Matt was away this weekend, and Grace and Whit and I faced the luxury of an almost entirely empty Sunday.  I knew I wanted to do something adventurous, and a few days ago I signed the three of us up for trapeze school.

Trapeze school.  One of my friends texted and asked if we were skiing on Sunday and I answered that no, we were going to trapeze school.  She responded that wow, she didn’t realize we were a circus family. Okay, fine, it was random.

We showed up on Sunday morning at 10am.  Well, we got there 25 minutes early because of my chronic earliness problem.  But the class started at 10.  With very little preamble, we were strapped into safety harnesses and climbed a seemingly endless set of rickety metal stairs.  We faced a carpeted platform, a smiling helper, and a trapeze.  Grace went first.  I couldn’t believe her courage as she stood on the edge of the platform, grabbed the trapeze, and jumped.  My eyes filled with tears and my hands gripped Whit’s tiny shoulders as we stood and watched her flying through the air.

I was pretty sure Whit would refuse to go.  This child, remember, won’t even go on the spinning teacups, let alone even the slowest of roller coasters.  I was shocked, then, when he gamely stood at the platform edge.  The woman standing there had to hold him off the ground so that he could reach the trapeze.  And then he, too, flew.

The thing I was most afraid of was stepping off the platform.  You hold onto the trapeze, lean way forward into empty space against the weight of the helper who is holding your waist belt.  The ground yawns far, far below.  And then you just have to jump into thin air with only the trapeze bar and your faith to keep you off the ground.  The thing the children were most afraid of was the coming down, which involves letting go of the bar and trusting the belt and safety ropes to help you float down to the net, rather than plummet.

We went over and over again, culminating in being caught by another person on another trapeze.  It was flat-out amazing.  My hands are bleeding and callused and my children are exhausted and smiling.  At one point, after Whit had finally figured out the knee hang and let go, he smiled up at me and said, “Are you proud of me, Mummy?”

Oh, yes, my little man.  I was and I am.  Later Grace told me that she realized how good it felt to do something even when it seemed scary.  I expected an adventure, but I did not realize that once again my children would astound me and that they – and I – would learn yet another lesson about what it is to live this life.

Courage, bravery, trust, and letting go.  Being sure that something will catch you.  Stepping off into thin air with faith that you will fly.


I am delighted to be included in an upcoming anthology of essays called Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood.

I’ve read a bunch of the essays, and they are smart, funny, wise, and touching.  The authors are a broad array of women who have in common that they are thoughtful, intelligent, and willing to be honest and human about what is a fundamental tension.  My dear friend Kathryn has an essay in the anthology; some of you know her hilarious and tear-jerking blog about life as an attorney and mother of two kids.  If you know her then you love her.  I do.  My other dear friend Katherine is included here, and people, she is the real deal.  The Modern Love real deal, if you know what I mean (I’m still waiting for her to kick me out of our writing group).  I’m pretty amazed, frankly, that I’m in a book with the likes of these two brilliant, beautiful Kaths.

I have written before about the struggle between family and work.  I’ve shared my deeply held belief that this is a privileged, fortunate struggle to face.  I do think, however, that the sometimes simplistically applied work and family categories can occlude what is, in my view, a deeper issue:

I sense something greater here, in the debate about work/life “balance,” a grander theme.  The topic is fraught and complicated, for sure; Lacy called it “volcanic” and I agree with her.  But the reason it’s so charged, I think, is because it probes at our innermost fears about how we are living our lives.  These fears are projected onto the scrim of professional/personal choices, but I suspect they run even deeper than that.  These fears are about the way we engage with the world and with those we love best, and about the way we spend our only true wealth: our time and our attention.

All of these themes and more are explored in Torn.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’s better than Ishtar!  I promise!

Please consider pre-ordering Torn.


Today, Lift arrived. I pulled it out of its Amazon cardboard eagerly, turning the slender volume over in my hands. As soon as I had wrestled my children to bed (Whit, despite having been up last night throwing up, despite complaining of being exhausted all day, still went to sleep with the calm and peace of a motorized robot without an off switch). And then I opened the book. And I read it, falling into Kelly’s world for 45 minutes, emerging blinking as though I’d come out of a soothing room with a friend into a bright and cacophonous city street. Lift is a lovely letter to her daughters, Claire and Georgia, a book whose slightness belies the weight of its message.

Kelly’s voice is the same as in The Middle Place: both humorous and serious, somehow light while talking about the heaviest of subjects. She writes clearly, without extravagance or fanfare but with memorable imagery (hair that looked burnt on the ends, razory screams). The book is, ultimately, a meditation on that topic closest to my heart: the way that every moment of life, and motherhood in particular, is shot through with the awareness of the transience of time. Early on she cites a favorite Rilke quote that captures this gorgeously:

“the knowledge of the impermanence of that haunts our days is their very fragrance.”

Sigh. Yes. Kelly uses three stories to talk about the way that risk and loss are woven inextricably through the very fabric of parenthood. She talks about the scare of her second daughter’s infant meningitis, the death in a car accident of her favorite cousin’s teenage son, and her best friend’s decision, at 40, to pursue single motherhood. These narratives, while different, are all animated by the human longing to commit deeply to parenthood in spite of the fact that danger hovers around every corner. They all circle around the same central, unavoidable truth: even knowing how much pain we will cause ourselves, we feel powerfully compelled to take this risk. We can’t help ourselves.

The book’s title and central metaphor is taken from a story Kelly tells about hang gliding. Talking to a friend’s husband about his passion for hang gliding, she asks “what keeps you up?” The friend goes on to explain that the glider is kept aloft by going from “thermal to thermal,” which entails going straight into the turbulence. Kelly expresses confusion, and her assumption that a tiny human being hanging in the sky would want to avoid turbulence. No, says her friend, “Turbulence is the only way to get altitude, to get lift. Without turbulence, the sky is just a big blue hole. Without turbulence you sink.”

And we do, don’t we? We dive into the turbulence. We hurl ourselves into the heart of life, into being parents, despite all of the logical and rational reasons we know we ought to take care. Kelly’s stories illustrate the risks of this. But the rewards, of course, are commensurately (or more) enormous. It’s glitteringly clear that Kelly’s daughters are the most important people in her life. “Mothering you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done,” she says, and then, later, tells them simply, “You are sacred to me.” Her fierce devotion to her girls, despite her self-confessed weaknesses and propensity to “detonate,” comes through in every line of this book.

My favorite passage in the book is towards the end, as Kelly talks about her dear friend Meg’s decision to pursue pregnancy and motherhood by herself. She muses: “I want her to have this thing I have that’s so ordinary and tedious and aggravating, and then, so divine.” Kelly’s slim letter to her daughters, 82 pages, manages to touch on the grand themes of life: forgiveness, acceptance, risk, faith, passionate adoration. She very humanly describes her own mistakes and with humor she paints a familiar picture of a woman recommitting, over and over again, to being a better, more present, more patient mother. Hers is a profoundly human voice, in awe of the task of mothering even as she acknowledges its immense challenges. Lift‘s words, which speak of both my heart’s tenderest fears and of its profoundest truths, will continue to echo with me for a long time.