When Someone Gives You a Pie

Some years ago, soon after one of their children was born, we took a meal over to our neighbors. Paul calls it the Baby Mess. (Because it’s such a mess of stuff, not because it’s disgusting. We hope.) The traditional Baby Mess includes a big roast, potatoes, a hot vegetable, a salad, some rolls, and a pie. We’re aiming for there to be leftovers. Usually, we drop it off, act ridiculous about the new baby, and take off. This time, they asked us to stay. Goodness no, I said, but they said please. Please, we haven’t seen you in a while. The kids can play. They seemed to mean it, so we stayed. As it turned out, Paul had overdone it with the hot peppers in the roast, so I didn’t make much of a dent in that anyway. (I’m a wuss.) There was still a lot of food when we were done eating, and most of a pecan pie.

We were getting up to leave when Heather tried to pack up the leftovers for us. We brought the meal for you, I said. It’s already a little ridiculous that we ate some of it. But she tried again. Mike came over.

“Honey,” he said, “you’re not doing this right. When someone gives you a pie, you don’t give it back. You say thank you.”

I don’t even know if the neighbors remember this, but it’s become one of Paul’s favorite stories. If I am inclined to turn down a gift, or an offer, he stops and says, “Honey? What do you do when someone gives you a pie?”

I don’t know if it’s Anabaptist culture or Swiss heritage or modern American individualism or just my own super-special personality, but I am inclined to meet most offers of help with the reflexive response that I AM FINE. Why would you think I need help? Do you think I’m a mess? Do I look like a mess? Am I not handling everything? Can you not see that I AM FINE?

All of which is maybe an indication that I’m maybe not as FINE as I think I am, but that’s probably a navel-gazing session for another day.

I like doing things for other people when I can. And when I want to do something for someone, it’s not because I think they’re a hot mess or too dumb to handle their own stuff. It’s because I want to make life a little easier, in a small way. Here’s a little nice thing. Maybe it will fortify you to go face whatever big nasty thing is on your agenda this week.

Reflexive pride is a dumb way to respond to generosity.

So when someone messaged me recently and said that she would really like to send me a canvas of one my tree pictures for my room, I said, “Thank you!”

No, not really. I said something like, “You don’t have to do that,” at which response I imagine she rolled her eyes because obviously. She kindly omitted the eye-roll emoji from her response and instead said that she’d really like to, if I would like such a thing.

I would adore such a thing. I’ve been wanting a black and white print of the tree, and I’ve been wanting to hang it in this room. And yet, it took me awhile to respond. Paul was at work, so I finally had to ask the question myself.

What do you do when someone gives you a pie?

I went to the keyboard and sat down and did it.

Thank you. This is so generous, and I would love it, and I cannot wait until it is hanging on the wall.


There it is. I do love it. Like crazy. 

Julie, thank you

It was my first nail in the fresh paint, and I love that it was this. 

Sicky, Sicky Boy

Elias was home sick from school today. (He’s fine. Also he’s not contagious.)

I took him to express care and let the chatter in the waiting room wash over us without taking much of it in. He sat next to me on a Naugahyde loveseat and burrowed into my armpit. I reached around to rub his back, and said, “Aw. Sicky, sicky boy.”

I haven’t said that in years. My dad always said that, even to us girls, because his older sister said it to him when he was little in the 1930s. Sicky, sicky boy conferred both sympathy and status. If there was any chance you might be faking to get out of going to school, you didn’t hear sicky, sicky boy. It made me a little melancholy thinking about it. So I thought about something else.

Upon release from the doctor’s office, we went to the pharmacy. (Can I get an AMEN for modern pharmaceuticals? Bare hours later, he’s a different kid.) Then the grocery store, which is right next door. Elias was allowed to pick popsicles and cookies, and I added crackers and Sprite. I didn’t think too much about it until I was in the car driving home. His stomach wasn’t upset, so the crackers and Sprite were probably unnecessary. But whenever we were sick, Mom gave us crackers and Sprite. So for no apparent reason, driving down Benner Road toward home, I burst into tears.

This happened to me once before, sort of. I’d stopped at the neighbor’s house to drop something off. The bus had just gone by and my hair was still wet, and she looked at me and said, “I bet you got everybody else out the door and you’re going to work and you haven’t eaten breakfast.” Well, no. I hadn’t. Connie has kids my age and she reads people pretty well, I guess. She handed me two chocolate chip cookies that she was pulling out of the oven and told me to eat on the road. I got in the car and went to work and bawled as the chocolate melted on my tongue.

All of this feels ridiculous. Who cries about fresh chocolate chip cookies? And Sprite?

It has little to do with the food, of course, and everything to do with another kind of nourishment. I told Paul earlier this week that I’m feeling orphaned again. We tried to figure out if there’s some sort of anniversary I wasn’t acknowledging, but we couldn’t think of one.

