Be a light in the world – but don’t burn your house down.

Recently I was TPB (texting past bedtime) with an old friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, and a brand new one who it feels like I’ve known that long. 

Moment of silence for the fact I am old enough to have not seen someone for 20 years.

Toward the end of our conversation, the old friend told me something I did as a teenager made a lasting impact on her life. It was waaaaay past my bedtime, but now I had to know. What tender nugget of girlhood wisdom was I layin’ down to make such an impression? 

I must have been really smart.

“Tell me what!” I typed. 

… a digital ellipsis … then THIS:

“I was NEVER allowed to have a candle.”

Turns out, I was not really smart.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I left a candle burning – then left the house for dinner with my family. We came home to six fire engines, followed by six months in a hotel room while our home was restored. (Thank God for the little old lady who saw smoke and called 911, because, you know … where there’s smoke, there’s fire.)

This got me wondering how many people were never allowed to have a candle because of me. When people hear my name, am I still “the girl who burned her house down in high school” … or have I done enough in the past two decades to make a different impression?

The new friend I was texting is about to embark on a global adventure with her husband and three young children – living with less while making more memories and, in turn, a memorable mark on the world.  

How we live makes a difference. 

The fact that I accidentally set fire to my house at age 15 does not define me. But the way I choose to set fire to my hopes and dreams, ignite the light of kindness in myself and in my kids, and blaze the path for those who will come behind me – these things will. 

Let your path – not your past – define your days. We never know how many we’re going to get, but we can make each one count – especially as mothers.

We spend our lives putting out fires for our families and our employers and our households. Although the smoke can be thick, the tasks arduous and the recognition nonexistent, every little thing we do matters to our babies. 

Living intentionally and teaching kindness at every turn isn’t easy when most of the time we’re just surviving. But it’s so worth it. 

Because you know who I am now? I’m not the girl who burned her house down. I’m the girl who’s shining a light – for my children, for the things that really matter, and hopefully, dear reader, for you.

You are someone’s mom. Someone’s person. Someone’s flame. Someone’s world.

And that, my friend, is everything. 

Mind your own busy-ness.

“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked.” 

Margaret Wise Brown

What ever happened to just sitting around at home? Is it just me – or does everyone seem really flipping busy these days? And when does really busy become too busy?

As parents, it is our job to provide opportunities for our children. We want them to try new things, fail at them, learn from failing, try more things, and ultimately find the thing that makes them happy. 

But do they really need to try all the things? Like, at the same time?

In our modern world, the way I see it, we’re battling a pandemic of busy-ness. 

Listen, I understand wanting your kids to explore varied interests to become well-rounded humans. But I also think it’s important for our kids to know the slowness and the fresh-baked smells and safety of home

I participated in a lot of things, but I still had dinner around the table – albeit the coffee table at our house. We sprawled comfortably on the living room floor, because that was our thing. (It perplexes my husband, who comes from more formal folk.) 

Now that I have a family of my own, we make a point of taking breaks. We take breaks in our day – after school, before activities – and we have dinner together, whether in the drive-thru or the dining room. We make sure we have a few free evenings on the couch, all snuggly and squeaky, before bedtime. 

When we need to, we take breaks from extracurriculars. We even take breaks from our social calendar – sometimes in the name of adventure, other times just to be bored together. 

To maintain our un-busy-ness, we have a few family rules:

1. We limit activities to two per child per season. (One if we can help it.)

With multiple kids, activities add up. We might do a sport plus a musical instrument. We might do running club, which meets right after class and only extends the school day by 40 minutes. Because my husband travels for work, this also makes my week more manageable, with all the baths and bedtimes, unexpected sicknesses and middle-of-the-nightmares.

2. We won’t be at all the birthday parties.

For friends who are reading this, please (please) take no offense. For the most part, and with exception, we only attend birthday parties of our children’s best buds, which means we might miss hanging out with friends who have kids the same age as ours. It also means we don’t spend entire Saturdays rushing from the zoo to the bounce house to the park. You could spend a lifetime going to all the birthdays.

