management parenting Uncategorized

Fear of something something

A few months ago I had the sudden insight that no one ever gets a break. And I don’t mean that we don’t get a break from work or from parenting or from doing things, it’s that we literally don’t get a break in consciousness. We get no rest from time moving on and from things happening. Yes, sleep, kind of, because we don’t have to be aware and participating while we’re asleep. But not really, because the whole point of a break would be that we could know that things were happening for other people but we were free entirely of obligations even to have thoughts and ideas. Like, we’d exist but not in relation to anything else.

Does that make sense? I never took a philosophy class in undergrad, so maybe this is a thought from the third week of a 101 class, but: Things Are Always Happening and we’re always conscious and we can’t just take fifteen minutes or a couple of hours of doing nothing to catch up.

I know I’m not the only one who’s totally ground to a halt this week. I spent Monday and Tuesday doing exactly nothing but reading romance novels and ignoring everything that was supposed to happen in my life. So now it’s stacked up and I’m behind and trying to catch up.

I’m also in pain. Every part of my body just hurts, very weirdly. Do I have covid, is it some other virus, am I doing or eating something that makes me feel like this, is it bone cancer, is it somehow related to the sun coming up the latest in the day that it will for the year this week, is this just this week’s iteration of perimenopause?

And everyone I’m talking to is having problems making decisions and moving through everyday activities. And when we do make a decision, we’re thwarted somehow despite someone else’s intentions. The only good decisions we’re making that are working out are in Wordle. (#201 3/6) It’s not depression, in which you feel numb and disconnected. I think it’s trauma, in which it just feels like you’re very in your body but very not in your body at the same time. Alert, but confused. Loving, but stuck. Like a pint of delicious ice cream that’s too cold to eat and you try anyway and bend the spoon.

Parents of kids in school are flashing back to last year and feeling trapped and wondering what to do. But the kicker is that parents can do whatever is available to us–keep sending kids in person, keep your kids home, go online, quit and homeschool, whatever choices you have–and that has no effect on the school or district or state or country. The decisions about how the rest of this year will go for your kids were already made in April 2020 when your governor did or didn’t shut down bars and restaurants and then did or didn’t open them back up again later. Your superintendent and principal can makes things worse, but they can’t make it better for any of us or our kids or the teachers or themselves. Six or 18 months from now there may or may not be an even minimally-functioning system to go back to. Where your child is tomorrow at 10 am and what they’re doing and how that affects where you are and what you’ll be doing then and your process at arriving at that decision affects you immediately but not for the long term, and it barely effects anyone else at all, even for a few minutes.

This pandemic has been an enormous game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. I used to like Prisoner’s Dilemma. Game theory is one of my favorite things in the world, and the simplicity of PD is beautiful. But I just can’t think through it. Not this week.

All work and no play.

I can see the end of this, and I think you can, too. It’s not that we don’t know how to get out of this. The answer to that is simple: just keep breathing. It’s just…exhausting. Relentless. Alarmist. Whatever the opposite of FOMO is, that’s what we have.

I have no suggestions to alleviate this. I’m only writing about it to observe and document it. There’s value in being a witness. I also want you to know that you’re not alone right now. Wether you’re feeling the things I’m writing about or not. Whether this feels like sand or or like frozen gravel or like the burn in your throat from too-hot tea.

So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat.*

It’s ok. You’re ok. Hug your child. Smell their hair. Tell them you love them. Ten years from now you will still remember how scared you are for your child right now.

Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.*

You are an animal that is built for periods of movement and periods of inactivity. The world can’t provide all the inactivity that would help right now. You are still built for the world, always and right now.

It’s ok. You’re ok.



* From “Relax” by Ellen Bass

management parenting Uncategorized

We’re falling apart

This is cross-posted on my problem-solving Substack and my parenting blog, because it’s about solving a big problem parents are having right now and this coming weekend and which affect almost everyone in the entire country.

