Early-Mid-Life Inventory


Marta b&w apple orchard 2006


Early-Mid-Life Inventory for Marta Drew in her 43rd Year
(Wait … 44th year? If I’m 43, aren’t I in my 44th? I don’t know—shut up)


Math competency compared to first year of junior high:


Amount of life spent living in hometown:
approximately half


Current social status in said hometown:
Unapologetic Teardown Asshole


Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten days:


Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten years:


Number of Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator tests I have taken since my early 20s, legitimate and otherwise:


Meyers-Briggs personality type on every single one:
(I)ntroverted, i(N)tuitive, (F)eeling, (J)udging


Current self-improvement goal:
complete fundamental transformation into woman who remains gracious and benevolent even when absolutely everyone is being a dick


Progress towards this goal:
anywhere from 4-14 %, depending on how much sleep and ice cream I’ve had


Respect for 30-and-40-something women who really really want their children to be Cool Kids:


Favorite novel of all time, no matter what, after reading it at least seven times:
The Shipping News


Foods I will not eat, not ever ever, no matter how awkward it gets to refuse them:
tripe/liver/headcheese/haggis etc, bugs of any kind, anything slippery, tartare (raw beef with a raw egg? What kind of misanthrope dreamed THAT up?)


Primary vices:
judginess, hyper-sensitivity, meddling


Secondary vices:
excessive lecturing, negative thinking, intensity


Current investments:
local orthodontist’s office, summer camp, mittens, Legos


Number of cookbooks on my shelves devoted exclusively to the topic of baking bread:
at least 9


Last time I baked bread:
about a year ago


Primary sources of worry:
adolescent child’s fraught relationship with schoolwork, 2016 election circus, fate of Jon Snow


Careers I believe would be easier than being a Writer:
Supreme Court Judge, molecular biologist, NASA engineer, Governor of California


People I wish I were related to:
Chef Thomas Keller, Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Mary Oliver, Annie Proulx


Temperature below which I feel forced to wear a winter coat:
20 degrees


Number of words written on Facebook between 2007 and 2015:


Feelings about that number:


Preferred breakfast:
mocha and a morning bun from Honey & Rye or birthday cake (anyone’s)


Exit plan if Donald Trump should be elected to American Presidency:
maybe London, maybe Montreal, maybe a remote town in Iceland


Number of seizures middle child has had since her surgery seven years ago:


Likelihood that she will have another one, according to experts at Mayo Clinic:
close to zero


Fear that every one of those experts is wrong:
less than five years ago, but still present in everyday life


Family member whose phone number has stayed the same for my entire life:


Most common astrological signs among my friends:
Pisces, Taurus, Scorpio


Fictional characters to whom I am overly and inappropriately attached:
Daenerys Targaryen, Elizabeth Bennet, Severus Snape, Lady Brienne of Tarth, Bridget Jones, Peggy Hill, Tyrion Lannister, Diane Chambers, Mr. Darcy


Willingness to participate in any school carnival for any reason ever:


Percentage of my children crying as we left the last one we attended:


Most firm beliefs:
God is real. Camp is good for kids even if they hate it. The worst mistake a woman can make is to dissolve into her family so completely that she forgets who she’s been trying to be all her life


Level of interest I have in anything the Kardashians do:


Pantry items I tend to overstock:
canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, honey, olive oil, vanilla beans, flour


Number of remaining grandparents:
1 (out of 4)


Number of remaining parents:
1 (out of 4)


Three things I love about my dad:
his devotion, his soulfulness, his willingness to consider any topic, no matter how esoteric


Three things I miss about my mom:
her musical voice, her gift for developing systems, her dauntlessness


Most efficient way to show me I matter to you:


Average quality of close friends:


Belief that despite the shit, life is still mostly beautiful, hopeful, meaningful, magical:
strong, strong, strong


Mothering and Other Team Sports



Mothering is a ludicrous bid for power at the best of times; in August, it gets twisted. Yesterday, Caroline screamed from the top of the stairs for 45 straight minutes because Henry wouldn’t go outside with her. By the end of it, I was curled up in an air-raid position on the dining room floor, crying and yelling at God to fucking help me with her.