3. We don’t always say ‘yes.’

Much as you might want to, you can’t say ‘yes’ to every invitation. Harkening back to the sickness and sleepless nights, there’s so much you can’t predict about parenthood. Saying ‘no’ does come with consequences. By being intentional with your time, you might unintentionally hurt people’s feelings. But if you can make peace with having to make peace with others now and again, your life will actually be more peaceful. 

For the record, I understand people have different tolerances for busy-ness. This isn’t a tirade on why my parenting style is better (or worse) than anybody else’s. It’s simply what works for us, in a world that thrives on being busy. 

If your world is spinning too fast, I encourage you to create some new family rules of your own. 

When life gets heavy, remember your gifts.

My mom has always shown me she was proud of me. When I was in a singing competition in the first grade, she was so excited she made flyers and handed them out to my entire class. 

From Kindergarten to college, I was in as many plays as there were auditions. She wrapped foam rollers into my hair and came to every show. She has cheered me on in every role – from Cinderella’s stepsister to Eli, Addy and George’s mom. 

But I wonder if she knows how proud I am of her. 

Five months after I gave birth to my first son, we found out my mom had late-stage cancer. Through the treatments and tests, she never complained. In fact, she still continued to take care of us even as we tried to take care of her. 

My mother is always there for everyone. Have I been there enough for her?

When I was 15, we had an elderly across-the-street neighbor who didn’t have any family in town. So Mom would bring her groceries (Nature’s Own Honey Wheat bread – I now buy the same for my kids), sit with her in the afternoon, and invite her to every holiday at our house. We drove Miss Agee to the hospital the night she died, and we stayed until there was nothing else we could do.

Mom was there for me through every breakup and blunder. (Too many to count.) She was there, on the phone, when my crazed ex-boyfriend climbed the second-story balcony of my first apartment. She was there, even when I lied or messed up. 

When I became a mother myself, tears streaming down my face as the baby screamed at 3 a.m., she told me I’d better pull it together, because he needed me. She was right. 

Now she is there for my family of five, any time we need her. (And we need her a lot.)

My parents are in that delicate stage of life where they are present for me and my children, but also needed more and more by their own parents. So my mom is being pulled in many directions. 

“Can you take Eli to guitar?” … “Will you watch the baby?” … “Can we come swim?”

But also: “Papa has fallen.” … “Mimi needs a ride to her appointment.”

These things are not burdens. I know she is happy to do them. But the cumulative weight of caring for everyone else can get heavy. 

So, last night, I reminded her this is her gift.

She has been good at it all her life – caring first for little sisters, then for me and my brother, and now for grandchildren and grandparents at the same time. 

Painters paint, not only for the people who will hang their work on their walls, but also because it stirs something deep within their soul. They do it because it’s who they are. They do it because they can’t not

When life gets heavy, remember your gifts. If your gift is caring for others, make time to care for yourself. If you’re a wonderful listener, make sure your voice is heard, too. If you host a great party, make friends who also host you. 

Whatever your gift may be, I hope you get to use it often. But if it ever feels heavy, you can always rely on the gifts of others – a warm cup of tea prepared by a friend, a peanut butter kiss from a child, or a few words written by a daughter who wants to lift you up. 

(Just like you’ve always lifted me, Mom.)  

Preparing for life’s storms.

It’s late summer, and a hurricane is coming. And it’s like people have never done this before. They’re getting all the gas and buying all the water – but the truth is, you can never really be ready for a storm like this.

The hurricane has me thinking about life’s storms. Often unexpected, one moment you could be sending your child off on the school bus and the next, you could be holding his hand in the back of an ambulance. 

We are blissfully unaware of how our lives could change in an instant. 

It was a fairly normal day when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I sat in the waiting room nursing my firstborn while she underwent a routine test, and soon we were called back to the recovery room. “This is the big time,” her doctor said. And it was. Eight years later, we have weathered that storm, but you can never get too comfortable in the sunshine.

My Papa recently took a fall, and his life has turned upside down. So have my Nana’s, my mom’s and dad’s and my aunt’s. They sit with him at the rehabilitation facility every day, hoping he will get strong enough to come home. What we wouldn’t give for things to go back to “normal.”

I have been following the story of a 7-and-a-half-year-old girl, who fell and hit her head on what I imagine was a fairly normal day. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and she is now lying in a coma in a hospital, with prayers coming in from all around the world. I can’t stop thinking about her and her family – what her mother must be feeling as she sits helpless by the side of the bed. 

