Waiting


A lot of life is spent waiting. For news. The hard work to pay off. For the chips you didn’t eat to tip the scales in the opposite direction.

 

In its most positive form, the one we teach our kids during the inevitable sideline moments, waiting is a rite of passage wrapped decoratively in words like patience and faith.


In its less glamorous form, waiting looks like a whole lotta nothing, especially to those of us who find ourselves entering, quitting, then re-entering “the busy pageant” where worth is assigned by the lack of time and attention, we pay to ourselves and each other. In that competitive circuit, looking out the window, re-reading a favorite book, binge-watching horrible TV is efficiently labeled as unmotivated and lazy.

 

But what if the highly motivated, productive people and the slovenly, wandering daydreamers share more DNA than the piano teachers of our youth led us to believe? 

 

What if

 

The infuriating nature of waiting was THE common experience that united everyone—the extroverts and introverts, the agreeable and disagreeable, the neurotic and blasé, even (stay with me here) the democrats AND republicans!

 

What if people in fast forward alongside their idling counterparts, joined idiosyncrasies to create a new brand of waiting? This emerging practice could be known as Effective Waiting and defined as: the harmonious balance of pause and productivity. The practice would be integrated into K-12 curriculums. And humans would receive master’s degrees in waiting from lauded universities. Then, Effective Waiting would become THE top ten trait of highly successful AND completely average people!

 

Until slowly, over a lot of time spent waiting, Effective Waiting would become ineffective. And a new generation of waiters would necessarily emerge and once again unite over the mind-numbing, life-sucking, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me nature of…

 

“Thanks for waiting, your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available representative.”

 

Waiting. 

 

What if…

 

NOW WHAT? Wandering At The Edge (of 50)






The day my youngest son began kindergarten, I invited a group of friends—my coveted playgroup—over for coffee. I had the whole morning timed out perfectly.

 

Will would get on the bus, I’d hit brew on the coffee maker, lay out the beautiful new mugs purchased just for this occasion, add muffins, and voila! The makings of a milestone morning surrounded by the people who’d helped me through sleepless nights, potty training, and deciding that the scootch crawl was developmentally okay.

 

There was only one problem. After Will got on the bus, I promptly went to our bedroom, with my husband following closely behind, and fell apart. I still recall the look on his face—the visible confusion about what I was attempting to process. 

 

“Now what?” I asked.

 

“I thought you were having the girls over for coffee?” he said.

 

Omg. Did he really think I literally meant “now what?” as in like this exact moment? How could he not feel the enormity? We were at the precipice of all that had come before and all that would come next. Both of our sons were out in the world, spending as much of their waking day with other people as they did with us—with me. 

 

And to be clear I was the one emotionally dangling, not Will. He’d gotten on the bus willingly, with his too-big backpack of favorite books and snacks. And he’d be home in three short hours. Kindergarten was still a half-day proposition back then. 

 

I tried again, to have my angst validated as my first guests arrived. “I can’t believe he’s in kindergarten. Now what?”

 

A parent who’d already been through the paces said simply, “That takes a while. Today just drink coffee.”

 

Just drink coffee? Interesting perspective—and not that different than Rob’s, just a little less annoying because it was coming from a girlfriend.

 

The larger point which well over a decade later, I now understand, is that any one day, is just a day. Being the mom of a kindergartner is not that different than being the mom of a kindergartener minus one day. But it is very different than being the mom of a newborn. 

 

On day one when I gazed at my startled, hairy, handsome son—kindergarten might as well have been the moon.

 

And on that same day, at thirty-two, the thought of turning fifty was…well…definitely not a thought. I had more important things to do than age. But it happened anyway. 

 

Are you metaphorically with me here?

 

If my own personal movie trailer could have prepped me, on that day, for the next eighteen years, I’d have thought…that’s a lot and pretty great. I also would have been prematurely exhausted and confused. 

 


Life generally makes more sense in rewind. 

 

I know how lucky I am. To be here, getting older, contemplating twilights. I now appreciate that what comes next won’t magically sort itself out on a random day commemorating the number of times I’ve rotated around the sun.  

 

And I also now fully embrace that it’s human nature—or at least my nature—to want milestone days to feel monumental. Which is why I’ve stocked up on coffee. And wine. 

