summer trip to RRG, KY

It used to be that our family would travel in the fall or the spring, when temps for rock climbing were at their best— or at least their most tolerable. There would be slightly intolerable temps/weather on either side of what worked specifically for climbing. In the fall when we would travel to southwest TX, climbing temps were ideal, hovering around 50-60 degrees during the day in the sunshine, sometimes warmer. But when we were not climbing, in the early morning, in the evening when the sun was already down, and overnight, temps would be well below that, sometimes even in the low 30s and upper 20s. That was downright cold if you had to be out in it at all. We had our van though, and we could cram in there with a heater and be quite cozy. If we went to southwest TX in the spring, temps were often much higher and we would chase the shade a bit more to climb during the day, still hopefully in the 70s. But evening and morning were quite cool and pleasant, and we could hangout. One thing we did not have to deal with much at all when we would travel in the spring or in the fall were bugs, especially out west, weather TX or CO or elsewhere. 

More recently we have not been able to travel in the fall or spring due to school and sports schedules. We have been limited to taking family vacations in the summer— never an ideal time in most places to rock climb. You have to be willing to drive a long way if you live in the northeast. A couple of years ago, we did alright though. We made a little tour out west of places in AZ, UT, CO and WY. Besides climbing a lot, we visited Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park. There was some rain, and sometimes it was hot, but mostly pleasant climbing conditions in the shade. These were mountainous areas so humidity remained pretty low in comparison to PA even if it rained. There were a few bugs in WY at the campground but not up high in the canyon where we climbed. The one downside of this trip was that it was a mite too long and there was some fighting at the end. Otherwise, it ranked near the top of the list as one of our favorite trips.

This year there were so many problems even trying to plan a summer trip. COVID19… need I say more? It was hard to plan ahead, so we didn’t even really nail anything down until June. We decided against destinations that were going to be high traffic tourist traps, like any of the main climbing areas or national parks in the west and southwest. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided to travel to Tucson, AZ, to stay with friends and climb locally on Mount Lemmon. Our friends were spending more time than usual up there (high elevation and cooler than summer desert temps). We could camp if we wanted to on the mountain, but staying in our friends’ guest house was also just fine. And they have a pool that would help since summer temps in AZ are in the 100s regularly. The plan took shape and seemed to be a done deal, until June 12 when Mount Lemmon caught fire. Then COVID cases began to flare in the urban areas of the state. And then, by July 4, the monsoon season had not yet arrived, so there was to be no relief for the dry heat that had settled in the southwest. Tucson, AZ, was completely out of the question. 

We could have taken a couple of weeks to go to WY. That seemed hard though since both boys are working this summer, and Seb especially didn’t want to take 2+ weeks off to find that he didn’t have a job when he got back. So we decided to travel closer to home to KY, for one week in July and maybe another week in early August. Kentucky is the home of the Red River Gorge which is a world class climbing destination. The RRG is not typically flooded with climbers in the summertime due to less than ideal climbing conditions (heat, humidity, precipitation = steaminess). We were able to find good camping at the Lago Linda Hideaway with water and electric hook ups for our pop-up camper. Kentucky also has remained pretty low on COVID cases, so we didn’t feel like we’d be risking our health going there.

On Sunday, July 12 we embarked. A storm front had cooled temps to 80s during the day and 60s at night and blew away some of the humidity. The first two days were pleasant for climbing, pleasant for camping, pleasant for feeling like we could relax and be on vacation. Then came Wednesday, our rest day, and temps shot up into the 90s again. Staying at the campground to rest was not an option. We were bickering, we weren’t relaxing. It wasn’t even noon yet, and it was too hot to sit outside, too hot to sit in the camper. Most of us were being slowly eaten alive by bugs. We had heard-tell of a good old fashioned swimming’ hole nearby, so we decided to go searching for that. It took two hours to finally find it, but what is two hours spent in an air conditioned car sipping on an Ale-81? Due to shoddy GPS coordinates to said swimmin’ hole, we were forced to traverse the entire roadway through that part of Daniel Boone National Forest and see some sights we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We were able to joke and laugh and talk. It was good family time. When finally we did arrive at the parking lot for the swimming’ hole, we found it packed to the gills and the overflow pull outs along the road also taken up. So we decided to just find a spot somewhere along the river where we could be in the shade and wade in the water. Thus we spent a quiet couple of hours in the actual Red River, skipping rocks, cooling off in the shallow sandy water while our toes were nibbled by little fishes. 

