This is Ten

This is Ten

WO This is Ten Art 2By Lindsey Mead

This essay is excerpted from Brain, Child’s book, This is Childhood Book & Journal.

I spent my teenage summers at a wonderful, rambling house on the Massachusetts shore with several families. There was always a tangle of children and we got in the habit of going for swims after dinner. One summer, there was phosphorescence. I have never forgotten those unexpected, bright swirls of light, otherworldly, as blinding as they were fleeting

Ten is like that. Ten is phosphorescence. Ten blazes brightly and vanishes so quickly you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you.

Ten is a changeling. In my daughter’s mahogany eyes, I see the baby she was and the young woman she is fast becoming. In one moment she’s still a little girl, clutching her teddy bears before bed, and in another she is a near-teenager, dancing and singing along to Nicki Minaj. She oscillates between wanting to bolt for the horizon of young adulthood that she can see and wanting to shrink from it, nestling instead in early childhood with me.

Motherhood has offered me more surprises than I can count, but the biggest one is how lined with loss it is, how striated with sorrow. I am blindsided, over and over again, by the breathless rush of time. For every single thing that will never come again, though, there is a dazzling surprise, a new skill, a new wonder, a new delight. All of parenting is a constant farewell and an endless hallelujah wrapped together, but ten feels like an especially momentous combination of the two.

Ten is evanescent, liminal, unquestionably the end of something, and just as surely the beginning of something else. As my daughter noted, in tears, the night before her tenth birthday, she will “never be single digits again, ever.”

The only thing ten wants more than her ears pierced is a dog. She still laughs uproariously as she flies down a sledding hill, but she also shrugs nonchalantly at the top of a black diamond slope before turning down it and executing perfect turns, her duct-tape-covered helmet a blur of color against the snow.

Ten wears tall Ugg boots I can fit into and impossibly long yoga pants that I mistake for my own when I am folding laundry. Ten organizes her crayons in rainbow order, and I can see the alphabetized spice rack that lies ahead.

Ten swings masterfully across the monkey bars, dribbles a soccer ball all the way up the field and scores, and plays good enough tennis that we can play actual games. Ten loves board games and Club Penguin, and the door of her closet is covered with posters of Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. When will these girls be replaced in her affection by boys, I wonder? I hope not too soon.

Ten is streaks of brilliance in the dark sea, whose provenance is unknown, which vanish as fast as they appear.

Ten sat on my lap this week, her toes brushing the floor on either side of my legs. I ran my fingers over a temporary tattoo of a shooting star on her arm, and thought: that is what ten is. Ten is a shooting star. An explosion of light and kinesis that will never come again. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Ten leaves heartfelt, tear-jerking notes for me on my pillow, professing her love, devotion, and thanks. Ten sometimes walks icily away from me at school drop-off, refusing to turn around, angry about something.

Ten is sensitive and easily bruised, confused by the startling meanness that can flare in other adolescent girls, desperate to be liked. Ten is alternately fragile and fierce.

Ten is vehement attachment and lurching swipes at separation. When ten grows up, she wants to be a veterinarian, a mother, and a writer. In the “about the author” section of a book she wrote at school, she said that the author took five years to write the book, because she was also raising her children. Ten doesn’t miss a single thing, and what I do matters a hundred times more than what I say.

Ten kneels in front of the “fairy stream” at a nearby park, breath drawn, and I swear that enchantment still brushes past her, like her heroine, Hermione, running by under the invisibility cloak. Ten caught my eye last Christmas when she said something about Santa, conveying in a single look that she knew he wasn’t real but that she didn’t want to ruin it for her younger brother.

Ten is the child who made me a mother, my pioneer, my trailblazer, walking hand-in-hand with me through all the firsts of her childhood and my motherhood. Ten is grace. Ten is my amazing Grace.

Anne Sexton said, “I look for uncomplicated hymns, but love has none.” Ten is a complicated hymn, a falling star, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in time, an otherworldly flash of green gorgeousness in the dark ocean.

Author’s Note: I studied English in college, and wrote my thesis on poetry and motherhood. After graduation, however, I took a sharp turn into the business world and stayed there for many years. It was watching my children, finally—particularly their here-now stubbornness and simultaneous persistent reminder of time’s passage—that prodded me back to the page. Many things about parenting have surprised me, but none more than how unavoidably bittersweet it is. “This is Ten” is one of many pieces I have written about my daughter and son in an attempt to remember the small, mundane, yet blindingly beautiful details of their (and our) everyday lives.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives outside of Boston with her husband, daughter, and son. She graduated from Princeton with an AB in English and received an MBA from Harvard. Her work has been published in a variety of print and online sources. She writes regularly at A Design So Vast.

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Book Review: Catastrophic Happiness

Book Review: Catastrophic Happiness

catastrophichappinessBy Lindsey Mead

Catastrophic Happiness by Catherine Newman is a series of essays, which masterfully combine story and reflection. In the prologue, titled IT GETS BETTER, Newman captures the particular joys and indignities of raising small children – riding in the back of the car with them, distributing string cheese, the way a dental appointment feels like a spa vacation because nobody needs you, the droopy sorrow of a weaned bosom, a toddler inhaling sand at the beach – with her trademark perfection. I laughed out loud several times. And then, in the prologue’s last scene, Newman describes a mother sitting in bed between her sleeping children, “boo-hoo[ing] noiselessly into the kids’ hair because life is so beautiful and you don’t want it to change.” Haven’t we all done that? I know that I have. Newman goes on to introduce the years that come after that sleeping-toddler scene, the messy years of the book’s subtitle, by telling us that “…you will feel exactly the way you feel now. Only better.”

The essays that follow trace this getting-better with stories of Newman’s children, Ben and Birdy. My own children are similar in age to Ben and Birdy, though two years stair-step younger (my older child and Birdy are the same age). I related intensely to this book. Each of the seven chapters in Catastrophic Happiness contains power, sentiment, and visceral emotion.

Newman’s observations run the gamut from deep and profound to hilarious and true. For example, within pages in the first section, she states that “happiness is so precarious,” and that “I don’t always understand the children or what their problem is.” Isn’t this one of the defining features of parenting, the way things can swing from dense feeling to trite confusion in a matter of minutes? The hilariously confounding and overwhelmingly holy coexist, at least for me, in most hours.

Over and over again, the lines of Catastrophic Happiness made me gasp and sigh, underline and laugh, text a friend and say “OMG, read this,” and even email Newman herself and ask: “Are we the same person?” For example:

I am so glad and grateful, I am. But sometimes the orchestra plays something in swelling chords of luck and joy, and all I can hear is that one violin sawing out a thin melody of grief.

