The Chorus: Grown Ups

this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.

– Amy Grace

 we have been to some dark places. Things that will take years and space and shots of something that burns my throat going down to talk about. and i am so tired of dancing on tiny wires that cut through the callouses of my feet, because oh, does it look beautiful from the ground. back lit, from a distance, with piercing, pretty lines that point somewhere for everyone else. to be comfortable and clean and fixed, like i tell my kids they never have to be, to be loved. while up here my memory is starving. there is only the flesh and trembling and wanting to rise from it. we all have a perch like this, where we stand alone, trying to balance, storing away the close ups, holding our breath, tilting our heads, sucking in our soft stomachs.

what happens to the shadow when you are a mother? it does not dissolve. it is woven in, a hard wire against wool. it tears at you at night, splits you down your spine. we become the dark and its antidote, the light at the bottom of the pool, hearing their calls over miles and years in echo. so much more complicated that our fears predicted. naked, using our hair as a cover, every pore a nerve, our hearts split and spread outside our bodies. climbing down from the ladder over the wall. you caused it, you broke it, you made it whole, you unravel until you are faraway from everything you love, and yet still holding on to the string, sewn into your skin. holding on, you believe you can fly.

Everything works out, it will be okay, it makes you stronger, it ends…maybe, miraculously, never, always. the marriage cracked and leaking and pining away without the hope of a redo. learning ten years too late that i run away from exactly what i need. the low pressure of loss that circles my brain like august storms. the emptying out of love, only to find it outside my body. knowing that a naked soul and a hostile audience leaves nothing left to fear for myself. but that the vines of love and terror will strangle every second until all that life is desperate, showing its hand. the fight that i wait for every day, coming to steal in her what cannot be stolen. telling the truth, again and again, and watching dark turn to light. watching matter change form and free itself. proof of life after knowing.

there is the searching for home, the feeling things hard and low and deep, years before i had thought the idea of them. grown up is a becoming. it is stopping and starting, finding and burying yourself, earning and losing hope, the longest hours before dawn and the soundest, shared sleep. this is what i know: that night comes for me, for weeks at a time. and while i used to follow it, to look for a place to sleep too long, to hide my failings, to break, i now get flashes of the warmest light. old hope is reincarnated. despite everything. despite every bruise and bit of hardness i will never un-know, being a real grown up is being for them. it is their reverse gravity when i am nothing but weight. it is knowing the deepest soul smiles spread upon tear wet faces. it is a dance of opposites that never tires, always shares the stage.

my love for them is a diamond in dark soil. where it shines like it never could against platinum. i wonder if they sometimes hear the music that brings me to my knees, falling short, full of everything. awake at three am, looking frantically for new words.

– Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo

I remember my first love
smoking til dawn
portraits & nudes tacked the wall.

war paint sex
love letters hidden in the crease somewhere between Jimmy Hendrix and my lower back.
slumbering hard like a childless twenty something.
confessions that our only daily decisions were “what to eat?” “beach or bay?” “smoke/drink or other?”

settle settle settle down my love.
I am settling down down my love.

Now, I just want to sleep alone
and put it all off like sex,
good habits, and real friends.

Maybe try unschooling. I hear that’s hip.
I am settling down down my love.

Oh, I remember my first love.

– Amanda O’Donoughue

Processed with VSCOcam with b2 preset

here’s what I’ve learned about being a ‘grown up’ :
just because you have a few decades under your belt, doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing
life is always, ALWAYS changing
love, in whatever form resonates for you, is what its all about
grief is an inevitable and important part of this beautiful brutal life
completely unselfish generosity feels really good
its our personal responsibility to find the beauty and joy
maturity doesn’t mean perfection, it means being able to handle whatever life brings your way with some semblance of grace.
it also means putting one foot in front of the other, but also giving yourself kindness when you need a rest
you must remember to breathe through it all

