On showing up.

cold water

As a parent to young kids, talk of “rites of passage” brings a wistful smile.

I think of things like first smile, first tooth, first steps. The first time watching Anne of Green Gables or Star Wars, the first time making s’mores around a campfire, the first sleepover with the cousins.

(I’m living in fear of the “firsts” I know are coming: first crush, first kiss, first heartbreak. I don’t want to talk about it.)

But there’s another kind of rite of passage, the kind that comes when our bodies predictably begin to fail: the first time your parent is seriously ill, the first terrifying 4:00 a.m. phone call, the first hopeless prognosis.

We’ve been living through our own rite of passage around here. This is no happy “first.” This is the scary kind.

This weekend we took an impromptu road trip to visit a loved one who’s been ill. We almost didn’t go. Because we left in a mad rush, we weren’t prepared and didn’t have anything to offer: no food, no family photos, not even a bottle of wine.

We went anyway.

The kids and I hit the grocery store first, where we did their shopping (and I picked up that bottle of wine). Then we made lunch and tried our darnedest not to make a giant mess like we usually do. I changed over the laundry while the kids took down all the Halloween decorations, then we headed outside to cut back the spent mums and frostbitten hostas.

I was folding freshly-laundered pillowcases into a tidy stack when Anne Lamott’s words from six months ago popped into my head:

People don’t need as many casseroles as you think. 

When people are hurting, we need to be there for them, even if we can’t “fix” anything for them. (Because of course we can’t.)

But here’s what we can do: Take them cups of cold water. Sit and feel awful with people. Do their laundry.

And that’s what we did.

*****     *****     *****

We’re back in town now, back to our regular routine. Part of that routine is visiting my grandmother every week or so.

We go almost every week, the kids and I. The kids always make her cards and drawings and we take them with us. Sometimes we bake things and bring them along. We sit and we chat. Sometimes we do a few chores.

She has a hard time moving around on her own, so we quite literally bring cups of cold water.

I try to prevent the kids from wrestling on the floor, and we stay until I start losing that battle.

I’ve been meaning to take her photos for months. (I haven’t even brought her pictures of our new house. Yikes.) I’ve shown her pictures on my phone, but when you’re in your eighties, iPhone photos don’t count.

I was telling this to a friend the other day, saying I didn’t know if I could show up without those photos one more time. She said, “You know, I don’t think it’s the pictures your grandmother really wants to see.”

*****     *****     *****

When I go to visit others, I’m so concerned about what I have to bring, what I have to offer. And when I don’t have anything to offer, I’m tempted to stay home, because what’s the point?

(I’ve been on the receiving end of this, too, and let me tell you: I was grateful for every casserole brought to us by a kind-hearted soul. But I was even more grateful that the food-bearer would sit on our sofa for a bit and chat for a bit, because I needed that. And I wept tears of gratitude for anyone who shined my sink or folded my laundry.)

But I’m thinking that Lamott is on to something: people don’t need as many casseroles as you think, but they need you to be there.

I’ll need you to show up for me the next time we get hit by a bolt from the blue, and you’ll need me during your own depressing rite of passage.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about showing up, casseroles, and laundry in comments. 

What are you proud of?

What are you proud of? | Modern Mrs Darcy

A few months ago, I was a guest on the Brilliant Business Moms podcast.

Beth Anne and Sarah asked me a question that has been rattling around in my head ever since.

It’s a question they ask every guest: “When it comes to your business, what is the one accomplishment that you are the most proud of?”

Honestly, I was surprised they asked that question. That question is fraught with peril … if you’re a woman.

There are so many ways to blow a question like that.

There are the obvious ways: you can outright brag, which is bad, or humble brag, which is worse.

Or you can sabotage yourself in a more subtle way. Unfortunately, for women, talking about your business successes undermines your likability. It’s much safer to defer, claiming luck or circumstance as the cause of our success, rather than anything we did. Naming a professional success we’re proud of is dangerous.

Maybe the question intrigues me not in spite of, but because of, these dangers. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to it.

What are you proud of?

I felt conflicted when Beth Anne and Sarah asked me that question, but I can tell you exactly why I’m proud of my kids, my husband, my girlfriends, without the tiniest bit of hesitation.

But when it comes to myself, I’m stumped.

On the podcast, I hemmed and hawed and deferred a bit. I cited luck, time, and circumstance as a key factors, as women typically do. (In my defense: I believe it. I think Malcolm Gladwell’s on my side.)

I did make myself give a real answer to their question. It wasn’t easy, and I hope my likability index didn’t plummet because of it.

