“New Rhythm” by Tanya Hanamaikai

As soon as she made it through the gate, Morah pulled off her sandals and jumped into the bobbing crowd of red and blue dressed girls, grounding herself in the feeling of the hot stone floor under her feet. Here, she was safe. She would dance and forget him, his words, those strange words. Just a few strikes of the drummer’s beat and her synchronization would be set, surrounded by her Lamanite sisters, cut off from that Nephite’s words, so many words. And what a grace from the Sun that she made it home with just enough time. The drummer was still beating out the morning practice.

The House for Noble Brides owned a single drummer. He had blind, clouded eyes that couldn’t be tempted by the girls’ training in attractive charms. When he wasn’t drumming, he sat with the dust at the corner of the courtyard. Under the shade of the House’s towering red walls, as if burdened by them, he hunched with his arm bones hanging over his knees. Loose gray hairs wisped across his face whether a breeze blew by or not.

Ah, but when he drummed, he controlled the whole court, and Morah could succumb and have relief.

He hit his stretched ring of sheepskin, pounded out a rhythm, rhythm, rhythm with his mallet. Step and step and step and feel your beat combine with Earth’s. The drum blended and replaced the thud of everyone’s pulse, gave their hearts permission to relax, flow in unison, and remember their connection, through Earth, to one another.

Had he really said Sky?

Father in the Sky.

Though the stress on his words was all wrong, Morah was certain the Nephite meant to say Sky. But why would anyone dwell in Sky? As she tried to look into the open, empty, elusive Sky, her neck resisted the awkward angle. She had to drop her head to where it belonged, and she bowed in respect to the foundation under her feet.

All the Lamanites had was their Earth. Rain and the Sun and the minor spirits of the land played their roles, to be sure, but whether there was food sickness, war—it all depended on what Earth, the Great Spirit, decided.

Morah hadn’t ever thought much about the Great Spirit while dancing before. She tried to give herself up to the drummer’s song, to fall into the hypnotic summons of his beat and turn, bow, pull her arms to whatever direction they led.

The drum beat picked up speed, forcing the girls to hop faster, sliding their feet across the dusty stones rather than lifting and stomping. The dry, old man sagged his head back, closed his blind eyes and chanted. Something in the ancient fathers’ original Hebrew no one understood anymore.

The friction of their different paths shuffling the dirt shoved Morah even deeper into her thoughts.

Nephites were liars. Liars are cunning. Maybe everything he said was all some kind of lure to take her away and murder her somewhere by the river where no one would have heard her scream. She knew all this, what Nephites were capable of. She should be stamping his words from her mind. Stop letting them repeat again and again with the pound of the drum. Stop the urge to go out to the forest again and find him and make him explain what he meant by everyone living again after death.

She hadn’t grasped anything he rambled about regarding god, spirits, laws and promises. What she did understand was that he knew more about her heart than a stranger could have, especially a Nephite.

He was a Nephite.

She bumped into someone, losing both their steps with the music. The other girl found her stride quickly and twirled on. Morah tried, but she couldn’t connect with the drummer’s beat again. Not anymore. Instead her thoughts kept pulsing under the Nephite’s words:

God’s daughter, his daughter, his daughter.


A Q&A with Tanya Hanamaikai about this story is here

“A Perfect Voice” by Katherine Cowley

Clara took her place next to the sister missionaries on the pew. She’d agreed to attend the Mormon church today because there was a “special musical number.” The chapel was rather plain, but it should have decent acoustics, and there was a grand piano and an organ. Not a pipe organ, but at least the Mormons had an organ.

She removed her moleskin journal where she kept a record of every musical performance she attended. Using the program, she transcribed the details: date, location, singer, accompanist, and the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which was one of her favorites.

She leaned toward the missionaries. “Do you know if Ashley Wilson is a soprano, a mezzosoprano, an alto…?”

“I’m not sure,” said Sister Jones.

“She has a beautiful voice though,” added Sister Perez.

