Things to Worry About

Norah Vawter Parents
The author with her parents, Skip and Denise, 1985.

Things to Worry About

by Norah Buckley Vawter

Dear Mothers,

Things to worry about:

  • Worry about the planet.
  • Worry about your children’s welfare.
  • Worry about your family and friends.
  • Worry about not wasting your life.
  • Worry about kindness and love.

Things not to worry about:

  • Don’t worry about conversations you had yesterday.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think, period.
  • Don’t worry about jogging strollers.
  • Don’t worry about jumperoos vs. exersaucers.
  • Don’t worry about getting a fancy anything unless you really want it.
  • Don’t worry about worrying.
  • When holding a newborn, don’t worry that he is so tiny and fragile you might break him just by holding him. If babies were that fragile, we wouldn’t have a human race.
  • If you had great parents, don’t worry about living up to impossible expectations of what parenting should be like. Your parents surely, surely had days when they made mistakes, maybe even huge ones.
  • If your parents were awful, don’t worry about doing everything differently to create some magical world full of goodness and light for your own child. Just do your best. There will probably be plenty of magic and goodness and light.
  • Absolutely don’t cry yourself to sleep thinking you are the world’s worst mother. You’re probably doing better than you think. In fact I bet you are strong and beautiful. I feel certain that you deserve happiness and love.
  • Don’t worry about the dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep and lack of makeup and just being plain tired and wrung out every day.
  • Don’t worry about the fact that Mom X gives her kids all organic food when you don’t.
  • Don’t worry about what Mom X must think when you pull out a bag of Honey-Nut Cheerios and food-dye-ridden Goldfish crackers for your toddler, while she feeds her kid homemade flaxseed bread and homemade yogurt with a smattering of wheat germ.
  • Don’t worry about anything anyone posts on Facebook. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about haters in general.
  • If you had your heart set on nursing, don’t worry if you can’t.
  • And don’t you dare let any parent bottle-shame you. When you are sitting at the park with your baby in your lap, and you pull that bottle of formula out of your bag – hold your head high because you are feeding your baby.
  • If your own parents are gone like mine are, don’t worry that your kid will grow up never knowing them. They’re around – somewhere. They’re inside of you. They’re inside of your kid. They’re in photo albums and in the books they read to you, the ones you now read to him.
  • Don’t worry about how you will eventually have to explain what death is, and where Granny Denise and Grampa Skip are.
  • When your kid starts to point out “Nise” and “Skip” in the family photos on the wall, because you’ve been doing that, don’t worry if you cry in front of him. When he says, “Mama sad” – don’t worry about what to say. Something will come. And then he’ll probably want to hug you, and it will be the best hug in the world. Ever. And then you can say, “Mama happy,” and mean it.
  • Don’t worry about being the perfect mother.
  • Don’t worry about perfection, period. It doesn’t exist, and if it did, life would be a hell of a lot less interesting.

Things to think about:

  • How can I be a mother and still be a human being in my own right?
  • If I’m not happy, how can I get there? If I’m not happy with how I fit into my world, how can I fix that?
  • Am I doing my best, as a parent, as a human being, in general, etc.?
  • What tangible, specific things can I do to make my life better, or others’ lives better, and maybe even make my world a better place to live?
  • If I want to make my mark on the world, how can I do that?

Love always,

Norah Buckley Vawter

Things to Worry About Parenting
The author with her son, 2015.


Inspired by Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Scottie, dated August 8, 1933

Norah Vawter wishes time travel were possible so she could party with Scott Fitzgerald and then talk literature. She earned an MFA in fiction from George Mason University and  has work published or forthcoming in Extract(s), The Nassau Review, and Agave. Currently she stays at home with her toddler while at work on her first novel.


photo (5)

By Richard D’Abate:


Because we’re at the beach today our sadness
knows itself,

Between the sinking sand and slowly measured
falling waves.

Not long ago time was arrow-tipped and

It found its mark before the god of love had
even stirred.

It filled our bones to bursting, era of the second
self begun.

Now every gesture mirrors gestures of a
smaller one.

They raise their arms, we raise our arms, they wobble
toward the sea

Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and
so do we.

We match the steps of half-formed beings—
tender, new—

Ourselves, our future selves, alive but always
cut in two.

We are afraid. The burning sun devours
little bones.

Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the
sliding foam.

We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness
all its own,

And half of half of half is motion’s rule or
none at all,

As when the cresting tops of glittering breakers
do not fall,

Or when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our
children call.

