My Kid and Softball: A Conscious Uncoupling


Phil grew up in a world that centered around sports: Friday night football games and summers spent at the Little League field define much of his childhood.

When he said he wanted to sign Emma up for softball, I said, “Sure.  What did Emma say?”

“She’s got a great arm, she just needs to get there, you know, hear the chatter on the bench, feel those butterflies when she steps up to the plate, get into the zone, just her and the ball….”

Was this a monologue from Field of Dreams? “Uhh…Phil?”

He blinked, his reverie shattered. “What?”

“So she wants to do it?”

“Yeah, she’ll be happy when she gets there.”

Hmmm.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but….ok.  I’ll butt out of this one.

But it wasn’t long before I felt the need to butt back in.  When Emma was supposed to be finding her uniform for practice, she was reading a book.  She dragged her heels to the car while Phil bribed her with post-practice ice cream.  I held my breath as they pulled back in the driveway hours later, ice cream in hand but her face tense and blotchy from tears.

“What happened this time?” I said to Phil as Emma escaped to her room.

“She doesn’t like the pitching machine.  It makes her anxious.  She just needs to hang in there and get used to it.”

“Why?  Why does she need to get used to it? We just moved.  Does she really need one more thing to ‘get used to?’ Why don’t we try again next year?”

“Next year! Next year is too late!  The kids are gaining necessary skills and she is missing out! She’ll be behind!”

Behind what?  “Look, I’m just saying that maybe we took on too much too soon, that’s all.”

“So you mean QUIT!??  BRAUNS DON’T QUIT!”

Ahh, and there it was.  Phil’s tragic flaw: Tenacity.  It’s what I love most about him (because it keeps him married to me) but also the very thing that makes me want to bound, gag, and heavily sedate him.

Phil is part Tony Robbins, part honey badger. He has a mental catalogue of motivational sayings that often sneak into conversations:

  • “Always have your game face on.”
  • “What I lack in skill, I make up for in hustle.”
  • “Never leave your game on the field.”
  • “Turn a set back into a comeback.”
  • “Stick and Move”
  • “Brauns don’t say Can’t.”
  • “Brauns don’t say Quit.”

Well, I’m a Braun now, and I  say, “F**** this crazy softball sh*t.”

I get where Phil is coming from.  No parent wants to raise a quitter.  I think all the talk about Generation X or Y and the culture of “everyone gets a trophy” entitlement has made us hyper vigilant about cultivating integrity and a strong ethic in our kids.  I believe in hard work and commitment and discipline.  I think there is a place in life for blood, sweat and tears.  I see the value in extreme challenges that test our metal, bring us to our hairy edge, and unlock an inner strength we didn’t know we had.

But there is a ‘right time’ for those limit-pushing experiences.  And for my little 7 year old perfectionist who has moved three times in two years….that time is not now.

Through yoga, I have learned that, sometimes, the greatest strength is knowing when to pull back instead of push through – learning to identify the right kind of hard.  And sometimes the hardest thing as a parent is letting go of what we want for our kid and accepting what it is she actually needs.

In this article, David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, helped put this topic in perspective for me.  He says:

1. In the end it’s impossible to force them to participate. This will only develop anxiety that will make them reluctant to try new activities.

When I flashback to the extracurricular activities my parents “made me do for my own good,” I cringe.  These “character building” activities felt more like public humiliation to me.  In 9th grade my mother bribed encouraged me to join the chorus of the play “No No Nanette,” despite my complete lack of talent or experience in music theatre.  Her argument was:  “It will be nice to be part of a group – all that camaraderie!”

“But I don’t know how to tap dance.”

“Oh just fake it. You’ll blend in.”

Oh, I blended in alright – with the props and scenery changes back stage, which is basically where I ended up.  While my smiling comrades shuffle-ball-changed like Ginger Rogers, I just kind of…shuffled.  Every few minutes the director would shout into his megaphone: “EXCUSE ME!  WILL THE BLOND IN THE TENNIS SWEATER PLEASE MOVE BACK ANOTHER ROW?!”

Eventually, you run out of rows. And why was I wearing a tennis sweater to play practice? A clear indication I was in the wrong place.


2. Involve children in picking new activities rather than deciding for yourself.

I am not anti-activity.  Activities give some structure to the day, cultivate new experiences, and get the kids off the damn IPad.  I just think it needs to be the right activity – one that recharges rather than depletes. I asked Emma if she would prefer an art class to softball.   She said: “Yeah, that’s totally more my speed right now.”

3. Consider reluctance to be fatigue or need for more downtime.

Sometimes I forget that kids are…well, kids.  That they don’t have the words to articulate what they really want to say: “Hey!  I need a break!  I’m maxed out, here!”   I realize now that the sulking and temper tantrums and consistent “losing” of the softball uniform was her way of “saying” the same thing. Duh.

Yesterday, Emma said:



“Thanks for letting me quit softball.  I feel, like, super relieved.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“Dad says Brauns don’t quit.”

“We made a decision. We consciously quit.”

“You’re so weird Mom. I’m going out to play.”














