Piper, Pipe That Song Again

We were put to bed early. My mother, the registered nurse, believed strongly in things like scrubbing away germs and getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we could still hear neighborhood children playing outside while we lay in bed with our baths taken, teeth brushed, and prayers said.

Downstairs my mother watched detective shows and my father graded papers in another room with the stereo turned low. I could hear strains of his music mixed with her TV sirens through the floorboards.

I was never what is called a good sleeper. I would lie awake for hours telling myself stories. Sometimes, halfway asleep, I could hear impossibly faraway music and watch scenes unfold like a life retelling itself. I wondered where they came from, these distracting snippets that almost seemed like distant memories. Some were so strong I could feel them in my body. In fact, as a young child I was sure I could “remember” having died and for years could only fall asleep curled defensively to protect my ribs and throat.

Music brought the strongest sense of recollection. My mother says the first time I heard the distinctive sound of bagpipes I was a preschooler. “You put your arms up like one of those highland dancers,” she says, “and you danced your little heart out.”

I didn’t encounter bagpipe music again until I was about eight years old. Hearing the strains of those grand pipes in a parade made feel as if I could almost recall dancing in a majestic hall with the stirring of pride that no danger could stifle. The music seemed to speak to my cells all the way to the marrow. It kept on speaking as the pipers marched by and the music faded away.

Since I had been warned about my overactive imagination I didn’t mention those half-remembered scenes. But I did pester my mother about bagpipes.

“It’s funny you are so interested in that music,” she said. “We don’t have any Scottish blood in our family.”

An apparent coincidence? The fact that our last name happened to be Piper. My mother said she thought the name had been changed from a German surname, Pfeiffer, many generations back.

* * *

As an adult I have no idea where those so-called memories came from. Most likely I was creating stories that seemed real to me. There are, however, other explanations. Morphic resonance, archetypal images, echoes of past lives.

Another intriguing possibility is genetic or ancestral memory. Because, as it turns out my maiden name, Piper, is Scottish after all. Recently our history was traced, and we know now that my father’s family tree is rooted securely in the soil of Scotland. Not a German branch to be found. In fact, we are related to legendary bagpipers as well as to some oddly-named royalty including Malcolm the Big-Headed.

These days I am surrounded by bagpipe music. My two teenage sons are in a pipe band, the Red Hackle Pipes and Drums, under the direction of Sandy Hain, a former Pipe Major of Scotland’s Black Watch. I drive the boys and their buddies in the band to practices, parades, and highland competitions; my car overflowing with an odd mix of testosterone, exuberant conversation, and hairy knees jutting out from kilts.

Every week when I pull into the lot for bagpipe practice I see bumper stickers and window decals proudly proclaiming the drivers’ pride in calling him or herself by my family name: Piper. Even on the coldest evenings the sound pours through the brick walls. And every single time I feel the music in my cells, all the way to the marrow.

And yes, I still hear it in my dreams.

Angus MacKay of Clam MacKay artist unknown

Angus MacKay of Clan MacKay
(artist unknown)


Throwback post. This piece was originally published in Bewildering Stories. 

Smartphone Use: Out Beyond Judgement

balancing real life with smartphones

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.


I said I didn’t want a microwave. It was against my whole foods ethos. Now it’s in regular use in my house. I said I didn’t want email. It was against my communicate-directly-with-people principles. I now can’t imagine living without it. I said I wasn’t a social media sort of person. Yup, I’m addicted.

A few years ago I was still holding out against smartphones. They were and still are expensive to use. I explained to my kids that back when their dad and I got married our phone bill was $18 a month. That did nothing but provide more evidence of my dinosaur-ness.  Eventually I capitulated and got a smart phone. (I was assured my phone cost nothing  with our teen/young adult kids pitching in for the cost of their phones.) Of course once I got sucked into the smartphone world I was unable to go back. And I don’t want to go back.

It’s heartening to see how pivotal mobile phones are in the developing world. Globally, almost 95 percent of households have access to a cell phone and it’s projected that 15 percent of families in Africa and the Middle East will soon have smartphones. They’re used for banking, business, texting, taking pictures, social networking, accessing information, and much more  —- connecting and improving lives.

