Readings On Grief

Museum of GoodByeAmy and Maya at The Creativity Caravan partnered with Apryl of the Halfway There reading series to present Readings on Grieving.  Seven local writers presented pieces centered around grief and letting go. What follows is the piece I read for the event.

The Death of My Father

My father died on a street in Camden, Maine. We were walking up a hill and he stopped, again and again, waving his grandchildren ahead. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll be there soon.” Shallow breaths forced him to lean heavily on the stone wall, my mother hovering nervously at his side.

My father died in a hospital bed after a heart attack. There were dozens of dangers and warnings and maybes and precautions before he could be put under anesthesia for a common and simple procedure. I smiled and waved off the dangers and said we’d see him in recovery. But we all knew, he knew especially, that he might not make it to recovery. He said he wanted The Battle Hymn of the Republic played at his funeral. We laughed, and then we made mental notes. Just in case.

My father died in church, unable to stand or sing or pray out loud. I sang a little louder and held his hand, but the notes were off and my throat felt sore. His voice had always been in tune and powerful and filled with the belief I no longer had.

My father died in the specialist’s office, sitting between my mother and me, one hand on the ever-present oxygen tank. The pulmonologist killed him with her gentle but firm words, “Your fibrosis won’t respond to this treatment.” That was the moment he gave up on trying to fight off death.

My father died falling out of bed. He hit his head and hurt his body and bruised his pride on the way down. He never left the bed after that. He was more afraid of falling once more than lying in bed forever.

My father died hearing my mother and me snap and argue and gripe at each other over what was best for him. “Please be patient with your mother, Kristin,” he pleaded. I tried. I couldn’t do it well enough. Not even for the weekends. Not even for him.

My father died in hospice, two hundred miles away, whispering “I love you, too” as my mother held the phone to his mouth. Sitting in my car outside my children’s school, I flooded his ear with as many of the ways his grandchildren loved him and how lucky they were to have him for as long as they did and how they’d always remember him as strong and loving and vital and necessary. He knew “they” really meant me.

My father died when I hung up the phone, releasing the sobs that I’d tried so hard to hold back during the call. I cried because I wasn’t with him and because others were. I cried because I hadn’t said enough. I cried because the inevitable was so near. I cried because my father had been dying for so very long. I cried because he was ready. I cried because I was not.

My father died after many almosts and close-calls during two decades of stolen years in which he raised children to adulthood, married off two daughters, eventually retired, and met and loved his grandchildren. And was so loved in return.

Years later, in surprising and sudden bursts, I still weep when I hear his favorite songs and know he’d like to sing them once more. Years from now, I will still sing a little louder for him, off pitch and with joy.



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I don’t belong here

imposter-syndrome-comicOnce in a while, not a long while, but a short while, I feel completely outpaced by those around me. I look around and realize that I am unqualified to breathe the same air as others. (Basically, the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect we see playing out in national politics.) Don’t bother arguing with “We are all equal” and “You’re underselling yourself” and all that. I know I’m correct in my feeling of worthlessness and I just want to wallow in it. So there. Maybe it comes from shyness. Maybe it’s rooted in constant comparison to others as a child. It doesn’t matter, really. It’s there, it exists, and I’m dealing.

In the past, that feeling might have talked me out of participation. But what I’ve done more recently is give the other party an out. Just today I wrote an email that included, “I truly don’t feel qualified to be seated on a panel with these two people!” What’s the goal with a comment like that? To have the organizer say, “You’re right, I rescind the invitation”? Because I’d be pissed; the sitter is already booked. I think that it’s a signal to the other end of the email exchange that I know what I suspect they know: I’m not as (smart, qualified, accomplished, talented, professional) as the others. It’s a warped humility. A grownup version of “These jeans make me look fat.” It’s a hope that you’ll be disputed and reassured. It’s fishing for compliments. Ick. I need to stop that.

