and out of a van as they rushed around town making people smile. Leaving pennies at a wishing well and quarters at a laundromat. Delivering food and toys to families in need.

“Because,” Grace said when I asked her why she chose that for her birthday, “it’s nice to see how you can brighten someone’s day.”

That’s all. No agenda. Just it’s nice to see how you can brighten someone’s day.

In short, I want to be like Grace when I grow up.

So I spent the other night on my bathroom floor while the flu kept me awake with all the moaning. And the keening. And, when the nausea calmed down, the thinking.

About life.

About aging.

About Grace.

About spending this life learning how to be kind.

To others, yes, and also to myself, which is often the hard part.

And it was there, on the bathroom floor, that I decided to spend the 40 days surrounding my birthday – 20 days before and 20 days after – in a state of grace.

40 days of grace, if you will.


40 days of grace to spend together. With you. Encouraging each other. Giving gifts of kindness. Being grateful. Being a mess and allowing that mess to be OK. To be enough. To be worthy of compassion. To be RAD.

So here’s how this is going to work:

40 Days of Grace starts today.

Every day, either here or on my Facebook page, I’ll post something around the theme of grace. New writing. Older posts. Blurbs. Links. Pictures. Something. Something that reminds us that we are – every last one of us – deeply, truly worthy of grace. And capable of spreading it around.

I can’t think of anything I’d like more for my birthday than to ask you to join me for 40 days of grace.



On Parenting and Imperfection: Sometimes, It’s a Baba Ghanoush Day by Julie Cairns

Sep 23 2013


Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Now, I won’t say I begged for this post, exactly, mostly because that would be unflattering to myself, but I will say I maybe pushed a teeny bit, or cajoled slightly more than once. 🙂 It’s just, I love Julie Cairns‘ writing. I love her honesty. And I love that I fall inside her words and feel welcome and understood and not aloneyou know? Some days, that’s just what we need, every last one of us. To nod our heads and say, I’m not alone.

Welcome to this space, Julie. I’m very glad to have you here.

Beth Woolsey 


Sometimes, It’s a Baba Ghanoush Day
by Julie Cairns
dedicated to Chrissy at Life With Greyson + Parker,
who yearns for a Baba Ghanoush Day

I have three kids and I’m convinced their favourite word is “Mom.” What leads me to believe this, you might wonder? Well, simply, the staggering overuse of the damn thing.

Mom? MOM! Moooooo-oooooommmmm! Mo-awwwwww-om! Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom? MOM! Mom. At roughly 120 uses/minute.

It’s like nails on a chalkboard sometimes. The muscles in my neck tense. My lower back spasms. My forehead does that creasy line thing. And sometimes, it pushes me over the edge.

Sometimes, at the dinner table, I completely melt down and announce that no one, and I mean NO ONE, can talk TO me or AT me. No one. No talking. No Moming. And especially no Mo-awwwww-oming. And sometimes, at the same said dinner table, shortly after the aforementioned announcement, the Big Man will point out, “Julie, you are the most important person in their life. They want to talk to you. They need to talk to you.”

To which I respond, “No, I’m not!” and “No, they don’t!” Because the Big Man and I are partners and we’re in this together. Equals. And it wouldn’t be right for me to be the most important. And being the most important scares the crap out of me. And really, right now, can’t it please be “DAD!” I cannot handle another “Mom,” most important or not. Chinese water torture. Drip, drip, drip.

There are times I think little chicks are so cute with their peep, peep, peep. And then I realize, what was I thinking? That poor mama hen must go absolutely bonkers. Peep, peep. Peep, peep, peep, peep. Peeeeeeep, peeeeeeep. Peep. Peep. PEEP. Peep. BONKERS! No wonder she does all that clucking, that weird neck bobbing thing, and is capable of running around with her head cut off. If you think it’s the laying of the eggs, you’d be wrong. It’s the peeps!

