How to Love Your Teenage Daughter

How to Love Your Teenage Daughter















By Jennifer L. Freed

Start early, while she is still too young to pull
back from your touch.  Teach her
the language of your eyes, your arms,
your wordless hand brushing along her hair
as she slips past you in the morning
bustle of the kitchen.

Kiss her with the breath of onions.
Close your eyes, if you need to, while she leaps.
Hold your tongue.  Bite it,
if necessary.
Cut her food for her, if
necessary.  Know
that it may be necessary,
even though her teeth are strong.

Let her try on your clothes.  Let her wear them
for an hour, or a day, then shrug them off
with a disdainful gaze. Tell her
why they suit you, and
that they did not always.

Tell her you once tried
to make a fairy’s home of forest moss
and garden flowers, and tell her
that you failed.  Look her in the eyes.

Get two pairs of work gloves, two
shovels.  Ask her where to build
a mountain.  Ask her to help.
When you are tired, climb the mountain
with her.  Destroy it with her. Get
the shovels, and build with her

Give her a Swiss Army knife, and
sturdy shoes, an ocean
stone to fit into the center
of her fisted palm.
These will serve her when she leaves
you. Know that she will leave you. Know
that your job is to teach her how,
and to want her to stay.


Jennifer L. Freed’s poems have appeared in Poetry East, Literary Mama, The Worcester Review, The Christian Science Monitor and others.  Her first chapbook, These Hands Still Holding,  (Finishing Line Press, 2014) was a finalist in the 2013 New Women’s Voices contest. 

photo: the winding road |

Return to the September 2015 Issue

The Inner Husband

The Inner Husband

By Patricia Stacey

Dollhouse in human handIn 2003, I was invited on a radio show to talk about a book I had written about parenting. During a commercial break, the host asked me if I wanted to read a passage. Sitting across from me, tall and stately in front of a large microphone, Diane Rehm, the celebrity I had known for years, (though only through her voice), pierced me with her elegant eyes and I knew something about myself in that moment that I hadn’t understood before. While my book was about helping my young son Ian* recover from autism, the passage I wanted to read had nothing to do with him. Or, everything, depending on how you look at it. What I wanted to read was about the most intimate aspect of my life—my marriage. While Rehm waited for my reply, I realized something even more surprising about myself. I didn’t just want to read the passage about my marriage on national radio; I had to.

If there was any truth to my life as I raised a child at risk for autism, it lay in one ridiculously obvious “secret.” My husband Dave* and I were unhappy. For months we had been like two dogs tied together to the same pole, circling it, around and around, while our chains clanked and strained. We were caught in our certain knowledge that the problem with our lives was each other. Why would I want anyone to know that?

As I paged through my book about how children develop, how the brain functions, about how to help re-write a kid’s brain, I became aware of the world of listeners about to rejoin our frequency. I felt a strange and intimate bond with the listeners. I could not see them but felt them waiting, ready to be as done with their commercial break as I was ready to spill. “You have two and a half minutes,” Rehm said. I began flipping through the book. My fingers felt as if I was trying to find my keys outside in mid-January—fumbling, stiff. I knew the opening line about my marriage as if my heart had engraved it on the page. But where were the other words when I needed them? My eyes darted. I couldn’t focus. Words doubled, shifted. I flipped and I flipped. “Ten seconds,” someone warned. “Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.” A green light turned on, and in that moment the page fell open. I nodded that I’d found it and she began her introduction. And then I read.

The passage described my worrying about Dave coming upstairs to our bedroom. During that period in our lives, I was doing an intensive form of therapy with our toddler, ten twenty-minute sessions a day. Because he had early signs of autism, hypersensitivity, an aversion to human interaction, we needed to train him to become used to a world of human interaction (a job which fell largely to me). The prescription? Play, play, play. Smile, smile, smile. But don’t smile too much; that would be too much for him. I was so tired, so played out, so back-and- forth-communicating-with-a-toddler- wiped-out that I was raw. (Imagine Scheherazade, staying up all night to be entertaining, fearing death … oh yeah, but without the sexy parts.) I often joked that it had been like doing stand-up comedy to save someone’s life. I was so tired of interaction that if you’d plucked me and dumped me on a nuclear sub, I would have wept with joy.