The Magic Bridge

The house we moved into two weeks ago borders Haverford College, on the “Main Line” of Philadelphia.  On the other side of the campus,  about 300 yards from our new home, stands our first apartment.  Phil and I could walk there easily by crossing the small footbridge that connects our neighborhood to the campus.

We used to call it The Magic Bridge.


When we lived in the apartment over a decade ago, our favorite summer evening activity was to walk to Marita’s Cantina for chicken tacos and Tecates.  On the walk home, we had a Magic Bridge ritual.  Standing in the middle of the bridge with our eyes closed, we breathed in the heavy summer air, thick with the heady scent of wisteria.  The hum of the cicadas got louder with every passing second until it became a thunderous symphony pulsating in our ears.  Phil always knew the right moment to say what I knew was coming:

“Close your eyes and make a wish.  This is the magic transformer bridge, and wherever you want to go, it will take you there.  Whatever you want to be, you can become it.”

Disclaimer: When I say “we drank Tecates,” I mean like five six Tecates.  Each.

This is a bittersweet memory for me, because there was a desperation to this tradition. Two very scared people clinging to each other, wanting so desperately to believe that their love is bigger than their problems.  And there were problems.  Oh boy, were there problems.  But the moments on the Magic Bridge made us believe in transcendence. Standing on the bridge, suspended in time and space, I believed in the possibility of another way.  That there was hope for me/us yet.

After living in Boston, you would think that moving back to Philly would be easy. Like slipping on a glove.  Simple.  And in many ways, it is.  Family and old friends are close by. We can walk to WaWa. We drive around with the kids and point out our old college hangouts:

“OMG, that used to be Manhattan Bagel!  My roommates and I went there every Saturday morning but used to split the cream cheese because they charged like $1.50 for-

All Phoebe hears is bagel: “I’m hungry.  Do you have snacks?”

They have no idea what I am talking about, nor do they care.  To my daughters, I am not the hungover college kid with exactly $1.26 in her pocket after a night out at the bar.  I am the lady with the snacks.  Memories of my life before them have no context.  In their eyes, my life began at age 28, when I had Emma.

And in some ways, I wish it had.  Having kids anchored me.  The name Emma means healer, and she is just that. She healed me of my selfishness, my crippling neuroses, the helplessness borne out of my paralyzing fear of….everything.  And then came Phoebe.  Her name means light, and that is exactly what she brought into my life. She has taught me how to be present and joyful.  How to be free….free of the past.

Or so I thought.

Memories can be sneaky.  Familiar smells – hot dogs on a grill, burning leaves, Blistex Medicated lip balm – can bring me right back to a different time and place, as if it happened only yesterday.

For Phil, this is typically a good thing, as he relives his glory days as the Party Mayor of the Main Line, and his brief stint as a cable TV star on TLC’s The Dating Story.  Rumor is that he still has a fan base in Canada: “Aren’t you that guy from The Dating Story?? The Camden Riversharks guy?  Dude, that foam finger was HILARIOUS!”

Had my life on the Main Line been featured on cable television, it would be a Lifetime Movie:  psychiatric hospitalizations, eating disorders, social anxiety, etc.  Oh, and there was the removal of my entire colon due to a rare genetic defect found exclusively (before me) in Japanese cadavers.   My fan base includes the med students at Hahnemann University Hospital – although they may not recognize me with pants on.

Writer Madeline L’Engle said, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”  Exactly.  Because believe me, I’ve tried to lose a bunch of them.  To be reminded of a time when I was so weak emotionally fragile was too painful. Too scary.  

In her memoir Magical Journey, Katrina Kenison writes:

For me, the big surprise of growing older is this: Fear never actually goes away.  But I’ve had a lot of practice by now in confronting it.

Maybe my reason for coming back here was not to re-open those wounds, but to finally heal them once and for all.

I went for a run yesterday past the old apartment.  I stopped for a minute and let myself go back to that place when life felt too overwhelming; when I felt so undeserving of everything I had.  I stood with my feet firmly planted and just let those memories wash over me.  Then, when it felt right, I ran home.  And I felt lighter.

A bridge cannot stand without two ends.

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I still believe in the Magic Bridge.  But, like The Giving Tree, I think the Magic Bridge meets us where we are.  The type of magic it gives changes as we change.  Now, the magic I need is not to be transported to another place, but to really be exactly where I am. To be present to my life.  And celebrate it.  Because it’s good.  Really good.

As I cross the bridge now, I try to be grateful for the life I had, and for the lessons that led me to back to this place, as a truer, less encumbered version of myself.

Then I run to meet the life that waits for me on the other side.



My Dog Is Dead and We’re Moving: How to Choose an Attitude of Abundance

“My dog is dead and we’re moving.”

This was how Emma greeted her bus stop pals on the first day back to school in 2014.  Happy New Year!

But that’s my firstborn.  In all of her 7.5 years, she has never been one to sugar coat things, and she tells the truth.  The whole truth and nothing but, whether you’ve had your coffee yet or not.  So put on your helmet.

