So Beautiful is the Still Hour of the Sea’s Withdrawal

Late last August, I was in Manhattan for work and still very much processing what Jason and I were attempting to pull off/ figure out.  I was intermittently journaling and scrolling a few social media pages that I find helpful with their daily mediation reminders and this quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh popped up,  Now full disclosure, her name was vaguely familiar, mostly the Lindbergh part, but I didn’t really know anything about her except that she had a son that was kidnapped and I certainly had no idea she was a writer.    The quote was” Do not miss the flowering that waits for the afternoon.”  It took my breath away.  At the time I was firmly ensconced in the what the hell am I doing with my life and my marriage part of this journey, The I’m almost fifty, why am I questioning these past twenty years part of the journey.    And yet, I had this nagging moment of hope and a spark of what if.   This feeling that our lives are just chapters that when all strung together they create a life and a  journey and why shouldn’t it be a joyous one? 

It was hot in NYC and I didn’t want to sit in my hotel room so I wandered over to Bryant Park (my favorite place in NYC) to find a quiet spot to read and write.  However it was summer so there wasn’t any so I wandered to Barnes and Noble and thought I’d try to find this book that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had written (thank you Google) titled Gifts From the Sea

I perused the memoir aisle, then the self help, then the feminist writing section and couldn’t find it.  I asked the girl working there.. “Yeah we have one, it’s in the Christianity section”….  After a momentary panic thought flitted across my brain, I decided to buy it anyway as the bits I’d read on the internet really hit a nerve in my heart, soul and mind.   This book started with a forward written by her daughter on its 50th anniversary of the original release,  and that forward was written 20 years ago..  I was holding on to a book that was 70 years old, to think that what this woman had to say that would still feel relevant to me seemed a stretch. 

I could not have been more wrong.   This book in its eight  chapters, hit all my feels,, echoed all my thoughts, reinforced my questions, raised the same doubts I had.  I laughed and sobbed and scribbled notes and took deep breaths to re-center as I read through its chapters.  

It her her reflection on her life and the stages of it as told by the sea and the shells and solitude and quiet.  Young adulthood, early parenting, midlife, relationships with some history.   I honestly don’t want to go into it too much because I want people to experience this book on their own and see where they fall in it.  It is for sure geared to those of us,  mainly female presenting, who are firmly in middle age,  have almost grown children, are questioning the confines of life, the demands life asks of us, the effects of that on our souls.

As I read through it , there was one chapter in particular which took my breath away.  Argonauta.   The stage of  relationships, past the lovey dovey, past the young child rearing days and smack in the middle of the what now, what do I want stage of life. Where we are all a bit battered and bruised, and well loved and hopefully financially safe enough, when we don’t have to answer to everyone all the time, when we struggle to find tattered remnants of ourselves and our partners.  

And then I read this line.. “So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal” 

The power in that hit me like a brick.   I had been living in an overpowering sea, dark and deep and drowning and scary and back breaking and majestic.  A roiling sea of work commitments, family obligations, Zoe’s medical rollercoaster, a relationship on the rocks, a lonely dark abyss of a world with little time for friendships and connection.  

But I was learning the sea also rescinds,  It leaves in its wake driftwood stripped bare and to its essence, but still there surviving and dry and here to tell the stories of how it survived,  It leaves shards of rainbow colored glass once sharp and edgy but over time softened and smooth and full of stories of lives once lived, minute fragments tossed and turned for decades, but yet surviving and living in the pocket of a lucky beachcomber as a symbol of hope or luck or joy. 

The sea unearths treasures from all over the world,  sent on a tumbling miraculous adventure, glass floats travel across oceans, house animal life, give a barnacle a place to cling on to.  And again,  are treasures and bring joy to those who stumble across them on their morning foggy walk. 

There is a quietness in the beach sand, left smooth by the retreating waves. It is a place where an indent of toes quickly recovers to smooth again and shows that we like the sand are resilient,  we leave impressions and memories and yet they’re fleeting.  A rock overturned proves the shore gives shelter to tiny crabs and bugs and snails  that are somehow able to call this beach home, in spite of the relentless sea, the hammering waves.  There is safety in the sea’s withdrawal. 

The still beach with the waning tide, is a reminder of the ebbs and flows of life, the way it can one moment have so much pressure and power it threatens to pull you under and the next, it is a treasure trove of quiet and peace and magic and beauty and a reminder than we are all part of this crazy journey of life.  

