Mother As Witness

Mother As Witness


By Melissa Uchiyama

My daughter’s tooth lies over there, on a tea saucer by the sink. It is her first one, the first milk tooth to drop from her mouth. She wiggled it with incessant fascination, so much so, that she got an instant cough, fever, and must wash her hands every few minutes. All the germs that come with wiggling teeth. This is all new.

Her pink training wheels sit by the front door, wrenched off like another two baby teeth. Not needed. Grown out and flung away. All this growing and that’s hardly the end. This is the tip, the first shoots. My baby girl cannot stay small.

She is climbing up like a vine, a summer tendril with beans and new flowers. Another wiggly tooth sits by the other’s hole. Her legs cast off from the hips and she is almost-six going on eight. Amazed at the sharp sides of the tooth and that which couldn’t be seen before, she kept placing it back inside, back in its place. Everything had already changed. That which falls out cannot go back. It’s done being there. In fact, there are already grown-up teeth with ridges.

I fight to record the growth. Not just hers, but also my son’s. I cannot capture the changes fast enough, cannot devote myself to sitting long enough with paper and pen. It’s easier to nurse with Netflix than to peck one-handedly on a keyboard. The material stacks up. Already like teens, they sour their faces when I again whip out my phone to take a picture or ask them to repeat a phrase so I can pin it verbatim in my notebook. Three out of five times, my son will ruin a shot by sticking out his arm. They want pictures later, the camera away now. They want the evidence, but they want my eyes, my whole body engaged in the present, actively listening, in real time.

I’ve gotten fast at taking the right shots, so I’m still in conversation. I count it my job to take so many pictures and record short clips with my phone. Parenting frenetic, funny, emotional kids takes effort and momentum. I do not always record quotes, conversations or dramatic essays. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with everything taking place. I wash a few dishes or lay down to nurse, and the time seems to be gone. If I’m not recording, not wildly looting and frantically puling each memory into a case, who, then? Life with kids seems like it’s long, the whole “the hours are long”, but like the chomp of a gator, it’s quick. Each glimpse into who we are together at this moment could be lost.

That’s the challenge and total impetus of this writerly-mothering movement: we want to capture these moments of growth and pain, all the stretching of muscles and mammary glands before it’s over– before we’re lost to the blur. We want to feel each pearl of truth. It is not enough to simply jot down, “July 10: no more training wheels”. How big were her eyes when she peddled into the sun? Did she squint in concentration? How about those knuckles and what did she say that sounded proud? I already forget.

My infant, the newest person in our clan is two months old, and holds up her neck with the best of them. Her yet-blond lashes double daily and her faculties increase, yet I’ve not even written out her birth. I have not written about those first looks and how she feels in my arms. That weight increases as she takes in my milk. She is already twelve pounds and nearly rolling over. I think I’ll remember the big things, but I already rely on my photos to spark memory. It’s like jumpstarting a car’s battery. That’s the trick about motherhood–no stage seems like it’s leaving until suddenly, it does. You need every member of the family to roll around life with a Go-Pro camera stuck on their heads so at least there’s no want for footage.

I used to record conversations with my daughter, verbatim, used to keep a notebook of her funny expressions and all of the wonderful words, mispronounced. This new gap in her mouth may change new sounds in her speech as she already corrects the old, endearing ones. “Door” has been “doh-ah” and “excited”, “es-kited”. My son is in that stage of trying out autonomy through knowing my first name. He tries to access my attention, calling out “Moolissa” when “Mommy mommy mommy” doesn’t work. He’s perfectly integrated the word “actually” into his everyday lingo. Yet, I have zero remembrance of their first words.

I mourn the thousands of gorgeous moments undocumented. They are lost. My son, his legs are growing thicker. He stands with his father’s shoulders and back, giggles and speaks with me about how baby popped out and isn’t there anymore. He wants to talk about planes, engines, his baby, favorite teachers, with the language of NOW, of him being three, today, at 4:51. Without sufficient recordings, I will forget the ring and tenure of his voice, loud and then soft.

