The wonder-filled life of a single older-ish mom.

Reflections on ‘An Open Apology to Dolly Parton’

img_9399When I was writing my last blog post, “An Open Apology to Dolly Parton,” I had glanced up at a print on my mantel that says, “I see you, I get you, I love you.”

I originally bought it several years ago as a message to Nina, but over time I’ve hoped it has spoken to anyone who enters our living room and needs a message of understanding and acceptance.

I also hope it’s a mentality that Nina and I strive to live by — to see, to accept, and to appreciate people for who they truly are, regardless of our differences.

It’s not always easy, and I certainly didn’t get it right with Dolly Parton for too long. When I posted the apology, I had no idea — much less intention — that the letter would go viral with more than 2.5 million viewers and over 1,350 comments posted on the blog.

When WordPress editor Ben Huberman asked to do a Q&A for WordPress Discover about the response, I said that based on the comments I’d read, the post seemed to either strike a chord of harmony or hit a sensitive nerve about regional, class, gender, or political divides. But a main thread through the comments reflects just how deeply Dolly Parton’s altruistic acts, not to mention her talents, have touched people.

For example, Chris Carrier wrote, “I’m a volunteer firefighter and was deployed to Pigeon Forge on the 29th to fight fires. Early Wednesday morning around 3 am we were sent to DreamMore resort to sleep. Dolly opened her resort for firefighters to rest, shower and sleep, at no cost to us.” On that note, Jennifer Berkley responded that her two brothers were among the firefighters who stayed at Dolly’s DreamMore resort, and they found a sign hanging on their door that read, “Do not disturb! One of our firefighter heroes is sleeping.”

Other local readers mentioned that Dolly established an incentive program that has drastically raised the graduation rate of Sevier County high school students, and that she pays their tuition at a nearby community college. An article by Travis M. Andrews in The Washington Post, Tennessee Fires Brought Dolly Parton A New Mission-And An Apology, beautifully laid out how Dolly’s upbringing inspired both her down-to-earth attitude and her dedication to helping others, especially folks in her native East Tennessee region.

But it was a comment from “Tranny T.” that I kept returning to, and that captured how Dolly’s kindness has reached people on such deeply personal levels while simultaneously acknowledging the universal human spirit.

Tranny wrote that she grew up as a “poor little feminine boy in a small town in West Virginia,” whose family of six did without many things such as running water and electricity. But her mother sang Dolly’s songs, and when Tranny saved enough money to buy “White Limozeen” she wore the cassette out from playing it so often.

After years of bullying, abuse, and a near suicide, Tranny moved to East Tennessee as a gay man at the age of 20. During a visit to Dollywood, Tranny encountered Dolly and burst out crying.

Dolly said, “Well good looking, why you crying?” Tranny told her how much she had inspired him as a child, and Dolly reassured the young man everything was going to be ok. Dolly then told him, “I see the sweetness of your heart in those gorgeous steel blue eyes and I bet there is a story to tell behind them!”

Several years later, after more experiences of hatred and brutality, Tranny once again came face to face with Dolly at a small concert in West Virginia. Tranny — now transitioned to the woman she felt she was always meant to be and not the gay young man Dolly first met — wrote that they looked at one another and then Dolly said, “I remember those beautiful eyes!”

Tranny was confused at first, but then smiled when she remembered what Dolly said years earlier. She wrote, “She then spoke and said, ‘Seems like all those past sorrows have finally faded away!’ I couldn’t believe it but it was like she knew what had happened to me as a child and how far I had come to where I am today … She didn’t miss a beat but with her loving and calm voice reassured me I was going to be ok again.”

Just as she had done when she was a young country girl who was drawn to the “painted lady” in Sevier County, Dolly once again saw the value and beauty in someone whom others had so easily judged and demeaned. And isn’t that what we all long for in the deepest core of ourselves — to be accepted, even celebrated, for who we truly are?

I see you
I get you
I love you

— Amy Rawe

*  Regarding the print pictured above, if anyone knows the name of the artist please let me know. I can’t make out the signature, and there is no identifying information on the back. I bought it from a man at the Artsclamation! show in Knoxville, held at Sacred Heart Cathedral School at least two years ago, possibly longer.


An Open Apology To Dolly Parton 

Dear Dolly,

10040291_300x300I’ll be honest. I used to think you were a bimbo. I used to think you flaunted your big boobs, teased hair, tiny waist, and your syrupy-sweet southern accent to sell yourself and your brand as a country singer. Granted, I was raised in the Midwest and lived as an adult for many years in the Northeast. I didn’t get you, much less the South.

