Category Archives: Motherhood

Tina Fey: A Prayer for her Daughter

This bit of writing brilliance by Tina Fey had me laughing and crying at the same time.  I think that’s the definition, in fact, of what writers want to achieve on the page.  May you, then, laugh cry.  At the end of this prayer, I have added my own:

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers and the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Amen.

From her new book.

…and now a word from me on this terrifying subject:

Laura Munson here, Lord.  I’m with Tina.  And heck, Tina’s got babies.  I’ve got a fifteen year old, and I can tell You (well You already know this, but for what it’s worth) I’ve been called a lot worse than a Bitch in front of Hollister.  And that’s AFTER I went against everything I believe in and bought her the hundred dollar jeans and the sweatshirt with the word HOLLISTER across it and braved the foul piped-in perfume and the drum-beat-amuk hip hop and got busted looking too long at the ten foot sixteen year old’s abs on the wall.  By her.  But Lord, here is where I know that I must forgive…because in all honesty, I’m sure I’m a pain in her ass.  I mean, how many other mothers out there make their daughters read up on the history of Hollister, and Abercrombie too, to see what their corporate ethics read like before they go around being walking billboards for slave labor in India, for instance?  I probably deserve what she called me.  Just like I deserved all those Necker Booters Tina’s talking about– shit leaking from neck to boots.  I mean afterall, I DID whack her in the cheek that time she bit my nipple with alligator force in one of our placid nursing sessions on the front porch swing.  So the neighbors probably saw.  And I did once bite her on the cheek when she screamed in my ear, back arched, for some reason I can’t remember but I think it had to do with throwing my cell ph0ne into the toilet.  Heck, at least I didn’t shake her.  All I did was give her a little mother bear nip on those cheeks I love so to kiss.  It’s her fault that she bruises like that and that she had to miss nursery school the next day due to the mouth shaped indigo on her face.  Isn’t it?

My prayer, God, is I guess…really more of a confession and a call for absolution.  I haven’t always been the best mother.  Yes, I cut those grapes.  And yes I lovingly cleaned those Necker Booters.  And sang with her every night and talked about You and the moon and the cosmos and wonder and awe and the infinite possibilities of who she was and who she can become…but I fucked up too.  A lot.  And now she’s fifteen, and she’s taller than I am and has elegant sentence structure and the fire to match my own.  I taught her only too well in this regard.  I tell her that she’s a natural for Speech and Debate.  She says she’s shy.  I can tell You:  she isn’t shy.  Not around her mother anyway.  So really, I guess, this is a prayer for myself.  Tina, I’ve got the baton in my hand and I’m out here in front of you.  Here to say that when you win that next Emmy or write that next bestselling book or write, direct, and star in a movie, she’s gonna find a way to reduce your deserved pride into dust.  She’ll say things to you like, “it’s not like you solved world peace or anything.  It’s not like you got Bin Laden.”  She’ll be standing at your door while you’re on a conference call with the top guns of NBC pitching them a new pilot in your home office with the Do Not Disturb sign on your closed door, and she’ll fling open the door with a piece of Nutella-slathered toast and say, loudly, “you can’t even remember dog food or milk?  Or butter?” and then slam the door shut, so that she sort of derails your pitch:  you’re not pitching a comedy this time– it’s a drama, afterall, about the prayers of mothers for their babies.  All that hope.  You’re taking a break from comedy, in fact.  Or are you. 

I pray then, Lord, for a sense of humor when I ask her to apply her biceps to putting the hot tub cover back on since my back is out.  And she says, “What’s your problem– it’s so light!”  And then from the kitchen sink I watch as she struggles with it (even though she’s stronger than I am because I gave up my gym membership so she could keep in shape all winter for soccer– while I sit in the rain and snow hours upon hours…on the soccer sidelines…not improving anything but my already flabby ass) and when she finally gets the hot tub cover on, she marches in and says, “God!  Why do you have to take the whole cover off?  Why can’t you just open it half way.  Like DAD!”  Please, in that case, God, (and do You notice how often she mentions You like You have some sort of alliance with her I don’t know about!  DO You???) remind me to not mention that my back is currently out as I spent the day weeding the garden since she complained, “God (see what I mean), our house is so disgusting I’m embarassed to have friends over!”  Please grant me the knowledge that this is just her job, this violent fledging.  She has to fledge.  It’s scary growing up and deep inside her, she knows it.  She’s about to go out in the world and get much worse than a flick or even a bite to the cheek.  She’s going to get the ass-slapping of her life, and it’s going to burn and bleed and crust over and break open and ooze and get Staf infected and lay her up for days on end in bed.  And she knows…I won’t be there to share whatever wisdom I may posess and love and stroke her hair and rub her back.  She’ll be very very far away from home.

So now, the prayer is for both of us.  May we both bleed just a little less than You prescribe.  May our dreams come alive without always having to learn the hard way.  May our pain be used for greatness.  May we posess a knowing faith in ourselves even when everybody else claims we aren’t good enough. May we remember to take walks in the rain.  Hours in bed with a good book.  And Advil when absolutely necessary.  Thank you, then, God…for Advil. 

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On The Road: (or Where am I?)

You may think the road is glamorous…but think again.  There are lessons in limos that you might not expect…

Origninally published in Author Magazine

I’m home now after two months on the road promoting my book, and every morning, I wake up with a start: Where am I?
I could be anywhere. I could be in a Hampton Inn in Dayton, Ohio. I could be in a Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. I could even be in my own bed. And it’s an interesting experiment lying there, daring the early morning birds, living into that not knowing.

I’ve known exactly where I am when I wake for many years. I am in my bed in Montana, once again waking to the same cool celadon green of my walls, the same mahogany antique desk that I’ve ruined with hot tea mugs, the rings to prove it. There is a stack of books covering those rings, and I’ve read too little of those words, and so usually, I awake to guilt. Guilt in the rings and books and inevitable dust—a dead fly or two on the window sill. I feel guilt, but I feel comfort. I am the keeper of these inanimates.

