Tag Archives: family

10 ways to support friends who are parents going through divorce

23 Nov

How do you activate your village in the middle of a divorce? I find it’s hard to put into words what I need while I’m grieving.

In one week, I moved out of our family home and into my own place and I opened a new bank account, while K got a new puppy, who is quite likely the new love of our daughter’s life.

Thankfully, I have a community of family and friends-who-are-family, who check-in with me regularly and field my crisis calls and S.O.S. texts with love, kindness, strength and clarity. Sometimes they even know what I need before I do.

So I thought: If I share some of how my village has shown up for me, and some of what I’ve asked them to do, will it resonate with someone else who’s struggling to activate their village? Maybe.

Here is what I wrote that week, which was first published on The Next Family and then today on page 4 of the Windy City Times. ❤



when you go out into the snow

10 Feb

My slippers wait for me by the couch, open, one foot away from adventure. We rely on one another, my slippers and I – they for movement and I for warmth.

Do they agree with where I’ve taken them today? We’ve been into the kitchen, back and forth from counter to sink, a mere hair’s breadth away from one another (a swivel really), and into the living room where they wait for me now by the ottoman, open.

Where will our next excursion take us? To the bedroom perhaps, or to the front door. Will they be content to remain at the threshold, still open, still waiting, while I don the boots and step out into the snow?

Slippers are not feeling things. But I am.

I am.

I like for you to take me with you when you go.


Those little bits

12 Mar

wpid-vzm.img_20150307_154638.jpgIn my twenties, all was effervescence and need and passion and instinct and there was never a safety net. Friendship or bust! We held our hands out, wiggling our fingers, and held on. For a Very.Long.Time.

New friendship is more challenging. More intentional.

* * * * *

I open my heart to the world these days in the safest place I know – a theater kid on the digital stage – but in real life? There’s an acronym for it now: IRL …

A wholly different terrain.

Starts and stops. Trusting. And not trusting, too.

* * * * *

I remember my friend C from high school. I remember her often. My first love. For months, I longed to see the journal she shared with her dearest friends. She bared herself on the page; I knew this instinctively. I wanted her to let me in. I remember the day she handed it to me, allowed me to hold its soft cover, to inhale its pages. I remember placing it in my backpack, terrified it might come to harm in my possession, placing it between my books, concealing it with clothes and papers, desperate to hold it close and surround it with softness, understanding she had handed me her heart.

* * * * *

A log tumbles off the pile. Sparks fly, contained in the fireplace, the place for fire. What happens when … the fire is too big? When the place where wood is meant to ignite and burn is too small?

* * * * *

We are sitting in my daughter’s cello lesson, her hair in two front braids, her feet in two purposely mismatched socks flat on the floor, and she is taking her teacher’s instruction, adjusting her hold on the bow – hard, but she’s staying with it, her teacher lately finding ways to bring her attention back to the present, the music, the lesson. I sit nearby, taking mental notes to remind her when she practices at home to hold the bow the way her teacher showed her on this wintry sunny day while the police cars clustered outside the window and she listened, turned her head away from the disruption, and played.

* * * * *

Dig deep. Fall hard. Breathe. Rest.

* * * * *

I remember arriving in London with my one-year-old, exploring our neighborhood, stocking up on groceries, unpacking the two suitcases we were living out of until the rest of our belongings – packed onto a ship – arrived. I remember the house alarm that greeted us when we let ourselves in the front door for the very first time — after a full day of travel, after landing in the country to stay for two years — the shock of it, the piercing volume, teetering between giddy hysteria and fury. How could we not know how to turn the darn thing OFF?

I remember the bookstore – Daunt Books – and the organic market with fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh flowers … I remember sometimes for an adventure, Miss E and I would leave the stroller home and walk the full three blocks to Budgens grocery store, kneeling to greet every flower along the way. It could take us a full two or three hours if we really lost ourselves in the moment. Usually, I brought a snack with us just in case.

I remember my cousin-in-law suggested I start a blog. I could barely string sentences together. My mind was a new-mom expat mess. I could not imagine putting myself on public display.

* * * * *

Dig deep. Fall hard. Breathe. Rest.

