Defining Motherhood

One Mom's Attempt to Find Meaning in the Madness

Wordy Wednesday


WORDY: using or containing many (usually too many) words

I see Wordless Wednesday blog posts and often think, “I should do that.”  But, then, I remember that I’m terrible at taking pictures.  If not for the CDs of images that appear from my in-laws a few times of year, there would be little visual documentation that I have two children.

I’ve decided to embrace Wednesday in my own way.  In lieu of a photo, I offer you this random collection of other people’s words that impacted me this week as well as a handful of new words I added to my vocabulary.  I acknowledge that I am offering you less than the going exchange rate of 1,000 words per picture.  Forgive me.

Other People’s Words

I’ve been reading The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.  Early in the book, she writes this passage about the perspective you absorb from the place you live:

“It makes sense that if you stand almost daily in the middle of a perfect crescent of shore, with a vista open to eternity, you’ll conceive of possibility differently from someone raised in a wooded valley or among the canyons of a big city.”

A few days after reading that passage, I was listening to The Writer’s Almanac when Garrison Keeler shared this quote from the poet Heather McHugh about the impact of surroundings on our sense of self:

“I have always lived on waterfronts. If you live on the edge of an enormous mountain or an enormous body of water, it’s harder to think of yourself as being so important. That seems useful to me, spiritually.”

A few more great passages and strings of words from Messud:

“…the person I am in my head is so far from the person I am in the world.  Nobody would know me from my own description of myself; which is why, when called upon (rarely, I grant) to provide an account, I tailor it, I adapt, I try to provide an outline that can, in some way, correlate the outline that people understand me to have…”

“…do you know this idea of the imaginary homeland? Once you set out from shore on your little boat, once you embark, you’ll never truly be at home again.  What you’ve left behind exists only in your memory, and your ideal place becomes some strange imaginary concoction of all you’ve left behind at every stop.”

“Doubt, that fatal butterly, hovered always in my breast.”

In preparation for a presentation I’m giving in the fall, I’ve been re-reading some classic environmental texts, including Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  What was astounding to me, page after page, was how valid and timely her observations remain after fifty years:

“The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.”

“This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits.  It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.  When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.  We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks…The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when it full possession of the facts.  In the words of Jean Rostand, ‘The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.’”

Words I Wanted to Make My Own (but wasn’t sure what they meant)

  • Bonhomous: good-natured easy friendliness
  • Deliquescent: tending to melt or dissolve
  • Diaspora: a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived
  • Frisson: a sudden strong feeling or emotion
  • Glaucous: of a pale yellow-green color; of a light bluish-gray or bluish-white color; having a powdery or waxy coating that gives a frosted appearance and tends to rub off
  • Rive: to split with force or violence

actions > words

ACTION: a thing done; deed; the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition

If actions do indeed speak louder than words, Son should hear a very loud


when he climbs into the top bunk to sleep on clean sheets tonight.

I hope the volume of the talking sheets doesn’t startle him so much that he wets the bed. 

I can’t handle changing the sheets on the top bunk again so soon.

Parting: Sweetness and Sorrow

PARTING: a time or occurrence when people leave each other

I agree with Juliet.  Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Yesterday’s parting was no exception. It was extremely sweet and extremely sorrowful. 

Yesterday was my last day in the office before beginning my transition to fuller-time writer.  It was a parting from a firm that took a chance on me when I was young and inexperienced and trained me with grace and patience.  It was a parting from co-workers I’ve known for more than a decade – folks who long ago crossed the invisible line between colleagues and friends.  After drafting my farewell email and a handful of personalized thank you notes yesterday morning, I had to take a break to hike to the nearest drugstore for mascara to reapply.  There was sorrow that came from knowing my colleagues will not disappear from my life but will have a much smaller role. 

Yesterday wasn’t just a parting from people.  It was also a parting from less tangible things like security and status. Yesterday was a goodbye to regular paychecks, nicely furnished office space, business cards, letters after my name, billable hour reports that provide an objective reporting of my productiveness, and so much more.  There is sorrow in the realization that I have spent so much time and energy climbing a ladder that didn’t get me where I wanted to go. 

So, there was sorrow.  But, there was also sweetness.

Yesterday was a day full of tender words, kind gifts, and a happy hour celebration full of laughter.  I spent my evening reading and re-reading the sentiments, compliments and well wishes in the card that accompanied the beautiful journals and pens the firm gave me.  It is rare to get to see yourself as others see you. And when others take the time to let you know – with love, kindness, and a great deal of gracious overlooking – what they admire about you it is a sweet, sweet treasure. 