Why does this affect everyone? Because everyone works with or for parents, so if parents are all stressed and precarious, everyone and everything is stressed and precarious. (Hint: Parents are already stressed and precarious therefore everything is stressed and precarious therefore parents are stressed and precarious, etc.)

The problem is that our entire process for raising children in the U.S. is invested in having children in school full-time 180 days a year from the time they’re 5 years old until they become legal adults, and now the schools have fallen apart and we have no replacement system.

This isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to schools for the last 20-30 years. But covid has turned all the cracks in the system into huge gaps, and the duct tape of parent volunteers, fetishizing of technology, and arguments about curricula just aren’t enough to hold things together anymore.

Here in Michigan, my high schooler didn’t have school today because his district was overwhelmed by copycat threats and rumors of threats echoing from the Oxford shooting 90 minutes away. Most of the schools in the area were closed, except for a few that were able to go virtual at the drop of a hat. But between the staff shortages, covid infections, and weakened community because of arguments about covid protocols, the district just couldn’t get on top of the threats in a way that made anyone feel safe.

We aren’t the only district or the only state. Districts and schools all across the country have been limping along with staff shortages, skyrocketing covid transmission rates, and teachers, kids, and parents with PTSD from the last 20 months. Every parent I know is just waiting for the robocall that their kid’s school is going virtual for the rest of the year. Half the parents I know have had a kid out of school this semester for possible covid exposure or a school closed for staffing shortages.

This just doesn’t work anymore.

And the real truth is that school hasn’t worked for a lot of kids and a lot of families for decades. But it worked just enough for just enough kids and families for us to put all our society’s eggs in that one basket. Those of us who had been hurt by school were expected to parent our own kids effortlessly through going to the same schools hurting them in the same ways we’d been hurt, but with higher stakes and fewer resources and community supports.

Lack of funding, No Child Left Behind, the DeVos family, artificially low wages, racism, the school to prison pipeline, and general lack of respect for teachers and teaching have eroded the stability of schools at the same time that the stability of parents was being eroded by the same stuff. (And teachers, who are often parents themselves, were double victims of all of this.)

I’ve got theories about how to get out of this tailspin, but my real focus is on helping parents figure out what to do now to help themselves and their kids, and other parents and kids. I’ve got a couple of suggestions.

1. Strengthen community. Reach out to other parents you know, at your kids’ school or other schools or homeschoolers. If you’ve been mostly making friends online because you haven’t been seeing people in person lately, start creating friendships or at least alliances with local parents online. You don’t have to solve things with each other. Just get to know each other, talk about things that matter, support each other, and care about each other’s kids.

2. Tap into teachers. Part of the separation of schools from the communities they’re in has been the gatekeeping of teachers by administration and unions, so parents are put at odds with teachers and teachers experience a really dysfunctional sample bias of only being contacted by the parents with extreme emotions and opinions. Talk to your kids’ teachers and let them know that you support them personally, not just as part of the system, and that you support their relationship with your kid, and that you support them individually and as part of this parent community you’re generating.

3. Reevaluate. I mean hard core. Step back and look at your life and what kind of life your kids could be living vs what’s happening right now. Gen X (plus younger Boomer and older Millennial) parents have been manipulated and guilted and gaslighted into forcing our kids to conform to the system as much as possible so that they won’t fail. But the system is so broken that conforming to it might be more traumatizing than failure is. Step back and inspect your entire life and what you want your kids to know about themselves by the time they go off on their own. Let yourself think about what would happen if your kid failed or “failed.” Maybe this full-scale reevaluation will lead to changing things. Maybe it won’t. But just the act of reevaluating will give you a little more space and that will make your interactions with the system less high stakes on a daily basis.

4. Give everyone in your life more leeway. At work, at the grocery store, with clients, with employees, with your boss, online, in traffic. Culture, society, and the economy are all squeezing all of us all the time. Make your body big to take up space to buffer that squeeze, and then give some of that space to other people to give them a little ease.

5. Get political. Not a single thing will get better until we fix the minimum wage and how we deliver healthcare, at the very least.