Our dog is dead, as you already know, and yes – we are moving.  AGAIN.  When I told my friend Kathy she said, “You move more than an army wife.”  Yes, except we are not nobly sacrificing ourselves for the good of this country, nor is Phil out in the trenches fighting for freedom and justice for all.   He is fighting to make “validation sexy.”

But hey, if he didn’t, who would?

Alas, it is a position within his current company that sends us back to our beloved Philadelphia – 18 months, 2 rentals, and 1 house purchase later.

This was a bit shocking at first.  We have only been in this house for six months.


I’m still unpacking from the last move.  It was only a month ago that I got one of those silverware drawer organizers at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Opening that drawer gave me such pride in my attempt at organization.  But now, as I reach for a fork – destined to be thrown back in a moving box – I think, I can’t believe I actually used a tape measure for this shit.

I am not going to lie, I spent a day or three in my snowman pajamas.  I wondered if Phil had unconsciously manifested this re-re-location by never changing our license plates.


I just felt so…..torn.  Sure, there are many benefits to moving back to Philadelphia:  family, old friends, the Phillies, WaWa….

God I do miss WaWa.

But, even a 24 hour store that has everything from Midol to mac-n-cheese cannot compare to this:


Yet compare is what I continued to do.

In high school, I had a friend who was trying to decide between two colleges: Tulane and JMU.  They were both great schools and she was having a hard time choosing, so she made a comparison chart.  I only remember the first bullet point:

Tulane: Smelly

JMU: Not Smelly

She went to JMU.

I began to notice that both Phil and I were taking the Smelly-Not Smelly approach in order to feel better about our decision.  For example:

Boston: Crazy Cold

Philly:  Normal Cold

Boston: Lobster Rolls (no thanks)

Philly: Soft Pretzels (yes please)

One night over a bottle glass of wine, a rapid-fire compare and contrast ensued: Boston doesn’t have a Liberty Bell!  The ocean is too cold in the winter!  It’s a 30 minute drive to Target! I hate clam chowder!

Our Bash Boston list became increasingly more shallow and sophomoric, yet the negative energy and booze continued to fuel our bad behavior.  We finally hit bottom when Phil said, “The women at Lululemon in Philly are hotter than the women at Lululemon in Boston.”

Oh, Phil.  That’s just weird. Way to ruin the game.

With the Bashing Phase over, I moved into the Avoidance Stage.  I stopped going for runs along the rocky cliffs.  I drove circuitously in order to avoid the scenic route through the harbor, where, on a clear day, the sun reflects off the water and the lighthouse stands proud in the distance.

The Avoidance Stage came to a reluctant end when I ran out of episodes of The Real Housewives of Anywhere.  I had no where left to hide.  Now I had to actually let myself think and feel again (dammit!) and ask myself, Ok, what is going on, here?

I was scared.  Scared of feeling sad. Scared of missing this truly magical place and the people in it.  Scared of never being as happy as we have been here.


Then I read this line in a daily reflection book by Julia Cameron:

Life is what you make it.

Our life here in Scituate has been awesome and abundant because we decided it was going to be awesome and abundant. When Phil’s work brought us to New England, we literally picked a town off the map of MA and said, “This feels right -let’s try here.”  This was huge for us, having always lived near family and in familiar places.  Sure, there was some lonely moments, but we dedicated ourselves to believing our own bullshit: “This is going to be GREAT.  This is going to be the best thing we’ve done YET.  We are going to meet some amazing people.”

And you know what? It was.  And we did.

But this move back home to Pennsylvania holds the same possibility of abundance and awesomeness – if we choose to invite it in.

Emma said at bedtime, “What if I don’t make any friends?”

“That’s impossible,” I said.

“How is it impossible?”

“Everywhere you have ever gone, you have made friends.  You made friends in the sandbox, at the playground, on the beach, in school.  You make friends because you love people.  So all evidence supports you making friends again in Pennsylvania.”

She seemed to accept this as plausible.  I think because I used the word evidence.

Acknowledging the good you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.   -Eckhart Tolle

Life is so good right now.  And there was a time where I might have said, “Well, this is as good as it’s gonna get. I’ve filled my happiness quota. It’s all downhill from here.”

But this line of thinking made me a miserable f***k.

So I’m adopting an attitude of abundance. Instead of assuming every blessing will be my last, I will assume there are an infinite amount still waiting for me…for us.

I am still sad to leave.









But I am even happier to have been here.

What We Can Learn From Newlyweds

Last weekend my niece Nora got married.


When I first thought about writing about her wedding, my working title was something like “Advice to Nora on Her Wedding Day.”

But then I looked at her face in this photo, and decided: Yeah, looks like she’s doing ok.  Pretty sure she doesn’t need any advice from me.  


In fact….I have a sneaking suspicion it might be the other way around.

Any marital advice I would give – while perhaps true and hard-earned – would be a real buzz kill.  I remember when my dad used to wax philosophical on marriage to my sister and I at the dinner table.

“Girls,” he would begin, in-between bites of Shake n’ Bake chicken, “the key to a lasting marriage is COMMITMENT.  CO-MMIT-MENT.”  Because sounding out words to teenagers really brings your point home.

Phil and I are married 10 years this July.