Smartphones are also advancing social justice because we’re able to document abuses of power. The Exxon/Mobil pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas spilling over 200, 000 gallons of tar sands crude oil (while media access was limited) would have been largely unknown if not shared by residents. Circumstances around the tragic deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Philandro Castile, and too many others at the hands of police would have been largely unknown other than by their official reports.  Because we can share what we’re seeing,  people the media usually ignores are able to more fully tell their own truths

But I haven’t adjusted to how smartphones affect person-to-person interactions. I belong to several groups which meet regularly. There’s always one person, sometimes more than one,  who spends a large part of our meeting time looking at his/her phone.

I understand, really, In the years since I’ve had a smart phone I’ve been entangled in all sorts of this-message-could-be-important moments. A family member in the hospital, a publication going to press, a kid with car trouble. So I check. Of course I check. Sometimes I put the phone on my lap for a quick glimpse at messages as if I’m not staring at my crotch, Sometimes I just fess up that I have to look, at least when I’m with friends. But here’s the thing. My sense of urgency rarely, if ever, matches the number of times I’ve prioritized my phone.

One study shows the mere presence of a smartphone impairs our sense of connection to the people right next to us. There’s something about the phone itself, ready to shudder with a text or update, that diverts our attention.

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten more and more distracted simply because there are so many more options for distraction. In an essay titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,”    Nicholas Carr writes that being online has retrained his mind to  “…take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

For kids raised in the digital age, this may happen early on. A preliminary study suggests that when parents of one-year-olds get distracted (typically by their phones) while playing with their babies, their babies have shorter attention spans. Babies with the shortest attention span were those whose parents were disengaged or distracted. (There’s a happy medium though, because babies with parents who were overly intrusive and directive in play also had a lower attention span. Sort of like the porridge that’s not too hot or cold, it’s the parents letting the baby take the lead who foster greater attentiveness.)

This is a problem because most of us, parents included, spend a lot of time looking at screens. One study watched parents interacting with young children at fast food restaurants. Researchers observed a total of 55 caregivers who were eating with one or more children. Forty used a mobile device at some point. Most got out their phones right away. Some used it intermittently, some stayed on for most of the meal. The study also found that parents on their smartphones are more likely to react harshly to children. (How preoccupied were the parents?  None of them even noticed they were being watched by the study’s observers.)

Too much of this can disrupt connection, shut down conversation, and diminish attunement between parent and child. That’s not to say parents should spend every moment gazing in adoration at their kids, but it’s through engaged face-to-face connection with the primary people in their lives that kids learn to pick up on social cues, develop self-regulation, read other people’s emotions, build vocabulary, share ideas, and much more. And let’s not forget, children with a close sense of connection grow up feeling they are worthy.

Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect, was so troubled by what she saw in her clinical practice that she decided to  interview 1,000 kids between the ages of four and 18 to gauge their reactions to parents’ mobile phone use. Again and again she heard kids talk about their feelings with the same words: “sad, mad, angry, and lonely.”  Kids know full well that people looking at their phones are not really with us.

It helps to remember that the choices we make over and over actually rewire our brains to prefer that choice. It’s the neurological equivalent of driving along the exact same tracks in a dirt road, making ruts deeper and deeper until it’s nearly impossible to steer a different course. It’s easy to create these mental ruts thanks to dopamine, our brain’s feel-good chemical. We’re wired to get a rush of dopamine from all sorts of everyday delights. A problem solved, a smile across the room, a kiss, a hug—zing goes the dopamine reward.  That’s also true of a tweet—zing. A text—zing. Zing zing zing thanks to Instagram, channel flipping, online games. The previous hit of dopamine increases the need for another one. Pretty soon we’re addicted to the dopamine rush, driving our brains into an ever deeper rut. I try to remind myself of this when tempted to pull out my phone to use up a few minutes while waiting in line, instead rewiring my mind to look around me and live in the moment exactly where I am.

Our phones are here to stay.  They put us in touch with people important to us and to ideas that capture us. They’re so new to the human experience that we’re just beginning to learn how to balance them with the lives we want to live. It doesn’t help to label our use as good or bad. It helps to step out into the field beyond, sharing what works for us.

How do you find that balance?


Reading Has To Do With Play

games to build reading skills

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.  – Victor Hugo

Reading readiness and reading advancement has little or nothing to do with educational toys, apps, or enrichment programs. It has much more to do with what kids naturally like to do: move their bodies, enjoy stories, take part in conversation, and play freely.