In My Dinner with Andre, Andre has to climb mountains to know that he exists. Wallace Shawn is happy to wake up to the cold cup of coffee from the day before in his New York City apartment. In both cases, these are proof that they are alive. I have been alive then in dead bugs and low grade guilt. But I’d like to have kinder proof, so usually I try to think of a few nice things to say to myself. Sometimes I think of people to whom I want to send loving kindness. Either way, there is always this butterfly flicking around in my rib cage: when do I get to write? That question is what quells it all. And it is with that question that I get out of bed and enter my day. It is in answering that question, that I know where I am.

I had a friend who spent a lot of time and money getting her masters in creative writing. At the end of it she realized she’s not a writer. “I dreaded every minute of it,” she said. “Really,” I said. “I feel like a little girl getting away with something every time I sit down to my writing desk.” It felt that way in 1988 when I realized I am a writer and it feels that way in 2011, and if I know anything about myself, it will feel that way as long as I live.

As I’ve said before, writing is my practice and my prayer. My meditation. My way of life and sometimes my way to life. It is the holiest ground I know. And so, you might wonder what happens when you wake up day after day on the road in a startle, wondering what you will see when you open your eyes and really not knowing what the answer is to the question, once you get around to it: when do I get to write? Because the answer most likely is: this summer. And summer is months away.

So do you feel sorry for yourself? Or worried for yourself like your grandmother worries for you? Maybe a little. Your life, for as much as your dreams are now realities, is dearly out of balance. Writers have nervous breakdowns on book tours because of this imbalance. Their personal lives suffer. Their children suffer. Mothers without their children suffer, whether or not they are writers. I have a writer friend who doesn’t call her kids when she’s on the road. “It upsets them,” she says, and she’s right. Better to extract yourself and to leave them be. They don’t need the reminder. It doesn’t feel good hearing your voice. It feels sad. For both of you.

It’s true that I bring my journal with me when I travel. But it’s also true that I don’t write in it. I can’t quite ask and answer my good questions. I can’t quite go into the woods of my heart and depict my wanderings well or even at all. It’s too painful. It’s what my friend with the MFA felt when she sat down to write. I think that for me, it’s because novels hatch in journal entries. Or at least short stories and essays. And I can’t afford that to happen. Because I can’t take their hand and breathe air into their lungs. They will be like my children. Abandoned for now.

So I am out of practice on the road. I am disoriented. Where am I? This is not just a question of toilet and nightstand and lamp and toilet paper. This is deeply psychic. Where am I? What CAN you take with you? Well here is my answer:

Every so often, like the Pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim who travelled with his book and his knapsack, trying to learning what it is to pray without ceasing, we need to find the wilderness that is us. To give up our earthly possessions and even that cold cup of coffee and those dead flies that remind us we are alive, and climb our Everests like Andre or take to wandering with one single intention like the Pilgrim. We need to forget what Monday is from Tuesday and what Portland is from Jacksonville, and just be Somewhere. It’s nice to become aware of a comfortable bed because of the uncomfortable bed in which you slept the night before. It’s nice to know the difference before you even know where you are longitudily and latitudinaly speaking. A good pillow leaves you wanting to weep in gratitude. The smile from a cab driver. A wink from the woman at the train ticket box. The way the waitress calls you “hon.”

At home, you don’t notice these things quite the same way. You know exactly where you are. You berate yourself for being forty-five years old and still not having the wherewithal to keep a stock of tampons in your medicine cabinet. You feel guilt over ruined antiques and pressure from dead flies, and you forget sometimes that they are reminders that yes, you are alive. You can’t think about being alive. You have so very much laundry to do.

And yes, you are home. You have a place to practice your prayer. And the road reminds you: you have your room of your own…and you are so grateful for it because you forgot: a long time ago, you pined away for that room. You wrote inbetween shifts at the restaurant and while the babies slept. You have your desk that awaits you. You have your work. You have a life in balance, for the most part. You know where the toilet is. The road has been a great teacher: you need to be OUT of balance every so often, so that you know what balance is in the first place. You need to learn to be grateful for dead flies by climbing the mountain. There are times to live and times to write and times to do both. And so to the road, and to all those hotel rooms and that new question (Where am I?) which for many weeks this last year have replaced my usual question at waking (When do I get to write?)…Thank you.

And now it is summer.

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Rita Wilson on Doing What you Love

More Magazine’s editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour interviews Rita Wilson at the Reinvention Convention in LA 

 I love what Rita Wilson has to say about reinvention.  I saw her speak recently at More Magazine’s Reinvention Convention in LA.  She encourages us to think about what we loved to do as children.  This rang all sorts of bells for me because lately I’ve been asked over and over about success, and over and over I hear people confess that they loathe their job.  “I’m good at it, but I hate it.”  And I wonder about that.  Our society, school, most institutions teach us to ask the question:  what am I good at?  But I think that’s an unfortunate if not plain dangerous question.  When I finally realized that I was a writer, a lot of people looked at me uncomfortably, knowing what I then didn’t know about how hard the writing life is, and said, “Then you should go into adverstising.”  I’d look at them strangely.  “I want to write novels.  Not jingles about Keebler elves.”  They’d just shake their heads.

If I look back at who I’ve been since I was a little girl, there are pages and pages to prove that I’ve been writing stories since the beginning.  I have journals that go back to fourth grade full of story ideas.  I once wrote a whole journal-sized book (my first memoir, I suppose) entitled, “Things Not to Do to Your Kids.”  I’m afraid to read it because I’m afraid I’ve committed every one of those “sins” as a mother.

