Nels, Wedding Reception

“perhaps it takes courage to raise children” – J.S.

Nels, Wedding Reception

Last night at a gathering I turned to one of my sons and I told him that for as long as I lived I hoped we had as close a relationship as we do today. And I add “If you ever want something less, if you don’t want to see me, I intend to respect that.”

People love to hear stories of addiction, as long as they are in the proper format and carry the correct message. The addict must describe the wretched circumstances of active use, at length. We should leave no unsavory detail undisclosed. We must emphasize the severity of our condition, our terrible mishaps and regrettable decisions, so the listener can assure herself that we were really bad, that they themselves do not have a problem. We become in their imaginings a caricature they can pity. Next: we must then perform an attitude of the chastened miscreant. Yes, but also of plucky hero, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. “I can do it! I love myself enough! Go me!” Our role is that of social scapegoat, a tidy morality tale. A fable of debasement and then squeaky-clean self-sufficiency. We satisfy the listener’s need for sentimentality and for Othering; the next thieving addict they see on the street will receive their righteous wrath.

And so it goes.

Wouldn’t it be a lovely fiction, then, if I were to say that it was my children who brought me to sobriety, if I could tell that inspirational story. It might go something like this: that after some horrible mishap or sloppy misadventure, one of my little tots said something especially piquant and I broke down on my kitchen floor, say, and had a cry. Et cetera. I realized I wasn’t doing my best and I decided to kick this thing, to stop drinking. I owe it to them. They need their mother at her best. That sort of thing.

Of course, that wasn’t the story at all. Back then my drinking seemed a minor footnote in a life that was a damned struggle. I remember nothing of note on the morning of my first day sober, especially not some pithy remonstrance from my partner or child. That day was business as usual until it wasn’t, and I got a good (figurative) slap and it took me a few days to even comprehend what had happened.

Because shit doesn’t go down like those Lifetime films, not usually anyway. Life comes at you fast, as they are wont to say. Live long enough and something will kick my ass pretty good and if I’m smart I won’t try to find a way to explain it away or sweep it under the rug.

Lasting sobriety brought me a toughness; more importantly, a clarity. What my children know, today, is that I carry it as my responsibility to sort my mess out. My job not to make excuses. My job to process my feelings with the appropriate parties (who are often not my children). For Christ’s sake, what do we have counselors, and sponsors, and peers, and partners for?

One of my enduring legacies as a mother is that my children can criticize me and they know that I will listen, and I will correct my behavior. This is a disciplined, grounding practice that is precisely easy once one gives into it, once I know I love my practice of mothering more than I love my egoic attachment to Self. This practice delivers me a great deal of self-respect as a parent. I have discovered I cannot “make” my children love or esteem or honor me and that it is inappropriate to try. Maybe most importantly, I do not explain away the hurts I have caused them. I don’t want to ever tell them it was okay that I hurt them. Not then, not today. I don’t want to hurt them and I don’t want to justify it if I do.

Being a mother has been, for me, a tremendous amount of work. I dislike the word “sacrifice” in this context, but I will say that on a daily basis and as the weeks and months and years have passed I have stood in a place and weighed one choice against the other, and if I found it at all possible I made the best choice for my child and I have done this when I didn’t know how I could possibly carry it off. I have done this hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of times. Maybe what has helped the most is to have that moment of footing to commit to something that frightened me, even if it hurled me into grief or was built upon the shakiest premise or if I received considerable adversity from others. Choosing my child over and over and soon it became choosing myself because it was my best self doing the choosing.

I did not know I had it within me to be a wonderful mother, but it has been a significant source of joy to find no small measure of competency in this vocation.

but not tonight, not tonight

“They say money can’t buy Happiness. But money can buy PopTarts, and that’s pretty close.”

My son is talking to me as I finish journaling, hang up some wet clothes, get ready for bed. He’s been high-energy all day from our roadtrip to a now-notorious, horrible brunch – where he ate only a small square of strawberry shortcake as he found the rest of the fare “disappointing”, to home again and a few play sessions outside with friends and next door at my mother’s, to a tokusatsu film together, and now – leaving me to write, he plays with his massive store of Legos.