There is also sweetness in the intangibles that this transition offers.  I’m giving up some security and status, but I’m gaining freedom, passion, inspiration and possibility.  

Letters still matter – just not the ones after my name on my business card.  Now it’s the letters I put on paper that matter.   And, thanks to my beloved colleagues, I have beautiful paper to put those letters on and a seven-year pen with which to write them.

I wake this morning comfortable with the conflicting sweetness and sorrow of yesterday’s parting and ready to embrace the possibility in this new beginning.

July Reads

READ: to understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This month’s BEST OF pick is Graeme Simsion’s charming book The Rosie Project.  Don Tillman is a brilliant but socially inept professor of genetics.  He is ready to find a wife and believes a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey is just the way to do it. That way, he doesn’t waste time with smokers and the perpetually late.  Rosie Jarman is clearly not wife material according to the questionnaire.  And yet…

This book is delightful in every way.  It is joyful and poignant and insightful.  This book showcases all the beauty and charm of a mind that is wired in a non-neuro-typical manner.  You can’t help but fall in love with Don and the way he sees the world.

Language of Flowers The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I really liked this book.   As I was devouring page after page, I would try to convince myself to slow down and savor it – knowing I would be disappointed when I finished.  But, I couldn’t help myself and in the end reached the final page too quickly.  So many books bounce between past and present, but this one uses that format with great artistry.  Diffenbaugh portrays a range of human emotions and experiences with such ease that this book feels at once life-changing and light-hearted.

sweet tooth

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

My expectations for McEwan are high.  This book didn’t meet them.  A story of Serena – a beautiful lover of books who is recruited to England’s legendary intelligence agency – who goes undercover to help manipulate a writer in the name of advancing the government’s objectives.  Along the way (gasp) she falls in love with the writer.  There are plenty of passages where McEwan’s writing shines, but there are plenty more that are average.  In the end, this book suffered most from a lack of action.

year of the gadfly

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Miller uses three narrators talking from different perspectives and different times to tell this melancholy story of Iris – a budding highschool journalist whose confidant is her conjured version of Edward R. Murrow – and her uncovering of a blackmail scheme at her elite prep school. This book is full of plot twists, revealed secrets, and the repercussions of grief.  I was impressed by Miller’s creativity and ability to create wonderfully eccentric characters.  It was an interesting read, but ultimately this novel was more clever than convincing.

Mountains echoed

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This is the first book I’ve read by Hosseini.  I will read more.  Clearly, he is a gifted story teller.  This book – which spans many decades and many lives – was beautiful and touching, though the pacing was a bit uneven and the last portion of the book took some determination to push through.
Everybody sees the antsEverybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

I picked this book up from the bargain shelf at Powell’s months ago.  It deals with important issues: abuse, bullying, sexual harassment, etc.  But the issues and insights weren’t put together in a story I found compelling.  In the end, the book was just weird…not in a good way.

Long Shadows (The Whole Truth)

father and child

SHADOW: pervasive and dominant influence

My latest essay is up on Brain, Child magazine’s blog today. Here is an excerpt:

“How often do you see your dad?” she asks casually.

The question is one of many questions we’ve volleyed back and forth this particular afternoon as we sit in the sun and let our children play on the playground.

How should I answer this question I’m sure she perceives as benign?

I could simply say, “My dad visits a couple times a year.”

That’s true. Or, at least, true enough.

Or, I could say, “I see my father’s shadow every day.” That’s also true but it takes some explaining.

To read the rest, head on over to Brain, Child magazine’s blog or Facebook page.

July Rain

rain in seattle

RAIN: water falling in drops condensed from vapor in the atmosphere; the descent of this water

It’s a rainy day and, I confess, I was delighted to see the dark shadows of a nighttime rain shower on the sidewalk this morning. Partly because it checks water garden off my list, but mostly because of the way it feels.

The air is cool and clean. I breathed deep on my morning walk to the bus, trying to soak it in. I’ll be excited when the sun returns (it is summer after all) but today I’m going to relish the rain and enjoy the uneven tapping of the drops on my office window.

Loving rain is handy for Seattleites. Rain and long stretches of cloud cover are the tradeoff for avoiding things like scorpions, tornadoes, earthquakes and fancy dress codes that folks in other parts of the country tolerate. It’s a trade I’m more than willing to make.

