Writing to Help in the Home

Raising Thinkers & Writers Who Write Meaningful Notes & Respond to Challenge

I brought back a suitcase of gold from my time in the US. Any one of us who live abroad or who call more than one homeland “ours”, know the importance of imported goods– especially if, like me, you find yourself solo. Better bring lots of useful and whimsical loot home.

A couple weeks ago, I unloaded my suitcases. Sheer joy, a virtual birthday, Christmas, and Chanukah. Out of pjs, books, and a few small toys, perhaps the most enthusiastically-received was a pair of acrylic cups, with lids, and hard-plastic straw. Retro, classic, and totally usable. Except I kept forgetting the system they enacted! It was bothersome. Who wanted which color lid? Wait–does my son get the orange straw or was it the teal?

target cups

Toddler Straw Cups for Target

This might/could have been a time for “You get what I give you, no tantrum, or it’s mine, forever”, but in this house, we try to honor their preferences, providing they are respectful and it works for us. I had to at least start with a better system to remember before I dashed it all. Hmm, the onus could be on them to help, not simply on me.


Enter note-writing. My daughter knew I needed her help; here was her chance. Total buy-in, right? Writing and literacy depend on relevance, audience, motivation. This was intrinsic and extrinsic. “Can you please draw for me the cup, lid, and straw you want?” No problem. My girl scrambled out of her chair for the supplies (paper, notebooks, pens, and pencils are always fully-retrievable for all kids in a house desiring and operating in the fullness of literacy). A rendering of both cups appeared within seconds. At this age, drawing is a massive help and support to keep it fun and for multiple-intelligences.

“Now we draw and write to show who gets which parts. This is labeling!” She drew and also articulated to me the words which I them encouraged her to write. This process may look like a child thinking of each sound, then writing the letters themselves. Other times, it may mean the child helps by dictating, then co-writing, by supplying sounds and sometimes letters, while an older writer moves the actual pencil. Parents and kids can also work together, passing back and forth a pen or marker. “Oh, let me write that, please!” Vary the jobs to keep it fresh.

This is the best: when your child desires independence, knowing their skills are a match for the activity. There is confidence in the process and in the product.


In this case, I have a child-made guide taped to the fridge, acting as a reminder when I prepare their cups. They can also compare the work, or theirs, if they prepare a cup for themselves or for their sibling.

This is literacy in action—a way to work better in the world, using voice, and all the skills they’ve been gathering since day one.

Also, some children would thrive with more order, more organization. Writing can give them an avenue to get what they need. A parent, besides, modifying their own behavior, or household, can encourage a child to write out their own list to aid in the family-process. Say I keep forgetting to buy the soy milk they love. Let them write me a reminder note! Say they feel too big for their now too-small bath towel. Encourage them to draw a picture of what is wrong, and then, maybe on the other side, what can be done to change the situation. This is a place where kids are invited to problem-solve, helping you in your job of parenting. It’s more than simply a wish-list; it’s an invitation to voice need and preference and order. After all, they will solve a much bigger problem than just cups and straws, right? Literacy is for right now, but it’s also scaffolding for forever! 

More examples:

Invite them to bring the paper to the store and choose a towel, a bigger obento set, a not-cracked habitat for kabuto mushi, those awesome helmet beetles they’ll want to collect come summer.

Or maybe it’s furikake; your husband bought a too-salty kind and they’d really like to feel healthier with less salt, and more nori and sesame flakes.

Be multi-lingual in these notes! Translate! Incorporate all of the “pleases” and “onegaishimasus“, and “s‘il vous plais“, you know. Write the whole plan or request out in both or all languages. Draw itty bitty details about what you want in the seasoning for your rice, or what kind of juice you’d like to try this summer. Diagram your perfect layout of dream-foods for the fridge! Help me by writing a reminder about what you’d like to do this Friday afternoon. Or maybe it’s a movie, the items we need to prepare for soccer, your suggestion for Friday night dinner, with dessert plan or seating chart. Lists are a vital, magical, organic fertilizer, helping all of your seedlings grows.