A family with a baby and three young kids sat down in the pew in front of her (the Mormons obviously didn’t have a nursery or children’s service). The woman immediately turned around, introduced herself as Gabriella Sanders, and welcomed Clara to the “ward.”

“Sister Sanders is the ward choir director,” said Sister Jones.

“Oh!” said Clara. “Where did you study music?”

“I actually studied psychology, but I’ve always loved singing. Do you sing or play an instrument?”

“Not really,” said Clara. She’d played piano and clarinet through the end of high school, and taken years of voice lessons. But when she auditioned for a vocal performance BFA, she had been rejected. After two more years of voice lessons and two more rejections, she pursued a BA in music history. Now she had an office job, but she frequently attended the opera, the symphony, and churches with a musical reputation. She might not be good enough to perform, but she had a good ear, and her studies had given her excellent taste.

The meeting began with a hymn she’d never heard before. The only time she ever sang was during congregational hymns, and she enjoyed “O My Father” so much that she wrote down the poet’s name in her journal. They sang another hymn before the Eucharist, and then she waited impatiently through the ritual (which used water instead of wine) and two sermons (one of which was delivered by a teenager who clearly did not like public speaking). Gabriella’s baby did not make it through the second sermon, and the woman left with the child. Other parents would do well to follow her example and take their own children to the crying room.

Finally it was time for the musical number, and Ashley Wilson and her accompanist took the stand.

Clara leaned forward as the music began. Ms. Wilson’s opening phrase was a little flat, just enough to be grating. The performance did not improve. Her voice was weak and rather nasal. She smiled so much that she couldn’t form her vowels properly; any good singer knew you should smile with your eyes, not your mouth.

Ms. Wilson sang the second verse a capella and went so flat that by the time the piano came back in for the third verse, she was in quite a different key. It only took a few notes for her to correct herself, but still. The worse part was the finale—Ms. Wilson could, strictly speaking, hit the high notes. But not very well.

Ms. Wilson beamed at the end of the performance, and Clara looked around at the happy, grateful people seated throughout the chapel. A few even had tears running down their faces.

“Wasn’t that beautiful?” whispered Sister Jones.

Ms. Wilson had sung with feeling, but that was the only concession Clara would make. She wished she could erase the entry from her moleskin journal, but she had used a pen. Next time she visited a new church, she would wait until after the performance to record it.

“I’ll be back,” Clara whispered to the sister missionaries as she walked out, though she had no intention of returning. A Presbyterian church in a neighboring city had a great line-up planned for today’s services: the best children’s choir in the region and a guest opera singer who had performed in Carnegie Hall. If traffic was normal, she would arrive in time.

Gabriella was rocking her fussy baby in the hall.

“I loved sitting in front of you for the hymns,” said Gabriella. “You have a perfect voice for—”

“I do not have a perfect voice,” said Clara flatly.

Gabriella smiled. “Fair enough. Most people don’t. But I was actually going to say that your voice would be perfect for the ward choir.”

“Sorry, but I’m not interested.”

“I think sometimes God needs perfect voices. But other times, God just needs us. He takes whatever we’ve got and makes it into something more. Even if we’re not perfect, He still wants to hear our voices.”

The God that Clara knew could summon choirs of perfect angels. Why would he need her voice?

“If you change your mind, we’re practicing right after church. I have a beautiful arrangement of ‘O My Father.’”

Gabriella’s baby screamed again, and Clara took the opportunity to slip away.

She trudged across the parking lot, analyzing Gabriella’s words. The woman had been sincere, but Clara could not join a choir. She would always know that she was not quite good enough. She climbed into her car and closed the door firmly behind her.

Yet as she drove, she found herself humming the new hymn, “O My Father.” One line had lodged in her memory: “For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth.” She had thought her purpose was to enjoy music, not to create it. Life had taught her that a desire and love for something were not sufficient. But she could not shake Gabriella’s invitation.

After a few more miles, Clara turned her car around and headed back to the Mormon church.

