When writing about motherhood some of the key players always, eventually — rightfully — insist on privacy. Sometimes I whisper their ages in surprise — 12, 10, 10. How did we get here and how did it happen so quickly?

The world is heavy right now and I believe it’s a weight we all must carry in personal, public and private ways. I can read, donate, step aside and lift up other voices, stand in front of a city building with a sign, march, wear a mask, argue, kneel, write opinions. But it never feels enough. I think: If I write in this space again, shouldn’t I write to better something or someone? But life is multi-faceted. And I believe, hope, there’s room.

Late Spring a couple friends who live in New York City said they had signed up for the NYCRUNS Subway System Challenge. There are 245 miles of track between New York City’s 472 subway stations. The goal is to run all 245 miles over the summer, beginning on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day. You pay to enter and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which is helping out vulnerable New Yorkers during the pandemic.

Of course, no one is seeking out writings from a 41-year-old woman who is angry with the world and her metabolism, and so she decides to turn herself into a runner after a 12-year hiatus. I also know that my motivation for writing about this experience is completely misplaced as guilt and pride contribute to my productivity (despite my therapy) so here we are.

I paid my $60 race fee and a singlet, hoodie and medal are being mailed to me (so I have to finish). I also bought the cheapest Apple Watch on the market so I can track my runs (so I have to finish). I’m on a team (so I have to finish). I’ve told people I’m doing this (so I have to finish).

Running is much more difficult than I remember it being. So I run/walk/walk/run and although I’m no longer crying after each one I’ve only run/walked 36.24 miles, which is just 15 percent. I have 70 days and 208.76 miles left which averages to about 3 miles a day. This seems impossible, but I’m still trying.

Knowing that I can walk as well as run eases my anxiety. Plus, when I walk, I see a lot more. Two days ago:

A blue jay.

A cat with blue eyes.

A blue-and-white pinwheel.

I hear a lot more, too.

A man yelling at someone in his house. A mean yell.


Squirrels’ claws scampering up trees.

Although I’m using guilt as a motivator to complete this virtual race (you track your runs using the Strava app and log them on the NYCRUNS website), I’m trying to let guilt go in terms of how I complete this race.

I took these pictures on Saturday, while I walked three miles in the nearby cemetery. The air was sticky and heavy with the promise of next-day rain. These photos seem so melancholy to me, as is so much these days. But I also think they’re beautiful, in their own way. Beauty is something I’m trying to see more of right now –– in this world, in me. I’m hoping working through 245 miles will help.

Mud at Strouds Run

Poster by Mishka Westell.

A couple weeks ago my sister and I saw Patty Griffin perform at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, Ohio. We both have long loved Patty Griffin and the ticket was my early birthday present to her. Lucy Wainwright Roche opened for Patty, and we loved her music – and humor – too. We stayed at a cute bed and breakfast right off the square, had burgers and beers before the concert and Sunday morning we walked around my old stomping grounds, Athens, Ohio. We drove past the house I lived in for two years and I asked the guy walking out if the middle bedroom still had pink shag carpet (it does not). My sister and I talked about our kids, our childhood, our jobs, our family – everything. I wish the weekend had lasted longer.

We thought it was going to rain all day Sunday but the weather cleared and I decided I wanted to visit Strouds Run. Strouds Run is home to Dow Lake, which is where I rowed the two quarters I was on OU’s crew team. More than 12,000 years ago melting glaciers helped form Strouds Run’s steep ravines and hills. Miles of twisty trails now exist in this rugged landscape and on this particular Sunday, they called to me.

Katy needed to head home so we hugged goodbye and I drove to the park, where I quickly realized my jeans and Rothy’s wouldn’t do. So I drove back to Athens (a short drive), found a sporting goods store and bought shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops, all on clearance.

In retrospect, the flip-flops was not one of my better ideas. But with nice hiking boots and gym shoes at home I couldn’t justify buying better footwear. Plus, with recent drenching rains I figured the plastic Nikes would be easy to rinse off.

Back at Strouds Run I changed in the back seat of our minivan and threw my phone, a water bottle, my keys, a book and my driver’s license (for body identification if needed – I excel at thinking through worst-case scenarios regularly) in my backpack.

I set forth on Lakeview Trail and once I hit the thicket of trees I realized I had grossly underestimated the amount of mud and standing water. Everything around me was wet, as if this patch of earth were a sponge that had been squeezed just once and now waited, without any great rush, to dry. But now I was invested. I had spent money on this irrational adventure, the day was unexpectedly gorgeous, I was kid-free and already here. So, I hiked.

I immediately hit a slick spot, fell, and slid down a good portion of the trail. I did that very human thing where you look around to see if anyone noticed – I was very much alone. So, I laughed at myself, stood up and tried to take a picture but realized my phone was gone. I started back up the path and found it, covered in mud. I used my t-shirt to clean it as best I could and smiled when it still turned on.

That first fall was a gift. Once covered in mud I no longer took care to avoid it. And having fallen once, I was over the shock of it – the next 14 falls (that’s not an exaggeration) were simply part of the deal.

Remember when Ramona was in kindergarten (Miss Binney’s class) and her beautiful new red boots got stuck in the mud? And Henry rescued them for her and Ramona was so enamored by this act of bravery that she wound a worm around her finger and proclaimed her intent to marry him? I thought of that chapter every time one of my flip-flops got stuck in the mud, which happened about every fifth step.

The key, I learned, was to step quickly when the mud got deep. Any hesitation caused my feet to sink in which case the only way out was to lean down and yank my flip-flop – and foot – up and out. This makes for slow hiking.

About a half mile in I saw another human, dressed appropriately – he had tall hiking boots on, layered clothes and a hat. My cheeks grew red and I felt the need to explain myself.

“I don’t normally hike in flip-flops,” I said. “I’m not from here and the day was unexpectedly beautiful and I decided I wanted to hike.”

“I get that,” he said. “You went the wrong way though. This trail is sopping wet due to all the water hundreds of miles away that makes it way to here. If you had gone left instead of right, there is a drier trail with a rope swing on an old oak tree.”

A swing! I thought. (I know. I am 7.)

I thanked him and continued on.