Newman’s pieces, just like life itself, touch on, and interweave, the sacred and the mundane. The seven chapters are broken into smaller pieces, each of which revolves around a specific memory of a point in time. These are presented in loose chronological order and all have marvelous “How to” names, like “How to Have Complicated Feelings,” “How to Share a Beating Heart” and “How to Hang On By a Thread.”

My favorite section is “How to See the Light Behind the Trees,” which begins in a damp, unpleasant campground bathroom with Birdy, “her pants pool[ing] around her ankles on the wet cement floor.” What parent doesn’t read that and find themselves immediately thrust back into a situation where they wait for their progeny, if not a cement campground outhouse then in a filthy rest stop toilet stall? This is one of parenting’s universal, largely unpleasant scenarios. Newman and her family visit the same campground every year, which makes it the perfect place to reflect on how quickly time is moving. Her memories remind me of our own annual summer vacation, and of the way that an annual visit to the same place provides a unique lens on both time’s passage and the way that the past is animate in the present. There’s heartache to this experience for me, and Newman captures this brilliantly:

I used to picture time as a rope you followed along, hand over hand, into the distance, but it’s nothing like that. It moves outward but holds everything that’s come before. Cut me open and I’m a tree trunk, rings of nostalgia radiating inward. All the years are nested inside me like I’m my own person one-woman matryoshka doll. I guess that’s true for everybody but then I drive myself crazy with my nostalgia and happiness. I am bittersweet personified.

Yes. Me too. Oh, me too.

In some of Catastrophic Happiness’ later sections my identification with Newman’s writing was even more powerful. When she writes how “privacy and independence come on suddenly, like a sleeper wave of separation, and children experience this with simultaneous relief and dread,” I felt like someone was reading my mind. Yes. With children at 11 and 13, I’m riding that wave right now, alternately grateful to be able to see the horizon for the first time in many years and utterly swamped by seawater.

Newman has a true gift for making the reader feel intimately connected to her family. She draws indelible images that are deeply personal to her family and hugely universal at the same time: Birdy, with unraveling braids, in a doctor’s waiting room; Ben cheerfully helping his mother with a flooded basement, the face of a beloved, well-worn beanbag toy that Birdy sleeps with every night.

In Catastrophic Happiness Newman has trapped lightning in a jar, allowing us all to admire its dazzle. In her book’s short, lovely pages she captures life as a mother, life as a human being, life in general, in all of its gorgeous, complicated grandeur. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite passage, but I’ll try.

Life isn’t about avoiding trouble, is it? It’s about being present, even through the hard stuff, so you don’t miss the very thing you’re trying so hard not to lose.

In Catastrophic Happiness, Catherine Newman both powerfully reminds me of what it is I’m trying so hard not to lose, and helps me stay present to it. In my opinion, there is no surer mark of a great book, or no higher compliment.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives near Boston with her daughter, son, and husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online sources, several anthologies, and she blogs regularly at A Design So Vast.


This is Adolescence – Author Q&A: Lindsey Mead

This is Adolescence – Author Q&A: Lindsey Mead


Headshot Lindsey MeadWhat is it about mothering an 11-year-old that you liked the most? The least?

I love 11. I know this particularly keenly now, writing three months into 12, because things feel different in a material way. Eleven felt like a golden time. I loved her company and she loved mine. Sports were important but not crushing. She was funny and smart and thoughtful and not yet moody. The only thing I liked least about 11 was that it ended.

When did you know your child was a tween/teenager?

I knew she was a tween when she really wanted Instagram. I let her have it, but our rules were (and still are) that she doesn’t post selfies, she doesn’t post group photos that might make others feel excluded, she has to ask before posting anything and when accepting follow requests. Somehow Instagram felt like the harbinger of a new season.

What do you wish you knew before you had a tween/teen?

I wish I knew that we’d make it through these famously rocky years with our bond intact. I wish I knew that before she entered tween-hood and frankly I still wish I knew that now that she’s in it. I have a lot of fear about what the next few years will bring, and I wish I could trust that on the other end we’ll be fine.

What advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering an 11-year-old?

Don’t sweat the little stuff. I remember people telling me tweens needed their parents more than infants and being absolutely flabbergasted by this. “But she sucks on my body every two hours. How could she possibly need me more than this?” I asked once. And it’s a different kind of need, but it’s a need all the same. It’s real and I wish I hadn’t worried so much about the baby ear infections and food introductions and all of that, because I see now it didn’t matter.

What about motherhood inspires you?

My children make me laugh every day. They say things that make me think, and their surprising moments of humor and kindness often take my breath away. They inspire me to be gentler and more positive in the world.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece?

I hope my piece reminds readers to take a moment to notice the details of where they are in their lives, right now. So much of motherhood—and life itself—is transient and fleeting, and the primary goal of writing for me is to capture some of a particular moment’s nuance and shimmer. If I can help even one reader do that, that’s a tremendous honor.

cover art quarkPurchase Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of Teens, which includes the This is Adolescence Series – Eight essays from America’s leading writers on ages 11 – 18.

Read an excerpt: This is Adolescence: 12



Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert

Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert


How does personality affect parenting? Lindsey Mead is an introvert and relishes quiet family time above all else. Allison Slater Tate is an extrovert, always on the look out for the next adventure. Their children’s lives are quite different as a result.

Parenting as an Introvert

By Lindsey Mead

Introvert Revised w gray“Mum?” I glance up from my desk to see Whit standing in the doorway of my office, a forlorn look on his face.


“I’m bored. May I have a playdate tomorrow with George?” His knees are smudged with mud. It’s mid October, and we live in Boston, but Whit is still wearing shorts every day. I had asked our babysitter to stay with him at the playground at school after the day ended.

“Sure. Did you play today on the playground?”

“Yeah. But everybody left and went home, and John went to George’s house. We came back here. I just wish I could have had a friend over.” He frowns.

“Okay, yes. I’ll text George’s mother now.” I look down at my phone and tap out a text. I feel a sinking in my belly. I have let Whit down again. We never have enough social activities planned for his taste. I think some of it is because I work and I’m not there at pickup to make spontaneous after-school plans. But I know a lot of it stems from my innate introversion, too.

My childhood was of a distinctly the-more-the-merrier variety. My mother never met someone she didn’t want to welcome with open arms, and my memory of my childhood home is of a steady stream of friends and visitors. My sister and I used to joke that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a foreign student or two whom we’d never met at the table. My memory of my family (and my continuing experience of it) is of a roving, magnanimous extroversion that manifests itself in a million friends, a phone that’s always ringing, a lot of plans, dinner parties, coffees, and people stopping by just because. One of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth. She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.

