The End of Kindergarten


I’ve been noticing more about my youngest child lately. I’ve been paying more attention to him, taking mental pictures more often, remembering cute things he does more often.

He just turned six. A few weeks ago he held my hand in the parking lot as he clacked along to soccer in his cleats. He held onto his water bottle and kicked his size 4 soccer ball down the path. My purse was slipping off my shoulder and under my other arm I tried to press sunscreen and another water bottle and bug spray to my body so that they wouldn’t clatter all over the pavement. At the edge of the blacktop he kept holding onto my hand. A bolt of lightening hit me saying, “He might never do this again, he is so close to not needing or not wanting this anymore.” I struggled to keep holding onto him as long as he would let me, even though everything else I had kept falling.

We only have a few weeks of school left, a few weeks where it is just him and me all morning long, just a few weeks before the time I get with him is always and forever shared with his older brother. Next year is first grade, and I have to share him with a whole series of teachers. In the afternoons I’ll have to share him with soccer and chess and whatever else interests him: new friends, books, computer games.

These are the last few times I will take him to the library on a weekday morning, just the two of us. These will be the last weeks of eating lunch together while watching Blue’s Clues or Phineas and Ferb or Curious George.

Today he asked me to dance around the kitchen with him.

Today we put some of his summer clothes on a stuffed giraffe while he got dressed.

Today he rode around the block on a too-small Dusty Crophopper bicycle with training wheels while I followed behind.

Today he asked if I could come into his classroom to see the baby chicks that had hatched.

Today he let me give him a goodbye kiss as I dropped him off at school, even as he asked if he could take the bus next year.

I am going to miss this so much. It won’t be the same again. I know it’ll be okay, but while I had been telling myself over and over how much it was going to be okay, I didn’t realize just how deep my sadness really was.

I have been so lucky to have had this time that I have.

So lucky. Thank you, everyone and everything that has let me have this.

But, Only Hipsters Have Triangle Tattoos


I am certainly not a hipster.

I also do not have any tattoos.


But, lately, the tattoo I have been planning out in my head is a simple striped triangle. A representation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

My teacher friends might remember this concept from back in developmental psychology courses. The basic idea is that we are all motivated by irreducible needs, and that once we meet our basic needs we are able to climb higher to try to achieve more lofty ones. The concept is framed as a pyramid.

The base layer of the pyramid contains our basic biological and physiological needs – our need for air, water, food, shelter, sleep. These needs have to be met for us to move on to the next level.

The next level up contains our need for safety – protection from danger (whether that danger is a poisonous snake, a tornado, or a criminal), law and order, stability.

The level after that contains our need for love and belonging – friendship, affection, intimacy, romantic love, family.

The level after that contains our need for esteem – self-esteem, mastery, achievement, independence.

The level after that contains our cognitive needs – stretching our brains, learning, finding meaning.

The level after that contains our aesthetic needs – appreciation for, the search for and the creation of beauty.

The level after that is our need for self-actualization – becoming the highest version of yourself you are capable of becoming.

The last level is the need for transcendence – overcoming the limitations of human needs and human forms. It is complete spiritual fulfillment.

This seems like an orderly way to explain the motivation of human beings, that once the bottom rung of needs are met then we can seamlessly turn our attention to the next level and so on and so forth. When I turn back to this model in times of chaos, it provides me with a way to get my life back under control. When the pain or fatigue or depression that can be associated with fibromyalgia begin to severely limit my ability to function, I go back to the pyramid. I go back to the basics and make sure I take care of each level I can in order. It helps.

It also gives me an organizing principle for deciding what is most important for my children, for my family. Food, water, sleep, shelter first. We are very lucky that the first needs are securely taken care of. Safety is always next. This is such a part of our life that I can yell out to them at any given point, “What is my number one job as your mommy?” and they will yell back, “To keep us safe!” If there is a question of priorities, those win.

It helps stave off bad behavior, usually. Most tantrums come about when basic necessities are off – the boys haven’t eaten in a while, they stayed up too late, they feel sick and need rest and medicine. My youngest had a tantrum this morning because his need for safety was not being met to his liking. He thought he would have to get a shot at his doctor’s appointment when he did not. Once he felt safe (all of his vaccinations are up to date and he needed no boosters) the rest of the day fell into place.