Eventually the mud became too much. On my last fall I caught myself with my hands, bending my wrist (nothing broke but I decided breaking a limb on this trail would not be the ideal way to end my weekend trip – plus, having to have the hiker guy rescue me would be entirely too embarrassing).

For some reason, the hike back up was more difficult. I had to use small tree trunks to help pull myself up. I walked sideways so as not to slide so much. And then, finally, I did something I probably should have done from the beginning – I took my flip-flops off.

With each step my bare feet sunk into the cool mud and I felt like a kid again. When was the last time I had walked, bare feet, in the woods? It required caution, yes. I looked down more than up, trying to spot sticks and jagged rocks and horse manure (the trail was open to horses as well) in order to avoid any lacerations or other unnecessary unpleasantries. And I did – I avoided all those things. And I know it sounds incredibly cheesy to say something like “I felt one with the earth” but I did feel a sense of connection that I haven’t felt in a long time. I felt reconnected to myself. And it felt good.

Once back up by the dam I walked the other direction, per the hiker’s instructions. It was indeed drier, at first. A dog ran up to me and I offered my palm. The dog sniffed it, wagged its tail and asked to be petted in the way dogs do. So I did. A little more walking and I found the dog’s owner — a fisherman by a beautiful old oak tree with the perfect outstretched limb for a rope swing with a wood seat. But all I saw was cut rope. I (rather annoyingly) like to think of my life as a series of essays, even though most of these essays never get written. So it’s nice when things connect or there’s an easy end. How lovely would this one have been with me, sitting on that swing?

The fisherman stared at me and I remembered I was wearing flip-flops – and covered, head to toe, in mud.

“I don’t normally wear flip-flops to hike,” I said. “I’m not from here. Oh, and it’s muddy.” I was stumbling through my sentences.

“You’re not from here?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “But I know the area. I went to college around here, about 20 years ago.”

“You don’t look that old,” he said.

I decided it was time to end this conversation so I patted his dog one last time and continued on my way. The trail quickly turned into mud, like the last one. I had been hiking for several hours now. I was done.

As soon as I passed the fisherman on my way back up the trail, he began packing up his things. I was already annoyed – with the stolen swing, the drying mud forming a cast on my skin, how the society in which we live made me critical of how the fisherman had spoken to me. I picked up my pace, and the dog walked right beside me, tail wagging. I patted the dog’s head and spoke to it softly, wishing the dam to appear.

The fisherman kept his distance, and didn’t say a word. Later, after inviting me to go mushroom hunting (which I declined) he said the fish weren’t biting. So, likely, he was simply done fishing – that’s all. Still, I was a bit gloomy, wondering if a man hiking solo would have had the same thoughts and fears I did, thinking through what-if scenarios that worked up a sweat.

Once back at my van I realized I had no way of cleaning myself up. Although we normally have baby wipes, paper towels and other helpful things stored inside, I couldn’t find anything – except several half-filled water bottles. So for once I thanked my children’s inability to bring their water bottles inside and poured the contents over my arms and legs, washing the mud off as best I could. I made little progress but then I figured the kids would be tickled with their mother arriving home in such a state. And maybe it would be a memory they would act upon in their grown-up years.

As soon as I hit US 50 I saw a portion of the sky I hadn’t been able to see from the dam. There was the storm that had been missing. I got gas as the wind kicked up and everything grew dark. A couple minutes later I pulled over, completely panicked. The rain was so thick I could barely see in front of me. It was blowing sideways and every radio station I tried just screamed emergency sirens at me.

Dear god, I thought. I survived the fisherman only to die in a tornado.

It all calmed quickly. According to the radar, Andy said I was caught up in a storm cell. According to the time and my location, the radar had been purple when I pulled over in a panic.

I dreaded a long, rainy drive home but instead, the sky was gorgeous. I listened to Brandi Carlile (thank you, Megan), picked mud off my skin at red lights and ate McDonald’s, which I haven’t eaten in close to 20 years.

Things haven’t been the easiest, lately. I realized taking a break by going to Target to pick up prescriptions and bread wasn’t really cutting it. When caught up in the minutiae, there’s no space for wonderfully ill-conceived ideas.

When I was at OU, I went skinny dipping at Strouds Run. I don’t remember why. But I was there with my friends – friends I still love and see to this day. I wasn’t drinking because I wasn’t 21 and I was a rule follower. The darkness made me brave. Just a few of us did it. Clothes off we ran into the water and then, laughing and screaming we ran back out. I became less of a rule follower that night. It felt good. And at life’s end I believe skinny dipping is a good page to have in the book of you.

Back to the present, as I drove home I realized my bare feet sinking into the mud was similar to the feeling I had running into a moon-lit Dow Lake all those years ago. All day I insist on brushed teeth, I follow AP Style, I put away dirty dishes, I sign planners, I arrive on time to practices, I turn off lights. Strouds Run, once again, reminded me of the necessity of whimsy.

Andy, by the way, just looked at me and smiled when I walked in our door. We dated in college. We’ve been married a long time. I believe he’s actually drawn to my unpredictability. And maybe that’s what we both need now – more of my unpredictability. “You do you,” he says. And for that, I am grateful.

“Have you ever wandered lonely through the wood?
And everything it feels just as it should
You’re part of the life there, part of something good
If you’ve ever wandered lonely through the woods.”
—Brandi Carlile

Sweet Old World

(There are links throughout, a purple that looks like green (apologies). These are just a few of the songs Marty loved.)

I’m having a tough day.

In the early years, my father-in-law Marty was often critical of my work. But as time went on, he became one of my biggest cheerleaders. “You should write about that,” he’d often say. He wanted me to write about everything: a picture book about twin brothers; my thoughts on feminism; the life story of Harold, our neighbor.

After years of submitting I recently came close to a book deal with HarperCollins. My agent had pitched a book, and an editor liked it. But after working with this editor through several rounds of edits, the editor couldn’t get it past acquisitions.

Marty, who often didn’t read our emails, read the one I sent him in March, letting him know about the rejection. And he emailed me back, a rarity for which I’m now grateful. At the end he wrote, Never give up. Your book is brilliant and beautiful and it will be in print one day. I repeat. Never give up.

Did he not know that his complexity as a human was, in part, what made him so brilliant and beautiful? How could he tell me not to give up when he, himself, while writing that very email, was planning on giving up?