I am not that kind of mother. I fiercely wish I was. My natural orientation is inwards.  On the upside, I tell myself that Grace and Whit are growing up certain that our nuclear family is holy to me. I prize time spent the four of us, alone, above almost all else. When we have an empty day, without school or sports games or any commitments, my immediate and powerful instinct is that we do something as a family. Truthfully, it’s not, hey, let’s bring some friends along.

But there is a downside, of course. What are we losing because of my bias towards quiet?

Both of my children have friends I think are terrific and whose company I enjoy. But there is something I find vaguely stressful, in an inchoate, inarticulate way, about having other people in our home. This is true even with my own friends. We don’t have visitors very often. I’m always glad when we do, but it exhausts me to have people here. Maybe it’s our small house. The noise bothers me, absolutely, but is it something else, too? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I struggle to initiate and organize playdates as often as either child would like.

Birthday parties are also something that I dread thinking about, even though I end up enjoying them. I worry about the chaos and the crowds and, perhaps most of all, that my discomfort will cause me to let Grace and Whit down. When the children were little I used to love planning parties, with themes and stationery and favors. I remember vividly the personalized melamine plates I made for the children who attended Whit’s clown-themed three-year birthday, and the superhero capes with each child’s initial on the back for the attendees of Grace’s six-year party. I loved these tasks, probably because I envisioned and executed them in the quiet of my office.

Now, perhaps because the terrain of friendship has become more complicated, because the stakes seem to have gone up in birthday party land (a clown no longer thrills), or simply because I’m becoming more introverted as I age, I find Grace and Whit’s parties—both the planning and the attendance of—more strenuous than I used to.

I often wish I could replicate the kind of merry, go-with-the-flow warmth that animated my own childhood. We live near school, and I really want to be an open-door mother, with other children running through my kitchen as comfortably as my own kids do. The fact of the matter is, though, I just don’t think I’ll ever be that person.

Grace, whose personality is more like mine, chooses quiet and often prefers to be home, alone, studying or reading. Whit, whose natural extroversion is something I both admire and find baffling, is routinely dismayed by the lack of playmates nearby. My relationship with him is an interesting echo of the dynamic I shared with my own mother. That his orientation towards the world is so different from mine creates opportunities for both learning and, of course, friction.

My introversion and natural shyness surely means many things for my children, good and bad. I worry that the bad outweighs the good, that my lack of outgoingness and my struggle to include other people in our life sacrifices something important for them. All I can do, though, is be the best version of who I know I am. All I can do is swear that I will keep trying to open up—myself, our home, and our family.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives near Boston with her daughter, son, and husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online sources, several anthologies, and she blogs regularly at A Design So Vast.


Parenting as an Extrovert

By Allison Slater Tate

Extrovert w grayOn a recent day off from school, I took my kids to a local breakfast diner for pancakes. “Hey, Allison! You have everyone today!” the hostess called to me when we walked through the door. Our waiter told me he read my latest blog post as he put a Diet Coke down in front of me before I could ask for it, and another waitress passing by asked me how my trip to California was last week. I waved and greeted two other tables, one inhabited by my assistant principal from high school, another by a fellow mom from the elementary school.

“Everyone knows you,” grumbled my ten-year-old, slumping down a little in the booth as if to regain some anonymity. “That’s what happens when you live where you grew up,” I remind him.

Of course, it is more than that. I definitely do know a lot of people in my suburb, because I grew up here and I still run into former teachers and classmates and their parents often. But I also know “everyone,” at least in my children’s eyes, because I have spent a lot of time in our communities, both real and virtual, volunteering at my children’s schools and preschools and for local and alumni organizations. I crave connection, and I get it by throwing myself into everything I can. I also have a hard time staying within the four walls of home, which means that, yes, the staff of the local diner knows me and my children well.

I grew up the child of a resolute introvert and an even more resolute extrovert. My mother has never met a stranger, could talk for days on end without stopping, and truly hates to stay home. She was always up for any adventure at any time of day or night, and she encouraged me to have the same mindset. As my children say, “Grammy makes friends with everyone, and everyone likes Grammy.” I seem to have inherited her need for people and activity, to know and to be known, because I feel almost a physical need to be out in the world, meeting and connecting. I believe it’s a reason that I now have four children: I wanted, and thrive on, the chaos and noise of so many bodies in the house with me.

My children are hybrids of my introverted husband and me. My oldest often turns away friends at the door who come knocking to ask him to play, something I cannot fathom. He has a small cadre of very close friends, but he is happy to be alone and does not necessarily crave companionship. My middle two boys are more gregarious. They have best friends, but they are also friends with everyone in their classes and spend their weekends begging for playdates and going to birthday parties. It seems like I never make everyone happy: some combination of my children always wants to stay home and just play in pajamas all day, while another desperately wants to see a friend and get out of our house.

I encourage my children to make and spend time with friends. We don’t host events at our house as much as I would like because of logistics, but we ask friends to come over, we hold big, sprawling birthday parties, and I nudge my children to invite friends with us on adventures to the zipline or a football game. I don’t mind plus-ones; it makes me happy to have a car full of children and chatter. I hope that my children find confidence in my model of extroversion, because I tend to use it to overcome intimidation and fear. I hope they see it as warmth and openness to the world and other people. Because I have been so involved and engaged in various communities throughout my life, my children now have many chances to visit and experience cities and families all over the country through my friendships and connections.

That’s not always what they want, though. “You talk to everyone for soooo loooong,” my 12-year-old complains to me. “We are always sitting and waiting for you to finish talking.” He’s not wrong. And when I told my two middle children I was taking them to Disney’s Halloween party last week, my seven year old immediately asked, “Who are we meeting there?” When I said it would just be the three of us, he looked perplexed. “Oh,” he said finally, obviously confused by the concept.

Sometimes I wonder if my extroversion is a boon or a hindrance to my children. Do I push them out the door (or their comfort zones) too much, or just enough to teach them how to take risks and develop resourcefulness? Is my restlessness keeping us from honoring the quiet family moments – movie nights, board games, lazy days in our pajamas – or are we creating different kinds of family moments? Am I passing my restlessness on to my children, or am I giving them permission to fully engage in the world?

Like my own mother, I find that my extroversion makes me friends with spontaneity. I am up for late-night trips to diners, spur-of-the-moment road trips to cooler weather, impractical Disney jaunts on school nights. I feel like my children will remember me for this attitude of ready-for-anything, and I think it makes their childhood feel rich with possibility. But on the other hand, they might also remember that for me, it was never enough- never enough adventure, never enough friends, never enough time to do everything I wanted and needed to do. I hope that never makes them feel like they are not enough for me.

