• emotion words: sonder

    I meant to keep posting these imaginary words for emotions, emotions that are themselves all too real. Most are from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a wonderful website that may one day take form as a book...

    In any case: here's a word from it, one that seems to me so important for each of us.

    sonder. n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

  • back-to-school rituals

    It feels like school is starting so early this year! I'm not sure anyone feels ready for it--children and parents alike. And yet, part of our task as parents is to help prepare our children for that first day, to register its significance without adding to our children's own feelings about school, whatever they may be, from excitement to dread and everything in between. So much of what we're encouraged to do revolves around shopping (new shoes, new shirts, new dresses, new school supplies) and around food (special breakfasts, special lunches, or after-school treats)--and if these feel like a good fit for your family, that's great.

    There are ways to step into the school year that cost less and that keep us connected at this moment when it can feel either like we're being pulled apart or like we really can't take one more day together. Practicing the way to school if you walk or bike or drive, or walking together to the bus stop, or playing at the playground in the week before school can help settle nerves by answering a child's unspoken question: what will it be like? (And if your school allows you to meet your teacher in advance, so much the better.) For walkers, making friends with neighborhood cats to greet along the way; for bikers and drivers, special songs to sing, or trees to observe throughout the seasons can be comforting touchstones each day.

    Reading books about school together--classics like The Kissing Hand, or less well-known books like Edward Unready for School for the youngest--books that acknowledge children's feelings about school can be supportive in the days and weeks leading up to school. Even after school has begun, reading about school can be a window into experience. A book like The Year of Miss Agnes or The Wheel on the School goes a long way to illuminating feelings about school, its purpose and its meaning for older elementary children. For those already more comfortable in school, the Louis Sachar Wayside School books can be entertaining. Or the adventure of school?: Harry Potter! Or, for high school students, the constraint of school and the necessity of finding oneself in the midst of it?: Among Others, or The Catcher in the Rye.

    A quiet dinner the night before school where you remember something special, just one special thing, about the summer can feel like a good goodbye...

    For many children, receiving a talisman can be helpful: a photo of you, or a felt heart you've covered in kisses, a worry doll to share troubles with throughout the day, or a note you tuck into a pocket to be read throughout the day--all of them reminders that you did and will think of them, that they are not forgotten but are held in your heart...

    And on the first day itself, a morning photo (candid in pajamas at the breakfast table or posed dressed by the door) is quick, and a wonderful way of marking growth. And if your child can trace their hand to pair with that photo, you get another tangible reminder of how small they once were--and how much they've grown by year's end.

    Good luck this year!

  • making sense and marking time

    Oregon Humanities sponsors a program called The Conversation Project, an opportunity for people across the state to gather together and talk about a particular topic. In a few days, people in Portland will have a chance to talk about ritual in secular lives. If you'd like more information, follow this link

    From the event organizers:

    How do we make meaning out of the big milestones in our personal and community lives? For the many people who do not have strong ties to religious or other cultural traditions, major life events such as birth, aging, relationship changes, illness, death, and community crises are often marked by no ritual at all. Holly Pruett, a life-cycle celebrant who works with individuals, families, and communities to commemorate such occasions, leads a conversation about the role of ritual and ceremony in participants’ family and cultural histories, the impact of life events that have passed unobserved, and the new ceremonies that people are creating to mark these milestones. 

  • Dear Stranger...

    Oregon Humanities is sponsoring a program to support connection among us, an opportunity to share our experience with someone we don't yet know--a dear stranger. This is how they describe the program:

    Oregon is a big place, home to a great diversity of geography and experience. It’s hard to say anything about the state that holds as true in Nyssa as it does in Neskowin. How can we hope to understand the experiences of people living in such different places? How can we work together for the good of all?

    Dear Stranger, a letter-exchange project that connects Oregonians from different parts of the state through the mail, strives to create a little understanding across the vastness of this place. For this year's edition of Dear Stranger, we're asking people from all over the state to consider some of the questions at the heart of Bridging Oregon, our ongoing cross-community conversation series.