But it’s a good exercise, especially if you are at a crossroads in your life.  What do you LOVE to do?  Who have you been being all along without even thinking about it?   What comes naturally to you that you can’t wait to do?  What homework assignments had you racing to get home?  I remember one that had my spirit soaring.  It was fourth grade and the English teacher asked us to write a poem about our favorite place.  I have it right here, in fact:

Small Lake

(this is a lake by another name in Wisconsin where we spent our summers.  For some reason I felt the need to protect it, much like you never hear the name of any town or creature in my book except my daughter’s pet rat Houdini.) …remember– fourth grade, so with only a speck of apology…here goes:

At three o’clock this morning

I walked down to Small Lake.

I sat myself beside a tree

And longed for the large pond to wake.

As time went by my patience died

And into the lake I threw,

A rock which skipped at least three times

Then sank without a clue.

Suddenly a fish jumped up

And frogs began to croak

Which sounded very similar

To an elephant about to choke.

Way off in the distance

I heard the loon’s lonely cry

The sun gleamed down upon me

And then I heaved a sigh.

I knew that I must go now

To part with the pine and the fern

How sad I was to leave Small Lake

You can be sure that I’ll return.

Hopefully you have a fond smile in your lips.  I do.  It’s sweet and dramatic just like any fourth grade writer should be. 

Then in seventh grade, I wrote this poem for a school contest and won it.

Man at the Seashore

The withering man with the idiot’s eyes

Lives under a shelter of rock.

He lives a life full of sorrows and lies and digs for shells by the dock.

The sea is his friend and the waves talk to him

There is nothing that they haven’t told.

The trees give him shade as he climbs on a limb

And watches the world grow old.

If it’s reinvention that you seek, look into your youth.  See what’s there.  See who you already are.

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The Year My Mother Hit the Road

Family bike ride in Glacier National Park (photo credit Kelly Marchetti)

If you haven’t stepped into my house during the day, you wouldn’t know what it sounds like.  There is NPR on low in the kitchen, an occasional UPS delivery and thusly, the occasional sounds of a golden retriever and a black lab barking, gravel being rolled over by truck wheels.  Sometimes there’s the sound of a sump pump in the basement throbbing like a hospital breathing machine.  Sometimes rain gushing from gutters.  Sometimes errant flies caught between the window and its screens.  And from May to August, birds.  These sounds come and go and I am their only witness. 

If you walked into my home and I didn’t know you were here, you’d also hear the popcorn of my computer keyboard, right when it’s really popping there at the end, before it burns.  You’d be my witness.  You’d hear first and then see if you walked to the sound coming from the small room at the foot of the stairs, that I write.  All day.  And have since 1994 when I stopped working fulltime and became a fulltime writer.  I’d been writing inbetween jobs since 1988, but my steady writing life really began when we moved to Montana and my husband took a well-paying job running a brewery– which meant I finally had the time to put my total energy into finding the intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing.  And then the babies came, but I still wrote during their naps and at night after they went to bed, and then when it was time for them to go to school, I had my days wide open again to write.  From 9:00 until 3:00, more or less, once first grade began for the last child.  That happened six years ago.  Since then, I’ve written and I’ve mothered. 

I get down and dirty with the tuna fish and the mayo and the deli meat and the peanut butter at 7:00 am, slicing apples and carrots and putting them into small waxpaper bags for school lunches.  I serve up French toast with warmed real maple syrup in yoga pants and a fleece and my hair in a scrunchie, trying to take advantage of the ten minute ride into school– everything always a teaching moment.  There’s a lot of philosophy and world religion and English 101 on those drives.  And then the popcorn pops all day. And then I return to the school at 3:00 to escort my children to their music lessons and sporting practices and games.  The “how are yous” from other parents are met with “I’m fine.  How are you?”  And the conversation wanders around in the field of parenting, sharing opinions and concern for local issues from the sidelines and parking lots that house our public lives.  But privately, I have another world with no witnesses save for flies and dogs. Privately, I write.

And then my dream came true.  I got a book published. And everything changed. I got to serve the popcorn.  And people ate it and wanted more.  And I went around the country serving it up in whopping portions.  It turns out, I make good popcorn.  And people paid me for my popcorn.  And then flew me around so I could serve up more of it.  And put me up in fancy hotels and drove me around in limos.  Man, I never even knew that my popcorn would really ever be eaten, much less eaten like that!  It was really really satisfying.  I’ve been told, my popcorn even has changed people’s lives.   (OK– I beat the shit out of that one.  Sorry Strunk and White. Outside of metaphor-land, I always burn the popcorn, for what it’s worth.)

Suffice it to say, I’ve been gone a LOT for a year or so.  Sometimes for two whole months.  At one point, I couldn’t remember what grade my son was in.  At another, I found out that my daughter had started Driver’s Ed.  Who wrote that check? Who signed that permission slip? The answer is:  my husband.  And it’s not like I wrote a book about a small tribe in Africa.  I wrote about writing.  I wrote about a hard time in our marriage.  I wrote about practicing what it is to live powerfully right there at your kitchen sink when the world tells you you’re a victim.  I wrote about lifelines– canning tomatoes with my children, digging carrots from my garden, picking huckleberries, learning how to breathe deeply…rather than exploding in pain and agony.  I wrote my way through this time to help myself and to help other people.  I went public with my deepest thoughts and emotions.  And even though it’s not really a book about marriage, let’s face it:  my husband was going through a major crisis of self, and I reported on what that looked like.  Not to expose him, or my children, but to expose me.  My book is about my journey– my committment to stop basing my happiness on things outside my control.  The publishing world, my marriage, all of it.  And somehow, the world wants to hear that message.  And somehow, my husband has the grace to know that our story is helping people, even though it’s no one’s first choice to be depicted in a time of personal crisis. 

