Posts in Essays
On Choice

Ever had a miscarriage? Imagine being investigated during that time. Imagine, after already going through hell, being interrogated about what happened or what’s happening as it’s happening.

If you think, “Oh yes, that would be awful, but they’d know I didn’t intend it on purpose because I wanted the baby so badly,” you’d better hope and pray that you didn’t go for a run or carry your two-year-old up a flight of stairs before you started miscarrying, because maybe these activities would be considered as purposefully inducing a miscarriage. There are women who’ve been investigated in different states across our country, some of whom are in jail right now, for actions like this.

If you don’t think that laws can be used against you like this, that’s because it just hasn’t happened to you, likely because you have privilege enough that it may never. I’m like you, so far, anyways, in this regard. But laws have been used to criminalize what women go through when pregnant or losing a pregnancy for quite a while now. This happens today, even without the atrocious laws that are currently in the news in place, (which also means if this is just reaching you now, that’s because you’ve just been privileged enough not to have it affect you yet).

I know a woman who is anti-choice who had a D&C when she was five months pregnant because her baby died in utero. Laws like the ones in the news that are being passed in certain states may affect her if that should happen again. Should she live in a certain state, she will be investigated; her doctor will not be able to perform the D&C until talking with police. She could die while waiting for that to be sorted. (If you think, “Well, she won’t die during that time,” then you just haven’t had a medically scary miscarriage or pregnancy. Because time matters in any medical situation and she can most definitely die). If you’ve had a D&C and you’re anti-choice, you’d better know that your beliefs are in conflict currently. You’re not special and you don’t get to decide when the police get to investigate you if the laws are on the books. An investigation can lead to jail time really quickly, especially if you can’t post bail.

I know a couple who is vehemently anti-choice who had their babies using IVF. They claim their Catholicism forces them to take a stand on abortion, though Catholicism has been wrong on lots in the past (and in the present) and wouldn’t that same Catholicism prevent their babies from being here at all since it was IVF that helped them get here? Their beliefs are in conflict, but they’ve doubled down on their anti-choice stance. I don’t think they’ve considered, however: If embryos are given full legal status as fully born alive humans, what about all of the embryos being stored in IVF offices across the country? If you’re anti-choice and have stored embryos that you’re not sure what to do with (or that you’ve destroyed or donated to science), you’re in major conflict. And you, too, could be punished should these laws take effect.

I’m asking that if you’re anti-choice, you think about it. About what your preconceived notions are that have led you here. About what you do and don’t understand about women’s bodies, about science, about your own body, about medical decisions affecting women, about situations you may have never experienced, about situations you may never have to experience, about some time when you’ve needed medical care for something and how it would feel if you didn’t get to choose, about how confusing the choices can be because life is confusing.

The fact remains: If you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have one. I carried two fetuses that my doctors told me were going to die just so I could see if my body could do its thing on its own, without intervention, because I’m so afraid of procedures. But, if ever my life had been in imminent danger, you’d better believe that I would have arrived to that D&C on time and with bells on. Luckily, I was able to make that choice with my doctor, and without any other legal concerns to think about.

Lastly, if you can’t develop empathy enough to understand that you shouldn’t get to decide what choices women need to have, I don’t know what to say other than there are thousands of kids across the United States alone that end up homeless or in jail every year when they age out of our foster care system. Many of them have had trauma far beyond what any child should ever experience and the fact that their future is as frustratingly bleak as their past is unconscionable. I don’t know if I should ask you to help them because they need major empathy and I’m not sure you’ve got that to give, but you should do something. Support them. Give them a job. Pay for their education. Pay for their medical bills. If you’re going to claim you care so much about human life that you want to affect a women’s right to her own life, then care about all of the fully living humans we have here together with us on this planet who have nothing and who need everything.

Here’s a website where you can search some of the foster care children who are in need of homes. Maybe you can start there somehow and leave women alone:

There are also foster care homes across the country that operate similarly to orphanages of the past. They call them homes because it sounds better, but there are no major differences in what you’d see in an orphanage. See what you can donate. Experience life other than what you’ve known firsthand. It’ll open your mind in infinite ways.

National School Walkout

Are you unsure of whether to have your kids participate in the #NationalSchoolWalkout today?

Do you send them to school everyday? If you do, they regularly have active shooter drills as it is. If you think they don’t know what they’re doing because you asked them once and they didn’t seem to know, ask them again. Kids know all the things if you really ask, listen, and let their answer go on.

We haven’t talked a whole bunch about all of it - the school shootings, the walkout, the lockdown drills, etc. - but the first thing my son showed me when we went into his classroom for Open House was where they hide for lockdown drills and how his classroom was better than his sister’s because it has a little quadrant that’s protected from sight from the doorway. He’s never ever mentioned that before and I thought he didn’t really know what was up honestly. He felt bad for his sister (who also knew enough to feel bad for herself), but also like he beat her because everything’s a competition for them and he won the classroom that he believes he’d be least likely to die in. They know.

I’ve heard parents explain their concern about the walkout today: Does their kid really get it? Should they push their views on their kid? Shouldn’t we just be kinder to each other and then shootings wouldn’t happen?

Well, kids don’t get lots of things, like why it’s gross to pick their noses, but that doesn’t mean I don’t tell them to stop picking their noses. I push my views on my kids because I pushed them out of my vagina myself, which makes me the deciding vote for lots of things for them.