    Here’s how it works: 

    1. Write a letter. Address it “Dear Stranger.” Write about the place where you live or a community where you feel at home. What makes it unique or unusual? Is there anything about your place or your community that you feel is misunderstood by people outside of it? What might help people understand it better? Fill a page or two, or more if you feel inspired. If you’d like, feel free to include a photo or a drawing or a recipe—anything that will fit in an envelope.
    2. Print and sign the Dear Stranger release form. We cannot exchange letters without a signed release.
    3. Mail your letter and signed release form to Dear Stranger c/o Oregon Humanities, 921 SW Washington St., #150, Portland, Oregon 97205

    When you write to Dear Stranger, your letter will be swapped with that of another writer from elsewhere in the state. They will get your letter; you will get theirs. The exchange is anonymous, and you can share as little or as much information about yourself as you like. Please keep in mind that photos, even ones without people in them, may contain information that could be used to identify you.

    Dear Stranger is open to everyone, though writers under the age of 18 must have parental consent to participate. (Click here to download the consent form.) Letters are paired at random, though we do our best to match participants with someone outside of their ZIP code. Oregon Humanities staff read all letters before they are exchanged.

    Letters will be mailed to participants on a rolling basis beginning in August 2018. We will continue exchanging letters received through October 26, 2018. Instructions for replying to your stranger will be included in your letter. If you have questions about Dear Stranger, contact Ben Waterhouse at or (503) 241-0543, ext. 122.

    I think I'll be participating this year. I encourage you to notice whether or not this feels like a meaningful opportunity to you as well.

  • listening to fathers

    As parental roles shift, more men are sharing their experiences as fathers. Podcasts devoted to fathering are part of this exploration. The Modern Dads Podcast and Brand New Father Podcast both offer interviews with experts as a means of figuring out what's happening for fathers. At the same time, there's something about the expert focus of these podcasts that tends to diminish the rawness of the experience, and leaves me wanting something more.

    So I mentioned Elisha Cooper recently. He's a children's book author, and wrote a second memoir--better than the first, I think--called Falling: A Daughter, A Father, and A Journey Back (New York: Anchor, 2016)--about the time when, holding his daughter on his lap at a baseball game, he felt a lump under her ribs, and everything changed. His meditation on his own emotional development through the family crisis that ensued is deeply moving. And it's a rare look at the powerlessness that fathers can feel. 

    Either way, it's not all Oedipus and Laius or Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader or any of a number of similarly charged pairings anymore, thank goodness. 

  • supporting the emotional development of boys

    When men do not know their their own inner lives, and so cannot register when they might need to make changes to support their mental health, they are more vulnerable to mental illness. Is there something distinctive about the ways in which men don't know themselves--something in the way that they are raised--that we might be able to change? 

    One of the things that we can do is to start begin early, by supporting little boys in remaining alive to their emotions. To do so it to move against the current of the culture, which in myriad ways, discourages boys and those who care for them to risk the change. This piece, "Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls," published in The New York Times last summer explores this conundrum.

  • a poem for the summer solstice

    If children's literature is typically ignored--though this is less true than it once was--children's poetry is virtually unimagined by those not obessively devoted to the genre as a whole. Karla Kuskin is one of my favorite poets for her brief and vivid pieces, so evocative for me. 


    I am very fond of bugs.

    I kiss them.

    And I give them hugs. 

  • becoming a father

    There's a head sticking out of my best friend. This is insane. Anybody who says this moment is the most precious wonderful thing in the world is delusional. This isn't a miracle, it's assault. I'd call 911 but we're already in a hospital. 

    So begins Elisha Cooper's Crawling: A Father's First Year (New York: Anchor Books, 2006). Until recently, there have been few memoirs of fatherhood. If you've been hungry to hear someone else's take on the entry into fatherhood, of the struggle to get it right and still to get it wrong, to make space for a new person in your heart and in your home, Cooper's is a voice worth listening to.

    Too many man enter fatherhood without undertanding how vulnerable parenthood may make them feel. And so, when they have scary thoughts, they may think that there's something wrong with them--that they're somehow not equipped for or entitled to fatherhood. 

    It's so important that we share these stories, so fathers can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 


    worry about yourself

    While I'm not a huge fan of children's private moments being posted for the world to see, I do love this video of a little girl asserting her desire--and her ability--to do things for herself. And of her father making room for her to do just that. 


    convos with my 2 year old

    "Actual conversations with my 2 year old daughter, as re-enacted by me and another full-grown man."

    You may have seen this already--it gets at the existential weirdness of talking with young children--especially when you forget that they're people, and they're working hard to remind you.