Mary Beth Writes

The cat in the picture is my daughter's cat, Nancy. Sometimes we all just need a quiet place to slow down and think.


Due to sudden changes in his vision, on Monday Len went to our ophthalmologist and Tuesday he went to the neural ophthalmologist she referred Len to in an opthamologically urgent way. He will have more tests but it seems as if with luck and a change of Rx, he will outlast his eyes. Whew. Also on the breaking medical news front, my teeth stopped hurting. I have upcoming Dental Appointments that will cost more than my first car, but currently nothing hurts.

So the week started wierdly. What do you do when your life skews sideways? What do you do when nothing on your to-do list matches what you actually have to do now?

I walked to the library and got more books and said no to activities I would usually say yes to and I sat around and read. I tried to write but nothing was worth posting. I made a red lentil curry and a lot of chocolate chip cookies and that was about it.

So this morning I went through some of my old stuff and found things I thought weren’t good enough back when I wrote them. Now I like these two pieces and decided to post them here today.

From 2020: How They Divide Us.

I read this a few years ago. A mother to teenage sons recognized a pattern in how young white men are being radicalized into white nationalism.

First her sons hear jokes that put down women, people of color, liberal politicians, progressive causes and ideas. The jokes are not complicated. Start with blonde jokes and go from there. Blacks act like this. Hispanics act like that. All the trite and sometimes funny jokes that belittle people who are not white males.

Then, if anyone protests, call those who protest snowflakes or other derogatory terms. Say things like, “Jeez, can’t you take a joke?” or “Why are you so _____ sensitive?” Note I left out the swear word. Using profanity builds the ego of the person who uses it and is intimidating to those who don't swear.

The white teenage boy now feels put upon because HE feels that HE has to monitor his jokes and language for the sake of snowflake baby-headed ‘sensitive’ people who aren’t as tough as he is.

He may begin to notice the media organizations that play off this exact dynamic. “Are you tired of our hothouse society? Are you tired of having to curtail your power as a strong white male?”

We all recognize this dynamic but it’s powerful to recognize how it happens. And obviously, it isn’t just white teenage boys who are vulnerable. I read this before January 6th.

I wrote this while I was still working, right before Christmas in 2014 which is eight years ago. FYI: my daughter is no longer a probation officer but I think the way we watch, admire, and feel wistful about our grown children is as relevant as ever.

Our youngest started her new job this fall. She’s a Probation Officer in Cook County, IL. Yes, that would be Chicago. Many of you know her. Smart, polite, and sweet to most; cynical, hilarious, and feisty to those she knows best.

Also relevant in my mother’s opinion? She’s small - about the height of a snowman built entirely by 4th graders; taller than them but not by much. The snowman might weigh more, though she’s way cooler. (Hah…)

So now she knows how to write and manage serious reports, she has been trained to fend off “bad guys”, and she has a cubicle under a heating vent that occasionally blasts hot air. Welcome to county jobs in older buildings.

After weeks of training, she has started to see the people in the caseload she will share with another new PO.

This week she had to arrest one of those people so yes my daughter made her first arrest. I’m so proud.

The mechanics of the process are not dramatic. She and her partner have to know when one of their people has warrants. They did the check and this guy did. Then she proceeds within the normal protocols which includes having a PO who carries cuffs (meaning he has extra training and experience at this) to put the offender in handcuffs. Then they wait for the Chicago Police to arrive to take him to jail.

She told this story with a lot of detail. I both held my breath and then laughed a lot. We talked about how interesting and odd it is to work with folks whose lives are out of control; the intensity and ordinariness of it all.

Oh, and her name at work is Officer Danielson. I do so wish my mother and/or brother were alive; she’s taking our name to a whole new place. They’d be so proud.

So that was that.

Then there was this: I stopped at a store after work to buy some presents. I spent way too much time studying necklaces because I wanted to buy one for each of my daughters.

At first the jewelry looked cool, but the longer I perused, the more the stuff began to look cheap. Still, these are young women who work with people who are often poor; they don’t want to wear expensive stuff. (And they already have more Fair Trade/Mayaworks stuff than most.) Finally I chose two; one is silvery, the other has twisted strands of gold and tiny black rhinestones.

Driving home I realized I really don’t know which necklace to give to which daughter or if they will even want them. Does younger daughter ever wear jewelry? My older daughter is quite fashion-aware; does she even want a heartfelt bauble from mom?

These are my daughters; they look like me only young and beautiful instead of old and beautiful (we have got to stop thinking of ourselves as homely). They have complicated jobs, friends I’ve never heard of, and clothes I’ve never seen. I don’t know what they eat for breakfast; I don’t know what they think about when they fall asleep at night.

Christmas can break your heart. Our children don’t need us nearly as much as we need to give them gifts that say they were and still are the best part of our lives.

They are distant from us now in their smooth skin and confident ways. Argh, the way they handle a smart phone at the same time as they talk AND chew gum. Who are these handsome young adults who buy houses and cars, who win trivia contests at bars in their neighborhoods, and admire actors and musicians I’ve never heard of, and send ME thank you notes?

Then, when we talk on the phone about the dysfunction and challenges we wade into each morning at our jobs--there are still places where we are not the opposite ends of a continuum. There are still these connections between who they are and who we are. How hard they have worked to obtain jobs they care enough about to do every day. The way they get to work on time and make their co-workers laugh, The way they type fast and drink coffee at their desks.

I’m so proud of them. I miss those little kids who used to hang around me.

And now, back to MB in July of 2022.  I need to post this because in an hour my son and his wife and their two kids will be here.  My little kids are gone. My little kids are about to show up. 




MB yep,,,,,,I'm right there with you. Reading this made me feel a bit melancholy while smiling and thinking to myself how wonderful to have a friend that can put all these feelings into words. Being a mom wasn't easy to start with, a really good gig but not for the faint of heart! Hugs!
Mary Beth's picture

Yeah, we raised really awesome kids but who knew, back when we were doing it, it would ever be this melancholy and also wonderful. Grandkids just left. Hard to believe i ever had this much energy!

You and Judy said it perfectly! Loved the read.
Leonard's picture

But they’ll remember that we sat with them, listened to their stories, got angry (or sad) alongside them to show them we understood and we would be there for them. Maybe those young men wouldn’t have felt the Ned to swear and put down folks around them if they thought people were listening to them. Or, maybe not, I dunno. But as we keep up with our medical appointments, waiting for the one that’ll be some news we can’t laugh off, we can point to what we’ve accomplished by just living, listening, and trying to get through the day.

I like that Len - living, listening & trying :)

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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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