JEN'S ZEN ~ Rebirth

Hello! I’ve missed you.

Strange times as we begin here again at JEN’S ZEN ~ Rebirth.

Like you, I’ve read too many political posts on Facebook. I’ve watched Trump give his acceptance speech, listened as Hillary spoke her concession. I’ve heard President Obama and the call to unify: the time is now (right after the anti-Trump rallies end) to come together. I get it. We all get it. Win, lose or in-between, emotions are running high, and many are fearful over the great divide that is currently the United States of America.

One needs only to be human

to feel the current mood of our nation.

When I chose Nov. 15, 2016, as the day to launch Feel These Words and bring back JEN’S ZEN, I knew we would begin again in the aftermath of the election, but I simply could not prepare for how these days right here would feel. I didn’t know exactly what would be happening in our homes as this blog came to begin again, the conversations we’d be having with our children.

I had planned to simply welcome you back, and give a special shout to those of you who’ve been with JEN’S ZEN since the beginning, since Great Lakes Bay Moms and “Shadow Work.” I wanted to tell you that Great Lakes Bay Moms, a group of dynamic women behind a regional parenting website, has scaled back efforts greatly and no longer runs articles or JEN’S ZEN. How it happened quickly and peacefully, and how the group was ultimately run by moms (who carpool, clean, load and unload laundry, change diapers and nurture while attending playdates, moving out of state, birthing babies) who needed to take a step back.

I wanted to explain to you that, as a freelance writer, I originally wrote JEN’S ZEN for Great Lakes Bay Moms, a writing assignment like many I take on in my profession. How I met the Great Lakes Bay Moms on assignment, actually, and wrote an article about them for a magazine. How I found myself enamored with their intentions, and joined them and their efforts. And how, at a meeting in 2013, I blurted out, “I feel like we need to offer something more [than a family-friendly event calendar], something personal …”

And JEN’S ZEN was born, though I had no idea at the time

that this blog would come to become

something very personal to me.

I wanted to share with you how grateful I’ve always been for your comments, shares and beautiful understanding. Creating a platform for parents was intended; the magic of resonating with all of you couldn’t have been planned. And I wanted to thank you. Writing JEN’S ZEN to and with you has reminded me, time and again, that this concrete-hard thing called Parenting is raw and real. And universal.

Considering that much regarding JEN’S ZEN has been unplanned by me, I’m going to tell you that rebirthing this parental platform into our current election-sick times was not necessarily planned, either. And yet, I couldn’t be more grateful than I am at this very moment to be writing from the ground zero of Parenting again. Trying to muck through the mush in our minds, searching for something (anything) steady, JEN’S ZEN has offered me this, yet again. I sincerely hope it will for you as well.

At a time when common ground seems eerily scarce, this blog is coming full circle and beginning again on the same premise it began years ago: here in JEN’S ZEN, we are the same. Our nation may be reeling through differences and division, and you may have danced happily at Trump’s acceptance speech or sobbed during Hillary’s concession.

But here in JEN’S ZEN,

we drop all roles except one.

Here, you are a Parent.

Whether you go to work in pencil skirts or utility boots, suit coats or overalls, and whether you break glass ceilings or install glass windows — here, you come home to kids.

Here, you hold little hands of those who depend on you to guide.

Here, you look teenagers in the eyes and attempt to inspire truth and trust.    

Here, you answer tough questions, pave way for dreams, and whether you’re black, white, purple, poor, rich, gay, straight, vegan, Christian, Buddhist, all or none, you try your hardest to provide for your little ones in the best way that you know how.

It’s here, Parents, where noise is familiar and hard decisions are daily life, that we meet again in JEN’S ZEN. With and through — not regardless of — our differences, we’ll be doing what we all do.

Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting … 10, 9, 8, 7. Breathe.


GRATITUDE GIVEBACK: In honor of officially launching Feel These Words, I sought out nonprofit organizations via "10 Days to Launch: FTW" on Facebook who were interested in receiving a free writing service. Thank you to those who messaged and mentioned, and I will keep you posted on the future project with Hospital Hospitality House of Saginaw!

JEN’S ZEN – Shadow Work

Many moons ago, I worked in a restaurant with a manager who … noticed. 

If you were stocking salads, or prepping silverware or doing some little, behind-the-scenes job, he’d yell out across the back of the restaurant, “I see your work! I’m seein’ what your doin’! I see your work!”

These days, no one…notices. 

No one calls out across my home, “I see your work, Mom! I’m seein’ what your doin’, Mom!” 

I’ve come to call it Shadow Work, and I know you’re busy doing Shadow Work, too, because you’re a Parent, tackling the millions of details we juggle that never get acknowledged. But if we suddenly stopped doing them – ooh, our worlds would no longer work. Shadow Work.