I can’t stop thinking about all the hurt in the world as I cook dinner for my family and wash the dishes and wash the children and wash the laundry – and there are people I love and people I don’t even know who are hurting – and my heart hurts with them. 

I guess it’s best that we walk around in blissful ignorance of brewing storms, because we can’t go through life braced by fear. If we did, nothing would ever get done. We wouldn’t go anywhere or create anything beautiful because we’d be too afraid to ever start. 

But it’s also good to be reminded that sunny days are not a given. Life’s storms are unavoidable. 

We fall sick. We fall down. Things fall apart.

But you know what else we do? We fall in love again, with each other and with this life we are here to live, because of (and in spite of) its storms. 

So how do we prepare for them? Well, first we buy all the water and the gas … and then we walk through life with kindness and grace and love. 

Because you never know what someone else is facing – and your smile from across the room or prayer from across the world could be a shelter from the storm. 

And it was called “Yellow.”

An unconventional lullaby.

When my first baby was born, he just cried and cried. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just sang and sang.

I sang it all. I sang classics and country. I sang Aerosmith and The Eagles. I think I sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I just sang and sang until he fell asleep, and then I sang some more.

My greatest hits of bedtime were Coldplay’s “Yellow” and “Songbird” – Eva Cassidy’s version, originally by Fleetwood Mac. I didn’t really think about what song would come next. It was more like my heart chose. 

These are the songs my heart has chosen to sing again and again to my babies.

It’s funny the catalogue of our memories. A musical theater major with an ear for pop, my songbook is made up of the best of Broadway and teeny-bopper ballads. When my husband sings the kids to sleep, his is a hymnal – “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” among them. 

(He doesn’t know this, but sometimes I sing his songs when he’s away, so the children think of Daddy as they’re drifting off to sleep.)

We sing the songs our parents played, and we sing the songs of our youth. 

“Yellow” debuted in 2000, when I was just a sophomore in high school. Formative, for sure. I’ve read the band actually laughs at its lyrics, sharing in several interviews that the word “yellow” has no meaning whatsoever in the song.

For my family, though, it is meaningful. 

Cradling each baby from the day they were born, I have sung that song, low and slow, until they slept. The ultimate lullaby, perhaps it could hold no greater significance than the love of a parent for a child:

You know for you I’d bleed myself dry. For you I’d bleed myself dry.

I don’t usually sing that lyric to my kids, choosing instead to sing the earlier:

You know, you know I love you so. You know I love you so. 

(That’s because my daughter would literally think I would drain my own blood and die, and bedtime would be over for everyone in the whole entire town.)

Before Eli went away on his longest overnight trip last summer, Addy and I recorded “Yellow” on his iPad, so he could listen at bedtime. 

Later, when his guitar teacher told us to make a list of songs he’d like to learn, I asked Eli to include “Yellow,” expecting it might make Mr. Classic Rock Lockwood keel over.

But he obliged, much to the delight of this mama’s silly heart and the song that is rooted there, from years of rocking babies and knowing – for them, I would bleed myself dry. 

I just would.


If you’re still not convinced “Yellow” is a lullaby, full lyrics follow:

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah, they were all yellow

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called “Yellow”

So then I took my turn
Oh what a thing to have done
And it was all yellow

Your skin
Oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
You know, you know I love you so
You know I love you so

I swam across
I jumped across for you
Oh what a thing to do
‘Cause you were all yellow

I drew a line
I drew a line for you
Oh what a thing to do
And it was all yellow

Your skin
Oh yeah your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful

And you know
For you I’d bleed myself dry
For you I’d bleed myself dry

It’s true
Look how they shine for you
Look how they shine for you
Look how they shine for
Look how they shine for you
Look how they shine for you
Look how they shine

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And all the things that you do

All the things I felt when we lost our baby.

There is an angel in my backyard.

By the time we lost our baby I was 32 years old.

I had two healthy children – a boy and a girl. I had a husband with a great job, a beautiful home, and the sweetest friends and family to fill it with. I had built a career of my own to be just as much or as little as I could handle with young kids and a Daddy who traveled. I was doing what I loved with the people I loved.