To want to write, to be a writer, though stages of child and mother is both blessed and torture. It is to adore a summer sun and see it fading. To be so busy with the act of loving and the desire to remember every ray of sun as it spreads. Childhood in itself is the act of changing, the seasons of marking time. Maybe writing, then, is the remarkable.

We want this, but most days leave us so plumb tuckered-out, we may barely get through the tuck-in story. My husband and I have both knocked our poor kids on their heads with hard-cover books when we’ve fallen asleep, mid-story. Who can journal much or write anything cogent any of these tired days? And suddenly, months have passed. Suddenly, it is time to invite guests to the first and then next birthday parties. Suddenly, teeth sit under a pillow, waiting for you. Time keeps moving; they keep growing and we mothers, we try to keep up. All we can do is snap, capture even a moment of beauty, a whir of beating wings.

These fallen teeth, these training wheels sit while I decide what we shall do with them. Treasure? Trash? Leverage to stick under a pillow for money and the promise of something better? It all leads to independence, the kind of run that makes us proud. It also makes us weep. Our babies are gone, pumping legs, splashing hard, teeth under fluffed pillows.

Today I caught my daughter’s thin limbs peddling, pushing hard round the corner. Those training wheels shall not go back on and that tooth is out for good. Most surprising, perhaps, is the fact that I wrote it down.

Melissa Uchiyama is an essayist and sometimes poet. She focuses on raising bicultural children and young writers in Japan. Find more and connect via

Author Q&A: Jessica Johnson

Author Q&A: Jessica Johnson

bw headshotJessica Johnson is the author of the essay The Intertidal Zone. We spoke with her about writing and motherhood. Here is her story:

What inspired you to write this essay?

When I started this essay, I had just started teaching creative nonfiction, and as I helped my students think about the structures of their essays, I got ideas about how I might write about my experience at the Newport aquarium. That moment in Newport seemed tied to many other parts of my life, but in order to write it, I needed to get an idea about how to structure this multifaceted story.

What was the greatest challenge in writing it?

I had trouble figuring out where to start and where to end, and I wrote many, many drafts.

How do your children inform your writing?

I’m enchanted by my children. They’re like a big ball of light and love in my consciousness. On the other hand, when I take a more detached view, my children—their developmental phases, their ways of seeing the world, the surreal aspect of being around them—are fascinating objects of study, full of unexpected insights. I write about them and the experience of raising them, but even when I’m not writing about them, the imperative of love and care hopefully permeates my writing.

How do you balance writing and motherhood?

Most of my writing friends now have small children, and we talk about this question all the time. One of them recently said, “All I can do is get up early.” That seems about right to me.

Do you share any of your writing with your children (if they are old enough of course)

My oldest child is four, and I have never shared my writing with her, but I often imagine her grown-up self as my true audience.

Back to November 2015 Issue


When I Write

When I Write

By Elizabeth Matthews


I write in between blowing on hot food and gluing dried leaves to paper plates.

I write in between clipping fingernails and carefully picking up broken pieces of glass.

I write in between dropping uneaten food into the garbage and pulling tags off of unworn clothes.

I write in between filling the ice trays with a slow stream of water and wiping away coffee rings on the countertops.

I write in between scraping lint off the dryer filter and walking around the Play-Doh stains on the basement carpet.

I write in between searching for bobby pins and pulling the hairs out of the drain before drawing a bath.

I write in between squeezing the right flavor of medicine into the dosing cup and trying to brush through wet, knotty hair.

I write in between building a garage out of Legos and picking eggshells out of the cookie batter.

I write in between watching reality TV and reading a lengthy essay on the gluten free food movement.

I write in between taping the handwritten card to the present and accepting a piece of cake after eating pizza at the second birthday party.

I write in between learning how to fold paper to make it fly and traversing a crowded parking lot with two small children.

I write in between pressing on the tip of the boot to see if I can feel small toes and finding the right spot to tickle to hear a giggle.