I think he’d want me to write about this. He always recognized writing’s therapeutic affects on me, and when the twins were 1 and Sophie was 3 and I was throwing my shoe at the door in frustration he’d say, “You should write,” just as one might say, “You should have a drink” or “You should go to therapy.” And he always admired truths in writing.

Of course, there are things I can’t write about.

There are things I won’t write about.

So I’ll begin with words I’ve already written:

Andy’s dad died unexpectedly yesterday, and we are heartbroken. He loved to read, and he and I have long bonded over books – in the early years, Barbara Kingsolver; most recently, Jesmyn Ward. He loved good music and he introduced me to many fine musicians. Although he sometimes had little patience for humans, I’ve never met a more gentler, kinder caretaker of living things – the houseplants he tended to all his life, the birds he fed and the many fine labradors he raised. He was deeply inquisitive about the world we live in, which is why I’m struggling so much to understand why he felt he needed to leave it. He loved to capture our world – on vacations it would not be uncommon to find binoculars, a film camera and a video camera all strapped around his neck. He was a harsh critic but that only made his recent compliments to me so dear – a song I sang, time spent in the kitchen, words that I had written. He hated Trump. He adored his grandchildren. He loved baseball. He always had candy in his pockets – Werther’s, Canada pink mints, jelly beans, Double Bubble – of which my kiddos were well aware. He always had extra for them. I hate this. I hate this so much. I suppose you never truly know someone’s inner battles and all you can do is love your someones as best as you can. So I will try to remember the good moments (there were many) and I will think of him every time I read a sentence so beautiful that I have to put the book I’m holding down for awhile (he did that often) and every time I tend to my African violets, of which he helped me nurture so well. I just wish I could have told him all of this in person.

Marty died June 20. If I have it timed out correctly in my head, in the moments he was leaving this hard, beautiful life, I was working through books of poetry, trying to find a poem I half remembered.

I remember feeling calm when I found it. “What Kind of Times Are These,” by Adrienne Rich. It was political, to me, and fitting to the news that day. I posted it. I had hoped Marty would read it.

Did he not realize that even in times like these, still, despite everything, we could have talked about trees?

He loved trees.

Two nights later I curled myself around Sophie while she fought both sleep and what had happened. She was on a makeshift bed in the boys’ bedroom, wrapped up in her favorite blanket, holding a stuffed lamb like she did when she was younger. I stroked her wet cheeks and damp hair, and I ran my fingers up and down her arms for two hours before she fell asleep, trying, and failing, to answer the questions none of us have answers for – in the end, I mostly listened. She’s 10, old enough to understand more as an adult and less as a child.

It is in these dark hours that my sadness and empathy slip away, leaving room only for anger.


The evening of June 23, with a house and front porch full of people, the children, bored, asked to light sparklers. I stood on our bottom front porch step and lit them, over and over, with family all around.

I noticed Sophie, her face set tight in concentration, waving her sparklers around furiously. I asked her what she was doing.

“I’m writing a message to Grandpa,” she said.

It was a long message that required six sparklers. She wouldn’t tell me what she wrote.

In the early years, the kids would go months without seeing Grandpa. But now he lived, with Grandma, in Cincinnati. The two of them went to every soccer game. Every baseball game. Every concert. Everything. And still, with every hello and every goodbye, he insisted on hugs. Marty babysat the kids, recently solo, over two nights while Andy and I were both away. He chauffeured them. He told them stories, of playing baseball and wrestling as a kid, of swimming with dolphins and scuba diving, of growing up in Florida, of living in Germany. He practiced shooting hoops with James and Owen in our driveway. He helped Sophie with her gymnastics, and brought her books to read. He played chess with the boys, and bought them new bats. Neighborhood friends would come over and he knew them by name. For Christmas, he asked for a kite – a gift he knew the kids would love to give him, a gift, he said, he hoped they could use together. They tried to, recently, at my parents’ house (see above). But the wind wasn’t strong enough to make it fly.

Yesterday, Jill brought back the kite. And the two combs Marty owned. One for each boy, which they used to comb their too-long hair after their baths last night.

The depths of the hole his absence leaves is, I believe, far greater than he understood.

The night after the sparklers, after a meal we did not cook (neighbors and friends have been almost unbearably kind), we, along with Jill, Fran, Lizz, Eric and sweet baby Carmen, went to get ice cream in town and then walked to the park. It had been a rainy few days but this night was an exception. As the sun began to set and we walked back to the car, Sophie spotted a bright red cardinal perched on a stone wall. It sat, still, watching us as we walked closer and closer.

“Look, Mom,” she said. “Look at the cardinal.”

I did.

We continued to walk closer.

It watched us a few seconds more, and flew away.

Silently I thought, Mozart’s starling. Recently he loved telling the kids all about Mozart’s pet, concerto-singing starling, whom Mozart held a formal funeral for.

We looked up.

The sky was filled with pink puffy clouds, as if someone had dotted it with the same sugary sweetness that often filled Marty’s pockets.

I took a few pictures, and then Sophie asked to take several more.

She grabbed my hand and we walked, everyone long gone ahead of us. And every so often we’d stop, and marvel at the beauty of this particular sunset, and take more pictures.

“You know,” I said. “Everyone has different beliefs about what happens after you die. I like to think something bigger than us happens, even if we can’t understand it. And in moments like these, I like to think tonight – the cardinal, the sky – are signs from Grandpa.”

Sophie burst into tears.

It turns out, signs are exactly what she had asked for the night before, when writing her message to Grandpa with sparklers.

Once home, the kids showered and Sophie climbed into bed with me, her dad’s pillow soaking up the water from her wet ponytail. I showed her the pictures we had taken on my phone. She said she saw letters. She ran out of the room and came back with a notebook and pencil. We spent a long time looking at the pictures of clouds, deciphering and deciding on letters. She wrote our best guesses down.

“It’s just like a word scramble,” she said. “It has to be from Grandpa.”

Marty often had contract jobs away from Jill, and as such, they’d only see each other on the weekends. Still, every night they had what I liked to call their nightly date – Marty would call Jill and for a half hour to an hour they’d stay on the phone with each other, sometimes not even talking, just being, working online as a team on word scrambles.

So far, these letters remain scrambled.