I don’t know why I’m missing my parents so badly right now. I think, a little, that I’m just missing HAVING parents. When your parents are gone, there is no one left whose job it once was to keep you alive. There is no one left who is always, always supposed to have your back. That you’d automatically get in the divorce. The person you can call about that thing that happened when you were seven, or why your turkey burst into flames in the oven an hour before Thanksgiving dinner? That person is not there anymore.

Apparently, sometimes I want someone to tuck me into a fluffy blanket on the couch and give me a popsicle and tell me they’ll take care of everything. And I want to believe it.

Because ohmygosh this life thing is hard work. And this week, I am tired, and I miss my parents.


We had soccer today, and then we came home and did our Saturday chores. There was much less grumbling this week than usual, possibly because I reached the end of my grumbling tolerance last Saturday and I was so loud the neighbors were hiding. Whatever the reason, Saturday chores got done in record time. Next up was helping Dad outside with the fence. “He says you need boots!” I hollered as the door slammed behind them. I hope to work on door slamming someday. Today I was just happy they shut it.

Ten minutes later, Elias came inside, worked up to a fever pitch. He couldn’t find any boots. I took a deep breath.

I’ve been trying more and more lately to stop taking on their problems. I don’t mean the big stuff. I’m not going to stop ordering, picking up, and paying for Levi’s medicine. I mean stuff like boots. You can’t find your boots? I’m not the one who uses your boots. Your toes are not going to freeze off today. This is not something I need to take on.

So I said, “Here are the things I know. I know there are black boots and green boots. I know they were both in the garage recently. If they are not in the garage now, you’re going to have to figure out where they went.” And Elias went out again, dark thoughts about cruel mothers swirling almost visibly around his head.

And then I went ahead and forgot all about it. I don’t reserve much processing power for boots. Whoosh! Gone. Until tonight, when Paul and I were coming home from our date, may Auntie be blessed unto the Nth generation for making it possible.

“I forgot to tell you,” Paul said. “When we were headed out to the barn today, Elias told me he wanted to die.”

I asked why, without much alarm. Listen, I know people say that girls bring more drama than boys, but I ain’t buyin’. If that is actually true, I don’t know how anyone survives girl children. The boy children we have deserve Oscars.

“He didn’t have any boots.”

Paul, retrieving his eyeballs from where they had rolled back in his skull, looked at Levi’s feet. Black boots. So he asked where the green boots were.

“In the pool,” Levi said.

Yep. There they were.

“Why,” asked Paul carefully, “are your boots in the pool?”

“I was trying to wash them off,” Levi said, “and they got away.”

Why is our pool murky, no matter what we do? It’s a mystery.

Paul fished the boots out with a garden hoe (Why is our pool murky? IT’S A MYSTERY I TELL YOU.) and Elias decided he could probably go on living.


I am going to give up asking why. There are no satisfying answers. But at the risk of surrendering entirely to a cliche, this is why we can’t have nice things. Because pool boots.


I am not a runner. 

I am not an athlete. 

I am just not good at that stuff. 

There’s no way I can do it. 

This has been the soundtrack of my life, inside my own head. I am a Never Runner. 

But here I am, having run a 5K distance without walking even once, for the first time in my life. 

I ran it slow. But I ran it steady, and I felt good, and I was going faster at the end than I was at the beginning, and that’s good enough for me. Also, I want to do it again. 

I am 42 1/2 years old, and I am discovering that I have been talking myself out of things for about 42 of those years. 

I can always do more than I think I can. 

Bet you can too. 

In My Room

A few months ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about turning the boys’ old nursery into a room for me. I had made zero plans toward this goal; I think it had crossed my mind a few times as a nice idea. I’m still not entirely sure what happened in this conversation – I may have blacked out – but twenty or so minutes later, I had a to-do list, a shopping list, and a deadline. Jen was coming over the weekend before July 4 to paint.

I didn’t get all the things on my list done, but Jen was gracious. She helped me move the behemoth of an old buffet that we’d used as a changing table and dresser to the middle of the room, and started patching the drywall. I wondered aloud if someone would come get the thing if it were free. Try it, she said. An hour later, the buffet was gone. A couple had claimed it more or less as soon as I posted it.

“It’s a nice buffet,” the husband said. “Why don’t you want it?”

“It has outlived its usefulness in my life,” I said, “and I want the space more.” I’m not sure he understood, but they cheerfully carted the mahogany beast out through the garage, as happy with their bargain as I was with mine.

Jen did the edging and I followed with the roller. It only took a few hours, given dedicated focus and the absence of all the male members of the household for the day. We ate Nutter Butters and Doritos and talked through some of our stickier problems as we worked. When Jen left to go home, the room was in much better shape, and so was I.

