I knew that you loved me since I knew what love was. You always took great care of me, showed interest, were available, warm, firm and encouraging. And I could tell that you were great parents as soon as I got to the age that my peers started complaining about their parents. I rarely had anything to add to those conversations. I loved you and respected you too, but I was of course ignorant of just how lopsided our relationship was.

Two months ago,  when Margo was born, this deep, strong glow of love and devotion gripped me, and I thought, “Oh my God, Mom and Dad felt like this about me!” It’s been a major shock to and reorganization of my emotional system, that all this time you have had this in your hearts for me. It’s been on my mind during every interaction with you since then.

It’s a sad, almost tragic, part of human life that children have to be ignorant of the intensity of their parent’s love. I suppose it might be too much to bear for us as children, especially if it came along with the knowledge of how much it takes to provide that safe and safe-feeling life. But we stay ignorant into adulthood until we have children of our own, long after we could handle that knowledge, long after we need it, really, to understand who we are and where we come from.

So almost forty-five years of ignorance precedes this letter.  Sorry about that! But mostly, thank you. I learned how to love from you, since the day I was born. Thanks for how deeply and effortlessly I love my daughter!


Fam of 3

Dad, Mom & me, 1971. Photo by Stan Zarakov

FullSizeRender (12)

Me & Margo, 2016. Photo by Reanna Alder

Day One

Dear Baby,

You don’t have a name yet but it’s looking like you will be Margo. Your mama has been liking Margo best for a couple of months now, though mostly calling you Hepsibah when you kicked from inside, or had hiccoughs. Your grandpa Papap likes Michelle (maybe he’ll sing you the Beatles song some day) and your cousin Oliver wants Rose, and actually called you Rose today a couple of times until his mama told him to stop. “But she’s so pretty and Rose is such a pretty name!’

It seems strange to name you. I know I’ll get used to calling you Margo, or whatever we name you, and that you will come to define that name for me in time, but right now, you are just you. It’s simple. And it makes me think that we become limited by our names. I think it takes a lot of work to get back to being simply you, the organism that lives and breathes, eats and shits, smiles and cries.

You are tiny and have a lot of black hair, for a baby. You are so cute that I cry whenever you smile and a lot of the rest of the time, too. I’ve seen it a bunch of times so I know it’s true, but it’s hard to believe that you will get even cuter as you chub up and develop more agency and social awareness.

You are calm and sleep a lot, so far. I’ve been carrying you almost all day in a skin-to-skin sling and you’ve been awake maybe 30 minutes. You wore your mama out last night, nursing and cuddling. She’s pretty beat up from giving birth to you, all sore and achy and tired. Wounded.

Being around you is letting me have new experiences of things I’ve become so used to, like gravity, the slightly out of tune sound of my piano, the sound of the mockingbird outside, the lines and colors of this new little house your mama made, the feeling of a breeze, the sound of wind. Beautiful.

Day Five

Dear Baby,

You are lying asleep on your Nana Honey’s chest in her living room. I am typing on the couch next to her as we talk about your name. It’s your middle and last names that are the hardest. Maybe your generation will have figured this stuff out by the time you have kids. Luckily, your mama is in charge of naming you, since you’re a girl. That was our deal.

This is your first real separation from your mama. She’s at the hospital right now, getting some help. We’re all hoping that she’s home soon, maybe before you wake up.

You are doing great, healthy, beautiful, strong. And very well loved. You met your uncle Cory this morning, and his girlfriend, Emma. They held you for the first time, and so did your uncle Sam and his girlfriend, Aly. Your grandma Nana Honey is holding you for the first time right now, for the last hour. They all love you like crazy. Me too. I love you like crazy.

Day Seven

Dear Margo,

I wish I’d had more time to write. So many precious moments with you and your mama that now I won’t remember and so you’ll never hear about them.

Your mama is having a tough time. She’s been in a lot of pain from some complications. She went to the doctor again yesterday.