When I am out of town, and even sometimes when I’m here and things are busy in this little room at the bottom of the stairs, here’s what that grace looks like:  he wakes up, gets down and dirty with tuna fish, mayo, deli meat…well you get the picture.  He signs the permission slips and writes the checks and drives the kids to school and has those conversations and picks them up and escorts them around to their after school activities.  He has those conversations with other parents in the parking lots and sidelines.  And on top of that, he works.  His work day is compacted because of it, like mine used to be.  And when I return from my travels, I can see it.  They are in a rhythm.  And it works.  I am not part of that rhythm.  I am so grateful for what he is doing in my absence and in honor of my dream come true.  He is the reason I can publicly be my book’s messenger. 

I will admit here that it’s also a haunting experience, re-entering my house and my family life and seeing how it has worked without me in it.  It’s like I’ve died and I’m looking from the afterlife into this farmhouse in Montana.  Wow, look at that– the windows got washed. The windows haven’t been washed in ten years! Gosh that’s a big pile of laundry. Has anybody fed the dogs? I’m not at all comfortable with my son going to that kid’s slumber party.  But these are not my calls to make when I am on the road.  I have to let go.  I am not home.  You relinquish a certain level of your parenthood when you travel for business or if you work late hours.  It’s like the opposite of sending your kid off to college.  YOU are in college, as it were.

I tell you all this because it matters to me that you know, if you too have suddenly catapulted out of your daily regime as a parent and are feeling…well, a little scared of what that means to your kids and spouse.  A little guilty.  A little overcome by the new rhythms of family.  I tell you this because I have compared notes now with plenty of working mothers and fathers whose work brings them far from home.  And I’m here to say that, as long as it’s not constant, as long as there is balance and regularity and a system in place that works…you are setting a GOOD example for your children.  You can have your parenthood and your job.  You can have your dreams come true in your field of work and still be a good parent.  If it happens quite suddenly…it can be a shock at first–for everyone in your family.  And there are conversations that need to happen.  There may well be abandonment issues that need to be worked out with a therapist.  I check in with my kids about this regularly.  I want them to know that I am not choosing my work over them.  But rather that work is part of life.  Knowing them, they will work hard too, and hopefully it will be doing something they love and hopefully the world will receive them into it and hold them up to their best selves.  That’s what I’m trying to do with my life.  Be my best self.  Which means that sometimes, I have to leave my family and hit the road. 

So to my family, thank you.  Thank you thank you thank you.  And yep– your mother’s back.  Brush your teeth.  Don’t slouch.  Take off your hat at the dinner table.  And no, you can’t go to that kid’s slumber party.  And to my husband, thank you for marrying me as the woman I am, and not only the mother that I am.  But p.s. I don’t do windows. Way to raise the bar! I love you.

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For Mother’s Day

For all the mothers out there, this is for you, but especially for mine.

From my Huffington Post blog

My mother always says, “Once a mother, always a mother.”

Growing up, I never really liked the sound of that.   I thought it was sort of Bates Motel.  What would I want with a mother breathing down my neck when I was an adult?  Telling me what she thought about my hair or my outfit.  Giving me unsolicited advice about my relationships or my scruples or my religious orientation or my politics.  Staying up until I got home at night and yawning the next day from worry and lack of sleep.  It sounded like trouble.  Wasn’t adulthood all about freedom, after all?

Her own mother used to take me aside and say, at age ninety, “I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.”  I’d stare at her in total confusion.  How was it possible for someone to worry about my mother?  She was the one who did the worrying in the family.  We were used to it.  Having someone trumping her worry felt…awkward.  Sort of pornographic or something.  I didn’t like to think of my mother as naked as that.  Vulnerable.  Human.  I didn’t like to think about her as anyone’s little girl.

What I didn’t realize was that my mother’s worry made me feel safe.  It gave me the confidence to be thankless for having a doting mother in the first place.  It allowed me to be reckless with that relationship.  I had a friend whose mother didn’t seem to worry too much about her and I loved the way it looked from the outside.  She got to have unchaperoned girl/boy parties.  She got a car when she was sixteen.  She got left alone.  I wanted to be left alone, not dragged to church and made to be a lay reader.  The mothers of lay readers were dorks.  I was so not a dork.

“I’m praying for you,” I’d hear over and over through the years.  Those words stung.  They felt condescending.  Like I was some fallen angel who needed help with her wings and my mother was some sort of mystical seamstress.  I could sew my own wings thankyouverymuch.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say all through my childhood and into my adulthood.  I’d roll my eyes, but still, I’d call.  Whether or not I’d admit it, it felt nice to have someone keeping track.  Especially as my wings expanded more and more and took me farther and farther away.  Secretly, I liked knowing there was someone out there paying attention.  But there came a time when I stopped calling my mother when I “got there,” wherever there was.  It seemed juvenile.  Co-dependent.  Not that much different from when I’d stopped telling her that I’d had a bowel movement.  I remember that exact second as I got ready to scream it across the house in my usual fashion.  Why did she have to know this piece of information?  Gross.  I knew my way around prune juice should I need it.  That was my business.  Just like arriving safely from a trip.  She didn’t need to know my every “move.”

You can see where this is going, can’t you.  Yep, you guessed it.  Now…I’m a mother.  And now I’m praying for my children.  And now I worry about their regularity and whether they got “there” safely.  And now I need a mother worrying about me worrying about my children.  Because the truth is…no one cares about you quite like your mother.  I’ve spent the last few years traveling for business and I never know exactly where I am when I wake up.  But my mother does.  “I’ve been following you on Facebook,” she’ll say.  “I’m sorry about the pillows at the hotel in Pittsburgh.”  Which is her way of saying, Could you please send me your itinerary.  I worry.  But still, until recently, I resisted.  I resisted my way all through canceled airplanes and seven hour layovers, ten events in twelve days and 4:00 wake up calls and so many strangers and so few hours with my husband and children…until I just wanted to break a little.  Come apart and cry and rest my head on an understanding lap.  But I’m a grown up.  Grown ups don’t cry because they’re tired and miss their pillow.  Grown ups have big important work to do on airplanes with laptops and Blackberries and printed out Mapquest directions and self-important roller-bags.  They don’t need their mommies.

