Sophie, The Labeler

Found this gem in the bathroom tonight.


“Parenthood: That state of being better chaperoned than you were before marriage.” —Marcelene Cox


Sophie knows that Andy goes to work every day. And that he works on a computer every day. And that his work earns our family money every day.

She attends a Montessori preschool and the word “work” is used often. So she also understands work as an activity she pulls off of a shelf and takes to a small rug to complete.

But I don’t think she quite understands my work. She certainly doesn’t consider the stay-at-home-mom work I do every day as work. And I don’t want her to think of my taking care of her as “work,” even though every once in awhile I secretly would like her to know that the reason she has food every day and clean clothes every day and a bath (most) days is because of the “work” Andy and I do.

But I also have other work, freelance editing and writing work. I’ve tried to explain this work to her. But she simply thinks (and tells people) that my job is playing on the computer. Lately, however, my editing work has been a bit more old-fashioned—I’ve been editing on paper, with a red pen. And having grown tired of all-nighters (something I was able to do quite easily in college, but has become increasingly hard for me the older I get), I’ve been trying to do more of this work during the day, while the boys nap. Sophie is intrigued by this work. And after hearing me say “no” for the 10th time to her request to “help” me with my work (which invariably involves drawing a flower on the pages I’m editing, something I’m sure my editors love) she gets out her own work.

We have never pushed workbooks or flashcards or the like on Sophie, thinking that she will have enough of that in her lifetime. But we’ve also discovered that she loves workbooks. Loves them. She loves tracing letters and doing simple addition and subtraction and finding opposites and differentiating between big and small. Of course, she loves playing with her plastic princess figurines and wooden castle and ponies and dolls much more. But when she sees me doing my work, she insists on doing her work. Hence the picture above (and yes, she’s wearing her bathing suit and sporting a train tattoo on her arm).

She concentrates so hard on this work. And she zips through workbooks so quickly. Grandma and Paw Paw brought her two this weekend, and she’s almost through both of them.

I love that she loves her work. I love that she’s eager to learn. I love the way she wrinkles her brow and purses her lip when she’s trying to think something through. But I also worry. I got As and Bs (and some Cs) in school, but unlike some people, I had to work for the grades—really work for them. And I stressed over my work. This was not my parents’ doing. In fact, they once approached a parent-teacher conference with concern over the amount of time I was spending, worrying about homework. As such, for the rest of the year, my teacher would put a time limit on the top of all my homework assignments, big, red, circled. Once the time limit was up, I had to stop, no matter how unfinished, how imperfect. At first, this additional hurtle worried me to no end. But in the end, it was one of the greatest gifts ever given to me.

I think the best kind of work is work that doesn’t feel like work. I feel those who live that life are lucky. I try to live that life, with caring for my children and my other work, my writing and editing. (But trust me, when it’s 2am and I still have hours of editing left, I often don’t feel lucky.) I also admire those who find joy in work I love to hate—laundry, scrubbing bathrooms, weeding, even cooking. I strive to find joy, fulfillment and contentment in these everyday chores. Some days I do, some days I don’t—even when I remind myself to be grateful that I have a yard to weed, bathrooms to scrub, clothes to wash and good food to cook.

But for now, it’s clear Sophie finds great joy in her work, tracing letters, X’ing big stars and circling little stars, matching. So I let her be. Let her grow. Let her learn. And I hope that passion for work stays with her always, not in an every-day always, but in a big-picture always. And perhaps most, I hope her grownup work is work she loves just as much as her childhood work. Work she looks forward to doing, enjoys doing, loves having done. I realize this requires a combination of skill, luck and attitude, but it’s something I so desperately want for her, for all my children, for everyone.

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” —James Matthew Barrie

This I Believe


Last week a brown truck stopped in front of my house. The driver of the truck acknowledged our “please knock” sticker over our doorbell (16-month-old boys woken early from their nap because of a ringing doorbell does not make for a fun afternoon). He knocked softly and left. I opened the door and found a small cardboard box—the above book was inside.