For example, I’d heard about your origins as a poor girl from the hills of East Tennessee, and when I learned you’d created a theme park in your native Sevier County I rolled my eyes. “Really, a theme park?” I thought. “As if rollercoasters will really help the people of rural Appalachia. Why not create something truly useful to give back to your community, like a library.”


You have created a library, actually, and possibly in a bigger and more magical way than any brick structure filled with books could. And this is where my understanding of who you are really began to shift.

When I moved to Knoxville eight years ago I received a welcome letter from “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.” It informed me that Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among preschool children by mailing a specially selected book each month directly to any child under the age of 5. You had expanded it from Sevier County to my county, and if I had a preschool age child, it said, all I needed to do was sign her up and she would begin receiving books each month.

My daughter was not quite 2 then, and I can still see how her face lit up each time we pulled a book addressed to her out the mailbox every month. Several of them became her early childhood favorites, and are stored away should she have children of her own some day.

As a writer and editor, I’m a book hound and made sure my daughter has been exposed to reading at every turn. But you know better than anyone that not all kids have that privilege. I can’t imagine what a magical gift receiving a book every month must be for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them or who don’t have easy access to a library. I quickly came to see the genius of your Imagination Library literacy program, and how you were making a difference in so many ways I never realized.

Your father was illiterate, which fueled your literacy passion. Now the Dolly Parton Imagination Library just surpassed gifting one million books to participating children around the world each month. To celebrate, your Dollywood Foundation randomly selected one of those children to receive a $30,000 college scholarship. Two-year-old Evey, from Conway, Arkansas, has no idea yet how fortunate she is, but her parents surely do.

But what finally brings me to this overdue apology is how I’ve seen you respond to the devastating wildfires that swept through your hometown communities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. At least 14 vibrant lives were taken tragically too soon, and thousands of buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.

You made a public statement saying that you were heartbroken, while also expressing deep gratitude to the firefighters who protected Dollywood and evacuated everyone staying there to safety. Dollywood is the place I once dismissed, but now know is the largest employer in Sevier County and is the largest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee, hosting over 3 million guests a season. East Tennessee will count on that tourism to rebuild.

With the humble generosity and graciousness I’m learning is signature Dolly Parton, you’re not only planning a telethon to raise funds for the fire victims, but you’ve also created the My People Fund to provide, as you say, a “hand up to all those families who have lost everything in the fires.”

Those struggling families—and there are hundreds of them—will receive, thanks to you, $1,000 a month for 6 months. Countless stories detail how these families escaped with literally minutes to spare, and with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. And with each story, there’s a strong undercurrent of hope about how strangers helped one another and how this region is “mountain strong.” Your generosity both reflects and inspires this region’s spirit and resiliency.

Tonight, my daughter, who is now 9 and also loves to sing and act, has been using face paint to dress up as one of the DC comic heroines she and her friends admire. When she finished, she asked, “Hmmm, what other Superhero girl do I admire?”

I sat down next to her and said, “Let me tell you about Dolly.” In fact, I hope to take her to a Christmas show at Dollywood during this season of gratitude, and I’ll be making a donation to your My People Fund. I can’t imagine a more inspiring place to be, or a better way to support an amazing example of what it looks like to make the world a stronger place, starting with your own sweet community.

Dolly, I’m sorry I didn’t get you sooner—and I thank you for all you are, and all that you do.

Your biggest fan,

Amy Rawe


Read a Q&A with Amy about this post: An “Open Apology” Gone Viral
WBIR interview: Writer publishes heartfelt apology, thank you to Dolly Parton

Helmet Heart … and other thoughts on Valentine’s Day

The other morning, as sleep slipped over the cusp of consciousness, the words “helmet heart” echoed in my head. I tried to grab bits of the dream, wondering what this meant but was left only with those two words and the memory of taking off my bike helmet in the days when I used to bike long distances.

The helmet would have invariably pressed my wavy hair to my head, and I’d run my fingers through the strands to give it some life. On the morning of the helmet heart dream, it occurred to me I’ve very likely been keeping my heart under tough guard the past few years, without fully realizing it. I wondered if it’s time to fluff up my heart a bit, to let it expand to its natural state, even though I have no idea what this means.

