Once upon a time there was a little girl named Karen.

She was so very proud of herself because she had just learned how to write her name.

And so she wrote it in her book in large letters in a thick black marker, “K – A – R – E – N”

Only it was not her book, it was the school’s. And her grumpy teacher yelled at her, in front of the whole class and made her feel very sad and very small.

When she wasn’t at school, her mommy took her lots of places and tried very hard to be a good mommy with a happy family.

Only a lot of times, Karen did not feel happy, she felt sad. And she did not know what to do with those feelings.

She saw feelings all over. She saw them floating across rooms, rising from coffee cups, careening through traffic and bobbing up and down in hallways.

But her mommy didn’t see them.

And her mommy told her to be quiet and be a good girl.

And so she got a box and she shoved all the feelings into the box. One by one, she would put them in there and close the lid. It was tough work always running after them and chasing them and catching them and putting them away.

But she wanted so much to be a good girl, so she did it.

And then one day, walking home from school when she was eleven years old, her neighbor leaned out the window and told her that her dad had fallen out of his chair at work.

She was sure that he was fine, but he was at the hospital getting taken care of.

Only he wasn’t fine.

He had to have lots of surgeries and stay in the hospital for a very long, long time. She remembered going to visit him. And instead of the big, cherry Santa Claus type guy that he was supposed to be, he was this small, shriveled up guy hooked up to all these scary machines.

The feelings became very hard for Karen to keep in her box.

But her mom did. And so she did her best, too.

Later, she would find out that her mom cried every day coming home from the hospital. The toll drivers knew her because she was always crying, and they would ask how her husband was doing that day.

She would get all the tears out on the way home and then be okay when she got home so that she could be brave and show her children that everything was okay.

Only everything was not okay.

It took a couple of years, and Karen spent a lot of time with neighbors and friends feeling lonely, but finally her dad got better and came home.

With a funny pole that he was attached to and funny hospital gowns and not looking at all like Santa Claus.

But he was home and that was the important thing.

Only when he got better and looked more like himself, Karen’s mommy got mad.

It wasn’t fair everything he put her through.

She was tired.

Oh, so tired.

Of being strong and being there for him and crying by herself every day, and being left to raise two children on her own. And now he had lost his job from being in the hospital for so long, so now she had to get a better job and be the daddy.

Which left no one being a mommy.

And the little girl grew up never having that mommy feeling of being taken care of and washed and fed and wrapped up in a blankie and sat down next to and patted and hugged and told that it’s okay to have all of these feelings. We all do.

Her mommy was out busy being a daddy.

So she did her best to keep being a good girl and keep all of those feelings inside that little box.

Only the box was pretty worn by now with feelings sticking out all over. It was getting pretty ugly in that box with a lot of jostling and shoving and pushing and running over each other desperately looking for a way out.

And so Karen got a little mad. Because that is what her mommy had done.

It wasn’t fair. Any of it.

And she found out she could put down that heavy box of feelings that she was carrying around when she had a bit of wine, or a beer or two or a cigarette or kissed a boy.

And several years went by.

And she met her future husband.

And her future husband met her dad. He thought her dad was great and was looking forward to getting to know him as he did not know his daddy all that well since his dad lived in Pennsylvania, and he grew up in New Jersey with just his mommy.

And guess what, his mommy had to be a daddy too since his daddy wasn’t there, so guess who else was carrying around a box of feelings?

He was yet another lonely kid who let himself in after school and made himself a snack and figured out what to do until mommy/daddy came home.

And it seemed like a good idea that they could be lonely together.

But only four days after they got married, Karen’s daddy had to go to heaven.

And so she found herself that one day she was having a legal wedding in front of her mommy and daddy so that she could go with her new husband up to his new Air Force base in North Dakota. And the next day, she was so excited with everything she had to do. And the next day also.

And the next day, she went out to eat with her mommy and daddy and had chili and carelessly said goodbye.

Never knowing it really was a goodbye.

And so one week on Sunday, she was married.

And the next week on Sunday, she was at her daddy’s funeral.

And then she moved up to North Dakota, got a new job as salesperson which she was not very good at and tried to be a good wife.

But the box wasn‘t working so well.

One day after a movie, the world just went topsy-turvy, and she couldn’t breathe, and she knew for sure that she was dying, just like her dad had died.

Only when they went to the hospital, they told her nothing was wrong.

But she knew that was not true. Everything was wrong. Everything!!!!

She could not get through a day without crying. Sometimes, she could not get out of bed.

Just to get through the day became a huge struggle.

Just to pretend that she was normal like everyone else.

But her mommy taught her well to be strong and to paddle her own canoe.

So she did.

She read books and talked to people and made phone calls.

And figured out that this was an ‘anxiety disorder’ which was pretty much a fancy word for how hard it is to carry around a big box of feelings that never get properly looked at.

