On Living and Dying and Making a Difference

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“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.

All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.

I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.

I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.

Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.

What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.

Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.

And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Nobody cares about your blog

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There have been days, quite a lot of them actually, when I really wanted to buy this tee shirt. And on some of those days, once purchased, I think I’d actually have worn the tee shirt in public.

For a long time (in internet years) “blogging” has been the thing. Everyone’s doing it. But when I started this blog, back in the good ole days of the internet, the concept was new. We were all maybe a little paranoid while putting out all this personal and revelational material into the great vacuum of cyber land, even adopting a pseudonym (see: mrsmetaphor) to protect our identity. It felt as though I was shouting into the chasm. Nowadays it’s more like shouting into the storm of people shouting. Everyone has a blog. So what?

Many of my long time blogging compadres have left their cyber houses untended, letting weeds reclaim the yard and vines grow over the entrance. We can peer in the windows and see the layers of dust on the floors and shelves, white sheets draped over the furniture. I think back about the hey day of blogging, lo those many (internet) years ago and sometimes I sigh with wonder and appreciation. Those were the days.

Then the idea of monetizing came and the idea of viral posts and blogging for book deals and high profiles and millions of readers. It’s interesting to see how things shift over time. I was never much for monetizing or viral posts. I just write what I feel like writing and put it out there, no longer shouting into the storm but more likely whispering. That’s okay by me.

I have to admit that I don’t read a great number of blogs anymore. I just don’t have the time or energy. The information overload on the internet is too much and too often so now I subscribe to the writers I like and have it delivered easy-like to my email in box. I unwrap those entries at my leisure and savor them in my own time.

All that said, as recently as a few months ago I encouraged someone to start a blog. Even with all the saturation and monetization and the “nobody cares about your blog” feelings, I will sometimes still offer a big thumbs up when someone asks my opinion on it. In no particular order, here are the things that sway me on that front-

5 Reasons to start a blog (even in the modern soggy internet market):

  1. You love to write and you have something to say
    So let’s say you find yourself with a little time on your hands, a working computer and something to say but no place to publish or no interest in pursuing publishing as a career.
    Go for it.
    It’s a great way to start a writing discipline and begin to see words on a page. Just be warned that whatever you put out there is out there. I like to tell people that the internet has a long memory and a short attention span. Even if you remove a blog post or shut down a blog those words might live forever someplace else- someone’s hard drive, cached pages, etc. Don’t write anything you hope no one sees. That’s just asking for trouble.
  2. You have something to sell
    I hate that I just wrote that but nevertheless, it’s true. If you sell something like jewelry or essential oils or fitness practices (wink wink) then it’s probably a decent idea to have a blog connected to your website. Products are lifeless and cold, writing about what you sell or how it affects your life or even how much you love donuts or Disney movies helps to make you a real person, weirdly enough, and that will lend your product some edge in an overcrowded online market.
  3. You are an amazing writer
    It’s true that I know amazing writers who won’t go anywhere near the “blogosphere” (mainly because there are non words like blogosphere that describe it.) But if you are an amazing writer and are not published anywhere but want to have your work out there, go for it. It’s a good way to begin to build some presence online and perhaps even begin to build a readership for your work. My limited experience is that people who are amazing writers get blog traffic when what they write about fills a niche no one else is reaching OR fills a niche no one reaches with amazing writing. Let that roll around on your tongue for a while.I’ll give a caveat here though because I know from experience that if you are an amazing writer and have something to say, see #2 and heed that advice as well. If you “publish” a great essay on your blog but think you’d like to send it to a lit mag or online journal you may find they won’t touch it. The thinking on this has been shifting a little bit but for the most part the most respected journals won’t publish it even if it’s “just” on your blog. Take care with your work. Blog about “blog” things, keep ’em short and chewable and lovely but don’t stop there. Use it as a springboard to write longer and more interesting things to submit when you’re ready.
  4. You’re quirky
    For this one I’d say you also should be an amazing writer but that’s because I get tired of people trying too hard to be quirky at the expense of the writing. Unless you’re selling something or are already known it’s really hard to get your work noticed. People need a reason to visit or subscribe to your blog, they’re busy and distracted and impatient. If you’re quirky they’ll come back or trek along for the ride. If you’re not sure if you’re quirky ask your friends. They’ll tell you. Most likely that’s why they hang out with you.
  5. You’re already published
    Here’s the thing, most of my favorite published authors don’t blog and I respect that. There’s this little nagging thing in me though and I don’t think it’s only me. I want more. I want to know more, I want to understand more, I want to know what that author thinks about Ferguson or the deficit or the cost of higher education. Sometimes you can get that by following them on Facebook and, in fact, Anne Lamott does her own version of this on that site. She’ll post long status updates (blog length, I’d say!) and those serve the purpose. But if you’re not Anne Lamott and you’re published and people love your work and want more it may be worthwhile to start a blog. You can do it on an author Facebook page if that’s your bag but it may be a good idea to set up shop on an actual blog and just save Facebook for cat memes. That’s your call. In any case you want your work to be available and sharable. That’s the key.