– Jen Downer, She Saw Things

This is how it works. You are born. You wake up. For a brief few years, everything is. Do you remember the first color you loved? How blue tasted on your tongue? What your skin felt like when it snowed? When was the first time you wept until your hands shook? And, when were you happiest? It’s not easy, not obvious. Vacations are the first thought. “Oh, that summer we went to California, that was fun. I had a good time. We were happy.” These memories are textures, the first layer of a stone and I’m asking you to crack open wide because inside, you are diamond. Fun. I understand. Most anything can be fun. Summer days can be fun, but that does not make them happy. A part does not equal a whole. Please try to understand. I hope you laughed until you swelled. I hope you ran wild, I hope you kissed somebody who made your fingers shiver. I hope you scooped up life and swallowed it and said what the hell to proper. Did your feet ache? Did you go to bed with salt in your hair? Maybe someone loved you enough to wrap their arms around your neck and lay their head on your chest to listen to the rushing of your heart. I hope so. I imagine the sun that day was honey on your skin. I imagine you fell tangled into sheets, sweaty, exhaling, reaching deep inside yourself for the last dredges of the day. I don’t want to lose this.

That’s the fear that runs underneath everything, a rushing current that threatens into a torrent. I don’t want to lose this. All too quickly, all of this, everything, could slip away. Up ahead, there are rapids, but we cannot see. So we collect these moments to carry us through. Was that your day, your happiest? If not, try again. Really try. This is important. As we live through this thing called growing up, we pull apart and lose sense of sacred. We dull, we harden, our pressure points sting to feel it all, take it in wide eyed. Kiss life flush on the mouth and we feel embarrassed. So we retreat. I will ask you again. When were you happiest? And, when did the world pound so hard you preferred to stay coal instead of true stone? We stuff meaning into meaningless, and what for? All to say, it was fun. We were happy. And then what? I imagine a grandchild asking. If we are true, we answer, We grow up.

We grow up. We pay bills. We say goodbye. We let go. We lose things. We get angry. We get into accidents. We yell until we rattle the front door and run until our feet bleed. Our hands shake. There is medicine for that. Someone died. It’s all too much. It’s all too much. When were we truly happy? Was there a time when life didn’t hurt or was everything only a mirage? And to press these words into my own skin like a tattoo to look at and remember, this is what I will say. I will weave these words into my daughter’s hair someday. I will knead these poems into our bread, one pounding, July 3rd, two poundings, the day at the cabin, three poundings, the Christmas party, 2003. I hope these stories become the lines etched into my face. These days, I am remembering the happiest moments as a swell. They are a wave we are carried on, an eddy beneath us. Sometimes it rains, but it’s not the end. Storms make trees take deeper roots, and if that’s the case, then my center goes down into the earth’s core. We grow up and grief guts us like a fish. We are deboned, we are without scales, we flop breathless, gasping. It was not always this way. We know that and that is why we hurt.

But. We continue on. We wade up into our knees, that’s quite enough. Yet. If we would dive deep, we could see again. It feels counterintuitive. I won’t be able to breathe! Yes, yes you will. When were you happiest? Open your eyes. The light is lovely down here. The water carries our moments and we are taking them all in like air.

– Hannah Nicole

First things first. I’m a total mess. one day I think I know what I want & the next day, it’s like everything changes & I want something else. I’m not sure this is normal but I think it’s “my normal”. I question everything I do. But I still do it. I’m afraid, but I still keep going. I don’t know where I’ll be or we’ll be, I should say. But we have to go, no matter if we flop on our faces & end up in a ditch. We still have to go. I think it will be ok. At least I hope so….

– Nikki Martinez

When I was little my mother kept a drawer of secrets.  Only on tiptoes could I dip my fingers inside.  Once I swooped a pile of miniature teeth, white as bone.  Another, a bitty box, mummied with tape, a burst of baby hair inside.  My eyes couldn’t see it all, but my heart could.  Whispers drew me to the drawer.  When I placed my ear against the green wood – a ruckus of wings.  I wanted to see inside that drawer.  Take out every living thing and line it up in a row.