“I was on the phone with the airlines all day yesterday tracking your flights.  I can’t believe they re-routed you to Detroit.  Thank God you weren’t in the tornadoes.  I wish you’d send me your itinerary so I could know your exact flight information.” 

You hedge.  This is not her burden to bear.  You are a grown up, damnit.

“You must be exhausted, darling.”  And deep, old tears well up.  You are exhausted.  And you think:  are my husband and children tracking my air travel debacles?  And you say, “Actually, I’d love to send you my itinerary, Mom.  Thanks for keeping track.  It means a lot.”

You’ll admit it here:  it feels good knowing that someone is praying for you.  It feels good that wherever you are, there is a person paying attention.  Braving 800 numbers.  Making it their job to know that you “got there safely,” even if they stay up late and yawn all the next day.  You’ll be the same way with your children, even when they’re adults and have kids of their own.  Because you know now for sure:  once a mother, always a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Thank you for caring.

From my Huffington Post blog

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Spring-blind

2007-03-06_snow-goose-4

Today is Easter and I am officially on vacation after what has been a wonderful two plus weeks on the road.  Thanks to all of you who came to my readings.  I met some truly phenomenal people.  As I sat here in Florida watching the Atlantic ocean this morning at dawn, flocks of pelicans flew overhead and I remembered this essay I wrote years ago.  I love it and in the spirit of renewal and all that is Easter, I’d like to share it with you here.  I hope you are having a nice day wherever you are.  yrs. Laura

Spring-blind by Laura Munson

I have not noticed spring like this before. Perhaps this owes to the fact that this spring has been a long one—two years, more or less.

It began with the Snow Geese migration last April which I drove five hundred miles round trip in one day to see, over the Rocky Mountains (and back), to a place called Freezeout Lake. I missed the geese by a week, but discovered Avocets and Northern Shovelers instead. I did see one Snow Goose. It was dead in a field. I wanted to spread out its wings and sleep by it like Terry Tempest Williams. But I was scared to touch it. So I touched it. It was soft and warmish. I wanted to pluck a feather. So I did. Three of them. I felt each one down my spine. I had never plucked a feather before.

Then, within days, there were birds in the morning, waking me with their nesting frenzy. Flocks of Robins feeding in the fields, Red-winged Blackbirds assuming their bossy haunt of the marsh. And the rest came: the Bluebirds, Western Tanangers, the Sandhill Cranes. And there was a time when spring was just spring with the promise of summer as I have known it. And there were times when I knelt in the soft earth to smell the sweetness and give thanks, but maybe, too, as a bargain.
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Then, summer, as we have known it, did not come. Smoke came. And spring moved through a summer of forest fires and we did not see one bird for all the smoke. We needed the birds—how else could we believe in summer? And then the terrorist attack came, and we missed the migration for all the smoke and television. And we needed the migration. More than we ever have. We needed to watch them go. And to believe that we were worth returning to.

It was then that I started stealing things. Hoarding them. Cramming them greedily in my pockets and stock-piling them on my desk: heart shaped rocks, bones, pine cones. Hoping mostly for a nest.

Spring moved then, through the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, of my mind, slowly groaning under the snow heaves in the meadow and tossing and turning below the frozen ice of the pond, while its time-twin sunned on rocks in Costa Rica, and I was left with tiny questions presented by wet mittens holding empty nests: “Will the birds need this again? Do I have to put it back?”

“Yes. You should put it back,” I told my little girl, in the voice of the god I had been hearing as I pulled things through the snow and shoved them into my pockets. And we did. We put it back where she found it, in the low branches of an alder. I knew well that the bird which made this nest would not use it twice; I made her put it back so I could keep my three feathers. My heart shaped rocks. My shells and horseshoe crab skeletons and bones, all in a jumbled cairn on my desk, hoarded. Proof.

I went to Florida somewhere during this long spring. I did not see a Roseate Spoonbill; I did not know what they were then. But I found a pink feather on the beach on Marco Island and if you ask me how my trip to Florida was, I will tell you this story, and another one that had to do with a starfish I found on the beach and took even though it was still alive, then returned; then took again and kept. The nest in the alder branches is carrying more and more weight the longer this spring goes.

If you are my daughter, I will admit to you that I took a starfish that was still alive.

“You should not have taken that starfish,” my daughter said.
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I returned to Freezeout Lake this second April in spring to see the Snow Geese. Earlier this time. I crossed the Rocky Mountains, and drove through the bleak everlasting white that drove the pioneer women white-blind and is what was left to the Blackfoot Indians if you don’t count liquor stores and casinos. I drove past an historical marker, blowing horizontal in the wind. I stopped my car on the side of the road and waited for the wind to lay down its tale for a minute. When it did, I blushed. This is where Meriweather Lewis was shot by Blackfoot Indians who were insane with pride and fear and this is where Lewis and Clark turned around and traveled another thousand or so miles south until they found their mountain crossing and even then they were not at the Pacific Ocean and it would be months and months before they ever found what they were looking for and you just drove it in a few hours, you silly stealer-of-starfish birdwatching non-goose—or something to that tune; I wasn’t sure—the wind swooped it up again before I could read it all. Still I eyed the pass I had just negotiated in my SUV not forty miles behind me, and blushed.

I saw the Tundra Swans first, their white-silver necks pumping them forward like my daughter’s skinny legs on her swing. There are Mourning Doves in their song. Then all 300,000 Snow Geese came up at once and it roared; I felt it in my spine. A professor from the University of Montana told me they were going to the barley fields to feed on the spent grain for their nightly meal. The Northern Pintail Ducks followed them, so secondary in their brownness. I looked down and there was a dead Snow Goose with its breast sliced open, its feathers bloody, a ruby organ lying next to it in the sand. I looked up at the professor. “We gave it an autopsy this morning,” he said. “We checked the liver for Airborne Cholera. It didn’t have it. Sometimes they just die.”