With another “I’m a total fraud” event coming up this week, I was heartened by a Neil Gaiman post about Impostor Syndrome. Besides recommending Amy Cuddy’s book, Presencewhich deals with feeling like an impostor, Gaiman relates an anecdote about himself and an American hero both feeling like impostors despite storied and pages-long resumes. If Neil Gaiman feels like an impostor sometimes, I guess we all do. Maybe it’s even healthy to feel like we are the least qualified in a group on occasion as long as it doesn’t paralyze us into inaction. If so, I’m super healthy.


by Bradford Veley

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Hey, Parents: You’re Doing A Great Job! {giveaway}


30341531There are days, lots of them, that parents need to hear “You’re doing a great job!” There are the days we snap at our children and make them cry (when we are really snapping at ourselves). There are the days you try to go out to lunch and end up mortified. The days your child learns a new four-letter word. Or the days when your adult son needs an ambulance. But all the fretting and rushing and worry of the older years don’t compare to the earliest times when we still counted our child’s life in months.

Whether it’s the monotony, the unknowing about what counts as “normal” or worrisome, or the horror of listening to The Wiggles again and again and again, parenting during those long days that lead to short years often means feeling like a failure. Or, at least, knowing you could have done a heck of a lot better. On those days, the last thing a new-ish parent needs more of is advice. What she or he needs is a hug, a pat on the back, and a reminder that sounds a lot like what overflows in this new book from One Bad Mother podcast hosts Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn: YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB! 

This book reminds parents that it’s okay to have a low bar. Celebrate what did happen, not what didn’t, including gems such as:

Did you get up this morning? Great! You’re doing an awesome job!
Your kid fell asleep? Even if it was just for two hours, that’s amazing. Good job!
Has your kid eaten? That’s probably your doing, so yeah, you’re a winner!

You get the idea. Each page is a new affirmation of the little things that earn you a Good Job! Parents deserve a participation ribbon when they’re having really bad days, too.

{edit: Congrats Alyssa! The book will be in the mail ASAP!} If you or someone you know is a new parent and could use a comforting, understanding, non-judgy hug in book form, comment on this post for a chance to get a brand spanking new copy in your mailbox! I’ll mail one copy to a lucky commenter as long as that person has a U.S. address.

I’ll collect comments until May 5th to make sure I can get the book to the lucky commenter before Mother’s Day. Good luck!

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Lazy Mom’s Guide to Dying Easter Eggs

So, true to form, I’m about 20 years late to another trend: Pre-Dyed Eggs. Am I alone here in seeing this on grocery shelves? Even the Swiss do it! There was no price listed, and I was too lazy to chase down someone knowledgeable about ShopRite prices. Also, there was no information about what kind of eggs they are, but they look pretty homemade. I mean, they have uneven color and splotches. Plusses in my book.


Here are some other plusses: No mess, no vinegar smell, no kids fighting about who gets the blue again, no spilled dye onto wood that soaks it up and keeps the stain for decades, no over-boiling the eggs and having them crack and all the yolk seeps out, no buying brown eggs by accident and having to return them and explaining that two were already broken when I bought them. (Really they were.)

But I didn’t buy them. Somehow all those problems I see now as an adult made up the joy I remember from my childhood. That, and my mom has taken over dying eggs with my kids. If you’re going old school, here’s Real Simple instructions: real simple! And if you need reasons to just buy dyed eggs from ShopRite, here is inspiration from Scary Mommy and a fewotherblogs.

Have you purchased these pre-dyed eggs? How were they? If you haven’t, would you?

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#IWD2017’s No Judgment Reminder of Our Privileges

IMG_1753There are plenty of lefty think pieces (is that what we’re calling them these days?) about how there are many women who aren’t able to strike today, the #DayWithoutAWoman. There are plenty of righty commentaries about how women who are striking today are just “taking a vacation” on the backs of hard-working conservatives. IMO, which you know I love to share, both of those attitudes miss the mark in much the same way.

Strikes are meant to be sacrifice. So claiming people “able” to strike are privileged dismisses the very real risks and hardships that some of the strike participants are making. Similar to this, viewing a strike as a vacation dismisses the everyday hardships and sacrifices to which the events are attempting to draw attention. Either way, it’s a judgment. And, no thank you; we have enough of that.