So you had your first two attachment ruptures, as we call them in my profession, and oh, were they heartbreaking for you and me. Your uncle Ben and auntie Beca work in the ER and hospital and told us it’s crazy to bring a healthy baby in there, just don’t do it. So you stayed home with me both times, and it was rough. The first time was about three hours, and you slept for the first hour and a half, on your nana’s chest. Then you woke and wanted, needed, to nurse. You did swallow some of the pumped breast milk we had but that was not comforting at all. You just cried “Ngaaaaaaaaa, shudder, ngaaaaaaaaaaa!” over and over. I feel so sad thinking about it. We held you and made you as comfortable as possible, but that was not enough. Eventually I put you in our skin-to-skin sling and danced some Charleston and Lindy with you and you fell asleep pretty quick.

That was two days ago. Yesterday went a little better. Your mama was gone almost as long, but I fed you the pumped milk before you got upset, so you ate more. I’m learning your words and understand “hungry” and “going to poop” (which sound like “ngaa” and little grunts, respectively) but it’s quite clear that “hungry” really means “I need milk from my mama’s breast with her skin and heartbeat and loving arms, not a finger to suck on and not milk from a spoon.” You like my skin and heartbeat and loving arms, too, and my singing, and the lullaby I play you on the piano, but not to satisfy “Ngaaaa!” The sling and dancing were helpful, nice and snug against my skin, with Charleston pulse, and you fell asleep a little while before your mama got back.

Despite her pain and those ruptures, you and your mama are bonding great. She loves you so much and cries about it every time she tells me. When she’s in pain and needs help, the thing that helps her the most is remembering a time in Florida, when she was swimming in the ocean with you in her belly and became overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment and her love for you. I remember her coming back to our apartment and telling me about it and bursting into tears, saying “This baby is with me, and will stay with me, and we’re going to get to swim in the ocean together and I’m just so happy…”

I’m so in love with you. I love every little wiggle and expression. I see your face when I close my eyes. It is obvious to me that you are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened in this world, even when you look like a tiny and disgruntled fat man with hiccoughs, which you do sometimes. Yesterday I had to go to Walmart for some iodine. I dislike that place intensely. It’s so ugly and depressing. I tried three other places first but no one else had it. But I walked into Walmart, bracing myself for the ugliness, and thought, “I have a baby daughter at home!” and proceeded to find and buy my iodine with a light heart and a spring in my step.

There is so much more to tell you, but I need to make your mama breakfast.



Day Nine

Dear Margo,

I’m tired for days and your mama is more tired. We have a lot of help available from our families but I’ve been mostly keeping them away so she doesn’t get worn out by social activity. It’s the people you love the most it’s hardest to send away so you can nap. It looks like she’s going to be OK, though. We’re all sure of that now.

Right now you and your mama are napping. Your grandpa and grandma are helping out in the house, putting up blinds, doing laundry—you generate 2-3 loads of laundry a day, which is mind-boggling. I’m trying to work out how to get that laundry water onto trees instead of into the septic as soon as possible. I’m taking a break right now, down in the cabin which used to be our bedroom and which you will likely remember as your mama’s sewing studio. It’s 102 degrees outside, a real late-spring heat wave.

You can almost roll over already. You can get right on to your side. I think that’s remarkable. I’d like to look up developmental milestones and see.

I’m thinking about how if you ever read this letter, it will be as an adult. If you are my age by the time you read it, I will either be dead or have lost most of my memories. In any case, our relationship will have become at least to some degree, though against my sincere wishes, complicated by life, compromises, confusions, resentments. It’s not that I don’t expect a good, solid, loving relationship with you, but I’ve seen life happen, and it gets complicated.

I want you to know and believe to the bottom of your heart that whatever complications we have developed, that it is not your fault, that you were born purely good, purely lovable. Right now, at least up until your ninth day on earth, that is so clear to me, and my love for you, my care for you, my devotion to you, is complete, easy, and uncomplicated. It is only my own limits and the limits of this place we find ourselves that can mess that up. I wish we could both remember this until we die.