He shaved his hair off the other day: now he’s just another lanky little jug-eared boy, his soft head all scruffy when he leans into me, still as physically affectionate as when he was just a little sprout. My Mother’s Day was another very sweet one, spent with my family in idleness. Besides the wretched first meal, my husband cooked a wonderful lunch and dinner. The gifts I made and purchased my mom, seemed well-received. My podcast heroes played my call-in and discussed it. My favorite kitty settled in on my lap and permitted me to pet him.

Now, in my studio: a fine flannel for a shirt. A vegetarian lasagna nestles in the fridge, for tomorrow night. Downstairs, I hear my husband return from a late-night run. My mind is going over things I don’t share publicly, thoughts about my children and school and our plans for the future. My mind will soon take a rest and tomorrow will be 

Another Day

mothers’ day

A lovely morning with the kids. Sewing. A lunch date with my family, and my mother. Some volunteer work. A visit from a friend. Holding my husband’s hand. About to get into bed with him, now. It’s been a long day!



This morning my mom came over and told me she was giving me the most beautiful thing she owned – some columbine she’d waited three years to bloom:


From Ralph and the kids: a coconut cream cake and a pop-out weasel card – both homemade! #wins


While I was out doing my volunteer thing, Ralph made a video. I love that he uses only: his voice, his uke, his car keys, and his wedding ring.



I’d love to write some awesome verbiage but today was a big day for me and I’m beat-ass tired.

G’night, my lovelies!

“this movie is just ropes & asses!”

My mom and I exchanged Mother’s Day gifts yesterday, before she traveled south to take care of my grandfather for a month. I would have liked to have spent the day taking her out to lunch and such, but she had to get herself on the road.

I had a lovely day today. The first thing my son said to me this morning was, “Happy Mother’s Day”. As I did my computer-thing he called for me to give him some couch snuggles. So, that had to happen.

My Mother's Day So Far

The rest of the day spun out beautifully. Fresh flowers, awesomeness, sunshine, good food, friends, hanging new curtains. The kids caught a frog then charged neighborhood kids five cents to look at it in its temporary habitat, a wagon filled with water and various floating frog-platform fauna.

Frog In A Jar

Treatment center work. I was not able to bike as I seem to have injured my knee, and any biking hills are treacherous. I’m trying to be patient through this. The work, though, was good for me. And I hope, for others. Afterward a man took me aside and thanked me and said, “Good job.” Something or some things I had shared, resonated with him. He shared a little about his most recent DUI and some medication he was detoxing from. He’s off to another treatment center tomorrow – I will probably never see him again.

Home to the summer-warm house and dusk. Homemade dinner by husband, hot bath.

Soon: time for bed.

But now? Time for a silly-arsed B-movie.

I hope you all have a soft and loving bosom to rest upon, or that you find one soon.

My Mother's Day

sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy

I woke up to flowers, a beautiful and unique bouquet, and Ralph cooking breakfast for about four kids, only one of which was ours. Last night we had about six extra children running around and about; two stayed the night over. Today we continued to have a houseful while Ralph did some spring cleaning and Phoenix, my mother and I took a trip up to Olympia. As it turned out, we mothers bought gifts for our daughters; my mom treating me to coffee and a little antique fabric book and part of our lunch while I in kind bought doughnuts and comics for my Phoenix as well as her favorite type of toy (“dinosaur skull” and “ocean life” – my kids, especially my daughter, always have adored plastic animals). I’m ready to get started on a new sewing piece and I’m feeling that calm thrill about it all.

At home Ralph cooked up a small feast while I experimented in my sewing room with twin needle and starched linen. He grilled tri-tip steak, roasted baby potatoes, and cooked up a tender cauliflower in olive oil, with a blueberry crumb cake for dessert. Nels helped set the table and serve up everyone, including making a centerpiece from the inexpensive glass “ruby” I found for him in the craft store. My mom joined us for a late late dinner and only now left. I feel oddly exhausted and only write here to chronicle my day. This might have been my oddly busiest Mother’s Day yet; no problem there –

just gotta fall into a hot bath and then a warm, snuggly bed with my lovely bambinos.

Sleep Town, USA; Population: me.

Mothers & Others

There has been nothing in my life like my work caring for another human being properly – with nurture, love, compassion, usually lots of time chopping and cooking food and wiping counters and pulling laundry and that small and essential stuff, for instance holding a wee hand so a little one can stomp in a puddle with great relish and efficacy. Time, years measured in joy and laughter but also blood, sweat, and tears, and I do mean tears, mistakes you know you made that eat you up inside and no amount of condescending There, there, everyone has bad days from others means jack shit, and why should it?