A Q&A with Katherine Cowley about this story is available here.  

“Scrubbing Jesus’s Toilets” by Lehua Parker

Near the end of a three-hour block, on the first day of teaching 15 four and five-year-olds in Primary, both the kids and I were maxed. It was a beautiful fall day, so I decided to take them outside and let them burn off energy in a grassy area behind the parking lot. As we put on our pretend mousy ears, feet, and tails—all the better to quietly sneak out of the church—one little girl said, “This is Jesus’s house, you know.”

“I know,” I said.

She nodded with authority. “And now we’re going to play in Jesus’s yard.”

That stuck in my head in the way only a child’s truth can. It’s no surprise that last Saturday morning, bent over a toilet with scrub brush and cleaning spray, I keep thinking I’m cleaning Jesus’s bathrooms.

It’s my daughter’s fault.

Every Saturday at 8 am, several families showing up at the church to clean and prepare it for Sunday services. We all take turns. Many hands make light work, so it usually takes only an hour and a half to make everything sparkle. This morning when we walk in at 8:02 am, the building supervisor smiles. “Welcome!” he says.

Great. A morning person. Ugh.

“You guys are the first, so you get to choose. Which jobs do you want to tackle?”

Without hesitation, my teen daughter says, “Mom and I will do the bathrooms.”

I have to bite my tongue.

I hate hate hate cleaning bathrooms. Seriously, we have our pick of the jobs. How about vacuuming? Polishing woodwork? Cleaning glass doors? Nope. She picks bathrooms—men’s, women’s, the nursing mothers’ lounge, the nursery’s toddler-sized bathroom, and the family bathroom. It’s going to take us forever. Hauling the cart of cleaning products down the hall, mop bucket sloshing, I ask her why.

She shrugs. “We know how to clean bathrooms.”

But somehow, she gets busy cleaning counters and mirrors while I get started with the toilet brush.


I work methodically and quickly. She’s right. We do know how to clean bathrooms. My kids tease me that I have three levels of clean—every day, company coming, and church clean, which they first learned about years ago when I sent them back to dust and re-dust the chapel’s floorboards four times in the same hour.

I don’t have to tell them the difference anymore.

Spray, spray, spray with the red label sprayer. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Swishy-swishy-swish. Wipe, wipe, wipe. Spray down the sides of the stalls, polish the chrome handrails, the locks, and the doors with the green label spray. Check the paper stock, empty the cans. Mop. Give it all the once over.

Is it clean enough?

Would I eat off the floor?

Would I die of embarrassment if Jesus walked in?

Let’s get real. There is no way it’s going to be perfect, not even with toothbrushes and steam cleaners. I search for obvious imperfections, streaks on mirrors, shoe prints on the tile.

I nod. I’ve done my best with the skills, time, and tools that I have. If Jesus’s houseguests need the facilities, it’ll be okay. Comfortable, clean, and welcoming.

As I give the door handle one last swipe, I think that scrubbing Jesus’s toilets is a lot like life. You do what must be done as best you can with a cheerful heart, understanding that by serving others you are serving God. Most often the tasks aren’t things you’d choose, but they are the very things Christ needs you to do for Him.

As we’re putting the cart away and rinsing out the mop bucket, a parent pops his head in to tell us his little kid probably messed up the men’s bathroom. There are a lot of things on the tip of my tongue, things like here’s the mop and cleaning supplies; your angel, not my problem; but I don’t say them. My daughter hauls the cart back out and says, “Okay, thanks for telling us.” We go back to a room we just cleaned and flush the toilet, pick paper towels off the floor, wipe down the counters, and mop tiny muddy footprints from the floor.


That’s like life, too.

A Q&A with Lehua Parker about this essay is available here

“Three Dogs in the Afterlife” by Luisa Perkins

that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there


Δ waits while ⊕ gets her bearings. It always takes a little while, he says.

⊕ lifts her spirit nose, trying and failing to scan the air.

I can’t smell, she says.