Then Julie called, reminding me that these kinds of scenes often come right before big developmental leaps and even making me giggle a little bit through my tears, so I know God listens (even when I say “fucking” when I’m asking Him for help). That’s a comfort. Still, there was more screaming after that –joyful screaming, indignant screaming, maniacal screaming, I’m-eating-pancakes-for-dinner-and-I-just-totally-love-pancakes! screaming.


They broke my spirit, so today I might take them bra shopping with me. I don’t even need new bras, I just want revenge. See what I’m saying?


We’re supposed to help each other, we’re supposed to keep passing the baton.


Counting today, there are eight full days and one half-day left with all three kids; three full days and three half-days with just two; another two half-days with just one; three and a half days in Saint Louis without any of them. Then school starts and maybe some of my hair will grow back.


Look, I love my babies. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care how many times they begged for sugar or why they were all screaming (“we’re pretending there’s a storm, Mama”) or when I would be able to pass the baton to other adults with education and experience and new ideas. I’m all out of them at the moment. Confessing that is extremely hard for a proud Mama like me, but that’s precisely why I’m confessing it: it’s hard for all of us and it shouldn’t be. We’re supposed to help each other, we’re supposed to keep passing the baton.


Did you see the Olympic freestyle relay where Michael Phelps won his nineteenth medal? He won it because he’s a phenomenal athlete, but he also won it because the other three phenomenal athletes swimming with him –Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, and Conor Dwyer– gave him a big, gorgeous lead. By the time he got in the water, it was his to lose. Truthfully, I have never been one for team sports, group projects, or collaborations of any kind. I like working alone in most cases, being in charge of my own destiny.


But motherhood is about being in charge of someone else’s destiny, so letting others give us a big lead makes all kinds of sense. I know so many mamas in my generation –me included– who feel like we’re failing if we can’t solve everything ourselves, do it all to the nth degree. Meals have to be from scratch, made from locally-grown, organic superfoods we grew from heirloom seeds in our urban gardens. Children must be brilliant, empathetic, creative problem-solvers, enriched with music and chess and at least one sport each season. Our homes must be models of beauty and system, cleaned with natural products that smell like obscure flowers and herbs. Fashion is effortless, age-appropriate, stylish but not slavishly trendy. Makeup is natural during the day, smoky at night. Sex is at least twice a week.


Just talking about it makes me angry and tired and I happen to like a lot of these activities (wink wink, nudge nudge). Nobody can pull off every part of this. Nobody was ever supposed to. Even if it were possible (it’s NOT –don’t try), there are these little people we’re raising, not to mention the big ones we see in the mirror every morning and the even bigger ones who sleep on the other side of the bed. There are friends who are drowning in cancer or divorce or depression or all three, aging parents who are suddenly alone, need us more. There are politics to pay attention to, crumbling finances, mold in the basement, a lecherous boss, an incompetent one. There is an ideal we keep missing, a persistent loneliness, a low-grade fever of anger and helplessness, the fear of always falling short.


Jordyn Wieber was heartbroken when she didn’t qualify for the Olympic women’s individual gymnastics competition, but did you see her with her team when they won the first American team gold since 1996? Winning alone would be incredible, I’m sure, but winning together is beautiful. I’m tuned in to that these days, the idea of winning together. I have a daughter with special needs and two other particularly sensitive children. I’m not going to qualify on my own. For a while now, I’ve been heartbroken about that, but I keep watching, over and over again, the way all of these Olympians encouraged each other, comforted each other, celebrated each other. I want that. I have seventeen days to give us a big, gorgeous lead.

Waiting Room


Teary Caroline
© 2015 Marta C Drew

I am, despite this public way of telling you about it, a rather private person. I don’t mean that in the sense that I am unwilling to share vulnerable or personal feelings and experiences –obviously, I’m willing to share to the point of emotional exhibitionism. When I say I’m private, I mean that I am deliberate about what I share, how much, in what way, and with whom.  Read my journals and one of us is going to have to permanently move to Iceland. Go through my purse or my closets or my nightstand without my permission and you’re dead to me. I decide.


The problem is the waiting room.