I hate that this now feels like one of those “ask the expert” posts. Sorry about that. I’m no expert. I just have feelings, a whole lot of feelings…and I have a computer and some time on my hands. Maybe nobody cares about my blog or your blog these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Good luck all my blogging people…make beautiful posts!

Slings and Arows

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
-Shakespeare “Hamlet”

I guess I knew that putting a book out might be risky on some level. Bad reviews are bound to happen because honestly, it’s not likely that everyone is going to like my work. In fact, there may be people who hate it. I like to think that getting a bad review is a way to become a better writer for my future work. I take feedback seriously. The trick is to not let it define me or completely shut me down I suppose.

But this is different.

I got a bad review this past week but it was not about the book. It was personal. I know the commenter. She was not interested in shrouding herself in anonymity and for that I suppose I should be grateful, though even if she had been anonymous I’m pretty sure I would have known who it is. At the same time, I confess, I had no idea this person hated me to this degree. I know that we ended our friendship and that she was unhappy with how things went down while we were friends. I thought we’d talked it through and at least reached some stasis, but given the libelous nature of her “review” for my book, I guess I was wrong.

It happens.

What’s hard is that all I could think to do was comment in return asking if she’d even read the book, asking why she still held this much anger towards me, asking why none of our shared friends ever mentioned that she believed me to be so very evil and abusive. I did not comment immediately. It seemed like a losing proposition and a poor way to dialogue about it.

And you know, the reality is that I don’t really want to be in relationship with her at this point. To engage and try to understand or smooth over or make it right, especially with someone who is so hell-bent on making sure people know the depth of some fabricated deceitfulness feels like walking into quicksand and I’m not willing to do that. Even so, in the midst of all the slings and arrows I do wish her well. I do hope the best for her.

A bad review of my work is an opportunity. I can always learn and study and revise in the future in order to become a better writer. Bad reviews of my work are words on a page, from strangers or near strangers. I can place those into the appropriate categories when they come (and they will come.) But an attack on my character is different, it’s personal and it’s ugly and the accusations are false. I begin to wonder if I ought to look deeper at what happened in our short friendship. I begin to question and worry. I wonder if I should counter the charges. I wonder if I should try to make a plea for peace. I wonder if there some hidden split in me, a Mr Hyde to my  Dr Jeckyll, that I do not recall or realize.

In the end there is really nothing I can do about it except to trust that my work speaks for itself, that my true character shines through and maybe too, that Amazon will expose it as a personal attack rather than a legitimate critique of a book I’ve poured so much of my self into over these last three years.  Time will tell.

Vacation…all I ever wanted.

I can’t even hear the word vacation without launching into my best Belinda Carlisle. If that reference is lost on you then I’ve kindly attached the video for that GoGo’s song. Watch and learn, grasshoppers. It’ll stick to you forever.

you’re welcome.

In any case, I’m headed out on vacation this week. So if you see or hear less of me then that’s the reason, though I am not opposed to you believing instead that I’ve been abducted by benevolent aliens who are teaching me the secrets of the universe. Good sci fi logic and storytelling insists that I’ll forget all of those secrets when I’m returned safe and sound next week to Chicago. Sorry about that, humanity.

In the meantime, I will entrust the internet to you all. You can have a few friends over but NO UNDERAGE DRINKING and try to keep the music down. I’ll be at Lyric Springs, walking the overgrown trails, breathing in the fresh warm air and splashing in the pool if the forecasted rain lets up.

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In dreams: “It’s for Jesus!”

I keep thinking I should start a new weekly feature here on Mrs Metaphor called, “things my weird subconscious tells me at night.”