The beach is a time a solitude, to sit and listen to my heart, to witness the joy of my daughter as she lets crabs crawl all over her hands and wiggles her toes in the sand,  A place where we can accumulate beach found treasures that occupy several dishes in our house,  reminders of adventures, family stories, life, beauty, sadness, bravery. 

In my 20s I spent many a summer working in the Black Hills of South Dakota at a theatre,  My favorite thing to do back then was to sit under the midnight dark sky on top of a large high rock in silence with friends or by myself and feel like I could literally reach out and grab the stars that hung low over our heads.  The magnitude of the universe, the smallness of me,   It was calming, reassuring, soothing, and powerful. I am hoping to be back there soon in our vintage travel trailer and have Zoe experience those moments as well.  

And while perhaps my favorite place to sit and figure out the world is the front porch of the farmhouse with the firepit 10 inches from my feet, the rain dumping down, wrapped in a blanket,  a glass of wine in hand and music playing a tad too loud on my phone with my journal in hand,  the sea and the stars hold that same power for me.  

I am leaning into my solitude,  reveling in it, I’ve missed it.  I am discovering the beauty in these moments,  the fleeting smiles from strangers after years of masking, the roses and Camelia just about to bloom in the 23 degree weather,  the sunrise on the ferry that is a rainbow streaked across the sky, the hugs Jason and I have for each other after a particularly hard vulnerable conversation.  The sparkly snort laugh I get from Zoe after watching you YouTube video that makes her happy, the sheer ecstasy of an impromptu dance party with Zoe to a completely inappropriate song.   And even better,  the heart bursting joy I feel with singing along to Lukas Nelson with Zoe to “Don’t you forget about Georgia”.   I am loving that Jason and I are giving each other space to grow, to evolve, to answer to what moves us now. We are saying no to being stuck, to only listening to societal expectations. What could this world be like if we all willingly and with no judgment accepted growth as an adult, What if in that growth we acknowledged the harm and trauma we’ve experienced and caused and took responsibility for it, What if we could all heal?

It is a big scary world, and I have no idea where I’ll end up but right now the power of stepping out of the undertow of the sea and finding the beauty and the stillness and sitting in that stillness until it is uncomfortable and healing at the same time is absolutely everything. 

I’m choosing to not think about the what ifs, the should have/ could haves.  I have this one precious life to live as does my always family of Zoe and Jason.  We are choosing to revel in this new found connection and yet this new found release of each other into our own seas, our own shores, our own stories to tell.  All the while knowing that we are connected and wound together and bound together and tossed and turned and lost at times. Now we know that this solitude, this time to be quiet and reflect is pushing us into this new stage of our lives.  We are covered in barnacles and rubbed smooth in places and jagged in others,  we are windswept and at moments tossed to the bottom of the sea, but we rise again, we reach the shore, we see the sunrise, we listen to the rain, we made it  here. 

Find the beauty my friends, trust the solitude and the stillness, learn from the struggles, and most of all, always recognize and revel in the beauty left by in the wake of the sea.  Know that it all ebbs and flows  and that is the beauty.   

And a few quotes  from the chapter that took my breath away:


When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment.  It is an impossibility.  It is even a lie to pretend to.  And yet this is what most of us demand.  We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. .. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity, when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity— in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern,.. Security in a relationship, lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. 

Intermittency — an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach. In this crystalline moment of suspense, one has a sudden revelation of the secret kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here in the shallow flats one finds, wading through warm ripples, great horse conchs pivoting on a leg; white sand dollars, marble medallions engraved in the mud; and myriads of bright-colored cochina-clams, glistening in the foam, their shells opening and shutting like butterflies’ wings. So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when the encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts From The Sea

And because this feels wordy and poetic and a bit flowery ( and yet heartfelt) for me,  a few songs you should check out to go with your thoughts and the ebbs and flows.  A few songs that remind me how strong we all are, how much beauty and love there is in the world, and how love doesn’t end, it just changes and evolves and adapts.   

The Sea and the Shore (Amy Speace and John Fulbright)

Shine ( David Gray)

Silence is Easy ( Starsailor)

Empty Cups ( Amanda Shires)

Share the Moon ( Indigo Girls)

Walk into a Storm (Lone Bellow)

If You Fall ( Amy Speace)

I Remember Everything (John Prine)

Unknown Legend (Shovels and Rope)

Tougher Than the Rest (Shawn Colvin)

Stop Your Crying (Ted Hawkins)

Finish What We Started (Zac Brown and Brandi Carlile)

Forget About Georgia (Lukas Nelson)

American Flowers (Birds of Chicago and Allison Russell)

Windows are Rolled Down ( Amos Lee)

Hugs and love to you all my friends.   I’m deeply grateful for this life and the people who fill it with love.  We’ve always got each other.

