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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cfgattis/

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

Hey 47

Today I may have ruptured heretofore unknown internal organs from laughing so much over the last 24 hours, and quite possibly my heart, which is bursting from all the love I’ve been getting from nearly everyone I know, everywhere.

Today I started a novel that kicked down the door of my inner life and finally spilled into words made of letters.

Today I bought myself the prettiest and most meaningful ring I’ll ever own.


Today I had ice cream for breakfast with one of my best girlfriends. We tried on glasses at the hipster eyewear store and diamonds at Tiffany’s, where the salesgirl asked us if we are best friends. Goddamn right we are. And goddamned ice cream. For breakfast.

11021157_10152688055113015_7142242394920091283_nToday I had soup in the bath.

Today I brought my kid to her very first-ever mani.


Tonight we ate what passed for dinner, and then dove into three kinds of cake I’d stored in the freezer. Plus popcorn, plus tea.

Tonight we watched Fantasia–all of it. I had forgotten most of it, as it had settled on a back shelf of my brain, a faded impressionist painting of Micky and a broom and all that water. Maybe I just needed to see it in the mellow metaphoric light of my 47th birthday.

Ave Maria indeed.


Vanessa McGradyHey 47

Podcast: Quitting Your Job, Starting Your Business

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.41.44 PMI was recently invited to be on career/personal coach John Tashe’s podcast as one of his inaugural guests. It’s a piece about things to remember before you quit your job and start to work for yourself. I loved talking to him. Have a listen if you’re so inclined.

Vanessa McGradyPodcast: Quitting Your Job, Starting Your Business

The Girl Who Got Mad at Flowers


A: Love is a pink hula hoop!
B: Love is a blue umbrella!

A gives B pink hula hoop
B gives A blue umbrella

A: Why did you give me this blue umbrella?
B: Why did you give me this pink hula hoop?

Both sulk.

Valentine’s Day is loaded. Coupled, uncoupled, madly swiping dating profiles–so many of us carry the heavy baggage of expectation. Many years ago I worked with a girl named April who was dating a Very Nice Man who sent her a bouquet at the office. Not any cheap grocery store number, either. It was a mixed bouquet of dramatic, thoughtful blooms. April burst into tears and practically hurled the flowers into the trash. I asked her what was wrong.

“It’s Valentine’s Day! I wanted roses,” she sniffed, and then stormed off to fix her mascara.

I’m thinking a lot about love and its expectations. What I expect of it, and what it expects of me. And how we brush up against each other the unlikeliest of ways. I was sick last week and my ex-boyfriend had a bag of vitamins, ginger, tea and horrific-tasting natural remedies couriered over to me. I had a small dinner party last night and one of my best girlfriends, Meghan, brought over the most beautiful white roses; Linda arrived with Year of the Goat prosperity envelopes and decorations. I finally found a worthy home for Grace’s soft white cotton baby dress with the lace sewn on by her grandmother. As I handed it to Erika, who is hugely pregnant with her first child, we both got unexpectedly teary. And Grace made happy red and pink construction paper hearts and some kind of Dixie-cup butterfly thing that we’ve taped proudly to our window to signify that Love Lives Here.

Hoping you find your love somewhere tucked away in a corner where you forgot to look.

Vanessa McGradyThe Girl Who Got Mad at Flowers