About once a week I wake up remembering what I’ve dreamt. Nine times out of ten that dream fades within a few hours but sometimes it stays with me. Sometimes the dream is so real, so tangible I have to talk about it because it bothers me all day, like getting a splinter and feeling it there under the skin. Writing about it or telling about it acts as a pair of tweezers pulling out the sliver.

Last night I dreamt I was headed to Liturgy (the Orthodox Sunday church service) and found that it was not occurring. Like everything in dreams things suddenly shifted, like scenes from Inception with doorways becoming walls and walls becoming streets. I found myself in another place, walking into what my memory told me was a church I attended 20 years ago except that it didn’t look at all like the right building.  But, I accepted it, like you do in dreams, and I entered into the aged brownstone building, walked up a flight of unfamiliar stairs and through a set of wide doors into the sanctuary, which was more like a theater.

I chose a seat near the back, under the balcony seats and someone handed me a “program.” It was printed on lime green paper, laminated and fastened together with a single small binder ring. I paged through it quickly as the music started but did not get far before the first “act” came out. This church service apparently was pretty cutting edge because the opening of the service entailed a group of performers, midgets, who would shoot themselves out of a cannon placed in the balcony. All I could see from my seat after the boom of the cannon was a short person in a bright red or blue costume, sailing through the air and rolling to a stop on the stage. The people around me went crazy for it and I wondered if I was in church after all. When I turned to ask my neighbor, a heavy-set, well dressed young woman she smiled and said, “It’s for Jesus!”

After a few minutes of this I looked a little more deeply at the lime green laminated “program” and saw the line up for the rest of the church service. There would be three rock bands, an acoustic set and a poetry reading by a number of community members. Each poet had a number after his or her name indicated the number of poems they would be reading. The third name down listed (25) as the number of poems she meant to read. At that, I stood up to leave but the woman next to me put her hand on my arm, “No, don’t go!” she said, “there’s so much more!” I shook my head and said this wasn’t really my thing and that I had to go but she still tried to talk me out of leaving. “It’s for Jesus!” she said again. I finally broke away as quietly as I could and began to make my way out of the auditorium.

When I reached the staircase outside I felt relief and I stepped out the door into what had become a cloudy, overcast day. Raindrops hit my face as I remembered that I’d left my raincoat inside on my seat. And then I woke up.

the problem with parenting…

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You might remember my feelings about “Mother’s Day.” If not, you can see my rants here

This year as we approach that day in the U.S, I’m struggling a little with that whole parenting thing. I know, what else is new?

In particular, I wonder how hard it will be to break the habit of saying “be careful” to my children whenever they get out of the passenger side of the car. I mean, I imagine that sometime, and perhaps soon, they’ll have internalized this concept. I say “be careful” to them all day long; when we’re taking walks, when they’re using scissors, when they’re making scrambled eggs. I caught myself saying it to my youngest son as he was coming down the stairs the other day, not running, not hopping, walking down the stairs. Force of habit.

It got me thinking about how useless those two words have become. Or maybe it isn’t that they are useless, maybe they are just code for something I am really thinking but afraid to say out loud. I’m slowly realizing that pretty much every time I say “be careful” to my kids (and for that matter, to my husband when he’s driving) what I am really saying is “I don’t trust you.”

I don’t trust that you’ll be safe.

I don’t trust that you’ll be able to take care of yourself.

I don’t trust that you won’t rear end that car ahead of us.

Sad but true.

The latest trend in parenting right now isn’t so much “helicopter” parenting anymore. Now, it’s what I’m hearing termed “lawnmower” parenting. These parents try to clear the path for the kids, wrapping everything in bubble wrap, sanitizing the area, sometimes literally. I like to make fun of parenting trends as much as anybody but hearing about this new trend gave me pause. As it was laid out for me, the realization dawned on me that as much as I try to get my kids to think critically, to solve their own problems, to make their own scrambled eggs, I do this. I smooth the road, I wrap the bubble wrap, I send the emails about the potential internship and the low grade gotten on a test. What I’m saying when I do this is once again, “I don’t trust you…”

So between my realization of the translation of “be careful” and the image of me smoothing the road ahead I found myself in a full on panic this week. Add to this the ill timing of my reading this story in the Atlantic about  a playground (that is actually a junk yard) in the UK and I had to admit that I would be a freaking basket case if my boys were playing in there. I mean, I WANT to be hip and cool and allow them to live out their kid-hood with some boldness and excitement but…you know…I also don’t want them to come home with lockjaw.