In fact, in that period, I had become, in many ways, like Ian. I was pulling away from a world that wanted too much from me. His autistic-like nervous system was so sensitive he could not tolerate the rustling sound of a plastic bag. Stress, work, and mother-anxiety (scourge of all prophylactic manufacturers) was rupturing that thin filament that connected me to my husband. But crisis had brought out something fierce and unrelenting in me. If my hands had stiffened that day on the radio show while trying to find the passage about my marriage, some deeper part of myself had also stiffened.

Helping my child with autism become highly social had been an ecstatic experience, probably the single greatest accomplishment of my life. But there had been moments along the way when I felt like I’d been sent away to war. Ironically, too often, the blitz had been on home turf. When Ian’s psychiatrist, Stanley Greenspan, had learned of Dave and my constant disagreements, he said quite simply and firmly: “Don’t!”

And we didn’t—for a while. But conflict can engulf a home like defoliant spray, settling on everything alive. It stopped up our senses, corroded our peace. Like villagers in times of heated strife, Dave and I took to using whatever implements we could, inept tools not designed for the job of warfare. The tool we used too often was silence, its own kind of weapon. Do not try this at home.

Over the radio I read: Evenings, often, I lay in bed at night before Dave came up, my body humming still with an edgy static from the hours of frantically gesturing and moving and touching and talking and endlessly, endlessly talking and touching our toddler—hours of what the therapists called “rapid back and forth”—I worried about my husband coming upstairs. I had in those moments a rocking repulsion to the idea of more human contact. Full disclosure: I’d loved reading the word “rocking repulsion” on the radio. It was a relief to tell the truth. Like being in a double bed alone—where you can take up all the space for yourself.

Night after night those early years after Ian’s diagnosis, I often went up to the bedroom by myself to read and research whatever I could to help our son. Dave and I hadn’t been talking much after one rich blowout about selling the house, an old argument we were recycling just to throw some battery acid in each other’s eyes. He wanted to sell; I didn’t.

But after I read the piece on the radio, I immediately felt guilty. All the way home, I remembered one glorious evening. Ian was about two. We were having rendition 289 of the house fight—I went upstairs to read. I wasn’t passion- ate those days about my marriage, but I was at least a passionate student—thrilling at the ideas I encountered in brain and child development books. The book I was most in love with at the time was The Growth of the Mind by Stanley Greenspan. I nestled it between my knees and read about how the emotional self develops in a human. We come into being as sentient selves only by virtue of our senses. Senses in a newborn teach the brain how to learn, how to notice, how to love. It was like nothing I had ever imagined. A baby doesn’t come out done; he comes out ready to learn and to become what he needs to become. In fact, the world itself is what teaches the eyes to see and programs the heart to love. So what about my little boy, whose senses struggled to bear the unbearable world? Or what about me now—so “touched-out”—who sometimes thought I would scream if someone so much as asked for a back rub? That night as I sat in bed and read The Growth of the Mind, the question was still: Did I even have time to think about my marriage? Ian was still a toddler. There was a time limit to when all this brain programming was going on.

The problem with hypersensitive kids is that they often can’t let in the information that will teach their brains to see, hear, and understand. Now all of a sudden, science was changing. Out-of-the-box thinkers like Stanley Greenspan were saying that you could reach a hypersensitive baby, change the course of his life. You could teach him to tolerate the everyday noises that make up the life of a healthy, social baby. But there were windows of opportunity; I often feared the windows were closing. Back then, scientists believed we had just a few months to reach our son, or maybe a year or two. That made it even harder to think about my husband. To even change the subject was to betray our baby. The idea was to give him so much attention that he would become used to it, seek it out, learn to one day play at conversation like a maestro. So what did that leave for my marriage? A nagging sense that while Ian grew closer to us, we grew further apart.