Before you can enter some of the oldest and largest vaults at Gringotts Bank (the wizarding bank in Harry Potter for those of you who don’t read), you have to pass through a waterfall that clears away any enchantments you may be trying to use to enter the vault under false pretenses. If you have tried to conceal or change your identity, if someone or something else is controlling your behavior, if you have tried to protect yourself in any way from exposure or vulnerability to what could be inside, then it is all washed away. You are just you.


The same thing happens to anyone who enters the Children’s West Rehab Center waiting room, only it’s the air swirling around the door as you walk in that breaks all the spells, not a waterfall (which would be impractical and inconsiderate in such a cold climate). You walk in with all of your protective enchantments and it all gets blown away. Everyone sees who you are. Everyone sees what you’re dealing with.


If you are a regular, you are dealing with scooters or wheelchairs or companion dogs or leg braces that make your little peanut cry because they hurt. Or you are dealing with tiny little helmets, tiny little glasses, tiny little hearing aids. Your son cries about everything, your daughter can’t properly metabolize food. Your granddaughter has cerebral palsy, your grandson has a heart condition.


Now YOU have a heart condition.


What do you do? There was a woman once who spent the whole hour she was waiting doing yoga poses and stretches. I rolled my eyes until her son came out after his physical therapy session and I overheard her talking with the therapist about how she could help her son be more successful with eating and drinking. He was at least fifteen years old. There was a homeschooling mama with a church bell ringtone who used the time to drill her older daughter in reading; a tense, germaphobic lady who only allowed her impeccably-dressed children to touch toys she brought with her and sanitized before and after they were handled; a maniacally positive mother who practiced tap dancing and jazz routines with her five-or-six-year-old daughter, who played along but didn’t seem convinced of how much fun she was supposed to be having.


You walk in with all of your protective enchantments and it all gets blown away. Everyone sees who you are. Everyone sees what you’re dealing with.


But most of us talk. We tell each other what happened to our children, what happened to us, what keeps happening. We tell each other about the doctors who practically bound across the waiting room at Mayo to tell us surgery went well, or about that nurse at Children’s Hospital downtown who would not rest until she found a way to bathe a child without getting the electrodes in her hair wet (an elaborate system of plastic Target bags and rubber bands). We tell each other about the schools and programs we’ve found to make it all easier (horse therapy, art therapy, water therapy, music therapy) and the schools and programs that haven’t figured it out yet. For several months, my dear childhood friend Lindsay, whose son gets therapy from time to time, met me in the waiting room with coffee and we got to have a built-in Mama date every Wednesday afternoon.


Of course it’s not just mothers waiting –Thad has been one of my favorite waiting room pals. For at least a year, Caroline’s appointments coincided with his granddaughter’s, so every week, Thad and I talked cooking (he was an old-school gourmand –he made his own sausages and everything), gardening, music, antiques, parenting, traveling, families, weddings, home design, life. Thad is marvelous –I miss him. His daughter-in-law doesn’t drive and he’s retired, so he brought them to the rehab center every single week. Maybe we’ll be on the same schedule again this summer.


I wouldn’t say I’m friends with these people in the conventional sense (with the exception of Lindsay) –it’s more like we all operate the various small businesses of the same unethical, sadistic bastard. We all cry about it, we’re all degraded by it, but there’s no choice –we can’t leave; he has too much power and we’ve invested everything.


There is no point trying to control what I reveal to my waiting room colleagues –they see everything anyway, just like I see everything about them. We see each other crying and limping and dragging along with our special needs kids as if we have been stricken with the emotional equivalent of each of their physical or neurological afflictions. We have, so privacy is beside the point –it doesn’t protect us from anything except our mutual sympathy and understanding.


Maybe that’s why the protective enchantments we rely upon so heavily out in the world don’t work in the waiting room. Maybe our vulnerability is the most powerful enchantment no matter where we are.




At least once a year, I like to trade the brooding isolation of my Upper-Midwestern life for the relaxed togetherness of a Southern one with the Wrights of College Street, our dear friends who live in Macon, Georgia.


