A Flower Within a Flower

I like being here with Crystel in her dorm room on Oahu. She lies on the air mattress eyeing her computer. She’s researching how to replace her lost passport. She hasn’t been able to find it since applying for a job near Waikiki Beach. Her plans to travel to Japan and Guatemala are in jeopardy.

I break the companiable silence. “How’s it going with the lost passport?”

“After I’m done eating,” she answers.

I laugh. Of course. Our sense of urgency is not the same. She’ll let me know when she needs help.

Her dorm room is spare. The University of Manoa campus is empty. Jody and I had previously thought that other families would have done the same as we did: vacationed in Hawaii with their national student exchange family member for holiday break. Instead, students had only stayed a semester and had already returned to the mainland. Crystel would be alone for New Year’s and the following week before school started. Her friend, Allie, who had visited from Minnesota had also returned home.

Lanikai Pillbox trail with Allie

Jody and I had worried about Crystel being on a vacated campus and returning to her empty dorm room in the evening from her new job. We also didn’t want her to be alone on the holiday.

During the Maui part of our vacation when I told her our concern she said, “Why don’t you come stay with me?”

“You should,” Jody agreed.

It didn’t take a moment for me to know that was exactly what I would do.

32 years ago, when I went into the Peace Corps, volunteers received their initial training for the Kingdom of Tonga on Oahu. During the plane ride from Minnesota to Hawaii, tears flowed down my cheeks. In the airplane bathroom I tried to stuff them back in. With each mile I flew – watching the dot on the large airplane screen move closer and closer to Hawaii – I shed layer after layer of my life until I knew this to be true: I had been abandoned. I was that child, that teenager, the one who had been left to fend for herself against the sexual abuse that raged in our home. To protect my three younger sisters, I reported the abuse to the police when I was nineteen years old. My parents disowned me.

I was abandoned.

Hanakapial Falls

I didn’t want Crystel to feel abandoned. To be alone. I didn’t want her walking on a deserted campus. Spending a week with her and seeing her life would be a gift. An adventure.

Hiking Lanikai Pillbox Trail with her and Allie, visiting beaches, an arduous 8-mile waterfall hike on Kauai, and kayaking were a few of the things we did.

It was on the Pillbox hike that Crystel asked me what I was thinking. I told her that I had been on this island before. How my past influences my parenting. She pointed a blossom out to Allie and me, “See that flower within a flower?”

My children are a flower within a flower. They have the holding space – love – to be beautiful and a landing spot – their mothers – to feel safe and flourish.

As The Wind Blows

That’s what our daughter says.

When she first landed in Hawaii, we enjoyed our daily chats with her.

Jody and I asked her about the phone calls: too much, too little, how are you doing? We wanted to be present for her and yet also give her the space she needed.

We knew we were at the end of our daily calls when three weeks later we disrupted her at breakfast. Dining at IHOP with newly found college friends, she left the table to answer our call.

“Oh, yeah, so you don’t need to call me anymore,” she said.

“Wait. Wait. Wait,” Jody and I responded. “We expect at least a weekly phone call.”

It took Crystel a few weeks to remember whether it was a Wednesday or Thursday that we were going to call. That made for a fortuitous two phone calls in a week. The parents were being weaned from adult daughter contact.

Facetime worked the best. At least we could see her, study her face, discern if anything was off, and she could make faces at us in the camera and use it to check her brow line.

We had been asking her the same questions, week after week. How is school? How are your roommates? How is the dining hall? What plans do you have for this weekend? Our weekly conversations changed the first time she used the line, “As the wind blows.” I felt like she was putting us off. Dismissing us.

She had been planning an outing with her roommates to swim with the sharks. It didn’t happen because as the wind blows.

I thought she was being disrespectful. I told her that we needed more engagement from her. She needed to add to the conversation.

After the phone call, when I had time to cool down, I realized that what she was saying was true. Isn’t that the way of most college students and young adults – as the wind blows. And didn’t I embrace spontaneity? Encourage her to follow her joy?

Personally, I love being in the moment, being able to go inside to determine my path or action. I phrase it as introspection.

We’ve learned to anticipate the changing winds. She’s made friends, adventured to the northern parts of Oahu, flew to Maui for a weekend, snorkeled, cliff jumped, and learned to surf. She did eventually swim with the sharks.

Crystel requested and received a permit for solo hiking on the island of Kauai for the first week in January. Though she explained that maybe she would explore the island with a friend and do day excursions, she didn’t know yet.

Letting go of our adult child is a kite in the wind. I’m proud of her. A bit nervous for her. And hope the winds always blow strong and true.

