A Winter Morning Story: What Parents of Adult Children Think About

January is the worst time for car trouble. Cars never fail us when convenient or when the weather is nice. So, when my daughter-in-law Beka called me one recent evening to ask if I could help her get her car to the garage for repair early the next morning, I said yes without hesitation. 

Beka had dropped my granddaughter Camille off at her elementary school in Richfield that morning, no problem. She went home with baby Maeve, who is three months old, and settled in at the dining room table to work remotely. Their dog, Martin, a lab mix who can easily intimidate those who don’t know him, slept on the couch in front of the living room window. Beka’s Hyundai was resting comfortably on the street in front of the house.

Late in the day, around 5:00 p.m., Beka and Camille headed out for Camille’s Monday night swim club. Beka started up her car, startled to hear it roar to life at the decibel level of a cargo plane landing in their front yard. My son Shawn ran from the house to see what happened.

“Catalytic converter?” he asked.

Beka told me her eyes must have been very large as she looked at Shawn and nodded.

When I showed up the next morning to follow Beka to the garage, hot coffee in my travel mug at the ready, it was eleven degrees below zero. Shawn had already left for his teaching job at an alternative high school that is not doing distance learning. I took Maeve in my nice warm car and followed Beka’s rumbling, roaring Hyundai south on Nicollet Avenue to 77th Street, turned right, then left into the Honda dealership where she bought the vehicle used less than a year ago. Maeve was completely unperturbed, snug in her car seat. I almost forgot she was there.

Beka hoped that maybe it was really a broken muffler. She hoped that maybe someone didn’t steal the catalytic converter. But the mechanic quickly dismissed that idea with a peek under her car. Nope, he said, it’s gone. They got you. She handed her car keys to the mechanic, came outside and plopped into the passenger seat in my car, and said she feels like she just can’t have nice things. 

Damn thieves. 

I drove Beka and Maeve back to their house, so Beka could settle in and do some work while Maeve explored her own fingers and toes. I went on my way back to my own house carefully, aware that black ice on these subzero Minnesota winter days is a dangerous thing. The local radio station I keep on in my car gave frequent reports of spinouts and crashes littering the Twin Cities freeways as the black ice built up from rush hour car exhaust. 

While I crept home, I thought about how glad I was that I can help when something like this happens. That I’m available. That being a grandmother, mother, and mother-in-law means there are people who depend on me sometimes, just as I depend on them sometimes. We are there for one another on any given day.

When I had my first apartment without a roommate, my father would show up unannounced every chance he got. He invented assorted reasons to be there: paper towels were on sale so he figured I could use some, that coupon for tacos was going to expire and it was lunchtime, and just when was the last time I changed my oil. I was the youngest kid in the family, the one whose absence ushered in the era in which my parents lived alone. They had no one in-house to care for but themselves. 

Many parents live for that moment when they get their house to themselves and they can stop scheduling stuff around their kids. Not my dad. He genuinely missed us – me, my sisters, my brother. He loved rushing to the scene if one of our cars broke down or the furnace broke or we ran out of toilet paper and had no more money until payday. He relished using his senior discount at the nearest fast food place to buy us lunch, or a stop at the liquor store for some Blatz Cream Ale that he could share with us on a hot day. 

After my mother died, my father had the worst time staying home by himself. He wanted to be with us, or at least talk to us, daily. 

I still regret that I wasn’t the same kind of cavalry for my father that he was for me. As a parent with a teenage boy and a young daughter whose type 1 diabetes kept me from sleeping through the night for years, I often didn’t have enough to go around. Those daily phone calls sometimes made me cranky. But I did show up often enough that those fast food menus my father loved remained something I knew by heart.

My son Shawn calls me every week or so just to chat; if more than a week goes by, I’ll call him. We each pour ourselves a beer or a whiskey in our own respective kitchens and chat about nothing in particular. We pick apart politics, news, swap what we know about the rest of the family. I listen while Shawn talks about his job, how rough it is for teachers right now in this pandemic moment. He is exhausted. Camille is on the brink of her teenage years, while baby Maeve is still working on holding up her head. Shawn and Beka want to buy a house, something they’ve been waiting ten years to do while they launched careers, climbed out of debt, became parents. 

I’m so glad they have each other. 

I’m so glad Shawn talks to me. 

Shawn cares deeply about his students, his artwork (he teaches art and creates his own), his family. He cares about doing the right thing. Somehow, I have a son who sees the big picture and understands how important it is to contribute to it.

I used to chat with my dad this same way. We talked about politics, too, and my dad once told me that the University people I hung around with (my husband is a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota) intimidated him. I couldn’t understand why; my father could hold his own with anyone. 

He didn’t agree. But I’m quite sure I was right about that. And I can see him in Shawn.