So she took a magic pill and with the help of the pill and some books, she put some duct tape on the holes in the ugly old box and went about her business of trying to look like everyone else.

She would worry about things.

And worry and worry and worry.

But she thought she did a pretty good job of looking like everyone else.

Because she saw that most of them had their own boxes too. And were pretending just like her.

So she thought fine, we will all pretend together.

Karen thought she could fit in and wake up and remember to breathe and put on clothes and do what she was supposed to be doing and wasn’t life grand and yea, she could do this.

Only she couldn’t.

And one day after having their second child and being oh so tired of both carrying around boxes full of feelings, Karen realized she could not do this anymore.

Her husband and her were passing around between their boxes’ very strong feelings – anger, guilt, blame, fear, and it was eating her up inside.

And she felt that with every day that passed, the part of her that was her, the “K – A – R – E – N” part got a little smaller and a little smaller and soon, with a little poof, it was just going to be gone.

And so she opened up the box just a little bit and said I can do this.

If you really want a divorce, fine, that is what we will do.

I can do this.

I can be a mommy/daddy because that is what my mommy was.

And she let her husband go.

And then it was just her.


Only she had two little boys looking up at her.

And the box was so oh very heavy.

And at night, she would sit in her mudroom with her legs curled up while her boys watched Thomas the Train or after they were asleep, and she would cry big fat tears while she drank four beers and smoked endless cigarettes so that she could possibly fall asleep with that big ugly fearful box next to her.

And she figured out that she did not want to be a ‘mommy/daddy‘.

Because who would be their mommy?

And she did not want her kids to carry around their own boxes.

And so she sent a Silent Prayer up to heaven. And he answered. Her Knight in clean, sparkly Shining Armor.

Karen did not have time to say for absolute surety that he was The One. But she needed to be saved, and he needed someone to take care of because he was very good at that.

And one little silent prayer between the two of them before they had a chance to think too much about it, came down from heaven in the form of a beautiful little girl.

And I am not sure that Karen nor her new husband knew exactly if it was working but they were both stubborn and hard workers and loved their children more than anything else and were willing to do anything, anything, anything for them.

And one little girl became a second girl.

Yes, Karen told her second husband’s Mommy, she knew how babies were made.

Babies were made from Love and Desire and Life Peeking out from underneath a rock and the willingness to Jump From that Cliff.


They both jumped.

And when she found herself at the bottom of the cliff, bruised and battered and torn and hurting, but alive, Alive! She looked around … and saw that she had been here before.

Oh my.

Everything she had gone through, to get right back to where she started.

Karen exploded.

She raged and raged and raged and raged. She shook her fist at God and the world and Life and her new husband and screamed out that it was not fair!

It was Not Fair.

And the policeman came and looked her into the eye and said, ‘You Need to do something with yourself. You need to deal with that Anger.’
And Karen knew what was underneath that anger … fear.

And she knew what was underneath that fear … sadness.

And she knew what was underneath that sadness … shame.

For everything she had done wrong and screwed up.

And the boxes that she was handing off to her children.

And she sat there feeling very small.

And cried. She cried streams and rivers and oceans of tears that stretched on forever and ever.

And when she was done crying, she looked down at that box that she had carried around for so long. And she opened it and let all of those feelings out and all of “K – A – R – E – N” out and said enough is enough. This is me and so be it, and I’ve made mistakes, and I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly imperfect at lots of things.

And Karen became okay with that.

And Karen learned how to watch each feeling floating up like a bubble on a summer’s day or a lightning strike during a storm or a snarl from a protective Mama Bear.

But how to just sit and watch it.

And then let it go its own way.

And her new husband and her children and her mother did not know what to do with this new Karen because mommy/wife/daughter was acting very weird and not at all like her usual self and what was going on? Who was this odd person?

But then her new husband found out that even though the new Karen was not exactly how he had pictured his wife to be and sometimes she frustrated him with her dirty feet and pretzel crumbs and open cabinets and mismatched outfits, he figured out beyond all that, underneath all of that, she really was quite an incredible lady, and he saw and really loved this person “K – A – R – E – N”.

And she figured out that even though he didn’t always know the right way to go about things, that underneath all that shiny armor was a brave, strong little boy who was willing to conquer the world for her, and she really loved that little boy.

And their children saw that by all means not all things were perfect and sometimes they had to do their best to fit round pegs in square holes, but their parents were there for them no matter what.

And their parents were there for each other no matter what.

And their parents were there for themselves no matter what.

And this left them room to figure out how to be there for themselves.

And “K – A – R – E – N” was happy.

And “K – A – R – E – N” went on to become a writer helping other people Mamas especially deal with their own boxes and write their name proudly.

Because none of us own the book, we’re all just borrowing them, but we still need to write our names in them proudly.

“K – A – R – E – N”

*  Art work by my daughter. ❤

**  Story prompted by Arna Baartz’s ‘I Am Change’ course – see more here:–course.html