The rest of our stay in KY spiraled downward with the increased heat and humidity. We rock climbed one more day, but rain brought with it such intolerable conditions. And since we were exhausted battling bugs the entire time, we decided to go home one day early. We could not break down camp fast enough that Friday morning, and we have not once cursed having to constantly use our air conditioning at home since. 

I daresay, we will not ever plan a trip to KY, nor anywhere in the south or east, during the summer months again. 

Let this be a record to remind me of that.

long nails and a wedding ring

I bent over this morning after I got home from the coffee shop (COVID19 and I’m thankful that take-out coffee is considered a grocery item, a necessity), and my wedding ring along with a billion teeny tiny beads from the necklace that held it fell into the the carpet in my writing room, the room I have commandeered as mine for a few hours this morning anyway. Most of the time since Brian and I were married in 1997, I have worn this heavy circlette of white gold on some sort of chain or necklace. I love bead necklaces, and I have purchased the last couple on different road trips. This one, now strewn through the strands of the carpeting, I bought in Buffalo, WY, three years ago, at the end of a summer climbing trip that included other places in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. On a rest day from climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon, we went to town. The store where I purchased it was quirky and artsy and sold a bunch of quirky and artsy stuff that local quirky and artsy people made. The necklace was $20 and had turquoise birds randomly strung on it. I guess 3 years is a pretty long life for something that cost $20 that I wore every day. 

I scour the carpet, frustrated that it’s cutting into my writing time, and find, hopefully, all the beads. I place them in a ziploc bag. I save these broken necklaces in case at some point I learn how to remake them. This is the third set of beads that are sitting in a box left unstrung. I often fantasize about taking up other hobbies— stringing necklaces, tiling mosaics, playing piano— but none of them come to fruition because of climbing. I’m not going to stay at home and not climb for any of these other options. Maybe that will change now.

I place the ring on my finger. My hands are soft, losing their calluses, and my fingernails are long because I’m not climbing during this stay at home order– it has already been weeks and weeks. These hands with their long nails and now adorned with my wedding ring don’t even seem like my hands at all. I still act like a climber though and hang on my fingerboard and do tons of pull ups. In a few days, when I can’t stand the feeling of the shiny circle swiveling around my finger and my nails feel like they are monster’s claws, I will go find some other necklace to put it on temporarily— something that I got from nowhere special and will probably never break. 

Finding my soul’s worth on Better Eat Your Wheaties.

Energy was coiled in my belly, in the muscles of my legs and arms and gut, ready to spring as soon as I let it fly. I made the move so big this time— not wild but robust and driven. As I pressed with all my might into my feet, my right hand jettisoned past the crimp, but only just, hovered, and then my fingers grabbed it. The pressure of my fingertips on the hold was exactly right, my left toe pivoted on its tiny divet while my right leg jack-knifed behind me with the leftover energy. Then I had to rein it in, coil that energy back into my core, put my foot back on the rock, move my other foot up, and reach with my left hand: sure and strong. 

Thus I danced along the holds of the boulder, my body knowing exactly where to go, knowing exactly how to move, how much force to exert and energy to burn moving between each stance, unrehearsed. There weren’t math equations being solved with my brain, but intuition and complete freedom, the click of being in the right place at the right time, my body doing exactly what it was meant to be doing. 

I did not hear the cheers from my audience— my husband and kids, my friends— only the singing in my head and my heart with the knowledge that I personally, in that moment, had been handed a gift. There was a roar of delight in my ears, laughter overflowing from my mouth, tears leaking from my eyes. Not just because I didn’t fall or because I succeeded, but because my whole body, my whole being, had become a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing—  a true act of worship.


