Sisters Wiped Out $182K In Debt, Together


I loved doing this story in about how four sisters banded together, shared their money and tackled their collective debt. Then they went on to help their own family. I’m so inspired by this. Why doesn’t everyone do that?


Vanessa McGradySisters Wiped Out $182K In Debt, Together

Pen Is Mightier: Letters I Wrote This Week


1. To Grace’s karate teacher

I’m Grace’s mom, and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy watching her in your class and what a great job you do with the kids. It’s the perfect balance of silliness and discipline and I know she has a great time and she will carry those lessons forward.

One thing I wanted to point out, and I do this in the spirit of fairness, is that I noticed you commented on the girls’ smiles but not the boys’ in the class. She will go through enough of her life being asked to smile by strangers, and will have the intrinsic challenge trying to balance the importance of how she looks with what she can do. I’m wondering if you’d consider applying the “great smile” comments to all the kids, or none at all in the future. I think you’ve done such a good job at showing that both girls and boys can be powerful, so I know you understand what I’m talking about. I don’t want her to come away with the subliminal message that smiles are less important for boys than they are for girls.

Thanks very much and we look forward to class resuming in the fall.

Please let me know if you want to discuss this.

I received a very nice and prompt reply that he’d certainly be more aware of this aspect in the future.

2. To a “content marketing” company that complimented a story I’d written for, then offered to pay me “double” for writing stories about their clients and pitch them to my editors as actual news

Thanks for thinking of me. What you’re proposing is highly unethical, as I’m sure you are aware.
Content writers generally are paid to write for a specific site, and it’s understood that the site is sponsoring the work–such as my content for BBVA Compass bank. If you’re positioning it as news and then asking journalists to pitch it as such to reputable sites, they are endangering their careers.
Let me know if I’m misunderstanding what you are proposing, because the way it reads now, you’ll have a hard time getting any reputable journalists on board.
No response, as expected.
3. To our library

To the Fine Librarians at Glendale Public Library,

As a journalist and avid First Amendment advocate, I’ve never called for removing a book from library shelves before. But I hope you will consider burning “Super Heroes Opposites” (© 2013, Downtown Bookworks/DC Comics) in the hottest fire you can make.

Here’s why: As I was reading it to my 4-year-old daughter, Grace, I noticed that all the male superheroes featured are performing feats of strength and showcasing their superpowers—jumping off buildings, lifting cars, pulling what appears to be a gigantic oil rig, and the like. The page featuring the solo female, Wonder Woman, shows her pushing a swing with a child in it.

I was disappointed to have to explain to Grace that this didn’t count as a superpower. Why wasn’t Wonder Woman wasn’t shown in a more heroic light, as the others were? It might have been different if they’d added Batman whipping up some pancakes to make it more fair.

In addition, something to consider in these heady days of gender fluidity and flexible designation: The book lists “Women” (Supergirl, Hawkgirl and Batgirl) as opposite from “Men” (Superman, Hawkman, Batman). Do we really need to go there, pitting the genders as opposites when we now understand there’s so much more in between that even young children can grasp?

I hope you’ll consider my request, and I would welcome a discussion with you about this if necessary. Please let me know your decision.

We love the library and hope you’ll fall on the side of fairness and equality.

No response yet on this one, but the librarian who took the letter agreed and promised to run it up the chain.


It’s exhausting fighting for truth and justice.

Vanessa McGradyPen Is Mightier: Letters I Wrote This Week

In Praise of Sad Things

My friend Matthew sent me this Steven Wilson video, for no particular reason except that it’s lovely and we share music and amusing Internet Things (we both were bummed we didn’t think up the ship a box of glitter thing). The video is also really, really sad and haunting. I watched this on the heels of Inside Out, which I saw with my daughter. While the movie was a little intense for her in places — when you’re 4, you basically travel through the story AS the character witch which you most identify–we stayed for the whole thing.