And perhaps that’s all they are – cloud’s illusions. But Marty, while not religious, did tell me, several times, that he believed in something more. Or, at the very least, something other. He believed in ghosts. I’m waiting for a ghost story. He always loved a good story.


The day before Marty died, he posted a song on Facebook, “Sweet Old World” by Emmylou Harris. This fact hurts. I don’t remember seeing this post come across my feed, but even if it did he posted songs often and Emmylou Harris is one of his favorite artists. I know that hindsight offers clarity but still, this (and several other facts) hurt. It wasn’t until after he died that I clicked on the first comment in this post. It was from Marty. He had commented on his own post, and in it, he simply included the song’s lyrics:

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world 
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips 
A sweet and tender kiss 
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone’s ring 
Someone calling your name 
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm 
Didn’t you think you were worth anything
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world 
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
Millions of us in love, promises made good 
Your own flesh and blood 
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes 
The beat, the rhythm, the blues 
The pounding of your heart’s drum together with another one 
Didn’t you think anyone loved you
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world 
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

I tried to listen to this song in the car today. I sat sobbing in the parking lot of Sally Beauty Supply, needing a full 10 minutes to compose myself before I went in to buy the hair dye that Andy will use tonight to erase the grays from my hair for tomorrow’s family wedding.


Andy was out of town the week prior to Father’s Day, June 17, and he arrived home a little after 4 p.m. on Sunday. So we decided to celebrate Father’s Day with Marty and Andy Sunday evening. (I took the above picture on the 17th. It’s the last picture I have of Marty.) Andy asked his dad what he wanted to eat and, at first, he said it didn’t matter. But ultimately he chose simple cookout food – burgers, hot dogs, chips, baked beans, potato salad, melon.

The kids and I had had a busy week and weekend, and I was solo parenting. During the weekend alone we had a Girl Scout event, two birthday celebrations and my dad’s Father’s Day celebration. By Sunday evening, I was tired. I had planned on making a banana cream pie for dessert Sunday night, but while picking up looseleaf chai tea as a gift for Andy, the kids and I decided to instead buy a selection of tortes from Whole Foods.

“Is the potato salad homemade?” Marty asked that night.

Before I could answer, he took a bite and confirmed that it was. And he was happy. He loved that potato salad recipe. I had thought about buying pre-made potato salad at Whole Foods. I know it doesn’t matter, but I’m glad I didn’t.

After we ate I asked him if he liked banana cream pie – I hadn’t been able to remember.

“I love banana cream pie,” he said.

“Darn,” I said. “Well, I promise to make it for you and Andy next time.”

He just smiled.

I’m an old man now
I can’t do nothing
Young folks don’t pay me no mind
But in my day I sure was something
Before I felt the heavy hand of time.
I’m an old man now
I’m bound for glory
Time to lay these burdens down
Had enough of this old world of worry
Gonna trade my troubles for a crown.”

— “Where Rainbows Never Die,” The Steeldrivers

Baby B

When you have twins, the first baby to come out is Baby A or, in our family, Owen. The second baby to come out is Baby B—James. At 4 lbs., 15 oz., Owen was almost twice the size of James at birth. Owen was released from the NICU first. He slept through the night first. He crawled first and he walked first.

Thankfully, miraculously, the boys have lived out their first 7 years with little competition (an ideal I hope remains although I imagine the teenage years will be different). The few times Owen used the “I’m older” line, we quickly put it to rest. After pushing Owen out, James, who was in distress, was quickly pulled out 2 minutes later. “You are the same age,” I said. “Exactly the same. I was there. I know.”

In that moment, I was giving birth to both. I didn’t give birth to one, stop, and then give birth to the other. Each of those contractions represented my body giving birth to both.

But still, it’s as if the labels given to them when they were still arms and elbows and feet and heads making small but distinct mounds that moved mysteriously across my stomach, one on top and one on bottom, have stuck. In addition to reaching milestones second, James has also always been smaller, fitting into Owen’s clothes only after Owen has grown out of them. James entered our world weighing 2 lbs., 13 oz.; today the heft of his body when he curls up in my lap still surprises me.

To each other, though, and to us, they aren’t Baby A and Baby B. They’re just Owen. And James. With their own personalities and their own approaches and their own ways of handling the rhythms of life. Their pace differs. But so do their tastes. And mostly, such as when Owen won first place in his division at the pinewood derby and James won third, there is excitement for each other. Maybe a little pride. And if there’s disappointment, it’s hidden. I’d like to say this is all because of some great parenting achievement but in reality, it simply has been our reality. They fight, of course, but never seemingly about this. At least not yet. (In the picture below I snapped a shot of one of Owen’s winning races. But what I like most about this picture is James’s hand, patting Owen, so excited for him. I only wish I had captured James’s face, too.)

But still, I have to admit to a bit of gratitude towards a universe that made circumstances align just right so that it was James who made a basket—his first—their first this season—at yesterday’s basketball game. It was the last game of the season, the third year they’ve played, and the only basket James has made during a game, ever.

Like the labels we like to assign seemingly the moment we’re born, this little world of ours likes to celebrate the big things—the solo, the medal, the goals, the first place, the straight As, tonight’s Super Bowl win. But I tend to see more achievement in the B- that was once a solid C. The first steps taken well after the first birthday celebration. The “although you’re not quite there, you’re close, so try again” after 10 years of trying. The first basket after three seasons of not making a single one, while always dribbling the ball down the court with great hope and always still shooting.

I missed it.

I missed James’s basket.

I was digging in my purse for lotion for Sophie who was complaining about her irritated skin thanks to the volleyball pads she was wearing on her knees.

And as I threw both fists up in a belated cheer, my heart sank. For me.

But what I didn’t miss was James’s spark thereafter. He was all in, after that basket. And all smiles. To most everyone in the stands yesterday, James’s basket was no different than the many baskets scored during the many games they’ve played. It was normal. Average. With no need for pomp and circumstance.  But to James, it was everything. And much needed. For it was him coming in first for once. It was Owen giving him the high-five as they walked off the court. It was that label, so terribly sticky at times, being peeled back.

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” —Maya Angelou

The Love in Trying


It’s difficult to write about, not even parenting, but being when your children are older, which is largely why this space now sits quietly stagnant for so long. Can vagueness and truthfulness co-exist? Perhaps.