Now the drawer opens to my thighs.  If I were to open it, there’d be jewelry bound by knots.  Tissues, threadbare.  Mass cards, peeling.  Rosaries, breathing.  Bottles, tipped — grapefruit and violets rising from the ashes.  And photos, bleeding – with a million eyes beating into mine.  Beckoning.  I barely like to pass the drawer.  It hisses at me.  A pit of things laced with wind and old voices.  I am just too scared to listen.

– Roxanne Bryant, J is for Jane

When I was a girl, I was an ardent people watcher; constantly studying, trying to figure them all out.  What was the cause and effect pattern of certain people?  What made people successful or unsuccessful?  Essentially, what made some adults different than my parents?  This was truly what I was trying to decipher because I wanted to learn how to be different than them.  At four and five years old, this was my mental dialogue.  Really, most of my life I couldn’t wait to be old enough to leave, to be grown up.  Because being grown up meant that I could create my own life separate from them and be free.  Oh my, how I couldn’t stand the anticipation of freedom where everything was going to be different.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love them–I just understood from a very young age that their choices caused agonizing oppression and adversity for us.

My mother was cold and unloving, I had ruined her life she constantly told me.  But my dad was a cause of different strife because he loved me and I adored him for it.  He was kind, loving, and encouraging. He played and read books and was interested.  He affirmed goodness in me and said I was smart, creative, and could do great things which helped me believe that I was smart and creative and could do great things.  Yet there was something else.  Unrelenting sadness and rage.  Neglect. Broken windows, holes in the walls, screaming matches all hours of the night.    Police officers, jail, and long expanses of time without contact.  My brother and I were not the priority–his addiction was.  It is a debilitating kind of brokenness that happens in a child brought up this way.

I am lucky though.  Perhaps fortunate is a better word.  Fortunate that I could recognize the difference at that young age; fortunate to know and believe that their way wasn’t going to be my way.  So when adulthood finally broke in, I ran, and tried to leave it all behind.  I couldn’t leave him behind though, I love him with the fiercest and most patient kind of loyalty.  But his reality and its affect on us doesn’t blend well with the composed life I’ve worked to create for myself and my family.  Stability.  He and stability are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In September, he worked with doctors again to try to free himself from his heroin addiction.  By November, he was doing well–really, really well.  At Thanksgiving, I prayed thankfulness over his situation.  Almost like testing fate, or the enemy, or self-sabotage, he immediately started to spiral out of control, and the debilitating mental illness came back with a vengeance.  Here I am now, feeling caught in his Twilight zone that counters the stability and peace I have strived for.  How is this happening again?  At times, the pain and confusion is almost too much to bear.  Praying on my knees with tears streaming down my face, “Lord–you are the great healer and redeemer of all darkness and brokenness, please heal him.  Please free him.  Please.”

People that surround me now don’t understand, they simply can’t relate.  That sheds a sweet kind of hope into my life, like a window with beautiful rays shining in.  To me it means I’ve succeeded in a way.  The life that encircles me is the kind I dreamed for as a child (with a few reality adjustments of course).  Hugs and kisses from my sweet girl who knows none of the darkness or hardship I did; friends who laugh and love and share life together in healthy, joy-filled ways; and all encompassing love and beauty that abounds in almost every facet… all these things surround me.  It is brilliant and life-giving, yet at odds with his.  I am learning to cope, I think.  We coexist.  The brilliance and beauty coexists with the darkness and pain.

– Marla Cyree

In those early days I wanted nothing more than to fast forward through life. All parents talk about wanting to pause, or even turn back time, and for the first time I wanted nothing more than to get the Cliff Notes version to the novel that was my present day life.

I was waiting.

My surgery came with a timeline and though it didn’t feel like I would ever have a pain free life again, I knew – based on those that had endured before me – that months from now, I’d reach what had became the coveted “normal” again.