All I could think to say was a tiny wet-mittened, “Do they fall out of the sky when they die?” which was code for, I took three feathers.

He smiled, sadly. “Sometimes.”

I went to the grain fields and they were white and roaring and there were farmer’s children with their noses pressed against picture windows with whirligigs and bird feeders on their front lawns. Then I drove back over the Rocky Mountains in time for a late dinner.
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I have a bowl made out of a dried, halved and hulled-out, grapefruit. It sits on my desk with the pink feather in it, the three white feathers, and the starfish, atop the cairn of shells, heart-shaped rocks, bones. I look at it and think about Airborne Cholera and non-brown birds falling from the sky after thousand mile migrations and mountain crossings and white-blindness. And I think about how starfish grow their points back if one breaks off. I need this bowl, at least until spring can turn to summer.

We put a bird feeder up in January even though the man at the store told us the winter birds would not trust us this late in the season; we’d have to wait until spring.

“Oh the birds will come,” said my daughter. “They’re hungry.”

But I did not trust. I missed the migration, after all.

She was right. In the first hour after we hung it from the eaves on the back porch, we had Mountain Chickadees and Black-capped Chickadees. And we learned that there is a difference in the world of Chickadees and it is this: a stripe through the eye. Then we had a Red-polled Finch with a broken foot. At first we thought it had a bloody head but then we saw that it was just its marking. It kept falling asleep under the feeder and tipping to one side when the snowy wind blew. We kept trying to catch it while it was sleeping; I’m not sure that we knew what were going to do with it. We just wanted to touch it. Save it somehow. Love it for trusting us and believing in spring in January. After three or four times, it flew away and stayed away; it didn’t trust us anymore. Would you?

Then we had Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Lincoln’s Sparrows and then the snow melted and we had Red-winged Blackbirds who are utterly obnoxious but I love them in the cattails so much that I cry when they come back. There has been a lot of crying this spring. Frogs make us cry, especially.
One morning, we saw two Evening Grosbeaks. They looked like parrots– accidentals. We have had Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers, Starlings and Juncos, Camp Robbers and Flickers, and once a Mourning Dove. And even when we stand at the window, not three feet away from the feeder, and stare through binoculars, we still can’t really see the yellow stripe in the Pine Sisken’s wing and tail. We only know it is there, like we only know it has been spring all along.
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When the Mountain Blue-bird came back to his house in the meadow, we said, “Hello, Friend.” That is his name, according to my daughter. Then we went to the pond and there was still ice in the middle, but we saw a male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye and a male and female Hooded Merganser and we couldn’t believe we could have such birds in our measly little pond that dries to cracked mud by August even without smoke. And there was a couple of Mallards and we could believe them, because there is always a couple of Mallards. The male Goldeneye was making quite a show with its purple head and its alabaster markings and its ability to dive down and then bob up like some kind of machine bird. The female seemed brown and unimpressed. It occurred to me that she might like to see my pink feather or maybe my long white Snow Goose feathers, or even my starfish. She looked at me and said,

“You should put it all back, if you want summer.”

I answered her, “Maybe I do not want summer.”

That is when my daughter said, “I once saw two ants shaking hands. Come on. I’ll show you.” And we went to her anthill that I had mistaken for a stump all this time, and we peered down into it and held our breath over its roaring vertical migration. I watched two ants carry a twig to the top, politely going around the other ants who were on their way back down over the millions of fir and larch needles. And when they got to the top, they gently laid down the twig, then mounted it like a balance beam, came into each other, met at the middle, stopped…and then they shook hands. “See,” said my daughter.

“Yes. I do see,” I said.

So we went to the alder tree in the marsh where we had replaced the nest in January. To visit it. To see if it was still a tightly woven vessel. To see if a bird had claimed it. (I was not so sure about the ways of birds now.) And we saw instead, that it was gone. Now there was nothing to hold the weight of my bowl. And I knew that our long spring would be over soon. And we turned back for home.

And we came across a pile of fur leftover from a kill.

“Oh that’s sad,” said my daughter.

I looked to see what the animal had been. Something softer and smaller than a deer. Larger than a coyote. Something that was very white in places and very brown in other places. Something capable of carrying much weight.

“I’ll bet that fur will help the birds with their nests,” said my daughter.
Then we heard the three part pierce of the Varied Thrush but again, did not see it—we never see it. But we knew it was there, like we have known it is spring.
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Then later, by moonlight, I walked out to the marsh where the alder trees are, holding my brimming grapefruit bowl. I woke the frogs and they all warned each other of me with beautiful music. I stood with my bowl in my hands, and I lifted it up until the moon poured itself over my feathers and my starfish, casting them in its blue glow. Then I leaned over and put my bowl in the branches of the alder and went home to receive summer.
***
It came in April when I took my daughter to Freezeout Lake to see the Snow Geese on her birthday. I took her, not because she needed to believe, but because I needed to. At dawn, we stood out on a peninsula and watched them lift, rising to feed—300,000 fold.

No terrorists, no war, no loss or fear of hope can take away belief such as that. Each April, the Snow Geese become our permission.