After a brief career in Hollywood, Allison Slater Tate decided to work somewhere even crazier: her own home, with her own four children, now ages 12 to 2. Her writing has appeared both in print and online, most notably at the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and Brain, Child. She is both a Leo and ENFP and behaves accordingly. 

Illustrations by Christine Juneau

This is Ten: Lindsey Mead

This is Ten: Lindsey Mead

Kris Woll interviews Lindsey Mead, a contributing writer in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood:

Lindsey MeadWhat was your inspiration for writing this piece? Have you written other things about this age/stage?

I have written about and to my children consistently since they were very small, but it’s true that my daughter turning 10 felt particularly meaningful to me. I wrote a piece to her right before her 10th birthday about things I hoped she knew upon turning 10 which I published and shared. I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of writing, really, that I do about the various ages and stages of my children. The first, much more common, is an attempt to memorialize them, to press the details of them at a particular moment—and of our lives at that same time—into amber, to hold onto the particulars of what I know to be an immensely, painfully fleeting time. “This is Ten” is that kind of writing—a love letter to a moment in time. The second, which is rarer, is “to” them but also, I’ve realized, to myself—so much of parenting is learning lessons as I observe them, remembering things I want to believe, know, do, and exemplify, and sometimes I try to convey that to them but also, without question, to myself. My “10 things” piece was this kind of essay.

What is it about age 10 you liked the most? The least?

Well, Grace is 11 now, and Whit is 9, so I remember 10 extremely fondly. I don’t think there was much that I didn’t like about the age, other than the unavoidable way “double digits” tolls the bell of time’s relentless march. I adored the way Grace was still a child, despite her coltishly long legs and ever-more-mature face. She rejoiced in the tiniest things, held my hand, wondered at the world. The age of 10 is just plain magic.

What do you wish you knew before you had a 10-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?

I would tell myself to be kinder to myself. I still feel such immense guilt about the postpartum depression that marked my first months as a mother, and I wish I could release that. I would tell myself to pay attention and to breathe. But I’m wary of that advice, because whenever people told me that, and they did, a lot, I experienced it as pressure. Something I wasn’t doing enough of: loving this role, this season, motherhood. I did love it, I see now, and I still do, but in part I think we have to come to that appreciation, come to see how rich and myriad and messy and wonderful is life with small children ourselves. As well-intentioned as “appreciate it!” advice is from others, and I believe it is, I don’t think most mothers respond particularly well to it.

Besides your own piece, which other piece in the collection do you relate to the most? Why?

It’s hard to say. I genuinely love every piece in this collection. When I conceived of the idea, I could never have imagined how moving, honest, and flat out marvelous each essay would be. In some ways I relate the most to the older ages—eight, nine—because that is where my children are. In other ways I particularly love the younger ages—one, two, three—because they remind me of a time that feels so long ago now.

How do writing and mothering fit together for you? How has that fit over time?

They are inextricable for me. Ernest Hemingway said, “I never had to choose a subject—rather my subject chose me” and that’s how I feel about motherhood. I have always written, my whole life, but it wasn’t until I had two small children that I truly turned to the page. It’s not as simple that my subject is motherhood, necessarily, but Grace and Whit exposed the drumbeat march of time in a way that I could not ignore. Paradoxically, they also slowed me down for the first time: we’ve all had the experience of walking down the street with a toddler and noticing through their eyes, the streak of an airplane across the sky and the dandelion pushing up between the blocks of cement. It takes forever, but man is it worth it. Motherhood has contained more surprises for me than I can count, but one of the main ones is how bittersweet it is. Every single day I’m brought to my knees by something that’s suddenly gone, over, never to come again. I can literally hear time whistling by my ears. And simultaneously, I’m reminded over and over again of how much richness a single minute or day can hold. Motherhood shows me the glory that my every day life holds, and writing helps me unfold it, understand it, and remember it.

What is your advice to other mother writers?

Just write. Keep writing. No matter the form. I blogged, others write diaries, others write books. There is always a reason not to write, and there are plentiful excuses when children are small. I wrote my thesis in college on motherhood and poetry in the lives of three 20th century poets and read at great length about how hard it is to sit your butt in the chair and write after being up all night with a colicky infant. I’m of two minds on this: be gentle with yourself, and recognize that this is a short-lived season, but also, just write some of it down. It will be worth it to have the memories.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? From this collection?

I hope I have, in some small way, captured the immense majesty that’s contained in the tiniest details of this life, of motherhood. Gail Godwin noted that “the more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite” and that’s something I think of every single day. The only way I know of truly seeing the glittering, dazzling beauty of the universal and infinite is by capturing and honoring these smallest things, singular and perhaps even strange. I really hope this collection helps to remind readers of the value of doing this, and prods them to see how much gorgeousness there is even in the most exhausted, messy moments.

Read an excerpt from Lindsey’s “This is Ten” essay 

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Here We Go, Grace and I

Here We Go, Grace and I

By Lindsey Mead

sling2When Grace was nine she broke her collarbone playing soccer.  It happened days after I wrote a piece about how I wanted my children to be physically fearless and push themselves in the world.  When I watched my crying daughter, through a glass window, standing in front of the ER’s x-ray machine in her soccer uniform, I was forced to confront my own biases about parenting.  Did I still believe that, about being physical, athletic, confident in their bodies, even if this happened.  The truth is, I did.

I couldn’t believe how quickly she healed.  The first few days were very painful, especially because she fell on day two and caught herself with the bad arm, pushing the bones further out of joint.  The low point was the second night after the injury.  Grace came into my room around 2 a.m., her face wet with tears.

“Mummy?” she whispered and my eyes popped open.

“Oh, Gracie!” I sat up. “Are you okay?” Matt was away so I was alone in bed.

“Will you help me get back in bed?  I can’t do it.”  Her face was contorted with a mix of pain and shame.  She hates asking for help.  I think I know where she gets that particular trait.

I leapt out of bed and gave her more Tylenol with codeine before lifting her carefully into bed.  I flashed back to lifting her baby self, swaddled in a yellow blanket covered in white stars, into her crib, putting her down slowly, willing her not to wake and begin wailing.  As she lay back in her bed, arm propped up a stack of pillows, she looked at me in the dimness of her nightlight-lit room and I could see that her eyes shone with tears.  I sat down next to her gingerly, not wanting to jostle her body, and smoothed her hair back from her forehead.  It was damp, and she felt warm.  “I love you,” I whispered.