Letting Go While Moving Forward… Together.

16 years ago we promised for better or worse, I promised to watch Seahawks games and he promised to make sure I didn’t always live in an RV.   But, life is unexpected and complicated, ours maybe more than some, and if you can’t grow with it, then everyone hurts.

Jason and I ran into each in 2003.  He made my heart literally skip a beat the first time I saw him.  We went out on a casual date and never had an awkward moment. We talked about travel, music, families, and life.  He was like no boy I’d met before.  15 months later, after a gazillion phone calls,  2 in person visits, we decided to move in  together.  I packed up my LA apartment (again) and we packed the cats and drove up north.

We moved into the tiny dark apartment he was already renting.  It was October and cold and  rainy  and  we didn’t care a bit.  We quickly got accustomed to each other’s stuff,  I stopped getting spooked by the giant Austin Powers cardboard cutout he had behind the door and he finally stopped saying “oh shit”, when he came around the corner and saw the dress form I had put there.  

We got engaged a year later in Ireland, married in his parent’s backyard a year after that, in a beautiful, colorful outdoor celebration, packed with friends and family and flowers and love.  I couldn’t wait to kiss him, I remember thinking that from the moment I started walking down the path.  I wore a red dress, he wore a shirt with butterflies on it.  It was magic.

We had a year full of adventures, we lived in an RV, It was easy, un-complicated, there was no arguing- ever.  We were a fantastic couple, everyone told us so and we agreed.

When we turned 35, we weren’t especially eager to have kids, but thought perhaps we should m try as I wasn’t getting younger.   Almost instantly, we were pregnant.  We didn’t tell anyone until we were 15 weeks along.  We found out it was a girl (we’d already picked out the name Zoe) and then we started to tell those closest to us.  Three weeks later, the unthinkable happened, a phone call that changed our lives.   Your daughter has this birth defect, CDH..  chances of survival are slim … time in hospital is months… will need life support….   I don’t even remember the rest.

No one can know how their lives will change when faced with a traumatic event.  We thought ourselves invincible to any strife, any disagreement, any division, but apparently we were wrong. 

The first few months in that hospital with Zoe were hard.  She and I were in Portland  24/7, Jason came down on weekends and as needed in emergencies.  He had to work; we had two insurance policies to cover and a house being built.  I had gone from working full time to an instantly overnight, full time, stay at home mom of a medically fragile kid.  

We came home from the hospital at 3 months old.  He was working long days at his job,  I stayed home with Zoe, I read to her, tube fed her every 3 hours, snuggled her, researched and researched and researched,  I called insurance companies and doctors and more insurance companies and DSHS, and Medicaid, and more insurance.  I paid bills and cleaned house and did soooo much laundry because Zoe would throw up ALL.THE.TIME.    I lost my sense of who I was,  no career anymore, no friends I saw on a regular basis who had any idea what I was going through.  I missed my friends who reminded me of who I used to be, I missed the moms who I had met in the hospital who knew and  could understand what we were going through.  I felt extremely alone in my bubble.  It was lonely and really hard.   

It was non-stop busy chaos with Zoe: therapists, doctor appointments, oxygen deliveries, neither of us slept for more than 2.5 hours at a time, for years on end. Every noise woke us up, every beep, every slight gagging. Family helped out as much as they could, but with meds to mix and tube feeds to happen, it wasn’t a world where she could spend more than a few hours or an afternoon with someone else. 

I started therapy,  and it helped.. some.  Got me past resentment and back to realizing that we were a team.   Then we started couples therapy, and things got a bit better. We started talking about our individual needs in order to find balance and how to find the missing spark. 

Then I was offered my dream job, it meant, Jason now being the stay home parent. A whole new life and schedule, but would provide some financial relief from what we were scraping by on. So we went for it.

After Zoe started school all day.  Jason  got offered a job working for the school district, same hours and days and time off as Zoe.  It was ideal.  With my 60+ hour weeks and 3 hour commutes, knowing he was home to watch her was peace of mind.  We fell into a very much a divide and conquer sort of house to get everything done.  He did yard work, cared  for Zoe after school,  cooked and cleaned. I worked in the city, paid bills, scheduled appointments, dealt with all things insurance and doctors.