And so, I waited.

I cried in bed, my hair saturated with salty tears. I skipped meals and became dependent on pain medication that really wasn’t doing anything for my pain anyway. I lost weight; my already slender self suddenly appeared as weak as I felt.

I knew it would get better with time, I just couldn’t wait for the time to pass to get there. There is an art to patience that dogs know well. For the last three months, I’ve been waiting for a morsel of food to drop; for a glimmer of hope to appear. And today, I’d tell you that my bad days are better than my good days just a few short months ago.

Today, Hooper continues to play with his food more than eat it, Van continues to eat what Hooper throws across the table, and Sarah continues to wait for crumbs. The difference is that it took me 10 minutes to sit up in bed, put my back brace on, and wander out into the kitchen to snap the photo.

– Ashley Jennett, The Stork and the Beanstalk


The years are gone.

All in a match lit and expired’s worth of time.

With each breath inhaled, I numb more profoundly than before.

If luck lands on me, the heap of sorrow and life explodes inside of me… for a moment.

A rush of warm fills my veins.

I have a moment only to break. One hundred million pieces leaving my skin cut open from the inside. not quite reaching the outer layer.

And as the warm sting leaves me, placed quietly and securely back in my thoughts, I know I will not be graced for a long while with its presence…. the unbearable warm.

I can numb through the days.

I can weep some days. Only with focus and deep desire.

Wish I could weep all days. But then with tears, the feeling of being alive… a reminder

you are gone….


– Katy Tuttle

I used to search everywhere for photos of the great sights of USA. For months I collected books from thrift shops all about the National Parks, historical monuments, and noteworthy landmarks. But it turns out my favorite pockets of this journey so far aren’t in any travel anthologies. Tonight I found this tiny laundromat to wash our blankets and I swear I wanted to lock all the doors and force everyone inside to tell me all about their lives. I wanted to photograph each of them and sit on the washing machines talking until midnight. The woman in her bunny slippers. The man with no teeth and a huge knife in his pocket. The little girl with the ace bandage falling off at the bend of her elbow. The shirtless teenager who brought a boom box and turned the volume as high as it would go. All of them. All of it. It cracked my heart open with gratitude and love. Somehow, I ended up in this spot in time in Mississippi folding sheets to R Kelly’s greatest hits.

When I went outside to get fabric softener from the truck, the sky was on fire.

– Michelle Gardella

Grown Up is that heavy feeling that is left when the screech of packing tape resides. It is the moment I realize our home doesn’t smell like us anymore and instead has been infused with the smell of cardboard. It is the quickness with which strangers disguise the shape of things that once, slowly and carefully, made four white walls become our home and reduce them to the echo that remains.

Grown Up is the sight of the things marked “essential” toppling out of suitcases, things that aren’t really essential at all. It is the realization that without ever being reduced to just the five of us – the very same way in which we arrived that we’d never understand the real meaning of life.

Grown Up emerges as the engine revs and the taillights fade into the distance of a long and betwixt day. It surfaces in the weightlessness of the feeling of home as hearts and not as spaces.

Grown Up slips in beside me in the shuttle on the way to the airport to the unknown and in the uncertainty disguised as certainty that I provide my children who are too innocent to know the truth.

Grown Up wipes the tears that I shed with goodbyes to my friends and to our family.

Grown Up throbs within me as the landing gear pulls up and swells with each mile we ascend. It threatens to fill all the spaces where childhood once lived. It reaches out of my body and wraps its comforting arms around my three children when I can’t, and holds them close over bumps in their seats as they sleep.

When we land and I take my children’s hands as we collect our bags and make our way into the hot and muggy night, in a city of strangers, Grown Up takes my hand. As we make our way through dark and unfamiliar streets, to a new set of four walls leant together for no one in particular, Grown Up rides by my side.

As the unfamiliar smells recoil and the smell of our home takes its place, I realize I’m still a child. With wonder I embark on each day like a child making her way through the world for the very first time.