Sometimes, I’m at my computer, and sometimes I’m doing something somewhat important, and the “Mom, mom, mom…” starts. The 30 second email I must send has taken me an hour, because the 7,200 ‘moms’ make me reset and start over. Every. Single. Time.

And sometimes, I must confess, it only takes one “Mom!” to push me over the edge.

The one ‘”Mom!” that is bellowed from a great distance through the house, precisely 2-1/2 minutes after I explained to each child, making solid eye contact, in a clear, loud, instructional voice that I was now going to get into the bathtub and if they should need me, that is where they will find me, and they will need to come and knock gently on the bathroom door in order to have my attention, and by the way, it better be very important, like, life-threateningly important.

Or the one “Mom!” whose pitch falls right between the identifying level of This-Will-Require-a-Visit-to-the-Emerge and This-Will-Work-Itself-Out-Before-They-Physically-Find-Me. Frankly, I just don’t want to deal. Right now I’m going to wallow in my bitter mixture of irritation and guilt and just have a freakin’ momless moment.

Because sometimes, yes sometimes, I am simply not interested. Not interested in one more who-did-what-to-whom-when? One more “Can you, will you, right now!” One more elaborate summary of a movie, or book, or idea that seems to take longer than watching, or reading, or thinking actually does.

No! Right now, I’m not kissing another ouchie. I’m not praising another Crayola creation. I’m not making you anything to eat you hollow-legged kid!

This minute, I don’t have anything left. I don’t have any ideas, any ideas at ALL. If I did, I would figure out a way to get you to stop saying “Mom!”

Oooooo. Wait. I have an idea. Wait. Come back. Okay, stop crying. Seriously, you can’t hear me if you’re crying. Okay? Okay? Okay! You ready?

Don’t call me Mom! No more Mom. Instead of Mom, call me “Baba Ghanoush!”

That’s it.

Sometimes, dropping the overwhelming title of Mom is the best I can do. And you know what? It’s all I need.

Sure, I can remember being a kid and gazing in wonder at my mother and how she could tune me out and my dozen ‘mom’s. I’d marvel, I’m right here! How can she not hear me?

I remember the Big Man saying I am the most important person in their life. They want to talk to me. They need to talk to me.

I often think of Chrissy and how words from her two autistic boys are like precious gifts from God and I see my own precious gifts and wish I could smile and open my ears happily.

But sometimes, yes, SOMEtimes, I simply have to forgive myself for wanting to be…just for a moment… Baba Ghanoush.


The beauty for me in this story is that I chose Baba Ghanoush because: 1) I’d been somewhat addicted to the dip at the time. 2) The kids had to stop and really think in order to recall it. 3) It is so fun and silly to say and hear that it makes us giggle doing it. And 4) It doesn’t matter if we wear it out. I had no idea that ‘Baba’ means ‘Father.’



Julie at the age of 39, is all the things at the age of 29 she said she wouldn’t be: unemployed, dependent, frumpy, suburban, domestic and the most surprising… a MOM! And not just any mom, but THAT mom. The one that makes you NOT want to have kids. The mom you see in the grocery store wearing sweats, crocs, no make-up, an unintentionally messy pony, and a scowl directed at her kids that could remove paint. She lives out her privileged, stay-at-home life with a Mr. Darcy of her own and three exceedingly lovable (born within 22 months, you do the math) munchkins in Waterloo, Ontario. She can be found procrastinating any real sort of doing on her blog Cairns Connection, and dreaming of again having some sort of job that pays.


You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.

A Determined Walk Toward Slow Hope: An Update on Depression

Sep 17 2013

This is not a real post. I am far, far too giddy and drunk on I Am Responsible for ZERO Kids Right Now to write a real post.

But it is an update of sorts. An update on depression in disguise. And anxiety. And finding a way out.

An encouragement, hopefully. And a determined walk toward slow hope.

