It was one of those sticky hot Missouri nights, when even the wail of the cicadas seemed to swim through the wet heat. We were waiting on the curb in a dark spot under Old Man Woodbury’s oak tree, squatting silently. We took up the spot directly across from Andrea’s house because it gave us a good view of what was happening inside. We could see right into the house through the big window in the front room. Not that we needed to see anything – we could hear everything we needed in order to understand what was going on inside the house.

And we were not strangers to Andrea and her “family meetings”. Andrea always had a family meeting on Saturdays. Randy, her stepdad, said it was good to account for their many sins before the Sabbath and so they all gathered in the living room late Saturday afternoons to let Randy lash out at them: Andrea, her mom and her little brother. So, yeah, it wasn’t much of a meeting – and there was nothing family-like about it.

We felt somehow protected by the big oak while we stared into the darkness and listened to the pained cries of Andrea and her family and the husky screams of Randy belittling them for their various imperfections. We were all misfits ourselves, some of us with our own Randys and all of us on the outside edges of life.

When the yelling and crying subsided, we would pick up our bottles of alcohol – whatever we had been able to scrounge during the week – and head inside Andrea’s house to drink and play cards together, a rowdy bunch finding courage in fifths of Jack Daniels.

Randy let us drink and pretend, and so we overlooked the violence he inflicted on our friend. And we all knew that as long as Andrea was the target of his sexual molestation later, when we were all drunk, we would say nothing. Randy was the man in charge of the family anyway and it wasn’t our business.

But hell, the whole neighborhood knew. It was on display every week in the picture window of the front room.

None of us ever did anything to help Andrea. Not that night or any other one.  And that was just the way it was.


My daughter called it “fake Thanksgiving”, and in doing so, touched on the one constant fear I have had about all of my post-divorce holidays.

When I was a child, family holidays approximated the typical dysfunctional dark comedy -and I was comfortable with that – but I really wanted that Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, the one depicted in the painting entitled, “Freedom From Want”.  And especially when I started my own family.  But fast forward to the demise of my marriage – in which my spouse actually moved out the day after Thanksgiving – and I knew that there would be no chance of any future picture perfect nuclear family holidays.  And as a divorced mother with no family nearby, I was on my own to produce the entire mise en scene – the food, the coziness of a good dinner and the simmering psychodrama, none of which I had completely mastered (especially my stuffing – which is more like stale bread served with sausage bits).  And in my mind, I was competing not only with my own childhood desires, but also with my ex-husband’s family Thanksgiving gathering which my children attended each year – and Aunt so-and-so’s amazing stuffing.  So naturally, I’ve always scrambled to put together something “special” – even if it meant staying up all night to cook every last scrap of food to be consumed and inviting clusters of total strangers to create a chatty crowd around the table.  Plus my own fatigue swirled with teenage hormones virtually guaranteed a side of deep melodrama as well.

And yet, it never seemed quite right.  Not quite “real” – and definitely not sustainable for a working woman who didn’t get enough sleep on a regular day.  I tried to create “traditions” for our new tiny family unit through sheer force of will and ingenuity, ideas cobbled together from my imagination – making everyone write about gratitude on slips of paper for a few years (i still have all those slips of paper, by year, in a notebook in our library) and hanging candles from the tree limbs out front (which I still love and still do now) — so while it had never come close, it was definitely the best I could make up, and I was mostly okay with that.  So it caught me off guard and hurt me deeply to hear my daughter call it “fake” this year — I know she says it from a place of pain and anger herself – but I wanted her to keep pretending with me – or to even just be okay with it and its oddness.

Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t.  But it’s all I have, and I think it’s pretty good.

Though I know she probably longs for that Norman Rockwell holiday, too.

Note to world #8354

Our family dog has been seriously ill for the past two months.  

At first, I thought maybe the dog was just being more anxious than usual. And I wondered about how I would explain my own flatulence now that the dog barely farted anymore. 

Every day, the babysitter and I would come up with two to five logical explanations for the dog’s growing disinterest in smelly socks, dirty tennis balls – and then with more alarming frequency, food …. then water.  

And it’s become a full blown emergency now – still with no explanation.  Even the vet uses a lot of fancy words – like ‘idiopathic’ – and runs a lot of tests – all of which essentially means he doesn’t know what’s wrong.  I’m worried when doctors don’t know.  For now, it’s wait and watch.  And I hate waiting.  

the long climb

I am climbing so slowly

I am barely moving

He waits quietly for me to catch up

We rest for a moment

We sip water together 

Then we continue in silence

He, pacing himself to stay next to me

We climb toward the mountain top

Where I know he will leave me and

I will stay to love what is left behind

Modern mothering

He says, “She knows she hates you – but she understands she needs you.”

He pauses to rethink this declaration. “Well, maybe ‘hate’ is not the right word. Maybe what I mean is that she’s just really angry with you. ” 

I interrupt, “It’s okay, Jonathan. I believe it’s the right word. Please continue.” 

And I close my eyes to hear this therapist I’ve never met tell me through the phone all about the incomprehensibly tangled story of a broken bond between a mother and a child.  

“I see glimmers of progress,” he offers in conclusion. 

But I know he doesn’t mean for me.  

So I go back to my work, and I work extra late that night to make up for the sadness that gnaws away my productivity.