Today’s poem was originally published by AGNI and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Richard D’Abate is the author of a poetry collection, To Keep the House From Falling In (Ithaca House Press), as well as stories and poems in Epoch, Apple and other magazines. His most recent work appears in Agni Online. A native of New York City, his professional life has been focused in Maine: as a professor of English literature, an advocate for the public humanities, and director of the Maine Historical Society, a statewide cultural agency and research center. His scholarly essays have appeared in various publications, including American Beginnings (University of Nebraska Press), on New World exploration, encounter, and cartography. He now lives and writes in Wells, Maine.

Editor’s Note: As a reader and a card-carrying feminist, I was as taken aback by today’s poem for its stunning lyric as I was by the (male) poet’s ability to capture the way mothers worry for their children. (Fathers do as well, of course, but today’s poem is about the experience of young mothers, specifically.) How audacious to take on this persona! And how effortlessly and accurately the poet has captured this unique viewpoint that is not his own. Haters gonna hate, and there are those who feel that a male writing from a female perspective is a patriarchal act of establishing dominion over a realm that is not theirs to control. But the other half of that debate is that of being empathetic, of trying to understand the other from within the other’s shoes, of being sensitive to those from outside our own gender, and Richard D’Abate has done this with today’s honest and heartbreaking work.

The poet has given breathtaking form to the parental experience, naming it the “era of the second self,” calling children “our future selves,” who, through a mother’s eyes, are “alive but always / cut in two.” Even more palpable is the mother’s fear for her children: “they wobble / toward the sea // Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and / so do we,” “We are afraid. The burning sun devours / little bones. // Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the / sliding foam. // We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness / all its own … [as] when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our / children call.” By the skilled hand of the poet the fear and helplessness mothers feel for their children is brought to life through a vivid imagery and lyric beauty so chilling we feel it as if it were our own.

Want more from Richard D’Abate?
Buy To Keep the House from Falling In on Amazon
The Richard D’Abate Lectures: Conversations About History, Art, and Literature
Maine Historical Society: Richard D’Abate Endowment Fund for Scholarship & Special Programs

Upon Reaching the Age of Three

Myron Unger and his son John, circa 1951.

This is the second of three posts in tribute to my father, Myron “Mickey” Unger, who would have turned 85 in August. Last month, I posted a reaction to an old baby picture of me in a stroller, laughing, with my parents on either side. The piece ended with the rhetorical question, “What could possibly go wrong?”

This month, I continue that story with an essay on life and parenthood by Mickey himself. Mickey studied writing and psychology in college, hoping to pursue one or even both. But when he returned from naval service in the Pacific, he was eager to marry my mother and start a family. He entered his father’s business instead.

Still, he continued to write when he could, and penned this essay sometime in the ’50s. I find it beautifully crafted, unbearably wise, and eminently worth sharing. Next month, I’ll post a reflection on a father’s legacy.

Again, I want to acknowledge and express appreciation to my mother, Lois Zussman, and my adoptive father, Milton Zussman, who remain active in my life today. I am blessed with a heritage from three parents, not just two.

Upon Reaching the Age of Three
By Myron Unger

Upon reaching the age of three, what does a little boy expect from his dad?

Probably very little of what you want to give him.

For what do you tell a little guy that you can barely catch up with as he dashes from room to room helping Mommy fix the party.

You might put your hands around his little waist and lift him high over your head and laugh while he squirms and giggles, but what do you tell him?

Or you might sweep him up in your arms, swing him unto your lap, punch him in his tummy and run your hand through his tangled hair as he struggles to get away, but what do you tell him?

Or you might accept his invitation to play marbles on the floor with me, Daddy …… and he sticks his chubby, dirty hand into his pocket and brings out ten shining, colored symbols of his boyhood and says I’ll loan you one if you give it back to me, Daddy … and when he jauntily sits down on his knees waiting for you to take firsties, you wonder what to tell him.

And then it comes to you that it still isn’t your turn.

Not while God and his mother make his body erect and his mind alert.

And you think that his is really a simple love which comes through in his quick hugs and his warm smiles and his rollicking Hi, Dad when you come through the door. And so he asks little but the confirmation of your love and there remains little you can tell him about this.

And this is probably right.

For what can you tell him that he would understand?

Can you tell him about the dreams you’ve had for him long before he came into your life?

Can you tell him how you remember being a boy?

Can you tell him about your father, your marbles, your birthday cakes?

And then it comes to you that even if he could understand, you couldn’t tell him, because you don’t understand.

And you wonder about this because you wonder what you’ve been doing while he’s been growing up. What have you learned? If this was the right time, what could you teach him?

What happened to all those firm convictions you had when you left college? Were you right about life, about love, about God?

