The Chorus: Mothers and Fathers

{Last week, some unseen force moved me to revisit these pieces. It has been eleven months – of tornadoes and losing faith and home and security, of being skinned emotionally, of having the thin veil of protection fall away, left with love and desperation. Love and Desperation. A complete sentence, the most human parts of us, a good place to start again. And as always, I stand by these words…}

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

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I cannot remember what it feels like not to be a mother. Like you can’t unknow some innovation the world gave you before you were born, or the pain after a heart sliced in half, we can’t forget who we are now enough to completely remember who we were before.

But oh, was there a before. For all of us. We were little girls dreaming of boys and horses and saving lives, making wishes on 11:11, choosing between the abstract lotteries of “love or money,” making our original mistakes when we knew we were making them, writing songs as pure as hope and actually singing them to someone, getting lost in imaginations that felt more safe than escape, learning that the worlds of our girl friends are more exquisite than any romance in the world, knowing to want to be something bigger than we were, remembering years by the ideas we devoured, feeling the first tingles in our solar plexus, with wet hair and cigarettes in our hands, learning that first kisses meant last everythings and never enoughs, being in love with something or someone we yearned for but couldn’t quite place. Until years later we realized it was ourselves, in bloom, full of all that might or might never happen, on the verge of everything.

We can get used to anything that doesn’t stop our hearts. Until our hearts live outside our bodies, fused with new ones, in the fragile, caged walls of our children’s chests. And the dance becomes a dance for our lives. It isn’t until then that we become desperate for the tribe we know is there like the ghost of our grandmother running through our blood. Real, if silent, always present, awake with the fevers and wheezing, and stretches with no partner or money or heat, the betrayals that knock out jet stream winds and lives and hope like downed wires, the questions so embarrassing we blush over the phone asking them, the wanting so much to share the overwhelm that defines and unravels us. We want to share like tea and food and lines committed to memory, the poetry that comes to life when words aren’t enough. It’s not that we want to hurt together, but we want to be allowed to hurt together.

I was twenty six when I became one. Hers. By the far reaching standards of this planet, it was older than most girls get to be, but in my lassoed circles, I was the first. The hurt of getting her here was the most alive and awake I have ever been. I screamed like a terrified, drowning sailor pleading with the storm to back down. We are split in two as an initiation into the forever splitting in two motherhood gives us. The man at my side was the most intense thing I knew before that small hours, snowy March night, and the wide moon eyed girl that woke up my primal heart. He got more intense, more dangerous, my love for him was its own storm, but no match for my wild love of her. She took over, swallowing every want that didn’t match her need. We planted ourselves in safe ground and cracked together, into new light.

There is not only one kind of mom. We are not all married, nor do we need to be. Some of us have never been and never will be wives, some of us have one, some of us lost ourselves to being one to the wrong person, believing someone who didn’t even believe himself, years worth of life’s weaving in the pull of a single thread. We are not all happy or completed, we are unfinished, yearning, spilling over with gratitude and terror, young, old, sick, and strong. We are broken and taped back together with anything we can find to mix with capital L Love. We are as strong as this love. We are trying harder than we thought we could.

Many of us are by accident. I was, twice. Accidents can be hard and miraculous.

Some of us were mothers. I can hardly bear to type it. I watch my own pull herself out of dark soil every day with this weight.

We are all daughters, caught in a forever in between of what we aren’t and what we wish we were.

We are all the real deal. Or we can be. It is a matter of peeling back the layers, skinny dipping with our insides, without a screen, a robe, hindsight. If we all countdown together and say the thing we are most afraid of saying, at the same time, I will bet my precious messy life we are all still standing together afterward.