Our children are being raised in our Irish (and a tiny bit German) Catholic family, which means all sorts of things like we make our First Communions (even though we don’t agree with everything the Church thinks) and we go to wakes and funerals (even if we didn’t really know the person who died) for the people we love who are still living and grieving. They get an opinion, they get a vote and a voice, and sometimes my vote and voice overrides theirs. Honestly, I don’t have to pull the override card often, though, because most times I explain it and they get it. And sometimes, when the universe has my back, they explain it to each other and I sit back and think, “Carry on raising yourselves. You’re good.”

As for whether our kids should be kinder towards one another, of course they should. Always. But kindness is no match for terrible gun violence prevention legislation.

You think other countries don’t have kids who feel bullied and ostracized? They do. You think other countries don’t have kids who play violent video games? They do, too. You think other countries don’t have people with mental illness? They do.

We have the same kinds of people in the same situations across First World countries, but only we in America have gun deaths at the level we do. Why? Because guns and because of our easy access to them thanks to the NRA that continually fights the most common sense, non-partisan gun legislation.

Why do they fight that? Because money.

I’ll stop now, but not before I say: If you haven’t educated yourself on the statistics, you don’t get to say what you think the problem is. Facts exist that point to the problem being our access to guns in America. Your opinion is not more important than the facts.

As for the kids, they’re always all right if we are. If we want to scare them or put our anxieties and concerns on them, we can do it without even saying it. Have you ever been in a bad mood, but not mentioned a thing and you’re still going through the motions at your house? Watch how your kids react. It’s a total shitshow. Without saying a word, you can create a whole atmosphere: Mothering (and Fathering) is the most powerful, I do believe.

Let’s give our kids a chance. Let’s let them learn. Let’s teach them, and let them teach us. Let’s give them some credit, for goodness’ sakes. We can’t expect them to become the kind, thoughtful, articulate people we want for them to be - who stand up to bullies - unless we give them opportunities all throughout their childhoods to practice that. They learn the same way we do: by doing. Nothing happens in an instant; we develop. They develop, too.

We get what we put into the world. Give it the best you’ve got.

See you on the pavement. And teachers, thanks for always standing up for our kids and for speaking truth to power. We honor your commitment to our kids everyday, today included.

EssaysAnne FlavinComment
Happy P.O.'d Monday, Mamas!

***THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY. BUT, IF YOU DON'T LIKE SARCASM, DON'T READ IT: YOU WON'T FIND IT FUNNY. SARCASM IS MEAN TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T SPEAK SARCASM. WE SPEAK SARCASM AS A FLUENT SECOND LANGUAGE IN OUR HOME AND SO IT WAS/IS FUNNY TO US. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.*** I was texting with some girlfriends today and from our meticulous data and specially-special research collection, we do believe that this Monday has most mothers - particularly those of young children - feeling, maybe, a little P.O.'d - to put it kindly.

If you relaxed yesterday, then whatever work you normally do on a day, but didn't yesterday because you were going to take the day off, was waiting for you bright and early this morning. No real rest for the weary, you know. If the work is just waiting for you when you come back, does that really count as a rest day then? Remember "No Homework Coupons?" When you could hand that in instead of your completed homework? You never, ever had to finish the homework if you had one of those suckers. Those were the days.

But those are no longer the days. Shit doesn't get done if you don't do it. Or ask for it to get done no less than 5,678 times.

I have a husband who is like a lot of other loving husbands in that he loves his wife very much, but that love does not translate well into actions we might have wished for, OR BLATANTLY TOLD THEM we'd like. They get confused by us, I guess.

So, that brings us to today, The Day After Mother's Day or, as our research has pointed to - P.O.'d Monday - where we look around and realize that on the one day of the year when we might have earned a break, we, perhaps, did not.

My husband missed his flight home yesterday morning and then came home at dinner time with his head out of the game of parenting young children, and I had exactly negative sympathy for his situation. My mom did, though - bless her heart. You would think that my husband was the one who resided in my mother's womb so many years ago with the way she takes his side in every possible scenario. Like, when, after 30 hours of back labor with my first born, she commented on how hard it must've been for Pat to sleep on the cot in the hospital. Yes, Mom, that must've been really hard for him. Let me give him a massage. Oh wait, I can't because I am nursing the infant human I just grew and pushed out of my own body.

Anyways, Mamas, if your Mother's Day was a little less than you might have hoped for, I promise you, you are in some good company. Some whole parts of school pick-up lines in randomly selected suburbs around Chicago, and in Fort Wayne, Indiana; New York City, New York; Seattle, Washington; and all the way down south in Louisiana, felt the same way today. P.O.'d Monday is not restricted to any one region, we've learned.

I spent yesterday doing exactly what I always do, which I still consider to be an insane privilege, even if it is a privilege that I would've greatly desired to take a break from yesterday, but, you know, dreams don't always come true - without a woman making them happen, anyways.

Yesterday the kids and I grocery shopped together and they were, surprisingly, wonderful little children. That's them at the check-out counter looking - but not asking for - one of the millions of toys; it was a small miracle. It's like they knew enough to give me a break from their usual, developmentally-appropriate-but-annoying-nonetheless shenanigans. No one crapped their pants, either, so it really was a successful day. And, yes, my standards have now left the building.

Today, with data collected from the field, I developed a new working line of Mother's Day cards, which will have this card as a feature in 2017:

"Today I'm going to do all of the stuff you normally do, but I'm gonna act like it's a much bigger deal, because I'm doing it with a penis. (And that's if you're 'lucky'). Happy Mother's Day!"

