“The child weaned from mother’s milk…”


“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.”


Rumi’s translator, Coleman Barks, calls the poem that begins with these lines “Unmarked Boxes.” It resonates.


Confession: I’ve just read my first parenting book in near a decade (see The Day I Stopped Reading Parenting Books): Anthony Wolf’s I’d Listen to My Parents If Only They’d Shut Up: What To Say And What Not To Say When Parenting Teens.

This is not, incidentally, a book review, but if it was, it would say, “It has good parts. It has bad parts. Read with a critical filter, take what’s useful, discard the rest.”


I have a teenager now. I am still as much in love with him as I was with the newborn who woke me up every two hours. I will be more frustrated with him than I was with the toddler who pummeled everyone in sight… but that’s fine. That’s part of the package (It doesn’t get easier). My love for him has redefined how I understand, feel, experience love. Myself. The universe. I love him, unconditionally, and I will love him, unconditionally, until my experience of the universe ends.

Here’s something most parents don’t want to hear: he doesn’t love me unconditionally. No child loves a parent unconditionally. Meditate on that.


Whenever you tell me you love me. I think about what you might possibly feel for me, and what I think I feel for you, and compare it against what I feel for this child, for his siblings, and… if that is love, this is not.

You: Semantics. Always, with the fucking semantics.

Me: Words are important.

You: “What language does so spectacularly is lie, that silver-tongued projector of illusions.” That’s Coleman Barks, so you know it’s true.

Me: Fucking poets. Always telling the truth with their lies.


That Rumi poem, the next line, it goes,

“God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box…”

(I was going to be a petty atheist and replace the first words with an ellipsis. But, I didn’t.)

I’m not sure about the metaphor. Is my son an unmarked box? Am I? Mostly, I am very literal—and there are still three unmarked boxes of loss in the space where I create.


I make my nocturnal teenager crepes and carry them up to his bedroom two hours short of his preferred waking time of noon.

Cinder: Best! Mother! Ever!

Jane: I know. Now wake up and get your sibs out of the house so I can work!



photo (14)

P.S. Rumi, same poem: “I don’t want to make anyone fearful / Hear what’s behind what I say.”

The love is unconditional. The patience… not so much

Cinder: Hey, Mom, when I get facial hair, can I grow a little mustache like this? You know, like that evil Nazi Hitler guy had? It would be totally ironic…

Jane: Your face, your facial hair. Do as you will. I just won’t be able to go anywhere in public with you.

Cinder: What? I thought your love for me was… what? Unconditional?

Jane: It absolutely is. But just because I love you fully, totally and unconditionally does not mean I have to put up with, support or encourage your crazy.

He gets not what I say at all, but that’s ok—he’s not really planning to grow a Hitler mustache. I’m pretty sure he’s not. Anyway, point does not arise: no facial hair yet. Just another attempt to get a rise out of Mom.

We’re talking about unconditional love in the context of one of history’s most terrifying monsters because, earlier that day:

Ender: Oh, Mama, I love you so much when you do sweet things for me.

Jane: Oh, Ender, I love doing sweet things for you.

Ender: But sometimes, you don’t. You won’t do sweet things for me, or you do mean things to me.

Jane: Like what?

Ender: Like not letting me bother the girls. And when you don’t do sweet things for me, then I hate you.

Words. Isn’t it crazy how words from our little ones hurt? Even when we know that they don’t actually understand what they’re saying in quite the way we hear what they’re saying.


Jane: Well you know what, Ender? I love you when you do sweet things for me. And I love you when you do mean things to me. And I even love you when you say you hate me. I love you always, always, always.

Ender: Why?

Jane: Cause that’s what moms do. That’s unconditional love. No strings. No ifs. Just—always.

The not-yet-four-year-old does not get it. At all. But at this moment, Cinder walks by and…

Cinder: I find it really hard to love Ender when he kicks me in the balls.

Ender: I’m gonna kick you in the balls really hard for that!

Cinder: Mooooom! I seriously have to love Ender when he does that?

Jane: Yes. Yes, you must.

And the noise and the chaos moves away from me as the beast chases the beast-taunter. It’s hard to parse if the screaming is joy or anger, love or hate. It’s just… life, right?

And is there a lesson in all of it?

I think so. Because later that day, Cinder talks to me about unconditional love. Um, in the context of growing a Hitler mustache, but… that’s not the important bit. And yes, my love. It’s there, it’s always, always, fully unconditional.

But unconditional love does not equal… what? Perfection. Perfect patience. Perfect parenting. The perfect response to every situation.

It doesn’t even equal unconditional understanding or unconditional support.

Sometimes, I can’t understand. Sometimes, I won’t support…

But. I always, always love.

And isn’t it something how when they know it’s unconditional, they like to test it all the more?

So later that day, all three of them push and prod and poke, and I finally snap. And come up with the best mantra ever:

Jane: My love for you is unconditional. My patience, however, is very much finite. AND. IT. IS. DONE!

Like it? I thought so. Use it. Love–unconditional. Patience–not infinite. It sounds so much better when you yell it at them at the top of your lungs in front of witnesses than some of the alternatives…

You’re welcome.



Brothers with Snakes

Photo: Cinder and Ender not kicking each other in the balls, but sitting beautifully and peacefully next to each other. It does happen. And yes, it does usually involve holding a reptile. 

Interweb Pay-It-Forward: Cait Beauchaine (@theHonestMother on Twitter, blog @ The Honest Mommy) shared this awesome website on Twitter last week: Emergency Compliment. You know? For the days when you need someone to say something, anything NICE to you, and instead your toddler screams “I hate you because you’re mean!” at you sixty seven times? Click. It delivers. (The last time I went, it told me “You don’t get drunk, you get super-human.” I’m taking that to heart as I run away from the fam for a night of revelry and dancing tonight.)