Thursday, February 26, 2015


"A massive flight of sooty seagulls collided with shore side structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar during the night. Residents in the Santa Cruz area were awakened at 3 a.m. today by the rain of birds, slamming against their homes. Dead, and stunned seabirds littered the streets and roads in the foggy, early dawn. Startled by the invasion, residents rushed out on their lawns with flashlights, then rushed back inside, as the birds flew toward their lights."

The birds were a bad idea, I knew it, but vacation makes you desperate. I had three bored kids on my hands and I thought a trip to the pet store sounded like a cheap way to entertain my children for a few hours. But $65.00 and three happy boys later, we were driving home with a pair of blue bright-eyed cheeping finches who bobbed their heads like figures from It's a Small World. I said yes to the birds, going against the warning of my twitching left eye due to flying feathers and scattering bird debris. We brought them home. Two of them, because "Let's make them have babies, mama! We'll watch to make sure they do it!"

The kids had picked out the cage; a top of the line stainless steel penthouse beauty with a bonus loft, a state of the art water dispenser boss enough to have Tasmanian Rain running through it, and some wicked millet that would put the street price of Thai Stick to shame. Everyone on the ride home took a turn holding the birdcage with birds in it, on their lap. I took a pass when the silver palace was offered to me; I thought it best that I focus on not working myself up into a heart attack and passing out at the wheel because OMG birds in the car.

I just wanted to make the half mile back to our house before I found myself with a full blown case of Bird-Induced terror. Birds in nature are lovely; gaze-worthy, like beautiful flying bunches of flowers. But in close proximity, with their sudden movements, their head ducking, the pecking, all that fluttering and feather scattering, squawking and cheeping, they freak me the hell out.

No psychoanalysis is needed, no questions need to be asked – I'll give you the reason for the why right now: I never should have been allowed to watch birds peck out a man's eyes when I was a little girl. Yes, you read right. My family left me unsupervised to watch Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

The movie caused me lasting psychological damage, but the real nail in my mental coffin was when I read in college that Alfred Hitchcock had based his movie on a town's true nightmare. In 1961, the residents of a small California coastal town were attacked by hundreds of seagulls in the dark of the night. The birds slammed their bodies against their homes and when the people stepped outside to investigate the noise, the birds turned toward the flashlights. The people ran back inside, taking cover and awaiting daylight.   

And here I sit behind the steering wheel of a car that has birds in it. My children are giddy but I am mentally screaming out of my minivan window as we drive through these suburban streets, "20 bucks for a Xanax! I've overheard you women talk and I know you have it!” But I will do anything for my kids, so I pulled myself together and held it together enough to not drive off the road. We made it home and the garage never looked more beautiful. The six of us pulled in. We unloaded the cage, decided the backroom was the best place, and the kids spent the rest of the day jumping up and down and flapping their wings trying to communicate.

The birds chirped happily until the kids went out to play. Then it was me, left alone with their feathered friends. They had named them Cheepy and Peepy. Like junk yard dogs, these two sensed fear. Though they were both the aggressive type, the hands down more Doberman than bird one zeroed in on me and locked eyes. I could feel it in the back of my head. He was hatching a plan and it involved poking my eyes out. I don't like envisioning the future, but I did. Have any of you ever heard of intrusive thoughts? They're called intrusive because they're not welcome – but that never stops them from coming.

At the first bird cage cleaning, this finch was going for it – first my hands, then my eyes. I had no doubt. One of us had to go, there would be no co-existence here.

You're expecting to read right about now that I told the kids we had to return the birds, right? I didn't. The birds were going to do the work for me and I wasn't going to have to say a thing. Days passed, and the time came when we could no longer put off changing the paper at the bottom of the birdcage, so I put the cage, the birds, and the three boys in their small, small bathroom. I gave them instructions on scrubbing, soaping, paper changing, oh - and I told them, "But first! Let the birds fly loose and get some exercise in here! They'll like that!"