For a brief moment I felt butterflies in my stomach, a feeling that becomes increasingly less common the older I get. For my name is listed in the Contents of this book—my essay is on page 95. This is a first for me.

I wrote the essay several years ago and submitted it to This I Believe. It was chosen to air on NPR, locally. In November 2006, I recorded it for 91.7 WVXU. It aired early on a weekend morning, probably before most people were awake. I thought that was the end of it.

The butterflies I felt upon seeing the book, however, quickly gave way to guilt. I hate that this essay exists. Because I hate what happened. And while I know a personal essayist’s calling is to write about tragedy as much as triumph, it is difficult to celebrate publication when an essay stems from something so tragic, from such loss.

Joe was a beautiful, kind, fiercely loving person. He left our world much too soon.

Here’s my essay:

A Lesson I Hold Dear

I believe I can be both honest and kind, even when the two seem to contradict.

Honesty often throws kindness for a loop. From telling someone there’s food in their teeth all the way to telling someone you don’t love them even though you know they love you—honest statements, although said with kind intentions, can often seem cruel.

I was sixteen years old, working at an amusement park, when I met Joe. He was older, had long, blond hair, and drove a motorcycle. The first time he called I smiled so hard my cheeks ached by the end of the conversation. He soon became my first boyfriend.

We dated the entire summer. By early fall he had said, “I love you.” I said nothing. In the battle between kindness and honesty, honesty won. 

In the months following our breakup, Joe left love notes on my bedroom windowsill. In college, he called twice. The first time we talked. The second time, he left a distraught voice mail. I returned his call and left a short message. I never heard from him again.

Several years later his sister called with news: Joe had committed suicide, months ago. Shortly before his death, his sister said, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Joe had written a few lines about me in his suicide note, but only now had she gathered the strength to call.

I thought about the first time Joe called, how my cheeks ached. The ache had returned—but this time, it was something much deeper. Not wanting to cry at work, I ran to my car and sobbed, both the finality of what he had done—and the fact that he had thought of me, even briefly, before he did it—sinking in. Once home, I reread his love letters to me. It was then I wanted so desperately to take back my silence, to tell him I loved him—not in a romantic sense, but in a you-deserve-to-live-a-long-life sense.

A few days later I went to a party on what would have been Joe’s twenty-seventh birthday to celebrate his life. I met his family. I looked at old photos. I was intrigued to hear about the man he had become; we could have been great friends.

I hated myself for choosing honesty over kindness, for not writing more, for not calling more, for not doing more. I wasn’t so bold as to think I could have fixed him. Rather, I was sad that I had to be unkind and tell him I didn’t love him.

Several days later, worried I would never find peace, I reread what Joe wrote to me in his note: “How people should be … wonderful and I’m glad I had the time with her—still I have a wonderful feeling inside.”

It was then I realized that Joe thought my honesty was kind. His words to me were his way of telling me so, his way of being honest—and kind—to me.

A year later, on what would have been Joe’s twenty-eight birthday, my husband and I put flowers by his grave. I thanked him for a lesson I’ll always hold hear: I can be honest and still be kind.

Just as I believe in being both honest and kind, I believe in writing honestly, even when it’s hard. Still, I wish what happened hadn’t happened. I wish my topic had been something else.

But it did happen. And it’s now a part of me. It’s a part of my life. And I have a difficult time leaving life unwritten.

Late October you will be able to purchase this book at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Amazon or your favorite local bookstore. Writers were chosen by This I Believe; we were not paid. All proceeds go directly to the not-for-profit organization, This I Believe, Inc., an organization I feel strongly about. Check it out. Thinking—really thinking—about what you believe in is a good exercise, no matter if the belief stems from triumph or tragedy, gain or loss. For those elements weave in and out of all our lives. I just hope future publications reveal more triumph over tragedy, reveal less loss.

“Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.” —Catherine Drinker Bowen