Rain is linked with purification in some primal part of my being. Wet concrete is my blank slate. Drips from tree branches and gutters sound like forgiveness and possibility to me.

I like a good rain shower. Heck, I like any shower. I collect memories of showers the way some folks collect memories of great meals:

There were the childhood camp trips where we bathed as best we could in the campground water spigots, trying to walk the fine line between invigorating and painful exposure to the freezing water.

There were the service projects in Mexico where each day ended with judicious use of a single bag of sun-warmed water to wash away the stucco and sweat.

There were the frigid Alaskan waterfalls and streams that I plunged my head under to restore my sanity after miles of kayaking.

There were the European hostel showers that required body contortions to shave my legs.

There were the shared showers of young love.

There were the all-I-have-to-show-for-today showers of early motherhood.

Indoors or out, water from above is like magic. Water transforms people and things.  Dry to wet.  Dirty to clean.  Weary to renewed.

When a city energy audit revealed that my beloved shower had a flow rate higher than any other home in the city, I felt guilty. Almost guilty enough to install the free low-flow shower head offered by the auditor. Almost. But, not quite. Take my car. Take my Ziploc bags. Leave my shower alone.

Recently, I’ve been shopping for a shower head to install in the bathroom planned as part of our basement remodel.  Sure, I care about the appearance of the shower head, but what I really care about is the function.

Which one will make my morning shower feel like a walk in the rain?

The Backpack Hall of Fame

robot backpack

BACKPACK: a bag for carrying things that has two shoulder straps and is carried on the back

It’s looking like Son will need a new backpack for school this year. My essay about all the backpacks I’ve loved is on Brain, Child Magazine’s blog today. Please check it out.

What do you do with old backpacks?

Quitting My Day Job

take a chance

RESIGN: to give up (a job or position) in a formal or official way

I love words and take a great deal of pleasure in stringing them together, but sometimes in life’s big moments I find it easier to borrow the words of others.  This email is one of life’s big moments for me, so please indulge me while I borrow words to help me share my own.

Never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard seed germinates and roots itself.1

I recently accepted an opportunity for a small beginning.  This particular beginning comes in the form of a part-time job at my kids’ school that will allow me more time for writing and more time with Son and Daughter (i.e. my source material).

My new job will begin in mid-August and I will make the transition to starving artist at that time.  I plan to use the next six weeks to close out/hand off projects at the office while I stockpile rice and beans at home.  Amidst the fear and trepidation a person is bound to feel when swapping a regular paycheck for the fickle earnings of a freelance writer and the laughable salary of a public school employee, I also feel hopeful and energized.

If we accept and internalize the fact of our own mortality, then, by definition, we have to deal with the essential questions of how we live and spend our allotted time.  We have to stop procrastinating, pretending that we have forever to do what we want to do and be what we long to be.2

Those of you not teething in the ‘80s may laugh, but the clock of mortality has begun to tick louder for me.  Time feels short and I am compelled to make good use of it.  The reasons for not pursuing writing (what I want to do) or having the courage to call myself a writer (what I long to be) are no longer as compelling as the reasons to take a chance on a personal passion.

It’s not you, it’s me.3

My choice to leave is not motivated by a desire for an ending, but a desire for a beginning.  The ending is just a necessary part of making room for the beginning I want.  I came to this firm when I was twenty-three. On my first flight to Walla Walla, I was carded to sit in the exit row (FAA regulations require you to be fifteen).  I was a wrinkle-free rookie with much to learn.  And, with grace and patience you taught me.

Now, more than a decade later, I am surrounded by teachers, encouragers, mentors and friends who have seen me through major life transitions (e.g. marriage, children) and minor ones (e.g. the arrival of a second chin and eye luggage).   It is with a mixture of joy about the potential gain and sadness about the known loss that I announce yet another transition.


Disclaimer: There is a part of me that knows this information should be shared in person.  Forgive me.  I simply couldn’t imagine doing that.  I am deeply grateful for all this firm has done for me and, above all, for the opportunity to work with such amazing (even writers sometimes can’t find adequate adjectives) people.  Walking into each of your offices to share this news was simply too much.  Plus, the carbon footprint of the number of tissues I would need seemed irresponsible.  Please forgive my cowardice.

