Category Archives: Parenting

The question underneath every other question.


Me and Ben, photo by Jen Downer,

It’s possible that one of the few places I’ve found, where love feels so pure,  is the love for those boys. The little ones with the big ocean eyes and long, thick lashes. The ones with yogurt smeared on their sleeve, denim torn at the knee, pot-bellied and pale-skinned. Those boys are so delicious I can feel my heart leap inside my chest at the sight of them.

“Mama loves you?”

This is Nico’s newest, and possibly most adorable question for me these days.

“Mama loves you?” he asks. And I say, “Yes, mama loves you…” and he wraps an arm around my neck and squeezes so hard that my left cheek and his right cheek touch with a glorious smoosh.

Last night when I was putting Ben down in his room, I heard Nico talking to Matt: “Mama loves you?” and Matt saying, “Yes, and daddy loves you too.”

“Daddy loves you? Benda loves you?” Nico continued to ask.

And I can relate to this question, that is perhaps underneath every other question.

Will you pick me up from class?
What should we have for dinner tonight?
Do you think we’ll go on vacation this year?

Maybe we are really asking- Do you love me? Am I lovable?

Ben has been sulking on the couch these days. When he gets upset about something, he runs into the living room and sits on the couch. After a minute or so he shouts, “Isn’t anyone going to come hug me?”

And I am learning, that when we are hurt, when we run away and hide, we really just want to be found.

And so I remember more these days to ask, “Do you need a hug?”

And he almost always says yes.



Dear Nico.


Nico just up from his afternoon nap, shot with Canon 6D


Nico cranking up the cute, shot with Canon 6D

Dear Nico,

You can have anything you want.



The acorn and the oak.


Ben crooning, shot with Canon 6D


Ben crooning, shot with Canon 6D

When I look at Ben these days, especially with a guitar in hand, I am reminded of the acorn and the oak. That there is a little seed in all of us with so much possibility. These photos feel like a window into some possible future… one that will hopefully bring Ben lots of joy.

These days, when Ben isn’t filming himself on the Flip camera, he will play for me and say, “This one’s the song that’s also the name of the album.” or “This one’s going to be a hit.”

He still needs to learn to play guitar, but he’s clearly got all the moves.

What seed still lives inside of us?

I saw an old photograph once of the brilliant photographer Alfred Stieglitz (well known for his stunning portraits of Georgia O’Keefe) He was about 3 years old and has a photograph wrapped around his neck attached to a piece of string. The caption read that he saw the photo and became obsessed with it; he wanted to have it close to his heart all the time.


Ben on the guitar at 2 years old


The obsession began early, Ben in an ad for Speesees clothing at 2

P.S. If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know I just bought a brand new camera! It’s called the Canon 6D and it is my first pro-grade, fancy-pants full frame camera. In short, I am thrilled. I’ve been snapping pictures all weekend long with a fervor I haven’t experienced in a long time. The first two shots of Ben are with the new gear. SO excited!


Life is bright again.


Succulent, shot with Canon 6D

I’ve been mulling this post over for a while now. How do I sing the praises of Zoloft without sounding like a nut?

But to be really honest, those little blue pills are rocking my world. Maybe even saving my life.

It started off slow when I started the medication. The anxiety dissipated after a few weeks and I was grateful. I didn’t feel much different, but the stomach-clenching, hypervigilant, jumpy feeling had subsided. This had so completely become my normal, I just assumed it was me– wound up, neurotic, overwhelmed.

I didn’t know there was any other way. Last year though, I remember wondering often: Is this just life? Is this how everyone feels?

I started interviewing my friends – Do you feel overwhelmed all the time? Does it feel like there are too many people in the world? Do crowded grocery stores or trips to Ikea make you run for the hills?

Some would say yes. Others would nod slowly, looking at me suspiciously, like, Are you okay?

I assumed I was flawed.

That it was somehow my fault. That I was too sensitive. That the overwhelm was an issue of not being organized enough, or calm enough. I felt humorless. It was almost impossible to get me to laugh. I longed to be lighthearted.

I need to do more yoga. I need to start meditating. I need to do those breathing exercises everyone seems to talk about.

And those things would help, enough. And I would go on and muscle through. Buck up and deal. Soldier on with a curious kind of resignation —

  • Life is just hard.
  • This is what having small children looks like.
  • I just have to find whatever bits of beauty I can as the days unfold.
  • I’ll try to take better care of myself so I don’t yell so much.