FullSizeRender (9)

Another psychometrically-produced typology of love is John Lee’s “colors of love.” Like Sternberg, Lee found three primary styles of love, or “primary colors,” which Lee called eros, ludus, and storge. He found that these styles combined to form three secondary styles or colors, for six love styles total:

Erotic love: Immediate, powerful, exclusive, preoccupying, sexual

Ludic love: Love as entertainment, for pleasure rather than for bonding, commitment-phobic

Storgic love: Stable, not intense, based on bond and shared interests

Pragmatic love: A combination of storgic and ludic love, which Lee called “shopping for a suitable mate.”

Manic love: A combination of erotic and ludic love, obsessive, jealous, self-defeating

Agapic love: A combination of erotic and storgic love, unconditional devotion, difficult to maintain

Here’s a visual of the typology I stole from

Before the mid-20th century, typologies of love were works of philosophy, ethics, introspection, and intuition. In the 1980s, Robert Sternberg produced a typology of love psychometrically, meaning he asked people about their experiences and used factor analysis to determine which experiences tended to co-occur. He came up with a three-factor model of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy is stuff like warmth, closeness, and bondedness. Passion is stuff like romance, physical attraction, and sex. Commitment is the decisions involved in maintaining love over time. By combining those factors, he came up with the following typology:

Relationship Type Intimacy Passion Commitment
Nonlove Low Low Low
Liking High Low Low
Infatuation Low High Low
Empty Love Low Low High
Romantic Love High High Low
Companionate Love High Low High
Fatuous Love Low High High
Consummate Love High High High

Here’s a typical triangular image of the system:

Family therapy got started when the grandparents of the field, interested in cybernetics–the science of self-regulating systems–started studying communication in families. Some of the more interesting ideas they came up with were the three progressively more problematic kinds of contradiction. This is a summary of Virginia Satir’s version of those contradictions, from Conjoint Family Therapy:

Simple contradiction: This is when a person says two things that contradict each other straightforwardly, as when someone might say, “I love you but I don’t love you.” This kind of contradiction consists of assertions that are incompatible, but at least out in the open, in an easily decodable way. That means that the receiver of the message can easily comment on the contradiction, saying “I don’t understand what you mean. You didn’t make sense to me just then.”

Paradoxical (or incongruent) communication: A paradox is a special kind of contradiction, where the incompatible statements exist on different “logical levels.” That is, one of the statements is part of the context of the other statement. These are significantly more difficult to decode and comment on. The two logical levels in human communication are usually verbal and non-verbal behavior, where the non-verbal behavior is the context for the verbal. For example (from p.83) “A says, ‘I hate you,’ and smiles.” If A had said “I hate you” with an angry look on their face, that would be congruent, but what does “I hate you” mean in the context of a smile? This is more confusing than the simple contradiction, both because it is more difficult to track the two levels of communication simultaneously, and because we have unspoken social norms against commenting about how someone is speaking. Consequently, it takes more awareness and bravery to question the speaker’s intent when they present you with this kind of contradictory communication. (Satir calls paradoxical communication “incongruent communication.”) Being able to metacommunicate, or comment on the communication going on, is the major tool of the psychotherapist. We don’t usually know it, but this skill is the main thing we go to therapists for.

The double bind: The double bind is a special kind of paradoxical communication that was first laid out in Watzlawick and colleagues’ Pragmatics of Human Communication. A double bind is a paradox with two additional rules, giving four total requirements:

1) A verbal statement

2) A contradictory non-verbal context

3) A rule that you are not allowed to metacommunicate

4) A rule that you are not allowed to leave the field

This happens to people all the time. Children, especially, mercilessly, unconsciously, are put in this position a lot because they are not in a position to leave their parents “field.” They are completely subject to their parents on every level.