What are you proud of?

I can easily identify and articulate the things about myself that frustrate me, the areas where I fall short, the items that remain perpetually uncrossed on my to-do list. It’s much harder for me to even notice the times when I—in Webster’s words—”take pride in a job well done.”

But Sarah and Beth Anne’s question has made me think I need to pay more attention to the things I’m doing right.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of myself for sitting my butt down in the chair to do the work and WRITE every single day, even though it doesn’t come easy to this INFP.

I’m proud that sometimes I write things you think are worth reading. 

I’m proud that in my personal life, I can point to times when I did not give up, even though it was really tempting, and I can see now that it was worth sticking it through.

I’m proud that just two days ago I bought a silly tray at the antique shop because I liked it. I am deeply satisfied that I conquered the perfectionistic impulses that too often paralyze me and bought it even though I didn’t have a master plan for it. 

What are you proud of? 

If you have no clue what you might possibly be proud of in yourself, come at it through the side door. Think about your friends, your family, your kids. Why are YOU proud of THEM? Easy enough, right?

Then turn the lens back to yourself. It’s easier that way.

So tell me: what are you proud of? (Anonymous comments welcome.)

Self-care for the highly sensitive parent.

Self-care for the highly sensitive parent

Today I’m over at Simple Homeschool talking about highly sensitive people. If you’re not a homeschooling parent, have no fear: it’s not just for homeschoolers, and it’s not just for parents.

From the post:

I‘ve known for a decade or three that I’m an introvert, but it’s only recently — after reading Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet — that I discovered I’m also a “highly sensitive person.”

Whether or not you’ve heard the term before, that description should ring true for about 1 in 5 of you.

A highly sensitive person is someone who’s more sensitive to physical and/or emotional stimuli than the general population. They have sensitive nervous systems, are more attuned to subtleties in their surroundings, and are more easily overwhelmed by highly stimulating environments.

Interacting with people drains introverts; sensory input — sights, smells, sounds, emotional stimulation — drains highly sensitive people. (HSPs are more likely to be introverts, but about 30% of HSPs are extroverts.)

I’m an HSP to the core. In practice, that means I avoid violent movies, am easily overwhelmed by loud noises and bright lights, need time and space to regroup on busy days, and feel like my head will explode when two people try to talk to me at the same time …

Read the rest at Simple Homeschool.

Pets, personality, and the faces we deserve.


Last week we took our dog to church.

The Episcopal church follows the lectionary, and the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost belongs to St. Francis of Assisi. Though best known for his solidarity with the poor, legend has it that Francis could also talk to animals. In honor of St. Francis, everyone got to bring their dogs and cats, bunnies and hamsters, turtles and guinea pigs to church last week.

We’d been to this particular service, held annually, once before. Oddly, it was the first service we attended at what was to become our church: we showed up on a Sunday morning to find the service was in the gym, and everyone had their pets with them. It was unexpected and a little nuts and a very fun and unthreatening way to ease in to a new community.

Now that we knew what to expect from this special service, we were looking forward to it. What I didn’t expect, now that we know people a little better, was how interesting it would be to see everyone with their pets.

Do you remember that scene in 101 Dalmations when Pongo stares out the window and watches the dog-walkers go by, all of whom bear an eery resemblance to their owners?

That’s exactly what it felt like at church. The Great Dane owners looked like they belonged with their noble, elegant Great Danes. The collie owners looked like they belonged with their fluffy, loyal collies. The Scotty dog owners looked like they had the Scotty dog personality, even if I hadn’t recognized it before I’d seen them with their dogs.

We have a chocolate lab named Harriet. she’s placid, companionable, and loves retrieving tennis balls more than life itself. Now, of course, I’m now wondering what our choice of Harriet says about our family. Did we choose a pet that reflects our own selves back to us?

George Orwell said that by age 50, everyone has the face he deserves. Our faces are the windows to our souls, and with every day we live, we choose—with every thought we think, every decision we make—what they reveal about our innermost selves.

(For years, I inadvertently attributed this quote to Oscar Wilde—it seems like the sort of thing he would say, doesn’t it?—and pegged the year as 40. I thought about this quote a lot as I edged closer to the imagined milestone. Now I’m relieved to discover I’m not so close after all.)

In a decade and a half or so, I’ll have the face I deserve, and my personality will ostensibly be on display for all to see. In the meantime, my chocolate lab is doing the job for me.

Does your pet reflect your personality? Have you noticed that other people’s pets accurately reflect THEIR personalities?

P.S. Musings on personality, from the archives.