I always sign off my posts with some version of “You can do it,” and yes, you can do these five things I’ve outlined. I can, so you can. But it’s also really normal to feel so overwhelmed by this (especially in the dark and cold of December, especially under the weight of the timeline of the murders in Oxford) that you need a minute to just breathe and get a little more stable before you start. Take the time you need to get your legs under you again. You are smart, strong, clever, worthy problem solver, but we’re all soft mammals, too.



Sign up for my problem-solving Substack and/or parenting email at the bottom right:

parenting Uncategorized

Magda’s Cranberry Cake

This is not a recipe blog, but when I make up recipes you should try, I’m going to post them here. I have a story about the cake, but it’s after the actual recipe because I’m not an animal.

Magda’s Cranberry Cake
3/4 cup butter, very soft
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
Zest of 1 orange or 2 clementines
Juice of 1 orange or 2 clementines
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour (AP, GF, whatever you’ve got that will get gooey and stick everything together)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
Pinch of salt (two pinches if you used unsalted butter)
1 bag fresh cranberries, washed and sorted
1 cup or more of chocolate chunks
Brown sugar optional
Whipped cream of some sort to serve with it (I like unsweetened for this because the cake is sweet)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8 by 8 square cake pan or baking dish.*
Cream the butter** and sugar together. Stir in the eggs, zest, juice, and vanilla, and mix until even.
Dump the flour on top of the wet mixture, add the baking powder, ginger, cardamom, and salt and kind of zsudge them together lightly with your mixing spoon to mix together, and then stir down into the wet to make the batter. Stir in the cranberries and chocolate chunks***.
Spread into the pan (it’s a thick batter if you used butter and not so thick if you used oil). If you feel like it, sprinkle some brown sugar on the top.
Bake for 50 minutes. Let cool enough to cut, and serve with whipped cream.
* You can use a 9 by 9, just pull it out of the oven earlier.
** If you don’t have butter or can’t eat it, use coconut oil or a neutral oil and just mix with the sugar at this step.
*** Obvs you can use chocolate chips if you don’t have chunks. If you like white chocolate you could go half and half with the semisweet, too.
(c) 2020 Magda Pecsenye. All rights reserved. Make this recipe and pass it along to your friends but keep my name attached.

I made this one up last year, when I spent Thanksgiving with my ex-husband and kids and we ate it while watching The Big Lebowski. (I cannot recommend spending holidays with your ex unless you’ve been divorced for as long as we have and nobody feels creeped out or coerced by it. The kids suggested it and we were so pandemic-fatigued that we were like “whatever.”) So whenever I look at the photo of the cake, I think about The Big Lebowski. I guess this cake really brings the room together.

Interested in parenting as well as cranberry cake? Go down to the bottom right and sign up for my parenting email to read my thoughts about parenting through a pandemic and to the new normal.

parenting Uncategorized

Separating the relationship from the jobs of the holiday season

Nine years ago I wrote this post called “Free but not cheap” that really resonated with people, about how parenting was a relationship, not a job, but that the jobs involved in parenting were often tedious and difficult.

This is all especially true during the holiday season*. There’s the feeling we’re all supposed to have (whether we celebrate Christmas or not personally) and then somehow in our culture that’s turned into family emotional work and you’re a bad parent if you don’t create a magical and wonderful season that your kids will have memories of forever.

That’s why I’m teaching this course, to help you deconstruct the relationship and the work of creating an experience, so that you can

  • decide how much of an experience you’re willing to do the work to create,
  • get very clear on exactly what is going to feel like love and magic to your specific people (in the class I’m going to lump your partner and relatives in with your kids as “your people”),
  • make a detailed, actionable plan to do those things to create that magic and love so you can just do the things and not have a bunch of emotions about it,
  • so you can save your emotions for the relationship part of the end of the year and not waste them on the jobs part of the holiday season.