No doubt I’ve shielded my heart from romantic relationships since the divorce, but I also wonder how I’ve helmeted it in other ways that I haven’t seen—such as not posting writings because they’re not fully formed yet (like this one) … or not intentionally planning joyful play time as I might define that, not just how Nina would. I don’t know yet what it would look like to fluff up my heart, and that’s ok. Maybe just taking the helmet off will oxygenate the answers.

So, that’s what this quiet Valentine’s day has me pondering. Nina, meanwhile, has been asking all month what this day is supposed to be about anyway. At the age of eight, she is straddling those days between innocence and awareness on so many levels, including what it feels like to have a crush, but this year she is strong in her stance that Valentine’s Day is a downright creepy celebration. She’s asked repeatedly, “Who celebrates a holiday where a baby flies around in a diaper shooting people with a bow and arrow?!” I don’t have good answers for her, either, on that one. I only know that, like most holidays certainly including Thanksgiving, love and gratitude should be daily practices and not relegated to one day of recognition.

My only other wish regarding this day is that some things remain immune from modernization, and that I finally wake-up and break-up with Pinterest.

IMG_7635 (1)

Brighter Than The Sun

jen circleG

Jennifer at the Circle G Ranch

In honor of my friend Jennifer, who died from breast cancer this past May, I did not participate in this weekend’s Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure.

My choice had nothing to do with the Komen event—pro or con—but had everything to do with Jennifer’s spirit.

When I first met Jennifer, she was cancer free after being diagnosed shortly after the birth of her son three years earlier—but she didn’t tell me about that until much later. It wasn’t that she was trying to hide her experience for any reason, it was that she simply had too much life to focus on now.

The neon words on the marquee of her life flashed “Mother, Wife, Daughter, Friend.” Yes, “Cancer ” played a role, but she gave it very few speaking parts. She refused to let it steal the show.

I’d recently moved to Knoxville, and met Jennifer through a mutual friend. A few weeks later, we took our toddlers to a local splash pad for play and a picnic. As the kids got thoroughly soaked, we set up our picnic on the grass. I’d thought to bring a towel, a fresh swim diaper, and a mishmash of crumbled snacks.

Then Jennifer opened her basket to an enviable Martha Stuart cornucopia of organized tupperware, towels, and dry clothes in ziplock baggies. Just as Nina and Jennifer’s son ran over and draped their dripping wet bodies all over us, I stared at her baggie of dry clothes she’d packed for herself and said, “I didn’t even think to bring clothes for myself!” She looked at me with her brighter-than-the-sun smile and with a tilt of her head said, “Way to go, Brainiac.” I knew right then we’d be great friends.

Jennifer was a connoisseur of life—she adored her family, good soulful-southern food, and hosting creatively decked-out parties (think picnic basket on steroids.) She taught me how to cut a mango like I was “in control and not a wild spaz.” She loved to garden and brought me seeds from her mother’s okra crop that she said were “pure gold,” and asked for seed pods from my massive hibiscus plant.

She taught me southern phrases like “Shut the front door!” which she exclaimed whenever I told her about something ridiculous that had happened in my life. She tried her hardest to teach me some of her favorite board games, and to instill in me at least a drop of her competitive spirit. She taught me to play Quirkle on her iPad during a chemo treatment, and joked that she had to hijack me with treatment to try to beat her. Even then, she won. 

She introduced me and Nina to local oddities like the Ponderosa Zoo (boasting a zonkey bred from a donkey and a zebra), and to the Circle-G ranch where we fed “exotic” animals from our car with our children squealing in the backseat. With a straight-game face, she told me we would liltingly toss food out the window to animals in the distance, and then she laughed hysterically at my reaction when the animals swarmed the car and even shoved their heads in the windows to get to the feed buckets.

She adored her husband, son, parents, close-knit high school friends, and extended family, and filled weekends with their gatherings. When the Susan G. Komen walk rolled around the first time after I’d met her, I assumed she would be there, with her posse of family and friends.

“Oh no,” she said, “I think it’s great for the people who want to take part, but I’d rather go camping.” It was then, I believe, that she told me she tried to not say the words “breast cancer,” because in naming it she would reinforce its power in her life. Meanwhile, she had an RV to stock with camping supplies and board games.