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Snow Fool


Last week, my husband and my kids were taking a hot tub. I was in Florida doing some readings, and my daughter sent me this photo. I honestly cannot begin to understand how this image is a piece of prestidigitation. This is my son’s face. Pressed into the snow. EXACTLY his face. Perhaps it is so correct given his hot and sweaty skin from the tub. But how is it possible that it looks as if it is in relief? As if he is from the other side, pressing his face against the surface of the snow, skyward? Sometimes, I swear that kid is magic. This morning, I was worrying about the ice on our fairly vertical driveway descent. He was in the back seat. I uttered not one word, and he said, “Don’t worry, Mom.” I didn’t even confront the fact that he’d read my mind because he does it all the time. Is it because we share the same life and his thoughts leapfrog the same events and emotions that mine do? Is it because he knows me? I can tell you that plenty of people know me, but no one consistently says outloud what I’m thinking. Sometimes he’ll actually answer questions I’m thinking but haven’t yet spoken. It’s gotten to a point where I don’t even acknowledge that he’s done it in the first place. I just continue the dialogue as if it’s been verbal all along.

I used to be a cynic about stuff like this. And lately, I find myself open in ways I never have been. What is the purpose of cynicism? Does it keep us from being called a fool? I guess I don’t care about being called a fool anymore. I am a fool. I want to be a fool. Bring it on. I want to see faces in the snow. I want to hear a robin in the too-early late winter and think I’ve been chosen. I want to enter into the language of unspoken words. I want to see shooting stars and think that wishes come true. I want to believe, not doubt. I want to say yes. Here’s what Mary Oliver has to say about it:

Morning Poem
Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver

© Mary Oliver

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Gratitude on Ice: A Montana Lesson (ode to a crampon)

I’m going to bullet-point the last hour of my life, just for shits and giggles. Mostly the former.

• 10:00 Depart house to drive teenaged daughter to bus for state-wide speaking competition. Discuss adrenaline and how you can utilize it when on stage.

• 10:02 Experience how adrenaline can help you if your truck doesn’t want to go right when encountering Zamboni-ready vertical driveway, decides to continue toward cliff, inspires you to consider yelling, “Bail!”

• 10:03 Experience gratitude for icy snow bank.

• 10:05 Console freaking-out daughter who doesn’t want to miss bus, never mind what almost just happened to truck, mother, and said teen.

• 10:06 Call neighbor and beg for ride to town. Begin descent.

• 10:06-10:16 Slide, fall, slide, fall. Decide to take the rest on ass. Hope truck won’t disengage with snow bank and careen down on top of you. Slide to side of driveway. Try to walk in snow bank where there’s traction. Punch through snow and almost knock knee cap off. Go back to ice on ass. Slide. Yell at dogs who think it’s a game. Try to stand up. Fall. Yell at daughter who is yelling “hurry up!” as you’re sitting on ice, crying like a baby. (Daughter has somehow navigated the whole thing in Converse sneakers with a roller bag behind her, all whilst on cell phone.) Rue the fact that you failed to put crampons on your boots.

• 10:16 Arrive at base camp and flat terrain. Decide to pick up pace past .01 miles per hour.

• 10:17 Fall and hurt wrist. Daughter yells, “Hurry up! We’re gonna miss the bus!” (She’s usually a peach, I swear.)

• 10:20 Neighbors within view.

• 10:21 Wave at them and fall. Hurt other wrist. Cry. Get yelled at again.

• 10:22 Scramble to get to neighbor’s van so to give daughter kiss and hug, look her in the eye and say, “You’re going to do great. Just remember, people want you to do well. They’re on your side.” And hear in return, “I know. You’ve told me that about a thousand times.” Reveal soaking wet backside to neighbors. Get looks of pity.

• 10:22 Watch as they drive off on icy roads with your daughter. Cry some more because you will miss her and plus you’re scared for her life because she’ll be on a school bus navigating brutally icy roads for the next five hours. Pray the driver has been screened.

• 10:23 Sigh, let go, and realize that you are totally screwed. There’s no going back up that driveway. There’s no cutting up the ridge—the snow is too punchy and impossible. You’re going to have to walk to the end of the road—at least it’s flat, and hope that your neighbor’s road is better, and that there is hard packed snow up in the woods with decent deer trails to follow home.

• 10:24 Stop and soak up the sun, so rare this time of year. Try to find humor in all this. Wonder why you don’t have Triple A anymore. Berate yourself for being irresponsible.

• 10:27 Road gains altitude. Fall.

• 10:28 Call golden retriever. He comes. Grab his collar and say “Let’s go.” He gets behind you, as if he thinks you’re going to pull him. Curse the fact that you don’t have claws, never mind crampons.

• 10:30 Stop and realize: it might be a long time before you get home. Even though, as the crow flies, you’re only about a hundred yards away from it. Try to be open to the lesson. Ya gotta be honest—you’re not. Realize your back is tweaked and your butt is ice and your left knee is bruised.

• 10:30-10:40 Decide to take it step by step. Get five feet forward, lose traction, slide backward. You look like you are learning how to surf– hands way out in front of you– butt hanging way out behind you. You are glad you live in rural America.

• 10:40 A crow dive bombs and you see a very recent deer kill up ahead—right in the middle of your neighbor’s driveway. There are blood and guts everywhere. And iced paw prints like those ceramic hand prints you did as a kid in art class. They are feline. And big. You realize that this is a mountain lion kill. And now there’s that to think about. Funny though—seems like the least of your worries.

• 10:42 Slip and fall…on top of entrail pile. Now you’re too freaked out to cry. You call your dog who is even freaked out now. You hold on to his collar and get up and make for the snow bank which has flattened out in this section of road and looks like something you could safely navigate.

• 10:42 Take two steps and punch through up to your thigh and grab the wooden fence and feel a bolt of lightning go through you and realize you’ve just grabbed hot wire. “Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” you shout.

• 10:42-11:00 Step, slide, fall, punch your way home. In the woods, you are grateful for packed snow and deer trails and chickadees in the trees and the warm Chinook wind on your face and the sun in your eyes. When you jump across the ice on your front porch step, and your bloody hand wraps itself around the door knob, you want to kiss it you are so grateful to be home. Funny how that door knob will just be a door knob again in a few hours, or however long this gratitude lasts. For now, it’s the loveliest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

  • 11:01 Call tow truck with smile on face.