Happy P.O.'d Monday, Mamas! It's a real thing. You are not alone. The bittersweet news is this: Our babies grow up! And the break you so wished for yesterday will be there eventually. I know this because my mom got to pee alone every time she went to the bathroom yesterday. That, actually, was my Mother's Day gift to her. I know - my generosity knows no bounds.

xo, Annie

P.S. Rumor has it that Father's Day is the new Mother's Day if yesterday was a total bust for you. Bring on June.

To Plant Something Good Anywhere

For all of the hate, there is this love.For all of the anger, this contentment. For all of the despair, this hope.

This is as real as all of that.

Each of us, to some extent, lives in a bubble of our own making. It gets punctured from time to time by ourselves, by our circumstance, by life in general, and even a tiny hole can leave us out of sorts - disenfranchised, even - by the change in air pressure around us.

We feel off, then; life feels off.

When it feels off, it is good to get back to the basics: to put down our phones, to make a meal and sit down to eat it, to turn off our television or our radio, to go for a walk, to talk to our neighbor, to listen to the people we love, to make eye contact with another living being, to smile, to laugh, to garden, to plant anything good anywhere that might become something more beautiful eventually.

Doing any of that is just as true as whatever else has occurred in the world that has felt awful that day. Adding any bit of beauty to our world counts. If each of us, instead of asking the question "What is our world coming to?" when bad things happen in it, went out and managed to perform some large or small offering of goodness, what would it feel like? What would our world actually come to then? After an offering of goodness, if we still needed to, we could ask, "What is this world coming to?" and we could look around and see something beautiful that we helped to create, that we somehow set in motion.

Instead of blaming, we'd be creating. Instead of asking loud, rhetorical questions, we'd be offering quiet, real solutions.

This sun was shining. This baby - he will always be my baby - was trying to kiss my face off. I was laughing. All the kids on the block were playing outside, yelling and running through my muddy yard. My husband was working at a job he loves.

I am privileged. We are privileged.

Terrible, unconscionable things were happening somewhere while all of this went on here. Terrible, awful things. Terrible, awful things have happened even in my bubble; even if we think we can keep everything terrible and awful out, we cannot. Even with privilege, life offers no immunity. Without privilege, you have already been exposed.

There is no known inoculation for all of the terrible and awful things, but peace can help. And peace comes from love and compassion.

And this love, this goodness is as real as anything.

Find it, spread it, offer it, give it, plant it, grow it, work on it, receive it, and make it as real as any of the terrible things we see in the world so that someday it grows into something that offers a beautiful answer to the question "What is this world coming to?"

To beauty, to love, to kindness, to goodness. From planting something good somewhere.


It is Holy Saturday today for Christians and it is holy Saturday for everyone because it's the only Saturday like this one we've got. Give it something good.


At first, I fell. Into my husband's eyes and his heart. Now, though, I often forget the falling. I know he does, too. That was a lifetime ago - three lifetimes ago, actually. We work to love, not because it is hard to do (though it can be), but because it is so easy - with all of the other things in the world - to forget how we started on this adventure. For love, there must be intimacy and trust. There must be kindness and time, given and received. We must put away our screens and look at each other. We must listen.

Our phones have been our biggest obstacle to connecting. It is so much easier to scroll through people than to focus on our actual people, to comment quickly rather than to think deeply and respond with great care and heart to one another. Our world moves more quickly than when we started together. Moving more quickly, however, does not get us connected more deeply. There's only longhand for that: only the real stuff - face-to-face talking, listening, responding, understanding, caring - does that.

Only the real stuff is what matters at the end of the day, at the end of a life - all throughout a life, actually. If you have one person who you love, who loves you, one being whose eyes light up when she sees you, if you can remember what that feels like and can offer that to anyone else in the world, that's the whole beautiful piece of love for me. That's how the world goes around. That's what we celebrate in our house today. It is not about coupledom or marriage or any other construct; it is about flat-out love for our fellow humans with whom we share space and soul.

This girl of mine and I went shopping the other day. She was going to pick out a treat for herself, but I could tell that she was picking out something just to say she got something. I said, "Don't just get something to get something. We can try again another day. Only get something that you really want, that really makes you happy."

She put down the cheap, crappy hat she was carrying and said, "This is not the thing I really want."

Then, we went home and she made this wonderfully ridiculous construction paper bow headband because this was the thing she really wanted; this was the thing that really made her happy. This was the thing she loved. It didn't look like anything else we saw and, yet, it was exactly perfect for her.

So many times we stick with something just because we want SOMETHING. We want it to count as having something, even if that something doesn't feel like exactly what we want, even when we shove it on us or into us to fill us up. Sometimes, that's life and it's fine.

Other times, though, it's best to let go of the things that are just taking space for the thing we actually want, the thing or the person we'd actually love. If she'd gotten the hat, she'd never have made this bow headband. She'd never have danced around with it on her head, made a matching dress with a matching story - she'd have had none of that happiness.

How many times is that the case for us? With people we hang on to because we aren't sure there is anything better? Because we think that being alone feels worse? (It does at first, if you're not used to it, FYI.) Because working hard for the love we want feels like too much hard work?

The love I like to celebrate is the deep, dirty, hard-working love that gets messy lots of times, that sometimes feels like too much work because there is not enough time, that especially feels like too much work when there looks like a perfectly pre-packaged facsimile that can be purchased somewhere else. And shipped to your door for free.

It can't be purchased. It can't be faked. You might fall for it in the beginning, sure, but for it to stay - for it to be real and honest and heartfelt, for it to have eyes and ears - you've got to work for it. We do at least. And most every other couple or person who practices loving well does, too, from what I've seen. At least from time to time.