When the same strain of her breast cancer reappeared in her lungs a couple years later, we once again sat with a picnic, this time in her front yard on a beautiful spring day. Before launching into the diagnosis, she said, “Let’s enjoy this food first. You can’t digest if you start with bad news.” And so we ate, and talked about what the kids were learning and where she planned to go that summer. Then we swallowed her new reality—and the hardest lumps for her were imagining what her husband, son, and parents would have to endure if the doctor’s worst prognosis of six-to-twelve months were to come true.

I’m convinced that she defied that prognosis by a long shot because of her fierce spirit, and her refusal to be a poster girl for cancer. Over the next four years, she endured more than 20 combinations of chemo treatments and pre-trial experiments that often left her incredibly sick, weak, and scared. But still, she never introduced herself by saying she was a cancer survivor, or that it had recurred. After she died, I heard that many parents at her son’s school didn’t even know she was sick. She had rarely failed to show up, with that 1000-wattage smile and flaming red hair, which no one ever suspected was a wig.

The summer after she had been re-diagnosed, she invited me and Nina to her family’s condo in Florida for a week, along with her son and her beloved cousin. She brought along several intricate coloring books and an impressive collection of gel pens. Her treatment regimen at that time was giving her insomnia, and one night Nina and I both woke up sometime after midnight. I noticed the light was on in the living room, and found Jennifer coloring because she couldn’t sleep. Nina and I joined her, coloring mostly in silence, every now and then murmuring praise over how our pages were turning out.

The last time I saw her, a couple weeks before she died, she had just returned home from a hospital stay to treat a bout of pneumonia. She showed me the most recent design she’d vibrantly colored, and shared her plans for a 10-day RV trip to the Keys with her husband and son. Although I could see evidence of the recent hardships her body had gone through, I honestly thought she was recovering. I believed her belief.

Yet even after death, cancer hasn’t laid claim to Jennifer’s vibrancy. That word is not the story that those who love her tell one another. Instead, we talk about her radiant smile, maybe the one time we beat her at a board game, or her belief that her clever son would someday invent something that will change the world.

And so, instead of joining the Komen race this year, I spread a few of my hibiscus pod seeds, and I colored with gel pens.

It felt good to walk with her.

— Amy Rawe

The Power of a Potion

IMG_6430Last night Nina convinced me to put dinner on hold so she could show me how to make a magic potion that would strengthen any and all animals that wandered through our yard. I knew she’d been concocting potions with her friends as part of their summertime animal rescue efforts, but this was the first time she had invited me to apprentice. I turned off the stove.

“Let me get my phone,” I said as she headed out the front door with a metal bowl, “in case I want to take a photo.”

“You don’t need your phone,” she said. “You already have a camera built into your mind. That’s the only one you need for this.”

Right. When did I forget that magic cannot be documented?

We placed the bowl on the trampoline—where all potions are created—and as she brought me ingredients I stirred them gently with a stick. Water from the rain barrel. Twelve tiny round seeds from the dogwood tree, which needed to be peeled to the fleshy white center. The innermost yellow nectar of the mandevilla flower. The smallest scales of a pine cone. All summer she’d been discovering a level of beauty that I’d never seen in my own yard.

After she declared the potion was complete, I was required to sit criss-cross while holding the bowl at arm’s length as she jumped in a circle around me. If the potion didn’t spill, it was strong enough. Although she jumped with all her might, I managed to pass the spill test. I followed her off the trampoline and around the yard as she carefully distributed bits of the potion, naming the various types of animals we’ve seen out back—deer, hedgehogs, turtles, rabbits, squirrels.

Tonight I’ll tell her that I did recreate one photo from the potion process this morning—the inside of a torn mandevilla—because it was just too beautiful to trust to my memory. And I’ll tell her that although she didn’t know it, she conjured her potion on the eve of Equinox, when all creatures begin preparations for winter. One child’s faith in magic will surely bring them strength.

— Amy Rawe

Back in the Sandbox

With summer officially over, I face the fact that—just like last summer—I gave my writing the silent treatment. I posted no blogs, which is doom and gloom because the publishing industry experts all say that if you want get your book published you’ve got to have a lot of followers and you don’t get followers if you don’t put stuff out there for people to find. And follow.

So I default to flogging myself with brutal mental beatings, chastising my lack of commitment and creativity. Then, sufficiently battered, I switch to allowing excuses to whine their way in—”but I’ve had a lot of clients,” blahdee blahbitty blah.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’ll fess up that I’ve felt stuck, voiceless, and when I’ve tried to write the words feel stiff. I start thinking about the followers, and can’t imagine I have anything of value to add to the din of voices out there vying for cyber attention. So I hide and don’t write, and I forget that this doesn’t need to be such serious business. I forget that my intention when I began Rawe-Struck was to be raw, and full of wonder, and that if even just one person felt a “me too!” connection with what I put out there, that would be enough.