On the other hand, events like this provide a fantastic opportunity to recognize the many ways we are all privileged in one way or another. Am I able to strike from my job without worrying about losing wages or the job? Privilege! Am I able to afford bus or train fare to join a protest in NYC? Privilege! Can I wear a symbol of my religion without a constant worry that someone may attempt to remove it? Privilege! And on and on. FullSizeRender

What the recognition is meant to stimulate is gratitude, not defensiveness. Empathy, not resentment. A call to serve, amplify, and support with a hand up, not separation, shame, or turning away. And it’s not always easy to admit privilege, especially when someone has fought her own battles with society and hardship and discrimination. But admitting privilege doesn’t take away from your hard work and sacrifice; it simply acknowledges the advantages you have enjoyed because of gender, economy, being able-bodied, race, religion, sexual orientation, education, health, a nurturing childhood, access to reliable health care, geography. Again, on and on. We have all had some privileges, have we not?

Finally, I ask you to consider that what you may have considered GOOD LUCK in your life, career, or interactions with authority figures may actually be privilege. No judgment.

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Glad I Saw It: Peace and Love


Several years of walking in Brookdale Park, and I’ve never noticed this. Having a dog means meandering instead of power walking, and that means breathing deeply and seeing more. I highly recommend it.

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Posted in Glad I Saw It, People are Good, random observation, Suburban Life, Things I love | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Evergreen: Authority Figures MUST Train to DeEscalate


Here, an off-duty police officer created a situation with his mouth that he then escalated to a point he felt the need to finish with his gun.

As I’ve written before, I get it. I really, really do. Being in a position of authority, especially with teens is a constant tension. All day you get pushback and challenges, some are good-natured, some are intensely hurtful and personal, some are threatening and potentially harmful. And yet, if you are in a position of authority (teacher, security, police officer, parent), it’s on you to deescalate a bad situation before it gets worse. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

This week there have been two situations that bring this into glaring focus: Anaheim and Baltimore.

First, Anaheim. An off-duty LAPD Officer said something obnoxious to a teenager and another teenager stuck up for her. This off-duty officer may well have misunderstood the teen (instead of “I’ll sue you” he may have heard “I’ll shoot you.”), and no matter what his reasons (bias, nerves, guilt for calling a teenager a disgusting word, ego, a need to make himself feel like a tough guy) for misunderstanding, his response was wrong and the opposite of de-escalation. Instead of ignoring the possibly misheard threat, walking into his house, calling 911, or asking for clarification, he decided to grab someone else’s 13-year old child and refuse to let him go. See the full video and aftermath here.  Read the story of this disturbing event here.

That would have been more than bad enough, but after continuing to drag the teen around and scratch him, drag him over a hedge, and verbally abuse him, when other teens came too close trying to help, this off-duty police officer pulled out his gun and fired a shot.


Just last night another video, this one from Baltimore, came to light detailing the arrest of a 16-year old boy who had just been threatened by another, knife-wielding teen. The video is disturbing not just for the violence (closed fist punches, choking, slamming of body and head to the ground), but also for the frightened cries from the teenager. See it and details of the event here.

Both of these horrendous, potentially tragic situations could have been de-escalated with a dose of humility, proper restraint techniques, and a full assessment of the situation. None of the (armed, trained, authority figure) adults in these situations behaved as they should have. And in one situation, an off-duty officer discharged his weapon into a crowd of teenagers.

Please don’t wait until a tragedy occurs in your area. Contact your police department and town government and urge them to strengthen and further develop deescalation techniques, especially when dealing with minors. Even has sections of deescalation, for crying out loud.


Spreading the word at the yeah write moonshine grid.

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Glad I Saw It: Creativity Caravan

1486085937371The Creativity Caravan, owned and operated by Amy Tingle and Maya Stein, has a new home at 28 South Fullerton Avenue in Montclair. With programs like a #SocialSketch, letter writing, and Retablo Workshops, there is something for everyone — no matter artistic ability or age.

I recently stopped in to a Happy Hour, complete with prosecco and art supplies galore. The space is a delight for the eyes. We had typewriters, pens, markers, crayons, rubber stamps, art paper, glue, scissors, Spirographs, and more at our disposal for an hour or so of unrestricted art-making. Maya’s clever, colorful artwork adorns the walls, Amy’s Retablos line up to tell tiny stories about moments in time, and there are notecards, crafty sets, and other wonderful items for purchase as well.

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Check out the continually updated calendar of events for upcoming activities and to check out what you missed. If you happen to be in the Montclair Center neighborhood, stop in to say hello. Chances are you’ll leave more artful and relaxed than when you arrived. And in case you didn’t know, The Creativity Caravan is the home of the Tiny Book Show and Tour!