* * * * *

I remember the time (which came to an end yesterday) when my partner was gone for nearly a week. I remember my day job and puppy care and tween care and forgotten homework and adult company only in fits and starts and never in a calm after-bedtime-quiet kind of way.

* * * * *

Dig deep. Fall hard. Breathe. Rest.

* * * * *

Right now, I’m resting.

On ‘steps’ and love and family. On trust.

9 Jul

DSCF0445One day during our decadent family reunion last month, I wrote:

I am not oblivious to the absurdity of taking my alone-time here in the middle of paradise, the ocean visible from our balcony, the whole family – all who are here – lounging in and around the pool, my littlest buzzing around like the fish she is, my big ten-year-old with her four-year-old cousin in tow. I’m not oblivious to the absurdity of my staying inside while the breeze blows on our balcony, while gleeful screeches and giggles waft up from the pool, while drinks and meals are mixed at the swim-up bar, while cousins and in-laws and steps get to know each other just a little more in safe, playful, non-threatening ways.

I am not oblivious, but family is complicated and I’m feeling a bit at sea, absorbed in a novel I’ve just begun about someone else’s complicated family emerging from grief, and the truth is, in my everyday life, I have such very little time alone.

Dad popped in for a visit, ready for his day while I sat in my pajamas. We chatted for easily half an hour, one-on-one. I wouldn’t have had that down by the pool.

Earlier, making coffee, waiting for it to brew, I had the most lovely, relaxed conversation with our eldest – breezier than our day-by-day chats, often held late at night or wedged between meals and work. I wouldn’t have had that either, if I’d gone down to be with everyone.

So here I sit, pen in hand, coffee beside me, next to my water camera and smart phone, while most of the family plays in the water below. This is where I want to be.

Family is complicated.

We live in Chicago. They live on the West Coast. We’re there for weddings, but never for courtship. We miss a lot of things.

On holidays, I’m reminded how little we know one another, and I find myself each time searching aimlessly for a way in, wanting to go deep, failing, becoming disheartened, giving up over and over again but never completely – never all the way – wishing, hoping, worrying over whether or not we will bond. They are close to each other and open to us, to me, to my partner, to our girls, yet I am somehow never able to connect, never able to meet them anywhere near halfway.

This time, it feels different. We feel different with one another. Closer. I am taking that in.

Sometimes I want to say to them, my family: My mother was never your matriarch. Where your mothers and matriarchs have taught you that family is everything, sticks by one another, helps and loves and supports one another, always and no matter what, I have to say this is an idea introduced to me later in life – in my twenties – by you. And my biggest fear when our matriarch passed was that I would lose all of you. Every. One.

I want to claim you now.

By showing up, being present, making it so. By calling, writing, making memories here. These are the ways we bond. This is how we stick.

So please do not mistake my absence this morning for a lack of caring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But I need to rebuild inside myself. Stay quiet. Listen. Reflect.

I need to see you with fresh eyes from a place of security, of confidence, to approach you with ease, to accept what will or will not be, to make my desires known, to hear what you need or want, how you may like to play, to be present with you, to reach out and let go, knowing family always drifts back together, knocks up against each other again, forcing cracks and melding together in new places all the time because we are fused in the deep love our parents have for each other still, even now after one of them has gone.

As we lingered in the lobby on the last day, my brother Raúl said to me, “Roi, keep writing. I love reading your blog.”  So here I am, and here it is, for you, for all of you: My family, who I love. With all my heart.

How to Begin

26 Jun

DSCF0508How to begin parenting

when your child returns home

How to begin

How to begin writing

when your mind returns

after weeks of

… wandering off

How to begin

after stepping away

even for a day


How to begin

telling your story

when yours

is intertwined

with the stories of

those you love

and theirs

are purposely

not visible

to anyone but you

How to begin knowing

Begin to parent

where your writing

will take you

is taking you



How to begin responding

to that tug of passion

when you have so

carefully submerged


shall we say

pre-mom self

for so long


How to begin

and when you begin

How to reach back

for what you need

or trust

it will appear

beside you

Begin to trust

along the way.

Boat Flowers Drinks BorderPhotos from our Family Reunion in Cabo San Lucas

Settling the Dice

22 May

Dice PopperI have twenty minutes in the hot sun.

