You Don’t Know Until You Know

Last week I waxed philosophical about creating an attitude of abundance.  Abundance is what I was after, and abundance is what I got.  And then some.

After I posted last week’s blog, a tsunami of emotions came flooding in. I felt too full: of feelings, of information, and to-do lists.  I felt like Knuffle Bunny on the spin cycle.

knuffle bunny

Emma was getting pummeled by riding the same emotional wave.  When she came downstairs in the morning, I had to guess the Mystery Mood: excited, sad, annoyed, bitchy, sweet,  angry-cat-that-hisses….it was a real mixed bag.


Over the weekend, our friend Todd, (aka. Todd-the-Bod for his muscular physique) came for a visit.  Todd is one of our closest friends from Philly and he is about as lovable as they come.  Picture a giant teddy bear with enormous biceps and expensive hair product who laughs at all your jokes and calls you “sweetie” and basically makes you feel amazing and beautiful.  That’s Todd-the-Bod.

Oh, and he plays with your kids like the Super Nanny on meth.  He is every kid’s dream visitor.  Emma loves Todd-the-Bod.

I did not tell Emma that Todd was visiting because he recently separated from his wife.  Because, she’s 7……right?

Despite Todd’s piggy back rides and scavenger hunt, Emma, in her current state of Knuffle-Bunny-on-the-spin-cycle, was unhappy with the amount of “adult talk” going on in the kitchen that was taking up her quality time with Mr. Todd-the-Bod.

She protested by not going to bed.  Up, down, up, down, up down.  “MOOOOMM!”  Rub my back.  I need water.  My shirt is making me hot. My pajama tag is itchy.  I am ready just to strip her naked and call it a night when she says:   “Is there something going on you’re not telling me?”

My heart dropped.  “What do you mean?”

Her blue eyes met mine in such a penetrating stare I almost stopped breathing. “Where’s Mrs. Todd-the-Bod?”


“Well, you know how _____’s parents aren’t together anymore?”

“You mean….Mr. and Mrs. Todd-the-Bod are getting….a DIVORCE?”

“Yes.  But he’s doing ok.  He’s just a little sad. Being with Dad is helping him, I think.”

Then, the tears. She wailed, “Why didn’t you TELL ME!? Now I feel like such a JERK!”

“Huh? Why??”

“Because I would have been so much NICER to him! I wouldn’t have STALKED him to PLAY like a HONEYBADGER!”

“Oh Em,” I sighed.  Then a quote from Maya Angelou popped into my head:

Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.

“Hey, Em, you didn’t know.  But now you do know, ok?”

She sniffled.  “Ok.  Leave the light on – I might draw a picture for Mr. Todd the Bod, ok?”

Hours later I went up to check on her.  Emma was sprawled across the bed, lights still on, and there were drops of green liquid on the floor.  Is this paint?  What the hell?

Then I saw this on her desk:


If I thought I had an abundance of emotion before…holy shit.  Wow.  Empathy. Compassion.  She gets it.  They should put this in the baby book: First Tooth, First Step, First Undirected Act of Empathy.  I was a proud momma.

I snuck it down to show Todd and his eyes got misty: “How did she know?”

“Know what?”

“That Sunflowers is my favorite painting.  I stood in the Van Gogh museum for hours looking  at it.”

That gave me goosebumps.

Many St. Germaine cocktails later, the weekend came to a close, Todd-the-Bod returned to Philly, and my steady state of feeling overwhelmed returned.  As I drove to Phoebe’s parent-teacher conference, I jotted things down on the back of a Starbucks napkin at red lights: Call pediatrician/find new pediatrician.  Cancel paper. Call the vet to pick up Ellie’s ashes.  Then I started crying. I can’t believe Ellie is ashes.  Oh no, God, please don’t let me cry in a conference again. Help me not be a hot mess.  Everything is hitting me at once and I am starting to unravel.

The teachers were running behind, so I sat down at a kiddie desk.  Another mom -we did not know each other – was also waiting and we started to chat.  We did the basic mom intro: Who’s your kid, do you work, yada yada yada.  I mentioned that we were moving to PA in a few weeks.

“Oh wow!” she said.  “You have a lot going on.”

“Yeah….it’s good….but kind of overwhelming.  My mind just keeps running like a ticker tape, you know ticker-ticker-ticker all day long.”

Stop talking, Jessie. Find your filter. 

I reeled myself in and we kept chatting. We had some things in common: I freelance write, she is an editor.  She has worked for a non-profit, I once volunteered at a grief center.

She paused, then said: “What made you get involved in the grief world?”

“I don’t know, I was just drawn to it.”

“It’s just interesting you bring it up,” she said. “because I had a son that died of a brain tumor eight years ago.  He was 3.”