I write in between safety-pinning the torn leotard and standing behind my daughter while she gazes at the older ballerinas dance on their pointe shoes.

I write in between seeing a large black spider crawl into the printer and squeezing my child who fears the large dog that sniffs around her feet at the bus stop.

I write in between trying not to look directly at the bloody wound on my child’s head and holding his arms down by his side while the doctor stitches it up.

I write in between standing on my toes, reaching above the doorframe for the pin that unlocks the door and squatting down to fit underneath a child’s umbrella.

I write in between poking myself with pipe cleaners as I bend them into giraffes and placing my foot in front of the wheels of a miniature shopping cart to stop it from slamming into a stranger’s ankles.

I write in between leaning against a locked door, taking deep breaths and erasing the letter “d” that is written carefully in pencil as the letter “b.”

I write in between hanging over my feet with my elbows crossed to stretch out my hamstrings and lifting a three-year-old into the air to drop the ball into the basket.

I write in between trying to avoid the sunlight from piercing sensitive eyes in the back seat and wondering if the beautiful woman who walks the baby down the sidewalk each morning is sad.

I write in between covering up the dark circles under my eyes and finding the strength to bounce a child up and down on my shins while my legs are crossed.

I write, alone, in between watching fallen leaves race down the street after speeding cars and the stillness that follows.


Liz Mathews is a Connecticut based mother, teacher, and freelance writer who blogs on books and writing at La La La ( Her work has appeared in Quality Women’s Fiction, Town and Country magazine, and Literary Mama.

Showing Lola Brain, Child

Showing Lola Brain, Child

showinglola“Come upstairs, Lola Blue. I have something for you.”


“Well no don’t um—get all excited about it. I mean, it’s for you and all, but it’s the kind of something that you just sort of keep and put away and maybe look at from time to time like your purple volcano stones from Maui.”

“Cool! Let’s see!”

Upstairs, Lola sat on my bed and I handed her a copy of Brain, Child, Volume 16, Issue 2, a literary magazine for thinking mothers. On the cover was an animated image of two young people from behind, holding hands, and they both have cell phones in their pockets. (If, by chance, you wanted to ORDER this magazine, you could click here and we could definitely make that happen.) Lola did her best to feign interest in the magazine but it was a far cry from purple volcano stones from Maui.

“Just—uh—you know, flip through the pages a little bit,” I instructed. “Figured there might be something in there you might find interesting.”

She leafed through the pages, humming, skimming titles and checking out the art work (was that what she was supposed to find interesting? who knows? dad’s not being especially direct with this particular “something special”) until page 54 stopped her cold in stunned recognition. What the hell? It was her.

“It’s me!” she exclaimed on the border of a question, looking at me, amazed, and then back again at the full page black and white image of herself in a magazine. “The Poetry of Math?” she read the title, wondering what it meant, “And it’s by you! You, Daddy, in a magazine! And me!”

“Yeah,” I said and sat next to her. “I write about you and your brother on the Internet all the time, but this is different, hey? Here we are, out in the world, in print. Is that pretty cool or is that pretty cool?”

“It’s way pretty cool!” She smiled, turned the page, and read “{OUR KIDS} + (the FUTURE) = Anything. You write so crazy, Daddy. What’s that even supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know, little girl. I just scribble things down about you kids and hope that maybe one day you’ll check them out—like when you’re 20 or something—and maybe they’ll mean something to you. And then, maybe when you’re 30 or 40, they might mean something else. Hell, I’m not even sure half the time if I know what they mean and I’m the guy who writes it. But I do know this much for sure. Sometimes, you kids mean more to me than anything I could ever tell you. I could never explain. So I just try to write it down and see what happens.”

“Like how?”

“Like how what?”

“Like how do me and Jay-Jay mean things you can’t explain?”

“Sweetheart. I just explained to you that I can’t explain and that’s why I write—”

“But, Daddy, this IS writing. It’s not like we’re having a real conversation. This is an essay on the Internet.”