We talked a lot about feelings after, and our favorite parts of the movie. Grace is a very happy, silly and wickedly funny kid, so it surprised me that her favorite part was when the character Sadness couldn’t get up off the floor because she was so sad. “I feel like that sometimes when I don’t want to go to school and just stay in bed,” she told me. Which is ironic, because for me, I really latched on the the reminder that you can let sadness breathe in the same space as so many other feelings. So of course. Of course.

I need to honor sadness just as much as I need to honor rain, or nighttime, or hunger. What I loved about the Steven Wilson video, and the movie and also sad songs and sad art and sad friends, is that in a way they bear witness to my own sadness, and don’t try to talk me out of a feeling, or cheer me up. it’s a kind of keeping company of like hearts.

Someone once told me that if you don’t let your negative emotions come in and out through the front door–grief, anger, sadness, what have you–they will find a way out through the basement window, up the chimney or seep out the cracks in the weatherstripping, and the byproducts of those feelings may emerge in surprising and not very good ways. It may take a while. They may become stuck and malignant.

So, hello, Sadness. Time for tea.


Vanessa McGradyIn Praise of Sad Things

Cupcakes, lemonade, paper and magic


Charles Papert photo

Grace, my newly minted 4-year-old, is coming off a 36-hour high-rev cycle of excitement about her birthday, breaking into her own little “it’s my birthday, birthday, birthday” tune once every 20 minutes or so. A magician and his rabbit show up in the park for her. She is surrounded by grown ups and kids who adore her.

At the end, 10 cupcakes, some smushed, some salvageable. Those go into the freezer, for what, I’m not sure, but they’re too pretty to trash. A bag full of bags, neatly folded, ready for future gifting. Enough paper for a small indy weekly, and even though it’s in my nature to pick the scraps and revive them, it goes into the recycling. All of it. Too tired. But so happy that it went well, even with divorced parent awkwardness, spilled lemonade, renegade balloons. I realize I got not only a kid when I became a mom, but I got all the other kids we know, and their darling parents, who are there cheering her on: I hit the community lotto.

And the girl, after a thorough scrubbing in the bath to rid the layers of sunscreen and pizza and sweat and dirt, falls asleep quickly after two books about birthdays and one about the friendly snowman named Olaf, who finds joy in every situation. This night, there are no extra potty trips, no pleas for the light on, no, “mama, I have to tell you something … ” Just a happy, deep, delicious sleep.

Of course, this day belongs to her. But there are others who are, unsimply, with us today and every day. I think about the man and woman who brought her into this world; from every angle I see his eyes, her legs, their hair. Grace doesn’t like to talk about adoption much. But today, I make sure she remembers the people who made us a family.

And then I add a little hot to her leftover bath and slip my sunburned shoulders underneath the water. We’re in a drought, you know.



Vanessa McGradyCupcakes, lemonade, paper and magic

An Imperfect Daughter


I would hope my mother, who announces regularly these days that she’s not getting any younger, feels completely and absolutely adored by her family as she rides out her twilight years (she’ll outlive all of us, I am certain). That her dreams for me and my brother have surpassed any expectations. That even though none of it went as she’d planned, she feels fulfillment as a mother.

I don’t feel much of a pull to be celebrated on Mother’s Day, which feels so loaded and contrived to me. It’s not flowers and brunch that makes me feel like a mom to my almost-4-year-old. It’s more like how the other day, I was doing a sewing project for Grace, turing a too-big skirt she’d picked out at the thrift store into a dress that reaches down to her ankles (she’s into a princess silhouette these days). I felt like I was doing something motherly, one of the things my mother was always so good at, and I, sadly, am not. I’m a regular mom every day–“did you brush your teeth?” “What did you learn in karate?” “We don’t talk about poop at the table”–but there are certain actions that mean more, I suppose, because my mother did them for me.