In the weeks since, I’ve obtained and assembled a bookcase, and moved the desk where I wanted it. It’s not quite done – I still want a reading chair with an ottoman – but it’s usable.

If the desk looks weird to you, the thing on top is my low-cost standing desk conversion kit. It’s just a shelf, but it means I can stand most of the time and move my laptop lower when I do need to sit. 

Other than the bookcase, nothing in the room is new. When I finished putting it together and vacuumed up the bits of debris left behind by the home-assembly kit, I stood in the middle of the room and looked around.

“Well,” I thought, “with a cross on the wall, this could be a monk’s cell.”

I was delighted. The thing that matters to me most about this room right now is not what is in it, but what it NOT in it.

There are not stacks of books in the bookcase. There are two, and they are there because at one point, there at that desk, I needed them. I am determined that that is how I will fill that space; with things I need. Not with things that migrated there because they had no other immediate home.

There is nothing on the walls, not because I dislike art, but because so far no art has grabbed me by the throat and told me that it needed to be there. I have not hung the walls with things that are pretty just so that the walls are not bare. For now, the bare walls are what I need to see.

There is no laundry in this room. No stains on the carpet. There are no unwashed dishes, no unmade dinners, and no uncompleted chores. It is clean and uncluttered and sunny, and I can shut. the. door.

You may not need a monk’s cell in your life right now, but when I walk into this room and shut the door, I can feel the tension drain out of my shoulders.

I have some things I have been wanting to do, and they have been hard to do sitting at the kitchen table with the laundry room and the oven in my peripheral vision. They will still be hard, I think, and I might not be able to do them. But I’d like to try.

At the very least, maybe I can write to you all more than once a month.


9 1/52

I’m feeling guilty about this, my Levi, and you don’t even know anything about it. I wrote your brother a blog post on his birthday. I meant to do one on yours, and the day got away from me. Then the week turned into one of those weeks, and here I am, a week late.

That’s one of the things about you, though. You forgive quickly. If I brought this up to you, you’d say, “That’s okay, Mom,” and give me a hug. I love that, though I try not to take advantage of it.

You told me the other day that you can’t wait to be ten. I’m not sure what’s magical about that number. Maybe the double digits. But I’m asking you, sweet boy, to enjoy nine while you’re here. You are learning to do all sorts of things, and you think you have way too many chores. I have bad news: the chores do not become easier at ten. Or at forty. The gross things are still gross, and there are more of them. (If you’ve never caught vomit in your hand to keep it off the carpet, are you really a mom?) Lots of things are really good when you’re a grownup, but the hard things just get harder.

Nine is fun. Your front teeth are still too big for your face, and it’s still adorable. You can do things on your own, but you are not too cool to shriek with glee when you see one of your best buddies at the store unexpectedly.

You will leave me someday, and probably all too soon. I won’t know where you are all the time, and how you’re doing, and whether anyone has been mean to you that day. I’ve joked that my favorite time of the day is bedtime, and I do treasure the quiet of the house when everyone else has gone to sleep. But I also love the knowing. I know you are safe, and I know you are warm, and I know you are okay, because I saw you there under your comforter with my own two eyes.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry for eighteen, or for ten. Please, enjoy nine. I plan to.

Cake for breakfast, on the actual morning. Because I am not always heartless.


I was at two funerals yesterday.

It was a long day. The two services were different, and they were the same. Both men will be missed terribly.

I think sometimes it can be confusing to be on the periphery of grief. Mostly if you’re in the center, you know your role. Your role is to grieve, whatever that looks like to you. It is to eat some of the food that people put in front of you, if you can manage to. It is to show up at the funeral home and the church, and to decide which songs will be in the service. After all of that is over, it is learn to go on with a gaping hole in your heart. None of that is easy. But it’s pretty clear.

But what if you are just a friend of the bereaved? What if you are just a coworker? A cousin? There’s the food bit. There’s showing up to the calling hours. After that, it can get a little hazy. What can you do?

Because we are do-ers, most of us. We want to show up with a gift in our hands; we want evidence that we have done something. It is hard to decide what to do.

This is even harder, I think. Because I think what we need to do for our friends and our neighbors and our cousins that are grieving is to show up.

We want to avoid suffering, all of us. We take medicine to avoid physical pain. For emotional pain, we choose avoidance. It is hard to watch people suffer. It makes us suffer a little ourselves. It’s easier to stay away. To bring a meal and get out of the kitchen and away from the suffocating sadness as quickly as we can.

We need to pause instead. To ask, “How are you right now?” and then — this is the hardest part — to shut up and listen. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for a long time. Whatever they need.

More than anything, we need to stop running away from pain. We need to show up. To mourn with those who mourn.