Rock climbers are intent on finishing routes or boulder problems successfully (read: not falling). There are specific definitions for the ways a rock climb can be “sent:”

On-sight. When you successfully finish a climb having never seen it, been on it, or even talked to anyone about it. This term comes with the most prestige and honor. Onsighting is a sign of your fitness level, ability and talent. The climb didn’t have anything to teach you.

Flash. When you have climbed a route successfully your first time, but you have either seen someone else climb it, or you have been given “beta” (information on how to climb the route) and have an idea of what the moves are ahead of time. You can be very proud about flashing a climb, even though you didn’t on-sight it. It means you needed very little help, and you were strong enough to do the moves even though you didn’t figure them out on your own.

Red-point. When you red-point a route, it means that you have fallen on it. It could mean that you did the climb your 2nd try or your 205th try. Either way, there is no shame in red-pointing. The one time of not falling on the route erases all the other times you did fall on it. Redpointing shows that you went through a learning process on the climb and that you became stronger and better at climbing… it formed you into a better climber.

However, there is no pride, no honor, no prestige in an unfinished climb. In fact, I would say, an unfinished climb is a little bit shameful: a climb left imperfected, a climb left undone. You can say, “Well, I have been on that climb. I have done all the moves. But I haven’t DONE it,” with a little deferential tilt of the head, a lowering of the eyes, and much frustration in your voice. 

I have too many unfinished climbs hounding my mind and thoughts, some for a year or two, some for decades: Creature, Inter-gallactic Orcas, Mr. Serious, Slash and Burn, Happiness is Slavery, Ultramega, P.O.D., Starry, T-Bone Shuffle, … It doesn’t matter that I have a ticklist of routes I have done a mile long. It is the unfinished routes that are a thorn in my side, like sins I can’t stop committing or haven’t been forgiven for. They symbolize weakness. In a more positive light, they show me that I still have a lot to learn.

But I have to remember that our lives are always unfinished business, and even if I have finished all the climbs I have tried, I will still remain unfinished as a climber and as a person. I can always get better and stronger. I can always work on skills that I don’t have. I will always have new goals to attain, new routes and problems to climb. I will never be finished.

Sometimes you have to use passive voice…

Seb is taking his test to get his actual driver’s license today. I’m not with him. Brian is a much more calming force than I am in this situation. One parent told me last night that the whole family went to their oldest son’s driving test. That is intense. The thought of us all going to Seb’s test feels overwhelming to me, which is why we didn’t even think to do that. Seb needs space from other people’s anxiety and emotions during test-taking, so me tagging along on this momentous occasion seemed less than ideal. Oren and I are going about our normal Wednesday “at home” which is really the morning spent at a library doing our homeschooling things, awaiting the news.

    When you have kids, you know that someday they are going to learn to drive, but it’s such a fuzzy, abstract thought when they are little. Then they actually climb behind the wheel for the first time, to soon you think, and it becomes concrete— extremely concrete. So concrete that it’s like a cement wall sitting there in front of the car, and it really feels like they are just going to drive headlong into it, full speed. The first time your teenager drives is the scariest thing, maybe, that you will ever know up until that point in your parenting experience. You are putting your life and your vehicle that costs thousands of dollars (hopefully not tens of thousands) into the hands of an emotional, relatively unpredictable, rather belligerent and unreasonable kid, who, you swear, acts less mature than he did when he was seven. You are also putting other people’s lives and vehicles into his hands. But it’s just your job, just part of being a parent and learning to let go of control, to climb into the passenger seat, the seat of passivity.

    In our English grammar, there is active voice and passive voice. The most effective way to write and communicate in almost all cases is in the active voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. We know who is in control.

I am driving.

In passive voice, which most English teachers through highschool will teach their students to avoid (at least mine did), it is vague who is doing the action, who is in control. In passive voice the focus is on who or what the action is being done to. So when you plop down in that passenger’s seat and your child is in the driver’s seat, you become the direct object, the passive object to whom the action is being done.

I am being driven by Seb.

Now you know why people try to avoid using passive voice. You are decidedly not in control. But it is also questionable if your teenager is actually in control instead of you. It may be vague to you both who is actually in control for awhile. Like I said, scary.