In short, I was very fortunate. 

So when we lost our baby, I didn’t know if I was allowed to be sad. There were women in the world – and friends of mine among them – who wanted desperately to be mothers, but hadn’t had the chance.  

There were mothers – and family of mine among them – who had carried babies longer, who had delivered and held babies who would never cry. 

So who was I to cry over a baby I never met? 

As a mother of two healthy children, I was fooled into thinking I couldn’t have a miscarriage. I didn’t realize how common it was until I started talking about it, and almost everyone I told had been through the same thing. 

I didn’t know because no one talks about it. 

As I sat in the ER, I was angry because no one could tell me why it was happening. I was ashamed because I felt like my body was failing a little person I would never be allowed to know. I was hopeful because they let me go home and didn’t say for sure it was over. 

But it was. And it hurts. And it bleeds. In some ways, it still does.

I guess our bodies know if the baby we’re making isn’t going to make it in the world. As I sat around and wept, my husband carried on in the best way he knew how. He went outside with our children, then 4 and one-year-old.

He mended a fence, I think. Not figuratively. He fixed a fence in the backyard. He hammered and nailed to put something back together, while inside the house, I was broken.

I went to the back door and called him in, hoping the little ones would keep playing. I asked him to come into the bathroom with me. I didn’t know what to do. It was probably too early, but I swear I saw a tiny precious body in the water.

I couldn’t flush it. I couldn’t get it out. I couldn’t save it.

There on the tile floor, we said a prayer and we said goodbye. We didn’t know if we would have any more children, but we hugged the ones we had a little tighter. 

My heart hurt then for the women who were going through it with me. It hurt for the ones who were going through other losses, too. The loss of the dream of being a mother, maybe. Or the loss of a grown-up child, one whose laughter they could remember … one whose hand they got to hold. 

A few days later, I drove around town from store to store, searching in an exhausted haze for a concrete cherub to rest in our backyard – a reminder, a tribute. 

A few months later, a new friend (so new she wondered if it was okay to be in my driveway at 9 p.m., placing a paper bag in the mailbox) delivered a gift of carefully selected essential oils and shared the story of a couple who had used them in their journey to have a child. 

A year later, we welcomed our third baby – an absolute joy, whose hand I get to hold and whose laugh I could never forget. 

(His big brother still thinks he was the baby we were always meant to have. He just didn’t get here on the first try. I can’t say I don’t agree.)

Wherever you are on the journey to parenthood, I hope you have people you can share it with. Sometimes, talking about all the beauty and pain is the only thing that gets us through.

Food is my love language.

You know those recipes that are truly a labor of love? The ones that take a lot of time and stuff and soul and spoons to prepare?

For me, that’s my great-grandmother’s chicken and dumplin’s. (No, there ain’t no ‘g’ in ‘dumplin’s’.) 

I make them when I’m sad. I make them when I’m celebrating. I make them when somebody needs a big belly full of ‘it’s gonna be okay’. 

Recently, both of my grandfathers were feeling a little less than tip-top. So I boiled a chicken and pulled out the Crisco and got to work. My mom and I used to joke that my best dumplin’s were my ‘angry’ dumplin’s – because it takes some serious rolling pin action to get them as thin as Bertice used to make them. 

(“Thinner!” she would shout, as she taught us to roll the dough.)

This time I wasn’t angry – just determined to make something special and real for two real special men in my life. 

When all was said and done, I had a face full of flour and a kitchen to match, and a steaming pot of comfort on my stovetop. 

I packaged half for Papa and half for PawPaw, and served the rest to my family on a school night, helping myself to three helpings.

Food is my love language.

Not long after our third child was born, my husband and I learned about love languages. Somewhere between the stresses of welcoming a newborn and the stresses of an airline schedule, we needed to find better ways to communicate amid the chaos.

We sought guidance, and were asked when was the last time we felt truly loved. 

I said I felt most loved in moments of lightness, like when Jared dances the hula in the driveway as we blast Moana on the way to school.  

He said he feels most loved when I don’t make any plans, leaving stretches of time for him to spend with our family, doing whatever we please.