We became a family trying to stay afloat with two working parents, parenting a medical kid with all sorts of learning and social issues and disabilities.  We were all about  how  to keep Zoe happy and healthy and somewhere in the middle we lost ourselves, as individuals and as a couple.  We talked only about the day to day, Zoe, and how to give her her best life. We ignored who we were becoming. 

Over the following years, I became unhappy, lost, quiet, afraid to say what I was really thinking because I felt like a crazy person for questioning this life I had.  How could I be unsure about this amazing man who excelled at caregiving, who thought I was beautiful, who took such care of our house and yard, who my parents adored, as did everyone else we knew.   But he was unhappy too,  he had lost his independence, his spontaneity, his joy.  We were on eggshells around each other, trying not to hurt the other’s feelings,  trying to show we cared by making assumptions about what the other person didn’t need or did want.  He would try to talk about what was happening, I’d be scared to answer with the truths that had started nagging away in my brain and heart.. I’d try to give him a break from watching Zoe by sending him off on a boys weekend and he would call home 12 times.  I’d make a suggestion of a fun family thing and he’d have some house thing he wanted to work on. He’d tell me to go sit and relax and read a book, and I would spend the day cooking instead and then bitch about all the dishes.  It was a relentless cycle that left us all performing the roles that neither of us wanted to be in, or at least in the capacity and volume we were performing them.  The pandemic came along and all of that exploded even more.  Home school, work from home, fear of Zoe getting sick, loss of creativity at work. We were miserable in our worlds and yet performing them ad nauseum as a way to avoid talking it all through.

Is it possible to love someone so much and yet not be in love with them? Is it possible to want out of a romantic relationship and yet not want to leave this beautiful life we had created for our daughter?  Yes, it is.  

Jason and I were on our way to a wedding recently,  all dressed up with an hour car ride to talk.  What do you want, he asked me?  Do you want out, do you need a break? What do you want, how do we fix this? Where do we go?     I’m not sure what the magic moment was about all of that, but I took a deep breath and said I think I need a break from us as a couple, I haven’t been IN LOVE with you for a long time.   I want to spend time making Zoe’s life magic.  I want to give Zoe a home that is loving and kind and relaxed and not filled with coded conversation.  I want to remember who I am under all the rules and expectations and pretenses.  I’ve lost myself, I miss me, I miss happy you.  I want you to be happy and relaxed and be loved and needed, but I can’t give you that right now.   I don’t have it in me. 

I am still not sure where those words came from or why at that moment it felt safe to say them,  but it was instant relief. We spent the rest of that car trip talking about what all this means and how we do this.  And then we went to a wedding and had a great time together even if the ”forever and ever” moments made us giggle quietly a bit. 

It’s now four months after this initial conversation, we’ve had many talks about possible incarnations of our relationship and what we want and need, So what is happening now? What does this mean for us?   Well so far it’s been pretty great, for both of us. Really, I promise.  We have decided to officially separate and become partners in co-parenting,  the thing that is actually the most important job to both of us.   We are enjoying family time, we have spent hours on the porch talking about us, both as a (former) couple and as individuals.  We’ve talked about what we want for each other in the future.  We’ve cried and talked about feelings and about how scary this all is.  We got over the fear of telling our parents and close friends and while they have been sad ( and in general, surprised), it’s hard to be mad at either of us when we are on the same page about next steps and this being a mutual decision.  I have dealt ( and am still dealing with)h my guilt over not being IN love any more?   But you know what, it made us closer than we’ve been in a long time.  We aren’t bad people, we are just two people who are living this crazy life and rolling with all the punches.  

Jason is a fantastic father, a caring, kind, considerate  person who loves with his whole being.  He’s everything I should be romantically in love with, but I’m not. I sometimes feel like I let people down,  I’m working on that. 

So what now?   Right now, we are living in our house, co-parenting, continuing to share expenses and schedules and spaces. The plan is to move into the second residence on our property that we would swap off in so that Zoe’s day to day stays the same.  Right now, we have cathartic conversations, great hugs, shoulders to cry on, a safe space to hold conversations, a great friend to work things out with, and we always  put Zoe first, making sure she knows she is loved. 

Forcing ourselves into a relationship that doesn’t work anymore wasn’t giving Zoe the example of what love should look like.  Do I wish she could have seen us  sixteen years ago? Yes, of course, we were mad about each other.  But also I’m learning that life happens. It’s not wrong. Neither of us messed up. Neither of us is a bad person.  I also know this isn’t the end of us as a family. 