Here’s an example: A parent, obviously stressed out, tense, and in pain for whatever reason, says to their child, “I love you.” This puts the child into a double bind, because the statement is contradicted by the “I don’t love you” expressed by the parents’ body language and facial expression. That’s 1) and 2). Third is that the child can’t comment on the contradiction because they don’t have the tools, and even if they did, and said something like, “Mom, I hear you saying that you love me but it doesn’t really seem like you love me right now. It seems like you’re having other feelings,” the child would almost certainly be punished in some way for being insubordinate, for questioning the parent’s love, for questioning the parent’s word, for making the parent feel uncomfortable. Fourth is that the child is not allowed to leave the field. That is, even if they had the communication tools, the awareness, and the bravery, they have no where else to go if they are rejected by the parent. Their lives are dependent on the love and support of the parent. They are stuck in the field. To cope, they “learn” one or both of the following:

I am not lovable. My parent knows this, and I have figured it out, but at least they are pretending that they love me, which keeps me alive, so I’ll go along with the pretense that they love me.

I may be lovable, but love feels awful. Still, it’s the best thing available.

Then the child grows up and, having their own children, perpetuate the process, being a pretending-to-be-lovable parent with awful-feeling love to give to the next generation. Not only that, but they develop adaptations to this way of living that look like DSM-diagnosable Mental Disorder conditions.

Metacommunication and congruent communication: Notice that metacommunication is the key out of all of these situations. In the case of a true double bind, you might need the help of someone else’s (a therapist’s or friend’s) metacommunication, but metacommunication is still the key. Someone needs to stand up and say, “I’m confused! Can we slow down here and talk about what we’re talking about? What can you say to me right now that your body language and facial expression will agree with?”

My mother, Darlene Lester, is an amazing woman. I am lucky to be her son. Someday I will write a more eloquent post about that. Tonight I’ll just show you a couple things. First is a note that I wrote her when I was about four:

This note says a lot about my mom. First, she had taught me how to write letters by the age of four, which I think is unusual. I can still remember her teaching me to write “N.” (The secret, by the way, is to remember the phrase “Up, down, up.” That’s how she taught me.) The second is the story of the note. (This is as I recall you telling me, Mom–correct me if I’m wrong) I asked her to tell me what letter made each sound over quite a long period of time, maybe an hour or two, as I painstakingly sounded out my message. She was so available and patient with me! Third, the note says, translated, “I would like some orange juice. Signed Nathen.” I handed her the note when I was done with it, probably translating it for her, too. I was asking for orange juice, which was about the closest thing I ever had to candy until I was about nine years old. Mostly I was eating from my mom’s garden, goats, chickens, and the whole-foods co-op my mom helped run back in the 1970s in Joshua Tree. Fourth, my mom kept this note for thirty years. She gave it to me a few years ago and told me the story, still so delighted and proud that she had gotten to be with me, to spend so much time with me as a kid. My mom loves her sons so whole-heartedly! It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be one of them.

Here’s a photo of us from about that time.

Nathen, Darlene, mid-1970s

Happy Mothers Day, Mom!

If you’re in grad school or going to start soon, consider getting engaged to an amazing woman. I have had the good fortune to do that, and believe me you won’t regret it. I could (and maybe will at some point) write long into the night about the qualities that I am talking about, but for now I’ll just focus on one telling detail.

In graduate school, you do a lot of reading. Many, many, many hours and hours of reading. Few people do all the reading that they are assigned in a grad program. The eyes and attention can’t take it. I have the advantage of being engaged to Reanna. She reads a chunk of my assigned reading to me each term. Understand that this is mostly dry, academic stuff, interesting if you really want to be a family therapist, but otherwise only tolerable if you are extremely intelligent, curious, and dedicated. Understand also that she doesn’t even get social time with me out of it. I live in Oregon and she lives in British Columbia. She reads my assignments into a voice recorder and emails the files to me. I get to do the dishes or whatever while hearing her voice and getting reading done. She gets to sit in front of a computer screen, reading. (Well, she does get to criticize the bad writing, of which there is plenty, but that’s not much of a payoff, especially for a professional editor.)

She also reads relevant books that she finds that I have not been assigned. How cool is that? I’m going to have a term on Susan Johnson’s emotionally-focused couples therapy next fall, and she’s already read me Johnson’s popularization, Hold Me Tight.