 

For Now





Last summer was a blur…a weepy, sticky haze of emotion. With my oldest just graduating from high school, a global pandemic finally in the rearview (psych!), and my impending reality as a half-empty nester— pride, relief, and fear overlapped like a rubber band ball ready to snap.

 

Except in the garden. 

 

Last season was the first year, I cut the fluff. All that remained were the essentials. 

 

Flowers—for cutting in heaping arrangements.

Tomatoes—for many batches of my ceremonial sauce.

Herbs—because they make everything better.

 

Out with the squash.

Only dabbled in peppers.

And the addition of a wildflower border in the back!

 

It was pure joy even if, as usual, by early August the entire garden blended with the wildflowers. Weeds have their own degree of beauty; I now comfortably rationalize.

 

Then—with the swiftness of a first winter storm, late August moved in. Dorm prep was in full motion and there was finally freedom to fly away on vacation with the fam before we were down a member. Serendipity left me ill-prepared for what came next. 


Covid quarantine. We were among the first Delta variant alumni to utter, “Us? No. We’re vaccinated.” Such idyllic times.

 

Through those strange, strange days of disbelief and dread, it was the zinnias and tomatoes that kept me sane.

 

A friend with proximity to medical advice, fielded truly delirious questions like: “If I make sauce, and freeze it, is there any chance that when we defrost it months later that we’ll get Covid?” And “Is there any chance of me giving Covid to my neighbors while outside picking flowers?”

 

I am indebted to her decisive and empathetic emojis. 

 

As abundant offers emerged for staples like soup, beverages, reading material, supplements, and the coveted oximeter (much more effective than panic in reading oxygen levels btw), I’d text: pick some zinnias and tomatoes! Scissors on the garbage can! 

Last Summer's Haul

Then, I’d add a paranoid quip like: “Don’t worry, I wore gloves when I took them out there!”

 

I find humor to be a highly effective delusion-masking tool.

 

It was an unusual period. Add in that we sent the boys away to their grandparents' cottage because as the kind CDC woman put it, “If they haven’t gotten it by now, they’re safer out of the house.”  Just what every parent mourning her child about to leave for college wants to hear.


Still…as bursts of energy emerged…

 

I made batches and batches of sauce.

Flooded the house with flowers.

Fielded fun pictures from friends enjoying their zinnias and tomatoes.

 

What a colorful, juicy contradiction last summer was. Happy running alongside fear, with gratitude the ever-present assist. 

 

This year, summer’s middle is fast approaching, and I don’t yet have a descriptive. It’s too early to label this full, yet quiet, (where am I?) time. 

 

Except in the garden. In there, the flowers, tomatoes, and herbs are popping alongside the mostly manageable weeds. Harbingers of a beautiful August. 

 

Thankfully, it’s always summer—in the garden. And that’s enough, for now. 




This Summer, So Far...



Either Way





Having a Daisy means twice daily walks. 

 

Fortunately, I love being outside and I adore my dog but not all days are created equal. Some are jam-packed with obligation, others bursting with snow, still others are teeming with lazy. Doesn’t matter, Daisy needs to walk.

 

We have our familiar routes. The short, the medium, and the long with the “wooded” jaunt mixed in. You would think being the human in this equation that I would control which path we take. That would be too simplistic a conclusion.

 

Daisy has a decidedly determined nature. She is not easily taken off-task.

 

When we get to the milestones, the obvious decision points where Daisy knows left means long and right means short, if she doesn’t agree with my decision, she plants her behind on the sidewalk and motions with her neck to say, “This way.” 

 

She’s so darned cute and stubborn. 

 

Most days she nudges me toward the larger loop—which means more exercise and fresh air for both of us. Occasionally, I pull rank with a “Nope, not today” when work or dinner or new episodes of Ozark are calling.

 

Whichever route we take, I never return home thinking, “Wish that walk was shorter!” It’s always the other way around. 

 

As motivating as Daisy is to get me outside and moving, she is the opposite when it come to my writing. In that process, she is my…detractor, preventor, saboteur.

 

The warm snuggler that begs me to hit the snooze button again. The tap, tapper, wanting me to play or go for a walk. It takes willpower to say no to that face. 