    As the parent, we try to stay in control of things for as long as possible. We clutch onto control sometimes for too long and may have to employ the help of a therapist to wrench our clinging claws free of the the thing that we need to give our child the freedom to do. Even in the passenger’s seat, or the backseat if both parents are in the car at the same time when the teenager is driving, we try to control the situation, especially at the beginning. We are constantly telling him what to do: speed up, slow down, use your brakes, stop using your brakes so much, turn on your blinker, you don’t need to turn your blinker on so soon. We try to make rules like, the parent in the passenger seat is the only one who gets to say things, the backseat parent needs to remain quiet, as if we will follow those rules. 

For a short time the parents do maintain some sense of control. The child needs directions on how to get places. He needs to be taught all the steps and mini-steps that are involved in driving without creating mayhem, hitting other cars, and killing people. But then gradually, before we’re ready, he understands what he needs to do. He knows the directions— the directions have been internalized from driving around with you all these years, while he sat in the passenger’s seat; and, if we don’t stop telling him when to use his blinkers and their brakes, how is he going to remember to think of it on his own? We have to stop doing what we have been doing all his life. We have to stop telling him what to do and where to go. He has to do this himself now. We can no longer do the driving for him if we want him to grow into being a good and responsible driver himself. He yells these things at us when we can’t stop trying.

As I write this reflection, Seb has passed his driver’s test. He is in line waiting for the DMV sloths (Zootopia, people!) to create his for-real photo license. Probably today he is going to want to get in the car and drive somewhere all by himself, all alone with no one else for the first time. We’re going to have to let him go (and maybe run an errand for us). In the case of Seb driving places on his own, we parents are not even going to be in passive voice anymore. We’re not going to be in the sentence at all really— except as the nagging voices in his head that he can’t get rid of and the people writing the check for our suddenly huge car insurance bill. Now, Seb is the subject, hopefully invoking the action of driving in a reasonable and responsible and safe way. And maybe paying for the gas he uses sometimes.

Lord, have mercy.

I Wrote this for Gma McM’s Memorial Service

Grandma McMillan thought I had the most beautiful teeth. She told me all the time. In these past few years of her life when her short term memory left her, she exclaimed over my pearly whites about ten times per visit, each time with as much enthusiasm as the first as if she had just in that moment discovered the fact. She also gushed over my handsome sons: Did the boys love me? Did they behave? They have grown so much! Do they fight? They are very handsome. 

Although Grandma eventually had no memory of who Sebastien and Oren and I were, she knew she should know who we were and still welcomed us with a happy smile and open arms whenever we visited. Though Grandma had no memory, she was blessed with general contentment. She didn’t struggle with extreme anxiety like my other grandma, Grandma Hemphill, did in her last years. The last time I visited Grandma McM, I read some of the Psalms to her from her dilapidated Bible. In between each Psalm Grandma would stop me with genuine pleasure and joy on her face, pointing at me with her age-crooked finger,  and say, “You have grown spiritually, I can tell!” Though Grandma had no memory of my name, I really do think she knew me in that moment. She always was a bit of a clairvoyant when it came to Holy Spirit things. 

Grandma didn’t often show anger or frustration. She was always so gentle and sweet. Was she the perfect Mother? The perfect grandmother?  There is one memory that I love telling people about Grandma. In fact, I told it to some friends at dinner the night before she died. One year when she and Grandpa lived at The Home on the fifth floor, I decided to learn Russian at the university where I worked. At first I was so excited to try out my new language skills with her. We would sit in her living room and begin a very simple conversation. But every time I tried to say anything past “Здра́вствуйте, меня зовут Jeni,” Grandma would say, “No, Jeni! You must move your mouth more! You can’t get away with mumbling when you speak Russian!” And she would finish every sentence for me. We didn’t end up having very many complete conversations in Russian. It was more fruitful to write her letters. But this is one of my favorite memories of Grandma because it reminds me that she was a normal, flawed — and very Slavic—  human being after all.

strange feelings while watching Stranger Things with my kid

    Oren and I have been rewatching some of Stranger Things together, though we have seen all three seasons. We started a couple of weeks ago with the last episodes of Season 1. Then the other night we started watching Season 2 about half way through. And now we’re watching all of Season 3 again. I am of course picking up on a lot of things I missed the first (ahem) two times through. I’m finding that in watching some of the episodes again, without just being completely carried away by the crazy story and action, I’m able to settle down and have thoughts like, why do I love some of these characters (Hopper, Steve, Max, etc.) so much, and why do I totally hate others (Mike!)? And why does the music make me so happy that I have to hold myself back from getting up and singing and dancing along to it? I’m paying attention in a different way.