One night when I was reading The Growth of the Mind, I left the bed, padded in my slippers downstairs, and sat beside Dave on the couch. “OK,” I said, “Greenspan believes that the highest point of maturity is when you can discuss something emotionally charged with someone and maintain a picture in your head of that very person and one of yourself simultaneously while you talk.”

Dave looked at me. His eyes looked hollow and watery.

“Are you willing to try that?” I asked.

He nodded.

“OK, you talk first,” I said.

“We need to sell the house.”

“You feel we should sell our house because…?”

“Because I am concerned about money. I’m worried about the baby needing therapy and we need to downscale.”

As he talked about moving, my blood pressure began to rise. I felt fluid surging through my wrists, making them hot and cold at once. I tried to imagine myself going through the process of moving, packing boxes, talking to agents, wrapping knick-knacks, cleaning and making beds and organizing—imagining, all the while, my toddler lying in a corner, staring out the windows, disappearing behind that veil I had seen drop so many times—with “stared though our windows to the outside world.” I saw the lost moments, imaginary days passing like pages off a cinematic calendar, Ian’s neurons starting to trim themselves away for good. I was swimming in images of what it looked like to cut neurons, tallied up all of the hours of therapy lost to this senseless packing and moving of objects from one place to another, all to save some money. I wanted to jump off the couch and yell: “Let’s just set the house on fire if you want to downsize!”

But then I remembered Greenspan’s exhortation. I tried to calm my mind, to lose the scary images, to take a breath and bend my mind back to the place of focus. I quickly brought the little action figure of my husband back into the forefront of my mind and at the same time, I focused on an image of the little hologram of his wife, me, beside him. And the image of Dave began to take true form—a man who told silly jokes, a man who had to get up every Monday morning at 6:00, a man who was feeling that he couldn’t hold up this huge, as he put it, “ship” anymore. All this time we’d been arguing, I’d been frightened by his anger. But now I saw what I hadn’t seen before: a man who wanted rest himself, who was tired of paying big bills. I think I saw him as he really was. I knew that he was frightened. And I felt then that this ability to hold the image and under- standing of the other person in your mind while holding onto an awareness of yourself—to Greenspan, the highest level of emotional maturity—wasn’t just the theory of a Harvard-trained brain. It occurred to me that it was a call to enter the spiritual life itself. Reaching this level—even if I was only able to do it for a few minutes every now and then in an argument—helped me to see the ways that we are all bound together, intricate, defined threads in a tightly woven cloth. Greenspan’s method brought me out of my self-pitying, my tired, my nagging mode for a few moments to truly be a friend to my husband. I told him that I thought he was right; we needed to sell the house.

And in that moment, his eyes opened, they lost their watery distance, the glaze. They rounded and cleared. I think he saw me too that night. Maybe he was looking at the figurine in his own head of a tired woman who’d been feeding a kid who vomited three times a day, the woman on a mission who spent time those days acting like a clown in front of her child, jumping up and down singing a strange, stupid home-cooked song she called “the bottle song.” He looked at me lovingly for the first time in so long, and he opened his arms. We held each other for half an hour and when it was all done, we did not speak about the house for many years.

* Names in this story have been changed

Patricia Stacey is the author of The Boy Who Loved Windows. She has written for The Atlantic Monthly; O, The Oprah magazine; Brain, Child; and other magazines and journals. She lives in Amherst with her family.

Beltane Flowers

Beltane Flowers

Beltane FlowersBy Brit St. Claire

I didn’t know there would be so many flowers. Flowers line the tables, bubble from vases, and encircle handmade crowns in pearly explosions. Later, there will be a giant maypole studded with blossoms like jewels.