But I mostly do because Daisy isn’t the only one with stubborn as a character trait.

 

Words and I have a mutually beneficial relationship. After tossing them around for any length of time, I’m happier, more content, energized. And the world makes loads more sense to me.

 

That said, I am, as the writing community calls us, a “pantser” which means that while I have a general idea of where the story is going, the characters give me the details. I fly by the seat of their pants as I write.

 

Unlike the tried-and-true routes that Daisy and I have carved out for our daily walks, storytelling necessitates taking unknown paths—ones filled with heartbreak and possibility. Not knowing what will happen next is exhilarating.

 

Until it’s time for editing. That’s when we—the characters and me—must sort out if we like where they landed or if there is a more genuine destination. 

 

Editing usually feels like walking in circles looking for potholes that go deeper, then clawing my way out alongside my characters, the whole time wondering…do we always have to go the long way? It’s a fraught process.

 

And just as I am about to throw my hands up and stare off into space wondering, “Why?”

 

Daisy comes tap, tapping and it’s my moment to decide. 

 

Keep going in here or out there?

 

Luckily, either way I win. 

 




Life Prompts






It takes a lot of mental, physical, and emotional energy to write—anything. A sentence, a book, a poem, a letter. 

 

We writers mostly write alone. But we can’t do it alone. We need the world around us, to present itself. Then it’s up to us to…

 

Dare

Sit

Think

Hope

Dream

 

Write.

 

I used to believe the best place to start was with the dripping moments—the giving birth highs and saying goodbye lows. It’s not. Those memories meld to the DNA, forever changing our make-up. Finding words worthy of those soul-poppers takes a lot of practice.

 

While I practiced, I led a writing workshop in the town where I live for many years. The class was for anyone and everyone who wanted to…Just Write.

 

What I learned? Writing is about seeing and being seen.

 

Most folks showed up with more than a little hesitation about being seen. Drawing attention to an everyday act or emotion was often viewed as boastful, akin to dipping your toe into a self-grandiosity pond where you might quickly drown or start believing that you were special. Or worse, find out that you weren’t. 

 

I could immediately relate because my generation was taught that there was a pecking order to who was seen. That you earned the right, through credentials or pedigree to be a this or a that. Being seen was an honor reserved for worthy types or outliers who’d achieved.

 

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others then assign worth based on a set of data points we value. Problem is, when we sort ourselves and others this way, we negate what makes for good writing…the unexpected, the raw, the scraps that haven’t seen light yet.

 

For the first class, I started by talking about my background—a credo to my worthiness—proof that I should be standing in the front of the classroom. It was tedious and made me feel like a poser, so I stopped. By the second session, I formed a circle with the classroom chairs so there was no front of class and began with what I actually believed:

 

“What makes us all writers is that we write. For the next several weeks, commit to stringing words together to understand yourself and the world around you a little better. That’s it. The words don’t need to be grammatically perfect or profound, they just need to be written, by you.”

 

I usually started with a prompt that had been given to me, at a writing workshop, I’d attended. “Write about your dinner table growing up.”

 

Then, off we’d go, in search of truth or fiction or both.

 

Maid on Netflix, book by Stephanie Land

All of this came rushing back recently while watching the immensely moving Netflix series Maid, based on the book by Stephanie Land. After journeying with this character through an emotional story about abuse, massive disappointment and personal growth, there was a very simple scene toward the end where she shares her love of writing with a group of women.

 

The character, Alex, begins by saying, “No one can take writing away from you. Or tell you that your words are wrong. Because they’re not. Your words are f*in right cause they’re yours.” She then invites the woman to write with her. “I brought some writing prompts that I got from a real professor off the internet that is actually qualified to teach things.” 


It was a sideswipe of a plot point, but wow did it resonate with me. Alex struggling to embrace her value while encouraging other women with shared experiences permission to do the same. 

 

It’s a simple but powerful truth. We all crave permission.

 

Sometimes we give the permission to ourselves and sometimes we share it with others. Sometimes we do both at the same time. 