I felt weird. Dizzy. Like drugs, or colors. “Whoa,” I said, “this conversation just went all meta-essay. Do you know what that means?”

“That the writing no longer seeks to deceive the reader by representing a transparent reality but, rather, becomes conscious of itself as writing while exploring and articulating its limitations.”

“Yeah. You’re pretty bright for a 10-year-old girl.”

“I have a really strange dad. So, anyway, how? How do me and Jay-Jay mean things you can’t explain?”

“Okay, it’s like this. Sometimes you and your brother will just… DO something. Like, anything. And I can’t just say ‘Wow, Lola, that was really awesome the way you brushed your hair,’ because, even though that’s what you did, that’s not what it meant. See? What it meant is what I can’t explain.”

“Well, what did it mean?”

“Are you even listening to me? I don’t know. Nothing, maybe? It’s like there’s this world, you know, and it’s spinning in a circle and whirling around the sun, in circles, going nowhere, and there’s all this war and sex and reality television and people—it’s the people, I think—the way we’re trapped inside the narratives of our own stories as if they’re, like, realer than they really are and I’m the same way, just living my life, oblivious, consumed, selfish, and then all of a sudden­—WHAM—you’re brushing your hair or Jaydn opens a window and I can’t believe there’s such a thing as any of this or you and I get—like—stunned without a tongue so I write things like ‘Lola brushed her hair free of tangles and rubies as Jaydn opened the window to get some fresh dreams. My children are made of tulips and stardust. Nothing in the world is what anything seems.’ Do you see? I can’t explain. I can’t—”

“Shhhh,” she spared my lips. “Hey, Daddy? Can I keep this? The magazine?”

“Of course you can—yes. I wrote it for you.”

“You will always be the candles on my eyes’ windowsills.”

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Reading is an Act of Communion

Reading is an Act of Communion

DawnMany years ago I wrote a post on my blog about being a child and accidentally learning how to do guided visualization. I described the exercise I invented—a quiet room in a little house, a closet overflowing with boxes containing my worries. My job was to stack the boxes that contained my anxiety.

“Once the worries were shut away,” I wrote. “I was free to leave the little one-room house. Outside was a garden, neat and vaguely hostile, with a path leading away back to my bed, where I could finally sleep.”

I did this exercise, I wrote, because I was eight years old and scared of multiplication. I wrote about the paper plate clocks hung over the third grade chalkboard, stickers marking our progress through the times tables.

I wrote about watching “the other clocks fill up with stickers while mine perched forlornly on the wall, steadfastly advertising my inadequacy.”

To finish the entry I typed that I wrote it because “I was remembering the imaginary room and its cold, quiet stillness.”

Then I hit publish and I walked away.

When I came back to my computer that evening the people in my comments were talking about their own experience with multiplication. Nobody mentioned the visualization, which surprised me. It was, after all, why I wrote the piece. It’s how I came up with the post title (“Mind Control”) and how I began and how I ended the entry.

When I reread it with their comments in mind, I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of conveying the power of that room but I’d done a great job of conveying a kid’s anxiety at staring down the times tables. I also began to understand that struggling with multiplication is a universal experience and so even if I hadn’t done a very good job it was a story that would immediately speak to the reader. On the other hand, visualization—something so personal and specific—was a much harder sell.

My piece was completely upside down and lopsided and it was indeed about multiplication for the reader even if it wasn’t for me, the writer.

When I was in college and wearing a lot of black and doing a lot of scowling, I was also taking a lot of creative writing classes. Back then if people didn’t understand what I was saying I figured it was a comprehension problem. I figured I was the expert in what I was writing because I was the one writing it. When people in my class would say they didn’t understand what I was trying to say, I’d roll my eyes and dismiss their criticism. I was a writer; they were mere readers.

It took me a while to realize that for writers who want to be read, the reader is pretty darn important. Writing is one thing and being read is another. Writing is solitary, an act of discovery, and the joy of both process and product. Reading is another creative process that happens away from me. Once I set my writing free to be read it exists to evoke a response and an experience in someone else. The reader brings her own history, her own assumptions and her own prejudices to my work.