No, Δ agrees. Smelling means taking in bits and letting them give you messages. We don’t have that here.

⊕ looks around. This is probably still her street, but she’s never trusted only in her eyes before.

Is my person here?

She is. You will see her soon.

But how will I know her if I can’t smell?

You have a sense beyond smell—you always did.

⊕ cocks her head, confused.

Much of what you think of as smell is actually ⇔. With it, you sense energy and intention. That’s how we’re talking now, do you understand?

⊕ yawns the way she always does when she has deep thinking to do. I suppose, she says.

And spirit eyes see light, as I’m sure you recognize, Δ adds.

⊕ looks up and down the street. It’s flat and faded without the voluptuous dimension of odors, aromas, fragrances—like the screen her person watched in the evening sometimes. (⊕ never understood the appeal.)

I guess so, she says doubtfully.

She looks at ⊕ more closely, fighting the impulse to sniff. Where’s your person?

The Master is my person. He asked me to greet you. I greet all the new ones. We find it helps ease the disorientation.

A bit of grey flashes past ⊕ and up a tree trunk. ⊕ puts up her spirit ears.

Was that a…

Squirrel, yes. They’re usually up for a good chase, but always ask first. It’s one of the rules.

I’m supposed to ask a squirrel if I can chase it?

Yes. We’re not enemies here. There is no prey, only the pack. Squirrels, persons, even cats—

⊕ yawns again, unable to believe what Δ has just said. Cats. You’ve got to be kidding. They’re pure evil.

Cats are the Master’s creations, like you and me, Δ says firmly. They’re part of the pack. So chasing is okay, as long as you remember it’s a game.


Later, ⊕ recognizes ψ. Before…all this…he ran down her street most days at dawn and dusk. ⊕ barked a greeting every time he passed, almost envying ψ’s freedom—until her person gave ⊕ a tasty and scratched behind her ears. Persons were the best. ψ had no person, ate out of tipped trash cans and slept in forgotten corners. But he trailed scents of places ⊕ had never been, and ⊕ picked up those whispers and rumors on walks with her person. Remembering them now, she bites back a whine.

I can see that I will look on the absence of my body’s nose as a bondage, she says.


Δ agrees that ⊕ can go around with him until her person is ready. They walk all through the neighborhood, then beyond and into the city, and ⊕’s spirit paws never ache with fatigue. That’s one nice change. It almost makes up for the lack of smell.

It’s not long now until you’ll have it back. The Master won’t tell any persons when, but He told me.

⊕ cocks her head, hoping. But, no.

I can’t tell you yet. But it’s soon.

I’ll see my person first, though.

Δ assured ⊕ earlier, but she needs to hear it again.


Δ is patient, which tells ⊕ good things about Δ’s Master. As the person, so the dog, was what ⊕’s mother said when ⊕ was a pup.

ψ runs by again—with two cats and a big animal ⊕ doesn’t recognize. ⊕ still finds it odd, the different animals and the persons all going around together. One pack, she reminds herself. A question occurs to her.

ψ didn’t have a person before. Will it always be so?

The Master saves special persons for wild dogs like ψ. He has been promised a person who had no dog before.

⊕ knew there were such people, felt bad for them when she met them. It is good this Master has a plan.

I’d like to meet your Master.

And so you shall. In fact, it’s time. Your person will be there, too.

They cross a bridge and come into a vast park, one ⊕ has never seen. ⊕ feels a tingle of ⇔ in her spirit nose, and all the colors of the plants and flowers and sky flare brighter for just a moment. The pulse comes again, stronger, and ⊕ puts up her spirit ears.

, she says, increasing her pace. It’s my person.

Indeed, says Δ.

They run, never tiring, and the pulses flare more often and more brightly until they round a corner and everything is round and real and almost smelly in its varied beauty.

And then, walking toward them on a path, two persons.