It’s not traditional, We know.  But it’s working for us right now.  We are partners in co-parenting.   The English language is driving me crazy lately.   There are no words or terms to describe this situation.   “Ex” feels harsh and divided.  “Former” sounds like one of us is no longer involved, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  We are  Zoe’s Mom and Pops, her best advocates and caretakers, guardians of our beautiful home, cheerleaders for each other’s futures as we forge this new future and find our individual joy again. We are family vacation adventure takers, new holiday tradition creators, and front porch conversationalists.

This is our new norm.  Maybe this is the ultimate grown up way to deal with relationships changing over the years?   Maybe he or I will lose friends and family over this, but you know what, none of it matters.  Zoe hasn’t  noticed a difference, if anything she senses more joy and laughter and heart in our house again.   I’ve gained a friend again, we’ve gained a safe place to talk all the things through.  Our hearts are a little lighter and hopeful while at the same time a bit sad and broken.   It’s hard and messy and complicated and full of unknowns.  It’s not the choice many people would make, it’s not the choice society and my upbringing taught us to make,  But we did.  And it is working.

So now you know. We are talking about this now because it feels right to be honest and genuine with those we love. We are finally listening to the voices inside our hearts and souls instead of the voices of societal expectations.  We’re talking about  this because perfection is overrated and hard and untrue and doesn’t help anyone in the long run and if one more person tells us how great a couple we are and they don’t know how we do it, I’m going to  lose my shit. We’re doing this to hold ourselves accountable to being honest with each other and Zoe.  We’d rather be honest with ourselves, than continue to project an image that is hurting us.  We’re doing this because it is the right thing to do, for the three of us.  And we get to decide what is best for us:  the three of us.  Our forever family in whatever form that takes.   

I’ve been doing lots of reflecting and reading the past several months and this quote from Cheryl Strayed hit me hard with it’s truth. 

“One ends a romantic relationship while remaining a compassionate friend by being kind above all else. By explaining one’s decision to leave the relationship with love and respect and emotional transparency. By being honest without being brutal. By expressing gratitude for what was given. By taking responsibility for mistakes and attempting to make amends. By acknowledging that one’s decision has caused another human being to suffer. By suffering because of that. By having the guts to stand by one’s partner even while one is leaving. By talking it all the way through and by listening. By honoring what once was. By bearing witness to the undoing and salvaging what one can. By being a friend, even if an actual friendship is impossible. By having good manners. By considering how one might feel if the tables were turned. By going out of one’s way to minimize hurt and humiliation. By trusting that the most compassionate thing of all is to release those we don’t love hard enough or true enough or big enough or right. By believing we are all worthy of hard, true, big, right love. By remembering while letting go.”

So that is what we’re attempting to do,  remember with gratitude, stand by each other, releasing each other to find the type of love we now need,  talking it through and listening.  

You’re welcome to support us on our journey, but please don’t judge what you haven’t lived. But do know that we love you all, we appreciate your support and love, there is no need to take sides. This is a joint decision, and we are learning to lead with love, not fear. We are grateful for the kindness in each other that is letting us get to this place together, I truly know that is a gift and circumstance many relationships do not have. 

My sister sent me this link the other day to  Ted Talk. She said it reminded her of Jason and I right now and it brought me hope that this is doable and that this can be the healthiest version of us.  So a link to a bit of listening in case you’re curious.

XO, Shannin AND Jason,  AKA: Partners in Co-Parenting

Zoe = Life

Jason is out with a friend.  Zoe and I sit on the sofa, like we always do.  We’re snuggled watching a romance on Netflix and eating frozen pizza, my zest to cook has been gone since the 3rd month of the pandemic.  I’m sipping a rhubarb shrub and tonic mock tail, because I’ve decided I’m not drinking for the last year of my 40s.   So far, so good.  I mean my life isn’t stressful at all, this should be a piece of cake, lol.

The girl in the movie has diabetes and is giving herself insulin injections and wears a pump.

What does she have mommy?

I try to explain diabetes in Zoe terms.  She has low blood sugar levels and if she doesn’t get them up she can die.  The pump alarms when she needs medicine.  Oh, and that is the same sort of pump you use!

But I’m not sick anymore, right mommy? 