I quit sugar. I hiked in the woods almost every day. I took my vitamins and supplements. I went back to yoga. I did therapy. I ate kale. I wrote, made things with my hands, took photographs and saw friends.

And it wasn’t enough.

I’m grateful for the panic attacks.

Without them, I would have continued on like this indefinitely. I wouldn’t have gotten desperate for relief.

They say it takes 6-8 weeks for the medicine to fully take effect. I didn’t notice a big change by this time and was a little disappointed, but grateful the panic and anxiety had calmed down. It was enough for me to feel grateful and happy about my choice.

And then.

Around week eleven, something happened. A friend called and asked me how I was. I’m doing great! I found myself saying. I didn’t recognize my own voice! I don’t think I have said those words (and meant them) in years. This was miraculous to me.

I’ve been watching myself over the past few weeks and marveling at my new-found hope. I love my life. I love my kids. I love my husband. I am hugging everybody longer. I am saying I love you. I am able to cope without getting whipped up into a froth. When someone asks me how I am doing, my voice doesn’t go up several octaves anymore with an oh fine…

I feel genuinely happy.

WTF? Pills are not supposed to do this! My new-age heart shouts. Yoga and meditation are supposed to do this. Hard work is supposed to do this. Copious amounts of therapy is supposed to do this. My mind is utterly blown.

I am funny again.
I am loving.
I bust out spontaneous dance moves to make my husband laugh.
I cry when I read a good book.
I don’t fantasize about death as a way to find relief.
I feel grateful for my life in a way I didn’t have access to before.

I am humbled, once again, by going down the road I didn’t want to go down. By opening the door I was afraid to open.


One good reason to meditate.

I meditated yesterday.

Finally, after years of resisting it, thinking I don’t have time or just plain forgetting, I did it. I don’t know what made yesterday the right day to begin but I found myself seated in the sun on the hardwood floor in my living room. Being a fan of achievable goals, I set my iphone to ring after 10 minutes.

After several fidgety moments, I noticed a lot of plans, so many things undone, the endless list streaming like ticker tape in my mind — get classrooms ready for january, do I have the construction paper for Ben’s school project? I should check our balances and see if we’re overdrawn…

Fear. I said this aloud to myself and then went back to counting my breath.

Planning, fear of not doing enough, of not being enough, strategizing. Trying to wrangle all the ducks and put them in a row.

Just count your breath, I told myself, my mind a slippery fish. One, two…

I started to pray, which I decided was a better use of my mind that was clearly running amuck.

Please God, allow me to be of service, give me clarity and confidence to do my best work as an artist, mother, partner, friend. It went something like this. And that calmed me down.

The pendulum

Then I thought of the pendulum that Ben bought in Colorado. We came across it at an arts and crafts fair at the local farmer’s market. There was a woman there selling gorgeous rocks and crystals, jewelry and pendulums.

“They are for dowsing,” she explained. “You can ask it a yes or no question and it will give you an answer.”

Ben was particularly taken with one that had a gorgeous fluorite crystal hanging at the end of a silver chain.

“Do I have forty dollars?” Ben asked the lady.

We watched as the pendulum swayed. It made a line in the air, didn’t twirl in a circle but went back and forth.

“It’s telling me no,” said the lady.

“Right!” he exclaimed. “I only have twenty!”

Ben scored this 20 dollar bill in a moment of parental desperation. After having croup for several days, we got a prescription for a steroid that might help with the cough. Imagining a day of airplane travel with Ben hacking like a seal, we decided to give it to him. Trouble was, it smelled like rubbing alcohol. (And likely tasted just as bad)

We pulled out all of our best tricks. “Here is a big piece of chocolate Ben! Just swig it and this can be yours…”

He took a sip and spat most of it out. “It’s burning my mouth!” he said.

Shit… I muttered under my breath. We only had a half a dose left and he refused to take anymore. “I don’t want your chocolate!” he shouted from the other room.

Then I pulled my wallet out. Ben’s really into cash these days so I had to pull out the big guns. I offered him five dollars but it was a no-go. He was playing hardball.

I found him on the toilet coughing.

“Ben, do you know that when you have to do something really scary, you can put your arms in the air like a superhero or like a super duper strong person and it helps you feel stronger?” I put my arms in full Wonder Woman posture and in my best Tony Robbins imitation said, “Yes! I can totally do this! I’m strong and I can rock this!”