Movement helps children develop sufficient brain-body maturation so they can successful decode abstract symbols into meaning.  This includes complex neurological pathways as well as sufficient kinesthetic awareness and proprioceptive sense.  (Find out what movements are essential in “Reading Readiness Has To Do With the Body.”)

Reading aloud every day, starting in babyhood, helps children associate reading with closeness and pleasure.  Even a board book builds vocabulary, demonstrates left to right sequencing, and promotes comprehension. We can fold reading time into daily rituals like story time before naps and again after dinner. We can also show how much we value reading by letting kids see us reading our own books and magazines.

As kids get older it’s important to avoid offering rewards for reading or make reading a precondition for privileges. That’s because rewards, even for something kids already enjoy, significantly diminishes their own intrinsic motivation. Telling kids “20 minutes of reading before you can play games on the tablet”casts reading as an obligation, leading kids to devalue reading  while enhancing the appeal of digital entertainment. (No wonder “eat your broccoli before you can have ice cream” makes broccoli the enemy and ice cream even more tempting.)

Stories stretch the mind and imagination. They help us, at any age, develop empathy and give us a larger context for our own lives.  That’s not limited to the page. There’s extraordinary power in telling family stories. When we share tales of our doubts, misdeeds, and triumphs we’re not only building family cohesiveness, we’re also (according to science) helping kids grow up with greater confidence and self-control.

Daily conversations, including all those questions kids ask,  helps them advance in reasoning and social skills while bringing us closer to each other.  Let’s admit, a great deal of parent and child interaction isn’t true conversation so much as directives, complaints, and reminders (because, well, life) so it helps to create openings for conversation. Hold a space for kids to talk about what’s on their minds —- this often seems to happen on a walk, a drive, or at bedtime —- good times to avoid earbuds and screens.  Make a practice of showing you’re listening by using eye contact and avoiding interruption. Talk about big issues and dilemmas in your lives, in your community, and in the news. Big topics have a way of stretching young minds.

Free play is an essential part of childhood. It also helps kids develop the skills necessary for reading well. It may look like fun, but in ways deeper and more vital than we can imagine play is a process of learning. We don’t have to engineer their play. Play is, and always has been, a universal language. Give kids as much time for free play as possible. But when you want to play along, here are a few ideas.


Word Play

games to improve reading

  • Tell simple jokes (sorry, this includes Knock Knock jokes), attempt tongue twisters, call each other made-up names, say goodbye in rhymes like “Out of the door dinosaur!” and “See you later excavator!
  • Play Cherries & Pits to get conversations started. Very simply, each person takes turns telling the best things (Cherries) about their day and the worst things (Pits) about their day.
  • Tell round robin stories. One person starts a story with a character and setting (“The elf woke up to find a large bird staring at him.”). The next person adds a few sentences before passing it along to the next person. This works well with as little as two people and nearly always becomes amusingly improbable.
  • Turn socks into puppets for impromptu plays. Puppeteers can hide behind a couch or sheet-covered table to perform, although socks in my house tend to talk on their way to the laundry.
  • Make story stones  (pictures on stones or tiles) and grab a few to prompt a story idea. Other stones can be added as the story goes on.
  • Ask off-the-wall questions. “Would you rather be a monkey or a lion?” “What would it be like if people had wings?” “If we could go on an adventure together what would we do?”
  • Write messages to each other. Scratch a few words in the sand, leave a message in magnetic letters, designate a place (under each other’s bed pillows, perhaps) where secret notes can be left, share a question and answer journal (taking turns asking and answering any and all questions), and leave little love letters for kids to find.
  • Sing songs with familiar tunes and invented lyrics. Those tend to be somewhat scatological in my family, a favorite faux opera here has to do with encouraging dogs to go out and get their elimination duties over with….