Because life raising little children is loud and busy and can push you to the brink, I cherish levity and laughter. Because he spends time away from us for work, he treasures an uncluttered calendar. 

We were also encouraged to implement the “Moana dance” into arguments, as a physical olive branch meant to stop us from saying anything we didn’t mean – which would be pretty funny if we would actually use it. 

We learned that love languages apply to our children, too, and that each of them probably receives love differently. Some require extra hugs, while others need verbal affirmation to feel confident and strong.

I don’t know how well we’ve done giving and receiving love since we learned these things. 

But I do know I’m trying, and I hope my family can feel it … one hug, one hour, and one heaping bowl of dumplin’s at a time. 

I was ready for summer to end.

Every year, as summer draws to an end, moms like me start counting down the days until school starts. 

It’s not because we don’t want to be with our kids. It’s because back-to-school means routine – not only for them, but also for us. It means time to get things done without the constant requests for snacks and finally putting an end to the endless question:

“What are we going to do today?” 


I’ve seen the precious reminders online – you only have 18 summers with your kids, you know, so make them count. There are countless lists of activities made for making memories, but when you’re outnumbered by children and one of them is a baby, sometimes you just want to be home. And guess what? You can make memories there, too.

I used to struggle with summer. I felt the pull to be everywhere all at once, but I also needed rest and quiet, which don’t exist with little kids. I had more anxiety being out, especially around water, with a preschooler and an infant, than I did hanging out at home.

I know moms who feel more anxious at home, who prefer to be on the go, shuffling from one excursion to the next. 

I know moms who love the ease of summer – not having to pull kids out of bed and get them out the door before the bell rings.

I know moms who work 9-to-5 and would love nothing more than the freedom to spend summer at the splash pad. 

None of these feelings are wrong. 

As mothers, it is possible to feel many different things at once. Loving your kids to pieces, while wishing there weren’t so many puzzle pieces on the floor. Knowing you would climb the highest mountain for them, but wishing they would stop climbing all over you. Trying not to burst into tears as you walk them into Kindergarten … then trying not to burst into song when you walk into your strangely peaceful, too-quiet house.

Stop feeling bad for the mom that you are. 

Personally, I was ready for school to start. Whether or not you are ready, mama, know that they are.

Because of you … and the messy, magical way you love them. 

There’s beauty in spontaneous plans.

Inasmuch as it is possible to be both spontaneous and a planner, I’ve discovered that the best kinds of plans are the ones that are made on the fly.

As a parent, there’s a real struggle between giving your kids a rich and full childhood and being too busy. (More on this another time.) In our family, we move back and forth between overscheduling and taking a break from an overload of activities. Maybe our kids don’t know how to be bored because we’re constantly entertaining them. 

When you have a family, your friends are generally other people who have families. Time becomes very limited, so if you really want to see someone, you have to make an effort – which sometimes requires planning far in advance. 

Other times, you just make a decision to go do something, and if your friends can join you, it’s a bonus. That’s what happened last night. 

We’d been wanting to take the kids to hunt for ghost crabs as an end-of-summer adventure. We’re lucky to live very close to the beach, so we decided to have dinner there, then walk our nets and flashlights down to the shore once it got dark. 

Our timing was perfect. No sooner had we finished our poke bowls and burgers than the sun was painting the sky shades of lavender and pink, and the elusive little creatures began to scurry through the sugar-white sand. 

Ghost crabbing is simple. All you need is a net, a flashlight, a bucket – and some high-spirited children. 

The instructions for Addy’s new apparatus (yes, someone has capitalized on this summer pastime by selling a newfangled net-light combination with a clever name … well played, Illuminet) described ghost crabs as an “occult, secretive alien from the ancient depths of the sea” – which, once you see them, you’ll actually be like, “Fair.”

So you shine your flashlight in the sand near the water, and when you spot the little alien, you snatch him up (gently) and put him in your bucket. We captured quite a community of ghost crabs, and at one point, a beetle. 

Owen was the ghost crab champion. His parents said he was a natural, having attracted many a crab to his confident and capable hands during camping trips in Hawaii.

Maila, a skilled seashell spotter, found the crab I like to call Big Mama. As I surveyed our haul, she announced: “If you’re impressed, I caught it! If you’re not, I didn’t.” A strategy that will serve her well through adulthood.