Happy love day to all of you who work hard to love yourselves and your people. It's the best nectar out there, but you've got to climb the damn tree.

Keep climbing. Take breaks when you need them. Make things that make you happy, ginromous-bowed headbands included.

xo, Annie


Every day in Illinois, some of us get cold little shivers up our spines when we open doors that have stickers like this one on them. Many times, we are dropping off our children at their schools or daycares, their ballet classes or basketball games in buildings with these stickers. Our state has a concealed carry law, which means that people can have loaded guns hidden on them in most public places (with some exceptions, like schools or Target, for instance. Well, hopefully...). If a person with a gun comes to a building that has a sticker like this on it, it is against the law for that person to enter with his gun on his person. (I am using the male pronoun here on purpose because... I want to).

I have some general concerns about how it all works exactly, since I didn't grow up with this being the law: When you're packing heat in your coat pocket and you forget to take the gun out of your coat when you get to an entrance like this one, do you run back to your car to take the gun out? Some people certainly do. Of course they do. What about if it's pouring rain outside - do you still run back? Does anyone ever just say, "Oh, this one time will be fine," and then run into the building with it on them? Or, does anyone ever just forget that it's in their pocket? One time I found my cell phone in the refrigerator after a week of little sleep with a newborn; has anything equally ridiculous ever happened to a gun owner who is carrying regularly? We know the answer is yes. Because ridiculous things have happened with guns involved.

Also, one note I’d like to make: If you’ve ever thought, "Oh, someone responsibly carrying a gun would never accidentally do something illegal or stupid with it," I'd just ask you to think about how many responsible men you've ever seen with their fly down. That's a pretty important step in the getting dressed process and, still, it gets missed. So, yes, I have concerns about people walking around with loaded guns and I think they’re legitimate considering, well, life in general.

People say, "Well, responsible gun owners take precautions." And that is true. And what is also true is that responsible gun owners mess up, make mistakes, live with other less responsible people who find their guns, get angry, get drunk, make bad decisions. And then lives get lost. Thousands and thousands of innocent lives. Babies, tiny children, loving mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and daughters and sons. Who were in places where they should FEEL and BE safe.

Responsible gun owners are not immune from sudden changes in mental health. Responsible gun owners can and do have children and family members with mental illness who can get to their guns and who have gotten to their guns. Responsible gun owners' bullets kill just the same.

When we see a father talking about his 7-year-old son who was killed while attending school, we think, "Well, I understand his stance. He has lost a child. Of course he has to speak out against guns." Think about that: Does someone really have to lose a child to feel the problem at hand? Can we not empathize enough to imagine it could be any one of us? Do we not imagine it somewhere in our consciousness every time we open a door with a "no guns allowed in here" sticker on it, walk our babies through that door, and then leave them there?

I believe in our Constitution's Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, even with the debate that surrounds about its meaning and its intention. I also believe and know that when the Second Amendment was written, the ability to own a firearm that could rapidly fire an entire magazine of bullets did not exist. If someone wanted to come in to some public building in the year 1790 and kill people, they fired one shot and then they had to reload. That means someone else had the time to shoot back, to attack, to run away, or to hide.

Not anymore. There is no time to protect yourself (with or without a gun, really) when someone comes in firing without needing to reload. Even if you had a fully loaded gun on you, if the shooter can get 20 shots off in seconds, who cares? Highly trained police officers still take moments to get to their guns. Highly trained police officers still get hit with these rapid-fire weapons, even though they are specifically trained to grab and shoot when under fire. More guns and the capability for ridiculous amounts of ammo to be fired from these guns have meant more gun deaths in our country. That is plain and simple.

Also, I'd like to acknowledge some history with the Second Amendment for a sec. The Second Amendment is not, as some people believe, a right that has never been restricted. In 1939, the Supreme Court stated that the right to bear arms was offered in relation to the needs of a militia (as opposed to the needs of an individual). That was the law for decades until 2008, when the Court changed its mind on that stance and ruled that the reference to the militia in the Second Amendment was not as it was interpreted before. Well, ok then. That's all fine, I guess. But, just so we're all clear, 2008 is when an individual's right to bear arms (as we know it today) became the law. This idea that individuals should have unrestricted access and control in handling and owning guns is all recent stuff. It has not been this way since forever.

So, now, people can have their guns. I can have a gun. Great. Awesome. Can we also make it where people can keep their babies? Safe and alive, please.

I, along with millions of other Americans, do not feel it is just fine for people to have the ability to fire off 100 shots in minutes with magazine style ammo. I also do not think that every Tom, Dick, and Harry should be entitled to walk around with a loaded gun on his person in plain sight (in open carry states) or hidden on his body (in concealed carry states) with such limited training.

Constitutional rights are not absolute. There are restrictions on many of the rights offered to us by our Constitution: My freedom of speech allows me to write this piece, but it does not allow me to make a bomb threat. And the freedom of the press lets newspapers delve into plenty of issues, but they can't print child pornography. I'd say those are good, fair limits that the majority of us are happy to have in place.

It seems fair, then, that there might be some limits on the Second Amendment, too. I'd like a shooter who enters a movie theater to have to reload so that innocent, unprepared people have some chance at survival. That means I don't think any gun owner should have the opportunity to possess and fire 100 bullets in minutes. I know plenty of hunters; none of them need or use ammo like that.

I see the sweetest, most wonderful little kids every day showing empathy, loving their people, acting kind; the world, from my viewpoint, is coming to a whole lot of goodness. The only way it won't get to good is if we become so apathetic that we believe that we have no say in the matter, that we believe that life means that tiny children die in crowded huddles and that all we can do is cry about it, pray about it, post about it, and then, promptly, forget about it. Until it happens again next month.