We are definitely committed.  In fact, at one point I actually was committed.  (Well, not exactly committed – it was self elected – but still.  It was a facility.)

Phil and I work hard at our marriage, because we like to work, and we like things to be hard.  I blame our collective German, Irish, and Catholic lineage for the fact that we feel the need to suffer for happiness.  If we are not digging deep into our “shame barriers” or “upper limit problems,” we are clearly being complacent, and need to spice things up by throwing in some conflict.  Gotta keep all the tools in our therapeutic tool box nice and sharp.

And, in fairness to us, I believe there is value in this level of dedication. We have seen a marriage counselor – we will call him George – on and off for years.  Frankly I am in awe of how couples make it without a George.  He has given us a whole new language with which to communicate.  With frightening regularity, we say things like: “Is this really about me, or is this actually about a primal unmet intimacy need?”

Because healing your childhood wounds is hot.  Hot like a hemorrhoid.

At the wedding cocktail hour, I gave Nora and big hug, and said, “Wow. You look beautiful….and really happy.”

“Oh my gosh,” she said, her face flushed with excitement. “I AM SO happy.  Dan is such a great guy.  I just feel so lucky.”

As she moved through the crowd to greet her guests,  I thought about the perfect simplicity of Nora’s words.

In her book Marriage Rules, Harriet Lerner describes young love as the Velcro Stage:

In the Velcro Stage, we automatically focus on the positive.  We know how to make our partner feel loved and valued and chosen.  We may find our differences interesting and exciting, and overlook the negative.

Life is hard.  There will always be reasons to have conflict, whether it be illness, death, financial ruin, or a spray of pee on the flipped-up toilet seat.  There will always be something wrong with our spouse (and us), because we are not perfect people.  If it’s the flaws we are looking for, it’s the flaws we will find. 

But Nora reminded me that if I look for reasons to feel lucky, I will find those, too.

So in the spirit of feeling lucky in love in 2014, Phil and I each composed a list entitled “Top 10 Things I Love About You.”


Reading the list made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and Phil of course sobbed like a schoolboy (see #2).  I highly recommend writing a list for your spouse/significant other.  Don’t even tell him/her that you’re doing it.  Just write it in an email, on a post-it note, on your hand, wherever. Just get started. It will put some pep in your step, and in your partner’s as well.

Life is difficult enough without looking for more reasons to be pissed off.  Instead of trying to fix what is wrong (which makes you feel heavy) young love reminds us to see what is right (which makes you feel light).

In 2014, choose to feel light.



I feel like I am torturing you guys with my tear-jerker dog stories.  But, every story has an ending.  I feel I owe it to you – and Ellie – to share the end of her story.

After a few days of watching Ellie decline, Phil and I decided it was time to end our dog’s life.  We called the vet and made “the appointment” for the Friday after Christmas.  Phil and I took turns being the one that freaks out and the one who says, “We just need to have faith that we are doing the right thing.”

But what does even mean?

Anne Lamott says that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.  I find this comforting, because the older I get, the less certain I am about anything.

On that Friday morning, I stood in the shower until the water ran cold.  I prayed, Please tell me this is the right thing.  Please tell me this is the right thing. This is the right thing….right? Can you send me a sign?

I have a deep but amnestic faith in God.  My signature prayer, the one I say every morning, is one of the ADD variety:  Good morning G-Money.  Please help me find you today, and then please remind me to look, or that I even asked you in the first place.  Amen. 

We declared Friday a “lump day,” a day spent lying on the couch like a lump.  Ellie, who in 9 years was never allowed on the furniture, got the best spot.


Phil and I picked Ellie out together, and we needed to say goodbye to her together.  Me, Phil, and our friend Jameson.


The walk into the animal hospital was surreal, Ellie still half-heartedly sniffing the grass as she stopped for a final pit stop.  Despite the vet’s reassurances, my silent prayer for help played on a continuous loop in my mind: Please tell me this is the right thing.  Give me a sign that we are doing the right thing.  

And then something weird happened.

Ellie was really Phil’s dog.  He is the master, the alpha-male.  As females, there was always a low level of competition between Ellie and I….a desire for Phil’s attention, I guess. When Phil would travel for work, Ellie would get pissed, and let me know by eating garbage, specifically tampons.  There has to be some symbolism to the tampons, right?


But as we sat down next to her on the floor of the vet’s office, she rested her head in my lap.  Not Phil’s, mine.  She looked up at me with those big, pooly brown eyes and with them said to me, “I need you right now.  Not as a substitute for Phil; you.  I need you here right now, holding my face.  And please don’t look away.  I need you to not look away.”

Maybe it was the whiskey talking, but I was pretty certain that was my sign.

The doctor talked us through the process as she injected the medication.  I held Ellie’s face and she stared into my eyes with a look of pure trust – so intimate that it almost became too much for me, and I was tempted to look away.  But I willed myself to hang in there.  Within what was probably a split-second – but seemed so much longer, as if in slow motion – I went from looking deep into her brown eyes to suddenly seeing my own face reflected in them.  And I knew that was it.  She wasn’t seeing me anymore. She wasn’t there.  As the deluge of tears ran down my face, I tried to picture her soul rising up and running….running like she used to, chasing a skunk like a bat out of hell.