“Ua pa mai ka makani…” / “The wind has been blowing…

The WordSisters Celebrate 10 Years of Inviting You into Our Lives

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline of posting once a week. Our original motivation was attracting agents and publishers, but soon we were blogging for the pleasure of writing. We had things to say and stories to share. 10 years later we’re still writing!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia and Bev are regular contributors, while Brenda, Jill, Jean and Rosemary have occasionally posted. 

Our insights arise from our lives—mothering, working, aging, living through COVID, reacting to events in the news, planning our futures and setting goals. I’m proud of the breadth of topics we’ve covered and the connections we’ve made with strangers all over the world . 

Most of all I’m proud of us for persisting. For being here long after many bloggers have faded away. 

One of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a collection of best-of posts. I hope you’ll enjoy sampling them. 

Thank you for being our readers.


No More Guilt with Every Bite 

What Work Would I Do if I Were an Immigrant?


I Didn’t Come This Far

Until It Becomes Personal


Shake the Marbles

Broken Dreams


Let the Hope Shine

When It Comes to Your Age, Do You Share? 


Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

I’m (Not) Sorry


Opposing Thumbs

Living with a Freshman College Student

Prior to our daughter leaving for college, Jody and I hosted a self-defense class in our front yard with Crystel and other young women who would also be leaving for school in a few short weeks.

Addressing the girls, the instructor said something like, You will drink. Then he looked at the parents and said, Your daughters will drink. They will go to parties.

That’s not going to happen, I thought. Not our girl.

Directing himself back to the young ladies, he said, How will you keep yourself safe? 

Fast forward. Sixteen weeks into her freshman year, I was shocked when I learned she had discovered drinking, gummy worms, and the sweet smell of liquid THC.

I had to ask myself, What did I think she was doing in college? After much thought and self-reflection, my answer was, Making choices.

I recalled my college years. I had attended parties. I had made choices.

It was her decision, would always be her decision, whether to attend parties and imbibe.

I was not ready for my college student to come home different than how I had sent her. She was always independent but now even more so. She had her own agenda which did not include her parents.

I realized that it was me who needed to adjust. She was growing up. She was adulting.

What finally gave me comfort is coming back to my center. Looking at my choices. My growth. Knowing that my daughter now had the very same opportunities that I did.

I’m writing this blog while she’s practicing Clair de Lune on the piano. I watch her hands move across the keyboard. Clair de Lune, soothing and calming, turbulent and emotional. Sad and triumphant. A perfect backdrop for my emotions.

Coming back to writing, I know without a doubt, What’s important, absolutely the most important, is for me to be there when she calls, and, in between, to enjoy the sweet music that she makes.

Crystel has approved this blog.

Ditch and Run

I didn’t think dropping Crystel off at college would be hard. I’m really good at ditch and run.

Often Jody will say to the person that she’s talking to at a party, “Oh, I guess we are going now,” after I’ve tapped her shoulder on my way to the car. There’s no stop in me. I’m done now, my whole body is saying. When Jody wants to socialize at an event, we drive separately. Later, after a party, I’ve had people tell me, “We didn’t see you leave. You were just gone.”

I couldn’t tap into my own experience of being dropped off at college. I’m not even sure who drove me to my dorm in Menomonie, Wisconsin from Ellsworth. What I do recall is a few weeks later my mother telling me not to come home anymore. There wasn’t any room for me. I no longer lived there.

Crystel was able to move in early at the University of Minnesota because of her involvement with Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE). I helped her pack the van. A refrigerator, clothes, plants, hangers, and more plants. At the dorm it was my job to hang her clothes in a certain direction on the hanger. Jody made her bed. Two hours later, I had only finished one suitcase. She had that many shirts! I couldn’t believe that I would patiently undertake this miniscule tedious task. I mentioned that. We had just enough time to drive to Target for more hangers and a few items before joining MCAE for their parent and family kickoff event.

I accompanied Crystel into the large banquet hall. Jody was waiting in the car for my help to locate parking. I asked Crystel if she was okay for me to leave her. Above her mask I could see her stricken eyes. I hurried to the car to ask Jody to find parking herself. 

The banquet hall filled up. Dinner was served. Speeches started. I looked over at Crystel. Shook my head at each possibility that came to mind. There would be no ditch and run. She needed her moms.

I cried when we got home. I was already missing her. In the following days, I realized that for her, going to college is a step towards an independent life. I’ve texted and talked with her frequently. She’s getting settled. Meeting new friends and old. Involving herself in activities. Studying. My heart is with her. Hers with me. Where we intersect is home. There’s always room.