reading games

  • Play impromptu memory games. For example, take turns tapping out a beat, seeing if the next person can repeat it. Or try imitating movements in sequence (first person jumps, the other person jumps and adds clapping, first person jumps and claps and adds a turkey gobble, and so on).  Or take turns memorizing a sequence of unrelated words to repeat back in two minutes or ten minutes or the next day. Be prepared to lose to your kids!
  • Play hand-motion games like Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Cee Cee My Playmate.  Show kids jump rope rhymes. (You might check out Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes by Joanna Cole.) And don’t forget  hopscotch rhymes.  Research shows these simple games help kids become  better spellers, have neater handwriting, and better overall writing skills.
  • Encourage classic games like checkers, mancala, and chess. Games of all kinds typically help kids understand sequencing, grouping, and memory. No need to choose specifically educational games.
  • Make your own board games along with your child.
  • Set aside one evening a week as a family board game night or set up a kids’ game club with friends. (There are even great games for kids three and under like Roll & Play, First Orchard, and Feed the Woozle.)
  • Waiting in line with kids? Find objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet together, from avocados to zeros. Or play the classic Going on a Picnic game. Start by saying, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing an aardvark (or any “A” word). The next person continues with “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing an aardvark and a basketball (or any word starting with a B) and so on. The last person to remember and repeat the list is the winner.
  • Encourage active games. Consult Great Games! 175 Games & Activities for Families, Groups, & Children! by Matthew Toone and Mom´s Handy Book of Backyard Games by Pete Cava.
  • Use the dictionary (print copy!) to play surprisingly addictive word games like Blackbird.

Map Play

games to help readers

  • Encourage kids to draw maps of places they know well (your kitchen, your house, your street) and maps of imaginary places (alien planets, mythic kingdoms, ninja training camps).  Draw a map of where you’ve hidden packed lunches for them to discover or the bedtime chapter book you’ll read.
  • Encourage children to set up obstacle courses. Indoors this may include three somersaults through the hall, chairs to wriggle under, a rope to hop over, and a bunk bed ladder to climb. Outdoors the course can be more ambitious.
  • Enjoy regular treasure hunts. First hide a prize or two. Then place clues through the house or yard. These can be simple words or sentences, symbols, or pictures. Each clue leads to the next. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy or candy (it could be a note saying “we’re going to the park!”) the fun is in the hunting. Encourage children to set up their up treasure hunts too.
  • Letterboxing combines walking, navigation, and solving riddles. Clues help seekers find “letterboxes” hidden outdoors. Seekers mark their logbooks with a rubber stamp found in this box, mark a logbook in the box with their own personal stamp, then leave the box for the next seeker. For more information and links to regional clues, check with organizations such as Letterboxing North America  or Atlas Quest. Or use the guidebook, It’s a Treasure Hunt! Geocaching & Letterboxing.
  • Try orienteering. This sport combines navigation, map reading, and decision-making. Participants walk, run, bike, or ski using a map and compass to choose the best route on or off the trail. Consult Orienteering Made Simple And Gps Technology: An Instructional Handbook by Nancy Kelly.
  • Take turns playing Line Zombie. Draw a line on paper with a pencil or on the ground with chalk, using arrows to indicate direction. The other person must follow the line either by tracing on the paper with marker or walking on the chalk line. Zombie noises optional.


Portions of this post adapted from Free Range Learning.

Failure Too


Failure Too, a poem

Failure Too


Failure is more than shame’s

hot tar and feathers.


It’s cancer cells

destroyed daily

in the body’s

relentless furnace.


The unseen mugger

turning away

as a friend’s greeting

crosses the street, bright

streamers through the dark.


The beads of a broken necklace

rolling in his mother’s

dresser drawer, evidence

of that long gone afternoon

he scooped blue stones and dust

from the floorboards,

weeping till she soothed

with words softer

than her disappointment.


Finding them the week she died

he’s glad the necklace broke,

carries those stones

in his pocket to this day,

as ruins remind

us of splendor

in civilizations that spawned us.


Laura Grace Weldon

Originally published in Mom Egg Review.  Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

Remind Me To Enunciate

speak clearly lest you be misunderstood

I don’t normally chat about my movie preferences without being asked, but recently a neighbor walked over with our Netflix envelope in hand.  It had mistaken arrived in his mailbox. I thanked him cheerfully, saying we still get DVDs mailed because my husband and I watch a lot of foreign films that are otherwise unavailable.

That innocuous sentence instantly wrought some sort of reaction. He turned his head ever so slightly to the right, his eyes looking up as if confused. I’m pretty sure his nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. Then the charming older gentleman said carefully, “I didn’t know those were available on Netflix.”

Something was indefinably weird about our conversation but I had no idea what it might be. I assured him, in a far more cheery voice than usual, that we’re particularly fond of films from France, Denmark, and Sweden.