Parenting in the age of social media is terribly complex. I love the record-keeping aspect of it, the connections made and kept (which I consider real, despite the counterargument) and the large village one can depend on for, mostly, kindness (perhaps requiring a well-curated Friends list) and advice, whether taken or ignored.

But it’s hard, too. I’m sure, although unintended, I’ve posted words that result in inward sighs from others for reasons I’ll never know. Because I know that sigh well – it wells up inside of me when reading about parental pride, mostly, followed by well-meaning comments that congratulate the parent for a job well done.

I know. “Well job, mama,” is simply nice. But too often I want to be a little bird that sits on the typist’s shoulders and whisper this: Sometimes you can try all.the.things and still, the outcome can be blurry, not great – sometimes even bad.

Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “comparison is the thief of joy,” is often shared on social media, typically in a lovely font, graphically styled in a minimalist or curvy fashion with maybe a picture of the ocean behind it, thoughtfully filtered.

I understand this, deep down I understand this. And I’ve been alive long enough to know that every human being on this planet is unique, no one is perfect, and perfection in parenting simply doesn’t exist. I know our photo albums and living rooms are sometimes different stories.

I curate my Facebook feed. We all do. I try for a good mix of funny stories, gratefulness, hard honesty, articles I love, my friends’ achievements (typically writing) and sometimes a heartfelt political rant. Still, I’m sure there’s sighing. Because even when you share the hard parts of life they can seem quite lovely when placed in the right filtered light.

And I sigh, too, especially when folks equate goodness with good parenting. Sometimes, you can’t win. There’s nature and nurture and genetics and learned behavior and circumstance and things understood and things not understood and success and failure and so much gray when seemingly everyone clings to black and white.

Can simply the act of trying be good parenting, no matter the outcome? Is that, maybe, the definition of love? We try. Every morning we dedicate ourselves, while brewing the coffee and scrambling the eggs and signing the planner, to simply trying. We try and succeed and we love. We try and we fail and we love. And throughout it all, there’s the thread of worry.

That concept, though, is a difficult thing to share. Not because of the peeled-back honesty of it, but because it’s difficult to put into words and tiresome to include with each post. And some things are good. Just plain good. And meant to be celebrated. And some things are relatable. And some things are funny. And some things aren’t meant to be shared. But in all those posts, the ones we contribute to the world’s virtual village and the ones stored deep in our heart, unread, I’d like to think there’s trying, and loving, with success and failure, and then trying again.

“The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” – Jill Churchill

To all the mamas and papas of little ones:

Someday you will drop your boys off at the ball field for practice.

And your daughter will get on her bike and ride the surrounding quarter-mile paved loop over and over.

And you might walk the same paved loop, untethered.

Or read The New Yorker.

Or simply sit on the bench with your eyes closed for 10 blessed minutes knowing all hell will not break loose.

And that small knot in the back of your neck will loosen,

but only slightly,

because “Is she still breathing?”

turns into

“Is he being kind?”.

You will note the wind pushing the clouds, forcefully, it seems, for such a beautiful day.

And the hands that once went pat-pat-pat on the small curves of those three beautiful backs,

will unknot the dusty cleats

and adjust the bicycle seat that forever moves up, not down.

On the Strange Delight of a Rainbow Chalk Drawing

I recently bought sidewalk chalk and Sophie recently drew a rainbow, highly pigmented (pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) with white puffy clouds on each end, which is not a true meteorological phenomenon but one that has lived on children’s papers (or, at least, strangely on my papers as a child and Sophie’s as a child) for years.

Maybe it’s the way the color is so brightly and deeply saturated in the tired, stained sidewalk cement, or the fact that it’s spring and raining, always, or that her chalk drawings have become older, or that she’s still young enough to want to draw a rainbow anchored in white puffy clouds on her own.

I don’t know.

But I love it.

Sophie is 9. I think of ages 1 through 9. I think of ages 9 through 18.

Maybe my love for a rainbow sidewalk chalk drawing isn’t so strange, really.

“Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others.” —Virginia Woolf

On the Brink of the School-aged Years


Two things happened yesterday that helped clarify an uneasiness I’ve felt all summer.

• I took the kids to the zoo with only a small backpack filled with three water bottles and a few essentials. We’ve been handling zoo trips this way for quite some time. But this visit, zipping around strollers filled with children and bags, I marveled at the simplicity of our trip, and how long ago life with strollers seemed.

• I have passed on a deep sense of sentimentality to my children, Sophie, especially. And last night the weight of growing up broke her, for a bit. Holding her we let her sit with her feelings, acknowledging them. And then we talked about the joy of growing older—and all the wonder and magic that comes with it.

Mid-August all three will be in school all day. James and Owen will be in first grade, Sophie in third. Kindergarten, last year, was half day. Between drop-offs and pick-ups I only had a few precious hours alone. This year, for the first time in eight years, I will have seven hours alone, each day.

This summer has been both lovely and hard. We were fortunate enough to spend a few days at the beach, to visit my sister and her family in North Carolina, to visit Andy’s parents in Baltimore. We roasted marshmallows and played with sparklers and ran through the sprinkler and made trips to my parents’ house and the boys played baseball and Sophie did crafts in her room with neighbor friends while listening to Taylor Swift.

We also yelled, more than we should have. It’s hard living in a small house, sharing, compromising and sharing at 6, 6 and 8. I tried to maintain my freelance workload with only the occasional sitter here and there, which resulted in some days of more electronic time than I would have liked. Guilt can cast shadows, even on the good days.

I’ve realized, too, that I was good with babies and toddlers (my sunglasses are rose colored, a fact that’s not lost on me). These ages of 6, 6 and 8, when I know they know kindness and respectfulness, can be mentally exhausting. When my newborns cried I held them, not faulting them. When my 6 year olds throw a fit, as we call them, I inwardly scream, “You should know better!”. And I grow weary, thinking, believing, I, we, should be past all of this by now.