He watched me from the toilet, a half-smile creeping over his face, not sure if he believed me.

“Seriously,” I said. “I watched a researcher talk about it just the other day.”

“Let’s do this Ben!” I bounded into the kitchen with him. “Put your arms in the air in your best Superman pose!”


“Okay, Ben.” I walked over to my purse. “I’ve got a 20 dollar bill here with your name on it. This is my last offer. Get over here and let’s do this!”

He sprinted over, downed it as fast as could and then cheered for himself. “I did it!!!!!!” he shouted and waved his twenty in the air.

Buyer’s remorse

Ben bought the pendulum in Colorado. Approximately 45 minutes later while we had burgers and fries, he regretted it. “Now my twenty is gone!” he whined.

It was a good lesson about money, so I considered how long to let him sit with buyer’s remorse. But I secretly wanted the pendulum. So I told him that just this once, I would buy it from him.

We lost the pendulum.

I searched in every suitcase, toiletry bag, wallet and purse in the house. It has been weeks and it still hasn’t turned up. I started to wonder if the pendulum didn’t want to be found.

But as I sat on the floor meditating, a voice in me said, “The pendulum is in that little bag you put your tampons in.”

I ran to the drawer and found the bag. There it was.



The importance of being at choice

Nico Boon, laughing at Dolores Park in SF

Although Nico loves his new preschool (it is a dream come true) he hides behind my legs every time we arrive. He suddenly gets shy + clingy, grabs onto my thighs or tries to climb my body, desperate for me to stay. Saying goodbye to him usually involves distracting him with trains or an art project, anything that will hold his attention long enough for me to slip out.

Until recently.

They instituted a new game called, “Push mommy out the door.” And it is magic.

When I am ready to say goodbye to Nico and leave, the teachers say, Time to push mommy out the door! and Nico runs behind me and pushes my legs forward and I exaggeratedly stumble towards the door. Then he nudges me out saying, “Bye bye mommy!”


This week I realized the pure genius of this.

We all want to be at choice in our lives. We want to know we have some control, that we get to choose (even a little bit) how our environment will be + how our days will go.

In the case of Nico going to school, it’s kind of a non-negotiable. But feeling at choice — that he is choosing that it is time for me to go– leaves him feeling empowered.

Where in our lives do we feel like the victims of our circumstance? at work? at home? How would re-framing things we have to do, consciously choosing them, help us feel good about our responsibilities and tasks?

Sometimes a tweak in the language we use is enough. Instead of saying, “I have to…” we can say, “I get to…” Or, we can simply say, “I’m choosing to… ”

For example, instead of saying, I have to go to Ben’s school this week and volunteer for the Hanukkah celebration… (I said this last week and the dread in my voice was notable!) I could say, “This Thursday I get to volunteer in Ben’s class and do some fun activities to teach his classmates about Hannukah.” or “I’m choosing to volunteer in Ben’s class this week.”

Even if it feels a bit phony at first, you will notice how differently you feel. Stepping out of our victim roles (even in these small ways) reminds us that we are always at choice in our lives, and that empowering ourselves this way can ripple out into every area of our life.

Can you think of a place in your life where you could be more at choice?



What I’m grateful for today…

Ben and his time machine

Grandmas that aren’t afraid to swing

Swings that look like thrones

Nico’s contagious smile and vampire teeth

Photos of Nico and Matt

My beautiful boys

Happy Birthday sweet Nico!

Nico’s birthday, shot with Canon Xsi

Dear Nico,

You turned 2 yesterday.

You weren’t quite sure what a birthday was, or why everyone kept mentioning it, but I love that you sang Happy Birthday to yourself at odd times throughout the day. Unbearably cute.

There are so many things I love about you Neeks. Here are some highlights:

Your feet. They make me crazy. They are delicious and edible.

Your rainbow eyes. There is a particular smile you do that melts all of us- especially Ben. He will shout from the other room, “He’s doing it! He’s doing the rainbow smile!” and I will run over to catch a glimpse of it. It’s that cute. This is where you smile so big that your eyes turn into two squinty rainbows.

Your appetite. I love a kid with an appetite! and you’ve got it in spades. You are my best customer.

You’re a hugger. This is something else I didn’t know the pleasures of until we had you. You especially love to hug Ben. You have turned him into a hugger too.