My right now is the inverse of my daughter’s – that breathless charge of possibility building in the air around her. I could drink it with a straw. Just like I long to drink in her baby smell through time. I feel the negative image of that, chattering teeth, shallow breath, squinting to see some dim candlelight in the deep thick of the tunnel. Still knowing there are infinite tunnels with infinite ends and infinite kinds of light. I feel the teenagers watching me hold the hands of my little boy and his friends, wistfully and with distracted pity. “Her life is over,” they think,  getting everything and nothing right. And I have countless conversations with other mothers in which it’s as if we were never teenagers at all – rated PG when we are all starving for R, telling the happy ending story when we all just want to spill our bloody truths, as if our kids are listening when they aren’t close enough, as if we are all as put together as we want the world to think, as if we have forgotten the Before while setting up the picture for the After. Every time, wanting more.

The mother in me is the most forgiving and most exacting to myself. I have gifted both of my beautiful souled kids fathers who failed them. We think we know the value of self forgiveness until we face something like this, staring us down every day. When I say we, I mean me.

We learn that it isn’t black or white, or even shades of grey. It is every shade of every color all at once. We are saved by the right slant of light, in which we see their faces, making something singular, pure, and clear. The real hand to touch your own and pull you to a dot on the timeline. To make life linear for a second when you’ve gone nebulous, from solid to gas, dispersed in molecules so far away from each other there is no glue you believe might hold you together in your suchness. Our kids do this, necessarily, miraculously, without therapy or play books or medicine. The invisible thing that binds us, the collective, sharp inhale that we never release is something we all know; they will always reach for us, and we will always have to be ready for anything. My five year old boy said to me a few weeks ago, “Mommy, I think I know what you are talking about when you talk to Poppy and other people.”

“What sweetheart?”

“Loving me,” he tells me. And he gets it. He has the quick of me, electric and soft at once, the part of my spine raw to everything, fused to him always, without any surgery.

What will I tell them? What can any of us tell them, in truth and kindness? About a world that drops out under your clenched toed feet. Most of the time, I don’t know – the end points, the how, the what if’s. But the why is the clearest, most solid thing I’ve felt. Them. That most of the time, the fog will lift. Reverse gravity, a pyre of their troubles, becoming air we can take into our lungs and use and exhale. Cells of it will live there just like the lungs of our babies – traces of them in our hearts, our bones, our brains. I always say motherhood changed me on a cellular level. Maybe metaphors do come true. Everything lifts, yes, everything dies and resurrects. And no matter the loss, you will fall in love with the world again, always be changing, always everywhere to me.

– Amy Grace

pamela joye

We arrive naked and shattered 

yet whole. 

 The mother carries us from a dark comforting place into an unfamiliar light.

The father takes us forward with strength and protection.

And I don’t mean to imply that these have genders for many stand as both mother and father.

 Mothers and Fathers can help us to navigate the tangles of the world. 

They can invite us to stretch our arms and reach for the skies. 

To fly high and wide.

 But while they teach us to live in the world, they often dismiss the purity of a young soul spirit as we arrive much closer to the source.

 It can be a messy business 

for some of us land like butterflies trapped in layers

the strands of the past, 

the knots of the present 

tangled up in a web that dims the colors of the future.

 I once attended a forum filled with 200 or so people. At one point, the instructor asked all those age 20-25 to stand up. He then asked those of us sitting down to consider that these were our parents. Looking at the faces, I understood in ways I hadn’t before.

 Mothers and Fathers can take many shapes and emotional forms. 

But when I dig through to the underbelly   

They are the whisper that carries the echo

The leaves that soften the thorns

The stem that nurtures the bloom

– Pamela Joye

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This life is lived in a constant state of ebb and flow. A life lived for a child, a partner. But also for a self. I strive to hold on as pieces of myself drift off into the body of them. I reach for what remains, giving up the rest. Not all is lost, for I too am gifted bits of a self that are not my own.