And I freeze, because there it is.  The sheer innocence and total acceptance than she is just who she is, she is just Zoe.  To her, she is not sick, she is a teenager living her best life.  Or at least that is how she sees it.   She says this as she sits there almost in tears because her arm hurts so bad and is so swollen from a new Remodulin SubQ site that she can’t stop squirming and holds her right arm at an awkward angle.  She says this as we talk about her PH friends who have passed on.  She says this as she readies to go to a camp for medically fragile kids. She says this as she puts her oxygen on every night before bed.  She says this as she pops handfuls of pills every morning and night like they are skittles.

She is Zoe.    She is an almost 14-year-old who collects American Girl books like I did stickers in 2nd grade.  At every thrift store, she scours the shelves and collects them but won’t read them now, she probably can’t read them because there are too many words and too much to follow.  She collects them to take to Knox College so she can read them there.  Because that is where I went to undergrad and she wants to be like mommy.  She says every time she finds one.

She is an almost 14-year-old with a diary that she copies quotes about love into.  She can’t even read some of the quotes because the words are too big, but they contain the word love and that is what matters to her. Her love is pure all-encompassing sort, no exceptions. 

She is an almost 14-year-old who blushes when she talks about her celebrity crush on Shawn Mendes and then talks about when she is older and how she will marry her friend, another PH girl who she has met a few times and chats with on line, because to her marriage is your bestie and a person that gets what you are going through and you love to play dolls with and be silly with and play Roblux with.   They’ll both have a kid she says, without realizing that this isn’t a possibility for her.

She is an almost 14-year-old who knows all the swear words and is obsessed with the song ABCDEFU by Gayle, and yet will never say them aloud in an any conversation because she knows they’re “inappropriate”.   

She is an almost 14-year-old who loves visiting the neighborhood cemetery to visit my childhood bestie and her own great grandparents.  An almost 14-year-old who wants to hear ALL the stories about me growing up and my grandparents and life as it was for her ancestors.  And she remembers them all.  And you will tell her the same story for the 15th time.

She is an almost 14-year-old who will hang over the side of a canyon at 7,000 feet altitude without blinking and swings so high that her feet are as high as the bar the swing hangs from and yet runs inside when she hears or sees fireworks or loud noises.

She is an almost 14-year-old who wants to be a doctor or nurse, or work at Target or be a veterinarian or work at Mod Pizza but struggles to multiply 7×7.

She is the almost 14-year-old who when she sees a couple getting romantic in a movie asks me point blank if Jason and I have sex.  Sometimes, I say.  I’ve never seen you do that, she says.  It’s a private thing, I say.  Hmm, she replies. 

She is an almost 14-year-old who when I took her to the library book sale picked out a graphic novel about a trans boy and the struggles he went through in middle school because we talk about all the things in this house and she is pure love and acceptance and loves stories of people bravely being themselves.

She is an almost 14-year-old girl who is literally not scared of a single animal and will happily pick up a snake, a mouse, a spider and gently place them outside.   Except, for carpenter ants, Jason has taught her to squish those suckers with no remorse.

She is an almost 14-year-old who when we went to Mesa Verde National Park and the Japanese Incarceration camp in Minidoka, Idaho, She took the time to read ALL the plaques about the history of what happened and asked a million questions, because she loves learning about all things historical, but if you ask her to go read for 5 minutes she’ll tell you she is tired and needs a nap.

She is a 14-year-old girl who wants to be so like me in ALL the ways and has been poked and prodded her whole life without batting an eye, but WILL NOT under any circumstances get her ears pierced.   She will however wear the biggest, dangliest clip on earrings, cause, you know, Mommy does.

She is an almost 14-year-old who when we went to plan her birthday party this year, we struggled to think who to invite. She has school peers who are kind and sweet with her and include her at school when asked, but she is complicated.  She is 14 going on maybe 10 socially. She is unaware of social cues and personal space and can’t physically or mentally keep up with her fellow students and it is a lot for kids to process and be around all the time.

She is an almost 14-year-old who is in her element with 5-year-old and 80 year olds.  And with Me, because I treat her like a little adult and we do all the things Mommy does.  

She is an almost 14-year-old who is obsessed with TikTok like they all are because music and dance are her jam.  It is there she feels confident and powerful and successful.  But only with those that she is close to, don’t even think about getting her to say hi to someone she doesn’t know.

She is Magic.  She is pure and unfettered and misunderstood and sometimes lonely.

For years I struggled with thinking that I’m not a great mom for her, I work too much, I’m gone too much, dislike playing, hate legos and slime, suck at having fun.