I believe our kids deserve the safety that most of us had and felt when we walked into our schools everyday without any stickers on our doors.

I've written my congress people. You can, too. People who want more guns out there, who have significant financial interests in having more people buy and carry more guns and more ridiculous amounts of ammo (magazine style) are writing and calling and donating (with a meeting first, to discuss their "needs") to our elected officials.

If those of us who have no financial interest but enormous amounts of personal interest stay silent, then our elected officials only hear from one small percentage of people. And that small percentage is loud because dollars are loud.

Here is a place where you can find your state's congress people: . If you feel like we have certain rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution and that we should have laws, along with those rights, that help keep us all safe in a civilized society, please write to your people. This is one thing that you can do that costs no money. And, when another gun massacre happens and your kids find out about it, you can tell them that people are trying to make it safer. You are trying to make it safer.

I don't totally get it, but I know, America, we love our guns. Let's love our sanity and our safety in the names of our babies, too. We can do both. And we must.

In the Blur

Is it blurry where you are, too? It is a little bit here. I don't know if it's because of how fast everything is moving or because of some old tears in our eyes; it was a hard month. Everyone is just fine; of course we are. But, kicking off the holiday season by burying a beloved family member takes a toll. You've gotta pay it somehow. We're all a little off, a little behind, a little out of it. We are just feeling all of life acutely - that it goes so quickly, that you can be here today and gone tomorrow, that someday these kids won't be twirling around our tree as we put it up, that we still have believers in magic, which feels like hope and love all swirled into one right now.

photo-5 copy 2

photo-5 copy 2

It's all stuff we all know. But we live and we forget. And then we learn it again. And then we forget it again.

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photo-5 copy 4

We were in this ridiculous sweet spot of having all of our parents - all of our kids' grandparents - riding right along with us, and, honestly, we didn't even know it was a sweet spot. We were lucky and dumb - what a wonderful combo. Once the dam broke, we got to see what so many others have seen all along. It doesn't last forever! Ahhh!

It's different over here, at least for now. We're more aware, more grateful, more purposeful, more connected. We are in a new sweet spot, I suppose - one in which we are more present to our people and more purposeful in our connections.

photo-5 copy 3

photo-5 copy 3

All of this feeling and the perspective it offers will probably dissipate soon enough; emotions like this always seem to, so that we remember and forget life's biggest lessons with regularity. Because then we can mess up again and again. Isn't it grand?

The beautiful and horrible thing about it all is that we never stay in one place for too long. We just keep moving; even when we are sure we are standing completely still, we are moving, hopefully with the knowledge we've gained, but honestly I am just not sure we are all not a bunch of Dorys, the fish from Nemo who forgets more than she remembers. It's ok - we do keep swimming at least.

photo-5 copy 6

photo-5 copy 6

The blur, then, is probably just life, really. Enjoyable and rushed, sad and slow, perfect and on point. All of it.

The blur's cool, though. I like it, really. It's messy and different and weird. It makes us feel. It makes me keep pictures that I might have deleted because they help me remember that it really is moving very fast, that life really is a swirl of emotions - the good and the bad, that everything is not distinct and separate but connected and smushed together, that things aren't perfect and yet they are still very, very good, that beauty comes in messes, in imperfect pictures, in focusing on whatever it is you've got in front of you, even if it's unfocused for someone else.

These kids, man, they already know all of it. Really they do. They are tiny and rude whiners at times and then they are perfect little Buddhas wandering around connecting, adjusting, loving, suffering, letting go - way faster than any of us adults are able.

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photo-5 copy 5

They are the magic for us this season. I'm about to go to both of the olders' parties today - one in the morning, one in the afternoon - and I would make every single one of you feel so together when it comes to your Christmas shopping. It is not my forte, partly because of who I am and partly because my kids' Christmas lists consist of things that I cannot buy: another sister named Anna Blue (desired by my daughter), another brother for my son (we have no plans for another anyone), a cat named Lucy and a cat named Eli (nope), and then some other random things, like an El train ticket, which I'll get, and a gecko costume, which does not exist. So I have to get creative over here, which, if you've been reading for any length of time, you'll know is not my strong suit... or any suit at all.

But they won't really care! Once it all gets going and they have something to open and food that is special (our food is our thing because duh - I'm their mom) and their people all around, they'll all be happy enough. Enough is enough, even if you think you need more, more, more. Plenty of people the world over survive and thrive with enough. Also, with less. So let's remember more is not always better. In fact, plenty of people with less have more in other departments that we are sorely lacking in, so, really, more is sometimes less. I'm not just saying this because I'm a pathetic shopper. I know this is true; I see this truth, especially when I see us encourage our kids to open the next present even though they just want to stay on the present (pun intended) they just opened. They are good. Let's not mess them up anymore than we already have.

We keep expectations low around here on the getting things aspect; this works two-fold for us: for one, they are in the greatest state of wondrous delight because they can't ever imagine that I could get my shit together enough to pull anything like surprise presents under a tree off - they know me. And then, secondly, we focus on doing things together instead of buying things for one, which means we, as parents, get to have a little fun with them instead of just watching when the toy doesn't quite work like it said it would. We all know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships and experiences are the keys to a happy life.

We'll be trying our best to focus on those parts over here. And just to let it be blurry when it is and to live focused enough in the blur.

If your eyes are teary and your soul a little worn, I'm sorry. You'll get through somehow; mostly by looking for help along the way. It really is all around - little bits of love, little signs of light and life. Even in the blur. Especially there.