Beltane is an ancient Gaelic festival. It was my first pagan celebration. For several years I’d wanted to meet people in this alternative spiritual community. But I didn’t start making an effort until giving birth to my son eleven months ago. His birth awakened in me a spiritual restlessness that had been lingering in the periphery of my mind.

My search led me to the Craft and Wicca, which is a relatively new nature religion, reconstructed from old British-pagan witchcraft traditions. I’ve pursued these subjects from the comfortable silence of what’s known in the neo-pagan world as the “broom closet,” and I’ve become hopelessly intrigued. Hopelessly because, although society has come a long way from burning suspected witches in the town square, witchcraft in general is still mostly misunderstood and feared. I don’t know anyone else who shares my interest.

I’ve always prefaced my studies behind a wall of vague mainstream-religious skepticism. I’m unsure of how to discuss the extent of my spiritual wandering with Christian family members and reluctant to step into what I imagine could be blinding glares of judgment.

There’s also the matter of my son. The little being that inspired my search for spirituality is the one I worry about the most. I don’t know what I will share with him about my quest, how it led me to a group of witches. I can barely explain it to myself.

My husband Jim*—now an atheist—and I were raised with Christianity, which we have both left behind. We have to create our own roadmap of where and how to guide our son spiritually, and that process is evolving. We know we want to educate him about various world religions, to nurture a sense of God in nature, to teach compassion for others, and an appreciation for science. Ultimately we want him to choose his way for himself.

Stereotypes about Wicca are triggered by the vocabulary involved: witch, coven, magick, spells. These words conjure creepy Hollywood images of pointy black hats, bubbling cauldrons, and warts, or teenage misfits who turn to Satanism (which, to clarify, is a direct rebellion against Christianity and not related to Wicca).

The actual definitions and purposes of these terms are surprisingly simple. A spell can be described as a focused prayer with visualization and props, such as herbs and candles, which are thought to lend energy and focus intent. A pretty good definition of magick is the movement of energy directed by the will toward a goal. The idea is not to cultivate power over others—magick should never be used to control another person, but only over your own self. The concept of karma is a close relative.

Several Wiccan concepts are beliefs I hold firmly, beliefs I held before discovering they are also embraced by Wicca. Things I would teach my son anyway: find divinity within the self and nature; practice meditation for strength and balance; spirituality is individual, personal; don’t proselytize, but help others less fortunate anyway; examine your intentions; harm none; feel free to view a symbol like “God” or “Goddess” as just that: a representation of a creative life force energy we can’t possibly understand.

When I get past my own misconceptions, I find nothing to fear in these earth-based practices of spirituality. They are mystically compelling. They invite me to tune in to myself and my surroundings, as though the universe itself were tapping on my shoulder with a secret—if only I would listen.

That’s why I’ve come to Beltane tonight. I’m ready to listen, to find what’s right for me. I’ve pursued my interest in the Craft cautiously, one crumb at a time, like Hansel and Gretel finding their way home through the for- est. And so far, instead of leading me to an ugly, wart-nosed witch hungry for my flesh, it has led me here, to this local Wiccan coven’s celebration of spring fertility—Beltane—in a room bursting with flowers.

In spite of overcoming some doubt, my reservations still followed me here.

Everyone in the coven house bustles, chattering and laughing, but I hold back. I remind myself about the reassuring meeting I had with the high priestess and priest, who met me for coffee before I decided to attend tonight’s open Beltane ritual. They were delightfully normal, friendly, and thorough, answering my flood of questions with warmth and patience. But still, I wondered, what if my positive impression of the group were crushed? What if they do something bizarre? Maybe they’d sacrifice a chicken. Maybe the ritual would end with everyone getting naked. I was reassured—with amusement—this is not that kind of group.

I recall Jim’s joking, yet half-serious words of caution before I left him and our son home for the evening.

“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” he’d said.

Snarky comments are usually a welcome part of our banter, but I flinched at this. I was somebody’s mother now; what business did I have gallivanting off to spend precious time with a group of witches?