But then she and I did a road trip with my sister and niece and we hiked, and camped, and piggyback carried Zoe and her oxygen up and down mountain trails and through desert terrain and listened to terrible Kidz Bop music in the car because she asked us to, and played silly road games like count the dead roadkill and drew silly imaginary creatures and giggled and laughed and smiled for 16 days straight and I realized… actually, I’m doing this all right.   Doing it my way and in the way that is right for her.  For her needs, for her life, for her soul, her happiness and her connection.   

I (and I say I because I’m writing this, I do not mean to exclude Jason, who is absolutely an integral part of this) have given Zoe her perfect life.  She lives each day blissfully unaware of her ultimate prognosis, no matter how much we talk about this, she lives each day knowing she is loved by those around her, even if she spends the day mainly alone at school in her own world, not fitting into any mold and not having any peers quite like her. She feels safe in our home, snuggled with us or flying high on her swing.  We don’t hide anything from her, we don’t shy away from hard conversations, we have them all with her, we include her and her opinion in medical choices.  She still feels comfortable coming up to me and whispering Mommy can I talk to you?  She crawls in bed with us at night, because that is her world:  Me, Jason and Zoe.  It just is.   And it is enough.    We can try and explain all we want to her that this isn’t how the world operates, but why?  This is our world, this is enough, these magic few years we get with her.

SO much of my life has changed and turned upside down and isn’t what I thought it would be or ever saw coming, but none of it matters.  Zoe is, Zoe exists because of us and the family and friends that love her and she just is.  She makes everyone that knows her and interacts with her a better person.

I don’t know what life hold for her or me, but in this moment we are just here.  Doing our best for her, making her feel loved and safe and needed and wanted and never ever alone.  Every day of her precious limited life.   What else is there?  Life is too short to not live it our way.  Live it for her.   “Zoe’s rules “as she likes to say

Happy almost 14 my beautiful angel, I love being your mommy more than anything else in the world.    Who would have thought that when we picked your name, before I was even pregnant, before we knew you were you in all your complicated, heartbreaking, miraculous, silly, and scary moments, how prophetic your name would be.  How serendipitous, how much the universe has our backs. 

 You are Zoe.  Zoe means life.  You are life.  You are my life.

Sequins and Syringes


If asked to describe me, I think the words most people would say would be determined, calm, thoughtful, colorfully eclectic, energetic, a great mama, a good listener, a great multi tasker, a workaholic and a bit of a thrift and vintage store fashionista. My husband would also add stubborn to this list… But if asked to describe myself RIGHT NOW, here’s what I would say: exhausted, trying to enjoy the little moments but failing much of the time, a bit over scheduled, afraid to just say no to any other projects, and yes still stubborn, energetic, unique, colorful, and determined and DEFINETLY a thrift and vintage store fashionista! I actually sometimes think my unspoken family motto is “Don’t mess with a Strom, we get sh#@ done”!


But what happens if I admit that while I appreciate every moment, and person, and twist of fate, and bit of luck, and hour of hard work, and devastating phone call that got me to this point, it can’t cover up forever that that I think I need a break every now and then and that I don’t always have the answers and sometimes I just want to allow myself to break down.    That maybe all those blogs and therapists are books are correct and it IS important to take care of yourself as well as others. This is soooooo hard for me. What happens if I actually take a few moments to write some stories down, talk about the funny moments and the sad ones and attempt to stop my brain from running on overdrive at all hours of the day and night?

I don’t know that my story is any more unique than anyone else’s, but it’s my story and it begins to explain how I got to this point, so here’s a bit of background.

I grew up on a tiny island off of Seattle, I basically lived the Stranger Things lifestyle (minus the freaky upside down world and disappearing kids). You know, the kind of life you could when you were a kid in the mid 70s and early 80s: you went outside after you did all your chores and played Little House on the Prairie in the woods until it was dinner time; then you sat down with your whole family at 5:30 on the dot and ate some sort of homemade casserole. I ran screaming as far away from the island as I could the second I graduated from high school and off to the corn fields of Illinois and Knox College. There I stumbled into the world of theatre and costuming totally by accident and suddenly found my people. After a few years of grad school in Connecticut I headed back to the west coast and to the sunshine and plastic surgery filled concrete boulevards of Los Angeles. I (while wearing my 90s platform shoes and carrying my old school Thomas guide and my beeper) dug into that city and learned to love it the way you can when you are 25: KCRW music, the sunshine, the fashion, and the friends I soon made. Those mid 20s something women, who were also newly out of school and figuring out who they were and what they wanted from this big bad world, they were my tribe and we got each other through the bad days.