Because, you see, Greg and I are away. Away away. From home. On purpose. For 40ish hours, we’re away, and I can go potty whenever I want. What’s more, I bet Greg isn’t going to lay on the floor outside the bathroom and stick his fingers under the door and say, “MomMomMomMomMommyMom” or ask “ARE YOU DONE YET?” or holler “MY BROTHER JUST PUNCHED ME IN THE PENIS.” He probably won’t yell that even once. And I’m not sure I can adequately express the kind of jaw-dropping, drool-inducing, mind-blowing bliss that comes from that knowledge.

And can I just say? The fact that I’m happy about this trip? The fact that I’m looking forward to being away from home? The fact that I think I may actually enjoy myself? That’s a miracle right there. A medical marvel. Because I did not feel like this a few months ago. Not even a little. Anxiety had backed me up against the wall with a hand around my throat and it did not let up until my doctor told me it was Depression in Disguise and I started the long road toward health. Again.

The road to mental health is always long, and I just hate that. I step back on the road and I want a supersonic jet or a bullet train or a Formula One race car to pull alongside and offer me a ride. I want to bypass the journey and arrive at the Perfect Mental Health destination NOW. But nooooo. It’s never like that. Never ever. I step back on the road to mental health in my scuffed tennis shoes with my underused muscles and the only way forward is one foot in front of the other in front of the other in front of the other. And onward to infinity.

Sometimes it looks like no progress at all. Especially with the inevitable medication changes and being aware of my feelings and having to stay engaged in the process. Blerg. But then one day, maybe months and months after finding the road again, I look up and realize I’ve walked or jogged or crawled quite a way. I realize that, while I can’t see my destination, I also can’t see where I started. I realize I’m headed out on a brief trip with my husband and I’m not just going through the motions. Not dreading being away. Maybe I’m even eager to go.


Or maybe Not Crazy, to use the technical medical term.

Now, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine getting ready for this trip.

I had to do certain things.

Like update our will.

And clean.

And I’m never sure which of those things I hate worse.

My parents are staying with the kids while we’re away, so we picked up just enough this weekend to upgrade our house from the Pit of Everlasting Despair to I’m So, So Sorry You Have to Stay Here. I’d feel worse about all the beds that are unmade and towels that are frayed and children who are unbathed except the house looks approximately 20,000 times better than the time I was pregnant with twins and my water broke prematurely and we bolted from the house in the middle of the night leaving my in-laws to babysit preschoolers and sop up amniotic fluid. So, you know; the house isn’t that bad. It’s all about perspective, right?

The truth is, I’ve tried 3 different combinations of medications since starting treatment again in May, and I’m not exactly the palm-to-the-forehead, BE-HEALED kind of better. I sent a message to my brother and sister-in-law last week titled “We’ll Be Gone Next Week… MAYBE FOREVER” and I opened with “In light of our upcoming trip (read: imminent deaths), I need to clarify some things about our will.” So, you know; Hello, Anxiety, my old friend. But when we hugged and kissed our kids good-bye, I didn’t experience soul-crushing sorrow, either. Or dread. Or defeat. I would say, in fact, I could breathe. So Hello, Progress. 

I may not be out of the dark yet. I may not be standing in full sunshine. But the moon has risen in the dark, and it’s full, and it’s bright, and I can imagine the sunlight on the horizon. For now, that’s enough.

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A determined walk toward slow hope.

And enough.


P.S. I guess this turned into a real post after all. Shows what I know.

P.P.S. I’m not too proud to ask for your prayers or good wishes for this time away. For rest for a weary mama. For air to breathe. xoxo

Image by Roger Hutchison used with permission:
you can find out more about Roger’s art at The Painting Table.


On Parenting and Imperfection: My Worst Parenting Fear by Shannon Lell

Sep 16 2013


Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m excited to share this space with my friend, Shannon Lell. And, look, there are a lot of reasons I love Shannon, not least of which is the tag line on her blog which reads, “When we are our authentic selves, we give others the unspoken permission to be the same. In Truth, there is freedom,” because, oh my word, that is SO what we do here, right?