Then I left the bathroom, closing the door behind me, and waited on the other side. I heard the sound of metal knocking back and forth, then a heavy drop.

Three seconds. Three seconds is all it took before my children bolted out of the bathroom wild eyed with hands covering their heads. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! It was like they wanted our eyes, mama! They wanted our eyes! Take them back!”

Had Alfred had been there to see my children that day, he would have offered them starring roles in Birds II. And no need to audition.
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photo credit: The Birds via photopin (license)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When Your Head Is So Heavy You Become a Bobblehead

This is Day 3 of me carrying around a cantaloupe at the top of my spine. I'm busy figuring out how to bend over without actually bending over because my head is full of fluid that my body has made in response to invading germs. I am a heavy headed weak necked sinus infection afflicted being. Let's make that into a catchy singsong.[sorry, maximum dosages of sudafed affect us all differently]

You know that thing I love to do so much and am so good at? That sleep that I have never had trouble with and look forward to at the end of my day ever since I was born? Can't do it. Every time I even try to sneak in a bit of horizontal positioning, it feels like my face is being pulled and pinned down by Lilliputians.

I'm up. I'm up in the middle of the night and I've been up since Sunday. Save for dozing off into some mac and cheese about five hours ago. So, this inability to sleep isn't so much about insomnia, because lord lord lord I could fall asleep with my head on the way to the pillow but once my skull gets there - I can't. My head weighs too much, the sensation of fluid feels like floooooooiiiidddddddd. Fluid is liquid, it weighs. And now we're back to the weak necked bobbly headed dilemma again where I just sit, awake [because you know, I can't be horizontal] and contemplate. Does my head feel like it's cement? A water balloon? Maybe more like wet papier mache?

As with all things that happen to us, we learn to live a few days in the life of another. For years I have heard my friends lament while they wave their fists at the sky Why?! Why?! Why you do this to me, insomnia!! but I've never understood just how strange it is to be awake while others slumber.

Nights feel much longer than days.

In days, when you're awake, you've got company. You've got people to look at and be with and roam around with. They keep you feeling part of something, even if you don't talk to them. Also, there is daylight, which helps to pass the time, which makes you feel less like the episode on Twilight Zone called "Where is Everybody."

Night is lonely in its all-circling darkness, and darkness slows time down. I mean, if I didn't have to sleep to stay alive, I'd for sure save my cleaning and working for night because the hours in the PM last forever.

You know what kind of things you do when you're up at night? You just think, like how you have a new awe for Vanna White and how she can walk while spinning letters with all that top head heaviness with a head that makes up half her body. You look up words like *forever.* Your interest is piqued and then you want to know more than just language of origin and synonyms. Parts of speech are interesting, for about two seconds, but then you're ready for something substantial to fill the time between 3:04 AM and whenever someone in your house wakes up for you to talk to.

Forever. noun. Define forever.
Without ever ending. Eternally. To last forever. Incessant. An extremely long time.

It seems like a very long time that we have been waiting to go to sleep.

This night seems like it is going to be without end.

Perhaps this night may be eternal.

These hours feel as if they could last forever.

I have a newfound empathy for my insomniac friends who have traveled these nights of forever before.

When people can't sleep, they can't sleep. Let's believe them and have the appropriate sympathy. This means keeping comments about how they look like they haven't had a decent night's sleep in like... um, I don't know, FOREVER, to ourselves. (talking to you, Miss Chirpy Grocery Store Cashier)

"British comedian David Baddiel asks why, when people hear he’s an insomniac, they say, “Really? ‘Cos I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.” He adds, “When I see someone in a wheelchair, I don’t say, “Really? ‘Cos I can do this…” and he hops around the stage on one leg. …"  NYTimes, Tara Parker-Pope "The Wretched Life of The Insomniac"

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Friday, February 20, 2015


This is a post for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. On February 20th, 2015, over 1000 of us will raise our voices and our writing, and flood the internet (and our real worlds) with GOOD and COMPASSION.