Now I’m married to a boy from high school, no we didn’t date in high school ( thank god, high school nerd right here with THE WORST 80s hair), we ran into each other 12 years out of school and hit it off. We live in my grandparents 1920s farmhouse back on that same tiny island off of Seattle (literally up the driveway from where I grew up).   He actually cleans the toilets and separates the laundry correctly before washing it without me even asking,  I totally scored! We have worked hard, been mostly fortunate and really have nothing we should complain about.  I still work in theatre and am the costume director at a theatre that produces all musicals all the time. It is not a job for the faint of heart or those that need frequent naps. I tell myself on a regular basis that 40 hour work weeks are overrated.  The adrenaline driven workaholic in me loves it (most of the time).   I mean, I get paid to shop, I put fake clothes on fake people, I try to keep the drama on the stage and I have an amazing team of craftspeople and designers to work with daily, what could be better?

And then…there’s Zoe. My 9 year old little mini me who has a soul full of sunshine, rainbows and pop music and is a bit of an adrenaline junkie herself (oops, wonder where she got that from).   She is at times exactly like me and at times so unlike me and I’m so proud of her for it ( that fearlessness in front of a crowd: that DID NOT come from me). She is THE most amazing and determined human I know; and she doesn’t even know it. If you asked the doctors 9 years ago, she shouldn’t even be here. Given a 25% chance of survival at birth, she has beat the odds again and again and has done it while doing a song and dance in her glitter hip-hop sneakers. I’ll get into more of this in subsequent posts, but for now, all you need to know is that she was born with a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU, was tube fed until she was two, walked at two and a half, has pretty much been to every department at Seattle Childrens Hospital and is now worth somewhere around $6,000,000 ( I mean she’s actually priceless of course, but the insurance companies would value her somewhere around there). She can wrestle her 02 cannula around like an alligator, thinks of her permanently placed central line and medically attached pump as her conjoined twins, and says the words Pulmonary Hypertension and Remodulin better than she can the words spaghetti and meatballs. She has more hospital paperwork and medical binders than there are old school encyclopedias and she has an IEP the length of the Declaration of Independence AND she doesn’t let any of this stop her . Yeah, she’s kinda the best thing ever!

Between Zoe, my job, my husband, an eclectically and lovingly decorated farm house, a million loads of laundry, a 3 hour commute, a sick obsession with baking too many carbohydrates on a day off and an inability to sit still and actually relax, I’m finding myself a little lonely and a little at a loss these days and a lot less brave and feisty than my old 20 something self used to be. My stubbornness? That hasn’t gone anywhere, sigh.

Sure, I love being super mom and super boss and super employee and super multi-tasker, and super shopper, I am a Leo after all.  But what happens when all those things collide and all of a sudden you realize that what you really want is a super nap,  an afternoon with your girlfriends, and an hour to yourself.

I thought that maybe sharing a few of my thoughts and stories, fashion finds and baking fails, medical traumas and school project disasters, working mama guilts and triumphs might help me navigate this crazy journey I’m on, and just maybe it helps other mamas not feel so alone or overwhelmed in this crazy life.

This blog might be right up your alley and relatable if your 2nd grader pretend plays to be “The Boss” with a calendar, a phone, and a sharpie and talks about having to catch a ferry  and orders you around while wearing a sparkly costume. This blog might be for you if you’ve ever had an actor ask you what shampoo you use because your hair smells good and all you can do is look at them blankly, because that good smell is the chlorhexidine in the shampoo on the wall mounted dispenser of the hospital shower and you haven’t been home in 3 weeks are wearing the same outfit for the 3rd day in a row. And maybe this blog is for you if you, like, me, wouldn’t trade a freaking moment of any of this life for anything in the world, but you also would never be caught dead in public in pajama pants  and you know the power a sparkly vintage jacket and a great pair of dark jeans can have on a crappy day when you just can’t take another thing going wrong. And maybe this blog is for you if you too have discovered you’re happily in your mid 40s but you wonder where that brave girl who lived in LA and traveled the world all by herself disappeared to and you find yourself trying to wrap your head around the fact that is actually OK and healthy to cry every now and then and the world won’t fall apart if you do.

So here goes, welcome to my sequin and syringe filled life and those that make it sing.

P.S. have I mentioned my life is crazy busy, so patience please as I figure out this blogging thing and try to actually fit it into my schedule…


XO- Shannin