My mother and I didn’t have the regular day-to-day mother-daughter relationship. I can’t ever remember her asking me to brush my hair or helping me with homework, though there was the one epic fight in high school over a pair of sneakers that look liked they’d been bombed and run over by a humvee, and she grabbed them off my feet and insisted on washing them before I went out. My father, whose first son had been kidnapped at 3 by his mother and taken to Israel, was of no mind to lose other children. He’d fiercely grabbed custody of me and my younger brother in 1973, at a time when men simply didn’t do that, when laws and rules around such things were still muddy as the nation’s couples began splitting en masse. We’d see Mom on the weekends, and in junior high, when we moved across the country to rural Washington state, maybe a couple times a year. That first year, my mother, feeling helpless and too poor to hire a big-gun attorney, spent the year sweeping the floor of a Tibetan monastery, weeping.

I would like to be a better daughter. The ultimate act would like to invite my mother to live with me, as I know she wants to, and not worry about things like the weeds overgrowing her doorstep, or if turning up the heat means going without something else. So she can make up lost time, if that is even possible. Of course she wants to be near us, in the same way I hope Grace lives at home, with me, forever and ever. But, for a variety of reasons, I just can’t. I know myself too well. I don’t know how three generations of spirited, opinionated and willful McGrady-Bennett women could possibly survive, with our wildly different schedules and needs and ways, in my small home.

I have been impatient and crabby with my mother, most recently, when she tried to sell me on the computer guy in her town–a three-day drive away. I have been forgetful and lazy. I want to help her, and she needs so much, that I don’t know where to start. I have tactics, but no strategies.

I am ashamed to say that I can’t, or don’t know how, to fix all the systemic problems that she encounters. I didn’t know how to help her when Bank of America double-billed her on her debit card for a year–she never got reimbursed, though we tried. I don’t know where to begin when she says she wants to move out of her home, because last time I took her and showed her all the options I could think of and none were OK. I don’t know, in short, how to be a better daughter.

A few days ago she asked me for a favor: Would I check my local thrift store for a typewriter? After 10 years, she’s giving up on computers. She can’t figure them out, they never work for her, she can’t do what she wants to do, artistically. The excellent daughter would be patient enough to travel up there for a few days and teach her, to hold her hand through all the tech trouble. The imperfect daughter? I just ordered her a typewriter.

Happy Mother’s Day, to the imperfect ones. No flowers required.

Vanessa McGradyAn Imperfect Daughter

Two kinds of fear


If you’ve ever stood on the edge of Cliffs of Moher, you quickly understand the difference between healthy fear that can save your life and fear that will debilitate you. Credit:

I don’t consider myself a generally fearful or anxious person, but I’m just going to list what lurks in the fear section of my brain, because the only way to reveal the monster in the closet is to turn on the light.


1. Grace not having me.

2. Me not having Grace.

3. Having to go back to work in a cubicle someday.

4. Dead animals.

5. Many, many aspects of romantic love: having it, losing it, not wanting it, wanting it.

6. Dreams about feral kittens.

I recently had a discussion with the wonderful Charisse Landise, a clairvoyant healer, about fear. The understanding I came away with is that there are basically two kinds of fear: Real, healthy fear, and the other kind. Which is not about real things, and which isn’t really ours, it comes from other people.

So an example of a good fear might be careening down a mountain on skis. The fear you feel is basically your body’s way of keeping you on point so you don’t get sloppy and tumble head over business-end the rest of the way down.

The six things I’ve listed above? They are fears that, left unchecked, can become debilitating. They are not life-giving, they are soul-sucking. There is nothing, really, I can do differently, to mitigate outcomes. As for the first two about Grace and me, I guess I’ll just go around keeping our bodies as safe as possible, and then it’s up to our own karmas. I wrote a short film treatment the other day as a way to put something on paper, to exorcise (and exercise) the fear of being without my child, in a way, so it dissolves in the sun. The “what if?” fears are echoes of other people (including aspects our former selves). They are subjective, imaginary, a game of emotional dice.

I love this from Brené Brown: “To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”

Who wants to come skiing with me?



Vanessa McGradyTwo kinds of fear