There was a long pause. I’d uttered two sentences about our fondness for foreign films and he was reacting as if I’d revealed a highly personal secret.  He looked at the plain red envelope and said nothing. His discomfort must have been downright contagious because I tossed in one more sentence, hoping to find some closure to the topic so I could say goodbye and retreat. I said, “Some people really hate subtitles but it’s totally worth it.”

Understanding broke out on his face like a rash. A red rash. He said, “Oh, foreign films.”

Then my face turned red. I speak with what we in upper Ohio consider to be no accent at all and it didn’t occur to me that he’d misunderstood. But he had. He thought I’d said my husband and I watch a lot of porn films.

The moral of the story? Enunciate!

(If you’re feeling kind enough to ease my embarrassment, please share a tale about a misunderstanding you’ve reacted to or caused…)

We Could All Use a Good Laugh


laughter is the cure, global understanding

“Sound of Laughter” by Hersley

We’re primed to practice the generative power of laughter from our earliest years. As babies interact with their mothers, their laughter quadruples from three months of age to their first birthday. Interestingly, mothers laugh nearly twice as often in these interactions. By a baby’s second year, they laugh nearly as long and often as their mothers do, meaning the more mom laughs the more her child laughs!

Some scientists believe laughter was a precursor to language itself.  As neuroscientist  Jaak Panksepp explains,

“Neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along with our ‘ha-ha-has’ and verbal repartee.”

Throughout life, from childhood on, most of our laughter comes from social interactions.   Studies tell us we laugh 30 times more often in the presence of others than we do when we’re alone. Since laughter does so many good things for us, body and soul, it motivates us to spend time with the very people who make us happy. What a lovely feedback loop — instigating, reacting to, and inspiring more laughter  —- bonding us to each other through delight.

Smiles are contagious.

Kindness is contagious too.

So is laughter.

Laughter can even become an epidemic.  In 1962, three girls started giggling in  Kashasha, a small town in what’s now Tanzania. It spread to 95 students in their school, lasting for hours. Within two weeks, similar laugh attacks infected kids in the nearby towns of Nshamba and Bukoba. It continued to spread, closing 14 schools before quarantines were enacted. It took 18 months before the epidemic slowed.

(In rare cases, you can laugh yourself to death.)

I am serious about all sorts of issues and will discuss them with you to death (a worse death, I’m sure, than death by laughter).  But I’m also an unrepentant guffaw-er. I’m pretty sure this is a genetic condition, my very polite mother was also prone to fits of hilarity.  Like her, I am capable of laughing normally, but sometimes I end up shrieking and cackling.  Controlling such laughter is just about impossible. Once, as a teenager, I was swimming across a small lake with my friend Kathy. As we swam, we started laughing about how funny the other person looked swimming. Weakened by glee, we got to the point where we could only dog paddle in place. Seeing the other person dog paddling, wide-mouthed with laughter, made us laugh all the more. Soon we were barely able to keep our heads above water. After gulping too many mouthfuls of water, we finally staunched our laughter until we somehow managed to get ourselves onto dry land. There we lay exhausted, aware we’d nearly drowned, laughing again.

I mostly laugh about my own awkwardness (plenty of material there) like falling , eating a mouthful of dirt, and accidentally snorting in a stranger’s face.  Snorting, by the way, got me laughing crazily the other day. For some reason Olivia was snorting with joy as Sam tossed her on the couch and for some reason that snorting set me off. I was trying to video this, but you can barely hear her snorts over my ridiculous shrieks.

Laughter’s contagious nature is more evidence that we humans are connected across all so-called boundaries. I’m writing about laughter today because my family has had a tough time lately and so has our country and so has our world. So I’ll leave you with these timely words by dear soul and wise sage, Bernie DeKoven. who writes in a post titled “Play, Laughter, Health, and Happiness,”

Playing and laughing together, especially when we play and laugh in public, for no reason, is a profound, and, oddly enough, political act.

Political, because when we play or dance or just laugh in public, people think there’s something wrong with us. It’s rude, they think. Childish. A disturbance of the peace.

Normally, they’d be right. Except now. Now, the peace has been deeply disturbed – everywhere, globally. And what those grown-ups are doing, playing, dancing, laughing in public is not an act of childish discourtesy, but a political act – a declaration of freedom, a demonstration that we are not terrorized, that terror has not won.