Notes can help everyone; the kids feel helpful and get what they want with less frustration and more confidence. Parents see literacy in action. I don’t lose my patience over kids whining or complaining when I get the cups and lids and straws wrong. They’ve helped me to streamline even a small process, that has freed us up to pay attention to the big things, our fun togetherness and the juice, milk, or water inside their cups.

Let them write, draw, and then find, according to the needs they’ve described. You’ll not be the only one doing all the work. Help will take the form of creative thinkers, excitedly cramming plans and diagrams, all sorts of lists in your hands.

Enjoy the work of praise and encouragement. These are the seasons of love.

Out With the Old Love: A Study on Response

I used to tell people my heart was with them and really mean it. I’d spend time, intentionally, making a prayer, making a card, a daisy chain, looping my hear’s-cry and their earnest desire. Now? Now it is a dash of thought as quick as sprinkling salt on a plate of potatoes. It’s a throw, a clicked-out reply on Facebook; I’m sick of it.


Really, I miss the integrity, the depth of time spent in quiet-tude, sometimes an hour or hours long. Such was my passion in meeting with G-d, in speaking out psalms and meditations. And the deluge of love. My, I’d sometimes make my voice hoarse and husky from such time spent with such passion towards G-d and so many people. Kids I’d be teaching, parents in trouble, the latest international need or devastation. Any pregnant friend, anyone seeking wisdom, a job, steering in her life; no need was insignificant. I was lit. Moving home? Father sick? I’d head straight to the King and very often, expect some kind of contextual, tangible followup. There’d be a blueprint already, called investment.


And now? Seems my responses to honest and urgent needs are merely cursory. It is the sign of a hasty, impatient generation, or all of us, across ages, so accustomed to the snapchats of social media. All of us with good intentions, responding to the rising toll of dead families in Kathmandu, but then blinking past muffins, through organizational ideas and spotlighted homes, a virtual gallery of kids’ crafts, celeb-interviews, and even a board on Pinterest for trending summer shorts and ways to braid hair.

It’s all so much, because where does that leave our friend who needs an extra line of reassurance as she prepares for the waves of labor? Where does that put Nepal and our care for the medics arriving on the ground to very quickly try and try and try to recover the living and patch them up, somehow? How does my lack of real care, real passion for the lost and missing and fearing and dying and crushed stack-up against all the pretty visuals of succulents and flashy ways to make breakfast more stimulating and “Pinnable”? Who am I as a friend?


I know we can’t make a dent in much of what goes on in the world, much less our own lives, it can feel. The news is hopeless. My heart can’t take another shooting or terrorist attack on students, Christians, Arabs, or Jews. I cannot stomach hearing of another child abused. But if I tell someone I’m thinking of them, let me do better. Let me know that I silenced all of the voices of media and fashion and perfect-mothering-teaching-baking-shopping-recipe-planning-laundering-E! mentioning-Bruce-Jenner-gabbing-every-celeb-&-their-kid-whatever…let me get clear so I can hear the sound of change I can affect, if only by being still and asking, agreeing with the very King of the Universe, the One who founded life and change, forgiveness, and strength.


At the very least, even if these habits of prayer and listening and all don’t amount to much, at least let me know I am a friend. I will not be distracted from the urgency of need, won’t be so easily fooled, dormant, or disengaged. Or worse–I won’t scroll past a picture of hurting students in Kenya and think I’m onto something good simply because I clicked “like” and felt something akin to “bad” or “sad” for a sec. I, we, are called, to move big. To give our time and energy, our resources, big. I want more of this kind of engagement in the world, wanna be more with the movers and shakers of supplying, sharing, and standing in concordance. So long, stagnancy and false promises. From now on, I align myself with tenacity and emotion that gets stuff done. I’ll be a friend to the hurting, or at least plan towards that specific end.