The next morning Grace was dismayed to still be in so much pain.  I helped her get dressed, easing a baggy shirt over her shoulder, trying to move it as little as possible.  Over breakfast, she asked me to tell her about the bones I had broken.  I smiled and told her: an ankle, two bones in one arm, multiple fingers and toes, and several ribs.  Her eyebrows shot up as she chewed her toast.

“Well, I’m not going to break any more bones.  Ever.  It hurts too much.”  She shook her head.

“I don’t know, Grace.  It’s going to happen sometimes when you do sports.  I’m pretty sure there will be more injuries to come in other games.”  I hesitated.  “I think it’s part of the deal.  But I promise,” My eyes swam with tears, but my tone was suddenly firm.  “I promise you it’s always worth it to play.”

Within a week of the break she was just taking regular Motrin a couple of times a day.  Within two weeks she was annoyed with her sling and didn’t want to wear it anymore.  The bones had already begun to knit together.  The doctor told us that while she would always have a bump, it would become less and less noticeable as she grew.  Then he looked at us both and said, with a shrug: “So?  Everybody’s got bumps.”

*   *   *

Everybody does have bumps.  I think of that doctor’s offhand comment all the time.  In fact we have matching bumps now, Grace and I.  I separated my left shoulder just months before she broke her left collarbone, so we both have visible protrusions by that shoulder.

I wrote my thesis in college on the mother-daughter relationship, a detail that now seems full of portent.  It gives me goosebumps to think back to my 21-year-old self, hunched in a small carrel in the library, writing about questions I would intimately inhabit almost 20 years later.  Specifically, I wrote about the mother-daughter bond in the lives in three 20th century poets: Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and Maxine Kumin.  I called them the first generation of true mother-poets and asserted that in all three cases their work was both haunted and enriched by the long shadow of the mother-daughter relationship and specifically by the interplay of identification and separation that marks this bond.

I chose this topic for my thesis with what I remember as an almost utter lack of deliberation; I just knew I wanted to study those poets and to explore these topics.  I went directly into the heart of the relationship between a mother and daughter, and spent six months deeply immersed in psychoanalytic theorizing as well as close reading of poetry.  I researched and wrote and felt my conclusions fiercely, a fact which amazes me now because I realize how little I knew about the topic.  Of course I was a daughter, with a mother I loved dearly, but my real understanding of the fertile and complex layers of relationship between generations of women came only after I had my own daughter.  I am struck, not for the first time, by how the perspective provided by the arc of years illuminates choices we made long ago.  From those months of work I understand intellectually that the separation of daughter from mother in adolescence is critically important.  I know how painful and violent it can be, but also how transformational.  Now I am living it.

Grace has begun to wade into the whitewater of emotion that swirls around adolescence.  The uptick in her moodiness and frequency with which she’s mad at me are harbingers, I know, of what is to come.  As is my pattern, I turn to the page; hoping that writing down my experiences, my observations, and my hopes will somehow help me through this period of dislocation and difficulty.  I dread what lies ahead but simultaneously feel great guilt about that very dreading; so far, parenting has surprised me by being better and better every single week, month, and year.  Is that golden uphill climb over?  Have we, now that the summit is in sight, transitioned to a speedier, less joyful downhill slide?  Oh, I hope not.  But the truth is, I don’t know.  There is so much that lies ahead.  I want fiercely to make it through to the other side of this transition with my cord that I know ties my heart to my daughter’s intact, though stretched, of new, different dimensions.

Here we go, Grace and I. 

Read more of Lindsey’s work in This is Childhood, a book and journal about ages 1 -10 of childhood.

My Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving

By Lindsey Mead

0-19Eleven years ago, I learned what it really means to give thanks.  My father-in-law received a heart transplant two days before Thanksgiving, on my daughter’s one-month birthday and his own thirty-fifth anniversary. By Thanksgiving morning, Matt and I were shell-shocked and exhausted, but we still got in the car and drove an hour south to spend the day with my family.  The day was a blur, filled as it was with warm family arms holding Grace and gentle whispers asking us how John was doing. Grace was living up to her name: we had discovered we were pregnant (a true surprise) the day after John was diagnosed with his rare and serious illness. And now, one month to the day after her birth, a heart.

After Thanksgiving dinner, in the dark, Matt and I drove back to Boston, to Massachusetts General Hospital. John was just starting to come out of anesthesia, my mother-in-law, Marti was at the hospital, and Matt wanted to see them both. I had Grace’s car seat slung over my arm as we took the elevator to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) and walked through a maze of shadowy glass partitions. Despite the faint beeping of machines, there was a deep, pervasive hush; the CICU was one of those places, like a church or a library, where you automatically whispered. In contrast to the always-bright ward where John had waited for his heart, this wing seemed to be in permanent dusk. The metaphor that this presented struck me as odd given that this was where John was supposed to wake up and begin the next phase of his life.

John lay in a bed behind two sets of sealed glass doors. My mother-in-law sat beside him, robed in a sterile gown and wearing a face mask and rubber gloves. She turned when she noticed us through the glass and stood up, peeling off her gloves and lifting her mask as she hurried through the double doors. She crouched down immediately, without saying a word, and simply stared at Grace’s sleeping face. I glanced at Matt, wondering if we should say something, and he shook his head slightly as if to say, no, leave her.  Long moments later she stood up, hugged Matt tightly, and asked him if he wanted to go into the room.

“Is it okay, Mom?  I don’t want to bring extra germs in there,” Matt looked worried. “You know, from Grace or something?”

“No, it’s okay, as long as you wear the gloves and mask. Theresa will help you.” Marti nodded at the nurse who was stationed between the two sets of sealed glass doors. I noticed the dark circles under her eyes. My mother-in-law was always perfectly put together; this was about as disheveled as I had ever seen her. And she still had a silk scarf tied around her neck.

“Okay,” Matt went in to the small chamber between the two doors. He spoke briefly to Theresa and then I watched him shrug the paper robe on over his clothes and, after scrubbing his hands at a small sink on the wall, pull on rubber gloves.  Theresa helped him adjust the paper mask over his face and then stood back, looking him over, and then nodded her okay.  Hesitantly, as though he was stepping onto the moon, he walked through the second set of doors to his father’s bedside.  Even through two thick panes of glass I could see trepidation in his hazel eyes above his paper mask.

“He’s just starting to wake up,” Marti murmured at me, not taking her eyes off of the two men in the room in front of us.  Matt sat down on the stool on wheels that Marti had vacated, which was to the right of John’s head, and looked down at him.  He then looked over at the glass wall and gestured at me, holding his hands up in the general shape and size of the car seat. “Oh!  Oh!” I leaned over and picked up Grace’s car seat, holding it up so that John, had he been looking, could have seen it. Matt gave me a thumbs-up sign and turned back to his dad.