Many people don’t know much about it. They either haven’t had the responsibility, or they shirked the responsibility horribly. I’ve met a lot of fathers (and a few mothers) who consider themselves having “raised x-number-of kids” who perhaps made wage but did very little otherwise, and/or did it poorly. Fortunately – for the men and women and children in their lives, as well as themselves – most parents I personally know wouldn’t fall under this description.

But I’ll never get over the capacity people have to care for one another, I mean consistently day in day out even when that shit is hard, sometimes when they can barely figure out how to keep the bills paid and groceries coming. And of course, not all of those people I admire are parents. Example: the young man who financially and emotionally and while running a home and working in low-wage work supports a mother who is underemployed and who didn’t much raise him when he grew. Example: the neighbor who never had children, in his fifties now, who has consistently kept his mother’s house and looked after her, even before her widowhood. Example: my aunt who looks after my grandfather’s every medical and emotional need and runs his household and gets him his favorite foods, a person who will care for him until his dying day. Those who cook and deliver food to those who need to eat and don’t know how to cook, or can’t, or are stressed and heaped with struggle.

But most people I know who’ve cared for human beings with body work and constancy and day-in-day-out are mothers (like the above-mentioned aunt, and of course if you read here you know I cook for many outside my family). These mothers care for children and perhaps through the crucible of that experience, I don’t know, they expand and later (or sooner) we find them caring for siblings or aging loved ones or other people’s kids, and if they have men in their life they’re often doing the lion’s share of caring for him too. My own mother and I share this experience, many years of other-care, and even though I could list a hundred and five ways I think she fucked up while I was growing up, list them on-point, perhaps the reason we share a close friendship today is I never gave up on her, nor she me. I know that sounds a bit grim but let me tell you, there’s a lot of work women do, a lot of time in the foxholes being shelled from all sides, and we never forget those years. And lots of times not only do we not get the help we need but no one nearby seems to throw us a give a fuck, so if you think that doesn’t make us angry or wary or (lots of times) not even bothering to speak out about people’s ignorance regarding general matters, well, sometimes we canna be fucked. But my mother and I, we have a connection made deep not just because of the love we have for one another, but because of, maybe mostly due to, the work we’ve put in.

Today I’m thinking a lot about the work we’ve done.

My mother, and myself. My grandmother. We birthed babies. Out our vaginas. Under our own power. That shit’s awesome. Not a day goes by I don’t think about my births. People inadvertently or purposefully try to strip me of dignity or agency or worth, or look past or over or through me sometimes, or maybe they try to put me in my place by flirting with me in that way I decidedly don’t dig and my every fiber of being signals “no thanks” (hey lady, you’re looking fine), and people are all the time measuring me up and deciding my worth or lack thereof, but they can never take my experience of childbirth away, I am marked until my grave with that.

My mother, myself, my grandmother. We cared for little beings twenty-four-seven, I’m talking do you even know how vulnerable an infant is? I used to cry while giving my firstborn a bath, it wouldn’t even take me holding her down in the water, if I merely walked away she would drown. She was that vulnerable, that fragile, and she was mine to care for every second of the day, and I can’t describe the love I felt and how deep it went, like nothing else I’d ever known. Do you even know what my babies’ cries would to my body, and mind, and heart? I have never felt so triggered, so pulled at. I’d walk through a grocery store and the sound of someone’s baby or the thought of one of my own, I’d have to apply pressure to my breasts, otherwise milk would flow. I have felt waves of nausea, love, fierce protectiveness. I’ve felt my hands shake and my head pound. I’ve felt more at-peace and found more humor in life than ever before. Something stirred when I became a mother and has grown and grown monstrous with love ever since.

Predictably I suppose, although I never thought about it until now, it was my mother and I who were with my father, nursing him in every physical and emotional way, through his death at home. I will never forget how much I appreciated even the smallest gesture of care, the couple who brought groceries, the friend who watched my young children once in one of my final nursing shifts when I was wearing down. I’ll never forget how they helped me, like I never can forget the women with me when I gave birth, tears spring to my eyes when I remember the space they held for me. I’ll never forget how much it hurt to hold my father while he died but how Right that hurt was, and how much effort and care I took into serving him as best as I was able, and in a way those small gestures and assistances of others, they were under my feet and flowing through my fingertips, and they sustained me through thirsty work.