1 Florence Nightingale

2 Surya Das

3 Boyfriends, Various

June Reads

As you may remember from my April post, my dear friend Julie mentioned that moms like her – moms with young children that make reading a postcard in one sitting challenging – need a “best of” highlight in my monthly book reviews so that they can skip right to the one book they shouldn’t miss.  This month, that book is:

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Technically, this book is a murder mystery.  The main character, Dr. White, is suspected of murdering her friend and neighbor.  Dr. White is a former surgeon suffering from dementia.  The plot was secondary for me.  What captivated me about this book was the way LaPlante captured the distortion and decline of dementia patients with almost poetic prose.  If you are inclined to judge this book by the plot, my rave won’t make sense.  But, if you want a book that takes on a rarely covered subject with grace and skill, read this.

Now, for the rest of you who may have room for more than one addition to your To Be Read pile…

May Reading

Those of you paying attention will note that there was no “May Reads” update.  That’s because in May I was busy reading the following titles in anticipation of the design phase of our basement remodel:

  • The Complete Guide to Attics & Basements
  • Basement Ideas That Work: Creative Design Solutions for your Home
  • Home by Design: Transforming your House Into Home
  • Inside the Not So Big House: Discovering the Details That Bring A Home to Life
  • Common Sense Storage: Clever Solutions for An Organized Life
  • Not So Big Solutions for Your Home
  • Better Homes and Gardens Small Bath Solutions
  • Bathrooms: Plan, Remodel, Build
  • Complete Basements, Attics and Bonus Rooms: Plan and Build your Dream Space
  • Design Ideas for Basements
  • How to Live in Small Spaces: Design, Furnishing, Decoration, Detail for the Smaller Home
  • Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring your Home for the Way You Really Live
  • Affordable Bathroom Upgrades: Transform your Bathroom on A Small Budget
  • New Bathroom Ideas That Work
  • Small Spaces: Maximizing Limited Spaces for Living
  • Beautiful Baths
  • Bathrooms: The Smart Approach to Design
  • Essential Small Spaces: The Back to Basics Guide to Home Design, Decoration & Furnishing
  • Home by Design: Transforming your House Into Home

I can confidently recommend any design book by Sarah Susanka (author of The Not So Big House and many other fabulous titles).  She rocks.

In the interest of full disclosure, the entire month of May was not lost to non-fiction reading about basement remodels.  I also lost a significant amount of time to binge-watching of past seasons of Nashville.

Oh, and I had a failed attempt to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed for book club.  I wanted to like it, but just didn’t.  I should have liked it.  Woman writer.  Yay!  Outdoor adventure.  Yay!  Self-discovery.  Yay!  And yet…

June Reading

In June, I finally made some progress on reading for fun.

Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

One of the writing canon essentials I’d never read.  Technically, I didn’t “read” it this time either.  But, I did listen to it on CD.  And, it was awesome.  The audiobook version may even be better than the print version because Goldberg supplements her original writing (done in her 30s) with commentary that benefits from hindsight and additional years of experience.  This book will only appeal to writers, but if you are a writer and haven’t read it yet, get on it.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

I grabbed this book from the library shelf because the title and cover appealed to me.  It’s a play on Mother Goose’s Girl with a Curl.  I found that clever and that was enough for me.  I liked, but didn’t love this book.  It’s my first book by Laura Lippman and I liked it enough to want to read more.  I love a good mystery, and Lippman is supposed to be a master, but this one didn’t have me sitting on the edge of my seat.  I liked the main character, Heloise, a suburban madam.  But, as far as character-driven novels with likable madams go, I prefer Ruta Sepetys’ Out of The Easy.

Drowned by Therese Bohman

I read a review that heralded this as a thriller in the vein of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Scandanavian author Bohman does create a thriller of sorts, but it is much more psychological than action-based.  Bohman writes a deceptively calm novel that creeps you out and sets you on edge more than it makes your heart race.  I appreciated what she accomplished with her narrative, but wouldn’t compare her to Stieg Larsson.  I hate how sexual deviance and aggression seems to be the main currency in thrillers.  This one is no exception.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I bought this book because my vacation went better than I anticipated and I was out of library books.  There weren’t many choices at the rural Target that didn’t involve bodice ripping.  I’m a sucker for comedic essays and memoirs, so I chose this book.  And, it worked for me.  The essay topics were jumpy and disjointed, but as celebrity books go, it was a win.  Kaling is a gifted writer who has proven her comedic chops on television and now in print.