We are each our own selves, trying to understand and accept what our life is. Yet we grow together. Learning, searching, guiding, living and loving together. And still, separately. We are individuals, taking one another along for the ride.
Though the memory of what was given always remains. For when we are apart there is yearning. A hunt begins. A search for the fragments of light that may only be reflected by those who possess them.
You are you and I am I. But you are forever of me and I of you.
kirsten mckee
early rise, peach-tinted dawn; soft air and the thrum of possibility. we pack our picnic while anticipation blooms. the sun ripens. it’s a long drive; a blur of motorway and wind turbines and clouds burning away and the blue sky, the rush of air through open windows and singing ourselves hoarse and one too many sweets. laughing at nothing. laughing at everything. then the rush through the sand dunes. his hand curled in mine. joy made sharp by the sting of beach grass and the cackle of gulls and the slap of feet on wet sand. we dash into the cool sea, shrieking each time a wave hits, emerge sopping wet and itching with salt. sun on the water. gold horizon. him and me and me and him. we lie breathless on the warm sand and i can almost hear his heartbeat, just barely out of sync with mine. as if we share a pulse. gleaming with happiness, the eyes of son and mother, mother and son, shine.


“Who we are and how we engage with the world is such a far more accurate predictor of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” Brené Brown.

I’m the mother now. And yet I don’t have all the answers.

My father left when I was little, and yet I turned out okay. Sure, I sometimes feel like I’m never good enough and I have a tendency to try to be perfect in all things, and I’m sure some therapist out there would tell you that’s because my father left, which left me feeling not quite worthy of staying for. But overall, trying to do things really really well isn’t the worst thing in the world.

But now, as a mother, I think about how I want to be in this world as their mother, what indelible memory I want my children to have of me as their mother, and what I’ve come up with is that I want them to know that I will never leave, that I will always have their back, and that forever and always I am happy to be their first phone call. But I recognize that in order for them to want to call me in the first place, there needs to be more than a status-relationship, mother and child, there needs to be an actual living feeling breathing emotional give take honest truthful relationship with all its highs and lows and in-betweens and love, always love.

And what is that? “Love is making a safe place for another person to be fully themselves.” Henri Nouwen.

And that for me is the crux of it all. I want to truly see my children, individually, for whom they really are. Not for whom I want them to be, not for whom I think they are, not for whom they were last year or two years before that. But today. And tomorrow. Standing before me. Sitting next to me at the table. Who is this person? I want to listen and be curious and accept each of them. I want to look into their eyes and truly see them. I want them to know and to feel deep into their soul that they need not hide here, that everything is okay, that you will be loved. That here with mom is safe. That mom is home.

Nothing else truly matters in this world to me. And if I don’t get it right today, I’m trying again tomorrow.

– Aileen Reilly


her hands are my hands are my daughter’s hands.

strong, capable. veins like little green rivers, skin like butter and butcher paper. and that ring she wore, that sterling silver dogwood ring, the one I can’t ever remember not on her left middle finger. on that day, she took the hands of her mother, my grandmother, and they danced. grandma’s cheeks, fresh with rouge, a creamy coral dabbed on just before mom slipped the strand of plastic yellow beads around her neck. this was the ritual. I watched from the edges, willed myself to ignore the faint intermingling scent of urine and lysol, concentrated instead on the faraway radio sounds of dolly parton and the two dancers in the room. they lit up the place with that dance, spilled light into the dark corners of the nursing home, the ones nobody likes to talks about.

in two short years, just one year after her own mother, she would be gone. how could I have known she would be gone? in those last days of her life, I held her hands in mine, sat by her bed while she slipped in and out of that deep place morphine takes people when the pain is too much, the cancer is closing in and the world is about to swallow them whole. I sat by her bed and held her hands, television flickering in the background, toddlers and tiaras and wild gypsy teenagers on repeat while my worst nightmare played out in real time. I held her hand like she held mine on the first day of school, the first day of dance class, the first time I had my heart broken. I held her hands they way she held her own mother’s the day they danced. I held her hands and pleaded with her to live, quietly, desperately, to please, please live, pleaded with God for the miracle of all miracles, begged him in messy, shameless ways over and over again.