My words are static and they only come to life when my readers take them in. In other words, I may be the expert on what I meant to say but my readers are the experts on what I actually said.

Writing an essay or a story is a little bit like having a child. While that baby is in your arms you can protect it but when you send it out into the world it will evoke responses that you cannot predict and that you will not always understand. No matter how carefully we write we cannot control that space beyond our keyboards.

Stories live on out there in the world without their authors to stand by and try to explain their intention. Our stories go on to be a part of other people’s lives in ways we can’t imagine. The best we can do is to write as well as we can and trust our readers to their experience, even when they don’t get it exactly the way we wanted them to.

Most of the magic—the magic in the communion between writer and reader—happens without us. We do the work, we let it go and we let the reader have her way with it.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

The Stories Of Our Lives

The Stories Of Our Lives

I recently read an interview with Joan Didion where she expands on her famous quote saying writers are always selling people out. Here is how she explains it:

If you are doing a piece about somebody, even if you admire them tremendously and express that in the piece, express that admiration, if they’re not used to being written about … they’re not used to seeing themselves through other people’s eyes. So you will always see them from a slightly different angle than they see themselves, and they feel a little betrayed by that.”

Most people don’t understand that creative nonfiction is biased. It’s creative in that those of us who write it are using the facts (as we understand them) to write our way to a truth that is inherently personal. If we are writing from our own experience, we are sharing a perspective that is shaded in memory. We may write that, for example, that a little sister was forever whining or that a father was preoccupied with work but that sister and that father may remember it differently. The sister may remember that you were terribly bossy. The father might tell you that he was only distant during that difficult time when he was passed over for a promotion.

The truth is all of that. The truth is the bratty little sister and the bratty big sister. The truth is the worried father and the lonely child.

But when we write our stories down, they carry a weight that they don’t have when we’re telling stories around the dinner table during a family reunion. An essay published and out in the world has an authority that may feel threatening to the people featured in it.

When I talk to other writers about it and about their decision-making there’s a variety of responses. Some believe that speaking their truth takes precedence over the feelings of friends and family. Some always seek permission before taking pen to paper (or before sending it out for possible publication). But most of us take it step-by-step, piece-by-piece. We check in and we pull back. Or we write it all and then edit more. Some of us having written things we regret and some of us wish we had written with more honesty and less fear.

Personally I think we should write it all, write everything and write as true as we know how. But then I think before we give it to the world we have to edit with kindness and sensitivity.

For myself, I’ve certainly gone too far with work that is doggedly self-centered. I remember back when I was writing my personal blog way before blogging was anything anyone knew about and I wrote a pretty damning entry about my father. I didn’t bother to consider that he might be reading it and only heard later that he’d looked at that entry then called my sister to say, “She really hates me, doesn’t she?” I didn’t then and sure don’t know but I did during the time I was writing about. But I didn’t bother to shade what I was writing with the benefit of hindsight and so that entry sat bald and glaring, telling a truth that no longer needed to be told.

It was so easy to be caught up in my story – that time in my life where my feelings were so raw – and to forget that the people I were writing about weren’t static characters. I knew the happy ending (my eventual reconciliation with my dad) and didn’t consider that without current context my father just looked like a bad guy.

I’m fortunate that my father forgave me and I learned to be more cautious when I hit publish on a blog or send on a submission.

I’m curious about the rest of you writerly folk. Have you ever gone too far? Do you ever feel hemmed in by the expectations of friends and family? Do you talk about these things in your writer groups and with your writer friends?

How do you manage the challenge to be truthful in your work without violating the truth of others?