    First of all, watching Stranger Things with my teenagers is very fun, but also very… uh, strange. In some ways, as my little nuclear family sits and watches this show together, I think that my kids are getting to experience some of my growing up years. Obviously, there is the music and the fashions, but there’s also the people, the characters. I was the same age, maybe slightly younger, as all the young teenage characters, in the 80s. I knew these characters, so to speak: the nerds, the assholes, the kids with mullets. I grew up with them. I rode around my small town on bikes with them. I roller-skated and sang along to almost every song that is part of the ST soundtrack. The other day Oren downloaded an ST playlist on Spotify, and it puzzled me as we listened to it. Every song that came on (in fact, I just turned on the playlist so I could be inspired to keep writing), I sentimentally remembered (or maybe my mind is recreating some memories) listening to it on the radio as a kid— these songs were just part of the soundtrack of my life— and I can remember almost every single word. I can immediately sing along. Oren however, is trying to remember what scene of the show the song belongs with.  These songs that are working up a nostalgia inside of me for my childhood and small town where I grew up, are working up a nostalgia in my son for the show, and only the show. It’s strange.

    Last night, Oren and I watched the episode from Season 3 when Mike is an asshole (wait, isn’t that all the episodes?) and lies to El, so El and Max go to the mall to go shopping (because that is what girls do). The mall is such a central hub of memories for me—  and the clothes, God help us all, the clothes. Madonna’s “Material Girl” plays along while the two girls bop in and out of shops in the mall, and I begin to sing along (I love Madonna!). “Material Girl” completely appalled my parents, and whenever they heard us (me and at least one of my sisters) singing it, we’d get a dreary sermon with Bible verses quoted about how terrible it is to be a material girl and we shouldn’t even listen to such evil trash. And the song churned up all these emotions inside of me, and I was totally getting into it, until this internal moment was abruptly cut short by the fact that my 13 year old son was also singing along. What the hell?

“How do you know this song?” I asked him. His youth group leader on a recent mission trip he went on played it in the car on the drive, was his answer.

    I don’t know if what I’m feeling is protective of this decade of my life and of the show. Certainly it’s sentimentality. And while ST is about this insidious alien thing terrorizing Hawkins, IN, it is also about sentimentalizing the 1980s. It’s portrayal of the kids and the clothes and even the Russians are based on our sentimental feelings from the times. They are all caricatures. Only the music is original and true, but it works up the feelings in those of us who lived through the 1980s that are fuzzy and glowy and warm, kind of like ________ (what 80s music video has a bunch of fuzzy, glowy images in it? Insert here), and they are more sentimental than actual.

whether the weather

I find myself constantly checking the weather.

The first few years of my climbing career, Brian and I climbed outside every weekend regardless of weather; nevertheless, we checked the forecast multiple times daily between weekends just to know what we were in-for. A fifty-percent chance of rain could mean that there was a fifty-fifty chance for any rain at all, or it could mean that it would definitely rain for fifty percent of the day. And you would think that if there was only a twenty-percent chance for precipitation, it should be safe to be outside. Often though the sky would dump tons of rain on those days. There was also the rare zero-percent chance-for-rain-days when a thunderstorm of Old Testament proportions would arrive. So even when we did check the forecast, the weather remained unpredictable, and we would have no idea what was going to happen. By far the worst thing to happen though, was when we would decide to stay home because of a high chance of terrible weather and end up missing perfect weather and climbing conditions. That has happened more times than I care to remember and leaves a lingering feeling of total human failure in my gut.