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Dancing Circles Around Us

We buried their grandma yesterday. We all feel hung over from grief, from happiness, from family, from life, from death, from not enough sleep, from everyone being way too sick way too many times over the past month. We are just so much fun to be around right now, honestly. Well, one of us actually is. Per usual. I know she feels everything, too, in her own way, though her natural way of coping through a hard month is something to behold. My natural way definitely is not: I am lying under a heap of blankets while she dances around with her shadow and a flower from her grandmother's funeral. She is wearing her pajamas underneath a furry vest that was to be her Christmas present from her grandma; her grandpa gave it to her early in light of everything. My girl is dancing to music I have playing, but she is making up her own lyrics, "I want a bagel with butter! Grandma Flavin's somewhere else! Little kids see spirits MORE THAN anyoooooone!"

I know many people are afraid of scaring (and scarring) their kids by bringing them to wakes and funerals, by exposing them to death, so they just don't. I do not share this fear. I think just the opposite: I think we can scare and scar by not teaching and sharing, by not answering their natural and normal curiosities about life and death.

Of the things I'm scared of my children learning about the world, experiencing the death of a person who has lived a long life is not even on the list. In fact, we've always talked about it all – we all only get a limited time, one day I'm going to die, one day they're going to die, let's love our people, and stop the whining, por favor.

My children have come with me to wakes and funerals since birth, so I don't remember how we started talking about any of it because we have always talked about all of it. All I knew then was that I didn't want their first wake or funeral to be mine. If we were lucky enough, I wanted them to understand the process of how we mourn before they needed to mourn during the process. If we were lucky enough, I wanted them to experience death before they HAD to experience death. I am ok with them being as aware and as curious about death as they might be about any of the other millions of things in life.

She saw her daddy's tears yesterday – mine, too. All of our kids did. They wiggled their way between us and around our legs, and weaved in and out while we sat and said good-bye to their daddy's mom. They listened to us talk in the car to and from the funeral parlor, the church, the cemetery. This girl is just the same dancing girl she's always been, with a bit more life experience behind her, with a flower from her grandma's funeral after having watched her family love their person right on into the ground. It felt sad, and sad is ok. I never saw them feel scared, though, not through this experience, anyways.

I find that our adult fears are not their fears, unless we pass them on. If I am afraid of death, of being there for our people when our people or their people die, then they, too, will feel afraid. Often, going into a wake, especially when it's a really sad situation, I am nervous. Being sad is uncomfortable in front of people; watching other people feel sad in front of you can be equally so. I have told my kids how sometimes when I get to the front of the wake line, I have to repeat over and over in my head what not to say because I sometimes feel my brain start to malfunction. I've always felt like I might say "Congratulations!" – as my brain wants a one-word salutation to translate my sadness for their loss. They laugh, "Mom! That's not what you'd ever say!" Of course it's not. There isn't a one-word refrain that we can use for times like those, which makes us have to work harder to be there for our people. So we grab for words and hope we say something meaningful or, at the very least, not idiotic. At the very least, not "Congratulations." Anything beats that. We do our best. We show up. We hug our people.

This weekend they were the ones getting the hugs in between giving them to their grandfather. I don't know of a better way to grieve than with a child in your life – you just move along because the circle of life is literally dancing in circles right in front of you.

They've had so many questions since their grandma's stroke, some of which I can answer clearly, others for which I don't have a clear answer, so then they usually answer for themselves. They asked again about burial and cremation (or, "roasting" as my daughter calls it – and I don't correct that. We all need to find our comic relief somewhere). I moderate their discussion and dissection of life and what comes after it all mostly by asking them what they think, how they feel. It's amazing how quickly they get to the heart of the matter and also how well they deal with it all. Nothing is that confusing when you've known about it all along. They have never not known that I would die – hopefully and dreadfully – before they do; we've talked about what that would be like. I get weepy; they are matter-of-fact about it all and only a little weepy at this stage in their lives. The whole process of how our families’ cultures do it – the wakes and the funerals – is somewhat run-of-the-mill for them now, the same way it was for me when I was growing up.

When their grandma was dying, my older two – 7 and 4 years old – wanted to see her in the hospital. Some thought that might be scary for them. My husband and I reviewed the situation and it didn't look scary to us even after pretending to put on their eyes. We brought my son; my daughter fell asleep early that night and she's still mad she missed that trip. He saw his grandma. He talked to her. He witnessed what it can be like for some people in the end; it was not scary. He was nervous, but not scared – the same as I was the first time I saw her, the same way I ever am when I’m going to be by someone’s side and I am not sure of the situation, the same way most of us are even while we show up anyways. My husband said all of the lovely things you'd want your son to say to you if you were lying on your death bed – how much he loved her, how much she meant to him, how he wished they could've had some real good and healthy years together with our children, how everyone would miss her. My son watched. Until then, I had held it together decently, but that was too much. Watching my mother-in-law lie there with her baby boy holding her and whispering all of the things I hope my own son, who was standing beside me, would say to me when I'm lying there someday – come on. No one could’ve lasted through that.

As we left, I said to my son, "So I guess that was the first time you saw me really cry. Sorry, buddy. I was sad seeing daddy with his mom and being there with you, my son."

"You didn't really cry, you were more huffing, puffing, and wiping in your sleeve like you just couldn't get a hold of yourself. You weren't even crying normally. It was more like heavy crying breathing," he said. He hugged me while he said it so I'm calling that an empathy win. I'll take what I can get.