a few months after she died, I found her jewelry pouch. there it was, tucked beneath a tangle of polyester camisole slips and snagged pantyhose. all my favorite pieces were there– the bracelet with the silver charms she’d collected while traveling through europe in college, the oval locket my dad gave her for christmas one year, the one that held our teeny tiny baby pictures, the collection of bangles with the real turquoise stones and the ring. good lord, the sterling silver dogwood ring. as much a part of my mother as the small crescent-shaped scar on her cheekbone and those amber brown eyes. I slipped it on my middle left finger and gasped. there she was. in the shape of my hand, my fingers, in the color and texture of my skin, in the way her signature ring looked on my left hand. she was as close as my left hand, I could see her, feel her any time I stopped to look down.

my daughter’s hands are nothing like mine, nothing like my mother’s. her fingers are long and slender, her skin, smooth by comparison and fairer in complexion. her hands are the hands of a concert pianist, though interlaced with mine, the differences fall away. she held my hand my through those months, the the before and after, held my hand when I shut down, pushed everyone else away. she was quiet but sure about it, acted with the same gentle tenacity as her grandmother did for so many years. her hands are my hands are my mother’s hands. and she’ll slip the silver dogwood ring on one of these days. she’ll see me, feel me, remember her grandmother. she’ll look down and she’ll know. we’re with her, always.

– Andrea Jenkins


mothers and fathers are not told at the hospital that having that brand new baby will come with the darkest moments of your life as well as the brightest. they are not told that they will feel their children’s disappointments and pain as though they were their own but magnifiied times a million. and they are not told that no family escapes those moments — that its inevitable — that you must watch your children fail for them to succeed. that sometimes you have to hold them as they grieve and that in worse times, they will push you away and hide their troubles or pain. you will see them struggle and know the outcome through your life experience but yet they won’t listen to you or learn from you, but they must learn the hard way always and you must watch. that they will throw away the best opportunities and do the stupidest of things. and that all your hard fast rules and great parental ideas will fly out of your head and be useless in the face of such times. and as an overly optimistic person, i can easily showcase this in rainbows and say that there is always a bright side (which I do believe in my soul). but i also know in my heart that having children can be very painful and can force you to see yourself as you truly are and not as you wish you were. my children have broken me. but broken me in a way that makes me more human and more able to be compassionate and to love and be loved.

– Wendy Laurel


there is this chipping.

chip, chip, chipping away.

nagging. irritating.

annoyance that one, perhaps, cannot even imagine before the pick hits ones ice-y hard.

i am melting. and sculpted by the second. from all directions, it comes at me.

no solace… no socially acceptable option for a clean escape.

could i bare one, an escape? telling my whole mind, bliss.

i have become. dripping with cold. shimmering in dust, shavings, dancing-s. could I have this written my wildest dreams?

crawling and caved, my insides. each scream, torment, each small, important question reminds me, i exist.

through frozen time, in magic.

and still i close my eyes. pause. silence.

more space i have inside… more breath i have. to hold. to swallow. to exhale.

to exist.

– Katy Tuttle


Journal entry from a cold December

Rough week on the motherhood front. A few careless comments in regards to how I’m not as great of a mother as so and so thinks I should be. Blah, blah, blah. So on and so forth.

Tantrums, tears, and the like. It’s how childhood and adulthood seems to be. Call me childish.

I tried to fight back. Outings, sweets, and home cooked meals. Climbing the giant fig tree and ripping cat tails into heaps of snow. We skipped rocks saving the smoothest to line our pockets.

Ah, but some days are meant to drag out. 4:23 pm. Signing off to go win this battle. Some children are worth fighting for.

– Maryanne Gobble


Your birth still echos, ringing in the faintest of places. A chant leaving bruises I can’t seem to bandage. We mothers tend wounds where violets grow.