I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron

I have a crush on Nora Ephron.  I could read her writing all day every day. Her tone and topics appeal to me and she knows exactly how to hit my funny bone.  This book is no exception.  A quick but delightful read.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Sometimes young adult books transcend the genre and have enough depth to win over adult readers.  This one doesn’t.  I think the dominant struggle in the book – whether the heroine gives into death or fights to live – may convince a teen reader but it didn’t convince me.  The pros/cons as evaluated by the main character seemed shallow and trite and in the end I actually didn’t care if she lived or died.  I am, of course, appropriately barred from complaining that a book I took from the YA section lacked maturity.    

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne

This book was recommended at a lecture I attended at my son’s school.  I actually found the lecture more helpful than the book.  I was expecting more research based data, instead the book was heavy on anecdotes.  The data that is included in the book (primarily on media exposure/quantity) is troubling to be sure.  This book reinforced some of the choices our family makes but didn’t provide the data and analysis I was expecting.  For folks not living in communities where discussions about sexuality and media are occurring, this book may be helpful.  For those already having robust conversations about these topics, I don’t think this book has much to add.

The Cards Hallmark Doesn’t Make

FATHER’S DAY: the third Sunday in June appointed for the honoring of fathers 

Dear Dad,

I’ve had your Father’s Day card sitting on my desk waiting to be mailed for almost a week now.  It felt inadequate to just sign my name to the pre-printed Hallmark sentiment.  I felt the need to supplement.  But, I’ve been searching for the right words.   I haven’t found them.  But, I found these:

Father’s Day has always been tricky for me.  You don’t fit in Hallmark’s box.

Hallmark makes a lot of cards designed for dads who fix things and mow the lawn.  Since you didn’t live with us for most of my childhood I didn’t benefit from your handyman skills or lawn mowing.  Although, there was that one time you fixed mom’s car before our visitation even though you had a hangover.  Remember how she left it parked in the sun?  I guess you probably had that coming.  Sadly, Hallmark doesn’t make any cards “For the Dad that can fix a car the morning after a bender.”  They make cards for just about everything else, but not that.

There are lots of Father’s Day cards about TV watching and fighting over the remote.  We only shared a television for one day every-other-weekend, so remote battles don’t really capture our relationship.  Plus, I don’t remember feeling like there was an option to “fight” for a different show.  Did you even have channels that showed something other than John Wayne movies or did you order a custom Cowboy Cable package?

Then there are the bad puns and lowest-common-denominator jokes.  I respect you too much for those.  You love language and have a gift for words.  I can’t give you a card that makes me groan because I know it will make you groan even louder.  And of all days, Father’s Day should be a groan-free day.

So, you can see my dilemma.  No handyman, lawn mowing, television or dumb joke cards.    That eliminates about 73% of available Father’s Day cards.

But, there are still lots of touching cards with words printed on watercolor landscapes.  I wish I could buy one of those.  But I can’t.  They remind me of the dad I didn’t have.  You didn’t read me bedtime stories or teach me to drive.  You didn’t play catch with me in the yard or attend all my sporting events and recitals.  You didn’t see me off to dances or intimidate my boyfriends.  You are not my best friend.

That sounds harsh, I know.  But it’s true.  We have something different.  You’re a cowboy.  You’re tough and thick-skinned.  The love you give is equally so.  You are not affectionate.  You do not gush compliments.  I know I am loved.  It’s just not a mushy Hallmark kind of love.

It’s the kind of love that never used me as a pawn in marital conflicts.

It’s the kind of love that never forced me to turn down a sleepover invite because it was “your” weekend on the visitation schedule.

It’s the kind of love that always sent child support on time and never griped about the expense.

It’s the kind of love that rented fancy clothes for my wedding and agreed to dance in front of strangers.

It’s the kind of love that embraced the idea of honoring my brothers with the job of walking me down the aisle.

It’s the kind of love that drives four hours to take my family out to dinner.

If Hallmark printed all that on a watercolor background, I would buy the card.  But they don’t.

So, I am left searching the card aisle for my old stand-by – the small percentage of Father’s Day cards that don’t actually talk about fathers.  So, once again you are receiving a Father’s Day card that talks about how awesome I am and how lucky you are to have me.

But, this year that just didn’t feel like enough.  So I’m supplementing with this letter.

I love you.

Not for your handyman skills or the straight lines you left in the lawn.  Not for your taste in television or your golfing abilities.  Just for you.  That’s what daughters do…especially the awesome ones.

Don’t you feel lucky to have me?

Happy Father’s Day!


[A Defining Motherhood Blog Re-Run]



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,353 other followers