This helps me prioritize what charities we support with the little extra we have. Charities that feed and clothe and shelter people get our attention first. Charities that keep people feeling safe and loved next. Charities that teach after that.  If you can do all of those at once, even better.

I taught in a public school and can tell you first hand how difficult it is for a child to learn if his basic needs, his need for safety or his need for belonging are not being met. Any programs that provide breakfast and a safe environment should be protected. Any wonderful people who can make a student feel like he or she is meant to be right there with them, who can make a student feel safe and accepted, should be truly appreciated. Then mastery and learning can happen. Not before. The pyramid as an organizing principle makes sense again.

But, and this is very, very important, we as humans are not always orderly. A shock, I know. We sacrifice having basic needs met to hit those higher levels. There are examples everywhere. We lose sleep night after night after night going for a promotion. We eat a plate of fries when the problem is not that we are hungry, but that we are lonely. We let obsessions with mastering a level on a video game run over our loved ones. We skip meals to fit into a gorgeous dress because we want above all else to be beautiful. We often choose to meet needs out of order.

And, if under extreme circumstances there is little to no possibility of having our basic needs met, we strive to fulfill any of the needs we have any chance of meeting. Gang members may find their need for belonging is stronger than their need for safety. During unspeakable horrors like the Holocaust, people have turned to learning and appreciation of beauty as the only needs they could fulfill or help others fulfill. Countless people have had to look at transcendence as the only need they could hope to meet in the midst of war or starvation or natural disaster. Our needs are irreducible.

I want a visual reminder that every person alive on earth has real needs.   A reminder that my needs are real, that the needs of other people are real, that meeting those needs is imperative. I want a reminder that this organization of those needs has often helped me and others, and I feel anchored by it.

I want a simple, striped, triangle tattoo.

I also would really, really like it if this tattoo didn’t also scream to the world, “I wish I were a twenty-something hipster who loves the clean lines of geometric shapes” when I am really a thirty-something conventional mom and former educator who actually prefers photo-realistic tattoos of things like flowers and insects and birds.


That isn’t a real need.

Of Solar Flares and Other Things I Can’t Control

Chronic illness demands a lot from you. It demands nearly round the clock attention, a humming background of vigilance all day, every day. On the surface it may appear that you are baking a cake, or watching a TV show, or playing a board game. Deeper down you are noticing, noticing, noticing. Is this symptom new? Is this symptom a problem? Did I do something wrong? Do I need to adjust what I am doing now, or my plans for the week, or my plans for the rest of my life? Should I trust this bad day is temporary? Should I limit my dreams for my future so that I am not perpetually discontented with what I have? Should I keep dreaming because hope makes me happy? Do I need to act now, right now, right this very minute? Or do I have time to wait?

Should I let my noticing be more like meditation, letting myself feel, acknowledging the fear and anxiety and sadness as it moves through me and then away? Letting it float in and out as it will without trying to force happiness in and force unhappiness out? Should I cultivate peacefulness and patience in the face of uncertainty? Should I take a deep breath and also acknowledge how difficult that in itself can be?

Or should I fight? Should I punch and dig and scrounge and battle and end up muddied and exhausted but victorious?

Earlier in the week it felt as if I was being shocked all over, from thinnest top layer of skin, to deep within my muscles, to my bones. The shocks moved and traveled and paused and started again with an inconsistency that was close to maddening. It happens often. Not every day, but often enough.

The only force inside or outside of myself that seems to correlate with this sensation, the electrical shocks, the hive full of bees stinging, the sharp prickles and stabbings, seems to be solar storms. I have tracked food and activities and mood, the state of relationships with my children and my husband and creator forces, barometer graphs and humidity charts and political climate. When balls of gas suddenly explode from the sun, hurling energy towards earth that can disrupt radio towers and satellites, I feel this particular symptom.

So, should I dismiss this correlation as silly? Instead of scouring the heavens for answers, should I only scour the earth? Do I take all the energy I have and use it in looking for a different reason why, a different drug for relief, a different cause behind this debilitation? Do I notice and then do I fight? Should I act on my behalf, doing something, anything to try to make this better?

Or do I accept the energy coming in and out of my body, do I feel it without judging the waves of pain that come at irregular intervals, do I sit with as much calm as I can?

I am fairly certain that you cannot fight the sun.

Not without burning yourself up into a crisp.