Why did she come to me?  In The Art of Racing in the Rain, the protagonist -a dog named Enzo – says: “There are things that only dogs and women understand because we tap into pain directly from its source.”  Maybe that was why.

Or maybe she chose me because she knew I needed it.  I needed her to forgive me for flipping out about the tampons. I needed her to know that I loved her. I needed her to tell me that she was going to be ok.  And she did.

The next morning, after reading the book Dog Heaven with the girls for the 58th time, we decided to draw our own versions of Dog Heaven.

Image 1 Image 2

When we asked Phoebe to describe her picture, she explained: “Well, that’s me and Ellie surfing, and over there is Nannie and Aunt Terry having cocktails.” Of course.

Emma’s spoke for itself:


Much of the research I found says you should be 100% honest with your kids about death; that any watered down version is to rob them of the death experience.  Maybe.  But my gut feeling was that to describe euthanasia and cremation to my young children would be to rob them of something…of their sense of wonder, of their version of faith and God.  Maybe I will regret that decision one day, but right now I have to have faith that it was the right one for us.

John Lennon said: “I believe in everything until it is disproved.  So I believe in fairies, myths, and dragons.  It all exists, even if it’s in your mind.”

So if my kids want to put their faith in a dog heaven where cocktails are served and doggie treats fall from the sky into the peanut butter river, who am I to say that it doesn’t exist?

Five days later, I am still seeing Ellie out of the corner of my eye.  When I walk on the beach, I think every dog is her.  When I slice an apple, I wait for her to come running for her share.  Then I remember.  And the sadness is crushing.

But then I think about her running through grassy fields to the peanut butter river, and I smile.



In this season of Advent, I have been thinking a lot about waiting.

I am not a huge fan.

In fact, I hate to wait.  I am impulsive and impatient.  I make hasty decisions, especially when I am tired and my brain is too full.

I can be ungenerous with those who do not seem to be keeping a proper pace, a quality for which Phil is certain I will burn in Hell. I told him to go grocery shopping at the same exact time as every senior citizen in town, and then we can talk about Hell.

I hate to be late yet I always am – maybe because I fight time rather than move with it.

My impatience – along with my big ears and fear of clowns – has been passed down to Emma.  She came into the world exactly on her due date, waiting to be born.  Ready to get on with it.  Ready to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run.

Ready to go to school: “No kisses at the door, Mom.”

Ready to walk to the bus stop alone:  “Stop lurking in the driveway, Mom.”

She wants to know when:  When can I get my ears pierced?  When can I ride my bike alone?  When are we leaving?  When will we get there?  She is fully dressed – hat, boots, and backpack – by 7:43.  The bus comes at 8:35.


Phil and Phoebe don’t mind waiting.  In fact, if they wait long enough, they might forget what they are waiting for and move on to something else. Emma and I call it PST: Phil & Phoebe Standard Time. I spend a lot of time waiting at the door with Phil’s keys, his phone, his wallet.  Emma spends a lot of time waiting in the car. She hides books between the seats.

But out of all of us, our dog Ellie waits the most. She waits to be fed, to be walked, to have her belly rubbed.  She waits by the door when she hears Phil’s car in the driveway; she waits under the dinner table for Phoebe’s first fish stick to drop. She lets everyone else go first while she patiently waits.


And now, she is waiting to die.

In a theology class, I remember learning about the two types of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is clock time, the time we live in.  It is chronological, measurable, predictable.  It makes sense.  Bus comes at 8:35.  Karate is on Tuesdays.  Sun rises at 7:07.


The Greek word kairos means “God’s time” or “the right moment.” It is elusive and mysterious.  You can’t predict or control it – you have to feel it.  Nine years ago, Phil planned to propose to me on the beach at sunset.  Instead he dropped to one knee in my parents’ garage as I reached into the fridge for a Coors Light.  Why?  “It just felt right.”  Oh, Phil.  You just wanted that Coors Light.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Fearful people have a hard time waiting.”

That sounds about right. I am terrified.  I am afraid that Ellie is suffering.  I am afraid she is going to fall down the steps or slip on the ice. But really…I am afraid of what’s to come.  Of how bad it’s going to get.  “Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months,” is what the vet said.  It is one month today.  30 days. Chronos.

But right now there are still moments when I can forget.  I scratch her ears, she thumps her tail, and I forget that her bones are being eaten away.  I forget that her shoulders are disintegrating as we sit by the fire, with Phoebe deejaying on Pandora like any other day.  Kairos.


But when will it become impossible to forget?  We had to put baby gates by the stairs. Last week she cried when she tried to scratch her ears.  Yesterday she had a hard time breathing. What’s next?  Will she stop walking?  Pee in the house?  Stop eating?  When?  Tomorrow, next week, next month?  How will I know when it’s time to let her go?

“You will just know,” they say. “She will tell you when it’s time.”

Huh?  What does that mean? How will she tell me? And I never “just know” anything, ever. My sister-in-law had to tell me to go to the hospital when I was in labor because I thought I just needed to poop.

