Reflections on the Here Year


At the top of Notre Dame, Paris, March 18th.  My memories of this moment include the sight of Paris spread below us, as well as the awe-inspiring, echoing sound of the bells and the uneven, centuries-worn stones under my feet.  I was there.

Tomorrow marks the last day of Aidan‘s Here Year, in which I was honored and delighted to participate alongside her.  I’ve been thinking about what the big lessons or takeaways from the year were, either for me or in general, and the truth is I’m not sure I have any.  I think the lessons of spending a year thinking about presence, in a bunch of different specific spheres (marriage, friendship, time) are quieter, somehow both more urgent and less headline-y than they might be.

More than anything, The Here Year reinforced something I’ve known for a while, and around which I’ve been circling, in both my writing and in my living.

Being present is the central task of my life.

Several years ago I began to orient in the direction of being engaged with, and aware of, my own days.  It has changed everything.  This shift is documented on this blog, whose early days included a series called Present Tense about all the challenges and rewards of presence. Over the years I’ve run into difficulty when people interpret my discussion of “presence” as a way of asserting that everything is perfect.  Let me be really clear: I am not saying that being present transforms everything into wonder and smooths out all the rough edges.  Far from it.  As I’ve said before, being aware of my own life opens me up to more joy and more sorrow simultaneously.  I assure you that there’s plenty of frustration and yelling and disappointment and irritation in my life.

I am far from a zen person.  I’m still often impatient, distracted, and snappy.  Sometimes I’m on my phone when I shouldn’t be.  Now and then I check my voicemail, listen to a series of messages, and realize when I hang up I can’t remember who half of them were from, because I wasn’t really paying attention.  But the thing is, I’ve improved a lot.  A lot.  When I started blogging, and writing about presence and awareness, I was pointing myself in the direction I wanted to go.  I can see that now.  Writing here helped me identify, and then pursue, something I desperately needed.

I suspect that anyone who knows me in real life would say I’m someone who speaks and moves fast and who doesn’t always pay as close attention as she should. Hopefully anyone who has known me for a while would also say that they’ve seen a change on this dimension in me (any of you who fit this qualification and are still reading, I’d welcome your observations).

Blogging is a practice.  A daily and weekly effort, one that I keep at because over time it has made such enormous changes in my life. I think of the Tolkien quote I saw yesterday, “Little by little, one travels far” (thanks, Dina Relles).  It seems so small, a gradual effort to pay attention, to put down my phone, to listen carefully, to look at the sky, and to record what I observed.  And yet, as over years the silt in a river carves an oxbow into the land, so the very contours of my own life have changed.

The Here Year helped me to see the fruit of these years of effort, and reminded me of the fundamental importance of the work required for me to be present.  To be here now.  These choices – to sit with a child and read a book, to look a friend in the eye, to listen to the birds in the bushes, to stand still and watch a sunset – small in the moment, maybe, but there’s nothing more important.

Paying attention allows me to fully inhabit my own life.  It doesn’t, however, slow time down.  It was a bitter realization for me that no amount of being present changes the fact that time flies by me, that moments sift through my fingers even as I grasp at them.  I routinely mourn experiences even while I am still living them.  I hate feeling so keenly aware of how fast it’s all going by, and of so fiercely missing things that are over.  But I also know it’s simply the only way I want to exist in this world.  I loved thinking about and talking about and writing about what it means to be here this last year with you, Aidan, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

Things That Make Me Happy



I loved Aidan’s post about four things that make her happy.  Hers are big, important things, and I love what she shares.  For me, sometimes there are little things that make me disproportionately happy.  I’ve been thinking about some of those lately.  What are some hings – big or small – that make you happy?  I’d love to hear.

Clean sheets on my bed

8 uninterrupted hours of sleep

Fresh flowers (peonies, ranunculus, and parrot tulips are some of my favorites)

The smell of laundry

James Taylor’s music


Putting on pajamas at the end of the day (“end” is relative)

Sterling silver picture frames

The sound of halyards snapping against masts

The sky

The necklace I have with charms that represent each child, plus one from my sister and an enamel heart and shrinky-dink binoculars that Grace made for me (because I like to notice things)

The words that I had engraved inside Matt’s wedding ring

My bookshelves of cherished titles

The ocean

Scallops as a design detail – on curtains, on clothing hems (my wedding dress had a scalloped hem)

 What makes you happy?


Parenting a tween: an exercise in presence

Parenting is an exercise in presence.  This has always been true, of course, but it’s getting even more so as my children get older.   I wrote about this a bit a week and a half ago on Instagram: “Sunday night. Snow falling softly. Just back from hockey game (3rd of weekend). Thinking about how parenting a tween is an exercise in presence. It is about being there, often silently, often without acknowledgement. You have to trust that it matters, and that it is noticed, that you are there. You give presence and patience and awareness and believe it is felt even when you aren’t told so. It’s a reminder of what I have long known, that love is as simple and as difficult as being present with another person.”

What I do these days is listen, make dinner, pack lunches, drive a lot.  I drive to school, I drive to practices, I drive to playdates, I drive to games.  I pick up, sitting in the car, often mutely, and drive friends who chat animatedly in the backseat.  I tuck in, kissing foreheads and waiting for updates to come pouring out.  Once in a while they do, occasionally on a flood of tears, but often they don’t.  I just need to be there when the moment comes.