I forget how playing with words lights me up. And I stop playing when I become self-concious about who’s watching.

I think about what I would tell Nina if she strayed from a practice she loved doing. The answer comes simply and clearly, “Just begin again.” I would advise her not to waste anymore time paralyzing herself with self-woven restraints of guilt or worry about what other people think. I would tell her to jump in and rediscover the joy of why she wanted to do that thing in the first place. Just begin again.

I would tell her that sometimes we lose sight of our path, and spend day after day poking about in the weeds. And a lot of fast-talking should-experts live in those weeds. We scurry around in circles with them for awhile, and figure we’ll get back on path someday.

I might tell her about this time right now, when I forgot about why I loved writing, and that my “someday” became a season. And that I realized that was ok. I’ll tell her I had the courage to return and this time—because I thought of how I would talk to myself if I were talking to her—I said, “Welcome back!” instead of “It’s about time, loser.”

I’ll tell her I even said to myself, “You’re right on time, sweet-cheeks. Now get back in that sandbox of words and play!”

Leaning towards love —

love>fearI saw this bumper sticker some time ago, and have been thinking about how it applies to so many choices we make, or don’t make. Today I’m especially thinking about how it applies to parenthood, and how love and fear aren’t “one or the other” options. The two core emotions are intertwined like the helix’s of our emotional DNA,  each weaving through our hearts, minds, and decisions from conception on. The love is fierce, and the fears — whether real or imagined — can drop us to our knees.

Yet when the worst fears for our children become our reality, don’t we instinctively lean just a little harder into love than fear? Eight years ago, when Nina was admitted to NICU for evaluation of the hole in her tiny heart, we leaned into love although fear pulled at us like quicksand.

Today, I lean with all I have into love for my spirited friend who has rocked motherhood and lives life-out-fiery-loud, all while refusing to let years of countless and painful cancer treatments define her, or her family.

And today, I also lean with all my force into love for my friends, whose 8-year-old son will undergo surgery tomorrow to remove a mass in his brain.

I wonder if this is one of the most essential paradoxes of parenthood that we will never learn about in a guidebook.

There will be immense, breathtaking, love,

There will be immense, breathtaking, fear.

Sometimes they will coexist, each with such ferocity that we can hardly bear the weight. But then the burdens we thought we’d never face as parents — learning the steps required before entering a NICU room, setting up a Caring Bridge sight for a child — become things for which we’re most grateful. We whisper “thank you” for the safety of NICU, we whisper “thank you” for the outpouring of love that floods the child’s Caring Bridge site.

And maybe it’s the best we can do as parents to grab on and nudge one another towards the “greater-than” guiding force of love, rather than crumbling into fear.

For today, I’ll go with that.

Snow Days Flashback

Nina had no school last week due to ice and snow. We weathered it without incident — snuggling, reading, and roasting marshmallows the first few days. By Thursday cabin fever had set in and we seemed to have a primal squaring off —bickering with one another and stooping to cheating at board games. The week’s mix of sweet and sour days brought flashbacks of our first two snow days together, in 2010. Nina was three and in preschool.

Early December, 2010 — Snow Day #1

Today was Nina’s first experience with “no school because of snow.” We had such a sweet and magical day — marveling at the peaceful beauty of winter and the good fortune to be together each second. We baked cookies, and decorated the Christmas tree while singing carols. I laughed when Nina put on her goofy sunglasses because she thought the strands of lights were so bright. We snuggled on the couch with the napping cats and talked about how silent snowfall was.

I love snow days. I love being a mother. I’m going to savor and document every minute of it.

Snow Day #2.

Nina just demanded that I take photos of her, snarling, “Like you did yesterday! Do it!”

Yesterday had a Norman Rockwellish glow. I gazed upon my child adoringly, we savored life. I patiently read the same book 12 or 22 times (once backwards). I generously gave cookies, and we sipped hot chocolate after making snow angels in the crystal-white whopping two-inches of snow.

Snow day #2 carries a different reality…

After falling asleep way too late last night, Nina woke equally way too early — before the sun came up (which I suggested should really be a pretty easy guide to follow … No bright thing in sky, no getting out of bed.) She also woke with a bossy attitude way beyond her age allotment.

