Category Archives: Musings of the Zen Master

Hello 47

bwI am not happy about turning 47 but, as an enlightened woman, I’m not supposed to admit that. I am supposed to be riding in a convertible on a coastal highway with the wind whipping through my perfectly tousled hair while Fight Song plays on repeat and my best friend snaps gorgeous photos of the two of us in our designer sunglasses. I should be posting pictures of my imperfect body and embracing my wrinkles and asserting that both are evidence of a life well-lived. I am supposed to be fearless and tireless and all the other –lesses you can imagine.

That is a hell of a lot of pressure.

The truth is I drive a Yaris sedan with crushed Goldfish crackers on the floorboards and a cup of ground coffee in the cup holder to combat the smell of my son’s soccer cleats. My sunglasses were certainly expensive but only because they are prescription and I can’t even read with them on because they aren’t bifocals. My friends do take pictures but whenever they do, I frantically yell, “Take it from above!” And as for being fearless and tireless, sliding towards 50 stings a little bit.

So, here is the rest of the truth:

I buy a lot of Clearasil and now understand the appeal of spanx.

I don’t sleep well and can hear my kid turn over in bed…in another room…with the door closed.

I recently plucked a wild hair from my hip.

I have not gained weight yet nothing fits because my body is rearranging itself like a Picasso painting.

The songs on my running playlist would also be appropriate for my funeral montage and I’m not sure what to think about that.

I am redefining success after a career change but, some days, “redefining success” feels a lot like “lowering expectations.”

The only people that compliment my hair are elderly women in elevators.

My daughter recently said, “You are one year closer to menopause!” And with that statement, I can now rule out Motivational Speaker as her future profession and can start worrying again that she’ll live with us forever.

I say all of this knowing that I have a good life. I have everything I need and I am loved. I am lucky to be alive and I am grateful. But I am also human and have good days and bad. Today, I’m struggling with 47 and fretting over hormonal acne but tomorrow will be a new day. Maybe I’ll jump in the Yaris, put on my prescription sunglasses, and roll down the windows and let the wind ruffle my gray hair. Maybe I’ll turn on the stereo and play something from my running/funeral playlist and sing at the top of my lungs. Maybe I’ll forget about the smashed crackers and the smelly cleats and remember that the greatest gift of being 47 is that, most of the time, you just don’t care what anyone else thinks.

The Words Came As Peacemakers


My reflection in a pond

My feet pounded the track, music blared in my ears and I was looking straight ahead when she walked into the field house and the first words that came to mind were, “I was a different person then.” They came to me not because this woman represented a part of my past, though she did. They came to me as peacemakers.

We were colleagues but never friends, not for lack of effort on her part. She came to work in Adult Protection late in my career there, at a time when I was burned out but didn’t recognize it which is not surprising because I was unrecognizable myself. I trained her in but she was earnest and I had little patience, so after her training was done, so was I.

She described me to another colleague as the Godfather of Adult Protection–if I didn’t like her, no one would. When my co-worker told me that I laughed it off because I didn’t see myself that way and couldn’t imagine having that much power over others. Now, years later, I wonder if I did. I no longer trust my perceptions of myself and have learned to pay more attention to my reflection.

I accepted an invitation for coffee with her after that because I wanted to explain that it wasn’t personal. We sat awkwardly in Starbucks and she was honest and vulnerable and I was honest but cold.

“I am just trying to survive.”

“I can be your colleague but not your friend.”

“You want more than I can give.”

She teared up and I felt nothing and, for those who know me, that right there is a sign of how bad things had become.

For the rest of the time we worked together, I was cordial but not terribly friendly and I think the last time I saw her would have been in late 2011, before I moved from the Government Center to the satellite office in North Minneapolis. Goodbye and good luck.

And then today, she walked into the gym.

I waved and smiled as I passed and she looked as surprised as I felt and I kept running but, with each step, I realized I had things I needed to say. We didn’t really  know each other and we were at the gym and I had already greeted her–that was a sufficient response and appropriate given the layered circumstances. But the words kept playing through my head…

“I was a different person then.”

“That job broke me.”

“I’m sorry.”

When I finished and my footsteps and the music were quiet, the words were even louder so I sat down on a bench and I waited for her. She came over and I said hello with warmth and I asked her how she was doing and what she was doing. She told me she had retired and she was happy and I told her that I was happy too. We smiled genuinely at each other and that would have been enough but I realized I needed to say more. I looked her in the eye and said, “I didn’t like the person I became doing that job.” She nodded and said, “I’m still getting over what it did to me.” I was able to say that I’d been broken and–yes–that I was a different person then. And as we talked, I became lighter and the conversation became lighter and that is what forgiveness feels like. I never said the words “I’m sorry” and, though they were there in the other things I said, I can’t know if she forgave me. But I know that in that moment–that imperfect moment in a most inopportune place–I was able to forgive myself and maybe that’s what I needed all along.