That’s it. Basically I’m going to use concepts from the lean business model, Toyota Production Systems, love languages, attachment styles, core needs, and the Fascinate model (because I’m obsessed with the Fascinate model) to help you get extremely efficient about having an awesome holiday season that makes your people feel really loved and understood. You will be free to do the jobs of holiday parent really efficiently and accurately so you can have the space and time and energy to have the relationship part of the holidays on your own terms.

Bonus: I’m also going to talk about what to do if you yourself have a history of disappointment or trauma at the holidays and how to honor your feelings and need to not be all in about the holidays while still doing the jobs of Awesome Holiday Parent.

Another Bonus: I’m also also going to talk about why your kids, partner, whoever might really not like the holidays (even if they never had an overtly bad experience with them) and how you can honor that and not feel hurt or guilty about it.

(That class is this Thursday, November 18, 9 pm Eastern/8 pm Central/7 pm Mountain/6 pm Pacific on Zoom, recorded.)

But the flip side of this! The flip side of having the relationship and jobs of parenting being separate from each other is that the holiday season is peak time for the people in your life (more often than not these are your parents, siblings, or in-laws) to equate compliance with jobs and attendance at events with how much you love them. Basically, a lot of narcissists think that you have to show up for a long uncomfortable dinner to prove you’re a good daughter and that you love them.

That’s obviously not true. You can love someone an awful lot and really not want to have to sit through a booze-fueled dinner of things your kids can’t eat while your elders pontificate about Twitter trends they don’t understand. But, while you can teach your kids and partner about separating the relationship from the jobs, you are unlikely to be able to change minds and hearts of people who are determined to get you to jump through hoops to comply with their needs.

So I’m doing a second class on how to separate the relationship and jobs IN YOUR OWN MIND so that you can come up with a plan to make them feel like you’re giving them what they want, but without you having to put your whole heart into that compliance and breach your own boundaries.

Basically, how can you make them feel loved without actually jumping through their hoops in a way that would make you feel bad?

I’ll be working with love languages, core needs, attachment styles, the basic steps of dealing with narcissists**, and currencies/physical modalities to help you build a plan for pleasing your complicated people with actions, and leaving your emotions out of it.

Bonus: I’ll talk about understanding how the ties/tugs/guilts/restraints you feel with certain people might feel totally different for your kids, and also how to avoid replicating those bad dynamics for your kids.

(That class is next Monday, November 22, 9 pm Eastern/8 pm Central/7 pm Mountain/6 pm Pacific on Zoom, recorded.)

So this is a two-fer on separating the relationship from the jobs: one half sweet and creative because it’s for your kids and partner, and the other half clever and strategic because it’s for complicated people who would otherwise make you feel bad.

I would charge $129 for this two-part course, but I’m making it a pay-what-you-can (with a minimum of $18 as a good wish to me) so everyone can register. Sign up now:

Buy my product

* I keep calling it “the holiday season” and not Christmas, because the stress and expectations stretch from the day after Halloween through the new year and encompass U.S. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, sometimes Diwali, any of the Scandianvian and Eastern European Christmas-adjacent saint-based holidays (Santa Lucia, Krampusnacht, St. Nicholas Day, etc.), sometimes Ramadan, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Years Eve, New Years Day, and onto Three Kings Day, depending on your own ethnicity and the dominant ethnicities where you live. Not to mention all the school, work, community service, social group, and cultural stuff you’re supposed to be doing.

** I’ve had people be hesitant to treat people as narcissists if they don’t know for sure that they have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But the basic steps to dealing with narcissists are just specifically protecting your own boundaries, so if someone isn’t a narcissist those steps won’t hurt or have any effect on them and they won’t even notice them.

parenting Uncategorized

Moving forward into next school year

You and your kid have survived (mostly) this pandemic year by sticking together and doing what you needed to do. But the world is opening up, and next school year is going to be something new. How can you make peace with what happened this year to figure out what to trust this coming year so you know how to let your kid out into the world (and school) again without harming your kid or yourself?

