when children are the best

As I wrote earlier about some of the not nicer moments with children, I want to make up for it by sharing one of the more wondrous moments of motherhood. Let me explain that I’m still trying to figure out how to be the mother of adult children, which is at times tricky. We all regress from time to time. I go back to being the mother who is scared to let her children walk to school alone. And I also go back to being the child who was scared to get on the bus for kindergarten….Which is all a long way of getting around to saying how scary it has been to launch myself into this blog way of publishing, and how terrific my sons have been in helping me. Not because they showed me how to take use the computer. They were grumpy about it--see earlier post--but each one has shown me their own courage in putting themselves out there, creatively, without a thought about others’ judgments. They were carried along by the sheer pleasure of doing what they wanted to do. That’s what I want to learn.

My son Alex began to take pictures as a teenager, and he has a terrific eye, a keen awareness of unusual moments, and a solid sense of composition. He produced a series of self-portraits that he would present to me from time to time, in which he was featured as a tiny dot in an enormous landscape. I could say it was his way of telling me he was growing up, and on his own. But it was meant to be his way of telling me how gorgeous Scotland was (he was covering it for a travel guide one summer.) Now he is my inspiration for taking pictures, something I’ve long wanted to do, but resisted because I was afraid of cameras. My friend Frances Palmer stuck a simple Canon point and shoot in my hands and said Go.

Theo spent a summer with me in Rhode Island the year after I lost my job, and in retrospect I see that he was worried about my state of mind, and wanted to be near. He gave me the happiest summer of my life, and I wrote about it in Slow Love. He also set up a studio in my garage, and wrote and recorded over a dozen songs, playing the instruments and singing. This body of work he dedicated to the memory of his cousin, Dominique, my sister’s Nicole’s daughter, who died tragically young, on Mother’s Day. I want to stop and honor her here too. (http://www.dominiquesfund.org/)

So as I launch into this new form of publishing, I want to pause a moment, and thank everyone who has helped me get here, especially Nicole, her husband Steve Rifkin, and Alex and Theo. And Kate Caprari, who designed the site, and Grace Bonney, who wouldn’t let me back out. I know, I know, big deal. Well, for lots of us at a certain age, it is, especially those of us who have been in print magazines our whole lives. However, I can already see how liberating a form this is for a writer. I turn 55 this year, and I decided, in January, that if I wasn’t going forward, it wasn’t because I could stand still, as I had thought. It meant that I was drift backwards in a current that would be harder to escape as time passed. I’ll write later about being fearful, but I’ve finally learned that when I’m afraid of what I’m doing it is because I’m shedding a life and moving into a new one.

I hope you will enjoy this journey with me, and share your thoughts.


Nicole said...

Thank you so much for honoring Dominique, my daughter, in such a tender way. It means so much--and I hope that we can make a dent in stopping the number of suicides...

I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! Spring is a great time to move forward!!

Blue said...

Ms Browning, I thoroughly enjoyed your writing when you were Editor-in-Chief of my favorite magazine, the only one of any significance besides WoI in my opinion. I have now discovered your blog and frankly love the "inner eye" view you have both of your world and the universality of it.

Anonymous said...

I taught Alex in college, and he is a wonderful kid--one of my favorites in my years of teaching. As a new mother myself, I wanted to tell you that you did a wonderful job raising a creative, thoughtful, and intelligent child.

dominique said...

WOW! I can't wait to tell Alex about his report card! I'm spinning with joy at this peek into his past-thank you so much. And you are a new mother: what joy! Are you sleeping? Your note has inspired an idea for an entry, on my IDEAS list now!

Blue: thank you so much. Yes, this blog is meant to be personal, but I have often heard from people that the more personal I get, the more universally it touches a chord. Someone once wrote that there wasn't any point in writing if you weren't totally honest. Wish I could remember the source....