It started with an understanding that even though we might get older, we still all need the metaphorical village around us, and the compassion of others in our lives. Then the sudden thought happened - what if 1000 of us wrote about compassion all at once? From there, the movement has taken on its own life; has burgeoned and grown and spread a whole lot of love and connection and 'villageyness'.

Read and share as many as you can using the hashtag #1000Speak on FB and on twitter.

Every voice matters - together we're stronger - let's BE the Village.


Sometimes I question if what I'm doing is the right thing. I watch my teen and young adult children in this world, and I see how hard it is for them to follow the standards that our family has set for them: for them to be kind, caring, compassionate. But, have I taught them at a cost? 

Since they were born, I have been whispering in their ears, "You were created, because our world demands your place in it." As they grew older, my whispers turned into words spoken out loud, “Be kind in this world. “

I want my children to believe that they are here because this world needs them. But I see how this ethic and this wish for the kind of humans I want my children to be, sets them apart from the way their peers work their way through the world. Have I made my children too compassionate? Are they paying the price for my conviction?

I see how they are out of step because of the voice of their conscience. The small voice I planted in their head so many years ago goes against the grain of everyone and everything else around them. I see them stumble, fall, repeat the words that their friends are saying and saying the things that they hear in school. Even though I want them to rise above all of this life in the digital age of their cyberworld, my heart clenches. Am I making them too different from the world that's around them, the one they long to be part of and accepted in.

I know the self control it takes to not lash out and tell me how I hold them back, how others say and do things and that's just the way it is. This is hard not just for them. When they're the ones who are the recipients of unkindness, ridicule, ostracizing, and belittling because they won't go with the flow of the culture, it's not just them that feels the stab of being out of step. When they are teased, and I receive their frustrated tangle of emotions, “See how you like it!” is shouted back to me. I tell them I am sorry. Sorry that this has happened to them, but not sorry for the message I will keep saying. Be kind.
I can't change the way the world is spinning for them and what is becoming standard for young people growing up today with everyone's lives available, there, for the crushing and the taking, online. It's fast, and words along with actions spread like fire. No longer do things get said one person at a time, as it was for me when I was their age. Now it's thousands at a time, with images as proof and their lives documented without their permission. Then it's multiplied by thousands more.

I can only tell my three boys that I understand, and that I wish it were different. That I wish there were no people to wound others with their words, no unfairness of gossip, no injustice of exclusion, no crimes done against each other.

The rule we live by will never change, I am holding fast to that. “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you." This is no easy task because it requires to think of the feelings of others and the power of your actions and words either for them, or against them. It means feeling the unfairness of those who are mighty and shouldn't be. How there can be coldness in the internet world they live in. It isn't fair, and I know it's damn hard to not do back when something has been done to you.

My children may think that I don't care about what they tell me. That I'm deaf to what they say and that I'm more hung up on having them do as I say than understanding their lives. I do care. It hurts me when I see what is happening to them and their friends online. Children, so young, unable and not equipped to find the way out of the dizzying speed of bullying and hate on the internet. But we have to always lead with kindness, begin with kindness, and end with kindness. We can't change the ugliness that is rearing its head on the internet unless we become the movement of saying no more.

Since they were old enough to understand words, the three that we've taught them to memorize are, "kindness, kindness, kindness." We would repeat these words to them until they came automatically in their conversations. When my son was three years old we had gone to the park, he had brought his favorite truck along. There was another little boy there who suddenly decided that he wanted the yellow and blue truck for his own and picked it up, running away with it. I watched my small boy pull himself up on his small legs and run after him calling out, "kineness! kineness! kineness!"

My heart sank to see my son expecting that little boy to know exactly what those words meant.  

Am I doing the right thing, to teach my three boys to be kind, no matter what comes our way?

