I curled up in my bed a couple weeks ago and watched a movie called Sarah’s Key. The movie was good and I’ve heard that the book is excellent, though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. As the movie begins, the narrator is writing a letter to her daughter and she says,

Sometimes if a story is never told, it becomes something else, forgotten. 

Obviously, I loved that line, because I think of myself as a storyteller. I think that sharing our stories is the most powerful way we have to learn about the world and how to be in it. I put that line away in my memory, happy that another author had captured the way I feel.

But as I was opening Christmas cards this week, I came across one that jogged the memory of that line and I thought it was a story that should not be forgotten. Among the usual assortment of polished photos and professional printing jobs, I opened one card and was immediately brought to tears. There was a picture in this one as well, a multigenerational family photo. Everyone had a huge smile, except for the matriarch of this crew. She was looking sideways, away from the camera lens, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think that the photographer had just caught her by surprise. But I know better. I know how that woman would have had a brilliant smile directed at that camera, beaming with pride if she had any choice in the matter. But she doesn’t. She’s forgotten her story. This beautiful woman, loving mother of 6 children, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 57, and over the last 10 years, she’s forgotten most, if not all of her story.

This is the story I wish she still knew, the story I would tell her.

“Peggy, you are the sweetest woman I ever knew. I remember coming to your house throughout my childhood, after school, for Sunday dinners and youth group meetings. A hug from you was like being embraced by an angel on earth. It held all the promise of heaven, but allowed for the realities of the day. Your devotion to your husband and affection for your children was a model to me of the kind of wife and mother I wanted to be. In your hallway, you had a wall of portraits, 8x10s of your kids’ school and prom pictures. It was a proud moment for me when I made it up on that Wall of Fame as your only son’s senior prom date. At one point while washing dishes in your kitchen, your son and I promised to marry each other if we were still single at the old age of 30. We weren’t, but I might have waited, just to become your daughter-in-law. In your own words, it would have been ‘the best.’ Everything you loved, everyone you met, was simply ‘the best,’ said with a clap of your hands. And it didn’t matter how many times I heard you say it about everything from trash bags to TV shows, when you said it about me, I believed you.

You raised 6 wonderful children, who are raising wonderful children. You have lived a beautiful story Peggy and when it’s over, I know you will rediscover all the parts that you missed and love every bit of it.”

The movie, Sarah’s Key, ends with these words:

So I write this for you, my daughter, with a hope that one day when you’re old enough, this story that lives with me will live with you as well. When a story is told, it is not forgotten; it becomes something else: a memory of who we were, the hope of what we can become.

I write this thinking of her 5 daughters and son, with their big brown eyes and radiant smiles, knowing that her story lives on in them. I write this knowing that contemplating that Christmas card was like hearing Peggy’s story all over again, reminding me of who I was in her eyes and who I hoped to become, someone who would always be ‘the best,’ at least to her.

PostScript: Thinking about this family’s story prompted me to look at all of the Christmas cards I’ve received in a new light. Each one captures a moment in time, the story a family is trying to tell at this point in their lives. Some are glamorous; some are more realistic, but none of them want to be forgotten. I think I will take a little more time to look at them this year, to remember the stories we’ve shared over the years together. And if there is one that needs to be retold, one that helped me become who I hoped to be, like Peggy’s, I am not going to be afraid to share it, so that it won’t be forgotten. I hope you find the time and the courage to do the same.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I have a daily prayer practice. I’d like to call it meditation, which sounds so much cooler, but I’d be lying. I don’t light incense, or chant. I don’t clear my mind. I am much more likely to have a thought, follow it and watch it unfold. However, I do breathe deeply. I do invite the divine presence (s) to be with me. I do try to be honest about my life – what I’ve done and failed to do, what has made laugh and/ or cry. I look for patterns, try to find perspective, and ask for grace. Having a serious prayer practice isn’t nearly as holy, or pious as it sounds, but I do know that it’s useful, or has been for me.