Here is a partial list of what she’s read, from my iTunes. Some of the times didn’t copy out (Open Office couldn’t recognize them, apparently, and made them into times of day), but take my word for it, this is about 50 hours of reading.

A Walk Down the Aisle – Prologue Kate Cohen 17:05
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 1 Kate Cohen 22:06
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 10 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 23:01
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 11 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 16:11
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 12 – ch 8 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 43:12:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 13 – ch 9 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 30:41:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 14a – ch 9 Kate Cohen 7:32
A Walk down the Aisle – Pt 14b – ch 9 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 1:28
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 15 – ch 10 Kate Cohen 1:26
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 16 – ch 10 Kate Cohen 1:47
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 17 – ch 10 Reanna A Walk Down the Aisle 29:18:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 2 Kate Cohen 10:18
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 3 Kate Cohen 10:25
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 4 Kate Cohen 41:25:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 5 Kate Cohen 7:51
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 6 Kate Cohen 12:49
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 7 Kate Cohen 11:07
A Walk Down the Aisle – Pt 7 Kate Cohen 10:24
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 8 Kate Cohen 45:32:00
A Walk Down the Aisle – pt 9 Kate Cohen 1:08:43
Pt 1 – Chapter 3 – Emotional Responsiveness Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 34:40:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 1 – Recognizing the Demon Dialogue Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 41:25:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 2 – Finding the Raw Spots Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 35:02:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 6 – Bonding through Sex & Touch Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 47:05:00
Pt 2 – Conversation 7 – Keeping the Love Alive Dr. Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight 23:59
Chapter 1, Part 1 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:06:00 PM
Chapter 1, Part 2 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 07:21:00 AM
Chapter 1, Part 3 Why Don’t Zebra’s Get Ulcers, ch1 Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:10:00 PM
Children’s Attachment Relationships Phillis Booth Reading Aloud to Nathen 30:05:00
Circle of Security – Terminology CoS Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:46:00 PM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 2) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 03:52:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 3) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 08:07:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 4) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 04:13:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (pt 5) Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 09:02:00 AM
Committed Ch 5 (Pt 7) – Marriage and Women Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 06:22:00 PM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 1) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 10:21:00 AM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 2) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 42:02:00
Committed Ch 7 (pt 3) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 05:21:00 PM
Committed Ch 7 (pt 4) – Marriage and Subversion Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 12:34:00 PM
Committed Ch 8 – Marriage and Ceremony Elizabeth Gilbert Committed 08:25:00 PM
Committed: Ch 1 Marriage and Surprises Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 50:31:00
Committed: Ch 2 (pt. 1) Marriage and Expectation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 35:17:00
Committed: Ch 2 (pt. 2) Marriage and Expectation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:50:00 PM
Committed: Ch 3 (pt. 1) Marriage and History Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:05:07 AM
Committed: Ch 3 (pt. 2) Marriage and History Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:38:00 PM
Committed: Ch 4 (pt 1) Marriage and Infatuation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:34:14 AM
Committed: Ch 4 (pt 2) Marriage and Infatuation Elizabeth Gilbert Reading Aloud to Nathen 07:37:00 PM
Death on a horse’s back Robert J Barrett Reading Aloud to Nathen 168:00:00
Dharma Punx Noah Levine Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:33:00 PM
The End of Innocence 1 Dusty Miller Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:45:00 AM
The End of Innocence 2 Dusty Miller Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:08:00
Family Process // The Language of Becoming Ellen Wachtel Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:04:24 AM
Feminism & Family Therapy 1 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 34:43:00
Feminism & Family Therapy 2 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 01:03:00 AM
Feminism & Family Therapy 3 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 28:33:00
Feminism & Family Therapy 4 Virginia Goldner, PhD Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:49:00 AM
Fixed (New Yorker) Jill Lapore Reading Aloud to Nathen 32:04:00
Impact on Family Therapist of a focus on death, dying Becvar Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:41:00 PM
Impact, pt 2 Becvar Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:59:00 PM
Introduction, 1 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:36:00 AM
Introduction, 2 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 04:32:00 AM
Introduction, 3 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:34:00 AM
Introduction, 4 Appetites Reading Aloud to Nathen 37:26:00
The last time I wore a dress – CH 11 Daphne Scholinski Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:28:00 PM
The Last Time I wore a dress – Ch 12 Daphne Scholinski Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:52:00
The Lobotomist Jack El-Hai Reading Aloud to Nathen 24:06:00
Marry Me St. Vincent Marry Me 04:41:00 AM
Minnie Mouse and Gunfire, Lucky Child Luong Ung Reading Aloud to Nathen 29:49:00
My Angel Rocks Back and Forth Four Tet Rounds 05:07:00 AM
My Lobotomy Howard Dully Reading Aloud to Nathen 32:41:00
Paris is the cruelest month Alan Alda Reading Aloud to Nathen 09:32:00 PM
Passionate Marriage David Schnarch Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:45:00
Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel Reading Aloud to Nathen 42:05:00
Real Weddings Media Hill Publication Reading Aloud to Nathen 06:44:00 AM
Running With Scissors Augustin Burroughs Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:30:00
Solution Focused Therapy – A Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 10:01:00 PM
Solution Focused Therapy – B Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 12:49:00 AM
Solution Focused Therapy – C Molnar & Shazer 1987 Reading Aloud to Nathen 05:39:00 AM
Stubborn Twig Lauren Kessler Reading Aloud to Nathen 52:15:00
Sybil, CH 7 Flora Rheta Schrieber Reading Aloud to Nathen 37:47:00
Truth Telling Candib Reading Aloud to Nathen 39:31:00
Truth Telling, pt 2 Candib Reading Aloud to Nathen 08:22:00 PM
Understanding the Rainforest Mind Paula Prober Reading Aloud to Nathen 09:36:00 PM
An Unquiet Mind Kay Jamison Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:33:00
The Voices of Children – 1 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 04:45:00 AM
The Voices of Children – 2 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 03:06:00 PM
The Voices of Children – 3 Sandra Stith Reading Aloud to Nathen 36:03:00
Where is the Mango Princess Cathy Crimmins Reading Aloud to Nathen 30:07:00
You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes Laura Love Reading Aloud to Nathen 38:06:00

