Why Won’t My Child Listen To Me?

The answer is probably not what you think.

Why I Stopped Explaining So Much to My Kids


Lesson for a Guilty Mom

It is a good thing I am old enough to not take it personally because the comments on this essay are all over the place. It is interesting to see what people pick up on and what they don’t. In an 800-word article, you can only scratch the surface. I wrote a whole manuscript expanding on this, and still, it is not enough.

I suppose I should be glad that it pushed some buttons. It is like lancing a boil– but wow! Look out! You are going to get hit with some nasty stuff.


What the “Wr” in “Write”’ Really Means

My son is a genius at spotting patterns and systems in sports and economics, but the rules for spelling the English language just never stuck with him, although he did admit that during most of his elementary years, he didn’t try very hard, so there’s that, too.

In my efforts to find ways to help him—we homeschooled so that was my job—I read that all the words that start with “wr” have some sort of twisting action in them. There was more truth to that than I realized at the time.

Bear with me while I compile a list of “wr” words from my thesaurus (Am I the only one who prefers a thesaurus to a dictionary? But that is a different topic):

Wrangle: quarrel, scrap, brawl
Wrap: envelope, wind, bundle
Wrath: rage, ire, fury
Wreathe: circle, ring, girdle
Wreck: ruin, smash, demolish
Wrench: tweak, twist, wring
Wrest: exact, extort, squeeze
Wretched: desolate, forlorn, miserable
Wriggle: twist, wiggle, squirm
Wring: squeeze, choke, throttle
Wrinkle: crease, pucker, rumple
Wrist: you know, but it does its share of wrapping, wrenching and wringing
Writhe: twist, suffer, pain
Wrong: injure, damage, harm

Oh, and there’s this one, too:
Write: put down, set down, jot down, note, keep in touch, communicate, doodle, dash off, inscribe, compose, draft, pen, scrawl.

Back when I was a teacher of spelling, among other things, I didn’t understand the irony. Now that I’ve taken up writing—or, more accurately, now that it has taken up with me—I can only laugh at the breezy synonyms. Has my thesaurus failed me?

Sure, there are times when the words fall out of the air, when I’m in touch with my creativity, my muse, the flow, whatever you want to call it. I am drafting, communicating, dashing off whole sentences—paragraphs! pages!—with grace and ease.

But there are more than enough times when writing is an amalgamation of all the other “wr” words. I notice that “wrack” is not there—I am often wracked by self-doubt. There are significant moments of wretchedness and mental hand-wringing.

So maybe “write” isn’t such an outlier, after all. As a writer, I now have more appreciation for the iceberg of hidden effort that goes into a finished piece. Maybe, to reflect more accurately the realities of the work of writing, we should spell it “wrork.”

On Looking, listening, and birdsong in the morning

I just finished reading Alexandria Horowitz’s On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation. She describes eleven walks around her block in (mostly) New York City, taken with a wide range of experts: artists, physicians, geologists and dogs.

Highly recommended. You will laugh. You will learn. You will focus. You will expand.

I learned the answer to a question I have had for a long time: why do birds sing in the morning?

It has to do with the air temperature, Horowitz explained. Sound travels more directly in cooler air, and is more diffused in warmer air. Since the air is relatively cool in the morning, we hear birdsong from farther away.

“But,” I said to my husband. “I’m not sure I like that answer.”

We were parked in our car, windows closed against the black flies, air-conditioner running because of our dog in the back seat. Potential buyers were looking at our house, so we had to clear out for an hour. My husband brought a decision from the Supreme Court along to read– it is relevant to a case he has– and I brought On Looking. 

He read to me the salient points of the court’s decision, which included Justice Alito contradicting himself in the same paragraph and notorious RBG (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) slapping him down, as she does so well.

And then I explained what the book said about birds singing more in the morning: they don’t actually sing more in the morning. We just hear it more.

“I think I prefer to believe,” I said, “that they do sing more in the morning. That there is something about the morning that inspires birdsong.”

My husband said, with a laugh, “Typical morning person thinking.”

But physics aside, there is something about birds and morning. Maybe that is just the time when I listen.


Artists, everywhere.

My husband and I met an artist today.

We had just stepped out of the woods onto the dirt road and were headed back to our house when one of the guys who have been logging the woods across the road waved to us.

“I see you walking there every day,” he said. “Do you own it?”

We don’t. We just walk there every morning. We used to walk the trail on the other side of the road, but once the logging operation swung into gear, we had to go the other way.

In a small clearing beside the road—made last fall, so we knew what was coming—there were two giant blue tractors with monster tires in chains, a feller-buncher, a crane-type machine that lifts mouthfuls of logs onto a three-foot rotary saw and two pick-up trucks. The largest machine, a chipper, wasn’t there this morning.