⊕ barks like crazy. She speeds to her person’s side and circles around and through her person’s spirit legs, wagging her spirit tail frantically. ⊕’s person kneels and places her spirit hand on ⊕’s spirit head, and it’s almost as good as a tasty. ⊕ is about to lick her person’s spirit face, but then comes a Voice.


⊕ looks up. And knows.

Master, she whispers. Looking into his eyes, ⊕ remembers everything from before—and from before that. She rolls onto her spirit back humbly.

The Master kneels by ⊕’s person’s side and rubs ⊕’s spirit belly with His hand.

,” The Master repeats. “It is well.”

A Q&A about this story with Luisa Perkins is available here

2018 Mormon Lit Blitz Finalists

Finalists for the 7th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz will be posted here on lit.mormonartist.net 28 May – 9 June, according to the following schedule:

28 May: “Three Dogs in the Afterlife” by Luisa Perkins
29 May: “Scrubbing Jesus’ Toilets” by Lehua Parker
30 May: “A Perfect Voice” by Katherine Cowley
31 May: “New Rhythm” by Tanya Hanamaikai
1 June: “Counsel” by Faith Kershisnik
2 June: “After the Fast” by William Morris

4 June: “Beneath the Visiting Moon” by Lee Allred
5 June: “Still Clean” by Sherry Work
6 June: “Proof That Sister Greeley Is a Witch (Even Though Mormons Don’t Believe in Witches)” by Wm Morris
7 June: “The Last Swing” by Sheldon Lawrence
8 June: “Joseph and Emma Grow Old Together” by Eric Jepson
9 June: “Missionary Weekly Report for 28 March-3 April, Mumbai 1st Branch” by Mattathias Westwood

Audience voting for the Grand Prize Winner will take place June 11th-June 13th. This year, there will also be a judge’s choice award for a piece selected by Kylie Turley, a scholar of Mormon literature serving as a guest judge.

Congratulations to the finalists!

2018 Mormon Lit Blitz Longlist

Thank you to everyone who submitted to the Seventh Annual Mormon Lit Blitz! After reviewing the submissions, we’ve selected twenty-four semi-finalists. Finalists will be announced on 21 May and posted here 28 May-9 June.

Congratulations to our semi-finalists:

“After the Fast,” by William Morris
“Beneath a Visiting Moon” by Lee Allred
“The First Dream/Counsel/First Vision” by Faith Kershisnik
“I Was Poor” by Michael Gentry
“The Investigator” by Jeanine Bee
“It Rains Every Day” by Alison Brimley
“John Who Tarried” by Steven Peck
“Joseph and Emma Grow Old Together” by Eric Jepson
“The Last Swing” by Sheldon Lawrence
“Missionary Weekly Report for 28 March-3 April, Mumbai 1st Branch” by Mattathias Westwood
“New Rhythm” by Tanya Hanamaikai
“Ode to a Handcart” by Kathryn Hales
“A Perfect Voice” by Katherine Cowley
“The Prayer” by Katherine Cowley and S. BreAnne Johnson
“Proof That Sister Greeley Is a Witch (Even Though Mormons Don’t Believe in Witches)” by William Morris
“Redwood Song” by Terresa Mae Wellborn
“The Reluctant Seraph” by Adrienne Cardon
“Scrubbing Jesus’ Toilets” by Lehua Parker
“Semester Abroad” by Jim Richards
“‘Stanl33’s Silver Spaceship’ from The Friend, August 3029″ by Eric Jepson
“Still Clean” by Sherry Work
“Still Life #2 (fly on the counter)” by Laura Hilton Craner Myers
“Three Dogs in the Afterlife” by Luisa Perkins
“The Weightier Matters” by Merrijane Rice

7th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz: Call for Submissions

Mormon culture gets a bad rap. Many outside observers tend to assume we’re too golly-darn nice to produce any great writers, artists, etc. Within the Church, “Mormon culture” often becomes the scapegoat for anything that annoys us, rather than a term for our traditions, values, history, and the creative works that explore them. As a result, relatively few people are looking for the gems that already exist in Mormon literature. Worse yet: very few people are working to develop the next generation of thoughtful and engaging Mormon writers.