“Is he awake? Could he see that?” I asked Marti as I lowered Grace in her blue plastic bucket to the floor.

“I don’t know. He’s been in and out of consciousness, I’m not sure what he can see.”

“Wait,” I said, kneeling down and unbuckling Grace, trying not to wake her as I pulled her gently out of the plastic bucket.  Squatting, I held her against my shoulder and felt her moving gently, her head turning side to side, her little nose pushing against my neck. A waft of her baby smell came over me and I closed my eyes briefly, still. Then I stood up again, holding her in front of my face, knocking gently on the glass so that Matt turned to see. I saw his eyes crinkle in what must have been a smile beneath his mask, and he turned to his father and tapped him on the shoulder. I looked over at Marti who was beaming, looking not at Grace but at John. We stood that way for several long moments before Grace began to squawk and I lowered her back into her car seat.  I’ll never know what John saw because he can’t remember anything about those days. But I will never forget that Thanksgiving.


Illustration by Christine Juneau

Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston.  Her work has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources including the Huffington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, and Literary Mama.  She blogs at A Design So Vast and is also on facebook and twitter



The Worry and Wonderment Of Parenting

The Worry and Wonderment Of Parenting

By Lindsey Mead

0-12One morning in the middle of the year Grace was in 3rd grade, while driving to school, I asked both my children what they thought they would remember as the main thing they had learned from me. Why I asked I’m not sure, but legacy and lessons were on my mind. Whit blurted out, “Potty training,” and all three of us laughed.

“Well, Whit, that is one thing I’m awfully glad you learned,” I said with a grin.  Grace was looking out the window, pondering.

“Manners, I think,” she said, hesitating. “Oh, and paying attention.” I glanced back and caught her eye in the mirror, then brought my gaze back to the road.  “Yeah, that. You talk so much about wonder. I guess paying attention to the wonder.”

We pulled up to school and the moment was gone. I walked both kids across the street and into the gate, pressed kisses on both of their cheeks, and got back in the car. I caught a glimpse of Grace’s profile as I waited to pull out and drive away, and was struck by how it still looked exactly like the silhouette of her as a nine month old that I’d had painted onto a Christmas ornament.

All day I thought about wonder. Urging my children to really notice things, and to remain open to wonder, is without a doubt one of the central themes of my parenting. I am extremely porous to the world, to both its grandeur and its terror, and sometimes this overwhelms me. If I were paying slightly less attention, for example, perhaps I’d be able to get through a day without being brought to my knees by the slicing realization of how fast it’s all going. But I don’t know how to be in the world any other way. And so I’m left with what I notice, and with what I wonder.

I have so many questions about what lies ahead on this mothering road. On Grace’s tenth birthday, one of my close friends expressed disbelief (and perhaps a little frustration) at my sentimentality. “Why do you feel sad,” she asked, “When we’ve talked about how it keeps getting better?”

I don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully it will keep getting better. Probably, it will. But right now, everything feels tremendously uncertain, and I can’t see very far ahead. I keep thinking of EL Doctorow’s headlights, reassuring myself that I can make the whole journey this way.

What do I worry about? I worry about guiding Grace through the enormous physical changes that lie ahead for her. I worry about all the things that may chip away at her self-esteem: the attention of boys, eating disorders, huge pressure to perform at school, tension about admission to selective schools. I worry about keeping at bay technology that could distract or harm her while also realizing that she will grow up in a world where familiarity with those things is crucial. I worry about how to preserve her interest in the outdoors and in unstructured play—what feels like the essence of her childhood—in a world that privileges accomplishment and achievement.

I worry about the over-sexualization of young girls and what that means about what she should wear, when she should pierce her ears, or wear makeup.

I have opinions about all of these areas. I’ve never been short on opinions. But one thing I’ve learned in over 10 years as a mother is how quickly what is can vanquish what we thought would be. I used to scoff at when people said their children were their teachers. What a cliché, I always thought to myself, rolling my eyes internally. But now I understand it. Grace has overturned my assumptions time and again, and I expect that will continue to be true as we move forward into this next phase.

All of these fears are real. But I know there is one central, overarching worry.  It is that our relationship will irrevocably fray. I worry that if that happens we won’t recover the closeness we share now. I believe fiercely in the importance of my daughter’s blossoming independence, and over and over again I actively foster it. But in my deepest, most honest mother heart, I worry that I’m not myself strong enough to weather months or years of her desire and need for distance. My most common and frequent worry—occurring to me several times a day, at least—is that this season of my life is almost over.

But braided through all these worries, there is so much wonder. There was the wonder of my toddler daughter stooping to notice a weed poking through the sidewalk, or the wonder of my six year old son the first time he made contact with a baseball pitched at him. There is the wonder we all feel at the “fairy stream” near the tower that we love to climb, and the wonder that sweeps over me when I watch my sleeping children, the babies they were once animate and visible in the planes of their faces.

The web of worries is wide, but twined throughout it, there is so much wonder.

Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston. Her work has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources including the Huffington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, and Literary Mama. She blogs at A Design So Vast and is also on Facebook and Twitter. 

This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of motherhood




A short story by Lindsey Mead

The sky is at its most intense, deep blue, before it fades to blackness; autumn’s leaves are stunning in their doomed shades of red and orange and yellow, before they crumple to uniform brown and fall to the frozen ground. So many things are at their most beautiful just before they die: the last gasp of beauty.

I thought about this a lot as I witnessed my mother’s fleeting, ethereal beauty leading up to her death in the last weeks of winter. She was so gentle, so strong, so prepared; she took me away from my terror, my loneliness, my despair. It was as if the entirety of her fierce spirit surfaced during her last days; her fragile skin was so transparent it seemed to reveal not only her deep blue veins but also the fullness of her heart.

Driving through Harvard Square, the muddy tired snow reminds me of those long days, two winters ago, in the room with the medicine-saturated air, lit by the clear winter light that poured into the room only during the coldest season, when the tall trees surrounding our Victorian house were barren and skeletal. I reach down to change gears but the stick shift is stuck; this car is so old, dammit. I have to take both hands off the wheel and use my full weight to shift to fourth gear.