Eli, who is always thoughtful yet tentative in his actions, paced the beach with his net. Noticing that Owen had caught a dozen if not more, he finally took to the tactics of his friend – grasping with his hands at fistfuls of beach. (This speaks to the nature of their friendship. After meeting Owen in the second grade, Eli gained a newfound confidence that saw him place first in a two-mile race and score a solo in the school play. They are a wonderful team.)

Addy, true to form, had a meltdown because she hadn’t caught a crab, but when everyone jumped in to surround four or five for the picking, she chickened out and cried some more. Through sobs, she said she hated ghost crabbing, but I don’t believe her. 

Sandy and sleepy, we dragged the kids off the beach and home into their beds. It was a night we won’t forget.

Since Jared travels a lot, when he’s home, he likes to be home. Most evenings, you’ll find us cozied up on the couch searching for a kid-friendly movie that will entertain our two, five and eight-year-old while not putting dear old Mom and Dad to sleep. (Leave your suggestions in the comments.)

It was really fun – sort of magical, even – to get off the couch and enjoy the laughter of friends, the majesty of a cotton-candy sunset, and the nocturnal oddity of a tiny translucent crab. 

So from now on, if you get a funny little idea, just go do the thing. 

What co-parenting means to me.

A tribute to the mamas and the papas and the grands.

All the stories end the same. Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy. Girl and boy have a baby and live happily ever after.

So what happens when your story looks different? What happens when things fall apart?

I met my husband when my son, Eli, was 18 months old. Although my relationship with his Dad hadn’t worked out, we remained good friends committed to raising him with kindness and respect.  

When a relationship ends, there are always hurt feelings. There are different sides to every story, depending who you ask and on what day. But when a child is involved, none of that matters. You pick yourself up and you do everything you can to show your child he is loved, above all else. 

That’s what we have done and will keep trying to do.

Eli stood with us at our wedding in my parents’ backyard. We tied a big fat rope into an actual knot, which we all three pulled tight as part of the ceremony. At a second celebration in Jared’s hometown, Eli’s name was written with ours on the cake, inside a hand-drawn icing heart. 

At only two years old, perhaps he said it best: “Now you will take care of me, and I will take care of you.”

When Doug and Caryn got married a few years later, we were all invited to the wedding, where Eli served as ring bearer. We weren’t seated at the back of the room, but rather right up front with the bride and groom and the rest of the family – because that’s what we all are. Family

Every year on Eli’s birthday, we have a big special dinner together. We talk and we laugh and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. At holidays and birthdays, when gifts arrive for Eli – they arrive for Addy and George, too. 

We try not to step on each other’s toes. We talk to each other about big decisions. Eli is still young, and he may have questions for us in time. When that day comes, we will do our best to answer thoughtfully and honestly. 

While there may be harder roads ahead, I hope we will be able to navigate them with as much grace as we have managed since we set off into this uncharted chapter.

In a modern world, I know we’re not the only family of our kind. But I hear things from friends, and I don’t like what I hear. I’m not saying we’re any better at this than anyone else. I just have trouble understanding why grown adults can’t get along for the sake of their children. What’s up with that?

Eli doesn’t care for the words ‘stepfather’ or ‘stepmother’. He loves us all the same. Lucky for us, we all recognize and appreciate the important roles we play in his life. 

To Jared, thank you for choosing us both and for always putting family first. Thank you for loving Eli the same way you love his little brother and sister. 

To Doug, thank you for your faith and space and trust, for telling me I’m doing great in the midst of all the chaos, and for letting Eli lead the way.

To Caryn, thank you for making it so easy. I never once wondered if you liked me – and I never once doubted how much I like you. 

To all the grandparents and great-grands, thank you for understanding that things don’t always turn out the way we think they will – sometimes they’re even better. 

You see, Eli didn’t lose anything when our relationship changed. Instead, he got more. Two moms and two dads, and a whole gaggle of grandparents who love and support him endlessly. 

So, maybe we’re all just winging it – but if we make a choice every day to do the best we can for our kids, then maybe they’ll know what to do if their story takes a turn they weren’t expecting. 

All you have to do is follow the love.