Nicole: you are the bravest and most loving person, and one of my heroines. Your foundation will go a long way, under your care, to helping relieve us of the stigma of suicide. Such important and creative work. People who are so depressed need to be able to get help without feeling ashamed; and people who have lost loved ones to suicide need not have to add a "cover story" because they feel so ashamed, as though they did something wrong, as though they could have prevented it. The recent Cornell tragedies underscore the problem, and the president of Cornell's letter was excellent.As you said, finally someone more concerned about the issue than their reputation.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/opinion/l24cornell.html?scp=1&sq=david%20skorton&st=cse. It might be a good idea to post a list of books that helped you through the trauma.

Elizabeth H. said...

Ms Browning - so glad to see another book from you, and on such a timely subject...I too am working my way out of a job loss and looking for pathways into the future (and at a certain age). I've always loved your memoirs on gardening (and living) - they were like the best companions, a conversation i'm so glad you are willing to continue...all the best. Yes, I have pre-ordered the book :)
Take care!

Ivy A. said...

Just read your piece in the New York Times. It echos so much of the struggles that many of us are going through - work, not being able to feel the rush of being at work, worrying as we watch and be part of a world that struggles economically all around. Still having young children at this time feels hard too. YOur piece put out in words and sounds many of the same experiences.
People that have jobs and do who not have to take care of children forget about people like me.
It is hard dealing with waking up and not knowing what day it is. Depression is just a labeling of what it is - difficult times.
Thank you for putting your story out there. It is not a handful of us, it is in the millions and beyond.

Francie King said...

Your latest blog about Theo and taking pictures, and learning to love a new form of writing was inspirational. I'm not quite ten years older than you are, a longtime writer, also laid off from a job I loved, and freed into a new world to shape as I please. It's daunting. But as you love playing music in the night, I've found similar peace in reading, reading, reading -- something I once thought was a reward you gave yourself for doing. It's like air -- you find the things you need to literally live, and then you find ways of having them.

Susan Wells Unkel said...

So sorry to hear about the sad loss of your sister Nicole's daughter. I remember Nicole well, including your nickname for her, "Nickle."

As a mental health provider, I'm grateful to everyone willing to contribute to the struggle to find solutions to mental illness and its sometimes devastating consequences.

Lisa said...

Thank you for reminding me & inspiring me not to stand still. Thank you also for being so candid about your hesitations regarding blogging & then sharing your excitement at finding what an incredible, smart, supportive and friendly bunch we all are. Glad to have you here.

Julia said...

Tell Alex hello from me--he was in my ENG 151 section his senior year, and I know he was off to New Orleans afterwards. He was a great kid--a true intellectual, and a very sensitive reader.
I have a 6 month old daughter, and I hope she turns out half as well as Alex! And yes, after wanting to kill myself the first three months, I am finally enjoying motherhood.
Loved your article in the NYT Magazine. I'm in academia--another dying profession. Can't wait to read your book.
Julia Lee

Rovena said...

I loved H&G and your toughtful article upfront. In Brazil since 2003 I was unaware that it went out of business.
Glad to find your blog thru the article in the NYTimes.
We have the same age- the fifties give us the wonderful miracle of recreating ourselves.

doozie and blu said...

Life. Can be hard. Changes can bring about such uncertainty. I am in the midst of it all. Writing this at 5:00 in the morning wondering when it will feel..well easier again. Thanks for the thoughts, perspective and words.

Anonymous said...

Just read your NYTimes article and it hit me head on with what I am going through in my own life (unemployed and now going through a divorce with 2 small boys). Thank you for sharing. You are a wonderful writer and human being.

Emom said...

D. this blogging life is liberating. absolutely liberating. I am 52, and have been blogging for just a couple of years now, and I promise you will never regret allowing yourself the freedom that this will bring you. promise.

Val said...

I just devoured your article in today's NY Sunday Times magazine, and made a bee-line for your blog. Your emotions resonated so profoundly...and your descriptions sang with exquisite clarity. I could smell spring awakening in the beloved garden you were leaving behind! You have touched and inspired me this morning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

i just read your nytimes article. magic

Meredith said...