My daughter Abby is thirteen years younger than Shawn. She is married to Joe, without children, still in her twenties, still launching her career path. We don’t talk as frequently as I would like, but our last couple of conversations have been wonderfully free of the subtle tension mother-daughter conversations often contain. This is something I’ve been waiting for as Abby moves further away from her teenage years. I’m delighted that it seems to be happening.

I have been Abby’s cavalry from time to time: when her car wouldn’t start one subzero day after work, when moving into a new house felt overwhelming, when she needed a ride to the emergency room. And I’ve been there in little ways: when she wanted Christmas lights and I knew she had no extra money, when she mentioned she missed my raspberry muffins so I surprised her with a batch. I’ve been working hard to be kind, be generous, and zip it if she chooses a path I would not. I can feel deep inside myself now what Dad was doing when he showed up at my door with the paper towels: if you have a concrete reason to be there beyond your simple desire to just lay eyes on your kid, then someone has to open the door. And you do that kind of thing, being generous, bringing something thoughtful over – paper towels, muffins, a ride somewhere – until the door opens no matter what. Until you don’t need a reason other than love.

Maybe my dad didn’t need me to be his cavalry. He was teaching me to be one to my own kids. He was telling me to pay it forward before it was a fashionable thing to say.

Back to Beka. Those damn thieves. Yes, I said that earlier and I’m saying it again because they took more than a catalytic converter. They were being selfish, thoughtless, unable to see who they hurt with their crime. I’ll bet they have no one who comes to help them. Why else would stealing be part of how they survive? Those of us who have a family, a community, a support system are able to get what we need to make it through the winter. Through the pandemic. Through life.

There are those who think we can’t change the world or change other people, but I disagree. Give others a chance to change and then believe it when they do. If we can see changes in ourselves and our kids, we can see changes in others, too. It starts with just showing up. Maybe with muffins. Maybe with a warm car.  

Maybe with nothing but a full heart. 

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

Radio Mornings

It took five tries before I settled on a direction for today’s post. Between angst over the state of the world and boredom with what has become a daily pandemic routine for the past two years, writing does not flow. Little feels important enough to discuss here, like wasted breath. But on Thursday morning, with the house to myself, I finally found something to riff on. I have my mother to thank for it. Would she have like being called a crone in her later years? I wonder. Anyway, this post is partly her fault. 


It’s early Thursday morning. My partner Mick has gone to campus to give what will be one of his last lectures before retirement. I have the house to myself. I put on the softest lights in the kitchen, turn on the local jazz radio station (KBEM-FM aka Jazz 88), grind coffee beans, boil water. This particular way of beginning my day makes me think of my mother, her habit of getting morning coffee going and turning on WCCO 8-3-0, a Twin Cities AM radio station on the air since the 1920s. When I was a kid, it was THE radio station to tune in to for everything: weather, sports, news, really bad jokes, and music that parents listened to. It was the voice of assurance and accuracy during tornado warnings and blizzards. I still remember those morning DJs, Boone and Erickson. The sound of the radio took its place every morning alongside the sounds of coffee sloshed into waiting cups, toast popping up from the toaster, cereal hitting the bowl.

I haven’t listened to WCCO radio since the 1970s. Maybe the 1980s – I still tuned in when there was a tornado warning during my young adult years, certain that would save my life. As I wrote this piece, I checked online to see if WCCO 8-3-0 is still on the air. It is, owned now by Audacy, Inc. I have no desire to tune in to see what it’s like today. I’m happy with Jazz 88, a listener-supported FM radio station owned by the Minneapolis Public Schools. In the early mornings, the programming is full of good jazz interspersed with BBC news segments, traffic reports, and school news. Every once in a while, I hear a student announcer read a script, voice uncertain at the beginning. Most evening programming showcases different forms of music – R&B, blues, funk, old jazz standards, local musicians, the occasional school concert. The local flavor of this station makes me feel like there’s a chair for the community here in my living room. It goes with the sound of my fingers hitting my laptop keyboard.

I believe that community connection is what my mom felt every morning when she switched on our radio. There was a sense that whatever we were going through, we had company. 

I’ve been thinking about connection a lot lately. Thinking about company. In this pandemic, connection has been strained, stretched, sometimes broken. The huge rift over how to manage things isn’t healing. Settling into our third year of pandemic constraints could have showcased how well we’ve learned to mitigate virus transmission and care for each other, but that isn’t what is happening. There’s so much anger, false information, failure to communicate well. Connections everywhere have snapped, some for now and some forever. Good company is hard to come by.