It’s the shoes we move from in front of the door so no one trips. The bills we finagle so our children can go to this event or do that activity, the curfews we set because we care (and the attitudes we buffer for doing so).

It’s the two-step dishwashing dance – clean, use, clean, use – and the dentist
appointments we create.

The birthday parties we attend, and the presents we purchase and pretty to get them there. 

The playdates, the sleepovers. 

The bathroom counter wiped down continuously, the refrigerators stocked and the coupons we clip to ensure it. Unseen. Unnoticed. Shadow Work.

And sometimes, Shadow Work even looks like this: A friend of mine spotted her son looking forlorn and tired, standing by his father. She said to me, “Oh, why doesn’t he just pick him up? He just wants his daddy.” Mid-conversation, she got up and bee-lined to her husband and son. 

I knew what she was going to do
before she even got up. 
(So do you.)

Gently, she nudged her husband and made sure her son got what he needed in that moment … to be held and comforted by his daddy. Behind the scenes. Shadow Work. 

We spend our lives overseeing these matters and tackling these details, largely unseen. And it hit me one day that this thankless, merciless, unnoticed, behind-the-scenes work of parenting deserves a title. It deserves to be recognized, even if only by oneself.

So listen closely, Parents. For the days you forget all that you actually do or fail to recognize the importance of the Shadow Work you oversee in your own life…

I see your work. I’m seein’ what your doin’. I see your work.


— Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe ...

JEN’S ZEN – Sh*t

Can we be real for a minute? I mean, real?

You see, my grandma used to say that she had no use for “a person who can’t say ‘shit’ when they have a mouthful.” You know these people? We all know these people. They run around acting like they’ve got sunshine straight beaming from every aspect of their lives. Everything is always “Great!” in their lives. No problems there. 



Sometimes you just have to say shit, when you have a mouthful.

Sometimes, life hands out just plain old…shit. You didn’t get that job. Shit. You were passed up for that promotion, too. Ain’t that some shit? You can’t stand your shitty-ass co-workers, or your shithead boss, or your job that pays-for-shit, anyway. Shitty shit, sometimes.

And sometimes. Well. Your kids aggravate the shit out of you. 

True shit. 

They get into your shit, break your shit, interrupt your shit, make you feel like you’re losing your shit. That shit can get overwhelming! 

And sometimes…shit just isn’t going right with your partner either. You know that kind of shit? Can’t communicate and shit. He-doesn’t-do-enough shit. Shit-hit-the-fan shit. He’s flat-out being a shit. (Or she is. Dads, I see you, too.) I know you know that kind of shit. Marriage and shit…

And let’s not even talk about money, or time. Because we all know there’s never enough of that shit.

I’m with my grandma on this, though. The worst kind of shit is the pretending – to your friends or to yourself -- that you never experience any real shit. The person who can’t say shit, when they have a mouthful. 

Because when you’re up to your eyeballs in shit, and you can’t quite get a handle on it…you have to be able to face that shit. Recognize that shit. See that you’re dealing with some shit, and know that shit will pass – it’s just some shit you’re going through that minute, that day, that shitty time in your life. And remember: You’re not alone. 

Everybody has some shit. 

Everybody. (That’s some real shit, right there. You don’t see that shit on Fakebook. But you know…it’s there. No shit.) 

And I sure-as-shit hope you have
the friends that you need to help you
get through your shit.

The friends that go deeper than shootin’ the shit, who’ll get right into your shit with, “So how’s shit really going?” The friends that you can vent all your shit to, who won’t tell you to get a divorce and shit, or see a therapist and shit, or change your whole life and shit. Nah – just listen to your shit. A friend that will be there through your shit, and love you no matter what kind of shit you’re in. 

Be grateful for that shit. Real friends, that’s some good shit right there. When you can laugh together about all life’s shit.

Because you know, chances are…

Your partner will give you that shit-grin, 
and you’ll make up and shit.

And your kids? You know without a doubt that your life wouldn’t mean shit without them. 

And sometimes, life is “the shit”, too, right? Sometimes life is so smooth and beautiful that you can’t believe how lucky you are to be part of that shit! Don’t we all love the shit out of that shit?

But, other times.

You just have to say shit, when you have a mouthful. 


— Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe …

JEN’S ZEN – Rich

Driving to school the other morning, we passed a new shop opening in Old Town Saginaw. 

The owner is a youngin’ of about 22, good friends with my little brother, venturing into business in a unique and somewhat lost trade. He is a cobbler, by definition: one who mends or makes boots and shoes. I’ve talked with him, heard his passion for working with leather, listened to what he hopes to achieve.