She insisted all the stamps on the Christmas cards I’ve been trying to finish for five freaking days now were stickers that she really, really needed, and I was the meanest mommy ever for not letting her continue to rip them off and tear open the envelopes.

The house is a disaster. Nina spilled the tray of open paints that I’d set up at an idealistic “Christmas project craft station” in the kitchen. Before I could get the spreading blobs cleaned up the cats chased one another through the mess, leaving a trail of red and green paw prints on the white carpet in the sunroom. Nina then screamed and kicked on the floor when I told her she could not follow suit with handprints.

The cats have been banished to the basement while they lick their paws and think about their assumption that the Christmas tree was their new scratching post to climb and topple, and that the lights on the tree were … well, whatever it is that idiot cats think glow and are therefore necessary to chew.

The day drug on with the same grit. Nina, naturally, refused to nap and by late afternoon we were both exhausted. By then the roads had cleared and, craving a reprieve, I bundled her up and we headed to the gym for a regularly scheduled yoga class.

“No class today,” the perky young girl at the front desk sang out, swinging her bouncy ponytail and smiling like she was ready to break into a cheer. I stared at her blankly, then asked to sign in for childcare so I could at least walk on the treadmill.

“Whoopsie! No childcare either!” she chirped, “It’s because the schools are closed today. Sorr-eeee!”

Huh? What childless genius decided not to at least have childcare at a place of wellness on snow day #2?!

On the way home, I made a quick stop at Target, where Nina immediately threw a fit because apparently I sat her in the wrong cart.

I persevered. And so did she, making peace with our perfectly-normal cart by suddenly pretending it was a bucking bull and she was the rider in this rodeo. She grabbed a tube of wrapping paper from the cart and swung it, nearly swiping an elderly lady who spun around and scampered away from us, looking back once with wide-eyed horror.

“Give me that!” I hissed, snatching the tube from Nina’s grip and mumbling, “Now it’s squished.”

I decided to ditch the rest of the shopping list, and made a dash for checkout to pay for the crumpled tube of wrapping paper.

As we left the store — marveling that the other customers were refraining from applause — Nina calmly asked, “Mommy, are kids hard to squish?”

Here’s my question.

Does it make me a bad mom if — rather than rushing to assure her that “Oh no, darling! Children are nothing like wrapping paper!” — I had to stop myself from saying, “Only one way to find out.”

— by Amy Rawe

Earth’s Valentine

On the heels of Valentine’s Day, Hallmark has nothing on Mother Nature.
earth valentineStones, nuts, shell. — By Amy Rawe

Holding Sandy Hook

cold-1284028__340Your small self slips under my covers
at 3 a.m.
grazes a sleep-shrouded kiss on my cheek,
barely a breeze,
whispers I love you
before falling back into deep sleep.

I used to lean in close,
when you were barely bigger than a shoe box,
holding my own breath to listen, keeping vigil during darkness,
making sure that the hole in your heart
had not swallowed your wind —
not sure how to pray or
to pray to —
but silently whimpering
thank you,
I’ve never known such
fragile, fierce

Eggshells know.
When broken, the large of the shell is
a magnet for the small shards of itself,
yearning for the essence of
its wholeness
now separate but still belonging.

The cord between me and you was short,
the delivery nurse said,
making your separation from me traumatic.
Even within I held you tight
but now learn and relearn that what I receive
I must also release.

Let me go, Mama, you’ll say to me later this day
when I hug you too tight after learning that
twenty children
barely older than you,
and six women warriors who fought for them,
were gunned down in their classrooms.
There are no words for this.

liked to ride horses and had asked Santa for cowgirl boots.
wanted to be an architect and a paleontologist when he grew up.
had convinced her mom to let her wear the pink dress
that was supposed to be saved for Christmas.
She was going to be an angel
in the nativity play that weekend.

We don’t yet know how we will weep
as we study their bright eyes and impish grins.
How their parents will never wake
to shudder and shake off
this nightmare.

But before that darkness corrodes our world
you will rise to the dawn of this day,
fill your backpack with small love notes
you’ve drawn for your kindergarten friends.

And when you open the door you will see that
shimmering white flurries have dusted the ground
and you’ll call out,
“Mama! The world has been frosted!
Come taste it!”

