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Gratitude in the Crevices

November 23, 2011

Yesterday. Yesterday stunk. Everyone cried, including me.

I felt raw. Henry’s been so moody, so cranky. Yesterday, Henry threw a tantrum that rivaled any three-year-old’s best efforts. This out-of-character meltdown included him crying and screaming through the entire YMCA parking lot, with many onlookers, because he did not want to go to the gym with me. After I (sort of) got him settled and into the child babysittting area, I cried. Hot, huge crocodile tears fell, dripping with abandon to the ground below.

I descended down the mother spiral:

What’s going on with him?

Why is he having such a hard time?

Is he sick?

Is there something bigger at play here? 

Those tears, they felt good. I cried them and they dripped and I talked to some friends who just happened to be there, at the gym. They probably thought they were they to workout. But (lucky me) it turned out they were there to ease me off that craggy edge of uncertain motherhood. I thought of a passage from Priscilla Warner’s engaging, helpful and wonderful book, Learning to Breathe. In one chapter, Priscilla details a visit with a mystical rabbi name Rabbi Jacobson. While talking with him, she started to cry. She cried from exhaustion and worry about her son who’d developed food poisoning the night before.

She writes,

“I was exhausted and aplogized again to the rabbi for crying.

“You don’t have apologize”, Rabbi Jacobson said. “To me, tears are a good thing. The Torah says that, when energy enters into us that our containers cannot hold, we erupt.”

How many times have I apologized for my own tears? Judging them instead of welcoming them. Thinking they were somehow inappropriate or cumbersome or just wrong? When my tears came on this morning, I remembered that the tears were good. A thought simmered and bubbled in my brain,

Can I give thanks for these eruptions of tears, too?


As much as I practice accepting all aspects of my life, I still struggle. I need a lot of practice. In Learning to Breathe, Priscilla writes about a retreat she attended, led by Sylvia Boorstein and Sharon Salzberg.  During her talk, Sylvia Boorstein said, “Lots of things happen because they happen. We can’t change them. And suffering, according to the Buddha, is that tension in the mind created by the thought that things should be different from the way they are.”

Holy Hell. Yes. As I read, my brain  and veins felt as if they were filled with a viscose truth liquid, slowing my pulse and breathing. How often have I begrudged a sickness or a situation, thinking that it should be different? How much friction and stress have I caused believing that things should be different than they are?


This morning, during the chaos of sleeping late, lunches, toys, breakfasts, dishwasher and attempting to eliminate any possible tantrums that Henry might have lurking under the surface, Henry walked up to me. He said,

“Mommy, my mouwth is broken.”

There were no tears, no screams, no blood. So I almost blew off his random complaint. Henry calmly waited for me to finish what I was doing and he repeated, “Mommy, my mouwth is broken.”

So, instead of continuing in my Tazmanian-devil like swirl of activity, I squatted down in my exhaust fumes and idled.

“Open up”, I said to him.

He pointed to the far back corner of his mouth, to where it was broken.

Sure enough, in that very corner, in the crevice of his red gums, sat the culprit. A big, pushy molar had worked its way down, breaking open his gums. I grabbed Henry’s shoulders, beamed at him and said through a huge smile,

“Henry, you’re getting a molar!!”

“What’s a molar? Do they break mouwths?”

Yes. They break mouths and break days and lend explanation to exceptionally crabby little boys. I felt jubilant and so relieved. Nothing major, no big interventions required. Just some hugs, some tears and some Motrin.  And an acceptance of what is.


At Thanksgiving, we have a family tradition of a Gratitude Bucket. Before the holiday, I put out a bucket with some paper and pens. Whenever someone feels moved by something they’re thankful for, they write it down and drop it in the bucket. The Gratitude Bucket takes all donations, big or small. After our Thanksgiving meal, I read the notes. They’re always a wonderful mix of humor, honesty and raw emotion. I love this tradition and the warm glow it casts on our day and our hearts.

I’ll be adding some Gratitudes over the next two days. Gratitude for the things that lay in the crevices–the crumbs, the tears, the pain, and yes, even the mouth-breaking molars–that build my days and intertwine all of my realities.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Gail permalink
    November 23, 2011 6:55 am

    This is gorgeous and beautiful. It transported me.

  2. November 23, 2011 7:18 am

    Oh, yes, yes, yes. The pages about tears were among my favorite in Priscilla’s memoir, too. I so relate, and, like you, I often apologize for the ways my emotions leak out in the form of tears. All the time. Bravo to you for idling in you own exhaust (love that image) and witnessing your little boy, and I’m glad that that provided some ease. Happy, happy thanksgiving. I am grateful for you. xox

    • November 23, 2011 4:33 pm

      Thank you, dear friend. I am grateful that you introduced me to Priscilla’s incredible memoir–and for you. xo

  3. November 23, 2011 3:07 pm

    What beautiful writing. Thank you so much for this lesson. While Henry was struggling with his molar, I was getting a root canal, after two days of pain and spreading infection. If only Henry and I could have gotten together! We could have shed a few tears, released some tension, and moved on to some chocolate!

    According to Rabbi Jacobson, mystics say that tears bathe the soul. Henry and I are soul mates, linked forever by you. I am honored and humbled. Thank you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please put my gratitude for finding you into your bucket!

    • November 23, 2011 4:34 pm

      What an honor to have you here in this space. Thank you for visiting and for reading, and for your beautiful words. And thank you for your memoir–it is an unfolding gift in my life. Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. November 23, 2011 7:17 pm

    This post just made me realize something vitally important right now. I’m having a hard time articulating on my meds make me feel and this passage: The Torah says that, when energy enters into us that our containers cannot hold, we erupt, describes perfectly what’s going. The meds are making it so that I rarely erupt. And I need to erupt. SO BADLY!! (My goodness, that’s a tangent!), but I think I really needed to read that very passage right now.

  5. November 25, 2011 9:37 am

    Holy hell me too. I have known for a while now that most of my struggles with my oldest are about him acting in ways I don’t want him to act. Whenever I realize that, things soften.

    I am going to get this book by Priscilla.

    Thank you for such a wonderful reminder to sink into what is rather than yearn for what is not. Happy Thanksgiving!! (Now I am going to go back to my breakfast of pumpkin pie). xoxo

  6. Dair Brown permalink
    December 2, 2011 1:01 pm

    This is my favorite one so far, Denise! Beautiful.

  7. December 5, 2011 12:28 pm

    I am reading Priscilla’s memoir right now. And what you say about acceptance is something I needed to hear at this very moment. I am now realizing that I’ve spent much of my time fighting the emotion I feel instead of accepting it. Thank you for this post.


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