Grown Ups aren’t something we are or something we become. It is something that takes over in the times we need to be led gently by the hand in order to lead others more gently and more wisely. We are all children.

– Elise Hanna

and is a time of looking out to go within. to submerge. aware of what divides. the dark beneath wrapped by light. it is a flight to the other side of ones own imagination. facing the lines drawn with younger eyes and smaller hands. preparing to leap into an unknown, the cross over and through self-imposed limitations. coming to a truce with judgments formed as a child. seeing a reflection that could be lighter, softer, kinder, freer.

– Pamela Joye

You think Henry is a turtle. You think Henry lives in the cabinet at the bottom of the stairs. You know that Turtle Henry is special somehow and you ask to play with him. When you do, you are so gentle, so kind. I realize you would be just the same if the real Henry were here, playing with Thomas the Tank Engine right next to you. You would be kind with his soul too. You would love him, hug him, hold his special little hand. You would teach him things even though he is your big brother. One day you will understand what it means to live in the clouds. One day you will realize you were deprived of feeling the love of a big brother with a big heart. One day you will look at the clouds differently and maybe understand why mommy always takes pictures of them. That we keep Turtle Henry around so we remember what was to be. We want to remember all of it. Feel all of the joy and then pain that came. It’s what we have left. One day all of that innocence you have now will forever be gone and you will long for it again. You will long for Turtle Henry because it’s the only tangible thing left. One day uou will know that your mommy had a broken heart and you fixed it. With your bright red hair and big loud cry, you helped to fix it. And with every hug, every smile, it gets a little better.

– Meghan Boyer

Candy Kempsey Grown Ups

They can love you or destroy you. My father was not a father. I was not a child. I do not know how or why I am here today. I was stripped from knowing what normal was. Today I still try to find it. Through my own children I have. I play the role as the guardian, the angel, the protector. I am a grown up. I am not here to harm. I am here to only love.

– Candy Kempsey

the grown up part the messy part,the sixteen years, four months, 25 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes into this and the here-we still-are-exactly-at-the-same-place-part
the dishes part,how many?the maybe 25 thousand of them part?the laundry, 10 thousand loads part? the part that wonders if i am exaggerating?
the bigger part that knows it’s probably even more than that the how-many-lunches-have-i-packed part?
the part that i had no fucking idea how hard this job was. that part. the part that came without any operating instructions.
the part that left the other parts of me behind. the part that still longs and still hopes and still dreams, the part that wonders if i’ll ever get to the other parts
the part that wants to go to paris. and stay there. the part that meant to hook up with the peace corps, the part that didn’t quite make that part happen.
then the other parts.
the part that loves all of this more than words could even begin to explain -this is clearly the most important part – the part that could’ve had even more…four?or five?maybe even six?
the part that could have kept going because it would’ve been the same, but even better yet the part that feels the losses the part that silently wonders the questions and then the part that never asks
the part that aches in the middle of the night staring hard out to the cold winter’s moon and the part that still aches months, then years later,
as the summer’s sun beats down through the same windows,even when it’s way past bed time, that part. the part that can’t wait for said bedtimes. but then there’s the part that misses them so very much when they are asleep
the part that remembers when she said ‘the days are long, the years are short’, the part that knew, in that instant, how truer than true those words would be the part that just feels all done sometimes by just 8.20am, sometimes not til noon, or two or six or even midnight. all those parts.
then the part that never wants it to end. ever.
the part that misses me,
misses him,
misses us,
misses who we were the first 12 years, before this part, and that part that mostly misses them, even though they are still right here even though they are always right here even though sometimes there is nothing i want more than them not being right here
the part that wants to have time, and the parts that wants to have space
yet the larger part that doesn’t want them to ever ever go like ever the part that wonders, were enough hugs given? were their words listened to enough? was there enough presence amongst the non stop ness? were the meals healthy enough? was there enough time for each of them? the part that involved the lessons and games, the homework and meals, the spend-the-nights, the performances, the concerts and recitals, the volunteering, the meetings, the kindergarten then first then second then third then fourth then fifth then sixth then seventh then eighth then ninth then tenth.
then all that again for the second part. and then again for the third part.
then there are the missing parts, the lost parts the grown up parts the parts unclaimed the parts forevermore not put together the parts unrecognized unseen undiscovered unknown unable to relate unable to regain unable to reinspire, unable to rejuvenate, unable to explain those parts
and then there are the parts that are most important to me above all the other parts; the mysterious sublime insanely good no-words-for-it-so-absolutely-brilliant-part unimaginable indescribable and bold and madly deeply deliriously deliciously unreal part, of this thing referred to for all time, in all places
so very simply as ‘mama’
these are the parts i am thinking about each and every one of them, on this cold northern california winter’s night.
one part tucked in with me; home sick all week and all those parts, one part tucked in her cove right above, dreaming of being 12 and all the parts that come with that, and the third part tucked up the hill with his oldest bff celebrating freedom and all the gorgeous parts that lie ahead.