My friend Priya, who has known me and my specific brand of crazy for 30+ years, broke it down for me: “If you are questioning it, you’re not there yet.”

Ok.  That, I get.

I want a chronos answer to a kairos question.  But we are not waiting for the bus, here.  I am being called to a deeper waiting.  Nouwen calls it “active waiting.”

Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.  Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the world.

Waiting actively changes what I see, what I notice.  When I wait fearfully, I hear Ellie’s labored breathing and think, Should I call the vet tomorrow?  When I wait actively, I notice how she lays her paw on my wrist, and I think, We are holding hands.

Chronos vs. Kairos.  There is nothing the vet can tell me that I don’t already know.  All there is to do is wait.  Do I wait in fear or do I wait in love?

John Grogan writes: “Such short lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”

Ellie has spent most of her life waiting patiently.  But this time she is the one who will go first.  And while she waits, we will wait with her.  Lovingly, reverently, gratefully, until she tells us it is time.  Kairos.


Feelin’ Alive

Last week I declared November Gratitude Month.  Immediately I began noticing an abundance of things to be grateful for:  my family, the ocean, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. These are no-brainers.  So I decided to challenge myself by cultivating appreciation for something that can draw a more mixed bag of emotion.

This week I am grateful for: My Body.

Before my total colectomy in 2011, I was a spaz pretty active gal: hot yoga teacher, marathoner, etc.  If I didn’t wake up with tight hips and sore hamstrings, I wasn’t working hard enough.  I will spare you the gory medical details, but let’s just say my post-surgery body operates by a different set of rules.  It took me a long time to admit that, and even longer to accept it.

Ok, I didn’t really accept it.  I kept trying to do the same things I did before, as if I were some kind of colon-less Wonder Woman.  Then, after failing miserably, would say to myself, You just need to try harder.  And then perform the whole song and dance all over again.


I just re-read the memoir Waking by Matthew Sanford, who, at age 13, was in a car accident that killed his father and sister, and left him paralyzed from the chest down. Through the practice of yoga, he developed a keen mind-body awareness and a deep sense of compassion for his handicapped body.  It’s what he calls a “healing story.”

When I think of “healing stories,” a strong memory comes to mind.  Early in our relationship, Phil took me to a retreat run through Villanova called the HEC (Handicapped Encounter Christ).  Because that sounds like an obvious place to get laid for a third date.

The HEC, run by a gentle hippie Augustinian named Father Shawn and a group of lay people associated with the University, was an amalgam of Christian revival, Girl Scout camp, and a Grateful Dead show.  As one of the able-bodied participants,  you were responsible for changing catheters and other tasks I am pretty sure should have been handled by a licensed medical professional, not my boyfriend wearing a balloon hat.

But no one seemed to care who was doing the job as long as it was getting done.  Taking care of business left room for other activities, like dressing up in costumes, helping someone bang a tambourine with his elbows, and shot-gunning beers by an open fire. Safety was not a huge concern to the HECers.  They grabbed freedom where they could get it.

They just wanted to feel alive.

I was maybe 24 at the time, and was not the in a “grab freedom by the balls” phase of life. I was more in a rigid, neurotic, “I am going to control all the changes in my life by running 40 miles a week and eating only melon.”

I may not have known it then, but I really needed the HEC.  No one cared that I was such a hot mess, because they were all hot messes too, in their own unique way.  No one gave a shit if I ate the mashed potatoes or not, because most of them had mashed potatoes all over their faces.  I can say this with great fondness,  because we all laughed about it – no one took themselves too seriously.  Everyone made fun of themselves and each other, but in a loving way. It was pure, joyful madness.  It really wasn’t all that different from Thanksgiving with Phil’s family.  Relax, I’m kidding. Sort of.

In Waking, Sanford says:

My experience is not so different from yours, it is only more extreme…We all live on a continuum of ability and disability.  The process of aging guarantees this – everyone eventually will become less able.

The humility of his comparison blows me away.  All changes in our bodies – whether it be a spinal cord injury or the post-pregnancy curse of peeing when you sneeze – require some degree of adjustment, compassion, and acceptance.  I don’t mean forced optimism. You know, when people say things like: “Why would you need another baby?  You have two beautiful girls!”

Maybe for some that’s helpful, but it makes me want to respond with: “You’re right!  Who cares that I can’t absorb nutrients or procreate?  I can still go to the circus and eat ice cream and dream about rainbows and unicorns!”

A blessing doesn’t cancel out a loss, like some kind of spiritual Jedi mind trick.  It’s about holding space for both the disappointment and the gratitude. Running long distances and having my kids made me feel alive.

So what can I do to feel alive right now?

Recently, after a failed attempt at a run, I chose to NOT kick my own ass or plan a new training strategy.  Instead, I went for a walk.  And the next day I went for another walk. Then, a few days later, I walked for a bit, stopped, laid in the grass and looked at the clouds.  I haven’t done that in 25 years.

When I see my body as fleeting and impermanent with a No Moneyback Guarantee,  I am more inclined to stop and thank it for what it does for me right now.  Because while I may not be able to do this:


or this


I can still do this…


…and this….