But I feel like, to give you a true taste of why I LOVE love Shannon, I must share our private correspondence with you. It goes like this:

From: Shannon
To: Beth

Oh Beth. I’ve been on vacation since Friday. We had a wedding down in California wine country and we didn’t take the kids. Sooo, that should tell you that mama danced her toosh off for 3-4 hours straight and drank entirely too much wine over a 3 day period for which I am paying dearly for in more ways than one. 

1) I can barely walk b/c my thighs are on fire from dancing.
2) I managed to fight off a monster sinus infection that is so pissed off right now it is making me nearly incoherent with pain. 

I feel like an amateur. A fraud. Like I should have trained for this weekend somehow with shots of tequila and zumba. I am a shell of my former self.

From: Beth
To: Shannon

If you ever decide to start a tequila/zumba training regimen and need humans to experiment on, I’m your girl. 

I hope you feel better very, very soon.


From: Shannon
To: Beth

 I think we have a nice little business idea. Boot camp for drinking in your thirties. Seriously, we can alternate tequila and vitamin C shots while doing calisthenics while wearing two sets of Spanx. I would totally pay for that shit. 

From: Beth
To: Shannon

Toss in a case of industrial strength of Depends and I’m SO IN.

From: Shannon
To: Beth


From: Beth
To: Shannon

GENIUS. I’m opening a Kickstarter. Also, we’re OBVIOUSLY going to need an awesome video to go along with it. You and I will be the models. It’s going to be HOT.

So there it is in a nutshell, friends. I love Shannon because a) she’s going to make me easy millions, b) she needs me to model in a Spanx with Absorbant Liners dance video (DREAMS DO COME TRUE), and, c) she implied I’m in my 30’s! Which I totally am, since 39 11/12 counts, man.

Welcome to this space, Shannon. I’m so glad to have you here.



My Worst Parenting Fear
by Shannon Lell

My husband has a long-time friend who is a police officer. We’ll call him Calvin. Calvin is an honorable, moral, upstanding person. One day Calvin was lamenting about how he works so much overtime and at such odd hours that he doesn’t spend enough time with his family. I asked him why he doesn’t just call in sick one day and he told me he would never do that because it would be a lie. Indeed, he is the exact sort of person you want carrying heavy weaponry with a license to kill.

Calvin is adopted. He is the oldest son of four children and his parents are still married and both highly educated. His two younger brothers (Ivan and Aaron) are biological children of his parents and they all grew up in the same home going to the same Catholic private school. Ivan is the middle brother and he’s a patent attorney in Washington, D.C.. Aaron has two sons by two different women, both of which his parent’s are helping to raise. Aaron is currently in jail for dealing drugs.

Then there’s the story of my 1st cousins. They are three biological siblings all from the same parents growing up in the same house.  They lived in a small town and their mother was a homemaker. The middle child, Brandon, is (once again) a police officer. The oldest child, Danielle, is living in near poverty with a drinking problem and the youngest, Anna, is an award-winning urologist at The Mayo Clinic.

Those two stories, combined with my own family history, encapsulate my worst parenting fears. That this whole thing is a crap-shoot.

That it doesn’t matter how many books I read, how many educational apps I buy for my iPad, how much I spend on extra-curricular activities and art supplies, or how many organic vegetables and hours of sleep I’m able to coax onto my children… my children have the same odds of ending up on skid row as they do being a renowned surgeon.

I know what some of you may already be thinking. It’s the same thing I’ve said to myself to assuage this dread.

 All I need to give my children is love. All I can do, is the best I can.

I want to believe that is true. Because those are things I’m already doing. I love them with everything I have and I’m doing the very best I can. But deep down I know, even that is sometimes not enough.