My ten-year-old, excited at driving by his new shop, said, “Is he going to be rich?”

Will he be Daddy Warbucks-rich, she was asking, MTV- and Hollywood-rich?

Rich …


I thought of a family at her school, a family lead by a husband-and-wife team of doctors who my children explain live in a mansion (though they say maaaaaansion). I’ve never been to their home, nor have my children – we are not close, though I gather enough about them, and their humility, that they would probably be embarrassed at their home being described as so. Yet, I thought of them, and the fact that they have left an extremely rich impression upon me…though not related to material wealth. 

At a birthday party recently, a man keeled over. As a worker exclaimed, “Call 911!” these two doctors left their daughter’s birthday party and went directly to the man…and saved his life. They brought a man who was dead – no pulse, not breathing – back to life

Actually, on a regular basis, they save lives, 

a richness that finances or luxury items rather pale in comparison to.

I thought of a husband and wife couple I know, who, too, live in a mansion. And while fancy cars, never-ending shopping sprees, and silver platters are certainly this wife’s way of life, she talked one day about her greatest fantasy. 

She pretends in her mind that while she’s doing the dishes,
her husband simply comes up behind her

and holds her, gives her a hug.

The emptiness, a loveless marriage – or perhaps worse, a one-sided marriage – is the truth she bears. That with all of her riches, she simply cannot buy…love. 

I thought of a young woman I saw, waiting in line at a bus stop in one of our recent sub-zero winter mornings. Reliant on public transportation, standing and freezing for lack of a vehicle, she could certainly be deemed poor. And yet, cuddled-in and zipped right inside of her coat, in the warmest place that mama could provide, was her baby. As I drove by, the woman was rocking back and forth, kissing her sweet bundle’s little hatted head, and I thought of how she held the very thing another woman I know has spent literally thousands to have, yet in vitro offers nothing but barrenness, time and again. 

I thought about a woman who writes a devastatingly truthful and beautiful blog, Mundane Faithfulness, whose recent post described the hospital bed arriving, signaling yet another corner she’s turned as she approaches death from cancer. This young wife and mother of four wrote two books, “the hardest peace” and “Big Love”. Yet, what she talks and writes about missing the most when she is gone…is hardly the royalties from her books, or the box she lives in, or her car. 

She is saying goodbye to the rich, rich life she is leaving, the downy heads of her small children, the warmth of rolling into her husband’s place in bed after he gets up to make their morning coffee. 

Rich is simply not black and white when you’re no longer 10.

I thought about…

“Mom!” My daughter was staring at me, her eyes imploring me to answer her question about the cobbler.

“Will he be rich?”

“It’s hard to say, babe. I don’t know the financial situation behind the cobbler trade, so if you mean rich in finances, I do not know. I doubt he’ll have paychecks like a brain surgeon or a lawyer, I suppose. But you know, going into business for himself in a trade he has chosen based on his passion, with a lifetime ahead of him to hone his trade, further his craft, continue his artistry…to show up daily to a business he’s built, spending his days doing something he loves…I’d say he certainly has a fair shot at being happy.”

“At being rich?”

“Yes, I suppose, at being … rich.”

"Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe…"

JEN’S ZEN – Hustlin’

It’s official. We’re entering the holidays – the most beautiful time of the year. 

And it really is SO beautiful. The white snow, the twinkling lights, sledding and hot cocoa and rosy cheeks and the wonderment of children on Christmas Eve and the magic of Santa Claus! The season of merry and bright. And beauty. 

Yet, behind the merriment of it all.

Here we are, Parents, trying to
“make a dollar outta 15 cents”
like Shock G and Tupac.

We’re trying to somehow create the explosion of presents under our trees that our children so dearly want, trying to figure out how we’ll pull this all together while we struggle to pay our rising utility bills. 

You feel me? I feel you.

Listen. You got this. You’ll find a way, and you will create memory-worthy holidays. 

Because you, Parent, are a Hustler.

You’re no stranger to the game. I see you selling your consignment to Once Upon A Child and slangin’ at the mom-to-mom sales … deciding which bill gets paid, and which ones wait … running carpools and clipping coupons and transferring debts to zero percent. 

The holidays just up the ante
in the game of Life you’re already playing.

And you, Hustler, come from a long line of hustlers before you.

My great-grandmother used to save onion peels all year long. Come Easter, she would dye eggs with the saved peels. It wasn’t a back to the land movement she was following – it was all she had

But you can believe that she wasn’t about to let her children go without dyeing eggs during the season. Hustlin’. 

Christmas didn’t simply “go away” as some favor to our ancestors during the dark years of the Great Depression. The kids during those days hoped for goodies in their stockings and believed in Santa, too, just like ours do. Those parents – who had to wait in line for bread and milk, and had to carve out the difference between surviving or starving – had a lot less than today’s version of broke. 