My friend Grace is flying to Ethiopia today to meet her adopted son, Yared, for the first time. What a journey to make! My thoughts are with her. Last Sunday I was at her baby shower, a moving ritual arranged by our friend, Kyla. There were lots of flowers and food, but instead of presents, we each brought a story–something we loved about how our parents were with us. We told them to Grace and wrote them down for a book for her to keep. It was lovely. I cried, off and on, hearing all of those beautiful, funny, endearing stories. Here’s what I wrote:

Hi Grace. Off the top of my head, I love how my parents sang a lot. My mom sang around the house, washing dishes or whatever, whatever song was in her head. I remember her singing the Oompaloompa song from the other room after we’d recently watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember thinking that she sounded so good–just right. My dad sang to us every night at bedtime. He’d come up  to me and Ely’s room after we were tucked in and sing us a few songs with his guitar. I had no idea how special that was–it was just something that happened, but it’s such a warm memory now. They were usually the same songs but I never got tired of them. One of them was Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Pony Man.” That was my favorite. One was “I Been Working on the Railroad.” He also sang an odd little song I’ve never heard anywhere else that went “What do you do in a case like that?/What do you do but stamp on your hat?/And your nail file and your toothbrush/And anything else that’s helpless.” Hilarious!

But writing about my bedtime made me think of a larger story about how I was parented. My days and weeks–my life–as a kid were punctuated with so many fun, comforting rituals. Bedtime was the best. My dad’s singing was the last part of a great time. My mom read to us from a chapter book every night. I could count on it. I could anticipate it with total safety. I loved it. And yes, sometimes I cried when she was ready to stop, because I wasn’t ready for her to stop, but I also looked forward to it the next night. We brushed our teeth together in our tiny bathroom, and my dad would call out the checklist of things we might need to do before bed, “OK, pee, poop, throw up, brush your teeth, go to bed,” and then, while brushing, the dental geography, “Bottoms of the tops, tops of the bottoms….” My mom would tuck us in, and gave us our choice of a back or head scratch.