I need a dozen or so parents to go through a series of six specific strategy sessions with me to get to a plan for the fall for your kids that feels doable and aligns with who you are as a person and a parent and honors your relationship with your kid.
These sessions are strategic, not therapeutic, and are focused on understanding systems, analyzing behavior, making predictions, and establishing expectations.
The six sessions will each be 1-2 hours long, and we’ll do them by Zoom or phone or IM, your choice.
The cost for this strategy series is $900, half of the actual cost for these sessions. In exchange for this beta rate, you agree to let me use your stories (anonymized, of course) for the book I’m writing to lead people through this process on their own.
Why should you do this with me? Because you’re exhausted and scared and feel stuck and like the fall could be the most dangerous time if you don’t have a plan, and you can’t allow yourself to make things worse for your kid.
And because this intersection of problem-solving, parenting, strategy, and understanding and navigating systems is my exact wheelhouse.
If this is you, message me (@askmoxie on Instagram or Magda dot Pecsenye at Gmail) and we’ll decide if this process is right for you, and then we’ll schedule the sessions. If this is not you but you know someone who needs this, please send this info page to them.
I’ll announce when the book is ready for pre-orders!
parenting Uncategorized

Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion 5 Burning Sweetgrass

This is a discussion of section 5 of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “Burning Sweetgrass.” For the discussion of section 4, go here.

Windigo Footprints

A monster myth, explained!

Question: What form would the monster version of what you’re most afraid of take?

The Sacred and the Superfund

This story of water is about genocide, bitter survival, and hope. It’s the flip of the beautiful meditation on water from the previous section, and asks us to take responsibility for harm done.

Questions: Are there things that can’t be repaired? What determines whether things can’t or can’t be fixed?

People of Corn, People of Light

This chapter, about the Mayan creation story of being the People of Corn, is about language and who tells your story. If you tell your own story, what language do you use? How does your origin story affect who you are right now?

Questions: The Mayan creation story was of how they became the People of Corn. Think about your own creation story. What are you People of?

Collateral Damage

Amphibians are collateral damage in climate change, and often go unnoticed by the people causing the damage. Humans suffer collateral damage, too. How can we become more intentional so we don’t cause any more collateral damage to other humans or any other living beings?

Questions: Have you ever felt like collateral damage in someone else’s war?

Shkitagen: People of the Seventh Fire

Wall Kimmerer’s father’s deep knowledge of fire and building fires is something he passed down not only to her and her children, but to other Native children at summer camp. He sees use for fire even when it is destructive. Wall Kimmerer wonders how we can take care of the world, even if we have to use fire to shape it.

Questions: Do you think we are in the Seventh Fire right now? DO you think there will be an Eighth Fire?

Defeating Windigo

Wall Kimmerer defeats the Windigo by using her plant medicine to make it sick and then heal it. If only she could defeat the neighbor who has destroyed her medicine forest.

Question: Is there a Windigo in your life right now?


This chapter about gathering, about ceremony, about responsibilities, about sustaining life, teaches us to be responsible and connected.

Question: Has reading this book made you feel any more connection to the land you are on right now?

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Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion 4 Braiding Sweetgrass

This is a discussion of section 4 of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “Braiding Sweetgrass.” For the discussion of section 3, go here.

In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous To Place

This story of how the Original Instructions were given to Original Man asks us to interact with the earth in a specific way. The evil twin is Nanabozho’s foil, who gives Nanabozho the task of repairing the destruction the evil twin creates. This idea that we each have the potential for harm and repair is more nuanced than we’ve been taught to see good vs evil.

Question: If you had an evil twin, what would they bring to the earth that you are in the process of repairing?

The Sound of Silverbells

This chapter made me think about how interesting it’s been to watch my kids develop their own beliefs that are so radically different from mine, and how important it’s been for me to allow them to come to their own beliefs without stressing about it.

Questions: What do you know instinctively that your children don’t know? What do they know instinctively that you don’t?

Sitting in a Circle

I love cities. I have lived in cities most of my life, and the countryside feels much more scary to me than cities do. So I identified with Brad in this chapter, and tried to let Wall Kimmerer let the plants teach me, like she did with her students.