My kid’s in yoga and I’m the one sweating. That’s just how our lives fit together right now – her in class and me in the car. Waiting.

Writing. With pen and ink. Filling stolen bits of time with words. Making the most of the moment.

I ought to be at the store buying pretzels.

For her tutor.

I digress.

The truth is, I’m mired in too many moods today to make poetry. Or prose. Or sense.

Perhaps you know the feeling?

What’s more – most of these moods are not mine. My partner’s pre-menopausal. (She’s using the word now, so I can, too.) And our youngest flung herself headfirst into her tweens some time ago.

It’s a magical combo.

You know those big families who have trouble getting a photo where everyone’s smiling at the same time? That’s my house at dinnertime. Our dinner table seats four. Sometimes six. More often three, since Grace is home for awhile but working nights – serving other people dinner, dealing with other people’s moods.

We’re adjusting.

To the hormones.

To each other.

We’re learning the new normal. We’re discovering – when all the words and worries, flared tempers, diminishing hope, when all the small talk and back talk and cross talk and just talk is stripped away – what each of us really needs. We’re learning to take what we need. We’re learning how to ask each other questions, too. We’re learning.

Do you remember those childhood board games where the dice were inside a kind of dome that you had to push down until all the dice popped up with a loud clattering sound and as a kid, it was fun to pop the dice over and over again if for no other reason than to grate on your mom’s nerves? (Not that I would have done that, Mom.) That’s my house. That was my house earlier this week, all loud and popping.

Until the dice settled and we went on.

We went on with the game.

We waited for the dice to settle, and then we went on.

Learning new rules. Making new rules together.

For this new game.


Photo discovered here. 

Friday Night

4 Apr


Five minutes more,

I come to say. You

are already asleep.

*  *  *


His paw rises

across your chest, lazily hugging

you, purring softly.

*  *  *


Floor boards creak.

I listen closely. Only silence

follows. Still gone.

*  *  *


Late night lunes,

I write for my loving

family. Soft kisses.

*  *  *

National Poetry Writing Month 

30 poems in 30 days

Christmas Presence

20 Dec

Christmas Presence 2013My role for years, as the only kid in my family, was to believe. To believe in magic. To believe in love. To believe in the sanctity of our home. To make us a family. To be gleeful. To be sure my eyes lit up so brightly on Christmas morning that my Mom across the room would be caught in my eye-light’s high beam. My light made her smile. Still does, I think. Not sure.

But one year, after Mom returned to the hospital at the end of a one-day pass, I yanked down the tinsel garland draped over all the doorways in our house. I collected the shiny Santas and the snowman clutter from the tabletops and the top of our piano, and I shoved them all back into their boxes. I called an end to Christmas before the day was done. I was finished with the sham.

My dad stood stunned, stung, flabbergasted. I held my fists in balls and dared him to stop me. He would not. He knew I needed this. But through his eyes, I saw my own fury, and allowed it to ebb, ever so slightly – or maybe it was his open mouth that called me back. I did not right then, right there un-decorate the tree. For both our sakes, I left it to twinkle a few more days. Somebody (or something), after all, needed to supply light if I was done. I may have known that much.

What I didn’t know yet was that I had closed down my Christmas spirit for years to come. Maybe his, too. What I didn’t realize when I left that small tree to glow in my place was that Christmas is what we make it, what I make it, how I make it. This, it is taking me years to grasp.

How I make it — and I need to remind myself this every year, every hour, every minute of every hour every year when Christmastime comes around — is with presence. Not presents, but presence.

It’s the care I put into selecting or creating each gift. It’s the preparation of food on Christmas Eve. It’s the brewing of coffee on Christmas morning. It’s carols. It’s candles. It’s cards written to people I love. It’s the scent of evergreen.

It’s children – yes – and pets, too. It’s recognizing the magic in people I love – or in people I don’t yet know. It’s the neighbor who leaves just what I need on my doorstep (cookies, a snow shovel, the scarf I left at her house the other day). It’s someone’s hand in mine. It’s locking eyes with my Honey or my girls for a moment between photos.