Girlchild.Mother.Bride. Each strung round my neck with great care. Yet heavy as tires on my skin. This life of being split in two is forever. I look out the window and see myself flapping tar soaked wings into the purplest light. Fleeing. Then I notice — you are flying with me.

You wrap your long fingers around my face in the darkness. Fingers like string. I whisper, “You’ll do better than me at this. Your heart is softer than mine.” Your eyes melt into the pillow. And I rest my heart against yours. I smell spring and soot and hot sunshine. We lie on a bed of moons. And are one.

– Roxanne Bryant


Us Solars are going through a really rough period of life. Having a son who’s been sick for 2 years and not knowing what it was has been so stressful and horrible and anger inducing. He was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and not only does he have it, but one of his sisters does as well. Two kids with cystic fibrosis. Dealing with a horrible insurance company. Closing up shop on a few businesses, not failures, just not helping us support our family. We have been planning a trip to Europe for the past 3 years. We were going to be there for 5 months, adventuring all over with our family. Learning so much about new cultures, and just enjoying one another’s company. We had the plane tickets booked. We had the car leased. Max was supposed to be healthy by now so we could go. Our businesses were supposed to be making the money we need to have the time freedom we so desperately crave. But life swooped in and had other plans. Jenny + I always tell each other… “We don’t talk about doing awesome shit, we actually do awesome shit.” So, life telling us we can’t do awesome shit makes me a bit angry.

And, yet, I can’t help but see there’s so much good happening in our life. Since Max’s diagnosis, he’s put on over 15 pounds. He’s been off antibiotics for longer than he has in the past 2 years, and isn’t showing signs of getting back on them anytime soon. He’s got the energy of a 10 year old boy back. He can play baseball again. Blessing. Ava’s diagnosis came early enough that she never had the major problems Max had to deal with. Blessing. The closing down of businesses that didn’t serve us has opened up the space to create something beautiful that is filling us up and is showing signs of momentum that will carry on to (hopefully) be our path to time freedom one day. Blessing. This whole process has led Jenny + I to connect on much deeper levels. It’s forced us to get really clear on the life we want to live, the way we want to parent, the people we want to surround ourselves with, and to say NO to everything that doesn’t fit into that plan. We’re so much closer than we ever have been, and that’s saying something since we’ve been together for well over half our lives. Blessing.

There’s so much good, and it deserves to be recognized. People keep asking me how I can be so positive given all life’s thrown my way, and to them I say, no other choice makes any sense to me. I get angry, frustrated, stressed out, true. I lose my faith and hope from time to time, true. So I sit with those feelings for a bit, and then I get up and push forward. I must keep pushing forward into a deeper love for life and those around me. A deeper love for Jenny, for my kids, for my friends and family, for myself, for humanity. I can’t control what cards I’ve been dealt, but I always have a choice in how I react to them.

I want my kids to see the full range of human emotions. Lord knows we’re living it. I want them to know I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. I don’t expect them to be either. I want them to know my flaws, to see and experience them, and I want them to see how I move through those flaws to a place of love. A place where I can bless others. A place where I can be grateful for all the messiness this life is, because it’s such a beautiful messiness. That’s mothering and fathering to me. Being real. Being vulnerable. Being honest. Being loving. Holding tight onto one another and doing the best we can.

– Josh Solar

Jennifer Potter Chorus web

I want you to feel all of the magic of the Earth while it is still magic to you. My hope is that if you know it this way, you will always love it….. you will always see the wonder and beauty in the simplest things it offers. In difficult times, when I can not hold you,  you will find yourself comforted by the feeling of the wind and the presence of the ground beneath you….. and you will find the strength to carry on.

– Jennifer Potter


In their freedom, in their wild abandonment of societal norms, I find my own permission to exhale, and be the woman I was placed here to be.