I police the room for suspicious activity, but the atmosphere insists on festivity. The crowd is dressed with surprising diversity; some folks are bedecked in Renaissance-style costumes while others wear jeans and casual tops. Several elementary-age girls frolic around like spring fairies in white dresses and flowered headbands.

Watching them, intrigued, I think about my own childhood experience with Christian Lutheranism. Churches that were somehow at once stuffy and over air-conditioned; long, boring sermons; the tranquil yet somewhat ominous tones of the pastors which instilled both calm and fear in the parishioners; the focus on sin and redemption, forgiveness, and judgment, which so often led to an emotional and spiritual roller coaster from which I quietly disembarked so long ago. It had been years since I let go of my childhood religion, with its powerful concepts of hell and Satan. Still, those images and the fear they fostered are about as easy to shake off as head lice. And despite how far from Christianity I’ve gravitated, alarm sluices through me when I notice a man at Beltane wearing what appears to be a headband with horns.

Until, staring at this horned man, I remind myself that these horns symbolize the pagan god of the hunt, a positive image of strength and fertility, not the dark, better known Christian villain. In fact, there is no “devil” figure in Wiccan symbology.

While a small part of me continues to analyze the room, looking for some- thing objectionable enough for me to abandon all this nonsense, I will myself to relax. When I do, my hypersensitive mental radar registers nothing more negative than my own anxiety, picking up instead on an infectious sense of cheer and goodwill emanating from this group of people who happen to identify as witches. Maybe it’s simply difficult to keep worrying about rejection and hell- fire in the face of so many flowers.

When the crowd is called to order, several coven members welcome every- one and begin to speak about the evening. When my gaze lands on a familiar face, it takes a full minute to absorb. I blink in surprise as a memory snakes through my mind: a dinner at Whole Foods, one of my husband’s friends from law school—is that him?

Couldn’t be, I think. Must be some- one who looks like him. But when the man is introduced as one of tonight’s ritual leaders, the name is the same one I remember. Kevin*, attorney-at-law, friend of my husband’s, respectable and functional member of society, appears to be a witch.

Flabbergasted and delighted, I can hardly keep from leaping over the crowd to say hello. It’s not the right time; ritual is about to start.

We venture into the night, following a tea-light studded path, winding around a grove of trees to the ritual space. Flowers blanket the circle. A large sculpture of blossoms stands behind the altar, upon which a Goddess statue appears to have been caught dancing in a shower of petals. Sweet incense perfumes the humid air. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fairy landed on my shoulder.

The priestess and priest of the evening speak, representing the god and goddess, forces of nature and the seasons. They engage in a poetic, dramatic exchange: winter is checking out, summer is arriving, and now is a time of fertility, they explain.

I wonder what the kids in the group are thinking, and what their lives are like. Are they bored standing here in the circle, the way I used to be during sermons? Or do they enjoy the feel of the cool grass beneath their feet, the breeze gently brushing their cheeks, moonlight peeking over a cloud overhead? Do they tell their friends that their moms and dads are witches? And if they do, how often are they greeted with acceptance? How often with scorn? What about Halloween—do these kids go trick-or-treating along with celebrating Samhain, the ancient Gaelic ancestor- honoring harvest festival that most Neo- pagans recognize today?

And how many parents here practice this spirituality in private, quietly excluding their kids?

What would I do?

During the ritual, we are encouraged to think about goals we want to manifest this summer, and then we jump over a bonfire at the center of the circle in an old Beltane custom to invoke blessings and abundance. I hold back at first, worried about my jeans catching fire, but Kevin grabs my hand, and we jump together. I feel the fire’s heat on my feet and legs, then the cooler wind sweeping over my face and through my hair. As we sail over the yellow flames, it’s as though we are literally leaping into summer. I can’t help but laugh with exhilaration. Next we raise energy, clap- ping our hands and singing, faster and faster, finally lifting our hands overhead in release. It’s a strange, but satisfying activity.