You see, my parent’s loved me while I was growing up. They still do. And they did the very best they could with what they had. I know this. But all of that wasn’t enough to stop me from making some unfortunate mistakes. Mistakes so dire, so potentially deadly and dangerous that it is only by the grace of God that I am where I am today. If you look at me and my siblings we are all on different planes in life too. Very different.

All of these stories have me grappling to make sense of parenting because it is the ONE job in this life where I pray I can succeed. I find myself wanting to understand the odds. I’m inspired to read smart books and save lots of money so that I can make educated choices and send them to great schools. Feeling desperate to safeguard my children against devastating potentialities of lives lived in pain and suffering.

Worst Parenting FearAnything else has me feeling powerless, and powerlessness is a cold and frightening terrain. Powerlessness feels like very little oxygen inside a cave that’s growing darker by the minute.

This reality that the fate of my children’s lives is a total crap-shoot morphs into one big, pathetic excuse:

We can’t afford private school so I say, “Well, parenting is a crap-shoot anyway, might as well go to public.”

I have a shitty day and ignore and/or snap at my children, “Oooh well, parenting = crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’ll scar them for life.”

I get a little too excited when my 2-year-old labels his letters correctly, “Pfft,  crappy, crappity, crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it right.”

I get a little too frustrated when my kid melts-down in the grocery store checkout line, “This sh!t is such a f*$%ing crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.”

It’s a useful excuse for almost any parenting insecurity you can think of. It instantaneously absolves you of responsiblity by putting your children’s fate in fate’s hands.

But that’s not how I want to parent. It’s not even how I want to live. I don’t want to put all my cards in the deck of complete pre-determination. I want to have an impact. I want my hard work to pay off. I want my children to be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society. I want that. I want that more than I want excuses and apathy.

I’ve searched my soul for something more comforting than “crap-shoot” to ease my fears about my children someday ending up on skid row. There is only one reasonable answer that brings me any margin of comfort. It is respect.

The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me kind of respect.

My children will make mistakes. My children will fall off wagons, jump off bridges and take the low road more times than I even want to contemplate. We all do. It’s inevitable, really. But if they respect their parents; if they value our opinions; if they feel bad when we are disappointed because they enjoy our approval… then that is something.

But here’s the problem with respect. Respect is not merely given. It isn’t something that you can control, command or demand. Respect happens when the person you are is the person someone else strives to emulate. And, sadly, that has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with one’s own sense of integrity and self-worth.

In the end, respect is something you must first have for yourself, before you can earn it from others… especially your children. As far as I can tell the best strategy I have against safeguarding my children from the more difficult paths in life is to inspire their respect for me. No small feat I assure you. Because respecting my wishes by remembering to take off their shoes in the doorway, versus caring how disappointed I’ll be if they have sex with their highschool girlfriend, are two separate levels of respect in my mind.

One is common courtesy, the other is having a bond that acts like kryptonite on teenage hormones and peer pressure and we all know how strong those things are. They are the two singular forces responsible for a $1.6 billion dollar company called YouTube.

So how do I get this kind of relationship with my children? How do I inspire their respect for me so that they hear my voice during difficult decisions? Must I be flawless in front of them? Must I exemplify perfection and make every right decision?

No. That’s just too damn much to ask from any human being especially not one who suffers from chronic tardiness and likes french fries because they come with ketchup.

The people I have the most respect for in life are not perfect. In fact, they are usually the most flawed. But to me, respect means humility. It means grace. It means saying I’m sorry, I was wrong, can you forgive me? and I forgive you, and why don’t we  try to do better next time because trying is the most important thing. Not perfection, just trying.

To me, self-respect is knowing you’re not perfect, and yet believing you were perfectly made.

It is something I remind myself of daily because if I can believe it — really, truly believe it… then hopefully, someday, they will too. And if they do… then I can put my fears to rest because I will have succeeded at my job as their mom.


ShannonLellShannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer and stay at home mother. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues and she tries to use just enough sarcasm so that you don’t think she’s emotionally unavailable.


You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.