The South is a deep source of comfort, beauty, and fascination for me: Bluegrass music is bluegrassier, booze is boozier, sultry is sultrier. Cherry blossoms float through the trees, azaleas pink the edges of Georgian lawns, and English ivy drapes itself over houses, trees, ironwork fences. Today, when an old house up the street went on the market, the whole neighborhood trooped up to see it, waving at every car that passed, inviting more neighbors to come along, reciting the history of the house like a catechism.


Bridget and I like to sing together –music is an essential element of our friendship– so we sang “Wagon Wheel” and “Make You Feel My Love” while we made vanilla ice cream for root beer floats and pesto for pasta with grilled sausages. Children, husbands, cats, dogs, and neighbors drifted in and out with the pollen as we worked, looking for a towel, a taste of ice cream, a beer. There is always a  feeling here of a collective Southern life, lived by and for everyone at once. Everyone belongs.


Cherry blossoms float through the trees, azaleas pink the edges of Georgian lawns, and English ivy drapes itself over houses, trees, ironwork fences.


After dinner, root beer floats, and an under-eight kitchen dance party, the children get sorted into sleepover venues (girls here, boys at the neighbors’, then one girl at the neighbors’, then eventually both girls and both boys at the neighbors’).  When the babies are all settled, the five adults leave them to their dreaming and wander out on foot into the starry darkness.


The neighbors greet us at their gates or from their porches as we pass. The people two doors down –a chef and her engineer husband –are just back from the Cherry Blossom Festival street party downtown. The chef sniffs the air  –“Who smells like tacos?” She giggles when we tell her no tacos –it’s the garlic from the pesto she’s probably smelling– and launches into a story about her recent job switch:


“The owner of that restaurant, she was all –” she screws up her face, kisses the air several times, and smacks her own round bottom. “Not a very nice person. Did you go see that house for sale? You gonna buy it?”


We move on. Michael and Greg point out architectural features, local history factoids, and signs of water damage on the historic houses we pass and then we spend about 25 minutes skulking around a foreclosure. Katie tries the windows (locked), Michael turns on the flashlight app on his iPhone and ducks into the crawl space under the front porch. “Oh boy.” Greg joins him to inspect and they spend several happy minutes commenting on the structural integrity of the house. This, apparently, is a common Macon pastime.


On the way home, around 11:00 pm, we pass Leslie drinking wine on her porch. “Y’all just gettin’ back? You wanna come in for a nightcap?” We follow her into her kitchen, where she pours wine and fetches beer and speculates about a neighborhood scandal: “It’s weird, isn’t it? It’s just weird. Why is she going over there all the time? What am I supposed to say when people ask me?”


“Just say you don’t know, ‘cuz you don’t.” Bridget gives me a secret smile and Leslie drops the subject, opens a container of homemade salsa and a bag of chips. “Oh you like peanuts, don’t you,” she says to Katie, and opens a bag just for her. We crowd around the island in her pretty little kitchen with the black and white checkered floor and cabinets the color of maple syrup and talk about Macon.


Quality is not linked to condition when Southerners choose a house to restore; it’s linked to history and endurance.


“I tell you what, Macon’s the best-kept secret in the South,” says Greg. I can’t tell if everyone else is aware of raising their glasses. “Took me a couple years to believe house prices down here. Best-kept secret.”


“These old houses are worth fighting for. You gonna buy the Buafo house, Michael?” asks Leslie. She looks at me. “He wants to save them all.”


Of course he does –to preserve those houses is to preserve the lives lived within them, still flowing through the old halls and rooms like a current.  Quality is not linked to condition when Southerners choose a house to restore; it’s linked to history and endurance. If the roof needs replacing, the second floor has to be reconfigured, and the whole place seems unstable, but it has a gorgeous view and original woodwork, then it’s worth restoring. If the windows are a mess and  there are giant cracks from floor to ceiling but it’s been there for a hundred years and lets in a lot of light, then it’s worth restoring. If it’s kind of dark and lonely-looking but pretty in its way and just needs a little love to be beautiful again, it’s worth restoring.


So I’ll keep coming back here –to sing, to cook, to wander around in old houses, to participate in this collective Southern life, to remind myself that I’m always worthy of restoration.