…and this.

Jessie_yoga (7 of 7)

And that’s a lot to be grateful for.

What would make you feel alive today?

Daddy Drives With His Knees

“Daddy drives with his knees.”


“Daddy drives with his knees.  Isn’t that cool? Can you drive with your knees, Momma?”

“Umm, no.  I drive with my hands.”

“Oh.  Daddy’s gonna teach me to drive when I’m ten.

“Is that right.”


Normally I would find this car conversation with Phoebe amusing.  Maybe if I wasn’t driving home from the orthopedist’s office with a purple-casted 4 year old,  I would have cracked a smile.  But ever since Phoebe broke her leg on the playground, I’ve kind of lost my sense of humor surrounding safety issues.

Despite being the parent on duty at the time, Phil remains unaffected.

I am not blaming him. The same thing could have happened on my watch.  While I always usually have an eye on the kids, my hands are often occupied: sending a quick text, jotting down my grocery list, rummaging through my bottomless bag for Chap-Stick.

The point is, I get it.  I am guilty of multi-tasking, of not being present, of courting the hairy edge of disaster.  So I did not freak out when Phil called me on the way home from the playground that afternoon.

“I have to tell you something but you have to promise not to get mad.”

Never a good start to a conversation.

I did not get mad.  However…

There’s something about seeing your child’s leg in plaster that rouses your inner Mama Bear.  That’s MY baby’s leg in that cast.  A bone that I grew with my own body.  I know every inch of that little leg – I clothe, wash, and carry it everyday.  This made me fiercely protective yet uncomfortably vulnerable at the same time.  It’s a little like having an infant.  A 35 pound infant who screams for the IPad and gorgonzola cheese.


Phoebe took the whole thing in stride.  Large strides.  Running, careening, wildly unsteady strides. The minute she figured out that she could get around on the cast, she was off and running…dragging her purple leg behind her like a pint-sized, pony-tailed Captain Ahab.


Her drunk pirate routine made me drink.  I imagined her flying down the stairs or slipping on the bathroom floor.  I saw bloody teeth, a broken arm, potential head injury.  Suddenly our own house was a death trap.

When I shared these concerns with Phil, he just rolled his eyes.

“You are being ridiculous.  Yay, Phoebe, a new trick!” he said, clapping as she pirouetted around the kitchen.

“Can you please stop encouraging her?”

“Why? I’m teaching her to turn a setback into a comeback!”

“Her limb is being held together by paper mache!  Looks, she’s getting all dizzy – and her toes are bleeding!  PHOEBE STOP SPINNING!”

Phil is the fun parent and I am the….other parent.  As Emma once said: “Dad plays soccer, but only after Mom goes to Target and buys the soccer ball.”  I am fine with these roles, but Phil has a tendency to push the boundary of “Fun” and move into the realm of “Holy Shit Who Is In Charge Here?”

Like when he hung a tree swing in our yard that swings directly into the street, aka. “The Suicide Swing.”


Then there’s the time he “temporarily misplaced” Phoebe at a 5K Fun Run.  She was later found on the massage table getting rubbed down by a random male masseuse.


I tried not to freak out when I discovered that his version of “giving Phoebe a bath” meant sticking her in a tub of running water before retreating to the upstairs bathroom with the sports section.  I remained calm when he admitted to taking “9 Minute Chaise Lounge Naps” when taking the girls to the pool.  

But this time was different.  The more Phil ignored my plea to protect our daughter from a permanent leg deformity, the more pissed off I became.  When he rolled his eyes, called me overprotective, or re-explained the strength elements of a cast, the anger percolated in my gut like lava.

And when I looked outside to see Phil and Phoebe doing soccer drills, I LOST. MY. MIND.

“Really Phil?  Soccer?”

“What?  The doctor said she could walk on it.”

“She didn’t say she could play soccer on it.”

“Ahhh, but she didn’t say she COULDN’T play soccer on it!”

“Because no one with half a brain would ever think that those words actually need to be said.”

“Don’t you understand the strength elements of a cast?  You see, the way it works is…”

No words.


Later that night after a few glasses of wine, I came up with a new strategy for getting my point across.  While Phil was paying bills in his office, I left this outside the door.


Twisted?  Sadistic?  Lifetime movie-esque?  Perhaps.  But it worked.

About an hour later he came downstairs.

“Ok, I get it.  I’ll stop.  You’re one crazy chick, but I will stop.”


“Trust me.”

I do trust Phil.  Do I trust that he will miraculously transform into a Danger Ranger armed with a First Aid Kit and detailed fire escape plan?  No, and thank God. That’s not who he is.  I do trust that he will back off the One-Legged Olympics.  Not because he wants to, but because he knows I really need him to.

For me, trust is surrender.  Relinquishing the need to be right.  Going somewhere unfamiliar because it is really important to someone else.  Being able to say: “I still like my way of doing things, but I am willing to give your way a chance.” To trust is to consider that maybe there is validity in the other person’s point of view.

And I must admit, the view from the Suicide Swing is pretty damn good.