A Frisbee, in the hands of people in business dress in a public park, is a weapon against fear. A basketball dribbled along a downtown sidewalk, is a guided missile aimed at the heart of war. Playing with a yo-yo, a top, a kite, a loop of yarn in a game of cats’ cradle, all and each a victory against intimidation. Playing openly, in places of business, in places where we gather to eat or travel or wait, is a gift of hope, an invitation to sanity in a time when we are on the brink of global madness.

Yes, I admit, I am a professional advocate of public frolic. I am a teacher in the art of fun. I hawk my playful wares every time I get a chance, with every audience I can gather, war or peace.

But this is a unique moment in our evolution. America is no longer bounded by its boundaries. We are tied into a network of terror that crosses national divisions…

And I believe that we have far more powerful weapons than any military solution can offer us. And I believe that those weapons can be found in any neighborhood playground or toy store.

Like for play, laughter is also a political act, a declaration that fear and terrorism have not won. Incontrovertible evidence that there is hope.

May laughter’s gifts lift us all, together.

Spinning Straw Into Gold

laughing at adversity, it's all good,

Anne Anderson Wikimedia Commons

Annoyances seem to come with lessons built in, at least around here.

I trundle down the basement steps clutching piles of wet jeans so I can hang them close to our wood burning furnace, saving a bit of propane our clothes dryer might have used.  That seems like a farce when we discover a fitting on the propane tank has been leaking, letting hundreds of dollars worth of gas drift away in an ecologically irresponsible manner.

We have fresh milk, butter, and cheese thanks to our cow Isabelle. We avoid calculating if we’re actually saving money this way, but it’s obvious when it costs us. Like now, when we couldn’t harvest a single bale of hay last summer due to flooded fields. These days we have to buy each mouthful of hay she eats in exchange for the food she provides us.

What I can’t grow and preserve myself, I like to get in bulk from a natural foods co-op. It helps us afford organic food. But not when I find grain moths in my 25 pound container of buckwheat groats. Guess the chickens get buckwheat added to their diets and my kids won’t have to complain about pancakes the color of wet cardboard.

Sometimes I’m tempted to indulge in a Rumpelstiltskin-like tantrum. I don’t want to hear about the money we need to fix a tractor. I don’t want to clean a pile of dog puke or stay up late to meet another deadline or deal with unspeakably stinky laundry. I’d like the straw of everyday annoyances to turn into gold.

But then I pay attention.

Right now two of my sons are sitting by the fireplace talking and laughing with their father. My daughter is coming in from the barn, snow melting on her hair and on the bucket of eggs she’s carrying. The small dogs are wrestling at my feet while our old German shepherd rolls over to avoid watching such unruliness. It’s all perfect — exactly as it is. My socks still have holes, the window molding is unfinished, there are muddy footprints by the door. But none of that matters.

This is golden.

A 2012 throwback post from our farm site

Perfectly Good

"Perfectly Good" by Laura Grace Weldon


Perfectly Good

The chair broke years ago

leaving jagged oak

at its topmost edge.

Repairs never held and

here my youngest son sits

his face lit from within

like all God’s children.

If I could I’d fashion everything broken

into a greater whole, forming

a bridge to his highest possibilities.

Instead he eats supper

with sharp wood bristling at his ear

and when I suffer it aloud

the boy says, “It’s perfectly good.”


This was the mantra of my childhood.

Spoken over fat and gristle

left on my plate till I forked those last bites

in my reluctant mouth. Invoked with each

hand-me-down, though Jennifer Kling’s

mother always made me wear suspenders

at her house to spare her

my sagging trousers. Implied

in a fistful of stubby No. 2 pencils

my schoolteacher father saved

from the classroom trash can,

the same ones my mother darkened

her eyebrows with each morning.


Today my son helped with yard work

at my childhood home, then stopped

CSI-faced, to hold up a dark loamy figure.

My mother dismissed it casually,

“Oh, the overcoat in the azaleas.”

Her father’s moth-eaten wool coat,

good tailoring still apparent in the shoulders,

was too good to discard, but perfectly suited

to smother weeds forty long years.


Standing next to her in the doorway

I knew identity as something

broader than a name.

This is who we are.

Resilient enough

to chew the fat, hitch up our pants,

and raise our brows— smoothing the way

for our children the best we can.