In 2012, James Goldberg, Scott Hales, and Nicole Wilkes Goldberg organized the first annual Mormon Lit Blitz as a small and simple way to address these problems. By focusing on very short work, the contest allows skeptical readers an accessible way to look for Mormon literary voices they like. It also allows writers the chance to try out something new in a length that is manageable.

Since its inception, the Mormon Lit Blitz has been the world’s premier contest for Mormon Micro-Literature. As we enter our seventh year, we hope you’ll join our ongoing effort to see and show what writing for Mormon audiences can accomplish.


Submissions for The Seventh Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Writing Contest are due by 1 May 2018 to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com. Submitted works may be in any genre so long as they are under 1,000 words and designed to resonate in some way with an LDS audience. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are acceptable. Up to three submissions are allowed per entrant.

Finalists will be posted on the Mormon Artist magazine website (lit.mormonartist.net) starting in late May. This year, they will compete for two prizes. At the conclusion of the Lit Blitz, readers will vote for their favorite pieces, and a $100 prize will be given to the audience choice winner. A writer or literary critic will also choose a judge’s choice winner for a second $100 prize.

For updates about the 2018 contest, follow the Mormon Lit Blitz Facebook page.

To facilitate the judging process, we prefer to receive submissions as .doc, .docx, or .pdf attachments with the author’s name and contact information in the body of the email but not included in the attached text. Please email submissions and any questions you may have to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com.

By submitting, authors give us the one-time rights to publish their work electronically. As stated above, previously published work is fine if you still have the rights to the piece and if it meets the above contest requirements.

Past Finalists: 

Interested in this contest? Take a look at past years’ finalists to get a taste of what we’ve featured:

We look forward to reading your entries!

2017 Mormon Lit Blitz Winners

A huge thank you to all the finalists and to all our readers this year. The new work that’s produced for each contest and the audience that gets to experience it is the thing that has made six years of Lit Blitzing worthwhile.

Votes are in and this year’s winners are:

4) “Pride” by Hillary Stirling

3) “On the Death of a Child” by Merrijane Rice

2) “Celestial Accounting” by Kathy Cowley


1) “Forty Years” by Jeanna Mason Stay


We hope you’ll join us for next year’s Lit Blitz.

2017 Mormon Lit Blitz Voting Instructions

We have enjoyed all twelve finalists. But we only have one Grand Prize. Help us decide which piece wins this year’s Lit Blitz by emailing a ranking of your four favorite pieces to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com.

Voting is open from Monday, June 12th until the end of the day on Saturday, June 17th. The winner of the $100 Grand Prize will be announced on Monday, June 19th.

The twelve finalists are:

29 May: “Celestial Accounting” by Katherine Cowley
30 May: “Sonata in Three Movements” by Jeanine Bee
31 May: “Germination” by Sarah Dunster
1 June: “Pride” by Hillary Stirling
2 June: “Spurious Revelations” by Niklas Hietala
3 June: “On the Death of a Child” by Merrijane Rice

5 June: “Worthy World” Tanya Hanamaikai
6 June: “There Wrestled a Man in Parowan” by Wm Morris
7 June: “Valley 176th Ward” by Eliza Porter
8 June: “Walking Among the Legend People” by Marianne Hales Harding
9 June: “Daughters of Ishmael” by Annaliese Lemmon
10 June: “Forty Years” by Jeanna Mason Stay

Again: in order to be counted, votes must contain a ranking of the reader’s four favorite pieces and must be emailed to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day Saturday, June 6th. Voters should have at least skimmed all twelve pieces. We also welcome comments and feedback on the contest in vote emails.

For those who are interested, a public discussion of the pieces is taking place on the Mormon Midrashim blog. We’d love to have you share your thoughts on the contest there.