Every time I chafe at pandemic constraints, I think of our three-month-old granddaughter, Maeve. The desire to protect her is urgent, undeniable. It is for her that we maintain our little community of vaccinated family and friends, for her that we must figure out how to keep the world from imploding in the face of what the pandemic has laid bare. We must nurture our human connections, community, and proven healthy practices that we’ve spent generations developing. Our care and caution right now is the very least we can do to take care of our children and ourselves. 

The jazz station has been playing this whole time I’ve been writing; I just heard the announcer talk about 50 years of KBEM. I’m so grateful for this little bit of company. In my head, I hear my mom telling me to wash my hands, come to the table, Boone and Erickson laughing on the radio in the background. I’m glad Mom passed her radio habit to me, glad I can still find these kinds of voices, music, and stories with an easy switching on of our stereo, a soundtrack that connects me to so many others in the Minneapolis area. This is one of the habits that has pulled me through this weird and awful time. Mom’s handwashing rule was a pretty good habit, too, it turns out.

Let’s hope that in another 50 years, Maeve will have the chance to talk about how she has found connection to our community, how she has found the voices that guide her wherever they may be. She won’t remember a time before COVID, but she’ll remember that her family did everything they could to offer her a healthy life even when a sizable portion of the country failed to follow the science. We even played a little music along the way. 

Thanks for the nudge, Mom.


A little something extra

A poem by David Budbill:

This Morning

Oh, this life,
the now,
this morning,

which I
can turn
into forever

by simply 
what is here,

is gone
by noon.

From Happy Life by David Budbill, Copper Canyon Press, 2011.

Happy New Year! One Minnesota Crone Begins.

Hello! Today is the beginning of One Minnesota Crone, a new blog aimed at women over 50 and anyone else who cares to come along for the ride.

I’m excited to begin posting here at One Minnesota Crone and say goodbye to One Minnesota Writer, the blog I ran for over a decade. If you’ve already read my Welcome page on this site, you know that this change was a long time coming.

And what will One Minnesota Crone offer you?

One Minnesota Crone will offer you space to celebrate the creativity that unfolds in so many of us when we are older. Having lived on this earth for a long time allows for perspective. It allows for the understanding that points of view can change, more than one path can be traveled, new trails can be blazed. Identities can shift. We can choose to have fun while still contributing to this world.

Expect to see posts once every week or two. One Minnesota Crone is a refuge when our angry and on-fire world is too much. Come here for calm. For joy. For ideas. Sometimes I’ll share photos of whatever brings me joy, like learning to pour paint and make something beautiful, poetry or novels that beg to be read, quiet places that soothe everything. Sometimes I’ll share what I’m cooking, because cooking is its own zen space in my house. Sometimes I’ll share a gorgeous hike that will make your feet itch to hit the trail. There are so many ways to find a refuge.

And I’m not the only one with things to share. If you identify as a woman over 50 and you would like to share something here – your artwork, your published work, something you think is important for this community – contact me. Let’s see what we can work out.

Which, of course, leads me to what I can share with you today. As we close out 2021, I think winter peace is the ideal thing. I love taking winter photos because the light is so lovely, so fragile in Minnesota in the winter. Sometimes photographing in snowy conditions is challenging: keeping the camera battery warm enough, keeping my fingers warm enough to grasp the camera, finding the correct shutter speed to accommodate how much light the snow reflects. But the shadows on the snow, the way the light falls through bare trees, and how little birds flit around in the slumbering garden is a draw that I find irresistible. And sun reflecting on frozen lakes can be stunning.

So, here you go. Some wintery images. Some moments of peace.

I also wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a winter poem that seems fitting with these photos and this first post at One Minnesota Crone. Here are the words of Mary Oliver from the Poetry Foundation’s website, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/41662/white-eyes.



In winter 
    all the singing is in 
         the tops of the trees 
             where the wind-bird 

with its white eyes 
    shoves and pushes 
         among the branches. 
             Like any of us 

he wants to go to sleep, 
    but he’s restless— 
         he has an idea, 
             and slowly it unfolds 

from under his beating wings 
    as long as he stays awake. 
         But his big, round music, after all, 
             is too breathy to last. 

So, it’s over. 
    In the pine-crown 
         he makes his nest, 
             he’s done all he can. 

I don’t know the name of this bird, 
    I only imagine his glittering beak 
         tucked in a white wing 
             while the clouds— 

which he has summoned 
    from the north— 
         which he has taught 
             to be mild, and silent— 

thicken, and begin to fall 
    into the world below 
         like stars, or the feathers 
               of some unimaginable bird 

that loves us, 
    that is asleep now, and silent— 
         that has turned itself 
             into snow.

Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 2002)

Welcome to One Minnesota Crone. I hope I see you here again soon and Happy New Year.

Photos taken near the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and Long Meadow Lake, Bloomington, Minnesota, by kcmickelson, 2021.