Your nicknames for Ben. First it was B. You somehow made B a two-syllable word. “Be- eeee!” Beeeee?” Now you call him “Benda” which he doesn’t love but he’s getting used to it.

Really Neeks, everything about you is delicious. Just seeing your face makes me burst inside.

Your middle name is Boon because you are an unexpected blessing in our lives. Something to be thankful for. A prayer answered. Thank you for being such a perfect addition to our family. We didn’t realize you were the missing piece to our puzzle. And we love you ferociously and with all our hearts.


Handling our ups and downs.

Oh oracle baby, what is the meaning of life? shot with iphone 4S

“Disappointment is the feeling of being let down. Disappointment is an emotion that makes people feel uncomfortable.”

“Boy, there’s a lot of feelings that make people uncomfortable,” Ben commented.

We had been reading from a book called Handling Your Ups and Downs (awesome book from the 70’s about feelings) and we had started it mid-way, in the uncomfortable feelings section. But Ben was riveted.

“Guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong. Guilt is an emotion that makes people feel uncomfortable.”

“I love this book!” Ben declared. “Keep going!”

I told him I would read more before bed but he needed to take off his shoes and brush his teeth.

He returned, barefoot, a few moments later. “Mama,” he said, “I have something to tell you. But you can’t get mad at me if I tell you the truth.” I promised him I wouldn’t get mad.

“The reason Nico was wet earlier was because I peed on him.”
“You what?!” I said incredulously.
“You told me you wouldn’t get mad!” he cried.
“You’re right. I’m not mad. But Ben, he was soaking wet from head to toe! What happened?”
“We were in the bathroom and he was sticking his head in the toilet and I pushed him away. Then he hit me and so I peed on him. Please don’t tell daddy.”

I smiled and promised and put him in bed.

Then I told Matt. “You can’t bring this up with Ben, but check this out! I know why Nico was soaking wet earlier. Ben peed on him.”

“He did what?!!” Matt said.

And then we laughed and laughed, harder than I had in a long time.

Important-er than a diaper

Ben, photo by Jen Downer (

He was crying on the green couch the other night.

I had yelled– don’t remember why — something about the bathtub and the Oreo cookie Nico had snuck into it and then submerged, little spongy bits of Oreo floating throughout the tub.

But I think it was later, when I tried to put Nico in a diaper, chasing his warm, pink, little naked body around the house. My meager attempt to strap on the diaper before he did his ritual, stealth pee somewhere in our home. It’s a lucky day when it shows up on the hardwood floor (less lucky when he makes it to the rug) and I can usually clean it up before he does another lap around the house and slips into said pool of pee, careening across the living room floor.

It sounds funny, right?

But I could feel it, the rage increasing, the boiling blood, the out-of-control feeling. I could feel it in the way I pinned him down, harder that I wanted to, to get the diaper on, while he wriggled out of my grasp.

And all the while, Ben was whining from the tub crying out for me, “I want to get out!!!” and I’m calling back, “Just a minute!” all sweet and crazy-mommy like, “just a minute honey…” but then I abandoned that nonsense and started barking, “Just wait a fricking minute!!! I’m trying to get Nico in a diaper!”

Sweating, I finish sealing Nico — who immediately sprints off — and I come to collect the whining Ben out of the tub. I wrap him in his favorite towel and mutter something about how I need to take a breath and how I just got really frustrated back there. And now he is sitting with me on the green couch and crying because I’ve yelled at him. Did I mention that? I yelled at him somewhere in there and now I am holding him and apologizing and feeling terrible and he is saying, “But I’m importanter! I’m importanter than a diaper!” and I’m nodding “Yes, yes, you are right. You are much more importanter than a diaper.”

And then I see Nico, naked, running by.

And I can either laugh or cry. And I really wish I could tell you I laughed, but I did not.

And thank god children live in the moment, because they will have forgotten about this mess, this yelling, while I will hang onto it, measuring, judging, weighing — Am I a good mother? Can I yell and still be a good mother? Is it okay if I apologize? Have I already blown it? Is Nico going to remember, somewhere in his tiny cells, all those times I shoved him into the carseat?

This is what I am learning to be with these days. How incredibly flawed and human and not-at-all perfect I am. I’m learning to have compassion for myself and how hard this is and how to make amends and show up again and again. Heart full of love, wanting to do my best.