“Oh my God.  I am so sorry.”

And I’m telling this women how overwhelmed I am.  I’m such an asshole.  

“Thanks.  People ask me all the time how I got through, and I don’t know, I just did.  I mean, what choice to you have?”

I just nodded, tears for this nameless woman pooling behind my eyes.

“But you do the best you can, right?  Life is crazy.  And now we are in the process of adopting a baby boy, so it just gets crazier!”

And I’m the one who is overwhelmed.  I’m such an asshole. 

The door to the classroom opened.  It was time for her conference. We finally exchanged names, and clasped hands for a moment before she turned to go.

“Hey, best of luck with everything,” I said.  She winked and closed the door.

I sat there alone for a moment, stunned but her story and horrified by my own self-centeredness.  God, why am I such an asshole?

Then I thought about Emma’s sunflowers…about her lambasting herself and the advice I gave her, and now here I was, wedged into a child sized-chair doing the same exact thing. Anne Lamott wrote:

I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayers, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.  And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.

I believe that God had me cross paths with this woman, but not so I could scream “ASSHOLE!” while I jab my eyes out with a pencil.  I think His intention was to open my eyes a little wider, to see a littler farther, beyond myself and my own stresses.  I think He says what any loving parent would say: “Hey, relax.  You didn’t know.  Now you know.  And now you can do better.”

Some of my stresses are still real and significant.  But when I open my eyes a little wider, I see that they are not that significant. And some are not actually real at all.  And then I can breathe again.

Eyes wide open.

19 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Until You Know

  1. why is our default mode always self-recrimination??? This spoke volumes to me … the connection with the painting just game my goosebumps. Children are angels — God’s agents in the most adorable form. I have been struggling with a few issues –everything can be overcome, but I asked myself this morning ” why am I not more kind to myself” …
    Have a blessed day — thank you so much for sharing your journey and I will be awaiting all the new adventures coming with your move — and just life.

    • Thank you Melissa – and yes I am not sure why “self-compassion” is such a foreign concept to many of us. I am only now starting to realize that the harder I am on myself, the harder I am on everyone else;) When I really pay attention to my negative self talk, it’s pretty frightening!
      Thanks for reading and commenting – look forward to hearing your thoughts again soon:)

  2. So beautiful Jessie. Sometimes it’s hard not to make your own obstacles the center of the world,but recognizing that and slowing down,taking a breath and looking at the bigger picture takes a real and conscious effort. I try to take a little time every day to have a dialogue with myself about all the blessings in my life, and it seems to make the rest of the day go a little smoother. Good luck with your move!

    • Thank you Gianine! Yes, I agree that gratitude (and at the very least, attempts at gratitude) can diffuse those paralyzing-anxiety moments. Taking a deep breath is also great advice – I can’t tell you how many times i catch myself holding my breath these days:) Thanks for reading and commenting xoxox

  3. Oh Dear Lord!!! This has me crying and smiling at the same time!!! Thanks, for helping me know better so I can do better:) Molly

  4. Jessie
    Your concerns and emotions are as real as everyone else’s. Moves are life changing events as are loosing a child a spouse or a family member and that includes dogs. Emma’s picture was beautiful and reminded me of the flowers we had for Christin just what I needed( little did you know) on this particular day.
    I heard once there are 2 real emotions love and fear and I believe you are are feeling both of these love for your family but fear of the future. We don’t know what the future brings but I say go with the love ❤ that will never let you down.

    • Sue, I can’t tell you how much your comments mean to me. I am glad the sunflowers reminded you of Christin & brought you comfort:) It’s true that while our struggles are all different, we are all connected in our humanity. Thank you for your supportive words and for the reminder to choose love over fear. Wise words from a wise woman:) xoxo

  5. Jessie, I’ve decided that your daughter is magical. I’ve had a week to think about it, and it’s just that simple. We stood there for about 45 minutes in front of the Van Gogh picture in Amsterdam talking about it, what it means, and how much he likes it. Look it up and compare it to hers!! There is no other word that fits. Simply an amazing level of empathy and understanding… at 7!!! Magical!!

  6. Your writing is so real connecting all of us to the human condition. We breathe together and know that we are not alone. Thanks for uniting us and giving me a look forward to every time I see a new entry from you!

  7. Jessie, great blog entry! Erin and i are going through a very stressful time with my employer and at times i think i must have more stress in my life than the average human should be allowed to have…. I now feel like an asshole! And i should! I will count my blessings as i have many to count…. good luck with the logistics and have a great weekend!!!

    Look forward to seeing you and Phil sometime soon,


  8. I love your writing and how impassioned it is. And I love the quote from Maya Angelou, enough to post it on my desk. Good luck with the move!

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