Yet, they fell upon their ingenuity, utilized their strengths, their friendships.

They found ways to make the holidays cozy. Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies were born during those dark holidays. A mama by the name of Ruth Wakefield didn’t have the baker’s chocolate her “butter drop do” cookie recipe called for. She chopped up what she had left of a chocolate bar instead. The rest is tasty history of chocolate chips, and a story of a woman who made the most of what she had. Ruth, our fellow Hustler. 

Hustlin’: To do things to get closer to the point you want to get.

But this holiday season, don’t lose sight of what you’re actually hustlin’ for. 

Presents, sure. 

Vacations … yeah, yeah. 

But, your ultimate job here this season? The reason you hustle and will continue to do so no matter what in the face of anything

We Parents protect “Merry and Bright” for our
little and loved ones, even when times are anything but.

We don’t fold because the going is tough, and we don’t let our children see us sweat behind closed doors turning those cents into dollars. We keep their joyous spirits alive! 

We. Protect. Their. Joy. 

We. Teach. Them. Beauty.

Singing Christmas carols is free as free can be. Making a snowman doesn’t cost a thing. Laughing. Hugging. Loving. But they want things. They deserve things. I want to give them all the things they want. 

And you’ll find your way, Hustler. Saving your Swagbucks, nabbing your Craigslist deals and eBay bargains, clipping your coupons, making your homemade everything, locking down your layaways. You may not be able to get everything you wanted to. Or you may. You’ll figure it out. Within your means. Working with what you have. 

Just as the Hustlers did before us, for us.

Our children will soon forget most of the explosion under that tree, but they’ll never forget the way the holidays feel. They’ll never understand all the beauty of the season if they only remember their parents stressed out about what they couldn’t buy. Our true legacy as Parents during the holidays lies less in the gifts under the tree, and more in our ability to promote joy.

We hustle to give our children the greatest gift of all: the cozy feeling of “Merry and Bright.” 

Batteries not included.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Hustlers.


— Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe …

JEN’S ZEN – Remember Not to Forget

Do you ever just fall into bed, completely wiped out from … Life? 

Of course you do. You’re a Parent. 

The packing lunches, readying school children, working, dentist appointments, bathing the dog, bathing the kids, carpooling, laundry, making dinner, cleaning dinner, bedtime, books, brushing teeth … Sigh. I know.

Do you ever lie in bed and think,
This must have been the longest day of my life,”
and kind of shudder at the thought of tomorrow’s to-do list?

Me, too. But just when I’m about to complain, to really complain …

I remember not to forget.

I awoke this year on my 35th birthday to the news that a schoolmate had died. On the very day I woke up celebrating my life, hers ended. I didn’t know her well, but I knew of her battle against cancer, and I was rooting for her, as was our whole community. She didn’t get a chance to get married, to have children … 

She was fighting for her life while I was worrying about my to-do lists.

At her funeral, where I couldn’t help but realize I was sitting next to one of my best friends as so many in that room said goodbye to theirs – her mother, saying goodbye to her daughter – a woman sang out a soulful rendition of Janice Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”

“And I’d trade all of my tomorrows, for one single yesterday…”

Some days, my kids’ voices blend into this pitch that hurts my ears, and the “I wants” and “I needs” and straight-up chaos of a family and the details and the school papers and … raising small human beings. 

I get annoyed, my tone gets tight. I “fall into bed” . Only to read this soul-shaking Facebook post from a grieving father who lost his 8-year-old son to cancer:

“It’s been 8 months since I gave you a hug, Buddy.

I miss you.”

I fret about our house not being clean enough or big enough or enough enough, and then I remember packing household items not too long ago to donate to a family who lost theirs in a fire.

I remember watching my children blissfully bounce around at the park this summer, climbing and sliding away – next to a mother and father spoon-feeding their teenage child in a wheelchair, the victim of a car accident.

In the perfect world, there would be no pain. No cancer. No tragedy. But we live in the real world, and trivial matters actually seem important. We fall into bed exhausted, worrying about tomorrow’s to-do lists.

That’s when we have to remember not to forget.

That tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and we don’t get to trade our tomorrows for yesterday.

That we’d beg for THIS day back, when to-do lists were too long, patience too short, money too thin and “problems” too thick. 

We’d beg for this day back
were tomorrow to hold
something truly tragic.

We have to remember not to forget.

How truly blessed we are to be exhausted by Life. And to be truly grateful for every person, every moment, and every single topsy-turvy event of the messiest, loudest, craziest, most imperfect and truly unruly longest days of our Lives.

"Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe…"