If You Build It

Christmas Croissants 2014
© 2015 Marta C Drew


I have all kinds of cozy spots in my house, perfect for sipping wine (yes, in the middle of the day) with my girlfriends while the kids play (silently –so silently) nearby. There’s a sofa in the living room for heart-to-hearts about aging parents, the intensity of the early-childhood years, or how hard it is to find a decent pair of jeans for less than $200.00. The sectional in the family room is just LONGING to host stupid-tv and/or Jane Austen movie pajama parties.


I make gorgeous popcorn on my stovetop (European butter and sea salt are a given), my scone recipe is superb, my soups are quite good, and I boast a truly excellent collection of coffee table books and soft throws. Throw pillows? Please. You can’t imagine how many throw pillows …so many throw pillows that it takes my husband 20 minutes to throw them all on the floor, rolling his eyes and muttering the whole time, before he can sit down (that’s how you know there are almost enough).


No big deal if your little peanut or lamby or chickadee spills or poops or pees or throws up or starts levitating –nothing we haven’t seen here before. I have juice boxes and granola bars and cheddar bunnies and apples and pears and macaroni & cheese. I have extra diapers, a high chair, a swing, a Pack n’ Play, baby gates, baby toys, baby books, baby clothes (for boys or girls) in every size. I have a weather radio, Kids’ Tylenol, Advil, allergy medicine, vitamins, calcium, diaper cream, antibiotic ointment, Eucerin, Aquaphor, and 40 bazillion Band-Aids. I have sleds, ice-skates, roller blades, bikes, helmets, sidewalk chalk, Play-doh, washable markers, washable crayons, beads for the over-threes, wooden blocks for the under-threes, Disney movies (I know where to fast-forward if your babies are sensitive); Sesame Street, Curious George, and Clifford are already recorded on our DVR. I have built a family-friendly theme-park-meets-impenetrable-fortress-meets-panic room over here.


I have built it, but nobody is coming.


Before you write me off as some sad, friendless lump, please listen to me when I tell you I have no shortage of truly excellent girlfriends. They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re universally beautiful and interesting and talented. On the few occasions when we’re able to get together, the whole date from beginning to end is marvelous fun.


There’s laundry and scrubbing sinks and toilets and tubs and volunteering –don’t forget the volunteering; you don’t want everyone to think you’re over there doing nothing.


WHEN we can get together. It’s rare. There’s swimming and skiing and hockey and horseback riding and piano and sometimes work and family game night and family birthday parties and violin and chess and architecture camp and Harry Potter camp and canoe simulations and CPR training and competitive dance and artisanal bread baking and calligraphy and glass-blowing and extreme tennis and picking up this child for a dentist appointment and dropping that one off at a birthday party and stopping by Mother’s place because there’s something going on with the dog and cleaning out the laundry room and cleaning out the basement and bringing someone a pan of lasagna because she just found out she has breast cancer. There’s laundry and scrubbing sinks and toilets and tubs and volunteering –don’t forget the volunteering; you don’t want everyone to think you’re over there doing nothing.


Even if we’re actually able to carve out some free morning once in a while, or an evening when we’re not sitting in the bleachers at some pool or hockey rink or gym, we need some time to stare at the walls, try and focus for a minute, reclaim who we used to be, at least catch up on who’s running for President this time.


Maybe we’ll get on the phone for a while with a girlfriend and that will feel a little bit better, make us giggle a little bit about something her daughter said or feel less alone about the laundry. But we’re still alone most of the time, either with or without the kids or the husband or the aging parents. That’s unnatural; women are supposed to do this job together  –we’ve just become too evolved and civilized to remember that.


Here’s what I want –it’s not a lot: I want one three-hour segment of time per week –morning, noon, or night– when one or more girlfriends come over, with or without children, to kvetch and/or drink tea/wine/hard liquor and/or make fun of Donald Trump/people I can’t name here/the Kardashians with me. Or be totally quiet. Or cry. Or whimper. Or laugh really really hard, possibly until someone pees (your secret is always safe with me and I have plenty of under-$200-jeans you can borrow). They can bring their laundry to fold or we can make chocolate sauce for our kids’ teachers or cut out pandas from construction paper. Or nothing. I don’t care. I just don’t want to do this job alone.