But you know what’s funny, until this very second I never have thought much about how much my care might mean to other people. It’s not that I’m a “selfless” mother, and I hate that whole package as it’s sold and marketed.  It’s that the minute the business was before me it opened my eyes and I saw good work that could be done. I’ve been shit on, pissed on, puked on. I’ve been disrespected and overlooked and pedestaled and condescended to. I’ve been told I was worth less than other people, sure… but I’ve been told I was the one person who matters most. One thing I’ve never been is bored.

I’d like to extend a thanks to my children, but of course it was kind of an accident they’ve ended up being such an incredible experience, not at all some favor they extended or the center of their interests. If you read here you know I like to write out my thoughts and feelings but I can’t encompass what it’s meant to me to care for my little Nels and Phoenix, and for the many, many ways they’ve opened up a caring and a strength that lay dormant within. All I can say is: I feel incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity, and it’s better than anything I could have guessed at or built on my own with clumsy hands and vain hopes.

I love you m’ijos.

Kelly, 2004


Here are a few of my writings, not the best or the most instructive or anything, I’ve found to share today.

Caring for other people is not like any other job. And I have had other jobs.

In which I behave like an ass-hat, and how my family responds.

Of maples & madres

An apologist for lurve

A mother, and her mother.

“I forgot to mention, it’s so beautiful here.”

mother tell your children not to hold my hand/ tell your children not to understand

I spent much of Mothers Day with my own mother, husband, and two children. We took a roadtrip up to Oly and I bought fabric – a series of lovely deep colors in a rayon/linen blend, destination: dresses for my daughter who is already far grown out of the frocks I sewed her only months ago. We had hot dogs and lemonade at the park and watched a tremendous number of kids race through the play fountain. My kids finally cajoled my own mother into the fountain herself where she was blasted with water. They joy on the faces of all three was pretty awesome.

I’m not exactly sure why but Olympia is a lot “whiter” than my hometown, where the day before we’d spent a solid chunk of time at the travelling carnival. About forty percent of the attendants were Latino and the rest predominantly white with the smattering and all-encompassing racial makeup that benefits our locale. In both outdoor excursions it was rather soothing to spend a couple days amongst a surge of people. I have a theory that in the Northwest we get so desperate for sunny weather we’re out the minute one could decently call it spring. At the carnival Ralph and I adopted our new policy: buying the kids the $20 (apiece) bracelets that allow them to go on as many rides as they want as much as they want. This means we get no cotton candy or elephant ears which is probably just as well. For rides, my kids favored the fun house (I think it was called Ghost Party and looked not-even-remotely spooky) and the – oh I forget the name, back in the 90s it was called the Gravitron. Sophie even went on the Bonzai Bomber, the most ambitious stomach-turner they had to offer. I watched her from below. Carnival lights in the gloaming, it’s somehow wretchedly beautiful.

We had my mom over for Mothers Day dinner – slow-roasted beef on french rolls with au jus, corn on the cob, roasted tomatoes, fried zucchini. I gifted my mother a watercolor print of the columbine flower and an actual specimen in a pot – it’s a bloom she loves. I hadn’t known what else to get her as she really is lacking for little. In years past I would have bought her yards of fabric or some other material good, but I know she feels crunched for time and the last time I bought her supplies (luxurious yarn and bamboo needles) she never touched it and I ended up knitting her the socks myself – two years later. I know she likes hanging prints on her walls and she’s quite the joyful gardener. Columbine, a beautiful and delicate flower, it matches her nature. I had purchased her a (non-Hallmark) card a year ago, knowing the artwork on the card was a perfect fit – saving it for now. Inside I wrote:

Mom, You’ve been a wonderful grandmother. Our family is blessed to have you.  I have thought it was a happy side-effect that when we moved down to Hoquiam to be closer to dad in his last years/months/days, you were given the opportunity to know my family and experience life with young children again.  Your pesence in our lives goes beyond that of “babysitter” or a doting presence.  Instead you are instrumental and an integral part of our family.  So many families do not get to experience this.  Thank you for your care and friendship.

Are we supposed to write mushier sentiments to our loved ones? Well, I try to be accurate which often sounds decidedly non-demonstrative. I think on my wedding day I tried to give my husband a chuck on the shoulder rather than french kiss him in front of all those people.