How to Balance Writing with Parenting

How to Balance Writing with Parenting

agathachristieI’ve always liked to read about writers’ lives and see how they arrange things so when my son was born nearly 17 years ago, I was thrilled when a friend gave me The Bluejay’s Dance, Louise Erdich’s memoir of writing after having her first baby. Only it made me depressed. I tried to read the book while nursing my son in our tiny one bedroom apartment. I read in fits and starts, falling sleep in the middle of a paragraph, startling awake and forgetting where I was. Louise waxed on about her tiny little writer’s shed in her backyard, her baby cared for by someone else or tucked quietly next to her and it all made me feel very gloomy.

It took me two years to get into the writing swing of things again. I wasn’t as productive as I wanted to be, of course. I had no writer’s shed (I wrote at a table set up next to the washing machine, listening to the hum of cloth diapers on the spin cycle). I had no childcare (I wrote during nap time, that is if my son was willing to nap). But I started to figure out how to fit writing into my life again.

Parents know that caring for kids doesn’t make for a lot of free time; there are always things—laundry, cooking, shuttling to this or that activity—that will eat up every minute of the day. But because the domesticity of parenthood is made up of these kinds of mundane tasks there is a lot of time for thinking and it turns out that those times are ripe for non-writing writing work. If you’re stuck sorting socks, why not plan out a story or an essay?

That’s the truth about parenting and all of the mundane jobs around it—it can be rewarding or frustrating or challenging or fun but mostly it’s pretty boring and boredom begets creativity.

Much of the work of writing doesn’t happen at the keyboard (or with a pen and paper for the luddites among you). Writing takes a lot of thinking, a lot of daydreaming away from the workspace. This is a good thing for those of us writers, (which is most of us writers) who work around the demands of kids, partners and jobs. We can “work” while we’re stuck in traffic or half-listening to a colleague’s presentation or, as Agatha Christie says, while we’re doing the dishes.

When my kids were little, I did my not-writing writing work during slow, slow, slow walks around the neighborhood. My kids wanted to stop at every single crack in the sidewalk to check for ants and day dreaming is the only thing that kept me from losing my mind from the boredom. We would come home, I’d serve lunch and then I’d get them down for naps. Naptime was when I would hit my keyboard.

Now I do my not-writing writing work while driving. Sometimes I take the longest route to give myself some extra time and it’s best if I keep the radio off unless there are kids with me. In that case, I turn the radio speakers on to play only in the backseat and let them sing along to P!nk or “Wrecking Ball” so that they’ll leave me (mostly) to my thoughts. I planned this blog post during my commute to work last week since my commute home is usually eaten up with thoughts about my day.

This kind of not-at-the-desk work does take intention and there’s no substitution for putting your butt in the chair and writing it all down. But having space to worry at your narrative can help you pick through problems and create a trajectory so that when you do get to your desk, your work is much easier.

I decided to write this post because I know that Brain, Child has always been a writer’s magazine so I know there are writers reading here and I’m curious: When do you do your best thinking? And what’s helped you be most productive in those times?

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Writer Interview: Nina Badzin

Writer Interview: Nina Badzin

Headshot Badzin

First, tell us a little about your family.

I’ve been married to Bryan for close to thirteen years. I was only 23 when we got married, which is hard to believe. We’ve grown together year by year, and we’re blessed to have four kids ages nine, almost seven, four, and almost two.

Tell us a little about what you’ve written for Brain, Child / Brain, Mother.

The articles I’ve written so far for Brain, Mother tend to focus on how I grapple with doing what I think is best in the long run for my family versus doing what is easy in the short run. Most recently I wrote about how I get frustrated when my kids act helpless when it comes to chores and even minor responsibilities like taking the ice packs out of their lunch boxes, yet I’m always doing things for them because I don’t have the patience to wait.

When do you write, and where?

My favorite writing spots are the coffee shops near my kids’ elementary school and preschool. When I need to get serious, I go to a newer French-inspired bakery called Rustica. They don’t have outlets so I can’t afford to waste time on social media there. I can only write at home after midnight, which I try to do only a few times a month so that I’m not a zombie the next day. Those late nights are my best writing sessions. It’s quiet, stolen time.

How does parenting impact your work/writing?