My husband asked “Matt”—his name was sewn onto a nametag on his work shirt—imagine a forest ranger but in grey instead of green, with a baseball cap instead of the Smokey Bear hat—some sort of innocuous question about the work, how many acres they were cutting, I think, and that little bit of interest launched us into a twenty minute conversation about how Matt chose which trees to be cut.

The owner of those 170 acres has had them logged three times since 1940, Matt told us. Selectively, he emphasized. You have to leave some big ones, he said. Some people buy wooded property for short-term profit, he told us. “But that’s not stewardship,” he said, shaking his head in disgust.

I can attest that the woods that we have walked in every day for the five years we have lived here are a lively mixture of trees: species, size, etc.

“It takes years to learn what to cut and when,” Matt said. “Some people just have an eye for it. See that one there?” he asked, pointing to a tree that was close to a foot around at its base. “That’s probably forty-five years old. We’re going to let her be.”

He wasn’t just harvesting these woods. He was tending them.

“You have to be careful,” he said. “A tree like that one—you bump into it and the bark will fly. It’s growing season.”

“You’re an artist,” I said.

“Anyone can be an artist,” he replied, without hesitation. “A welder, a truck driver. I do the best job I can. I started when I was nineteen, and I’m thirty-four now. I take pride in my work.”

Presence, in all of its manifestations.

Today, my husband and I went on our usual morning walk without the dog. It was so much easier.

When I sat down on the floor to put on my shoes, I didn’t have to time my reaching to tie my laces with her running circles around me—and over me. Nor did I have to endure a face wash—she does drink from the toilet—or concussive barking just inches from my ears.

I didn’t have to check for cheeky squirrels, sly UPS men, suspiciously serene Seventh-Day Adventists or earnest Boy Scouts who must surely have a ball hidden somewhere on their person before leaving the house.

I didn’t have to tell her to drop the horse turd—that one, too—and I didn’t have to call her back as she drifted aimlessly—randomly, coincidentally, who me?—towards the neighbors’ yard, the one with the chickens.

I didn’t have to tell her don’t bite my hands when we got to the logging road where she likes to open up and charge—top speed—ahead, back and then ahead again, always three passes, always shooting by within a hair’s breadth of us, and always, on the last pass, jumping up to nip at the hand that feeds you! I say to her as she looks at me with that whites-of-the-eye, mad-dog grin and hurtles on by.

We didn’t have to endure long-suffering sighs when we rinsed her feet off in a bucket before letting her back inside—feet, I will add, that needed rinsing because she willingly—joyfully—waded into a fetid swamp filled with water that was just as wet—shocking, I know—as the water in the bucket.

And I didn’t have to dodge around her while I got breakfast as she, with unerring precision, managed to place herself in exactly in the next spot where I needed to go.

It’s so much easier doing these things without her. And, as I am sure you know, it is wholly pointless. I just want her home. The vet will call later today—good news, bad news—and then we’ll know. I say that breezily, but I know you are not fooled.

My dog—all dogs, it seems to me—embody presence. They just want us around, and we just want them—please—to be there, too.

And as I struggle today to focus on a writing project that I routinely describe as biting me on the butt, I will remember that I didn’t ask for easy. I asked for presence. It is enough. It is always enough.

Second Chance

Today I have an essay up on The Establishment. It was a hard one to write and a hard one to share.

The title I gave it was “Second Chance,” because while the essay addresses a deeply fraught relationship, I also think that it points to the fact that we are not trapped when we have choices about how we treat others.

It is important to me: this issue of judgment, of being quick to judge–and to condemn–before taking time to understand. I believe that the key to saving ourselves, each other and our world lies in empathy. Not in blame or even forgiveness. Empathy.

Blogs and Grace

Today, I want to share with you three of my favorite blogs. When I read them, I feel touched by truth, kindness, beauty and humor. Is that not grace?

Here they are:

Melodye Shore’s blog, A Joyful Noise.

The first thing you’ll notice is Melodye’s photographs. Often of birds, hummingbirds in particular. She writes with a tone of reverence and wonder. She is the epitome of a “witness.” She lets us see what she sees and invites us to make our own judgments. She is a powerful presence.

Julie Christine Johnson’s blog

Julie’s photos of sunrise, sunset and seascape, are as evocative as her writing. She shares her thoughts about her journey as a writer and so much more with humility and so much generosity. She is one of those people who can transport you, happily, to her world.

Samantha Irby’s blog, Bitches Gotta Eat

Samantha’s writing is fierce, funny, wise and TRUE. I can say no more. Just: yes, read it.