The Crazy Stick

Author Note: Welcome to No Cigarettes, No Bologna.  Feel free to read the “About” section to get the backstory on me, my blog and the blog title.  Hope you like it, and if you do, leave a comment and pass it on!  Thanks for reading and look forward to hearing from you. 

Phil and I have a Crazy Stick: a metaphorical marital conch to be passed back and forth, giving the mitigated spouse permission to be…well, a little crazy.  Overreactive.  Overwhelmed.  Stressed.  The catch is, only one person can have it at a time. And yes, about 60% 75% 92% of the time, that person is me.

Then, we moved.  Three times, to be exact – in one year.  First from our house in Pennsylvania to a rental home in coastal Massachusetts…then to another rental….and finally our current home.  With two kids and a dog, it was pretty stressful.  I ate my share of freezer-burned Kit Kats at 3am.  But Phil – my annoyingly optimistic, power-of-positive-thinking, unflappable husband – well…he really started to lose it.

His hair started falling out.  He began mumbling under his breath.  Some afternoons he sat in his car, stared at the steering wheel, and gnawed on the back of his hand. Phil was white-knuckling the Crazy Stick.

I looked at this role reversal as an opportunity for mutual growth – an opportunity to dig deep in search of my inner optimist. With a cheerful wife at the helm, Phil would feel free to let his guard down and be less smiley vulnerable.  I can do this, I said to myself.  I can keep this ship afloat. 

I embraced my new role with commitment.  I picked up Phil’s underwear off the floor without complaint.  I smiled supportively when he started doing weird things, like collecting lobster buoys.  One morning, he vanished for hours until I spotted him running down the street, holding a sandy buoy over his head like the Stanley Cup.  Image

“Look what I found!” he said, his eyes wide and a little crazy.

“Nice, that’s a good one!”  I said, throwing it onto the growing pile of orange styrofoam in the backyard. As his level of quirkiness escalated, I remained supportive at all costs.   I was in the zone…the Donna Reed zone.  I made monogrammed pot pies.


But alas, every coach turns back into a pumpkin.  A string of unfortunate events (carbon monoxide poisoning, a blizzard, frozen pipes, the Noro Virus, the death of my grandmother) began to chip away at my Stepford Wife veneer – and when my 4 year old- broke her leg, my sunny exterior broke along with it.  The jig was up.  Donna Reed was dead.  Pass the Crazy Stick, please.


The problem was, Phil was not ready to hand it over.

This was not good.  This is the part in Lord of the Flies when two boys try to hold the conch at once and shit totally falls apart.  Didn’t they eat someone?

On the first day of school, after putting my older daughter Emma on the bus, I sat on the front steps.  My eyes landed on the paint chipping off the porch steps of our newly purchased yet very old home. The grass needed to be cut, bike helmets littered the yard, and flies circled a mound of dog poop by the mailbox.  I sighed.  I needed Phil to come out and make me laugh, to say, “Lighten up!  Life is good, let’s go look at the ocean.”

But he didn’t come out.  I could hear his voice through the window, on a conference call.  I pictured him gnawing on his hand while strands of his hair floated into his fourth cup of coffee.

Something -or someone- had to give.  I sent him a text: “Want to put Phoebe in the stroller and go for a quick beach walk?”

“Ok, be down in 5.”

While Phil and Phoebe looked for sea glass, I peeled off on my own for a quick jog. As I ran I looked out at the water, so clear and tempting on the first sunny day in weeks. On the way back, I saw a man swimming and thought, it would feel so good to jump in right now.

Then the man waved.  It was Phil.  I laughed out loud.  Thank you God.  He’s back.

I walked over to where a purple-casted Phoebe sat in the stroller, checking her stocks or texting the dentist in Mandarin on Phil’s IPhone.  She looked up.

“You goin’ in, Mom?”

“Nah, Pheebs. I’ve got my clothes on.”

“So? Daddy went in with his clothes on.”

I smiled. “Yeah, well, that’s Dad.”

I looked at Phil waving me out. “Come in, it’s beautiful!” he shouted.

Standing there, watching Phil float on his back with the sun reflecting off the water, I realized it was time to bury the Crazy Stick in the sand.  While my intention of “passing the stick” was pure, it was kind of misguided.  Instead of letting Phil off the hook so I could pick up the slack, I should have just cut us both some slack.  What I thought could be fixed by doing more could only be remedied by doing less.  

I have learned that in times of shared stress, creating more stress is not an effective strategy.  In times of shared stress, you should order a pizza.  Use paper plates.  Kick the underwear under the bed.  Create the space to be vulnerable -fragile, even- at the same time.  Then hold on to each other in this middle place.  And trust that you will both be ok.  In fact, you will be better than ok, because you will finally be able to breathe.  And maybe even laugh at the craziness of it all.

That morning on the beach, I knew we would be ok.  Only the Phil I know and love could convince me to swim fully clothed on a Tuesday.  Which is exactly what I did.  And as crazy as I must have looked – stumbling out of the water with my shorts falling down and mascara running down my face – it’s actually the sanest I have felt in a long time.