Question: Where do you feel most comfortable and free?

Burning Cascade Head

The salmon know, and there are things that we are supposed to know to do in cycles. When our places and cycles are disrupted, we don’t necessarily know how to create new cycles that serve the same purpose as the old ones.

Questions: How do the salmon know when to come and when to stay away?

Can you always go home? What would make it safe for you to go home?

Putting Down Roots

This is the most important chapter in the whole book, to me, because it teaches us how love and tending living things carefully can erase decades of death and destruction and damage. What a lesson about making things whole again, even 100 years later.

Question: Have you ever repaired anything you thought was damaged beyond hope? How?

Umbilicaria: The Belly Button of the World

This is another lesson about reciprocity, and about symbiosis. Can we quiet down to observe the delicate lichen? Can we quiet down to observe reciprocity?

Questions: Have you explored symbiosis with your children? What do they think about it?

Old-Growth Children

This meditation on how to interact with trees teaches us about perseverance and planting for generations. I could smell the fir and cedar as I read the chapter.

Question: Have you used products from trees other than wood?

Witness to the Rain

I just love these meditations on scientific topics that I thought were boring in their usual presentations. She makes the movement and properties of water come alive for all the senses, and feel like a gift she gives us.

Question: What sounds do you associate with water?

parenting Uncategorized

Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion 3 Picking Sweetgrass

This is the discussion of section 3 of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “Picking Sweetgrass.” For the discussion of section 2, go here.

Epiphany in the Beans

Such a simple question, “Do you think the earth loves you back?” But it really frames the idea of teaching your children not just to love but to accept love and reciprocity. Wall Kimmerer, of course, is talking about the land, but it makes me think of all kinds of other things we put love into and could accept love back from, if we knew to.

Question: What are you teaching your children to love and to welcome love in return?

The Three Sisters

This was such a beautiful, lyrical reflection on corn, beans, and squash, on complementary planting, and on interdependence.

Question: What are you interdependent with?

Wisgaak Gokpenagen: A Black Ash Basket

Wall Kimmerer talks about learning to make special traditional baskets from black ash trees, which are disappearing because they haven’t been tended enough by basketmakers. It’s interesting to go beyond an obvious interpretation that black ashes are being over-harvested to the nuance that they could be tended and grown by the same people who are harvesting them.

Question: Is there any kind of resource that you see disappearing that you could tend to help it flourish?

Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass

This discussion of women having to code-switch to be taken seriously by white male institutions about their own held knowledge made me think about being in business school and the emphasis on “hard skills” that have no more value in actual business settings than “soft skills” do. I started then teaching my cismale children to be quiet and listen more deeply to figure out who knows what and how they know it, and not to trust the shape of things.

Question: Have you had to switch into more official language to talk about things that you know to be true?

Maple Nation: A Citizenship Guide

“You take what you’re given and you treat it right.” This is a very different code of citizenship than the codes of citizenship of other nations.

Questions: Would you want to be a citizen of Maple Nation, with the added responsibilities and lessened legal rights?

What do you think about the idea that enjoyment is a form of responsibility?

The Honorable Harvest

What a beautiful chapter with such important ideas. The Honorable Harvest rules are a good template for raising good humans who live in harmony with others and in happiness inside themselves.

Question: Have you thought about teaching your kids a code like the Honorable Harvest? What principles are in it?

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Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion Section 2 Tending Sweetgrass

  1. This is the discussion of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, section 2: Tending Sweetgrass. To see the discussion on Section 1: Planting Sweetgrass, click here.

Maple Sugar Moon

Wall Kimmerer explores the idea of doing a task that was an annual ritual for her ancestors–collecting and boiling down sugar maple sap into syrup–with her young children. She contrasts the ways the trees created the sap and the ways humans collected and processed the sap. She sees boiling sap one year with and for her children as a way to mother them into her culture’s rituals.