And yet, we no longer take strollers to the zoo. Sophie makes her own eggs in the morning (three scrambled, with lots of black pepper). All three ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk without my supervision. We have inside jokes, that only the five of us get. All three make up elaborate games, on their own, wrecking the house but digging deep into their imaginations. They read my old Calvin & Hobbes books, on their stomachs, legs swinging in the air. Everyone can buckle and unbuckle, on their own. At parties, they roam free, with only an occasional check-in. When Andy isn’t able to read Harry Potter to them before bed, I let them each pick out a picture book. They choose to read to me, instead, which both delights and saddens me.

After eight years of often intense parenting, I’m ready for them to be in school all day. I have plans. So many plans. I plan to drop them off at school and run, every morning. I plan to keep up on laundry and organize the attic and clean out the basement and commit to yoga and blog again and go through every single piece of paper in this house. And what I’m most excited about is my work. I plan to do my writing and editing while my children are at school, freeing up my evenings and weekends for the first time in eight years. The mere thought of the balance that this will bring to my life brings me unimaginable joy.

So, yes, I’ll be teary-eyed when I drop them all off at school, even though part of me has also been dreaming about this day for six years. And already something inside of me hurts when I think about Owen and James walking to their separate classrooms, apart for the first time in six years. But I also know we’re on the brink of something, something new, something bigger, something at times easier and at times, much, much harder. So many parents have told me that once school starts, time flies. Like Sophie, the weight of growing up, of watching my children grow up, breaks me at times, too, even when I know—having been there and gone through it—the wonder and magic that’s still to come.

So perhaps this is all why this summer has felt a bit off for me. As a family I feel like we’re straddling two phases. At times, they all seem so tall, so kid-like, the toddler years a lifetime away. And yet, this morning Andy and I woke up only to find ourselves tangled up in Owen and James, once again. While walking into Target Sophie grabbed my hand, and held it to her cheek. James cried out when he thought we were leaving him. Owen called me mama.

This, from August, six years ago:


“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.” —Louisa May Alcott

Choosing Compassion In a Culture of Fear

A couple years ago, as I was loading Sophie into the van after a morning of half-day kindergarten, two men approached me. Their car had run out of gas on 27 and they wondered if I would give them a ride to a gas station.

I believe most people are good and kind. I give the benefit of the doubt. I listen to the stories about no change for bus fare home, and I dig into my purse and hand over the quarters. Sometimes, sure, I find the same woman standing at the same corner telling the same story—and still collecting quarters—two hours later. But sometimes I watch the too-thin young man devour the burger I bought for him at the Newport Wendy’s and, without thinking too much about the particulars of his situation, I buy him two more.

The out-of-gas scenario, though, gave me pause. They seemed legit. They had approached me in full daylight in a parking lot adjacent to the school. They acknowledged my wariness. They echoed the beliefs of many: One can’t be too careful these days.

But can you?

I had a choice, and I chose to believe them, to believe in us. All of us. We say we can’t help out strangers for fear that something bad will happen. And sometimes, it does. But how often? The news stories exist because the instances are rare. People cry out, But your children! My children are much more in danger of being physically hurt in a car accident every time I put them in a vehicle than they are of some unknown thing happening to them because I chose to help a stranger. There was a lesson for my children to be learned at that moment, and I wanted them to learn the right one.

I drove the men to a gas station. The gas station had gas, but no containers. Another man overheard the situation and offered to drive to his house, just around the corner, and bring back his own container for the men to use. We waited. He came back, the men got their gas and I drove them back to their car, which was, indeed, sitting on the side of 27, empty.

Sometimes I think back on that afternoon with conviction: I did the right thing. Other times, my anxiety swells. What was I thinking? When retelling the story, there’s a similar consensus: What were you thinking?

Being human is so hard.

Thankfully this scenario hasn’t repeated itself and I don’t make it a habit to pick up hitchhikers. The last time we picked up someone Andy was with me. An older woman was walking up the side of (again) 27, in intense heat, arms heavy with groceries. Turns out she and her daughter had gotten in a fight and her daughter had kicked her out of the car. I had (and have) no anxiety about this. But why? Because she was a woman? Because my husband was with me?

Choosing to believe in the good of others doesn’t always work out in my favor. We once paid a contractor $800 for materials before he started the work. He was just getting back into the business, it was around the holidays and he had two small children. He didn’t have a cushy business account to cover the materials prior to the work. So we paid him. We never saw the materials. Or him. We took it to small claims court, won a judgement, but he never paid. His bank account was empty. The last we heard, he was in jail.

Another time I let a young woman into our house on an awfully hot August day. Her story: She was selling magazine subscriptions in order to earn money for college. When it was all said and done I had paid $40 for a subscription to Vogue. I later looked up the company she was working for and realized the whole thing was a scam. For this, I was lucky: I was able to cancel my subscription and get my money back. (And Andy gently approached me with the idea of establishing a house rule of not engaging with door-to-door solicitors, children excluded.)

So sure. Not everyone is good all the time. But if we choose to live in a culture of fear, we choose to miss out on the connections we can make with other humans outside of our circles.

The year I turned 30 I travelled to Spain and Morocco with my friends, Aimee and Shruti. While in Fez, a woman started following us—and eventually, talked to us. Nabila spoke Arabic and French, and was learning English. She was so happy to have the opportunity to try her English out. She invited us to her home for hot tea.

We had a choice. On one hand, we were three young, American women, traveling without a male companion (something that deeply troubled our riad’s owners). On the other hand, we had the opportunity to be fully immersed into this woman’s life. The next thing I remember is being linked arm in arm with Nabila, walking and listening while she chatted away, asking so many questions, while her mother (we think) followed behind. I remembered reading in my Lonely Planet Morocco book to consider yourself lucky if you’re invited into someone’s home. We felt lucky, yes, but also a bit nervous.

Turns out she lived with only her sisters. Right or wrong, upon knowing that, we felt safe.

We were served hot mint tea and cookies. She and her sisters took so many pictures of us and we of all of them. We taught her a few English phrases (although she knew so much) and she taught us Arabic (by the way, “sahabat” means “friends”). We exchanged addresses. And as we left Nabila’s apartment she and her sisters watched us walk down the darkened street, waving, waving. Lucky, indeed.

It’s when we let go of fear that the magic can happen.

A couple years ago I stopped by the gas station next to my house to pick up some beer. I was en route to visit my friend Angel. It was spring—maybe early summer—and a sudden pop-up storm hit. I saw a man run into the gas station, having ridden there on his bicycle. While we were checking out, I commented on the rain. “I’m in a van,” I said. “Happy to give you a ride.”