Many gardens in your life
they are as your children
always with you, as part of you
no matter where they are
or you are

"Nothing Gold Can Stay" (Frost)

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower:
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

His exquisite poem relates to all that you have written.

What a pleasure to find you again after saving so many of your columns from H&G.

"You go, girl" as we say down here in Louisiana.

Fellow traveler, fellow gardener.

Meredith T.

Anonymous said...

So glad to read your article in the NYT. I have missed your editorials--they were so much more than the snappy "got a great magazine for you this month" type of editor's letters. Sometimes I would tear them out to read over and over. There is a serenity and honesty to your writing that moves me.
I am 59 and I do still have a good job, but the issues you write about are relevant to me as I find work less challenging, less satifying. As I work my way through empty-nesting, a looming retirement,I ask myself what I want, what really matters. I look forward to checking in on your blog, sharing the journey.


kelly said...

I, too, have missed your editorials, and your
voice, which resonated with me in so many ways.
I loved your magazine, too, and have always felt it was the ' best of the best' and as you've said, so much more than just a shelter magazine. Your spirit, and soul came through, and I'm thrilled to find you again~ I read in a blog yesterday about your new blog and book, and then
found you in the Times today as well...

As a Mother of two grown sons, I, too have felt so much of what you've written about over the years, between sons, divorces, leaving big old homes and gardens for new journeys and new lives.
What is that old saying about leaving a part of ourselves behind....

Can't wait to read your new book, and I'll be an avid reader of your blog!

I also salute you for your work with the Environmental Defense Fund, as we all need to do so much more and your voice will help immensely.


@floridagirlindc said...

Loved your piece in the Times. Now following along in the blog and looking forward to reading Slow Love. Looks like we have some favorite blogs in common. I'll have to check out a few of the other ones you have listed that I haven't heard of before.

rebecca said...

Reading your letters in the front of H&G was the highlight of getting the magazine. I often wanted to write a letter to the mag just to say how much I loved them. I am so happy to "hear" (see? read?) your voice again, it is truly like reconnecting with a long-lost friend. One whom you've never met, but still...

Layanee said...

And then there will be the grandchildren to just love and cuddle and true joy is experienced.

Anonymous said...

Loved your piece in the Times. Miss your magazine, especially your writings in it. I am 72 & retired for 10 years. Sometimes I don't know what day it is until I check my pillbox; but it doesn't matter because after raising 7 children and now living alone I enjoy each and make the best of it. I thank you for sharing.

Linda K. said...

I just read the piece in the Times. I too lost my job unexpectedly several years before retirement age. You put into words my experience. I am forwarding the piece to my grown children. I can not describe it as clearly - much less so beautifully. You have recovered quicker than me, but I'll get there. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." OK, I am picking myself up off the floor now.

jean Z said...


My niece emailed me and suggested I read the Times article, thinking your experiences might "speak to" me, another intertidal dweller. They do. I am a voluntarily unemployed person going on l.5 years now, and have also found writing a good way to both get my arms around the feelings I am experiencing and deal with the fears that arise. The workplace, or the home, when caregiving for someone,young or old, does, for most of us, make it unnecessary--and sometimes impossible-- to sort out what's inside us. I've found I always need a purposeful project, such as you have with the environmental work you do I imagine. I had expected I would find one that would benefit
environmental concerns but now have sidetracked myself for awhile. I am promoting the invention of a new genre of short books to serve people who have lost much of their ability to read independently due to dementia or other illnesses. And I am starting a blog on my website there as well: conversationalbooks.com. I'd love to hear what you think of this concept. Finding purpose + social connection and affirmations from others are very important and they don't need to come from paid work. For me the intertidal zone is a beautiful place to explore and find balance, as well as make discoveries about myself.

I will add your blog to those I value. Good luck with the book, too. Like you, I have two adult sons who have been wonderfully encouraging as I reinvent myself once again.