It’s what I make it, how I make it, who I make it with.

It’s the last-minute text message from a close friend inviting me clothes shopping one week before Christmas – clothes shopping for ourselves. It’s dinner out with another dear friend – sushi, back home for beer and bourbon, TV, conversation – up the next morning, hanging out in my PJs with this same friend, coffee in our steaming mugs, everyone’s hair a mess.

I remind myself daily – more than daily now – to open my Christmas presence. Simply open myself. To what is magical. To what is fresh. To what is.

And I remind myself to share the light. However crookedly it sits on our darling tree.

Crooked Christmas StarMerry Christmas.

From our house to yours.

With love,


I Cherish Clue

25 Oct


transitive verb \ˈcher-ish, ˈche-rish\

: to feel or show great love for (someone or something)
: to remember or hold (an idea, belief, etc.) in a deeply felt way

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Green GogoI cherish the day my nine year-old daughter first flashed me her famous grin when I came to pick her up and announced, “I did my homework already, Mom,” with a bounce in her step. It brought a bounce to my step, too, so that both of us bounced to the car with the evening stretched out like summer in front of us.

I cherish, too, the night I left a biography of Barack Obama in the backseat and she hardly spoke except to say, “Thanks!” She read voraciously in the car and didn’t turn on a screen until we’d been home twenty minutes or more.

Slowly, we will bring our reader back, despite the lure of the bright lights, clicks and beeps – slowly, we will rein in the time she spends on her new device, and build up her stamina again for the printed page.

Growing up, of course, I had only TV to lure me with its’ bright light magnetism, so this is a whole new world of technology, with rules she and her mama and I have yet to learn. Or set.

In my twenties, I didn’t even own a TV. I planned to change the world; I was hardly ever home; I was always at meetings or protests or speak-outs or actions. I didn’t have time (or cash) for TV.

I now have a giant TV in my living room where my family spends plenty of time, but lately, we also like to play Clue. In our house, Mr. Green is a Gogo and when homework is done and the dishes are washed and the evening still stretches in front of us, we spend our time guessing, gaming, giggling, eating cake or snacks or not, and occasionally telling stories about our day.

I cherish this. What do you cherish these days?

Green Gogo w Friends



26 Apr

Johnny RottenIt’s because I wrote about pen and paper last week, isn’t it? … that today I am starting right here on the screen. Just writing. Whatever it is that comes to mind. Untangling . . .

Like this cat. I want to be this cat.

Today, I am the cat.

Cats don’t premeditate. Cats don’t plan. Cats pounce. Cats hunt. Cats eat and drink and cover their business with a whole lot of sand. Or not. Cats lay in the sunniest spot, licking their fur. Each moment is new. Immediate. Definitive. Hungry? Thirsty? Playful? Bam.

I had a director once who gave me what she called “one freebie” during the run of each show. She gave me a freebie so when I had an off-night, missing cues or failing to connect with my fellow actors once or twice or many times, I wouldn’t spiral through the next few nights wallowing, pondering, willing myself to go back through each choice until I’d fixed it in my mind – as I am prone to do – but rather, I’d shrug it off and say, “Well, there’s my one.” And move on.

I’m prone to ponder. That’s the truth. Why? Too many . . .


Date night or blogging?

Alone or together?

Chocolate or licorice? (Read our LTYM Chicago spotlight posts to learn who chose which.)

Sleep or watch TV?

Comma or semicolon?

Boys or girls?

Install drain tile in the basement, or wait-and-see ’til it rains again?

Domestic or international?

Chocolate espresso beans, or spicy salty pretzel mix?

Pick-up or let it ring?

The chicken or the egg?

Ice cold white wine or mellow red?

Wash first, or wear it straight from the rack?

Ice cream or cake?

Pink or black?

Left or right?

Plastic or paper?

Walk or drive?

Hands on the podium, hands by my side, hands on my hips, or arms outstretched?

Every day, every nano-second, something new to decide.

But not today!

Today, I am the cat, batting dust particles around in this one shard of sunlight.

Unhurried. Immediate. Instinctive.

Slowly closing my eyes. Opening them again.

This is the life. My cat life. Mine.

It is delicious.

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