He accepted.

I rearranged some car seats and we loaded his bike. He lived close—just up on North Fort Thomas Ave. He said his name was Joe. He asked me about my family, and I asked him about his. He was a father of three, just like me, but older. He talked about parenting. I was struggling as a parent that day. Somehow, he knew. Or maybe, he didn’t. But he had a way of talking about enjoying the moment and discussing the clichéd “they grow up so fast” in such a way that I didn’t feel the need to punch him. His story was joyful and terribly sad (unimaginable tragedy), and his words were exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

“Stop here,” he said.

“Here?” I asked.

We weren’t by a house, or an apartment complex. Instead, we were in front of a church.

“Yes,” he said. “Here is fine.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

He insisted.

The rain was blinding. He got out, I popped open the trunk, and he pulled out his bike. I took a couple seconds to look ahead of me, and then I looked back. He was gone. It was so hard to see in the rain, yes, but everywhere I looked—no sign of him. He was just gone.

Two minutes later the rain stopped and a huge rainbow appeared.

For those of you who are religious, my God, I know. First of all, his name had deep significance to me. Then there was the blinding rain, the immensely personal parenting story, the words of wisdom I needed to hear, the church, the disappearance, the rainbow.

Honestly? I (mostly) think it was all a beautiful coincidence. Life—living—provided me with a gift in return for simply making a human connection. And yes, it can be scary—especially when two men approach you, asking for a ride. But in a world where polarization runs deep, I believe human connection is vital to noticing and acknowledging the beauty in life that is different from, outside of, our own.

It’s the age-old tale of giving in order to receive. The trouble is knowing when to do so. The trouble is being smart while also being kind. The trouble is knowing when to say yes, and when to say no. The trouble is choosing compassion in a culture of fear.

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
—Albert Einstein


It’s difficult to tell the story of Mia without telling the story of us. Her years marked so many of our big moments, which, I guess, any 14-year chunk of time will do.

Mia came into our lives in 2001. Andy was taking classes at OSU and living with friends. I had just started a new job at Popular Woodworking Magazine, and was living with a friend in a small townhouse in Mariemont. A man my dad worked with had a daughter who had a cat—Mia. This daughter and her husband had a child, and Mia, turns out, bit. They needed to find a new home for their cat.

Andy took her. We had no children. We weren’t even engaged. The idea of owning a cat was charming. She was maybe 2 or 3 years old when Andy took her to OSU, to live on Stadium Drive in University Village, in his messy, college room.

Turns out Mia didn’t just bite children—she bit adults, too. Upon graduation Andy moved to an apartment in Cincinnati. The market was tough and he was working the night shift at Target. One late afternoon, after showering in preparation for his shift at work, Mia attacked him. She charged at him and clamped onto the skin behind his knee, drawing blood.

Still, he kept her.

Andy proposed. We got married. My roommate moved out and Andy moved in. Mia came, too.

Andy got a job in his field. We bought a 104-year-old Dutch Colonial with a shifting stone foundation. We thought we had lost Mia when so many of our friends helped us move from Mariemont to Fort Thomas on a cold and rainy day. Turns out she was so frightened she had hidden herself in the rafters of our basement.

Everything frightened Mia. The Dutch Colonial had a sunroom and in it we had a glass-top table, the back edge of it lined with potted plants. One night, in the middle of the night, I heard the sound of glass, breaking. It was loud enough to wake me up and I saw Mia in our closet, shaking. I woke up Andy to investigate (which he did, curiously, with a rolled-up bath towel as his weapon of choice). Turns out Mia had, we assume, been spooked by her reflection in the sunroom’s windows. She had scattered off the table with such hurry and force she turned over a potted plant, causing the clay to break on the glass-top table. There was no burglar, only our very own scaredy-cat.

Mia hated other cats. Although we could leave her for a few days without intervention, for longer trips we had to rely on family and friends. A trip to a kennel, or vet, or anyone’s house who owned another pet, put her in a panic. She had a heart murmur. Her heart didn’t need any additional distress.

Still, we decided to buy a black lab, Tucker. (That’s Mia in the picture above, glaring at Tucker the day we brought him home.) They had a love/hate relationship. Mostly hate. Mia would get annoyed with Tucker, raise her paw and hiss. Tucker, always the gentleman, would just walk away. And when he did, Mia would go to his bowl and paw out all the water, flooding the kitchen—daily.

We had Sophie. Mia bit Sophie, hard enough to draw blood. This resulted in a trip to the pediatrician’s office and a prescription for an antibiotic. We tried to find a new home for Mia after that. Turns out it’s difficult to find a home for a cat who bites and hates all other cats.

So, we kept her. We taught Sophie, and later the boys, to not talk, touch or look at Mia. That’s probably a bit dramatic but true enough that, for a while, our children were terrified of all cats. And eagerly approached all large dogs. Which is backwards, I know.

Mia moved with us to a 100-year-old foursquare, also in Fort Thomas, five years ago—the same house we’re in today. That move was hard. The boys were three months old. For months I unpacked a box, pumped milk, gave the boys a bottle, changed their diapers, put them down, and unpacked another box. On repeat. I truly have no memory of how Mia fared during that time.

Once the boys became mobile, the basement became Mia’s castle. We never saw her during the day. Often, while taking laundry down to the basement, I would find her sitting on the top basement step, listening, waiting. Once she determined every child was in bed she was upstairs, purring and rubbing up against our legs, desperate for the attention she had missed out on during the day. And I gave it to her.

And that’s the thing about cats. And dogs. And even people, sometimes. Mia, often, was awful. I know. But, like all living, breathing things, you simply had to get to know her. And, in her case, really, really get to know her. But once you did, she was a joy—until a switch buried deep inside her would flip. And then she would bite.

Through the years I learned her triggers. Even the kids knew to never, ever touch her when her ears were back. When on my lap, purring, I would wait for her body to tense. That was her way of saying, “Stop.” A particular twitch slightly behind her shoulders also indicated she was about to draw blood. In all the years of living with her, she only bit me once.