I grew up missing my grandfather,

yet all the while his coat

lay right outside the window

arms spread wide,

keeping a place for flowers to grow.


Laura Grace Weldon

Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

Making Whole


The garment is worn out. There are only a few stalwart threads stretched across, warp without woof, and its fibers are surely too frazzled to hold up.

A reasonable person would have tossed it out or torn it into rags. But here I am, strangely peaceful as I thread the needle hoping to weave these strands back into a whole fabric.

Before drawing my stitches across the expanse I realize its boundaries must be reinforced. I sew a merry line around the edge, reinforce it with another line of stitching and then another. The jagged edge looks a bit like the borders around a state or map of a continent. Sewing is a contemplative endeavor and this small task gets me thinking.

I’ve never been great at establishing boundaries. By the time I was nine years old I read every newspaper and magazine that entered our house. My parents cancelled news magazine subscriptions because my childish reaction to what I saw on those pages was too raw. I still read about suffering in the morning newspaper. I still asked questions about  war, poverty, prejudice, cruelty, and greed — unsatisfied with answers like “God’s ways are mysterious.” I wanted to understand how grown-ups could let these things happen, how they couldn’t see. I wanted to understand all the way down to the mystery itself.

As a much smaller child I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was too large to describe, but I’ll try. In it could see life on Earth from a vantage point far above. Cars hurried along on roads, people lived in closed-off rectangles, everyone urged onward by a desperation that — from my dream vantage point — was tragic and absurd. They couldn’t hear me but I wanted to shout “It’s not real!” I’d wake up nearly gasping with horror.

Slowly I’d muster up the courage to run through the dark hallway to my parent’s room. My mother slept through any disturbance. Only my father would wake. He’d get up quietly, take me to the bathroom, and tuck me back into bed. On the nights when my misery wouldn’t go away, I’d brave that dark hallway again and my dad would let me sleep between them. Their bodies, heavy with sleep, helped to calm me.

Sometimes my father would try to parse the dream by asking me about it. I’d cry, “Everybody thinks it’s real, but it’s not.” And he’d try to explain it away, the way he did with my zoo dream, where animals burst from their cages to live behind garages and in back yards —- sadly unable to get back to their real homes. “Their cages are strong,” he’d say. “And they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” His words didn’t help. His presence did.

I’ve been a grown-up for a long time now. I spend too much time rushing around in my car and busy in my own rectangle as if this is what’s important, no greater  perspective in sight.

But my task right now is to stitch across the threads. Draw what’s pulled apart back together. Appreciate the needle’s strength and the thread’s purpose. Imagine it can be made a whole fabric. In a larger sense, there’s no other choice.

beyond boundaries

Baby Choreography

infant choreography, imitate your baby

This is hard to admit because it sounds entirely weird, but it was such a powerful experience that I now look back at it as a sort of ceremony.  Give baby choreography a try if you too want to step into an infant’s world.

Let me explain.

First time motherhood confounded me in a way I could not, still cannot, put into words. The new life in my arms astonished me. I’d never before looked so many hours at one face, day after day. I’d certainly never been simultaneously exhausted, enthralled, and overwrought for weeks on end. All the ways I knew to understand another human being were muddled, beyond what the heart knows and the eyes show. So I asked my body to teach me how brand new Benjamin perceived his world.

When just the two of us were alone, I set him on the carpet and lay down next to him. Then I imitated every single movement and sound my seven-week-old baby made.

  • Pursed lips.
  • Open lips.
  • Wrinkled brow.
  • Wide-eyed gaze.
  • Arms sweeping across the air.
  • Arms held tight to the body.
  • Feet and toes turning, flexing, flailing.
  • Arms and legs jerking.
  • Coos and bubbles.
  • Hands in fists.
  • Hands open, waving,
  • Side-to-side wiggles.
  • Long pauses of full-body stillness, with a wondrously calm facial expression.

I thought I’d indulge in this for only a minute or two, but I kept it up longer. Something about it transported me to my own bodily memory of infancy. I felt, from the inside, a sort of freedom from the physical template created by years of upright posture and acceptable facial expressions. I felt helpless, yes, but also expansively connected — as if my being didn’t end at the boundaries of my skin.

I got a message clear as spoken words that our bodies, mine older and his brand new, were temporal gifts. Our souls were the same size.

I got up from the floor humbled.


Originally published by Mothering.com.