We hugged. He laughed. I laughed. Crying, huffing, puffing, wiping, hugging, talking sweetly, dying, living, laughing, being there, saying sorry, showing up... How else does one get through life? Ain't no other way.

Except, also, to dance your way through it all. Or lie down and watch the ones who do until you can get up and join them again.


Do you ever see people who are getting to experience all of the wonderful things of life and you feel a tiny bit envious of all that they're living? Well, I feel bad that I'm going to be one of those people for you today. I feel bad that all of the good things happen to me and that you, likely, will only get to experience one of the wonderful things of life through listening to my story. Unless you've been one of the lucky ones, too.

Today, my minivan was repossessed by an actual repo man who knocked on the door of my home with a police man by his side while my kids napped. One minute I'm booking tickets online for a trip in the spring and the next minute my car is being driven down the driveway by a repo man. Welcome to America, baby.

If you've ever seen a repo man on any TV show that has completely typecast the repo man, you'll know exactly what my repo man looked like. The police officer just looked like a nice guy full of shame and pity for me, with a tiny bit of "I'm the law" seriousness on the side in case I decided to, I don't know, not follow what they told me to do? When you open your front door and you've got these two guys staring at you, who say, in unison, "Ma'am...," you know shit's about to get real.

To try to explain away this situation and make it feel less loser-like, I'll make a long story short and explain that our van was leased and our lease was up. We had a new van picked out, paper work filled out, and everything all set with the dealership - paid in full (!) and ready to go. For the past two weeks, we have been trying to stop by to quickly exchange cars. I do not know why we couldn't do this. I mean, I totally do know why - we've been out of whack around here with sick kids and family members. We'd been talking to our people at the Honda dealership and they said it was all fine; we could come as soon as we could make it. They understood, they said. We kept paying our bill (even though our lease was up) to the Honda financial guys because that's what the Honda dealership guys told us to do. It all seemed fine. It was obviously, somehow, not fine.

Last week, on our way to visit his mom, my husband said laughingly, "I feel like we are so behind on everything right now. Like, for instance, this car. We've got to make the time to exchange it for the new one already. I get nervous that the dealership isn't talking to the financial guys appropriately. I don't even know what else we are forgetting around us...." I am a raging feminist and I think I might have giggled a ridiculous womanly giggle right then. "Haha," I barely answered because I was barely listening. Because I barely cared about the car amongst the things about which I was caring at the moment. And it was my car! Mine! And here I was depending on a man to figure it all out. My 16-year-old self would have taken off her bra and burned it right in front of my face. I kid - that is not what feminists do. Duh.

Here is the thing: Feminism does not mean that I don't depend on my partner. I do, for a lot of things. He also depends on me, for a lot of things. The way it works, at least for us, is if we both work our hardest in our best areas. And we make sure to make those areas equitably distributed (no fair if his list is double my list or vice versa. Egalitarianism is feminism.)

It's so funny how much you care once shit gets real, though, regardless of whose list it's on. Like, when I sent this text to my husband, well, I REALLY freaking cared then. No ridiculous womanly giggle going on anymore.

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photo-5 copy 3

I followed the repo man out to my car with my key and my shame in my hand. I emptied out car seats and pencils, water bottles, shoes, and a hair brush. Oh, and a bra, just to make the repo man and my relationship extra uncomfortable. I'm sure he's seen way more.

The repo man was kind to me, though. My husband wanted to talk to him on my phone, but I knew this guy just had a job to do; he wasn't going to leave without finishing it. And I want you to know that only one of the lawyers in this house knew how the repo man was going down. The other one of us was trying to put up a fight. You guys, you can never fight the repo man. It is over at that point. Your pants have been pulled down already, even if they shouldn’t have been. You've lost. Just get your things and go. You can fight another day. Just wanted to share in case you get the opportunity to experience all this. If you don't, again, I'm sorry; everyone can't have everything.

I unloaded all of our things onto the driveway. I found more money in the seats than I would have ever thought would be hidden there and I thought about the irony of that since I am sure the repo man didn't believe my story at all. Can you ever imagine why he would? Think of all of the stories he has heard.

He said thanks for emptying it so efficiently and for giving him the key so that he didn't have to use the tow truck. "The tow truck?" I asked. "You came with a tow truck???"

"Yes, ma'am. Sometimes these situations get heated."

I was heated, but not at this guy. Well, except about the fact that he kept calling me ma'am. As if I needed another put-down in this moment.

I thought I knew but didn't really know all of the small indignities one can suffer, especially as a mother. There are hemorrhoids from babies who force you to hold them for three weeks straight, and there are leaky boobs and vomit and every other bodily function of theirs that happens right on you that you can imagine. And then, too, there are the straight-up, regular-old indignities that happen when you're looking the other way, when you think you have things covered, when you're trying to do your best.

Is there any other way to get through than to laugh? Well, I mean, first you can get super mad at somebody (spouses are useful here) and then you can laugh. I have not found a better way than that.

And I'm telling you, if you would have seen me pulling every last thing out of my car this afternoon (well, used to be "my"), you would have laughed right along with me. That is, if you weren't trying to avoid eye contact. A credit card denial has nothing on a car repossession; I now know this for sure.

Of all of the experiences I never thought I'd get to live, this was surely one. But just look at that - anything is possible.

Honda, I'm coming for you tomorrow without any hint of a giggle. Don't mess with a mama's minivan. Or her money.

Make It Count

Pat's mom had a massive stroke two weeks ago. It is so not good. Every night when he gets home from seeing her, we talk about how she is. Our conversation eventually turns, then, to what we want for ourselves. We use a bunch of if/then sentences followed by so many unlesses; two lawyers trying to make sense of life and the end of it - you can imagine how well that goes.