— Amy Rawe 12.14.12


I’m feeling more protective of Thanksgiving with each year. If I could draw, I’d visualize it this way — a turkey representing Thanksgiving quivers in the middle of train tracks as a bellowing locomotive called “Christmas” bears down. The train is many days ahead of schedule, and traveling way too fast to stop. Thanksgiving is overrun.

This past month, our only holiday decoration has been the twiggy “gratitude tree” we made out of branches sticking out of a vase on our kitchen table. We hang paper leaves decorated with words of what we’re grateful for — family, friends, our house, marshmallows, the sun. And, for this year at least, Nina parroted my “one holiday at a time” mantra when we would hear Christmas music in stores or see houses decorated with lights and red bows. ‘

“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, people!” she yelled out the window one night when we drove past a house with lighted reindeer in the front yard.

it’s not the meaning of Christmas that I want to keep at bay, but that I don’t want the consumerism of the holiday to trample the season of gratitude. I agree with those who say that gratitude should be a state of being, year round, not one day of saying grace before a big meal. But if we do have one day to at least acknowledge it, can’t we honor it by being fully present without being inundated with Black Friday deals! deals! deals! Or worse, stores opening on Thanksgiving evening. In our society of instant-click-buy and fed-ex fast delivery, why are we in such a blazing hurry to buy? Just about the only thing I can think of that I would stand in line for hours (or days, as some people do) and throw out my elbows for is a miracle cure for my friend with cancer.

Today I trumped Black Friday by prolonging Thanksgiving. In what feels like meek protest — like putting a rickety wooden gate in line of a roaring avalanche — I deleted the flood of Black Friday sale emails that inundated my in-box, and I joined in on the “Say No To Shopping On Thanksgiving” community on Facebook. As I prepare to enjoy another dinner with my family, I’ll add more leaves on the gratitude tree.


Let Her Fall

trainingThis is bike week during gym at Nina’s school, which brought a reckoning. Nina had yet to attempt riding without training wheels — she said she just wasn’t ready. But when we parked in front of the bike drop-off field Monday morning, I looked at her in the rear view mirror and saw her face blanch. None of the other bikes had training wheels.

“Mama! Take off my training wheels! Please, you have to!” she pleaded.

“But you’ve never ridden without them,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out. You’ve just got to take them off!”

As the bell rang and she ran to her classroom, I sat in the car staring at the bikes, wondering what to do. Would I be allowing her to cave in to peer pressure, at the risk of getting hurt? Or would I be honoring her decision, trusting that she’d handle the challenge. Which would be more painful — embarrassment or skinned knees?

When Nina was ten-months old, her dad enrolled her in daycare two afternoons a week. He thought I needed the time, and that she needed the separation from my protective grip. I worried that she would be scared, that she was too young. But he said, “What if she thrives? What if she really loves it, and it’s good for you both?”

He was right. Her gummy grin widened when she saw the other children in a room full of books and toys. Instead of dissolving into shrieks and tears each time I dropped her off, she’d raise her drool-drenched chubby hand and clench it open and closed to say goodbye.

I decided to take the training wheels off. As I was finishing, the gym teacher, “Miss Cookie,” walked over to survey the field of bikes. I explained Nina’s situation to her and she said, “I doubt she’ll be the only one. I’ll work with her in the grass so the falls are softer.” I told her I felt a little guilty that she’d need to give my child more attention because of something I hadn’t yet taught her to do, and she invited me to come back later that day to help.

Anxiety gnawed on me during the five hours until it was time for her class to ride. When the kids finally did run out to the field, I watched Nina struggle to keep her bike steady while walking it towards me. Her bottom lip was trembling and she quickly wiped away tears. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered, her voice shaking. I knelt down and told her that I’d talked with Miss Cookie and that we would help her learn in a safe way. And she wasn’t alone. Several other second-graders wobbled on their bikes down the gentle slope of the learner’s lawn.

Nina fell many times, but she learned how to fall away from the bike in the process, and her first small successes with balance and pedaling quashed her fear. “Let go,” she’d say when she was ready for me to stopping running alongside her, steadying the bike. Let go.

When she saw the more experienced kids riding laps on the pavement, she declared, “I want to do that.” Within a half hour, she was. I watched her ride past me, singing out loud, while I worked with the kids who were still in the learning area. On the last lap, she saw me and yelled, “Mama! Look!” as she dared to lift one hand — long since grown from being the chubby, drool covered hand of a child who could not yet walk. She waved and gave a thumb’s-up, then rode around the bend, out of sight.

riding video

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