Reality is hard…bubble wrap is easy.

Now, I don’t tell you all this so that you’ll leave a comment assuring me that I’m a pretty good mother (obviously I won’t delete those comments if you feel so inclined.) I’m just laying it out there. I think too often I labor under the delusion that parenting is just easier for pretty much everyone but me. I think that my neighbor is doing it better, that her kids are turning out better, that her kids can get out of the passenger side of the car without tripping on the sidewalk and falling on the ground.

This is the problem with parenting…and it helps me to just put it out there sometimes, a voice shouting into the storm like Lieutenant Dan raging on that little shrimp boat in the hurricane.

In any case, this is where I’m at this week as I ponder the upcoming fake holiday celebration of Mother’s Day and I do the yearly internal assessment of my parenting skillz. Not to mention that all this is coming together as we reach the end of the school year. There will be playing outside and riding the bikes in the neighborhood. There will be stick fights in the backyard. There will be driving tests for my 16-year-old. There will be college visits for my daughter and high school choices for my oldest son. There will be pressure building and heat rising and maybe even a lawnmower leaking fumes in the wake of my parenting.

I think I’m going to need to be more careful.

The Lemon Tree…

I make no secret of my habitual killing of all manner of plant. This winter alone I managed to kill most everything that grew in happy abundance last spring, summer and fall on my decks. It was an embarrassment of fecundity last year. I tried to winter a few things inside but the house has little to no direct sunlight spots and one at a time they fell to the dry air, the lack of light, the forgetfulness of their caretaker where water is concerned.

This one plant still has some life in it and for that I’m thankful.

photoFor a short while it lived on the windowsill in our living room, then the floor close to the back door. The leaves dropped off one at a time, turning yellow then falling pitifully to the muddy soil below at the base. The long, stick-like stalk shows evidence of past lives, potential for the fruitfulness I hope it lives to see.

It’s been a rough road, I’ll tell you.

The lemon tree began as a grocery store lemon I had purchased and forgotten about. When the lemon had finally dried up too much even to slice and put into water for some festive but unlikely Martha Stewart moment, I rescued the seeds. I dried them on a paper napkin on my countertop, half thinking I’d try to grow it, mostly thinking I’d throw it out by the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month.

After a time, I tossed it into a small paper cup with a bit of soil, stolen from a plant that no longer needed it, a plant that had moved on to a “better place” we imagine. When the first shoot poked through the soil I considered that it was a losing proposition. Even if I managed to keep it alive it was likely it would not survive the swings in temperature in Chicago. Even if it grows to maturity it’s likely it won’t bear fruit. Most grocery store produce has had that bred out of it already. Who grows a lemon tree from a seed in Chicago? Who’d want to?

The picture above is the culmination of almost 2 years of fighting the elements and the odds and my own brown thumb and yet here it is. It feels triumphant and terrifying too. When at last this winter all but one leaf had taken a powder my husband scratched his head as I watered the poor creature day in and day out. He shrugged his shoulders when I placed it in the bathroom near the glass block window. I knew it would be warm there all day, stream in as much light as possible in the house and perhaps soak in the moisture from the room when I forgot to water it.

This, the last ditch effort, pulled me a long a little at a time. I was unable to give up on my lemon tree, on this bare stalk with only a little life left in it. Then, last week, a shoot sprung out from the side. It was only a nub of a thing but it was new and I spoke to it softly, “well, what about this?” I spoke soft words of encouragement and wonder. I held back still, not placing too much pressure on the tiny, struggling plant. “Do what you can…take your time.”

And it did. The nub shot out, reaching tiny leaf fingers to either side, feathered fingers from fists, palms opening wide. And every day I look to see more growth, more hope, more life. And every day I dare to consider that maybe there will be more, maybe there will be a tree taking the place of that struggling stalk, until then I will speak softly and offer water and hope and room to grow.

Memory eternal…

When we’d visit my Dad’s family in Dayton, Ohio the tiny house where my grandparents lived was always filled with people. My Dad had 12 siblings growing up and by the time we came along they were all married and most had children. I had so many cousins on my Dad’s side that I did not even know all of their names and the ones I did know I usually got wrong. The visits to Dayton were a flurry of activity in that house on Briarcliff lane. My family had lived in the house next door to my grandparents for a number of years before we moved 90 miles south to Cincinnati so it was always a little strange to come and visit and see strangers wandering around “our” yard. Still, we loved to visit, to meet up with cousins we rarely saw, to explore the field behind my grandmother’s house and see where she kept bees or where she grew green beans she’d can and serve to us for dinner that afternoon. If we were brave we’d find a way into the greenhouse just off the patio or sneak into jalopy one of my uncles kept in the garage there.