I’ve also got my daughter on the job. So that’s good, right? We discuss who’s hurting or doing well or even visiting this Friday, and she’s already half-way out of her breakfast seat and running for lead and paper. She makes the card, a new drawing special, just for them. And after dinner, too, while I’m picking up scattered rice bits and dribbles of juice, she’s creating evidence of caring for these friends. She means every scratch, every mark, and word.

Whatever it is, do it in love. Whatever it is, feel it, and make some good spring out of it, joining love with the words, “hope”, “love”, “decency”. Let my attention span find a quiet and hold.

Sturdy is Beauty


She has held out to me
flowers since Sunday

(maybe 7 or 6)

and this morning, a teensy white flower, another purple, and then

the dandelion, which is her flower, called tanpopo in Japanese.

the one assigned her at preschool,

stitched to the inside of her red hat (boshi)

and sealed on her coat rack,

sock bin, everywhere her name is; there is frilly solid tanpopo like soft fringe.

This morning we tested her running

legs beside and in front of our bike,

the whole whole way,

picking flowers calling cats,

noticing differences between dogwood and sakura.


And after we blew dried up seeds

and taught her brother,

she picked one for my ear.

All morning compliments

on our treasure on my gift–

solid, stuck like a rock and you

it would not blow off

not round corners

not with wind

not with anything.

stuck like the beauty

called you.

Looking Back on Birth

I never knew I’d write so much on pregnancy and having babies.
I guess I wasn’t one of those girls playing house or stuffing her kid-abdomen

with a pillow, pretending to nurse, none of that, really.

baby  excited k  swingy girl

I never thought I’d move off to Japan and have kids there.
Then again, I never played “wedding”, never thought past being young and scampering around South Florida. The most I daydreamed about was, perhaps, maybe, at some point, taking a ride to New Orleans where I’d live off beignets and dance round the jazz. I’ll pack for two weeks and end up staying years, I thought. Paris also called me, but I was really a lackadaisical poet, floating in the breeze. It would have taken more planning that I knew how.

Yet, here I am, blogging about having cute little babies in Japan.
It’s a whirlwind, it’s glamour, it’s hard work, it’s pay off, it’s tears, and beading bracelets with gold; it’s exposure to the grandest sort of love, daily. It’s finally getting out of those nursing bras.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-51

Tired, restful, yawny maternity photo by Mel Willms

Here is my part in an amazing tour of what it is like to live abroad, learning another culture, while growing a family. Here is my experience in Japan.

I am so proud of this series, and just very appreciative of Iulia’s work on Best of Baby. Before I became pregnant while living in Japan, the very idea of becoming pregnant, carrying, and later, carrying for a baby in this new place loomed with scary impossibility. It would be madness! How could I possibly even think of having a baby when I couldn’t even communicate with the clerks at the grocery store! I still cannot carry on any real conversation with my neighbors. How could I even think of taking-on another life? I needed intensive language training! Meditation! And yet…

Life goes on, that “biological clock is ticking like this”, (spoken like a gawdy Marisa Tomei). What are you gonna do, wait, wait, terrified, until you go back to America? You could…you could try…or you can just let life unfold. Learn about care in your new country. Get support. Find out what works. And you know you won’t like all of it. You’ll probably make faces at the traditional old wives’ tales. You may mock the selection of maternity clothes. But you make it work. Life and sweetness all happen. You arrive. You age. You make friends who throw you the shower of your dreams, the one you never even thought of a gazillion miles away, actually. You get everything you need.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-55


So you write and you blab and you live, wanting to boost the other women you see, pregnant, trying, or wondering, scared if they should really let themselves be so far away from their mothers, far away from the system of care they’ve always known and readied, steadied themselves for. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes you cry and cry and eventually contribute to a book on raw postpartum experiences. Sometimes, though, like all the hard things, you learn how tough the skin on an egg really is. You learn to let the tough hits flake off of you somehow, too. You are fragile, but my, you are won-over with grace and a deep satisfaction. This is growth. These are the moments for which crazy-loud dance parties with the kids were created.

