I’ve got a blank space baby.

Tomorrow, I will drive my daughter—the second of my three children—eight hundred miles to her freshman dorm, hug her goodbye, and drive back home without her.

I’m trying to picture my life after she’s gone, and it looks to me something like this:

Except in my mind, the blank space goes on forever.  I know this is not accurate–or so they tell me. But it’s how I feel. 

I once read how a mother’s child isn’t just someone she loves, it’s a place that she goes.  Her child is her home. How beautifully true when her children are young; how devastatingly true when they are grown.  The very place we feel trapped in at the beginning is where we’re desperate to return to at the end.  

I dropped a friend off at her home last week and her teenage daughter–all blond-ponytailed and summertime glow–met her on the lawn.  She made a gesture toward the dog and said something to her mom and they both started laughing. Their backs were to me and I was glad, watching a moment longer than I should have.  Their chatter rose across the yard then fell silent on my windshield, barring me entry to their private world of mother-child. I drove home in the baked gold of late afternoon and though I didn’t mean to, I started to cry.

I thought it would be easier letting my second child go.  Practice and all that, right? Nope, not easier. Not at all.  Because after my first left, and I’d felt all the feels, I finally settled into new territory:  the Land of the Changing Family.  It took some time but I ‘d made peace with it. I’d built a new home and I felt safe there.  But now, as Child Two follows Child One out into the world, I’m once again exiled—banished from her gaggle of friends bursting through the front door, noisy Sunday dinners and crusty cereal bowls left in the sink after a midnight laughfest.  She acts like it’s no big deal, this Child Two–picking up and leaving and taking my hard-won territory with her.

Which leaves me alone with Child Three, in all his charming and boyish abundance.  I’ve found solace in that steaming mass of white hair since he was three, and for that I am thankful.  (Is it the hair that makes the head hot, or the other way around? Mysteries.) I suppose–I know–that the trick to all this is finding a new home with just him in it.  It’s always been there, overlapped with his sisters’, but now it will stand on its own. Surely it’s a home with light and heat, songs and jokes, and will offer me the refuge I seek. Because whether we have one child or ten, they fill up our lives like a vacuum, exacting our love to distraction.  A mother’s devotion has never  been determined by numbers.  Thank goodness.

And that must be the blessing in the heap of all this change, that we get to peel layers off of the family stack and discover the wonders of the individual.  We get to move, once again, into a new home. It means leaving the old one and wow is that painful. But we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again and we’ll be markedly better for it.  After all, we’re only here, today, because our own parents—ages ago—allowed us to up and leave them. We took their homes and their youth and their hearts away with us, but still they let us go. 

I’m glad that they did. I’m glad that they did and I’m glad that I’m here and I’m glad that I was given the chance to walk the sunlit path of Growing Up. I needed that adventure and so do my children.  So I am determined.  I will take a deep breath, cry a little in the afternoons, and give it to them.  






(p.s. they better appreciate it.)

Teens, sleep and the prefrontal cortex

What’s with teens and sleep?  My gosh.

At our house, it’s becoming something of a medical concern.  My 18 year-old daughter can sleep all night, all day, during school, after school, during dinner, and in the car.  (When I’m driving, not her. Although at this point who knows.)

My 14 year-old son is no better.  Once upon a time he was our little guy who ran out of his room at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, eager to start his day of play.  But on the eve of his thirteenth birthday—at the stroke of midnight, I could swear it—all natural morning vigor was lost and the following day he slept until noon.  We thought he was dead. Then, to our disappointment, we realized he was just becoming a teenager.

Summer has brought it to a whole new level.  What used to be Saturday Sleeping has now become Every Day Sleeping, and I’m not afraid to tell you that something might be wrong with my children.

Look, I get it.  Their bodies are growing, their hormones are raging, and their prefrontal cortex functions like that of a toddler’s while their appetite skyrockets to that of a caveman’s.  (Forget the Neanderthal Man, why aren’t we studying the American Teen in biology?  Their developmental patterns are as mysterious and research subjects more abundant.)  These people are subhuman, I’m telling you.