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Positivity Quotient: Top Ten List

It’s been a long week of wacky, hasn’t it? Frankly, I’ve found political goings-on stultifying where writing is concerned. I can’t focus! I’ve decided to pull myself out of the funk as much as possible by focusing on ten things that made me happy this week…because they are out there!


10: The Self-Care Warriors series from Eloiza Jorge at Deepening Wisdom has been wonderful. This post about nourishing ourselves was particularly lovely. Check out the entire series for some encouragement to treat yourself.

9: Sharing photos of my chihuahua to help a friend’s daughter pass the time in MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Follow @DadoftheDecade on Twitter for updates.

8: This week has finally had consecutive days of SUNSHINE! And the weekend will be glorious! Vitamin D!

7: Together with other parents, I learned how to strip roses and prep bouquets for a successful fundraiser for my son’s grade. Check out RMerrittFlowers’ IG account here.

6: Valentine’s Day for me and my husband included an exchange of cards and nothing more. You have to know me to understand how that made me very happy. 🙂

5: My kids both had a No Cavity visit to the dentist! Woohoo!

4: I got back on track with the Whole Life Challenge. Now to work on more exercise.

3: I completed all the recommendation letters I owed to my graduate students.

2: I finished and turned in a book review I’d been holding off on. Now I’m giving myself a break by continuing to read Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck, which I’m really enjoying so far. And learning a lot about literary history AND pop culture.

1:  My son turned 10. (This is both something that made me happy and nostalgic.)

What are some things that made YOU happy this week? Try to find at least ten things — they’re there.

On the moonshine at yeah write.

Posted in People do silly things, Suburban Life, Things I love | Tagged | 9 Comments

I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s Call to Action is On US

The Oscar-nominated I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is a must-see. You can stop reading now and just get to the nearest theater today.


I was lucky to be at the Montclair Film Festival and Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence sponsored screening last night. Producer Hébert Peck (and brother of director Raoul Peck) was present to introduce the film and for a Q&A immediately following. MFF Executive Director Tom Hall introduced Mr. Peck saying that I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was Hall’s favorite film at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s easy to see why the film attracted Hall. It is a powerfully told history with a direct and unapologetic stare down of today’s audience.

During the Q&A, Hébert Peck shared that James Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, who also serves as executor of the Baldwin Estate, gave director Raoul Peck 30 pages of notes and letters Baldwin had written in preparation for a book about the legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they intersect. “You’ll know what to do with this,” she said. The resulting film, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is at once a eulogy to three slain leaders, a painful and necessary reminder of where we’ve been (and are) as a country, and a call to action to confront and dissect the role racism, overt and covert, plays in our lives. That call to action is for white Americans, and it’s as true today as when James Baldwin said it on the Dick Cavett Show.

It is entirely up to the American People, whether or not they are going to find out in their own hearts, why it was necessary to have a N***er in the first place….If you think I’m a N***er, it means you need it. And you need to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. (link) (NSFW/language)

According to the Q&A following last night’s screening of the film, the filmmakers behind I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO wanted to make sure James Baldwin weighed in on current events. Even more than the wonderful PBS American Masters episode “The Price of the Ticket,” I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO forces its audience to confront the lack of difference between the racial divide of the 1950’s and 1960’s and today. The clips of Black Lives Matter marches and Ferguson, the reminders of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and more are intercut with mobs of classmates spitting at and violently harassing Dorothy Counts as she walked to school, boys being searched while stripped down to their underwear, hateful crowds holding Nazi symbols and screaming racial slurs at Black demonstrations, and more.


Dorothy Counts, on her way to school. Seeing her experience prompted James Baldwin to return from Paris.

And more. There is much more.  A moving, but brief section about Lorraine Hansberry’s visit with Bobby Kennedy begs to be expanded in someone’s next film. This documentary includes clips and images from films, television shows, news shows, history. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO reminds those of us with the privilege to forget that we’ve seen this before. We’ve been here before. And it asks us all to stand up, find the strength and humility to confront our own conflicted morals, and fight as allies. It’s not pretty. And it won’t be easy. But the future of our country depends on it.

You can find showtimes here. The companion book edition, including never before published writing by James Baldwin, comes out on Tuesday.


Sharing on the moonshine grid at yeah write.

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