Near the end of the chapter she reveals that her children remember that episode as being so much work for them, even though Wall Kimmerer was the one who sat up all night tending the fire! This seemed to me like a classic parenting outcome–giving so much and having the kids remember it totally differently.

Questions: Have you done something in a traditional way that is done more efficiently or commerically now? What did you learn from doing this project?

Is there something your children see radically differently than you do? How do you reconcile that?

Witch Hazel

This is the story of Wall Kimmerer’s neighbor Hazel Barnett, who lived near them when they lived in Kentucky. This chapter is told from the point of view of Wall Kimmerer’s daughter (she doesn’t say which one). The chapter talks about friendship as a form of stewardship, and interweaves taking care of land and plants and animals with tending a friendship and caring for an elder who can’t manage logistics anymore.

I thought this chapter was so sweet and beautiful, and it felt special because we hadn’t heard anything about Wall Kimmerer’s parents being present in her life during that part of her life. Intergenerational friendship isn’t an obvious theme in our culture. By positioning this as being by her daughter, Wall Kimmerer gets three generations out of the story instead of only two.

Questions: Do you have any intergenerational friendships in your life? Have you considered the value of intergenerational friendships before?

Have you done any life management for elders in your life? How does it make you feel to be needed in this specific way?

A Mother’s Work

This chapter tells the story of Wall Kimmerer trying to make a real home for her daughters, with a pond on their property as the central project that needs to be completed (in her mind) to makes things really Home.

Of course, the pond is much more important and compelling to Wall Kimmerer than it ever is to her daughters, who grow up and leave home before she feels like she’s really cleared it out enough for swimming. But the struggle seems perfectly matched to Wall Kimmerer’s area of expertise, and it’s also impossible to win, whereas we see that Wall Kimmerer and her daughters are already home to each other.

Question: Do you have a pond in your life? Something you think you have to fix to be a worthy parent?

The Consolation of Water Lilies

“I had known it would happen the first time I held her–from that moment on, all her growing would be away from me.”

This chapter, about her children leaving home, hit me hard because I read it right when my own first child had left home. The paragraph about feeding every creature that lived with her, and all the plants and even her car, made me laugh in recognition. I love that, too, and I know a lot of us do.

The second half of the chapter, the unfurling of Wall Kimmerer’s being fed not only by the pond and the water lilies, but also by her sister-cousin, is a beautiful reminder to me to notice who has their hands out to me and is feeding me.

Question: Are you at the stage yet of being able to enjoy having to feed everyone? Or are you still feeding creatures so helpless that the pressure doesn’t give you any space?

Who or what feeds you?

Allegiance to Gratitude

This chapter was a big reframe for me in how I want my kids to see their daily struggles. I think I’d been raising them to feel like they were in opposition to the Republicforwhichitstands, as Wall Kimmerer calls the dominant system. But what if I could take the attitude of being thankful participants in ritual and community without buying into the dominant system? That would give my kids a good life without having to sell themselves out.

Question: Who or what do you feel allegiance to?


Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion Section 1 Planting Sweetgrass

Welcome to the first discussion of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. This is the discussion of the Preface and Planting Sweetgrass section, up to page 59.
I’ve written little summaries of the individual sections, and then I’ll ask some questions. Feel free to answer in the comments section.