Seasons-Art-2-opt“Lizzie, come on, you can do it! Relax and ease the pedals past each other. It’s really easy; it’s just the balance you have to get right.” In my memory, my mother smiles calmly at me, acknowledging the tears of frustration in my eyes. I take a deep breath, wipe a summer-browned arm across my forehead, turn the key in the ignition again. I can’t get the damn thing into first gear. I keep on stalling and jumping forward. It feels like my mother and I are riding a bucking rodeo horse. I know she doesn’t want to be here, teaching me to drive. This is her vacation, too, and she would rather be on the beach with her best friend than in a beat-up Jeep that smells like mold in a deserted high school parking lot. I feel so American and so teenaged, learning how to drive. It is such a clichéd rite of passage, yet I am angry and impatient, annoyed that I cannot figure this stupid thing out.

My mother is patient, but she cannot quite describe what I’m doing wrong. It reminds me of when she used to try to help me with basic French grammar. Her fluency removed her from the introductory stuff just as her instinctive comfort at the wheel is difficult to break down into steps I can actually practice and follow.


Mum died two years ago; everything reminds me of her. I cannot go through an hour without being drenched by a waterfall of memories. I am waiting for that moment, that day, when I can be happy with my memories and smile about them; I know that is what Mum wanted (wants?). She always told me she wanted to be remembered with laughter, during our many long late-night talks, over big mugs of herbal tea (she’d choose ginger tea – I hated it, it made my tongue numb), or, in the summer, over tall glasses of iced tea. Mum had a million friends; she was the most popular person I have ever known. But in the family, it was just the two of us. Dad left us when I was five years old, and I never really remembered him. He traveled a lot. His final departure wasn’t that much different from the others, except that he never came back, sweaty and cranky and demanding. Mum’s parents have been dead for a long time, I never knew them, and she didn’t have any siblings. Luckily for both of us there was enough money in the Chase family that Mum could work with the political activist groups she loved so much without worrying about putting me through college. We lived comfortably. We had a summer house by Buzzards Bay where I learned to sail, and an old Victorian house in Cambridge.


Mum was a national sailing champion in college. She also played bridge for money, earning her train fare for weekends visiting her brother at Amherst , where they would drink bourbon at his fraternity. Mum was a huge person contained in a regular-sized body. Of her many passions, sailing was the most essential. She instilled it in me. When I was very little she and I would go out into Buzzards Bay in the Laser or the Sunfish or, for longer sails, the J24. By the time I was eight I was sailing by myself. I understood the balance between boat and sail, wind and water. Mum taught me racing strategy, explaining what it was to steal someone else’s wind during a race. She told me that I should try to do it as infrequently as possible because it wasn’t “nice,” though she knew full well that I would eventually have to steal wind in order to win races.

And I did win, early and often. My trophies – silver bowls that Mum liked to use for fruit, engraved cups, and models of sailboats – began to crowd hers on the mahogany mantelpiece in our living room in Cambridge. I didn’t understand why Mum always had tears in her eyes when I raced up the dock to her after a race, ripping off my sailing gloves, untying the harness that helped me hike out over the edge of the boat, holding my blue first-place pennant and bubbling over with questions about the race, how I did, how I could have done better, gone faster.

Adolescence brought me to a more profound understanding of sailing and what it meant to my mother. When I sailed by myself (one of my favorite things to do during the long sunny days of summer) I would feel my mother’s hands in my grip on the mainsheet and look through her eyes as I gauged the wind direction. When my toes squeaked against the centerboard case I remembered how I’d giggle when hers made the same noise so many years ago, when I sat in the bottom of the cockpit of the boat and played with the bailer as she sailed. I would lean back and trail my long red hair, so much like my mother’s, in the dark green ocean just as she had taught me to do.


When I was fifteen, about five years ago, Mum mentioned to me that, in the distant future, when she died, she wanted to be cremated. She told me that she wanted me to sprinkle her ashes in the ocean and read “Sea Fever” by John Masefield (“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…”) as I did it. I laughed, but her face was serious, and she told me solemnly that she really meant it. It was early in April two years ago that I drove to Buzzards Bay with the ornate urn buckled into the seat next to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my mother would have hated the fussy, formal urn – I had picked the plainest, simplest one the funeral home offered, and it was still far too gaudy. I almost laughed through my tears when I thought about how she still had her seatbelt on while I drove: even in death she wasn’t confident of my driving. I realized these were our last moments of CQT, as we used to call our Car Quality Time, the intimate, meandering talks we’d have during long rides.


“Mum? Um … may I have some more tea?” I am hedging, indicating the black and white cow-shaped teapot that my mother loves. She also has a pitcher that looks like it’s made out of stalks of asparagus that she adores. Random stuff clutters the kitchen. We never had a neatly matching set of plates or any policy for what was used when. The family silver came out for everyday breakfast and was most often used with the chipped earthenware plates that she had brought back from a trip to Paris years ago. Mum reaches out to the pot and pours more tea.

“Yes, yes, everything is fine. I don’t know, Mum, here’s something I want to tell you,” I chew on my thumbnail and then catch myself, pull my hand out of my mouth and start to toy with the handle of my mug instead.

“What, Liz?” Mum is distracted, looking out of the kitchen window into the night. She does that a lot; I always wonder what she looks at and I asked her once. She told me she just liked to see how black it got outside and to ponder how complete a blanket night could be.

“Well, it’s about Chris. Something that happened …” I look down and concentrate on my bitten fingernails, feeling my face flame with redness.

“Mm-hmm?” Mum isn’t really paying attention to me.

“Well, we slept together, Mum, and I, ahhhh—I guess I just wanted you to know, okay?” I stutter while talking, and finally, I force myself to look up into her eyes. She is looking at me at last. I am nervous about her reaction and also having a weird, vivid flashback to the day I told her I got my period. I’d been similarly nervous, and she had thrown her arms around me and started to cry, whispering, “Welcome!” Her reaction had touched and embarrassed me at the same time. I waited to see what she would say now. I have wanted to tell her since it happened last weekend, but we haven’t really had a chance. She’s been so busy at work.

“Liz, you know what? I know. I could just tell. I do know you pretty well. I know that you love him. And I think that he loves you. And I think that’s wonderful! What was it like?” Her final question kind of creeps me out, but I feel I have no choice but to answer it. “Well, it was okay… I mean, it hurt and all, but I’m glad. I mean I just feel really close to him and we talk about it all the time, which is good, I guess, and I am really happy about it because I do really love him…” I stop myself because I know I am babbling. I am so relieved to have finally told her.

“I’m not going to give you a lot of stuff about being careful because I know you’re a big girl, Lizzie.” Mum has always talked to me like a grownup. I think it’s a result of it being just the two of us for so long. “But if you do have questions, feel free to ask them, I’m here. And I’ve been there.” She smiles at me, and when she does, all her wisdom and love and understanding seem to flow across the table from her brown eyes, the same shade as mine, directly to me. I am moved, but I stare hard into the bottom of my cup and concentrate on the brownish murky swirls at the bottom of the tea, holding back tears.