And because they are subhuman, I’m willing to allow that they need sleep that exceeds the normal human range.  Instead of eight hours per night, the teenager needs ten. Twelve even. Okay, fine. It’s sweaty and smelly and obnoxious, but I’ll give it ‘em.

But here’s where I get confused:  how is that after sleeping, let’s say, from midnight to noon—a full twelve hours—they heave out of bed like the walking dead, flop into the shower, drag themselves to two hours (two hours—the injustice!) of church, then deem it necessary to come home and take a four hour nap.  Friends and fellow parents, I do not understand this.

A day boasts 24 hours.  If sixteen of those hours are spent sleeping, the American Teen/Neanderthal (Teenanderthal?) is left with eight hours in which to live their life.  Subtract four of those hours for eating, another two for makeup-ing (girls), flexing in front of the mirror (boys), trying on nine different outfits and examining their nose for whiteheads and you’re down to two skimpy hours remaining.  These are quickly swallowed up by Insta and Snapchat, leaving our beloved teenager exactly zero hours in the day for developing said prefrontal cortex—you know, that part of the brain that determines little things like personality development, decision making, and moderating social behavior.  I think you know where I’m going with this.  

So here’s my question:  why are we letting these cortex-less people drive at age sixteen and vote at age eighteen?  Instead of requiring proof of age for these privileges, I move that law requires proof of a fully developed prefrontal cortex.  Before a driver’s license or voter registration card is issued, a signed medical release and high-resolution scan of the Developed Cortex must be submitted.  The upside? You and I could sit back and watch our youth denied driving and voting. The downside? We’d have to keep chauffeuring their sorry non-cortexes around town and the Democrats would never win another election. It would come at a cost, but it might be worth it.  I’m just saying.

It’s not that my kids are bad people.  It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s not that their rooms smell like a garbage dump when I walk in at the premature hour of eleven o’clock in the morning to timidly nudge them and softly—oh so softly—whisper, “Honey?  I think it’s time you started waking up…” only to have them slump violently away from me, shove the covers over their head, and wail to the ceiling with the anger of the gods.  

Like gods, they are fierce and terrible.  And like any mortal, I fear for my life before them.  And so I step away from the bed in silence and tiptoe backwards out of the room, hoping they’ll stay asleep long enough to forget I dared entry into their domain.  Twelve o’clock…one o’clock…two o’clock…dream away, my darlings, dream away.  Please just don’t kill me.  



I picked up this book and couldn’t put it down, not because the plot is suspenseful (it’s not) or the pace exhilarating (it isn’t), but because when you find something clear and cool and lovely to drink, it’s hard to stop once you start.

Such is Gilead, the fictional autobiography of John Ames, an elderly pastor from the small remote town of Gilead, Iowa.  Facing his own mortality, Ames writes a series of letters to his only child, a young son, to be read when the child grows older and Ames is long gone.  In them, we get a peek into the pastor’s heart and mind—and what a heart and mind it is.  He does not offer his son easy answers to the hardest of life’s questions, but he is unafraid to ask them.  Even more than a reverence for God, his letters show a reverence for God’s creations:  nature, people, the world and our place in it.  His awe at the ordinary is what gives this book its flavor, and what gives me my favorite passages.  Like this one:

That mention of Feuerbach and joy reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church.  There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me.  The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet.  On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t.  It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth.  I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.  I wish I had paid more attention to it.  My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really.  This is an interesting planet.  It deserves all the attention you can give it.

Those last two sentences.  Wow.

Here’s an even better one:

I’d never have believed I’d see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine.  It still amazes me every time I think of it.  I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.  You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind.  If only I had the words to tell you.

Um.  Yes.

If you read no other fiction this year, please pick up Gilead.  But only if you want an illuminating, expansive view of the the lives we live and the world in which we live them.  And an honest, unflinching look at faith’s limitations and potential.  And gorgeous prose that gives voice to the workings of your innermost sacred heart.  And truth and beauty and wisdom.  And…well, you get the point.  Five stars for this one.