“Forty Years” by Jeanna Mason Stay

The day before my mother died, I’d planned to call her, ask how she was doing, catch up in awkward, stilted conversation. But the day passed; I was busy. Would she even notice or care? Maybe it would serve her right if I didn’t call. Maybe I’d call her tomorrow.

By the time I decided to do it, it was too late.


Six months later, I met the man I wanted to marry. We would grow old together, I thought; I could see it in the way he looked at me when he left me on my doorstep. I went inside and reached for the phone to call her, then remembered. But I could hear the conversation in my head anyway. Too young, she would have said, and she’d tell me about her old loves and how they didn’t last, and my joy would have been lost, swallowed up in her.

So I took a breath and shook her out of my head. Yes, too young, I whispered in my mind, but too bad. You don’t get a say.


Just a few months before my mother died, she missed my high school graduation. She’d missed my final recital too, and the academic awards ceremony, and the fancy parent dinner. I didn’t expect her, I told myself, and I didn’t care—but I scanned the crowds just in case.


Nearly a year after I met him, we married. A year after that, the baby. I held that child in my arms and panic flooded through me. What was I doing? I looked to my husband then back to the baby. How could I be a mother when I’d never really had one? How could I give my own child this legacy?

Was this how my mother felt? Did this terror fill her heart as she looked down at me? Was I destined to fail my own daughter as my mother failed me?

And then she squirmed and cried out. I took her hand in mine, and her tiny fingers wrapped around mine.

It was going to be okay.


She learned to sit up, then to crawl. She took her first step exactly three years after my mother died.

Another year passed, then two, then three. Her first words, her first day of school, her first crush, her everyday in-and-out. I made her cry, sometimes, this inexplicable and mysterious child who bore within her my soul’s DNA—and my mother’s, try though I might to forget it. She made me cry too. We laughed, we fought, we made up.

We grew up.

I floundered and failed so many times.

But I kept coming back to try again.


Eighteen years before my mother died, I was born. Who was she before then? I couldn’t know.

Thirteen years before she died, I heard the adults talking about her in the other room. I wasn’t meant to hear it, and neither was she—they never once said it when we were around. I had sneaked into the room to eavesdrop on conversation that was far more interesting than dolls or blocks. “She never was the same,” they said, “not after she had that baby. Something broke in her. Maybe she just wasn’t meant to be a mother.”

It was another year before I realized “that baby” was me.

Three years after that, we sat together on the floor as I practiced for a spelling bee. She quizzed me, word by word, as I prepared. She had such patience correcting my mistakes. I felt her absolute confidence in me wash over and surround me. I could do it.

Years later, I held this memory close and careful, like a dandelion stem whose seeds might blow away in the wind of time. She wasn’t always gone, I reminded myself. Not always.


“I met someone,” my daughter said, twenty-one years after my mother died, and I could hear from her voice that this man was different from the others she’d dated. My heart stuttered. Too soon, I thought. Far too soon.

I swallowed down my fears and smiled widely. “Tell me about him.”


Twenty-three years after my mother died, my daughter called and begged me to come.

I came.

“I can’t do this,” she whispered, gazing down at the new baby in her arms. “She needs me too much. I’m so lost.” Then she looked up at me, eyes wide and worried and wet. “I’m gonna ruin everything.”

I wrapped my arms around her, enfolding both her and my beautiful grandchild in my arms. “You won’t,” I promised her.

“Tell me what to do,” she pleaded.

I looked into eyes so like my mother’s. “You’ll fail,” I told her. “Lots. You won’t be perfect. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll wonder what’s the point of it all. But you’ll also have days that feel perfect, where you know this was the job you were meant for. Hold on to those ones for the darker days.”

She laughed through her tears. “That wasn’t much of a pep talk, you know.”

I nodded. “I know. But it’s the best one I’ve got.”


The day after my mother died was the day I began to realize I needed her more than I’d thought. It was the day I realized that despite it all, all the ways she hadn’t been there for me, I still loved her. And she had tried to love me. For good or bad, I would carry her with me wherever I went.

Sometimes I think we are all just wandering in the wilderness.