My Camp

Camp Lake Hubert


If you know me at all, if you’ve known me for five minutes or more, you know how I feel about camp. I never shut up about it, nor am I fazed in the least when my friends roll their eyes at me and say something like “oh, are you talking about camp again?” Yes, I’m talking about camp again –because it’s my place, where I feel like my purest and best self, where I go expecting and wanting a certain experience, rarely get it, and still leave feeling like I got exactly what I came for.


Where I am right now — at Squam Lake Art Camp celebrating 20 years of friendship with my Mary– is very different from the camp where I spent 11 of my childhood summers. For one thing, we’re in New Hampshire, not Minnesota. You don’t think there’s a difference? There’s a difference. New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.


When I think of a camp in New England, there are groups of peppy, earnest, intellectual girls in camp uniforms with the logo embroidered tastefully on the breast pocket (it’s in Latin). They sing songs, toast marshmallows, paddle canoes, and play cricket with neither failure nor emotional excess as an option. I have never been to a New England camp before, but I just know I’m right, based on movies I’ve seen and a few people I met when Mary lived in Boston.


New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.


Camp in Minnesota is a little messy –it’s all pajama bottoms and sand candles. There’s sailing, horses, tennis and all of that, but it’s a context, it’s not the point. The point is always deep connections –with the place, with the other girls, and with yourself. You arrive with your duffel bags –or, if you’re from the South, your decoupaged, monogrammed trunk– full of clothes and gear and the first thing you do is hurl yourself at your friends like a mental patient. You make a scene, you laugh, you help each other up, and you start singing songs and talking over each other and telling secrets you would never in a million years tell anyone at home. It’s all very vulnerable and embarrassing, and it’s why I went back so many times.


This week the two kinds of camps are converging. We are physically at the camp in New England, where the walk to the dining hall requires rock-climbing certification and advanced orienteering skills. My flashlight is practically worthless, the darkness at night is so impenetrable I bet the little campers years ago had to curl up beneath a mushroom if they didn’t make it back to their cabins before dark. There is a dock next to every other cabin –I’m guessing pre-breakfast swims, to invigorate body and mind (however you say that in Latin)– were encouraged, if not required.


And we’re here with all women. There are a few men, who have been duped or coerced by their wives into coming to this, but they’re pretty shell-shocked and/or angry and neither speak nor make eye contact, so I’m not really including their energy in the general vibe. I can feel the girly, oh-I-LOVE-your-hat/dress/boots/handmade waterglass cozy kind of atmosphere and I can see who considers themselves the art camp power elites (you know and I know there’s no such thing, but we’ll keep that to ourselves…it seems so important to them).


I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.


There are women who are getting left out, which is sad but might help them shift their approach, and there are women who are chilly or just out-and-out mean girls. Mostly, though, it feels like my camp, where you smile and hug each other at breakfast, wait for each other to go to activities, and share your stuff when someone forgot hers or didn’t pack it at all. You can cry whenever you want because it feels good and girls usually know that and let you. And you can share whatever you want –what you say, what you make, who you are.


The best part for me, though, is that though I know I’m completely right about what New England summer camps are like, I’ve been wrong at least a dozen times about other women I’ve met here –I’ve sold several short in my initial assessments/judgments. I’ll think I have the measure of them because they said this one thing or did that other thing and then they open up about their paintings and the stories behind them and I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.


Of course the stone-faced Galleria goddesses and crabby Byerly’s patrons at home don’t generally make a habit of sharing their art with me, so it’s a little bit harder to access their wisdom, beauty, perception, and brilliance, but maybe I should pay closer attention to how they wear belts (I never get that right) or choose produce (SO tired of anemic cantaloupes). Who knows what they know?


So yes, I’m going to keep talking about camp and going back whenever and however I can as long as it has something to teach or remind me. This time it’s reminding me I’m an artist and telling me to go ahead and call myself one. It’s reminding me I know less than I think I do about the people around me and more than I think I do about art of all kinds. It’s reminding me that camp is still my place, which means now this camp is my place, too. Which means I’m going to have to pick up Latin. And a better flashlight.