After about five years of climbing together almost every weekend, Brian and I started getting sick of the unpredictable weather at the New River Gorge, when it rained whether it was forecast to or not, or was so hot that the otherwise dry rock would be sweating: even if we could find dry routes to climb, we’d still getting soaked from precipitation or perspiration while we hiked and camped. Our stuff would get wet and never dry. We kept going though. At that point in our young lives, it was better than staying at home and cleaning the house. Or maybe it was just a compulsion we were unable to thwart. It was the only way we knew how to be.

For a while, climbing seasons meant fall, spring, summer. Winter in Western PA and West Virginia meant taking a breather from climbing outside, though on some nice days we would still try to get on real rock, frozen fingers and toes be damned. As the years went by, climbing seasons became more than weather and temperature, more than fall, winter, spring, and summer. Whole chapters of life became a different climbing season. When you stick with something for more than say, seven to ten years, you begin to notice your life becoming organized in this way. Seasons of life can be even more wild and unpredictable than the weather without a way to check the forecast. Seasons of life can interrupt your climbing career for more than just a weekend here or there. But the thing I realized at some point was that in one season, you might not climb very much, but when that season is over, you can look forward to being immersed in it once more.

So far, I have not lost climbing to Real Life seasons: not to pregnancy, not to life with a newborn, not to injury, not to having a sick parent or child. These times in my life just became a time of climbing inside: climbing with new and different purpose, climbing for sanity, climbing for rehabilitation and healing. And these seasons of only climbing inside taught me something else. They taught me that I love climbing no matter what, no matter when, and mostly, no matter where. If I have to climb inside for the rest of my life, so be it. Climbing is as important to me as eating or breathing.

Climbing seasons began to change all the time once we had kids in the mix. The Season of Newborns: we were too afraid to take them outside when they were so tiny, and we thought they would instantly die or be grabbed out of our arms by giant mosquitoes. The Season of Toddlers: we took them outside knowing we would have to manage temper tantrums when naps couldn’t be had, and we wondered if we were crazy for even trying. We always had to find friends who were willing to join us; and thus, there were always people to witness the mess of our family.

The Season of Big Kids was bliss while it lasted. We climbed outside a lot during this season. We chose to homeschool, in part so we could travel and climb any time of the year. So while the happy parents climbed and took turns hovering around them to fend off danger and wild beasts in places like Hueco Tanks, TX, Maple Canyon, UT, and the New River Gorge, WV, the kids played in the dirt, immersing themselves in microbial wild beasts. They loved going outside. They loved camping. They were always game to go somewhere and hang on a rope.

Then came the Season of the Tween. It was a season that seemed to come way too early when our oldest turned nine. Should he really be getting an attitude that young? This was the season when our strong-willed kiddo hated climbing and thought it was stupid. It was a season of forced This-Is-What-We-Do-As-A-Family! climbing. It was a season of Who-Could-Hate-This-Sport!?– You’re-Crazy! climbing. It was almost a season to end all seasons of climbing outside forever for all of us. It was a season of great turmoil.

The Season of the Teen, as anyone could have predicted, did not change the conflict of interest but did increase in difficulty. There was weeping and crying out, “Why?!?” The teenager went to highschool and the freedom of homeschooling both of our kids ended and climbing outside whenever we wanted was over. The teenager became involved with a water sport (possibly the furthest thing from climbing there is) and is happy to step foot in the climbing gym once every two months if that. Ironically, he is still happy to demand we buy him new climbing shoes as he grows. Traveling to climb is out of the question most of the year.

Rightly so, this has also become known as the Season of the Renegade: Nobody wants to climb?! Fine! I will go by myself! I wake up at five am on a Saturday to drive four hours to the New River Gorge and climb with friends who do want to climb. I climb all day and drive home happy and exhausted and sore and hungry and get home at eleven pm. I eat M n Ms and drink Coke so I don’t fall asleep at the wheel. I feel hardcore. This scenario has happened 4-5 times. I have taken my younger son with me a couple of them. I have encouraged my husband to go on his own renegade climbing trips with others. With secret tears and deep heart sadness that our family no longer climbs together, this may actually be sustainable.