In the silence that follows, under the dark sky and bright moon, I think about where I am in life and what I want to accomplish, enjoying this aspect of the ritual. I can’t deny a sense of detachment as well; the theatrical component makes me feel like I’ve been involved in some kind of interactive Medieval play rather than a genuine spiritual experience. Maybe group ritual isn’t for me. Or maybe fewer verbal theatrics, or getting to know the people here, would make a group experience like this more meaningful. I simply don’t know yet.

After the ritual we move to a field next to the circle space. While singing and performing a weaving dance, several couples wind long thick ribbons around a tall, flowered maypole the size of a tree trunk, as everyone sings— naked. Kidding. This really isn’t that kind of group.

A potluck feast is next, so everyone heads back to the house. Plates of food appear and cups of homemade mead are poured.

When I spot Kevin, I make my way through the crowd, wondering if he’ll recognize me. We only met that once at dinner, and I spent most of the meal walking around with the baby.

After we exchange pleasantries, Kevin says he did remember me: “When I saw you I was like, oh shit.”

We laugh, and I’m happy to know I’m not the only one paranoid about being found out. “If you don’t want me to tell Jim I saw you, I won’t,” I say, although I’m thinking Oh please let me tell him! My husband is supportive of my finding a spiritual practice that works for me and open to discussions about what I’m studying, but he’s still suspicious of the Craft. Learning that one of his own friends—someone he respects—is involved would be nothing short of a revelation.

“Oh, you can tell him. I generally try to keep all this on the down low at work, though.”

I nod knowingly and ask him if he’s out of the proverbial broom closet with family and friends. He tells me most of his friends know, but while his family might suspect, he hasn’t directly informed them, instead deciding it would be better for them to know and love him without worrying about the fate of his soul. I also learn that Kevin’s spouse isn’t pagan but attends rituals once in a while.

A young woman with a pixie cut, Lena, joins the conversation, and my curiosity is piqued when I learn she has a young child. Tall and slender, with short curly hair, Lena has calm green eyes and a long, graceful neck. She works as a research analyst. With a laugh, she waves away the idea of anyone judging her spiritual choices. I ask if her family and friends know, and she tells me that in fact they do. With a laugh, she says something like, “My mom thought I was crazy at first, but I think she’s starting to come around a little.”

During the conversation I also learn that Lena does bring her daughter to circle once in awhile, although her plan—like mine—is to let the child ultimately choose her own path.

I can’t help but notice that Lena and Kevin—both intelligent, friendly, self- assured, funny—embody the opposite of any negative witch or Wiccan stereotype I’ve encountered (think Fairuza Balk from The Craft). Their confidence is so inspiring that my sense of guilt and paranoia begins to fade.

When I head home to my husband and son, I feel much calmer than when I arrived. Although I don’t yet know whether Wicca by itself will define my spirituality, or if it will end up serving as a jigsaw piece in a larger, eclectic spiritual puzzle (I suspect the latter), this night marks a shift; it suddenly feels like much more of an option to pursue a mystical path while still being a good mother. Being in the presence of Lena and Kevin—people my husband and I would consider peers—has encouraged me to embrace my path, however it unfolds, trusting that when I become comfortable in the skin of my own spirituality I will know what details to share—or not share—with others. Possibilities blossom before me.

Double Take: Read another perspective on this topic: Believe It or Not

Author’s Note: I’ve been toiling with this piece for over two years now, both compelled and terrified to share it. Compelled to help expand the very concept of what’s okay to do and be as a mother (that we often impose on ourselves and others); terrified to reveal myself. But the deal was, send it out there and if it gets pub- lished, the time is right to be more open. So here I am, exhaling a long-held breath, ready.

About the Author: Brit St. Claire writes, raises a family, and remains fascinated by esoteric topics in Atlanta, Georgia. Her pieces have appeared in Sandiego Babies, Western New york Family and Wired magazine’s parenting blog Geek Mom. To learn more visit her website at

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