I Am Growing Up


I lay in bed and heard footsteps above me, the pounding of feet belonging to kids who don’t stop to think of people sleeping below them. There were seven kids in the loft, though it sounded more like seventy. I looked at my watch and saw it was early but not unreasonably so and hoped that someone had gotten up before me to make coffee. I make terrible coffee when we are at the cabin. It’s always too strong and I can’t figure out why. I adjust the amount of water and the number of scoops and still it is wrong.

I left our room and headed to the kitchen and the kids were even louder–booming laughter, shrieks of joy, shouts and exclamations–but there was coffee so I thought I could manage the assault on my morning.

But I couldn’t.

I thought about the years that we’ve gone to this cabin, thought about the kids as babies and then toddlers and now, as such a mix of young and getting older. I thought about the years of unruly noise that has filtered down from the loft and the times I have yelled and demanded and begged for quiet and order. There have been times when I have parented these children with grace and times when I most definitely have not. I stared into my coffee cup, considered my options and then decided to control the only thing I can truly control–myself.

I left.

I walked out of the cabin in my pajamas and down to the dock. I sat on the worn wood, damp with dew and stared at the blue of the water and sky, the trees across the lake just turning green. It was quiet and calm and perfect and I realized that the kids aren’t the only ones growing up–I am too. My oldest child is almost 14 and it has taken me a long time to learn that so much of life is beyond my control. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to take care of myself. But I am learning and this place where I find myself–as a parent in middle age–is like still water, a light breeze and new growth.


I wrote a companion piece to this one for VillageQ:

We all moved in practiced ways, carrying things in from cars, putting food away, and choosing bedrooms–kids in the loft, adults scattered in the remaining spaces. On the first night, the kids sat in the loft, talking and laughing loudly while we sat downstairs, and I was struck by how much our roles have changed over the years. I remembered Pack-N-Plays and bedtime reading and putting small children to bed over and over again, and they learned to be quiet and sleep near their friends. The adults took turns going upstairs to quiet them, to sing, to rub circles on small backs until there was finally silence.


She Would Have Been 80

mom1After my mother died, I was talking to one of my aunts and she said, “I knew what went on in your house and I did nothing.” What went on in my house? My mother drank too much, had too little patience and left me to care for myself much of the time. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t that bad but I’ve come to understand that I’m not the best judge of that anymore as time and compassion have blurred my memories. I looked at my aunt, the guilt visible on her face and shrugged, “There was nothing you could have done.” I believe that but believe more strongly that there is no point in dwelling on the past. We can’t change it. We can only make peace with it. My aunt then said, “I’ll never understand how, after everything she did, you loved her so fiercely.” I gave the only answer I had at the time, “I forgave her.”

I’ve spent years trying to understand why I loved her so much, why I still consider her to be one of my heroes. People have asked me how I forgave her for the pain she caused and I could never articulate the why or the how of that forgiveness.

Until now.

When I went to Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, Galit and I had hours and hours in the car and nothing to do but talk. We talked about parenting and family, past and present, compassion and forgiveness. And as the hours went by and the conversation wandered, I realized that I separated my mother from the woman she was. She may not have been a great mother but she was an incredible woman.

She grew up poor and what little her family was able to accumulate was washed away in a flood in 1952. She knew a level of economic hardship that, fortunately, I have never known. Her father was sadistically abusive and she survived by fighting back. She was smart and practical and left home and made her own life. She prided herself on her independence and raised us without much assistance from our fathers. She couldn’t go to college but worked harder than anyone I have known and retired at 50. She was pro-choice and a feminist and an old school labor Democrat. She raised me to value education and to focus on my studies rather than worrying about boys. And yes, we laughed about that bit about boys years later when she said I might have taken her too literally. Beyond all that, she was one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. She could draw you in with a story and leave your ribs hurting from laughter. You would have loved her. I know I did.

So this is an important part of the puzzle of my past and the peace I made with my mother. She was not just my mother. She was so much more. Somehow, I knew that.

My mother has been gone 8 years now and this would have been her 80th birthday. Today, I’m telling stories and I hope to throw my head back in laughter at least once in her honor. And I will parent and live and love like the strong woman she raised me to be. And maybe the lasting lesson from all of this is that we are not just mothers, we are more. So much more.