On my best days, I have an hour before my family wakes to sit and pray. But most days aren’t my “best days,” so more often than not, I get 30 minutes or so, and on the weekends, I might neglect to set the alarm and take what I can get later on. But last night, I did something that I have never done before. I was tossing and turning; it was close to midnight and I reached over and turned off my alarm, not because I wanted to sleep in (which I’ve done often enough before), but because God and I had had a bit of an argument the day before and I wasn’t sure I was ready to talk to Him yet. In short, I was planning on giving Him the silent treatment.

He, however, had other plans. I woke up this morning and thought to myself smugly, “Ha! I showed him. I slept right through our time,” but when I looked over at the clock, it was precisely 5:58 a.m., the exact time we begin every morning. Ha! He showed me. He seemed to be saying, “Whether you planned to speak to me or not, you’re up, so you may as well.”  I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that He was right, so I got up and began my prayer with equal parts relief and trepidation.

The danger with giving someone the silent treatment is that you’ll stay there for far too long. I think that there is a time for silence when you’re angry, when you’ve gotten past the point where words are useful, and they’ve become blunt force objects whose sole purpose is to injure and maim. Most of us have probably learned where that threshold is and can hold our tongues. However, the silent treatment is a different weapon all together. It’s meant to punish the other, but more effectively punishes us. While we might stop speaking our thoughts out loud, we typically launch into self-justifying monologues in our own heads, rants of George Carlin-esque proportions. We inflate the righteousness of our own position, while reducing the other person, usually someone we love, to an insignificant speck in the cosmic scheme of things. And then there’s that awkward moment when you do have to speak again, when you have to let go of your anger, and find a way to move on.

You can see why this might be a problem when your adversary is God.

So I sat on the couch, closed my eyes and sighed. The rants, the anger, the dirty looks are useless when your opponent is Love, boundless and unchangeable. There is nothing I can do that will hurt Him. Even if I’m angry, if I stamp my feet, and try to run away, I can’t. There is nowhere I can go that isn’t in the palm of His hand, inside the circle of His arms. The silent treatment is useless against unconditional Love.

So when I got over myself and began to speak again, He was there, waiting patiently for me. There was no awkwardness, no apologies needed. He was ready to listen, willing to hear whatever it was I had to say. And so I tried again to express what I was feeling and I tried even harder to listen to what He might have to say on the subject. No, I’m not a mystic, or a religious nut. I never hear His voice, or words coming down from the Heavens. But I hear Him all the same, if I am paying attention. If I am open to it, if I am aware, then His response unfolds in the every day occurrences of my life, in something I read, a movie I watch, a conversation I have. Sometimes, He even deigns to speak through a Facebook post.

After thinking about it, I’ll probably try to avoid giving anyone the silent treatment in the near future. Silence?  Yes, as long as it’s necessary and helpful. But mute anger? I think I’ll pass. And I hope that the next time someone (probably Keara) tries it on me, I’ll react differently. I hope I can take a lesson from God’s playbook and remain uninjured and unoffended. I’ll try to communicate that no matter how far she goes, my love goes farther and that I will be waiting here patiently, ready to listen, no apology necessary.

That’s what Love does, or so I’ve heard.

I’ve had a crazy last week and with the Christmas holidays rapidly approaching, it doesn’t feel like things will be getting better any time soon. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had a nine-hour drive home from the San Francisco Bay area. On Sunday, I hit the ground running with a pre-dawn trip to the market, so we would have milk and bagels for breakfast. From there, I was on to laundry, creating an African tribal mask for Finn’s 7th grade history class, and following up on all of the homework that had ‘accidentally’ gotten left at home over vacation. After working from home on Monday and Tuesday, I headed out of town for three nights to work at my company’s Orange County office, leaving my sick husband and three kids in the care of my mother-in-law, who was thankfully visiting us from Montana.

I screeched into the driveway on Friday morning in enough time to drive carpool, and to shop and prep for a special event we were hosting at our own business on Friday night. Drinks, desserts and door prizes at “Ladies Night Out” at Wavelines! Come one and come all to shop for Christmas. Life was all good, all fine, all (mostly) under control, but as Tim and I got ready Saturday morning to head out to Molly’s soccer game in San Ysidro, just a ½ mile from the Mexican border, I leaned into him and sighed.

“Do you know what I want for Christmas?” I asked him.

“Do you know what I can afford?” he countered.

“Perfect,” I said, “ It won’t cost you a thing. I just want a button I can push that will stop the world and everyone in it for about 1 month…”

“You mean, like a vacation?” He interrupted, “A sabbatical, where you disappear for a month? I could maybe give you two or three days, but…”

“No, honey, like magic. Like everything in the world stops, except for me, like a bad episode of “Bewitched.” No one else moves and I can just scurry around and get caught up on everything, more than caught up, ahead even!” I pictured myself baking dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies, cleaning the house from top to bottom, including the closets, writing 50 pages for the book I’m dreaming of, having time to go to the gym, the movies and the beach for a surf, guilt-free.

He’s such a man. He suggested that I skip Molly’s soccer game and get some work done. Three hours versus thirty days…

Close enough, right?

But the thing is that I really wanted to go to Molly’s soccer game. Going to a soccer game, especially after being out of town for work that week, felt like the most important thing I could do that day, even though there was not a single Christmas present bought, or card sent.  I wanted to be fully present to my daughter for that hour, to share in her triumph or defeat, her grin when she made a good play, or the slump of her shoulders if she felt like she let her team down. I wanted to drive away from my chores, my laptop, the big box of work under my desk. I wanted to be out in the winter sunshine, cheering like a maniac with my phone nowhere in sight.

So I did. And it was glorious.

And when I got home, it was back to the drawing board. Laundry, dinner, sweeping, writing, life. Finally, I pulled myself away and got in a hot bath around 7, with the promise of a movie with Tim at 8. The kids were happily watching TV downstairs, and I was content. Tim hadn’t been able to get me that magic button I asked for (yet), but somehow I had found the button inside, the one that paused me. I already have access to the button that makes me stop, and I know it’s the only one I am ever going to get. I curled up next to him and we started to watch our film, but after 10 minutes, he thought it was too depressing and went downstairs. Oh well, it was time to get the kids into bed anyway.

So I walked downstairs and back into the firestorm of my life. I thought of the 6:30 am wake up call that was coming for Molly’s game on the border the next day and knew I’d better gather all the bits of her uniform right now. And I thought of the orange slices I had better cut and the socks I had better Febreeze. I thought of the pile of laundry that was still sitting in the dryer waiting to be folded. I reminded Keara, my 14-year-old, to practice her piano, which led to a tense conversation about the rights and responsibilities of parents’ to direct their children’s lives. I was so keyed up by the time that 30 minutes were through that I had to clean off my desk just to get my emotions under control. Have I mentioned before that I soothe myself by cleaning?

By the time I rejoined Tim upstairs where he had escaped to after he kissed the kids goodnight, another hour had passed and he felt badly that he had ever let me go back downstairs at all. I think he was googling “How to stop the world for a busy mom,” but he wasn’t having any luck. I shook my head at him, and sat down to write.

I am the only one who can choose to get off this merry-go-round, because I know it won’t stop. Things will get done, or they won’t, by my choice and my limitations. And that’s okay. As I write this, late on Saturday night, I plan on pushing the button again tomorrow. I am leaving my house at 8 and won’t be back until 2pm. Christmas lights be damned! I am going to watch my little girl run up and down the sidelines, defending her goal with all her might. I’ll invite Tim to lay his head in my lap and take a nap between games on the sideline grass. I hope to challenge a passel of nine-year-old girls to a game of BS and lose on purpose, just to hear them giggle. Those are the kinds of experiences I gain when I lose sight of what I should be doing. I may not be able to do it all the time, but after tonight, I realize how important it is that I do it at all.

Tim caught me red-handed today. I thought he had left for work. He’d taken his cooler, his keys and his cup of coffee and headed out the door. I thought I was safe, but I should have known better. I didn’t get my kiss goodbye, which is always the last thing he does before he leaves. I was just so eager to get started that I overlooked that final step in his daily ritual. After setting some things in his car and messing around in the garage, he walked back in the front door and said, “Honey, what are you doing?”

Darn.  He caught me sweeping. Again.

Could I hide the evidence behind my back? Could I kick away the incriminating pile of dirt, lying at my feet? No, not this time, so instead I blushed, gave him my sweetest smile and handed over the broom. He took it gently from my hands, held me close for a minute, and gave me the goodbye kiss I had missed. He then took my broom out to his truck and drove away with it to work.

Double darn. Now what was I going to do?

Contrary to how that story makes me sound, I am not insane. Nor do I have OCD, or some other disorder. I am not even anal retentive, or a particularly good housekeeper. What I do have, like everyone else I know if they would just admit it, is an addiction. And I don’t think it is even that unusual. I think it’s easy for many of us to turn up our noses at what we consider the bad addicts – the raging alcoholics, the druggies, the sex addicts, and the smokers. Individually, we might have more sympathy for the addicts whose temptations we can relate to – the overeaters, the anorexics, or bulimics, maybe even those who attend GA (Gambler’s Anonymous, as if you didn’t know).

Until recently, I was more likely to scoff at the concept of addiction than I was to see it at work in my own life. But I read something the other day that made me rethink my stereotypes. I read about process addictions, which we all suffer from. They are the little things we do that calm us down, that make us “feel normal,” whatever that means. These are the habits that make us feel as if everything is under control somehow. The writer suggested that one of the most common process addictions today is checking our cell phones, especially if they link us to email, Facebook and interactive games, like Words with Friends. If you’re honest, how many times a day do you look at your phone and why? But we do other things as well. Some people run; some cook; some people knit, and others bite their nails.

I happen to sweep. I didn’t even realize how I was using my broom until after I read the article. I thought I was just using it to clean my house. Five people (plus companions) traipse in and out of my house all day long. It gets dirty. I sweep it. It gets clean, for about 5 minutes. That means I can sweep again. It made perfect sense in my mind, until I thought about when and why I sweep and how it makes me feel.

Sweeping brings me great pleasure and deep satisfaction. When I recognized the warm sensation I got in the pit of my belly whenever I swept, I knew I had a problem. I use my broom and the rhythmic motion of sweeping to calm myself down, to give myself some illusion of control over my household and my life and to clear my head. I tend to want to sweep first thing in the morning, when everyone has left the house, and in the evenings after dinner, when everyone is done tracking in mud and creating crumbs at the dinner table. On a perfect day, I also get to sweep after homework time, when my kids’ liberal use of erasers has created rubber snowflakes all over the kitchen floor. On stressful days, I am tempted to sweep 5 times or more.

I realize that sweeping may not be that bad as far as addictions go, especially if I recognize it for what it is and treat it accordingly. I think that is where Tim’s kidnapping of my broom came from. It was an intervention of sorts, and a humorous one at that. I really didn’t need to be sweeping this morning. I would be okay without it and the floor was pretty clean anyway. He wasn’t trying to be mean; he was just trying to help me break the cycle. Like any addict in recovery, I want to reprogram my mind to handle stress in many ways, not just the one way I’ve come to rely on. A run in the mornings would be good for me, and so would sitting quietly for 5 minutes. I think Tim would love it if I developed a dish-washing addiction, but then again, maybe not. That would mean he’d have to come up with a new one for himself.

The other day, Keara and I were working around the house, doing some baking, cleaning and sweeping and I asked her if I could put on some music. If it doesn’t need to be quiet, I like to have a soundtrack to my life. When I am doing my serious house cleaning, I crank up Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and sing along to “PYT,” while I wash the windows, and scrub the floor. If we’re out by the pool, then our neighbors are sure to hear Jack Johnson, or Donavon Frankenreiter blaring. Doing dishes after dinner calls for something more pensive, like Norah Jones, while road trips bring out the country music fan in me, old school stuff like Willie Nelson and Eddie Rabbit.

So Keara acquiesced to my musical request as long as I didn’t put on “that guy,” she said with an eye roll.

“What guy?” I asked innocently. And really, I was innocent. I didn’t know which one of my male singer-songwriters she was objecting to.

With the patience you use with a toddler, she looked me in the eye and said, “You know Mom, the ‘orange sky’ guy.”

Oh, “that guy.” I shrugged casually and said, “Sure honey, no problem,” while I rapidly deleted “that guy’s” name from my Itunes search field and carefully chose another band instead.

“That guy” she was referring to was Alexi Murdoch and my daughter has a serious aversion to him. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate his music, or his low, melodic voice. For a teenager, she has a surprisingly diverse and advanced taste in music. It might be her 5+ years of piano lessons, but I’d also like to think it has something to do with our refusal to ever purchase Kidz Bop albums, or allow boy bands in our home. But despite her appreciation for his talent, she can’t stand listening to Alexei Murdoch. We burned her out on him last year. If she has to hear “Orange Sky,” or “Wait for Me” one more time, she thinks her head might explode.

I turned on The Black Eyes Peas for Keara that morning, instead of “that guy,” but I slowly drifted out of the room, and let Alexi’s music play freely in my own head. It filled my heart and mind and brought back a flood of emotions, both good and bad from last year, when I played him almost without ceasing. Every morning when the kids woke up, I would have his album Time Without Consequence going in the background. Most days when Tim got home from work, I would put on one of my favorite tracks and we would slow dance in the entryway. It was my way, our way really, of centering ourselves on what was truly important, as we transitioned in and out of the painful realities of our days.

Last year, our business was struggling to make ends meet. We were trying hard to find solutions to problems that felt very far beyond our reach, and we had to rely heavily on business contacts, friends, and family for guidance. But mostly, we had to rely on each other and together we relied on Alexi. His music seemed to speak to us, to articulate what we were going through, and to remind us of what we needed and what we needed to be doing. So each time we listened to “Orange Sky,” as we held hands, heart to heart on our entryway dance floor, or looked at one another across the dinner table with tears in our eyes, we heard, “Here is what I know now, goes like this… In your love, my salvation lies…oh you know I am so weary and you know my heart’s been broken…When I am alone, when I’ve thrown off the weight of this crazy stone, when I’ve lost all care for the things I own, that’s when I miss you, you who are my home and here is what I know now: in your love, my salvation lies, in your love, in your love, in your love.”  We remembered that love, the stuff that exists between us and within our family, would be our salvation, no matter what else happened out there, beyond the walls of our home.

I heard a story once about Roberta Flack and the song she made famous in the 1970s called, “Killing Me Softly.” Maybe you remember it. The story goes that she went to hear Christopher Cross sing in a nightclub and that as she listened to him, she had this surreal feeling that he had been inside her heart and mind. “He sang as if he knew me in all my dark despair” and that his song was “telling my whole life with his words, killing me softly with his song.”

Alexi Murdoch is my Christopher Cross. Without him, and that album, Tim and I may not have been able to articulate what we needed from each other. And we all know that if you can’t name something, then you have little chance of ever finding it. How can you look for something that you don’t even know exists?  So sometimes we were clinging to love for our salvation, and other times, we would listen to “Wait for Me,” and ask the question, “So if I stumble and if I fall and if I slip now and lose it all and if I can’t be all that I could be, will you wait for me? Please wait for me….” Alexi expressed our deepest longings and fears, as we faced some of our lowest points in our twenty years together, but he also gave us the words and the melody to find peace and hope in those moments as well.

So as I came out of my reverie last week, to the sound of “Boom, Boom Pow” in background, I thought of Keara and her distaste for Time Without Consequence. I can’t really blame her for it. I am sure it is more than just being tired of the songs. The music must carry a subconscious weight for her as well. But instead of finding solace in the profound truths in the songs like we did, she simply witnessed the emotional response, which probably looked a lot like grief. No matter how much we tried to protect the kids from what was going on, as the oldest, she probably understood more than we thought. Alexi Murdoch will probably always mean heartbreak to her, while he will always be “killing me softly.” Whenever I hear those songs, until the day I die, they will always speak of the greatest truths I know.

That love waits for us to become who we are meant to be, no matter how long it takes.

That in love our best hope for salvation is found.

That with love, I am home.

Thank you Alexi.

And as a mother, I hope that someday Keara finds a soundtrack for her own truths as well.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Alexi Murdoch’s work, I’ve included two links to youtube, where you can listen to “Orange Sky” and “Wait.”  My snippets of lyrics don’t do justice to the poetry of the songwriter.


Have you ever gotten a name completely wrong, and no matter how many times you hear it said the right way, you can’t help but say it the wrong way? When my kids were small, I was thrilled by these little misnomers. I would encourage them in their mispronunciations, knowing that too soon, the correct words would come. Some family favorites still include bezras, the black and white striped animals found on the African plains, and Jophus, the husband of Mary, and the father of Baby Jesus. My least favorite example is my own father’s insistence on calling my daughter Kara, (rhymes with hair-a) instead of the correct Keara (rhymes with deer-a) for the first several years of her life. I went with simpler names for child #2 and #3.

My son recently introduced me to a show that he and his friends watch (and I am going to do everything in my power to get the name right this first time) called Destroy, Build, Destroy. No matter how many times he corrects me, I keep referring to it as Build, Destroy, Build. I am sure it’s because I am a mother, but it goes against my intuition to end a show with a Destroy instead of a Build. Why would you do that? And also, how can you destroy something before you’ve built it? It just doesn’t make sense to me. And here’s the kicker in my opinion. The winning team gets to destroy the machine, built with great care and effort by the losing team. Let me repeat that: The winner is the destroyer. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we don’t allow 12-year-old males to vote. That is Lord of the Flies for the millennial generation.  Left to their own devices, or given a chance to create their own TV show, “kill or be killed” is their mentality.

And as I watch our current election races heat up, I am saddened by how little we’ve grown up, or asked our candidates to do so. At least on the TV show, each team is given a chance to build something before their opponents are allowed to destroy it. In our political climate, no candidate is allowed to create a healthy idea, image, or campaign before it is attacked and brought low. I don’t know what a healthier, feasible alternative would look like, but I get so tired of watching the 12-year-old, male mentality of politics that I mostly tune out, or turn it off, just like I do with Destroy Build Destroy. I want to stay engaged. I want to do better, but I just can’t get past the feeling that I am watching bad, reality TV and that the winner, no matter who it is, can’t help but be a destroyer. It’s the way we’ve created the game.


Without a doubt, the most important part of my day is the early morning. I set my alarm to wake me up well before anyone else, usually while it is still dark out. Thanks to the timer, I have a freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for me. I get cozy on the couch, the easy chair, or if it’s summertime, on a chaise lounge in the back yard. And once I am settled, I close my eyes, breathe deeply and begin to pray. I might meditate on the words of a master, on yesterday’s highs and lows, or on this day’s hopes and fears. I try to gather wisdom from the universe about who I am, my place and purpose in this world. All this happens on a good day.

A not-so-good-day might begin with any one of these.

I forget to make the coffee. I oversleep and only have a few minutes to pray, before the school lunches have to be made. I have two glasses of wine the night before, instead of one, and wake up with a headache and cottonmouth. I neglect to put on a bathrobe when I get out of bed and spend my time shivering in a fetal position, completely unable to concentrate on any cosmic thoughts at all. Sometimes, my peaceful morning ritual is a comedy of errors.

One recent morning, I tiptoed downstairs and my youngest child greeted me in the hallway, sleepy-eyed and crabby. This particular phenomenon happens with some regularity and when it does, it is not likely that my morning ritual will proceed as I want it to. Sometimes I can successfully distract her with an early morning television show, or a bowl of cereal and a request to please let mom have her little bit of morning quiet time. But then, she is occupying the only unoccupied room in the house, besides the bathrooms. Meditating with a hot cup of coffee on the closed lid of a toilet is not an ideal situation, but that may just be me.

Most of the time, she wants to curl up in my lap and ‘pray with me,’ which sounds so much sweeter than it is. That girl can’t sit still for a minute, and her capacity for silence is even less impressive. So when I found her standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me, I tried to suppress my internal groan. I offered her the usual distractions, which she quickly declined and instead curled up next to me on the couch. We spilled my coffee on our laps; we changed positions six times and we exchanged more words in those 60 seconds than I usually speak in the first two hours I am awake on any given day. I finally got frustrated and stalked back upstairs, leaving her sitting forlornly on the couch. I sat on the edge of my bed and whined to myself about missing my peace, quiet and meditation. However, after that kind of performance, I knew that the only thing the universe was going to tell me was to get back downstairs, apologize to my daughter and love on her. So, I went, albeit grudgingly and sheepishly at the same time, if that’s possible.

Molly feels things deeply, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was immediately forgiven and within seconds, I felt little tears on my chest as she told me why she was up early. She’d had a bad dream and some things had happened yesterday that she didn’t like, so she didn’t want to go to school today. Although I heard a jumbled, early-morning version of what happened, the bottom line is that she doesn’t like it when she comes up short in any area, academics, sports, or clubs. She is constantly comparing herself to her peers, and wanting to make sure that she measures up. This is not a burden we’ve put on her. It’s a burden we’ve been trying to take off her since she started elementary school.

So I held her close to my heart for a moment and then I pushed her away and asked her to look in my eyes. I told her that she only has to be the best Molly she can be on any given day – not the best anything else – not the best anybody else. She doesn’t even have to be the best she has ever been. She simply has to be her best for this day.

As I said those words to her, still carrying the guilt of my bad behavior 5 minutes before, I thought, “What a mantra for all of us. I only have to be the best me I can be this day.”  It doesn’t matter if I am being a mom, or wife, daughter, or friend, employee, or employer. Whatever the world asks of me each day – that is all I can do. When I hold this mantra in my mind, I can pause when I see myself being less than my best, and try to adjust, just like I did after I stomped upstairs and abandoned my sad, little girl.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my best is really pretty stinky. But still, if that’s the best I can do this day, really stink it up, then so be it. Occasionally, I hope I can pause to see the way I am behaving, and ask myself, “Is that really the best you’ve got?” The more often I do it, the more I see the truth that I choose how I react to my circumstances and that if I don’t choose rightly the first time, I can always go back and make amends. And truth be told, I spend a lot of time making amends. I may not always apologize, but there are always opportunities to repair what has been damaged, and heal what has been hurt when I have not been my best self.

And after I got my kids to school that day and the house was empty, there was plenty of time to recover the peace and quiet that had been lost to my early morning companion and I knew that nothing of value had been lost. The universe had spoken to me after all.

I sat down this morning to write an apology email to my husband. I had been a little cranky last night and I still hadn’t shaken the vestiges of my bad attitude by this morning. Apologizing is a habit that Tim and I have cultivated over the 18 long (and happy) years that we’ve been married. When one of us gets a little chippy with the other, or takes a cheap shot, we try to make amends as soon as we are capable of getting a hold of ourselves and putting our best (or at least better) foot forward.

The invention of email has really smoothed the process along for two reasons.

Number 1: We don’t actually have to make the apology verbally.

How many times have you attempted to say sorry, only to have your bad behavior spelled out for you all over again, along with a complete list of all the ways your poor choices affected and offended the person to whom you were apologizing? Verbal apologies can lead to bigger fights if we start defending ourselves, and/or our (mis)behavior again. Email apologies allow my husband and I to adequately express our remorse, our understanding of the ways our choices negatively affected the person we love, and our promise to do better. These email apologies work best when there is also a promise of a physical reconciliation later that day, preferably after the kids go to bed.

Number 2: Email apologies sent during the workday stop the cycle of anger and frustration before we bring it back home.

If I can bring myself to apologize (and mean it, of course) before we begin our commute home, I know our evening is going to go better. I know that he will walk in the door and say, “Thanks for the email,” or greet me with a hug and a kiss to show that we are ‘okay.’ We might still need to talk about our disagreement, but it takes the edge off our nightly routine. When we have failed to at least throw out an opening salvo of reconciliation, then the minute we walk through that door, there is tension. It might manifest itself in a hundred small ways, before we finally get to hash it out upstairs after the dishes and homework are done. The evening meal, the highlight of most of my days, is ruined for me and there is no doubt that the kids notice the lack of joy and casual, easy banter that is normally a hallmark of our table.

So what does all this have to do with Eckhart Tolle’s The Good Earth and Jeff Kinney’s The Diary of a Wimpy Kid? That’s a good question, so here you go…

In The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there is something known as the dreaded “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” originated from a disgusting piece of dairy that had gotten left on the blacktop for far too long. At one point, someone had touched the piece of cheese and thereby became contaminated with it. No one, and I mean no one, was allowed to touch, or be touched by that person; otherwise, that person would become the new carrier of the “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” created a social pariah, someone who was damaged and outcast, and yet at the same time, actively and ingeniously seeking ways to ‘share the gift’ if you know what I mean.  Once you touched someone else, the “Cheese Touch” was no longer yours. In short, the “Cheese Touch” was a really complex and damaging game of tag, which was apparently played skillfully and passionately at Jeff Kinney’s middle school.

I watched an emotional version of the “Cheese Touch” take place in my home a few months ago. My eldest daughter Keara was trying to get ready to go somewhere and she was taking a long time with her clothing, which is obviously not unusual for a 14 year old girl. As her mom, (and I will admit to being maniacally prompt), I got angry at her for taking so long. I started with the “Cheese Touch” that day: anger and frustration isolating me from my community. I scolded Keara for taking so long, being so picky and making us late. The “Cheese Touch” was passed. Now Keara’s younger sister Molly tried to get in the bathroom they share to brush her own hair. Keara slammed the door in Molly’s face and her hand in the process and the “Cheese Touch” was successfully launched onto its next victim. After calming Molly down with an ice pack, I went to work things out with Keara. In the meantime, Finn went to see if Molly wanted to skateboard with him while they waited for us to be ready. In her pain, she snapped at him and told him to get off her skateboard, even if she wasn’t riding it. Another successful transmission! When we got in the car, I asked everyone to take a deep breath, so we could try to leave the house in peace. I looked around to see how we were doing. I was calm; Keara was calm; Molly was calm, but Finn was sitting next to me, slumped in his chair, with a scowl on his face.  When I asked him why he was in a bad mood, he said he had no idea. He just felt terrible, like kicking something. That was the “Aha” moment for me.

In real life, instead of fiction, the “Cheese Touch” has very little to do with a piece of stinky cheese and everything to do with the way it makes you feel. In the course of 15 minutes, I had let my anger fly and watched it travel through 3 other people I love, ending its journey in the still-sweet soul of my 12 year old boy.

I looked at him sadly and said, “Sorry you got it, buddy.”

“Got what mom?”

“The Cheese Touch.”

Since that time, the “Cheese Touch” has become a sort of verbal shorthand for the times when we have taken our anger out on someone else, someone who really didn’t deserve it. And that is where Eckhart Tolle comes in.

I was introduced to Tolle’s idea of the pain-body several years ago when I read a copy of The New Earth. I will keep the explanation short and simple, which Tolle, God bless him, can’t seem to do. The bottom line is that when you are in pain, you carry it around with you, in your body, or perhaps like an extra body part. Your pain is so big, heavy and unwieldy that it cripples you when you try to function normally. Nobody likes carrying around that pain-body, so we do what we can to get rid of it.  I know it sounds strange, but we actually go around sharing our pain-body with other people. We parcel it out through anger, frustration, and sometimes, even violence. We might go around telling other people about the ways we’ve been wronged, or wounded. When our pain-body is inflamed, we transmit our pain to other people in order to ease the burden on ourselves.

Sound familiar? I think it does to most adults who are honest with themselves, and while I can’t adequately explain Tolle’s theory of the pain-body to my kids, they certainly all get the concept of the “Cheese Touch.” They’ve all had it and they’ve all passed it on and really, the two philosophies aren’t that different.

So when I sat down to write that email apology to my husband, I realized that my nastiness over which side of the sink we keep the toothpaste on wasn’t really what I needed to apologize for. That was simply me, trying to give him the “Cheese Touch.” It didn’t really work, because he didn’t feel that badly about it, and I didn’t really feel any better.

This morning, I realize that my pain-body is inflamed. I have been feeling frustrated lately, a little “ineffective” in my roles as wife, mother, writer, speaker, housekeeper and cook. Little things are falling through the cracks, as I neglect too many things on my “To Do” lists. Last night, it made perfect sense to me that if he would simply leave the tube of Crest on my side of the sink, everything, and I do mean everything, would be so much better. In the light of day, I realize that it may not solve anything really significant after all.

So, this is my apology , honey. I’m sorry. I am going to try to hold on to my own pain-body for a little while. I am going to do my best not to touch anyone else with this stinky little piece of cheese, moldering on the playground of my heart.