This is what it is to split and move and multiply cells and have to deliver all that pressure. This is the stuff of growing a family, the making and shaking of love.

I love this series and all the ways we learn it’s okay. It is the thrill of surprise, the joy of life, unknown, unfurling.

All gorgeous photos taken by my friend, Mel Willms

Being Truthful

“Above all, tell the truth. Spill the beans. Go ahead, let it all out”.

There are clichéd invitations, but what about those fragile moments in motherhood, still delicate? Still a processing the something new. Engorged or breathless or feeling the surge of raw emotions, hormones racing, plummeting under-skin. How do women express what can be scary, the fatigued moments that can feel defeating, even for one teensy weensy second?

(Below photo taken by the wonderful Melissa Willms).




The thing is, I love being a mother. Beyond. I adored pregnancy, the roundness of life growing. I love being a mother. Even so, in the weeks or early months following my second-child’s birth, a friend asked me if I had The Baby Blues. What nerve. The misunderstanding. Not me. No depression or deep dissatisfaction here.

Yet, there was something that needed dealing with, a shame clinging to my ribs that would not get out. I would not loose it, afraid to expose one incident that had me by the throat and pit in my stomach. See? Not every minute of motherhood is flouncy aprons and saying grace by the fire. Sometimes it’s clenched-teeth prayers and realizing that love is in the blueprints of community. Forgiveness, in the crackling of embers, all of those hidden things, now lit by the presence of G-d.


So like all these women, I wrote about my experience. I sent the words off, blew each vibrating verb like yellow lily pollen. It stuck somewhere wonderful, powerful, and moving.

I sent my words, my second baby postpartum frustrations and prayers, to The HerStories Project, as these remarkable editors called forth realities of postpartum experience. They combed and sifted through 220 truthful essays and pulled thirty-two from the pile. This will be the book. They are sharing more of those powerful entries online.


Be truthful. Be encouraging. Don’t scare new moms, jeez. Tell them it may mean tough nights. It may be a-rough-go, many many mornings, but the point is we are here. We, like our babes, sometimes have to be born from a dark night, guided by midwives. We emerge and write. We speak of freedom and light, courage and the path from discomfort to a stretching out of wings. There is even a book.

PS Published

PS I never put it on here, but Literary Mama published my words and prompt this month.

Find it here, dears.

I wrote about how, in tenth grade, I felt like the coolest girl in school, in print and design class with all boys.

And it was cool, not like when my parents allowed/coached me to/ aided in my girl-power-humiliation by supporting

my being the only girl on the Coral Springs basketball team. (Those boys were mean and schmucky, only passing the ball when their conscience won-out and logic fell out of their brains like fifth grade Gatorade sweat).

In that tenth grade print shop, I pressed and carved, slid paint across screens and created stuff. I would have kept with it subsequent years, if not for moving to every high school in the tri-county area. Yep.

Years and laugh lines later, in Tokyo, as a mom and writer, scribbling on the train, I see that my writing is carving out time, carving out what I want to see in my life.

I think of the title, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour.

“Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion.”

I am so full of memories. I like that I can track all of them down on paper and skip tattoos. I get to call myself some kind of poet or writer, just cause I guess I am by this point. And because when people you adore see craft in you, well, that’s kinda it. You are. And I think my Grandfather was my biggest fan. Nothing left to do but keep doing it. Keep remembering details and points and jot it all down.

So thank you, Literary Mama, for publishing these recent words. May they inspire or spark something in another writer, in another mother bubbling majestically through her day.

With love and a parade of tears to the man who encouraged my pen,


Why I’m Here

You know what? A lot a lot is going on.

I’ll be sharing that soon.

Grief and missing someone magnificent is a huge, complex, powerful thing.

It is not an isolated event called death, but all the leading-up and after moments.

The days, months, years. The encapsulated video segments, the golden, gilded, truthful memories.

I’m here. Our family together is so good.