All of this talking night after night and all we really have for it is the same old stuff we've always known about how we want to live and, if we have any say in the matter, how we'd like to die. As for the living portion, we want to love each other and to show our love every day we get to be together, to be so open with each other and with our children that when the time comes at the end of our lives, we'll have few regrets from that which we didn't say, from how we didn't connect. You know, the same stuff everyone says they want, mostly.

We want our kids to really miss us is all. To really miss is to really love. And the only way to really love is to be so open and connected and here with them and with each other.

I've been thinking about how when difficult things happen in life, often people say, "Hug your people close," with the assumption being that if you can hug your people, it should offer some perspective for you. Of course this is true.

But, what is also true for some of us is that sometimes maybe we just feel like we don't want to hug our people right now. Gosh, that's hard to even admit with all of the people who get robbed of the chance to give and get another hug from their person. But, sometimes I know a lot of us are just like, "Um, yes. I love you so much. How about we all hug again tomorrow? I think we're good for tonight, ok?" I mean, I love them with every ounce, but one of them, who shall remain nameless, has been touching one of us since last Sunday night. Eight days with a koala bear attached to you is so special and also so could-we-please-not-touch-for-this-5-minute-stretch?

And so we go back and forth in life with our people from "Oh my gosh, I am so lucky to get to hug you!" to "I need a little space!" with stops along the way at everywhere in between.

After talking about the hard stuff lots this week, even though I might want to say "Hug your people," I won't because maybe you are feeling a little like me and you may just want to put your own arms at your own sides of your own actual body for, say, a couple of hours. Is that so wrong?

I won't say "Hug your people" but instead I'll say what we're focusing on most around here, what watching people you love grieve for the people they love distills for you: Make it count.

We get so little time here and when it's up, sometimes it's just not easy at all; this whole "life" thing feels like a rip-off then, especially when I think about how much time we waste worrying about stupid stuff. Even when we stop worrying about the first round of stupid stuff, we start worrying about the second round - "we don't have enough time! I should've done it this way! That was so dumb of me! I missed an opportunity!" - we whine while another opportunity passes us right on by.

When we get a peek at old age, usually through our parents, some of us really start to wonder, "what in the hell?!" Yep, this is it. It's the best we've got - it's actually all we've got - so we'd better make the most of it.

Making it count for me means this: when you are here, be here. Being with my people, having maybe one real and true moment of connection a day? Maybe more? Maybe one whole afternoon? Day after day? Anything is enough if we make it so.

Making it count means showing our people all the parts of us as we grow in friendship and in life, so that my kids get to know me as a person and not only in the role of mother, so that my friends know me as funny and happy and also as honest and vulnerable, so that my husband sees me and I see him, the way we did and do when we are giving each other the time to do so. It's being open and honest enough with our people so that we can talk about mistakes and successes equally. It's loving so big that there is not just power-over but way more power-with. It's more circular than top-down - the way life is, too.

There is such a power in connectedness, in being open with one another. Some days I am certain these are the only things that make the world go round; these are the only things that make any of this heartbreakingly beautiful life worthwhile.

Thinking about the end makes me get off the couch, that's for sure. I even put on pants while I'm at it.

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I watch these guys - this sun, my people, your people, everyone's love, the whole world - it's beautiful, we know. The way we lean in towards one another while the sun shines down upon us. The way we show each other ourselves - the vulnerable sides included. The way we cope when our people slip away from us.

My baby nearly fell off this ledge right after I took this picture, even with his daddy right there. And that's the thing, isn't it? Even when we're doing everything right, life can change on us. It's certainly going to in the end, no matter what we do. It's brutal, sometimes, even for those of us who try and see the bright side.

But, there's just no other way. We only live once (well, depending upon your beliefs - my son is certain he's had a few bites of the apple before, and I don't really doubt him) and we only die once. And those are the only real rules for this whole game. No one's making it out alive. And we will all have hard days, no doubt. We mostly only get to pick and choose what we get for the living portion of life. We can only make the most of the dying portion if we're lucky, even if it sounds too morbid to talk about for some.

It's not too morbid for me. I'm going to do my best to plan what I can for death by talking openly with my kids; my girl already knows she gets the jewels - you gotta start somewhere. If I can plan my life, I might as well pretend to plan how it might go when I die. YODO (You Only Die Once) as well as YOLO (You Only Live Once).

I wrote my not-at-all-legal living will the other day, which was more like a manifesto'd letter than anything any lawyer would write. My plan is to stick it on my fridge so that I remember to Make It Freaking Count more, so that I remember that being here with my people is, in fact, the whole point of all of this.

I'm not making anyone hug their people, though. You can decide to do that when you really feel it. Maybe tomorrow.

But, I promise you, if you could see the way my husband and his siblings are loving their mom right now, dear god. It's a little bit messy because the more people you have, the messier it all gets (and there are nine sibs), but it is a mess filled with love for her. It would make you want to scoop your kids out of their beds and put them in your own, I swear to you. Even the koalas who haven't given you a break in 8 full days. It's why we haven't gotten a good night's sleep in at least two weeks: we've got too many kids in our bed. Oh well - not a real problem right now.

We're making it count the best we can. It's so hard to do when you're just going, going, going, but - and I know you know this - when you see what the end looks like, gosh, making it count is just the only thing at all that's worth anything at all. Because suddenly, and it feels suddenly even when you're old and you know it's coming, it's all gone. Just like that.

EssaysAnne Flavin Comments