I would often confuse the names of my Dad’s sisters and brothers, forgetting which were related by marriage and which by blood except for Uncle Kenny. It was easy to see that my Dad and Kenny were brothers. They were close in age and looked alike to me as a kid. Uncle Kenny was famous to my friends because I was able to tell them that I had an uncle named “Ken” and with a last name like “Doll” that’s something. I liked my Uncle Kenny because he was kind. When I think back on those years and those visits this is what strikes me. He was kind. He always seemed to be jovial, happy-go-lucky, easy-going. When I think of him I always remember him smiling.

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don, Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don,
Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

I wonder if that is why the news of his battle with Alzheimer’s was so hard for me to hear. Having been through that struggle with my husband’s father a few years ago, I remember all too well how it hollows a person out, how it robs them of some essential pieces of their core personality. I remember the physical struggles Dave’s dad encountered but I remember more the emotional roller coaster and so, when I would see updates on Uncle Kenny’s condition it always hit me in a soft spot. My Dad had already lost 2 older siblings when Kenny was diagnosed so my Dad took the news of my uncle’s illness hard.

My Uncle Kenny passed away this week after a short stay in hospice. It felt too fast to me but then, I’m far away. I’m out of touch with the extended family (save for Facebook) being in Chicago with a family of my own. It’s been a long time since I saw my Dad’s family in person, a long time since we ran in the fields behind my grandmother’s house, since we rummaged around in her basement finding treasures, since we sat crammed around that table in their tiny house and listened to the stories Uncle Kenny would tell with that wide smile he wore.

It took a few minutes after I got word that my uncle had died to put things together. In some ways my life won’t change all that much. I won’t feel that loss as closely as my family who still live close to everyone there. Still, I found as I sat at my computer looking at old photos the family had posted that I was in tears, feeling that loss deep in me anyway.

Perhaps grief is the reminder of those past days, those absences we had not noticed before. Perhaps grief is what shakes up old memories so that we can hold them in our hands again, fingers wiping away the dust we’ve allowed to form on the faces in the photos, the moments we’d pushed aside, the kindnesses we’d forgotten.

Memory eternal, Uncle Kenny. You will be missed.

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If Huffington Post, Salon.com and Mad Magazine had a baby it would be Lefty Pop…

and they asked me to throw some words at them from time to time.

Fair warning…while I try to maintain an air of civility and balance here on Mrs Metaphor (picture me drinking tea with pinkie raised) I cannot promise it won’t go all “Animal House” over there from time to time. That’s part of its charm, I think.

😉

Hope you’ll check it out, jump into the fray, get yer pop and politics fix…

If Anne Lamott was my friend

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If Anne Lamott was my friend I would make her tea when she came by unannounced. I would not offer cookies because I would have already eaten them myself after the kids were in bed the night before. She’d be understanding about that because “who needs more cookies anyway, right?” she’d quip, smiling. Still, I’d feel bad about it.

I’d spread honey and butter on toast to make up for it. It’s no cookie but it’ll do.

The tea turns out pretty good. The conversation, even better, except for that five minutes in the middle when we both go to dark places. I’d feed some insecurities, she’d feed some insecurities. They’d race around the room a while as we watch- helpless, astonished, afraid. We’d wonder in those moments if the world is worthwhile, if the fight is merited, if the struggle productive, if we are worthy participants at all in this whole “life” thing.

I’d offer more tea, more honey and butter on toast to make up for it. It’s no cookie but it’ll do.

The insecurities fade a little, stopping and swaying like sleepy toddlers resisting bedtime- wobbly, woozy, whining. They stop short around the kitchen island one last time, buckling at the knees not because we have convinced them that they are tired but because the sun has shifted, their circadian rhythm winding down, heartbeat slowing,

rising,

slowing,

and then an exhale,

and then closed eyes and then we carry them softly to the couch. They will awake. They always do. And we will walk alongside and we will nurture and we will hope they feel better, do better, mature into whatever healthy insecurities grow into later. Successful lawyers or professional football players, maybe.