This is the introduction of the plant sweetgrass and the context of the plant in Wall Kimmerer’s Potawatomi culture.
I love Wall Kimmerer’s gentle explanation of the proper use and non-ownership of sweetgrass. The idea of not selling sweetgrass, but only giving it and letting it propagate itself, is an idea that some of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around. I felt guilty when I read this chapter because I’d purchased a sweetgrass braid a few years ago because it smelled so beautiful. It never entered my head that sweetgrass isn’t an object that could belong to humans to be bought and sold.
The other intriguing idea in this preface is the idea that braiding sweetgrass together with another person has value because it’s a shared activity. It made me think about how ordinary activities during the day can be more valuable when they’re done with another person.
Question: Do you think about any parts of your right-now life as being about braiding things together with another person?
The Skywoman story utterly charmed me, and made me think about the fact that there’s a difference between a creation story of the world and a creation story of humans in an already existing world. I also found the contrast of the Skywoman story, in which she was just pregnant as a way to populate the earth, with the Biblical creation story, in which childbirth was punishment for woman’s stupidity, striking. Which culture will have more respect for women, for mothers, for sex, for pregnancy and birth, for children?
This seemed to be mirrored in the fact that none of Wall Kimmerer’s students could think of positive examples of contact between humans and nature. She spends the rest of the book talking about these positive contacts, as framed by her Potawatomi culture.
Questions: Are you, if you are a woman, competent or dangerously stupid? Is motherhood a part of life or a punishment?
The Council of Pecans
This chapter really weaves together the horrible sadness and terror of the Potawatomi being forced onto land that they didn’t know and their being forced to make due, and the stealing of children into government schools, and the story of the miraculous way pecan trees produce fruit.
I had never heard of mast years, but this concept that there are years in which all the trees of one type produce fruit and other years in which they don’t is utterly fascinating. In theory, humans should be able to figure out exactly what the conditions are that trigger a mast year so we can predict a good harvest, but this isn’t the focus of the chapter at all. Instead, Wall Kimmerer focuses on the ways the trees communicate with each other and know when to produce and when not to produce.
This chapter also made me think about the lack of autonomy Potowatomi parents must have felt when they were forced to turn their children over to the abusive residential schools, knowing this might be their children’s only chance at physical survival at the expense of their emotional health and connection to their culture and families. I wonder about the system we live in now that asks parents to force kids to conform to the demands and rewards of the system instead of exploring their own skills and desires and how they fit into their families and communities.
Question: Do you feel you and your kids are in sync, like the pecan trees? What do you think guides the connection or lack of connection between you and your kids?
The Gift of Strawberries
Wow, this chapter and the idea of the gift economy just knocked me out. Strawberries that belong to themselves and aren’t commodities to be bought and sold are such a sweet idea, and it crystallized some ideas I have about my own yard and which “weeds” I let flourish and which ones I battle. (I’ve had this idea that some of the weeds in my yard have bad intentions, somehow, and I need to protect the weeds with good intentions from them.) What if we honored the plants around us as belonging to themselves instead of being mere commodities for our use?
Question: Is there something in your life right now that you’ve been treating as a commodity but that actually is a gift? Are you at this specific point in your life feeling more like a commodity or a gift?
An Offering
I loved the way this chapter explored coffee, which is essential to some of us but not native to where a lot of us live, as something that could be a gift to the earth and to the morning. And Wall Kimmerer’s father created a ritual and offering for his family that was just for them, not borrowed from anyone else, that bonded them and made them feel part of the earth. Offering and reverence and family at the same time.
Question: Do you give any kind of offering regularly? Have you taught your kids about that offering?
Asters and Goldenrod
This chapter explores the ways that traditional white schooling forced Wall Kimmerer to make her questions and life’s work smaller, because it didn’t have the ability to understand the things she was thinking about.
Question: Are there ways in which you aren’t being supported in exploring questions about yourself as a parent and about your kids, because there isn’t any way for dominant white culture to categorize the thoughts you’re thinking? How have you dealt with that?
Learning the Grammar of Animacy
This chapter, about the struggles to learn not just the language but the thought pattern of another language, walked such a beautiful line of acknowledging the difficulties of going from English to Potowatomi and back, without denigrating either language. Even though Wall Kimmerer fully acknowledges the violent way her language was stolen from her ancestors when they were taken from their families, she still loves and reveres English as a language. Her quest to express animacy almost creates animacy in English, ironically.
Question: Is there another language you are struggling to learn? Is there something you could say you “speak at home”?
This whole section made me think about how I had to start the process of knowing myself and my history before I could begin to know my children or help them understand their history. This continues to be a process, and it was reassuring to see Wall Kimmerer continue to process it as she wrote about processing it!
What did you take out of this first section?