Still, we had to warn everybody. “Don’t touch the cat. She bites,” was spoken in between hellos and welcome hugs. Babysitters were warned. Grandmas were given Band-Aids and apologized to, over and over again. Mia was banned to the basement during playdates.

Mia was a huntress, which was apparent in the number of mice she caught in her lifetime—even near the end of her life. We’re a live-mouse-trap kind of family, so her particular skill caused us (me, mostly) distress. Mia liked to play with her mice before killing them. I remember one particular evening when such awfulness was happening and Andy wasn’t home—and I was in tears. Like all other cats, she left the mice for us, in places she knew we would see them. One early morning I walked downstairs to find Sophie, probably 3, sitting on the couch, watching a show. “Mia killed a mouse,” she said, nonchalantly. “Where is it?” I asked. “Here,” she said. Sophie was sitting next to it. It was on the couch.

Near the end of her life, Mia’s demeanor changed completely. Always a thin cat, she started eating a lot. She gained so much weight that we took her to the vet for tests. We feared the worst, given her age—14 plus 2 or 3 years. Her diagnosis? “She’s just fat,” the vet said.

Mia began living upstairs during the day, even when the kids were wild. She stopped biting. She let the children pet her. She sat on my lap in the middle of the day. Every morning while I poured Tucker dog food, she would saunter over and drink water from his water bowl. Tucker would patiently wait until she finished, and then would drink after her. (But she still splashed water.)

I’ve since researched “end of life” in cats. Her change in disposition was clue No. 1. This lasted several months. A few days before she died, she seemed off—more so than usual. The day before she died, we knew it was coming. We knew in the way she sat, staring but not seeing. The way she walked the perimeter of rooms, over and over again. We knew in the way you just know these things, without really knowing why you know.

We considered calling the vet. But she didn’t seem in pain. And she wasn’t showing any signs of being in pain. We agreed that if she was in pain, we’d take her. A home death, we thought, is preferable—for anyone.

That evening she perked up a bit. But then she began hiding—under the couch, under the kitchen table, under the leather chair. While reading John Grogan’s Marley & Me years ago I learned that pets do this—they find a quiet, hidden place to die, away from predators, as their ancestors did.

Mia settled on underneath the leather chair, in front of the bookcase, in the living room.

I couldn’t stand the thought of her dying alone. So I curled up on the living room rug next to her, one hand under the chair, on her back. I stayed like that for an hour.

Andy had gone downstairs to play video games. Pet losses are hard on him. In grade school he faked a reason to leave the classroom so that he wouldn’t have to watch the end of “Where the Red Fern Grows.” When it comes to hard things, we excel, differently. I can rock a baby for hours, singing “You Are My Sunshine” again and again and again. And again. And while Andy lacks such patience he, on the other hand, can cradle the head of a child who is getting sick, not once dry heaving at the smell. And then he can bathe said child and clean up said mess with nary a complaint or sigh. I fail at this.

We’ve learned to let go, hand over, pick up, take over. It works.

After about an hour, Mia stopped moving completely, and her breathing grew shallow. Perhaps it was selfish of me but I needed to hold her. So in one quick motion I pulled her out from under the chair. She perked up again, and fought me for a moment. I sat on the couch and threw a cream and gray-striped wool blanket over her, covering her completely—even her head. I held her tight against my stomach. The effect, for her, was the same. She felt hidden, but I felt better.

Andy found me like that, on the couch, around 2am. He convinced me to go to bed. So I did, but I took Mia. Like a brand-new mother in charge of a newborn solo for the first time I rested my hand on her, lightly, counting breaths until the sun came up.

With morning we had the children come in to say their goodbyes. The boys had many questions. “Will her body be frozen?” “How long will she stay underground?” “Is she still breathing?” “How will she dig herself out?” The questions were honest, heartbreaking and tiring.

Sophie, older, wiser, but still 7, cried deep tears that made Andy and I cry, too.

The boys and Andy left, but Sophie stayed. So much of what Mia was doing was instinctual. She was dying in the same way her mother died, her mother’s mother died, and so on. I couldn’t help but think that Sophie’s actions were instinctual, too. Woman, girl. Mother, someday mother (perhaps). Sophie stayed. And all three females curled up together on the bed, mother, child, cat.

We stayed like that for a long time. And then, Mia started convulsing. This, I knew I didn’t want Sophie to see. And this, I knew I didn’t want to see. I scooped Sophie up and took her to her room, yelling for Andy. Let go, hand over, pick up, take over. Andy came.

Mia had gotten sick. (I should have thought about this. I should have been prepared with towels, and a box. But this was all a first for me.) Andy moved her to box lined with a towel, and cleaned up the bed. A few minutes more, and Mia was gone.

My parents came over, and Andy and my dad dug a hole in the backyard. (Another thing I could not do, the digging, the moving of the dead body. But he could, for us, for me.) It was muddy and dreary outside. The children each drew a picture, which they put in the hole with Mia, along with the Christmas present we had bought her—she died in December, before the holiday. We said our goodbyes.

The holidays came and went in a swirl, and although we were sad and missed her it was OK. We answered the kids’ questions. We walked out to where we buried her whenever the kids asked. We gave away her leftover food.

Several weeks ago Owen and James began fighting while working on their homework. After yelling at them to stop fighting, I discovered the problem: They had to write the number of people in their family, and the number of pets. James insisted we had one pet—Tucker. Owen couldn’t bring himself to not include Mia. He started to cry. “Of course you can include Mia,” I said. “But it won’t make sense!” James said. “We’ll have different answers!” I assured James it was OK.

Lately, in these long, gray days of winter, I miss her. Especially at night, when she would curl up on my lap, purring, on the brink of drawing blood.

It’s funny, the love we can amass for the pets—and people—who can cause us so much pain but also, so, so much joy. It’s the beauty—and cruelty—of life. And even though the end is hard, I’d do it again. And will do it again. In time.

“Barney was brave, I said.
And smart and funny and clean.
Also cuddly and handsome, and he only once
ate a bird.
It was sweet, I said, to hear him purr in my ear.
And sometimes he slept on my belly and kept
it warm.

Those are all good things, said my mother,
but I still just count nine.

Yes, I said, but now I have another.

Barney is in the ground and he’s helping
grow flowers.
You know, I said, that’s a pretty nice job for
a cat.”

—from The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst