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“Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge. So it is incumbent on me to know my self, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties, and its very atoms.”

Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American artist and writer, in The Philosophy of Logic

One of my most beloved mentors Mrs. Dutton gave me a copy of The Prophet, Gibran’s most famous work. A cherished gift. I have returned to it so many times over the past eighteen years for comfort, guidance, reflection, and to see a bit of Mrs. Dutton herself at times when I have missed her.

If Gibran is correct, knowledge of the self is a fairly tall order. Will I ever know myself completely? Or are there certain parts of me that remain hidden even to my introspective eyes until a particular situation or experience would call them out? I do wonder.

Can we ever know our characterization fully in advance of the plot points in our narrative?

And once we do know our subtleties and our very atoms, how much do we have the ability to change and hew ourselves the way we would?

For most of my life I have sought access to myself through literature and writing. These are my primary loves and always will be. I often imagine a direct line running from my fingers to my heart/mind. I hardly know what words will come out if I start over-thinking them. I am a decent oral rhetor, but there are those who are far, far more gifted. No, my true self comes out in my writing. When I speak words, they are true, but I am always painfully aware of how much my spoken voice (not the actual sound, but “voice” as in the literary sense of persona and attitude) is like translating my real, written voice into a second oral language. Ironically, I have won speaking competitions in my time. It is always unexpected. I always consider my natural voice, my deepest self, to be the written word. If I exist at all, I exist in a flow of words.

But I also love science, and I find self-knowledge there, as well. I remember a late night conversation with a college friend (who is now a doctor) in the engineering building one night. We must have stayed up until 2 AM talking about biology and his chem class. He described in detail these amazingly mechanical and precise processes as though they were poetry to him. They certainly were poetry to me. When he spoke, I could almost see the precision of our bodies in blazes of color, and there was nothing except to be humble before how intricate an organism we are, how beautiful.

Through history, particularly my favorite field which is the history of ideas and how they change over time, we also have access to the changing concepts of self. Lately I have been reading material and watching lectures that essentially pose the questions, “What makes us human? What makes us modern?”

I’ve loved math, also, though for much of my life I viewed math as just a fun mental game to play for exercise and fun. I appreciated its application to the physics. Saw the beauty of irrational numbers. Felt the sublime when I think of the eternity of Pi.

But I never applied math and numbers to myself, or to my quest for self-knowledge and self-mastery.

Perhaps it was the “minutiae” I most feared. Those most discrete parts of myself. The ones, you know, that are objective and I’d have to own up to.

I wonder if anyone reading has heard of the Quantified Self movement. I never had, until Bill found himself interested in it. We’re not truly part of the movement in any way, though we find the overall idea fascinating. How much can we come to know ourselves through our data, our numbers? What can we do for ourselves when we look at those hard numbers on a routine and continuous basis?

I’ve written a few times about my journey this past year toward a healthier version of myself. I am a calorie counter. I fully subscribe to the science that the energy we put into our bodies must be less than or equal to what we put out if we want to be a healthy weight. 3500 calories = 1 pound. It’s mathematical. There’s no way around it. I, personally, cannot eat “what I feel” or “try to be good” and expect to get anywhere. In fact, when I did that, the only place I got myself over gradual time was to a state of obesity and health decline.

Take a look at this chart. This link takes you to the American Council on Exercise’s “Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart.” Last year at this time, I had a body fat percentage of 33-35%. It fluctuated a bit in all of my readings. “Obese,” per the chart. The cut-off for “average” is 31% for women.

Holy moly.

One year later, with running and watching the mathematics of food, I now have a 17.5-19.0% body fat percentage (over several calculations). Officially in the “athletes” category. I know—what???! I’ve certainly never been considered, nor have considered myself to be, an athlete of any kind. Yeah, I played soccer for awhile (my second most fit time in my life), but it wasn’t like I was heading toward superstardom with that or anything. Or even a college scholarship. Athlete: not me. More like book nerd.

But my body fat percentage is now low enough to be in the athlete category. It blows my mind. All because I followed the numbers and did not give myself an out.

In our house, we talk about the numbers of food, and we have open conversations about making healthy choices and getting proper physical exercise. Our children need to grow up understanding proper portions and how many calories various food items cost to eat. I did not educate myself about this until this past year at age 32. I think it is essential knowledge. Want that slice of pizza? Okay, but we have to be informed that it is close to 300 calories, around 1/6 of what we need for the whole day if we are maintaining. A single slice. 1/6. How about a donut? 195 calories for one, if we’re lucky. Very little food or nutrition for that cost. I’d rather have a whole banana, a TB of almond butter, a cup of almond milk, and tea…or a bowl of groats with a bit of banana and dates and coconut milk for around that cost. Make an informed choice. Don’t be like me and at 32 wonder how you got there, most certainly headed toward diabetes and stress on the heart along with any other number of physical health issues (many of which my husband developed, and then reversed with his lifestyle change and weight loss).

So, some numbers as I celebrate a year this week of being a runner (and slightly over a year of counting calories):

Last year weight: 162.5 pounds

This year weight: 111.6 (although my last weighing this morning was in the 113’s—I have learned this has to do with water and not to let it freak me out. As Bill often says, “It is not linear.”)

Last year body fat percentage: 33-35%

This year body fat percentage: 17.5-19.0%

Last year blood pressure: I didn’t take it when I started—I should have, but the numbers scared me at first—have to be so accountable to them once I know them. 😉

This year blood pressure: 99/63 (today’s midday reading)

Last year: could barely run a whole mile in 12 minutes when I started (again, was wussing out on recording it)

This year:  Yesterday’s 7.5 mile run was finished in 1 hour and 13 minutes, with an average pace of 9:30 a mile. Today’s run (for speed purposes) of 2.5 miles was done in 21: 43 minutes and had an average pace of 8:42 minutes/mile. Not as good as it can be, but I am hungry to keep pushing. Furthest I’ve gone in a single run since last year: 9.5 miles.

Numbers never lie. When I began this journey, I had several days before committing myself when I hemmed and hawed. It would have been easier, it seemed back then, to continue in my nebulous relationship with the minutiae of myself. I was nervous to know my numbers. They would be objective evidence of my progress, or what I feared would be my lack thereof. But then I had an epiphany one morning. I thought, I have given my best effort so many times in so many areas (school, family, career) but I have never given my best effort toward taking care of myself. What could I do if I gave myself my best effort? 

At that moment my mind committed itself without asking me again. And then I had to follow through. It turns out it is far easier to live this way—by the numbers—than it was to live with guilt and anxiety and the song and dance work required to rationalize all of my choices to myself. Part of it is willpower, but a larger part is knowing the numbers are there, waiting for me. Lest that sound ominous, I should revise and say: the numbers hold me accountable in ways beyond which I could hold myself. The numbers don’t stroke my ego. I miss a few days of exercise back in February, those dudes let me know! I love our fitbit system, which syncs our scale data to an online dashboard. We can make meal plans and watch numbers. I’ve only used it in the most basic ways the past year, but I am ready to step it up. It turns out that maintenance has its own set of challenges. That’s why the numbers are so important.

I’ve got some new goals other than loss for the Year 2 of this change. I want to get as close as I can to an 8:00 mile, and I want to hang out at 111.0 to 114.0 pounds. I also want to be able to do a dozen pull-ups in a row and 20-25 push-ups. I just signed up to run the Long Beach half-marathon with my dad this coming October. It’s on a Sunday, which will work out perfectly with Katie’s soccer schedule, and it is a chance to make a memory with my dad—who was my inspiration to begin running in the first place. He ran his first half last October, and this will honor that accomplishment of his. I want to prove something to myself, as well.

Although I have often had a profound appreciation for numbers, never have I had a more personal gratitude. It sounds a little schmaltzy, but I truly think that mathematics has improved the quality of, perhaps even prolonged by many years, my life. We’re not really taught to look at ourselves that way in school, but why not? Why not look at ourselves through even lens possible, to be the best versions of ourselves we can be? We can’t know ourselves only through Hamlet or the Krebs cycle, although these are valuable avenues that give a piece of the puzzle. We are in a modern era of data collection, and the data on ourselves might just be what saves us in the end.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to feel connection these past two weeks with so many people from all stages of my life. Father’s Day, meetings with clients, phone calls with friends, a beautiful e-mail from an acquaintance at Stanford, Alex’s birthday, Bill’s birthday, a visit with a friend and former student, the Mock Trial 1998-2007 reunion: these events engage me in a community of amazing people, a community I cherish more now in my 30s than I ever have in my whole life. I have always adored my friends, of course, and felt myself around them; yet I am finding in this phase of my life a new kind of freedom to be myself—which is much sillier than most people suppose, even though I know I come off as quite serious quite often—with everyone.

Perhaps we get to a point in our 30s when we have the self-confidence we need to look life, and its axioms or lack thereof, right in the eye. My friend Ashley and I were talking about this a few days ago. It’s not that we won’t make some of the mistakes we made in our 20s; we just have more context now in our 30s for putting those mistakes in the proper context and being willing to laugh at ourselves. We know in our 30s that life cycles around. We don’t, or can’t, stay in any one state forever. That means sadness and happiness are always in a state of flux and balance. There is, as my friend Stella puts it, a resilience.

I am finding myself in a place where I am truly able to meet people as they are…and as I am. If my early 20s were characterized by the desperate need to categorize and order as a way to make some sense of all the new ways of thinking and people I met in the vast social experiment of the university, then my 30s are characterized by a sort of zenlike amusement at how we can all be so different but still so fundamentally all alike. Dependency, judgement, envy—all the things that muddy up connection are all so inconsequential when we realize that our essences/spirits are not in competition with one another. The 30s seem to be a time of sureness of self. By that, I do not mean: sureness that we are perfect, or sureness that we have all the answers. What I mean by sureness of self is that we are, at the very least, sure that we have the internal strength to get through even the rough patches. Sureness that we are equal with everyone else and can meet—mind to mind, heart to heart, authentic string to authentic string—as equals. Sureness that we can stand by who we are, mistakes and all, and take ownership.

Ownership has been a big theme for me this year. I believe fully that taking ownership of myself—my health, my habits, my weaknesses—has allowed me to pursue more nuanced and authentic connections with family, friends, and people with whom I would like to be friends. Ownership of myself allows me to be okay with the possibility of rejection: I know what my weaknesses are, and I take complete responsibility for them. I still might not let it all hang out on the first date, so to speak (after all, I have an introverted kind of energy), but  the parts that do come out are genuine (for better or worse). Ownership of myself means that I laugh at myself extremely often: a state of mind I often had at the beginning of high school, a kind of mirth that comes with knowing how imperfect you are and being okay with that. I mean, we’re all just writing our stories and playing our roles, and looking back on previous chapters with great guffaws. Is there anyone out there who can read his or her middle and high school journal with a totally straight face or without rolling eyes? I know I can’t! So when we’re 60 and 70 looking back to now, might it not be almost the same thing?

That may be why now, in my 30s, other people’s stories are so much more vastly interesting to me than my own. The part I love best about all of these connections these past two weeks is hearing narrative and putting together the pieces to uncover truly what makes my friends sing inside. Finding that singing part inside of another person is one of the greatest joys in life, I think.

The 30s are good.

So, catching up:

On Father’s Day we took my dad fishing at Lake Skinner. We didn’t catch anything, but we had a great time not doing that! I had never been fishing before, and I loved that my dad taught me something new, just like when he would make radios with me when I was little or play chess. We came back to my house after hours at the lake and had a little dinner with Bill and my mom, also.

dad and kiddoseric fishingfishing

One of my dearest friends Steve has a son Alex, who turned four-years-old this month. To celebrate, Steve and Carol threw a sailing themed party in Manhattan Beach. Most of our FFL (friends for life) crew was there. It was a lovely afternoon and extremely well executed. Steve and Carol truly thought of everything!

alex birthday

Then my husband Bill had his birthday! We had his brothers and their families over for lunch on the 25th. Seth brought DVDs of old pictures of the four boys growing up. I had never seen these pictures before; in fact, I have barely seen any pictures of Bill as a baby/child—ever. As the mother of his children, I absolutely adore these pictures (two of several treasures). I have always thought my children looked more like Bill, even extrapolating from his adult features; yet to see him at their age so plainly makes my heart swell up with love for all three of them.

Bill with four candles

Above, Bill as he turned four-years-old

Bill and Chesty (9)

With his brother Chet (the birth order is Bill, Chet, Seth, and Patrick)

Earlier this week, my friend and former AP English student Jim came over for a visit. He is taking a bit of time in Temecula (primarily to write with the intent to publish a paper on econometrics) before heading in August to George Mason University to start his full-ride Ph.D. in the Department of Economics. What a mind he has! Bill enjoys him, too, because they read many of the same authors and books. (I try to keep up with those, too, but not as much as I would like I’m afraid)!

visit with jim

And today, we had a Mock Trial reunion at Harbor Beach in Oceanside for the Waugh/Davis years, which spanned 1998 to 2007. Because I taught at the high school that I once attended, I was able to spend time not only with people from my Mock Trial team but also with friends/former students who happened to be part of the team when I was teaching. So much fun!


First, a throwback. This picture was taken right after we placed 1st in Riverside County during the  1998 county competition. We played against Poly, a notoriously difficult team who usually wins county, in the finals. The win gave us a place in the state competition, which was in Sacramento that year. The exhilaration of that moment will forever course in a bit of my blood. We had a small team, very tight. Marguerite and I were the trial attorneys, but we played both prosecution and defense—depending on which side of our team got called—and so we played every round. Working a case from both angles like that was thrilling…a totally thrilling game. Marguerite was our closer on both sides (I was the opener—closing is much harder), and there is no one I have ever seen who could bring it down like she could. She nailed it every time. I wish I could go back and do it just once more, with this exact team. Our witnesses that year were absolutely fabulous, with just enough characterization to stay in the rules. Our clerk and bailiff never erred. Steve and Tara could field the most outlandish impromptu questions during pre-trial arguments. Yes, I wish I could go back and play one more round with these guys. Memories…


And here is a part of that same ’98 team, today: Jer, Cari, Steve, me, Shil, Jeremy

kazoo concert

By far a highlight: a kazoo and vocal medley. This is a bucket list item I had forgotten to put on my bucket list. I have never had so much fun with a kazoo. As Jeremy observed, “As if being on Mock Trial didn’t make us nerdy enough…”


Pretty sure this had to be our rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” or perhaps it was the rousing round we performed of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” At any rate, Judge John Davis (next to me with the beard): you’d better give your UCLA Madrigals a heads up. We’re coming…


So I never played on a team with, or taught, Melissa. I was fortunate to cross paths with her as a sub when I was first getting started in my career. I have admired her ever since. She flies her own plane! Aside from that, she is just this really interesting, vibrant person. I loved seeing her today. She is taking the Bar in July. Good study vibes are being sent your way, Missy!


This last picture is really, really special to me. This is Megan, a former AP 11 student (the year after Jim) and now a beautiful adult and friend who got married just last week. Creative, a writer, a person who has always pushed my own thoughts further, and a sweet and earnest spirit, Megan is here teaching my children how to fly a kite. I wish I could show you all the pleased and proud look on Eric’s face when he was holding the kite string. It was the best thing that happened to him all day, I think. Katie, too, adored Megan and loved swimming with her in the ocean. What kind of amazing world is this when a student you have always cherished becomes a teacher and mentor for your children?

Sometimes life is so crazy beautiful like that, and I almost tear up at how cyclical and connected everything is. I often find myself just hoping to be worthy, even a little bit, of these connections.

One my dearest friends and mentors Sandy Huth and I used to teach our 9th graders about Odysseus’ tragic flaw of hubris every fall while studying The Odyssey. We used to explain that hubris is excessive pride in one’s abilities, and we would make the case to our students that Odysseus’ boast to Polyphemus and braggadocio as leaves the island of the Cyclopes were the initial instances of his hubris and thus the impetus for Polyphemus’ curse, Poseidon’s request for revenge, and the beginning of years of exile from Ithaca. His continued hubris becomes especially painful in Book XII when Odysseus tries to argue with Circe about the necessity of succumbing to the fate of Scylla, the will of the gods. I’ve mostly viewed hubris as vanity and arrogance, although its origin in ancient Greek belies much more nuance than that.

The story of The Odyssey is the story of the passage of time. Time and hubris become dependent variables. Only the punishment of lost years will atone for Odysseus’ initial hubris; his hubris (primarily manifest in his desire to control his own life rather than submit to destiny) gradually diminishes as he loses all his men and resources as time goes on. Only then do the gods enable Odysseus to return home.

There is a right time for everything.

If there has been a theme—or lesson—in my life this week, then this would be it.

Often as a parent, I find myself struggling with my desire to have my children achieve and undergo rites of passage on my timetable. I think this is fairly common and normal: we want our children to be independent and we know how much they have to learn in this life in order to get there. We’re besot by online articles and forums telling us about childhood milestones and when to expect them. We’re asked at every annual medical exam what new skills and achievements our children are exhibiting. Based on what I hear from family and friends, I know some pediatricians are quick to recommend various therapies—for two-year-olds. Just as we have started saving for college, we are also reminded daily online about what we should be doing right now in the toddler years to prepare our children to be competitive applicants in the future. I’m the Caucasian mom who read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua) and thought, “Well some of this is excessive, although making her children practice those instruments every day was definitely not a bad idea…”

So every once in awhile I just have to stop myself and remember that, ultimately, none of it matters to what we’re doing in our little homeschool model. In fact, one of the biggest reasons we wanted to school at home was to remove our children from competitive learning environments. Learning should be fun, done for yourself (internal motivation), valued at a much deeper level than grades or beating someone else, and open doors to lifelong passions.

We want to meet our children on their timetables—albeit, with definite guidance. We offer various extra-curriculars repeatedly even after a couple of refusals (just like a new food when they were little), and we encourage practice and commitment but also exploration. We put up the resources, and we make suggestions. We have definitely discovered that the one-on-one or one-on-two homeschool model naturally facilitates academic advancement, for us, in many areas. That student-teacher ratio is very important, we believe. Yet we did not, and still do not, believe that we are homeschooling with the intent to have our children finish their schooling in their early teens. Mastery of subjects never ends. 😉 Rather,  we wanted the flexibility to meet them wherever they happen to be—whether at a slower pace, or a faster one. Their timing. Their natural timing, with our guidance.

So why do I catch myself still trying to control this timing, like Odysseus, once in awhile? Do I have the hubris of Dr. Victor Frankenstein who, in giving electric birth to his nameless monster, sought absolute control of a thing of his creation (and failed)?

If so-and-so walks at x months and so-and-so is designing rockets by age y, what—really—does it matter?

There is a right time for everything. There is a right time for everyone.

Being a mom of more than one child has helped me to mellow out a bit in this respect. I’ve learned with Katie that all things—giving up the pacifier, for example—work themselves out eventually, and yes, sometimes with a bit of an assist. This has made me less fretful with Eric and more comme si comme ca; the trick now is to learn to apply this lesson to Katie herself as she pioneers our way through the elementary school years.

Still, I was in distress two years ago when I enrolled Katie in her first independent swim class at age 3.5. She was so excited the first day but part way through class, she began to slip off that little platform attached to the edge of the pool where they have the little kids stand. Someone got her right away, but she was scared. She came crying out of the water and refused to go back in. We showed up for class every day for the first week and, although she would not go in, we watched class because we had made a commitment. As a mother, it was painful. The night before every class, she was confident she would go in the next day. I would get my hopes way up, and then she would not even put her feet in. At the time, it felt like every 3.5-year-old was learning to swim. We tried cajoling, taking things away, pleading, bargaining. Nothing could persuade her. I felt like I had failed to get her through this milestone that all other 3.5-year-olds were accomplishing. Nevermind the fact that I had learned to swim at age six. It’s all about doing everything as early as possible these days, right?

Wrong. It was a big lesson as a parent. Listen to my child. Ignore the other stuff. It wasn’t meant for us.

We didn’t approach formal lessons last summer (4.5 years old). It wasn’t the time. For either of us.

A few months ago, Katie asked me about swim lessons. Really? I signed her up, but my stomach was in knots for weeks every time I thought about it. What if she found she still did not want to get in? What then? Would this be an ongoing life issue? What would I do to help her? How would she be mentally affected/scarred if she found herself unable to get over the fear? Would this lead to a life of fear?

See how big it got.

But then, look:

katie swims

She loves her swim class. She has made friends with the other kiddos. She loves her teacher Lindsay. We’re off for the weekend, but so many times today she has said, “I can’t wait for Monday! I can’t wait for my swim class!” She has even asked to sign up for another session after we get back from our family trip. Okay, you got it.

A slightly older girl taught Katie how to put her whole face in the water and that’s all Katie wants to do:


We filled up the wading pool today and she kept dunking herself.

There’s a right time for everything.

For Eric, too. We’ve been toilet training off and on since the new year. He has shown some interest, but once again, it was me who had more of the agenda (get him trained at the same age his sister trained) at times. Other times, I would completely flake out. It may seem like it would be easy since we’re at home schooling, but that is precisely what made it so difficult. I’d be in the middle of teaching Katie math, for example, and we would find ourselves in the bathroom or doing laundry every couple of minutes…which doesn’t make for very solid instruction. I like solid instruction. Or, we’d make progress on a weekend, only to realize that we had some activities during the week (um, Disneyland, I admit it) for which we weren’t ready to use underpants. I would say this: he wasn’t quite ready in January, but it was me who consistently dropped the ball for the last couple of months at least.

Then one day last week, I was getting Eric up one morning and he said matter-of-factly, “Mommy, me potty train today.” Okay, buddy, you got it. “Me want underpants.”

And then he proceeded to train himself. I really haven’t done a thing. We don’t use reward systems for potty training, just family cheering and encouragement. On the first day or two he had some accidents, so I just cleaned up and gave him reminders. One week later, and he is fully trained at home. All I do is help him on and off the toilet. When Mr. Eric makes up his mind, he does it. The next step is teaching him how to travel with underpants, but hopefully that will be as straightforward as it was with Katie.

He was on his own timing. He let me know, and now here we are and it has been painless. Easier than even Katie was. He knew his right time; I just had to listen.

Every day my children teach me more about the natural rhythms of life. Sometimes when I get into one of my busy modes with respect to anything in life, even my husband has to remind me, “You’re not punching a clock here. There’s no race to be won. Slow down.”

It’s okay to be slowed down.  It’s okay to wait until the moment is right. “To everything there is a season…,” yes?


It’s okay to embrace natural timing.

Sometimes life works out even better when we do.

There is no doubt that I am a rule follower. Never a detention in school. Never a late homework assignment. I was never marked tardy (to my knowledge). I don’t jaywalk. When we pick blueberries and the kiddos eat some while picking, I insist the blueberry farm take an extra dollar or two—and by the looks on the cashiers’ faces, they must think I am nuts. Last year when I had library books overdue by a day, I had such an anxious tummy at being so much of a delinquent that I was nervous the whole time in the line to pay my fee and apologized so much that I probably came off crazy.

In 12th grade, I was one of the few students who came to school on Senior Ditch Day.

I’m by no means a blind rule follower, though. Rules that serve a good purpose and have reason behind them—those are my kind of rules. There are times when rules do need to be broken and there are moments when I have a rebel heart and an even more rebellious mind. It’s fair to say, though, that I fall much more onto the law and order side of the spectrum when it comes to rules that I believe should exist.

And that is why my stomach is so much in knots right now that I will be lucky if I can manage to eat a full dinner tonight. I am sure I’m going to wake with a start tomorrow morning and feel a cold pall wash over me when I remember…

After seventeen years of a clean driving record, I received my first EVER speeding ticket late this afternoon. Fourty-four in a 30 MPH zone. I did catch myself and started to brake, but it was too late… There were two motorcycle policemen waiting at the bottom of a hill, and I got what was coming to me.

That feeling of seeing police lights in your rearview mirror? I felt like someone ripped my stomach out and squished my lungs.

The officer, Officer R, was so completely nice though. My first thought was that he must be so disappointed in me and that I would be appalling to his very sight, but he was so professional and kind. I shook so much when fumbling for my license, registration, and insurance that my hands were trembling, and I apologized, “I’m so sorry…I am so nervous!” He could tell, probably because I also told him, that I was so embarrassed. He took extra time to explain how the ticket process worked and what to do when I received it later in the mail—especially when he saw my face go pale when he mentioned the court date (I guess people don’t have to go in! What do I know?)

Then as he was getting ready to go, he said, “Thank you for being so understanding.” And I was surprised and said, “No, thank YOU! It’s all my fault.” He even waved to the kiddos, and my mom and I said, “See the kind policeman?” It got me thinking that officers must have a difficult job, because they never know what brand of crazy they might encounter when they pull someone over, you know? I bet all kinds of people make excuses for themselves or even get mad and turn responsibility outward. I just believe that when you do make a mistake and mess up, you have to own it. He was doing his job. The rule was clear, and I broke it. There’s no discussion about, or excuse for, that—and that is why my perfectionistic side is struggling so much right now.

After he left, I burst into tears and called my husband. My fear that he would be as disappointed in me as I am in myself was completely unfounded. He was so sweet, actually. He could hear how bad I felt, and he said slowly but not patronizingly, “Okaaaaaaay. It’s a ticket. That happens to people when they drive for a long time. You will just deal with it.” I think he was not sure why I was at the level of crying freak-out that I was at, at that moment.

Much of my life journey has been about learning how to handle my mistakes—big and small—of which there have been many. I internalize and self-criticize so much on a daily basis, even moreso when I have made an error. This trait has been completely helpful at many times in my life (academics) and completely unhelpful at others. I was horrified, at first, that Katie and Eric were seeing me undergo the consequences of making an error—not because I want them to think I am perfect (that’s already out the window!), but because I want them someday to be proud of me.

But then I got to thinking.

I’m a silver lining kind of gal.

Although I am going to beat myself up over this ticket for many days, maybe it is not all bad:

1. Katie and Eric got to see how a parent handles receiving a real consequence for her actions. They got to see that parent admit fault right away and take accountability without making excuses for behavior. They got to witness my tears of embarrassment and understand that everyone of every age makes mistakes they wish they hadn’t made. They get to see my process for taking ownership and being okay after that process takes place.

2. A ticket now is a reminder to be careful. Maybe getting this ticket today means that I will be less aggressive and pay more attention in the future. In the past year with all the driving to Orange County and San Diego County, I know, I’ve gone from being a timid driver to being a more assertive driver than I’ve ever been. I know that I do push the speed limit on the freeway. I am more often in the fast lane than not, which is completely different from how I used to be. A reminder to be more cautious and defensive is good, especially with children in the car and other drivers on the road.

3. For the past seventeen years I have been terrified of getting a ticket every time I get in the car. Now I am even more terrified because getting more than one can be really bad for the record, but at least I am not as gut-wrenchingly scared of the first one anymore. (Silver lining? Stretch?)

4. Life goes on. As bad as the feeling is of having to face an error, at this point in my life I have strong coping mechanisms. Yes, I am still going to be hard on myself…but I also know how to draw a line at wallowing in the anxiety and how to use my mistakes to be better and to grow. I know how to look for the good. I know how to write this ticket, this symbol of a mistake, into my narrative and how to accept it.

But there it is. My first ticket. When I got home, I called out, “Hi honey! The criminal is home!” Bill just shook his head. He’s been nothing but gentle and sweet about it, even saying that he could have easily gotten a ticket today himself. He’s been asking me to think about it probabilistically…

True, true. Still, if I were diligent and fully rule-abiding, probability would be more on my side. Right?

So why undergo the public humiliation of writing this blog? After all, I could have kept it to myself… Except, I’m very much an open book. I process nearly everything in my life through writing, both public and private. Letting the words come out is the way I make sense of the world. A second, equally important reason is that I felt I had to in order to meet my standard of authenticity. I write often about my dominant emotion, and my dominant emotion for the day is definitely shame. How we get through our embarrassing moments is so much of who we are as people.  Felt shame lately? I’m right there with you!

Let me just say, I hope I never NEVER see flashing lights in my mirror again.

Also: the anticipation of waiting for the actual ticket to come in the mail and going through the steps of taking the payment to the courthouse and doing traffic school online—well, that anticipation, for me, is probably just about the WORST punishment that could be enacted here. If I could take care of it all tomorrow and get it done, that would be one thing; but the fact that I have to live with this over my head for awhile is a nightmare! Definitely a fully-felt consequence!

If I know anything at all, then I know that nothing lasts forever. That axiom may well be, in fact, the only thing I think I know for sure. Even then, I imagine that there are moments that last in a time and space which I can no longer access: if time is only illusion, then Grandpa Don is still sitting in his brown leather chair with avocado trees outside his windows, then Katie is just being born, then my best friends and I are forever seventeen laughing at a joke without a true care in the world, and everything and everyone that I have loved and loathed is still present in the Universe. Somewhere. Somewhere in a place our linear minds cannot quite reach except through poetry and prose and, perhaps, a little wishing.

Nothing lasts forever. At some point in my life I would have countered that, indeed, grief lasts forever; yet now I know that memory is an ever rotating prism,  and grief like light changes speed and hits those memories at angles that bend and nuance that sadness. I am never sad for Uncle Eric, or for anyone I’ve lost, in quite the same way twice.

If nothing lasts forever, then we may take this for both a shield and a sword. Just as we are guaranteed that turmoil must pass, we are likewise assured that we will be asked to cast ourselves upon the point of letting go of that which we have cherished. I’ve written before of  Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and I am beginning to see that, alluding to another Frost work, this theme is a road well-traveled for me. Perhaps it is motherhood, (or perhaps merely my 30s!), that has made me understand that so much of growing up is learning how to carry grief, to react to life’s transitoriness, and to find equanimity in the balance of having, and having not. I am not sure we can have true contentment unless we first realize how easily the people and places of life are lost. Nothing endures, and so we write and catalogue and narrate as if to rebuke this truth, realize our struggle may be in vain, and humble ourselves on the altar of our pens and paper and laptops. Only then does gratitude begin.

In October of 2009, shortly before Katie turned two years old, we started taking a Music Together class in Fallbrook with Kara Howard.

Today, after four school years of class, we sang our goodbye song for the last time. Our last class. Katie has spent most of her life attending Kara’s class every Friday; Eric, all of his.

I thought perhaps we might take one more term, or even one more year, next year. Although both Katie and Eric finished the curriculum (all nine courses—Katie repeated one year so Eric could finish), I was convinced that Eric, in particular, might benefit from another year as he now commands more language and has quite the developing personality.

It wasn’t until this past week as I was deeply considering family needs and schedules (and looking to preserve/build-in more travel time to see extended family, for various reasons) that I realized life is asking us to make a transition. I could have put it off until Christmas break next fall, but I also knew I had to look this change right in the eye and graciously accept it. There is more contentment ultimately, I believe, when we own our decisions and make them on our terms before life makes them for us. It was a natural season, also, to graduate from class. Student or teacher, I have always found spring to be a bittersweet time of year: a time of goodbyes to lives that have intersected with mine, a time when excitement and nostalgia mingle with equal potency.

So it was our last class. I was all but a total mess. I cried through the last three songs. I had to wipe my dripping snot with my son’s favorite cozy blanket. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Katie and I sat over there and had our first class? Remember the day we came in our Halloween costumes? We sang this song when I was pregnant with Eric. My son held on to that gathering drum to steady himself shortly after he took his first steps. Remember the first time Katie felt confident enough to hug Kara goodbye? Remember Talon and Sadie and Fiona and Olivia? And their siblings? (All of them graduated awhile ago).

This has been our lives nearly every Friday morning for the past four years. Katie celebrated her fourth birthday at a party with her friends from our class. The nine CDs worth of music became the soundtrack of their young lives. Not a day goes by when we don’t sing at least one of the songs. Transitioning out of class now is also a step toward ownership of my decision with my husband to keep with our plan of having two, and no more than two, children. However difficult ownership of our lives might be, we must take it in order to stay eager, joyful, authentic people who can be happy for others and happy for being alive.

Music Together has been a season with both of my children. Yet it began with Katie, and for that reason I think of her at the beginning and the ending:

katie first day music

I took this picture after our first day of class in October 2009, when we visited my mom

katie music class

Katie at her third class in October 2009


Katie today, eager for a “secret” (a tonal pattern whispered in the ear) from Kara


My lovebug goofball…his quirky sense of humor makes me laugh all the time


Playing “Hey Ya Na”


Of all the pictures I took today, this one makes me cry the most. It’s the silly simple things… That first year, whenever it was instrument time, Katie always chose this wooden dog and a stick to play percussion. She used to kiss this dog and looked for it each time. She has forgotten it over the years, or moved on. But I never have… Mothers remember it all.