Once in your life you were confused and you asked questions and you got answers and now you’re asking the same questions and you’re not sure you remember the answers. And you begin to think what do I tell myself, the father of the boy who has reached the age of three?

Full cycle ……

Yes, and awareness that the stuff of life is a thin fabric and you can catch it only in seldom moments of quietness …. and the rest of the time, you work on impressions and fleeting recollections of knowledge.

Once, when you first held a girl you loved in your arms and smelled the sweet fragrance of her hair and felt the smooth flow of her body and knew she felt you, you held the fabric.

And once, when you stretched hard and flat on the fantail hearing the spray gently splash across the deck and watching the sun slowly kiss the flowing horizon and then fall softly into the rolling, moving sea and you saw the other ships slipping silently through the dusk and you thought how these ships and these men and this ocean and this sunset belonged together and you were part of it and you belonged too, you held the fabric.

And there was another time, much later, when you stopped your car in the middle of traffic and picked up the dog and carried it to the sobbing girl waiting on the street corner and you gave it to her and she stood on her tiptoes and kissed your cheek and then ran away in childish embarrassment scolding the dog, her tears turned to mock anger. And when you got back into your car and waved to the honking, scowling street, you felt sheepish but warm. And you thought how long it had been since you last held the fabric.

And you think if this is the true matter of life, what is all the other? And you think why can’t you be wise and aware each moment of each hour? And you think why must age bring the callowness of repetition?

Now you remember the pledge of your youth and a bewildering enigma startles you. For when you were young and intense you wished for maturity so that you would understand and mellow. And now that you were older and mature by men’s standards, you have lost the spark and thrill of youth and must go out to search for the feeling.

Is this what God meant?

Or is this what man has done to man in the guise of becoming civilized?

Here are the questions then that you must answer before you tell him anything because maybe it’s not too late for you.

Three years is a wonderful age, you reflect; full of magic and warmth and treats and laughter and toys and bulging pockets and runny noses and red cheeks and wet shoes and band-aids and stuffed animals and playing old, and the wonderment of the whole, huge, whirling world which to a small boy means fun.

Thirty years is a wistful age, full of old dreams and new doubts and old ambitions and new fears, and maybe a good place to stop for a moment to total up the ledger and see where you stand and perhaps revise and rededicate.

And this is about as far as you can go.


For you have come full cycle and you know again that your life doesn’t have the meaning you looked for, not yet, And you know that somehow, you’re falling short of the mark; that the blend of youth and age is still brewing and hasn’t yet mellowed. The vote is still out and you wished there was a place you could go to get it counted.

Is yours a futile search? Perhaps.

Yet, perhaps to search makes life richer even if you never find the answers. Perhaps life isn’t easy because it is rich.

And so it comes to you that it will be up to no man to answer your questions. That you must search and find yourself.

You’re suddenly very glad your three year old doesn’t question your smile. You’re glad he’s young enough not to doubt you.

When you shove him under the covers and turn out the light and kiss him goodnight, you pray that God and his mother keep doing their work while you look for the fabric.

Myron Unger died of cancer fifty years ago next week, on October 11, 1960. He was 35.

Copyright © 2010, Myron Unger & John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.


The Unger family, circa 1951.

By John Unger Zussman

This short essay is the first of three posts in tribute to my father, Myron “Mickey” Unger, who would have turned 85 last month. Next month, I’ll post an essay on life and parenthood, which he wrote sometime after this photo was taken. The following month, I’ll post my own reflection on a father’s legacy.

I also want to acknowledge my mother, Lois Zussman, and my adoptive father, Milton Zussman, who remain active in my life today. I am blessed with a heritage from three parents, not just two.

In the photo I am plopped in a stroller and I am laughing, even giggling, probably because my daddy is kneeling on my left, tickling my shoulder, and he is laughing too. It is the fifties and I am wearing the baby Penn sweatshirt I got from my uncle, who would have been in college then. I am exuberant like a one-year-old taking his first stroller ride, and my chubby fingers are squeezed around my mommy’s hand as she kneels on my right, and I trust her, and so I can giggle. She also is laughing, and buoyant, because her son is giggling and her husband delighted, the man who told her the night they met that he would marry her, and she wasn’t too sure about that, but she waited while he served in the Pacific, and now they are married and laughing and they have this marvelous family. My uncle, visiting from Philly, is snapping the picture, and for all I know he is laughing too, but he holds the camera steady.  Our laughter will last forever, preserved in living black and white more than fifty years later, and what could possibly go wrong?

Copyright © 2010, John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.