I try to be stoic in the face of frustrations and moods, knowing that my job is to be there, no matter what.  I think often of a wonderful essay by Jenny Rosenstrach in which she acknowledges that there is much we cannot do to protect our children from the vagaries of life in middle school.  What we can do, she says, is what she learned from her own mother.  We can make sure “they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”

These are the day so when I have to learn, all over again, that love is about abiding.  It is staying near.  It is working in my office rather than going downstairs, because Grace has decided to curl up on the couch in the next door room.  It is sitting on her bed reading before bed, even though it’s less comfortable than my own bed, simply because I know the quiet togetherness comforts her.  It is showing up to games, even when I’ve been told not to cheer too loudly, and watching, because the minute I glance down at my phone will be the instant she looks over.

Mothering these days is about knowing that I can’t fix everything – or, often, anything.  It is knowing that listening without trying to change is actually the most profound gift.  It is about trusting that she sees that I am there, and that she senses, somewhere deep and inchoate, that that is a demonstration of my love.  And I know, by the way, that this is all practice and training for parenting a teen, the days which hover on the horizon, whose advent is around the corner.  I definitely don’t feel ready.  But the days are coming, so I’ll gather what I have, which is my love, instinct, and a fierce belief in abiding, and I will do my best.  I’ll mess up, and I’ll begin again.

The Here Year: Happiness


Valentine’s Day evening, leaving a late dinner after driving home in a blizzard from a hockey game with Whit.  I was (t)here, and I was happy.

It’s hard to believe this is the last month of Aidan‘s Here Year, in which it has been my honor to participate.  And this month’s theme is happiness.

Happiness.  I have to admit I have conflicted feelings about this word.  I know most people would say that happiness is what they want in life. I think most people would also say that happiness is what they want for their child(ren).  But for some reason that goal never sits entirely comfortably with me.  I resonate more with the word joy, and even more, with contentment.  I’ve written before that these days I feel a sturdy sense of joy that is both new and hard-won.  This steady, difficult-to-dislodge feeling approaches what I think of as contentment.  I’m comfortable saying that feeling this is what I have always wanted.  I’m not sure what my reservation is when it comes to “happiness,” and realize it’s probably just semantics.  So, for this month, back to happiness.

The question is whether being here has made me happier.

The answer is yes.

But here’s the thing: it has also made me sadder.  There is no question that being present – a task which is at the core of the here year and which is also the central effort of my life – enriches my experience.  But it enriches all of my experience. Remaining inside my own life, living in the hours I’m allotted, paying attention to everything that happens to and around me, opens me up to both joy and sorrow.  I see more beauty and I see more heartache.  I haven’t figured out a way to have one without the other.

Recognizing this unavoidable truth in my own life has had significant repercussions.  It has changed how I think about goals for both me and for my children.  I’m not sure I think of happiness as the be-all and end-all anymore.  Happiness is a vital and meaningful part of my life.  A big part of my life.  But there’s also the reality I can’t get away from, the dark shadow that hangs over everything, the way that time moves on and pain comes and how the glow of morning light on bare branches makes me think of both exultant joy and heartbreaking loss.  I think often – daily, at least – of Virginia Woolf’s statement that ‘The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.”

I wish there was an easier conclusion, a simpler to-do: make this adjustment, look at the world this way, and you’ll be happier.  Life will be smoother.  Sadly, at least for me, that’s not how it works.  I still think there’s huge value in being present, in being here, though, and I would never choose to live another way.

What is love?


One of my favorite recent pictures, from last October, with my parents, on the water.  I used the photo on this year’s Valentine card.

I’ve long believed that love – actually, life itself – resides in small things.  Yes, roses on Valentine’s Day are nice and weddings can be powerfully moving and the toast at a big birthday celebration carries all kinds of importance.  But day by day, hour by hour, we show people that we love them through our smallest acts.

There are three people in the world that I love the most.  You may have noticed that I write about two of them less and less (and one of them, almost never, though that’s not a change).  Grace and Whit are growing into their own stories, and it feels trickier and trickier to share them here.  In this case, I was very curious about what love looks like for them.  So I asked them.


Love is when Mum tucks me in at night and listens to me talk about my day.  It’s when she stops doing something important to help me when I need it.  Love is sacrificing some of the things she loves for us – like going out to dinner with friends or reading by herself.  Love is when she thinks of new recipes and makes something new for family dinner.  Love is keeping the kitchen stocked.  Love is sitting in cold rinks and cheering us on at hockey games (though not too loud).  Love is letting us go to sleep away camp even though I know she misses us.


Love is when Mum snuggles with me at bedtime every night.  It is when she reads me Harry Potter.  When she doesn’t pick up the phone so she can be with me.  When she makes us dinner.  I know 90% of her life right now is work but the other 10% is caring about us and that is love.  She does things that try to make our lives better.  Love is driving around the world constantly to get us places.  Love is when she goes to the library and picks out lots of books for me to see what I like.


I really enjoyed this exercise.  Sometimes the things we think mean the most don’t, and vice versa.  Nobody mentioned lunchbox notes, for example, which I write sporadically but not always, and nobody mentioned presents at all.  In fact neither of them mentioned things.  I recommend asking those you live with or love the most what touches them the most.  And then do more of that.