My babies. Today we said goodbye to a season of our lives. Nothing lasts forever. I wish I could have you be little with me always, and big at the same time. But we have to move into your big girl and big boy years together, and I can’t stay behind however much I wish I could. Kara and all of our music class friends, thank you for making these past four years so beautiful and filled with the goodness of your voices. We will always remember you; we will always hear you all when we listen to our songs.

“Goodbye, so long, farewell my friends
Goodbye, so long, farewell. 
We’ll see you soon, again, and then 
We’ll make music together again.” 

Early to our Fleetwood Mac concert, Bill and I were in the middle of amusing ourselves by taking “selfies” (see below), when we heard two women enter the row right behind us.


Their first order of business, naturally, was to plot which seats to sit in other than the seats they actually bought, since they wanted to be much closer. I always love that. Not. But this was how they ended up sitting directly behind us—well, for about twenty minutes at any rate, until the true owners of the seats arrived and had to deal with the chaos of comparing tickets and asking these gals to move.

So I was, I admit it, already not impressed.

That was about the moment they began their real-life impression of Regina George from Mean Girls (2004). Except they weren’t in high school or even college, although I couldn’t tell at first from just their voices and topic. I was shocked to look behind me later and discover forty-year-olds.

And who was their topic?

Meet Judy.

Judy was, apparently, unable to attend the concert with these women. A cardinal sin.

Which must explain why they proceeded to run over Judy with the gossip bus for a solid twenty minutes. She needed a good dissection, I guess. That’ll teach her.

It was gauche and tragic to the point where I almost giggled at its ghastliness. You know the point I mean.

Just so you know, Judy, your text two weeks after your “friend” set “boundaries” with you was TOTALLY unappreciated. But she understands that you just forget, a symptom of all the many medications you are on. You remind your friend of her mother, which is why she is so bothered, but she doesn’t want to tell you that because she knows you have a hard time. I mean, friends should be there for each other, and she would like to be there for you, but you are SO needy. After the unappreciated text, she texted you back saying that she was busy (like, OMG, obviously blowing you off but you didn’t get it), but then she felt sorry for you a week later on your birthday and she texted you “Happy Birthday” but for some reason YOU DIDN’T TEXT HER BACK. How dare you. But your friend is trying to be a nice person to you even though she really feels overwhelmed by you and she knows you have problems understanding your phone and how to text. It’s just all those medications again. You have so many issues, and she wants to be a “fixer” but she just can’t keep hearing your same stories. You push all her buttons, darnit, because you remind her of her mother, but no, she just doesn’t want to explain anything to you. You’re sweet though. She’s tried telling you this and that, but you can’t remember what she says… You just need to respect her boundaries, stop going to her for help ALL THE TIME. Because there’s, like, friends who need help sometimes and friends who are just too needy. You’re too needy, Judy. And oh, your friend is such the victim. Oh what a martyr, to put up with you.

Sorry to break it to you.

Bill and I were staring like deer straight ahead at first. What vociferous and obnoxious private hell had we just entered? Periodically we would shoot each other glances and I would start to snicker as though I might at any moment lose it uncontrollably not because it was har-har funny but because the whole situation just was so absurd. Just by virtue of being absent, Judy gets to be gossip fodder. What kind of weird world is this?

Like my husband, I don’t get the trash-your-friends-or-people-you-kind-of-know mentality. What leads to that? It has to be insecurity/jealousy, duh, but seriously? What’s fun about that? What’s the point? Philosophically, where does it take you?

I was telling one of my best guy friends this story last night on the phone. We were reminiscing about parts of our friendship and why we’ve always gotten on so well. It’s because both of us have a similar mindset and outlook about life and we don’t complicate things. Even at times when we were directly competing for something academic at school (say, spots on one of our academic teams), we were rooting each other on and wanting each other to do his or her best—sincerely. (It always turned out that we would both get spots on the teams we were on anyway). There is no sense of wanting the other to fail, no sense of jealousy about the other’s success, no looking at blessings and achievements as a zero-sum game. There’s room and opportunity for everyone to be successful, for everyone to be happy, for everyone to create his or her life in the most intentional and magic way.

We don’t complicate it. We’re happy for each other. We know we can always go to the other. Envy has never been a part of our feelings for one another, thank goodness. We’re sensible that way: we know there’s no point in comparing lives. In fact, we’re both optimists. We don’t gossip about our other friends to each other. Life can truly be that simple, even when it feels like it’s not.

In the meantime, Judy, you need some new buds: people who are so confident with their own choices and content with their agency in their own lives that they don’t feel the need to persecute you for yours.  And lady who was listening to Judy’s friend dismantle Judy and asking the leading questions and “mm-hmm-ing” with mock concern? You need to find a new buddy, too: whom do you think your friend talks about when she is somewhere without you?

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


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