Sometimes I cry, I don't know if what I taught my children leans too far in the direction that will keep them different, separate, alone. They are my beautiful boys, and they matter to me more than anything I've ever felt. I have to believe, they have to believe with me, that kindness is the ONLY thing that matters in the life we've been given.

Kindness is the way we will live in our world. We will meet life head on, weathering the weight of disappointment, and bearing the cost of not fitting in because we will not forget how others feel. We will stand together, my children and I, and I will not doubt what we can do. We can change the world by being the change against the tide of indifference. We are here to embody concern, support, care, human being to human being. Because the world we live in, needs us in it. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why Go For The Risk?

Why do we try new things? What's the purpose in pushing beyond what we think we're able to, even risking the uncomfortable squirm of sticking your neck out?

Because there's a new frontier on the other side of the shaky knees and trembling hands. Taking a leap that leads to more of YOU.

When I discovered Listen To Your Mother Shows in 2010, it changed my life. I now am a story teller and have the incredible opportunity of giving that same not so gentle nudge to a life bigger than I imagined for myself than Ann Imig gave to me in the LTYM Madison show five years ago.

I am now the co-producer of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee, along with Jennifer Gaskell and Rochelle Fritsch. I am so lucky, to be able to offer the podium, the microphone, the lights, for others to take a breath and dive into their story.

Whether you land steady or panting and wobbly legged, a leap of faith is a jump into a new land.

I love talking about the possibility of in our lives, and I had the opportunity to do so this week. I hope listening here inspires you to get to know yourself beyond what you think you can do.

(Thank you, Ann Imig, for Listen To Your Mother)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Am Parent, Hear Me Erp

Many parents write about how children have changed our lives. The little beings that turn everything we once knew inside out in the best way possible. In the process, a new strength within us is revealed. One that was there all along, but that we never had to call upon before since we had thus far lived without ever having to use the word projectile as an adjective. 

I could write about the lovely things of parenthood, too. It's all true. My children have indeed brought a level of experience to my life that I never envisioned.

But not even when hell freezes over, would I imagine the life I have as a parent.

I have performed unimaginable acts that necessitate me uttering lice comb, suppository, nasal passage, and use my sleeve. My once crisp clean existence couldn't handle what I do now. If, when I was a beautiful single young working woman in my 20s, I had been made to sit and watch a reel of something akin to Clockwork Orange, and then be told, “Does this bother you? Give you a funny feeling at the back of your throat? Oh, well, guess what? It's going to be your life!” and then found out that the scenes I had just seen were only the highlights of that which was to be, I'd breathe into a paper bag, and squeak, “WOW. I must really love those kids.”

We do. And we do anything, for the sake of our kids.
The acts I'm talking about here are not the basic amateur boot camp of parenting stuff. Like vomit clean up off your hair from vomit that's not your own. Or a missile-guided urine facial from your one-week-old. I don't even mean the diaper blow outs that crawl up the back of your baby's Sunday best sending you into a Target parking spot slash emergency diaper change detour when you're already late for church. No, I mean the things that make you roll your neck and crack your knuckles before saying, “YEAH, I did it. What of it.”

You did not come here to read horrifyingly gross things, so the details don't matter and besides, you all have imaginations. But just let me say this. These acts... the kind that can only be done by you as parent because anyone else would be grossed out, or an EMT because they're required by law to tend to those in need, still scream my name in the night. My children are in high school and junior high, but I still cry out in my sleep, pee, poop, carpet cleaner, hazmat suit. And boogers. (so many boogers) (that they put everywhere)

If you don't know what I'm talking about, be patient. Your day of glory will come. It's not until you're elbow deep in parenting that you'll feel the power of the undiscovered beast in you. How else could we know that ferocity of let me at it even existed in us, if we weren't cornered with no other choice than to perform what we have to perform, because duty calls and our babies need us.

We are the proud.
The badass.
The parents.

Hear us gag, retch, dry heave, and roar.

And we do it all, without latex gloves.
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