When I started writing six years ago, I had two kids. I only wrote fiction back then and swore that I would never start a blog. When I started my blog three years ago, I said that I would never write about the kids. Never say never.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

I’m always jotting down ideas for essays from all aspects of my life, but some of my favorite topics originate with Bryan. He often reads parenting books and articles then offers some kind of proclamation about a new idea we need to try. My first article for Brain, Mother, “The Case Against Party Favors,” came from one of Bryan’s “proclamations.”

What books are on your nightstand right now?

I just finished Naked by David Sedaris. I don’t know how it’s possible that I missed that one as I’ve read everything else he’s written. I’m about to start Me Before You by Jojo Moyes because everyone I know is talking about this book. I’m not above reading books simply because of the buzz. I have Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Lauren Grodstein’s The Explanation of Everything ready to go next.

Which blogs/sites do you frequent for good writing? 

I have around fifty blogs that I enjoy in my blog reader, but some of my favorites are by Allison Slater Tate, Rebecca Schorr, Judy Clement Wall, Lindsey Mead, Stephanie Sprenger, and Jessica Smock.

What is your favorite Brain, Child blog post, essay, story, or feature?  

I really enjoy the debate sections in the print magazine. In the most recent issue, Randi Olin and Evadne Macedo discussed whether or not kids should use electronics. Those are the kinds of topics I tend to debate with myself. I read everything on the blog, and I find that Lauren Apfel’s and Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser‘s work especially resonates with me. Maybe it’s because all three of us are moms of four. It’s a special club.

Any advice to other parent-writers out there? 

Every time I tell myself that I’ll get to work when I have enough time to write a whole essay, I end up deeply regretting that decision. There is never a good time. I write paragraph by paragraph. I have never written an entire essay in one sitting.

Nina Badzin is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. You can read more of her work here and at  Connect with her on Facebook ( and Twitter (

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Every. Little. Thing.

Every. Little. Thing.

By Audrey Milner

0-20At age 42, after a brief but valiant marriage, I sent myself to my first creative writing class. My life had become tightly constricted around my husband and child, and I desperately needed to open up again, to any possibility of hope or excitement.

Our instructor was a reassuring man in his early 60s. I could barely restrain myself from addressing his every question. Please, please, please, let there be more remaining to my life than the last few years have shown me.

After our round of introductions, the instructor wrote a four-step writing prompt on the white board. My pen hovered until he said, “Go.”

1) Think of three people in your past.

I had lost three, all so small, but big enough to matter.  I wrote without thinking:

first little person

second little person

third little person

2) Write a question to the first person.

Were you surprised to slip out so quickly? Were you in my clothes, or in the toilet, or on the hospital floor? Or were you in a plastic tube, and then sent for incineration? What is it like where you are? Is there something I can do for you now?

3) Write her answer.

I had barely begun. Everything was a surprise. Life was a surprise. Death was a surprise. I know you were surprised, too.

I am with others now who are not with you. We are fine. We watch you, and are curious, and send you our love. It’s a blurry line between you and us.

What can you do for me? You can love your son. Your son and I rose from the same pool of Life. You can move forward because we are all with you.

4) Now, think of a song.

Song? I don’t have a song from that time…

But the first song that comes to mind is Bob Marley: “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing will be alright.”

A realization knocked the wind out of me: the title of that song is “Three Little Birds.”

“Woke up this morning, smiled at the rising sun

Three little birds, outside my window

Singing sweet songs, a melody clear and true

Singing, this is my message to you.

Don’t worry about a thing

Cause every little thing will be alright…”

It was simple, perfect, and I wept, with the sounds of pens scratching paper, and the instructor’s warmth quietly radiating out to me.

Maybe these three little people, these three lost possibilities and hopes, are my Three Little Birds, and this is their message to me: “Every little thing will be alright.”

Take your class. Love your son. Open your life. Every little thing will be all right.

Audrey Milner is a mother, writer, reader and ocean lover. This is her first foray into creative nonfiction.

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