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Made You Laugh


My grandmother used to say that God has a sense of humor. And sometimes, I really think that’s true. Yesterday, I asked my kids to unload the groceries from the truck. Which they did. Good kids have I.

When I came out this morning, there was a frozen and partially smooshed, plastic-ensconced, English cucumber on the driveway. I was wondering where that cucumber went. Oh well, these things happen, right? Don’t cry over smooshed cucumber. It looked like the dogs played tug-o-war with it– at least it served some purpose, right?

Well, I was running late for a phone appointment in the house, and so rather than dealing with the cucumber, I tossed it on the hood of my truck so the dogs wouldn’t get into it. I went about my merry way which included a few more hours of writing, a few loads of laundry, a date with the dishwasher, shoveling the new snow off the path, and 40 miles of Montana road– which means 75 miles per hour at times in gusty winter winds and twisting highways.

And as I pulled into the driveway, kids picked up from school, dry cleaning hanging neatly in the passenger seat, guitar and piano lessons learned, and after-school snacks delivered…I looked at the hood of my truck, the very hood my eyes had looked over to navigate all that road…and lo…there was the trusty cucumber.

Now I sort of want to invite it in for tea or something. I have cucumber guilt, in fact, giving it the ride of its life like that in dog teeth and country road. So I thought I’d prove it the icon that it is. What absurdity made you laugh today?

and p.s. yes that’s a crack in my windshield, but that’s another story.

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Are Stay-at-Home Dads Macho?

This is the third in a five part series of discussions by Laura Munson and Tom Matlack of “The Good Men Project.”

Laura Munson:

Last year, my husband was suddenly unemployed, and after many years, I finally got a book published. I was working insane hours and touring the country on book promotion and he was making breakfast and bag lunches, driving kids from school, to music lessons, to sporting events. He gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that time in my life: He kept our family life normalized. Sure, the kids now got chips in their lunches, and he opted out of organic milk. But I saw what really mattered, and it wasn’t a potato chip or a pesticide here or there. It was security. It was the kind of love that men seem best at giving — at least my man. It didn’t mean there was a lot of “I love you when you sit in a dark room and type all day” or “You look sexy in those flannel pajamas that you’ve worn for two weeks.” It was a quiet knowing that he had a role to fill, and he did it powerfully. It was a perfect swap, but we both believed it was temporary. That was the unspoken operative word. Because if someone had told us when we were courting that I’d one day be the breadwinner, and my husband was going to be a stay-at-home dad, we would have balked. At 20-something I wanted to pursue my career and have him pursue his. I wanted to re-convene at the end of the day and share food and conversation and maybe snuggle on the couch while we watched a movie. In my 30s I wanted to have children and we did. Then I wanted to stay at home and be a mother and write books while my babies slept, and I wanted him to work, and be fulfilled — and then I wanted that end-of-the-day meal and that conversation and that snuggle. Life went like that and we felt lucky. But in our 40s, things changed for a while and we are better for it. I’m not sure I know what “macho” means. But if it has to do with power, then being given the space and time to fulfill my career dreams is one of the most powerful gifts I’ve been given.

 

Tom Matlack, stay-at-home dad:

Not only are stay-at-home dads macho, but all dads who show up for their kids are macho. You can’t be a dad and wall yourself off from your child. Perhaps that was the way in prior generations, but one of the greatest changes for men today is the opportunity we have to engage and learn about ourselves through our relationship with our kids.

I spent 18 months at home with my young children just after getting divorced. I only had the kids part time and I found it amazingly hard when they weren’t around — and amazingly rewarding when they were.

The feeling of holding a child, especially my own, in the crook of my neck is as close to God as I have ever been. When my life was completely falling apart around me — at least in part because I’d been working so hard that I had completely forgotten that I was a father — spending time with my kids reminded me what was important and gave me a purpose.

Machismo is about confidence, swagger and knowing what is important. Dirty Harry is macho, not only for what he does, but how and why he does it. He’s a badass on a mission to right the wrongs of the world. Dads, particularly stay-at-home dads, are the same way. They take care of their kids with a purpose. Mothers have something essential to give their children, but what dads have to offer is no less important. For those of us who have finally, fully internalized that fact, there is nothing in our lives more important than our children — and no one who is going to tell us otherwise. We will dive through brick walls — and endure being called “sissies” — to care for our kids in a way that makes up for time lost in prior generations.

Fifty years ago, women were trying to figure out how to get out of the home and into the workplace while still being good moms and wives. For men in 2011, our primary challenge is to figure out how to be at home with our kids while still holding down a job. To those guys who stay home to raise their kids: You are lucky, macho men. The dad at the playground or at the “Mommy and Me” playgroup doesn’t have to cower over in the corner. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

Laura Munson:

I totally agree. I live in a town where most of the fathers I know are able to show up at their kids’ sporting events and play performances and music recitals, and even school parties because of the close proximity to their workplace — if they have a work place. Here, many of the men are out of work, and their wives are the breadwinners. I also live in a town that is full of Montana “macho” men who strut their stuff all over the ski hill, and in the mountains, hunting, fishing, climbing — “getting after it,” as they say. I asked my son to define this “it.” He said, “It is doing what you love.” In this sense, being with your kids as much as possible is just that.

MATLACK:

I agree with you here. I agree macho means power, but power with intention for good. Macho men are heroic men, whether in Westerns or sports or at home. One of the biggest changes in the gender geography, as you describe so well and as we explored at length in The Good Men Project is the transformation of men as seeing fatherhood not as some kind of obligation in addition to their jobs but as the central role they fulfill on the planet—-one that can be done with machismo. The dad at the playground, or at the mommy and me playgroup, doesn’t have to cower over in the corner as some kind of freak. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

***

Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

How Important is physical appearance to long-term fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage — great sex or fighting fair?

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