 

And hopefully over time we see that life prompts are everywhere, willing us to…

 

Take the blurry picture 

Dance the imperfect dance

Sing the song off-key

Kick the ball before we know how

 

Wrestle with words—until they’re unapologetically ours.

What I Was Thinking



“How did I do?” he asks, moments after the graduation ceremony ends. “I could see you clearly when I was up there, and you had this look on your face, but I couldn’t tell what you were thinking.”
 
Oh, um…
 
My kid is up there giving the senior speech and he looks more man than boy. When did that happen?  
 
The guy at the podium was born like fourteen seconds ago, in one of the snowiest winters on record, to two scared parents who’d just moved away from family to an entirely new town and state. Everything was strange but promising and…
 
Then there was you. Smiley and hungry. Colicky too, every night from 6-9 pm. Which is when your dad would walk you in circles reciting the silliest song that you surely don’t remember:
 
My name is John Robert and I’m in the house
I’m here to tell you I’m not a little mouse
I’m almost as big as that (syncopated pause) oak tree
So…you better start respecting me!
Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
 
After the baby, came the little man. The one who proudly pronounced, “Use your imagination!” as the answer to most questions. The one who built towering sculptures out of his toys instead of playing with them. 

 

That little man grew into a cautious but persistent tween who preferred an Irish cap to a baseball hat and was prone to telling wildly entertaining stories that we knew to be hyperbole, but we played along anyway. Cause those stories also came with seeds of wit and grace.

The same qualities that are now on full display as the guy at the podium commemorates a rite of passage while his classmates laugh and cheer.

 

“I was overwhelmed with pride. That was a big deal and you knocked it out of the park. A smile was too simple a reaction for my face,” I tell him. He laughs. 

 

It’s impossible for him to comprehend the mere surface of my love. How could he? 

 

I want to freeze time. This moment we’re in—and live it over and over and over again. While he is still mostly mine and not the world’s quite yet.

 

That’s what I was thinking.



I couldn't freeze time...
Move-in Day at Columbia University!



The Middle (In The Garden)




It’s a mystical, murky mess in the middle.

July into August, in the garden, is where hard work collides with luck, producing a snapshot of reality. Where the distance between “Is this really worth it?” and “Those are amazing!” is a short, predictable stroll. 

Quick crop update: the peppers are once again underperforming. The cauliflower started out with promise but now is a bug infested mess. The basil has taken over. There is so much that I’ve incorporated it into most meals. (Turns out basil is DELICIOUS in scrambled eggs.)

The over-achieving crop of the season? By far, the flowers. 

Last year toward the end of summer, I lamented to a friend that the herbs and tomatoes were the season’s lone stars. She suggested I do a combo next year. A mixture of flowers and vegetables. The idea intrigued me. 

I am a flower enthusiast. But the planning of flower beds—the quest for the optimal balance of annual and perennial pop—just doesn’t tug at me. Cut flowers, however, are always on my grocery list. 

Mid-winter a book arrived in my mailbox titled In Bloom by Clare Nolan. I scanned each picture and read some of the content, but I am not a research driven DYI’er. I’m more of a throw some seeds in the dirt and hope for the best kind of gal. Which is exactly what I did in late May.

It was impossible in the early days to discern the fledgling buds from the weeds. I did my best, then made a chicken wire fence around their perimeter and let them be. Now the wild back garden border complete with cosmos and sunflowers is a wonder to behold and best of all: carefree. 

 

I also planted zinnia plants (not quite the same gamble as seeds). Just a few on the edge of the garden bordering my neighbor, near the peppers. I thought maybe the zinnias would give the slackers a pep talk. No such luck, the peppers are barely peppering. But the zinnias are visual rocket ships to joyland. Endless fireworks all day. 

 

Other than the flowers, only a few cucumbers and wax beans have been harvested. Unless you count the dill, parsley, and basil that could fuel a small country. 

 

There is a section in In Bloom titled “Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor.” That’s the stage that comes next. 

 

But for now, we are solidly in the middle. Where misshapen rows of green tomatoes meet jumbo dill and thriving weeds in a glorious, tangled display. All under the watchful eye of the shooting-star zinnias and cosmos. 

 

Further proof that Mother Nature doesn’t subscribe to human intention. She’s too busy surpassing our wildest expectations.