That was just bedtime. We ate all of our meals together as a family. Each kind of meal had its own ritual. My dad’s dishes all had names that he announced with triumph: “Lentissimo Magnifico!” was one of his lentil dishes. He could be counted on (and still can, now that I think of it) to remind us that broccoli were miniature trees and that beans were miniature potatoes. On Saturday mornings we baked bread and Saturday nights we ate pizza on the homemade pizza crusts. On Sunday mornings we had pancakes. Every two weeks we’d all go out to the local dairy and watch the cows get milked. My parents bought the milk before they pasteurized it. We’d sit around the living room, shaking quart jars of fresh, whole milk until it separated. We made butter from the cream and (usually chocolate, s0metimes tapioca) pudding from the whey. We had regular nights with foot rides or crazy eights or The Muppet Show. There were great wrestling matches, the brothers against my dad. We’d apparently pin him every once in a while and he’d say “Now any normal person wouldn’t be able to move right now…” and that meant we were about to get (gently) tossed around the room.

I think I was an extra-sensitive kid, so maybe I was a special case–I mean, I don’t know that this will apply to Yared–but I’m so grateful to my parents for all of the regular, predictable, fun, comforting moments. They created structure for my days, gave me things to look forward to, cushioned the blows when things didn’t go my way. They also created a culture for the family: This is what life is like for us. This is what it feels like to be a Lester. There were exciting times, too, of course.  Like ice cream once a year or so. Or Disneyland, or relatives visiting. Or the couple times that we moved. That kind of stuff made vivid memories, being so rare, but it is the predictable stuff that I feel so warmly about.

As I’m thinking about all that, too, I’m reminded of the communication theory I’ve been learning in my Couples and Family Therapy program. In it, human communication exists on two levels. One is the obvious, content level–what the words mean. The other is a higher level communication, a non-verbal assertion about the nature of the relationship. The non-verbal sets the context for all of the other communication, colors it. One thing about non-verbal communication is that there’s no negative term. You can’t say, for example, “I will not hurt you” with non-verbal behavior. All you can do is put yourself in a position where you could hurt someone, and then not do it. One book, Pragmatics of Human Communication uses the image of an animal communicating to another that it will not hurt them by taking their throat in its jaws and not biting down. It seems like being a parent (and maybe part of any relationship) is to be constantly in that position. It seems to me that love is like that. The words “I love you” do not convey love by themselves. I appreciate so much how my parents showed me their love–rather than telling me about it–in all of these little, regular, predictable ways, making me feel comfortable and cared for, giving me a safe physical and emotional space to explore myself and the world in.



Reanna and I got engaged on January 3, 2010. I’m so happy!

Here are a couple of photos (taken by Maya) from our recent trip to Joshua Tree. Reanna made the quilt in the second photograph. It was my Christmas present.

Gussied Up

In Quilt

I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Reanna, and she loves me back. I’m very happy. In my honest and totally objective opinion, she is about the best person ever. She is very, very smart, creative, brave, athletic, adventurous, loving, beautiful, sexy, and fun. She’s a great writer, rock climber, and conversation partner. Her family is amazing. She laughs at my jokes. She loves to dance with me. She loves how sensitive I am.

Unfortunately for us, we will live 425.6 miles apart for the next two years. We’re working out how to do that sustainably. I think we can.

Here are some photos and a video of us during our last few minutes together for nearly three months. We were trying out different facial expressions.

















The video below was impromptu, and is, in Reanna’s (totally objective) words, “sick cute,” so watch at your own risk if you can’t hack that kind of thing. I wrote for YouTube, “Our last few minutes together for three months. ‘I love you.’ Gratuitous kissing. She stabs me in the eye with her glasses. Not for the faint of heart.”