The next season I imagine for myself and my husband will be The Season of the Empty Nesters. This could be a resurgence of The Newlywed Season when we were always away from home climbing somewhere. Climbing is a sort of glue that will keep Brian and I together and happy in Middle Age and Old Age. We will sneak away to climb somewhere out West— maybe somewhere we have never even taken the kids!– and be gone for weeks on end. Our muscled arms will have wrinkly and saggy skin dangling off of them. We will look half our age. We will again have a reason to check the weather even though we already always do that anyway.

Too far!

A mom and her young kids just walked past the house. The kids were on scooters and the mom was walking with them. One of the kids got a little bit too far away from her so she called him back, “That’s too far!”

Yesterday Seb started driving. My young boy is now 16 and two inches taller than me and allowed to operate motor vehicles that have the potential power to maim and kill if not used properly. My sixteen year old got in the car yesterday after getting his learner’s permit and just started driving around town, to get home, to pick up his brother, with other cars surrounding him and all the rules to follow. For the next six months he will be required to have one of us, his parents (or possibly another consenting adult), sitting in the passenger seat telling him what to do, reminding him of the minutiae of things to be constantly thinking about as he drives: where are you going, which lane should you be in, use your blinker, slow down (!), pay attention to what the cars are doing in front of you, pay attention to the signs, don’t hit any cars, don’t kill anyone! Seb already knows a lot of the rules because of the mini test he had to take to get his permit. He knows all the rules intellectually that we just have internalized and mostly ignore now. He quotes them while he drives. I have to remind myself that he doesn’t want to hit anything either. Currently, he wants to follow the rules and do the right things.

So we sit in the passenger seat and tell him and he responds with, “I know!” We tell him where to turn, how to get places. But soon enough, even before the six months is up, he’s not going to need us to tell him what to do every five seconds, or where to go. He’s going to know, and he’s just going to drive. Maybe the only thing that there will be left for us to remind him of is to slow down!

Just slow down a little sooner at the stop sign, at the red light. Just slow down a little earlier because I still have that fear that you are going to hit somebody even though I know you don’t want to hit somebody and probably won’t. Just slow down because you are not an expert yet. Slow down and drive the speed limit because you are a teenage boy, and I know all you want to do is to go fast, and if you get caught, “the powers that be” will happily relieve you of your driving privileges. They don’t trust you either.

But in six months or so, sometime in December, there is going to come a time when he gets his actual license and is going to be allowed to drive without a parent or other consenting adult in the car, and we’re going to have to trust him with his own life and the life of others every time he gets in the car and drives away from us. And we won’t be able to holler after him, “That’s too far! Wait up!”


Six months before my 100 year old grandmother died, she stopped wanting to eat. She didn’t stop eating. She still ate. She grew up in an orphanage in Poland, and there was a certain duty around eating and cleaning and making beds.

She stopped wanting to eat.

Working from home, my whole routine revolves around eating. I am consumed by thoughts of food. I want to eat all the time. At 8:00a, I can have my breakfast smoothie. At 10:00a, I can have some chocolate. At 12:00p, I can eat lunch. And so on and so forth. In retaliation, this Lenten season I fasted. I wanted to think about Jesus’ words that we do not live by bread alone, but on the word of God. I fasted parts of days, skipping a meal. Once in a while, I fasted for a whole day.

Fasting for 24 hours is hard. When I think about food while in a fast, I want to lean into it and fully experience the discomfort. I want to dwell on what it might be like to be hungry long term. When hungry for a few hours, I’m tired, I can’t think well, I’m crabby. What happens to a young child who is always hungry but expected to learn? What happens to an adult who is always hungry but expected to work? I hope ruminating on being hungry changes how I consume food. I hope it will change my habit of eating for entertainment— every day cannot be a feast day.

As the end of Lent approached, I began to think of the joy of resurrection and that I will see my grandmother again someday. I allowed myself to think about the menu for the party we will attend after church early Easter morning. The celebration of Life over Death should be a feast of food, drink, and fellowship. The feast teaches us to hope for a time when all will be fed and satisfied.