– Jilan Caroll Glorfield

I wish I could go back in time and breath in when life was less complicated. When I jumped on trampolines, braided my hair and played kick the can. I wish I listened when my mom told me not to grow up too fast, but I didn’t. I had to experience everything, never listening. If the stove was hot, I wanted to know what hot was. As an adult, I’ve sailed Greece, ice climbed in Argentina, kayaked in Mexico, wandered the streets of Europe, fallen in love, lived in 4 cities, summitted around 100K worth of mountains on a bike, discovered a love for fish tacos, and given birth to a beautiful son. I’ve also buried a boyfriend, been in debt, split from my husband, gained 15 lbs, lost my hair and been broken into a billion pieces. Such is life, a balance between highs, lows and the in between. I want my son to dance when no one is watching, to feel the wind on his face, to make mistakes, to fall in love, to be whatever his heart desires and live a full life. I want him to cherish the moments we have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen, because soon enough life for him will get more complicated. More than anything, I want him to listen when I say, don’t grown up too fast.

– Heather Perera


  • stephanie - still my favorite project. with some of my favorite people. ladies, you are all magnificent.(A. O’D….girl, you are speaking my language.)ReplyCancel

  • Breanna - Amy, as can be expected, you ripped open to the raw truth with this post- intense, beautiful collection of words + images <3ReplyCancel

  • Heather Perera - So honored to be among these women. This one in particular so hit home with me. I found myself reading and nodding, crying and feeling understood. Thank you for creating a safe place for us to hold our thoughts, if even for a moment. xxReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Koehler - Bravo on this courageous and raw look into humanity– the longing, the wondering, the restlessness, the beauty in the grateful for your vision Amy! Also I feel like I should say that Jilan Carol Glorfields words sound like my brain. As in, I think she read my mind!ReplyCancel

  • candy kempsey - where to start? each story has stabbed into my heart and i feel them…i am here far away from most of you and i feel them. thank-you for freeing me today, amy… you are changing my life. who else would be so brave? who else speaks out loud? i am 41 and it is you.ReplyCancel

  • Elaine - Well this is just gorgeous. All of it. Every word and image and truth.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Mayo - Heartachingly beautiful. It’s always a privilege to read these.ReplyCancel

  • Bee - My heart is full and heavy at the same time. Which should be the same thing, but it’s not. This is one of my favourite projects out there. What a beautiful collection of voices. XOReplyCancel

  • Carrie Geddie - To all of you who bared your souls… thank you. Such beautiful words, yes, but the act of sharing, little bits resonating with me here and there, making me cry and FEEL, which I often just don’t make time for… Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • elaine melko - took some time to find “grown up” time to read these…but all of you are like old souls I have known before I came to be me. thank you for your pictures and your honesty.ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Lacey Dodd - Thank you for hearts open.ReplyCancel

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