– Michelle Gardella


make of my heart, a nest.

some of my earliest memories are of looking through the sears catalog and circling toys and pretty dresses. i circled them not for me, but for the babies that would someday be mine.

i’d sit around on the scratchy tweed couch at my grandma’s house with a kickball tucked under my shirt, pretending i could feel a baby growing inside, pretending i could grow someone to love me in the way a lonely four year old needed to feel loved.

…and now, with four children in the nest of my heart, i find myself thinking, often, of that little mama bird of a girl. and how she dreamed a wonderful life for us.

– Angela Hendrix Petry


I didn’t stop loving my husband when my children were born, but love – in general – became redefined. My love for my children was all-consuming and nothing in the world seemed to measure up to the love I had for them. Today, four years after my first and two-and-a-half after my second, that love for them is still all-consuming, incomparable.

I paid less attention to my marriage in those early days as my new motherly instinct took over. I didn’t love my husband any less, per se. Rather, I had one little man whose life literally depended on me and one grown man who was more or less capable of caring for himself. And so my attention went to my son. In hindsight, it’s all so strange. You spend your young adult years dating and searching for “the one” and then, if you’re lucky, you find him and choose him to be your husband. Some time later, if you’re lucky again, you give birth to a child who you don’t really know at all. And suddenly you forget all about the one you’ve chosen and become totally enamored and enmeshed with a complete stranger.

Before we knew it, there were two. Having a second–especially so close to the first–has a way of knocking you over the head, repeatedly. Our world became much more chaotic–not necessarily all at once, but gradually. Everyone says your love multiplies and, while I agree with that (with a few asterisks attached), I would say that your attention gets divided. Suddenly, my husband fell further from the front of my mind. I didn’t nurture our relationship like I once did. In fact, at times I even resented what seemed to be inequities in responsibilities for our family. I had envisioned entering motherhood as a team, as equal partners, and the reality of it was that my life felt more heavily impacted.

Thankfully, our marriage didn’t suffer. I can’t say that this was a hard time for us or that we fought a lot; there was just a lot of adjusting and sorting and trying to keep our heads above water. Life continued on and eventually we got our bearings as new parents, while the negotiation of our husband-and-wife relationship continued in the background. At many points in the chaotic shuffle, I’ve looked over at my husband and felt overcome with gratitude. He is my partner. I get to navigate this madness with him.

Today, we’re back to going on dates; Not always as often as we’d like, but definitely as often as we can. Just him and I. And it’s wonderful.

– Ashley Jennett

Posy Quarterman Photography,

Will you stay in our lovers’ story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing

We bought a lot of things
To keep you warm and dry
And a funny old crib on which the paint won’t dry
I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
When they pick on you

‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too – David Bowie

– Posy Quarterman

rebecca coursey

who knew, stumbling upon this life of motherhood, i would love it so fiercely.

nothing else has defined me as much and nothing ever will define me more.

i am sure of this.

as i watch you gallop away into the arms of adolescence, i hold back little sobs of joy. you love. you will be loved. you are fiercely loyal. you love to argue your points. you are slowly becoming a man.

as much as i love this, i would, in an instant, turn back time to walk down the doors of your childhood once more. drink cup after cup after cup of cup of tea made in your pretend kitchen. bake with you, play dinosaur with you. hide out in forts with you and camp again under the stars knowing that all is right with the world.

in my dreams, i sit on the edge of a long pier. my feet are dangling off the end and as i stare off into the expanse of the mist and layers of fog lifting off the lake, i see that i have worlds of unknown lives to still live, but i don’t ever want to take the plunge, i don’t want to heave off the end of the pier into the water, i don’t want to stop being a mother to your littleness, i don’t want you to be big and me to be older. and as much as i don’t want it, i know it will still happen, even if i had ten more children, it would never stop you from leaping into the unknown of adulthood, and me watching your ripples slowly slip away as you swim out of sight.

– Rebecca Coursey

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