About three weeks after that talk Mum went to the doctor because she found a lump in her breast in the shower. She was swept into a whirlwind of mammograms and biopsies, and it was quickly confirmed that she had Stage IV breast cancer. It had spread to her lungs.

My mother went haywire. She had never been sick a day in her life. She had walked around for 10 days with a fractured tibia before finally conceding to an x-ray. The day she was given the final diagnosis, she had gone to the appointment alone, refusing to let me skip school to join her. I think she was guided by some impulse to shield me from what she intuitively knew would be bad news. When she got home she marched through the front door of our house, threw her pocketbook into the corner of the entrance hall, and walked directly to the liquor cabinet. I was sitting in the big rickety rocking chair, studying SAT words, and I looked up when I heard the door slam. Mum poured herself a big glass of scotch and downed it fast. I was nervous: Mum never drank.

“Lizzie. I’m dying. I have cancer. Why didn’t I do that stupid self-exam more often? I have cancer. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me, I just read about it. I have cancer. I have cancer. Do you think I’m going to get used to saying that?” She sat down heavily and began to cry. I was stunned; I shut my thick book with a thump, feeling irrational irritation at its laminated, brightly colored cover. I stood up slowly and walked awkwardly over to my mother’s heaving shoulders.

“What did Dr. Goldman say? What happened?”

“Yeah, it’s cancer. So much for that ‘one in ten lumps is malignant’ crap. So much for ‘you’re still young.’ I guess 42 isn’t that young anymore. Oh, Lizzie, why? Why? What did I do?” She started to wail and got up and poured herself another scotch; her hand shook as she sloshed the brown liquid into her glass and some spilled onto the dark wood table.

From this point my memories blur; the following months are hazy and ragged at the edges, in distinct contrast to that afternoon whose details will always be crystalline in my memory. I could draw the cover of that SAT book in perfect detail. After that, I remember Mum started to drink more. She withdrew from her friends and her work and from me and simply sat around all day, staring out of the window at the fall. It was a spectacular fall, I do remember that, and Mum seemed to spend all day long looking out of the bay windows of our house at the trees as their leaves changed. I recall wondering if she ever actually saw them. She never said anything. The house was choked with silence.

I kept going to school, going through my days with mechanical motions. Chris and I broke up because I was so distracted, so preoccupied. I didn’t even notice that he was gone from my life. For a while Mum stopped talking to me at all; she was completely silent for three weeks. I spent a lot of time at the houses of a couple of close friends. I became really angry. In fact, my anger sort of excited me; I thought if I could synthesize enough anger, then I could cancel out and erase my grief and terror. I fed on my anger, making myself madder and madder until I was so angry that I didn’t think I cared about Mum at all. That she was dying became some kind of twisted relief. In my fury I told myself I was looking forward to the day she was gone. To the day the silence and anger would finally dissipate. October and November passed in a monochromatic, echoing quiet blur.


This has become a familiar scene: I open the fridge door, pull out two chicken breasts, cream, and mushrooms, slam the door. Our fridge is old, and the door doesn’t shut without a lot of force, so there’s a lot of slamming in the kitchen. I find a wooden chopping board and start to slice the mushrooms with precision, concentrating. Slice, chop, wipe off the blade. Slice, chop, wipe off the blade. The sensation of steel slicing through the soft firmness of the mushrooms is oddly soothing. The gray-brown spade-shaped slivers form reassuringly regular rows on the edge of the chopping board. Mum wanders into the room, glass in hand, and sits down at the kitchen table, watching me. I put a pan on the stove and melt some butter into it; I watch the bubbles and hear them sizzling before tossing the chicken and mushrooms into the pan. I wait for them to brown in the heat. When I add the cream I stir it around and it turns from thick white to thinner brown-gold. I turn off the stove with the same soft click I’ve heard every day since birth and slop the chicken breasts onto two plates. Balancing the plates on my right arm like a waiter I pull open a drawer and grab two knives and two forks. I sit across from Mum and slide her plate and silverware across the wooden surface.

“Lizzie…” Mum whispers, keeping her head bowed, focusing down as she toys with the prongs of her fork. She is gripping the thing so tightly that her knuckles are going white around the edges. I notice her cuticles are ragged and bloody; she has always bitten her nails, preferring them short to “those tacky talons,” but they have never looked so destroyed. I refuse to answer her and look instead directly at her forehead, my gaze so full of resentment and anger I feel as though I could burn a hole through her dry papery skin.

She pulls her head up slowly, as though it’s heavy, and meets my gaze tentatively. Immediately her eyes drop again when she sees the expression on my face, my clenched jaw and pursed lips. “I’m sorry. I don’t know…” her voice is so quiet, like the rustle of dried leaves. My mind flies wildly to a memory of us raking leaves when I was a child, of jumping into a pile of them, of being surprised by the damp sogginess under the crispy brown top layer.

My feelings threaten to overflow my body. The last months have been so controlled as I deliberately constructed fences around my fear. These barricades come bursting open now, and my pain is alive, terrifying in its immediacy and power. I feel like a woman suddenly. I feel like my mother’s peer for the first time. Looking into her eyes I see how scared she is, how sad, how much she needs me. I am overwhelmed with these revelations, by the crushing, instant knowledge that my mother is a person, too, with needs and fears. I push my chair back roughly and run around the table to her side. I kneel on the floor beside her chair and throw my arms around her neck, sobbing into her chest, between her diseased breasts, the breasts that kept me alive in the first months of my life and that are killing my mother in the last months of hers.

Author’s Note: I wrote the first draft of this story before I had children at all. When I revisited it a few years later I was frankly astonished by the themes I had touched on, perhaps subconsciously. I am fortunate to live a mile away from my mother, and to regularly watch her interact with my 10-year old daughter. The way the generations ripple and echo fascinates me. My mother’s closest friend, who was a kind of second mother to me, passed away when she was 49, and her death is very present in this story also.

About the Author: Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and headhunter who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and son. A childhood spent moving around the world left her with a contradictory combination of restlessness and a deep craving for stability. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in English and has an MBA from Harvard, and is currently eschewing her peripatetic childhood by having lived in the same house for 11 years. Her writing has been anthologized and published in a variety of print and on-line sources including Torn: True Stories of Kids, Careers, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, So Long: Short Narratives of Loss and Remembrance, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Literary Mama, and others. She writes daily at A Design So Vast.


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