We Are Not Monarchs

My daughter tells me over breakfast that certain butterflies die once they give birth. She points to a crayon drawing she’s made: a dead monarch falling down from the sky, little Xs where eyes could be.

Sounds about right, I think as I grind the coffee beans.

The baby is 1 and a half now. She has not yet warmed to sleep. To be honest, she hasn’t quite warmed to wake, either. She is cautious, willful. A born skeptic. In the morning, whether we greet her with smiles or hugs or sing-songy hellos, her response is the same: a furrowed brow and cold stare, as if to say, You people, again?

She is difficult, to put it another way. We’ve entrusted her with only a handful of sitters, and each time, upon arriving home, Ken and I are met with crocodile tears and fists of rage, the poor soul in charge whispering the same apologetic phrase: I don’t think she likes me?

Same, we joke.

Yesterday, I find myself fishing shredded carrots from her ears when Ken comes into the kitchen for breakfast. She’s the messiest baby, Bee says. She’s the everything-est baby, he says.

They’re right. Worst sleeper. Hardest to calm. Funniest quirks. Pickiest. Least predictable. Everything-est. And yet, we like her. She’s got spunk. She keeps things interesting. She makes us laugh, when we remember to.

But I still think of that crayon-drawn butterfly more times than I care to admit.

And so, this season has been hard. I’m reminded that hard does not mean wrong, or bad, or futile. Just hard. I find myself humming old hymns and repeating fragmented scripture all throughout the day, and I wonder if the apostle Paul was driven to “pray without ceasing” because perhaps he harbored a secret toddler in Corinth, particularly of the strong-willed variety?

But I know this: we are not monarchs. We are invited to live, and to do so in abundance.

So, as of late, I’ve been experimenting with such. 

To me, abundance means just that: plenty. Or, as Scout used to say when asked how many blueberries he’d like: A bunch of much! We’re given it all — the good, the hard, the jilting, the joy. All of it. Abundantly.

I don’t think I need to dwell on the hard, nor the jilting. We’re familiar, yes? We feel it in the air, an undercurrent of anger and fear and an anxiety-ridden world. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, the good-and-the-true is what needs her moment in the sun. So today, I’m giving it.

Below, a short list of honorable mentions that have lifted my own little butterfly wings these days:

A traipse in the woods.

The fresh air, of course, is an instant jolt when my soul feels lax. But more than that, for me, has been the simple act of entering a space that I am not responsible for taming. The maple, the mulberries, the mice – they all exist, with or without my participation. I needn’t vacuum the forest floor, needn’t dust the pine needles. For all who find themselves sometimes tiring of domesticity – or at least, the dishes – there is something of a gift in the muddy welcome mat of nature. 

Your Turn: Can you fling open a window or two? Run to the mailbox in your bare feet? Walk to the corner bodega? Take notice of what is already in motion, all around you, being cared for, tended to. See all that exists, with or without your doing. Feel small, and breathe deeply.

The great rearranging.

Our family grew last year, and our square footage did not. One night, Ken rolled up his sleeves and rearranged our home to make the most of our space. We gave up our dining room for a smaller breakfast nook (because long, slow, candlelit dinners aren’t yet conducive to an oatmeal-flinging tot) and moved a sofa and a few wingbacks where our farmhouse table used to sit. Our new-to-us living room now spotlights a cozy hearth for read-alouds, plus plenty of floor space for crawling, cartwheels, and Candyland. The shift has, hands-down, transformed our family rhythm – and didn’t cost a penny.

Your Turn: Can you rearrange a room or two? Stack bunk beds to free up some floor space? Scootch a table onto the deck for al fresco dining? Drag a card table into the garage for a breezy work afternoon? Note: If reconfiguring isn’t an option, try gratitude instead. Sometimes, change arrives by rearranging a small space. Other times, change arrives by rearranging your thoughts about a small space. 

Steeped delights.

As part of the aforementioned great rearranging, we shuffled a spare kid’s dresser into the living room and made our own little tea station. There’s a kettle, a frother, a rack of mugs, all manner of looseleaf paraphernalia, and an open book of Proverbs at the ready. When the day has been long and I’m tempted to land flatly into bed after dinner, I put the kettle on and sit for just a few minutes. Inevitably, a child or two trots in with The Magician’s Nephew or Jack and The Beanstalk. Soon after, a husband comes to chat through our respective days. The tea steeps and our minds quiet and the moon rises and – for an hour or so – we put the day to bed with cinnamon and care.

Your Turn: If not tea, what? A square of dark chocolate on the tongue? Lavender lotion on tiny toes? Tomorrow’s focaccia rising in the oven? What will the fragrance of connection be in your home? What comforting ritual can you offer to settle a stirred soul? Offer it.

Oxygen, heat, and fuel.

I’ve been lighting the good candles, which is perhaps our generation’s version of using the good china? All I know is this: a 1-year-old insomniac feels less unjust with a few wicks dancing on the mantel, and so: morning after morning, I light them one by one. When Ken wakes or the ylang ylang starts to kick his allergies into high gear, we light a fire instead, and the whole energy of the house changes. I check fractions and decimals with embers in my eyes, flames licking at every mistake – both the ones in my mind and the ones on the math page. Time slows, and the heady scent of burning hickory gives us all reason enough to stay home for a little while longer, longer, longer still.

Your Turn: Light the good candles. You know the ones, and you know the why.

Kindness on a sticky note.

Whenever I feel the grumps seeping into my veins, a list is in order. A brain dump onto my trusty steno pad often helps, or even a quick scrawl of necessary groceries on the back of a receipt. There’s something about the waltz of pen-to-page that slows me a moment, no matter how mundane the words. And so, while I don’t remember who in our family birthed this particular brand of list, we have begun taking stock of good deeds: a brother carrying a sister’s library books, a daughter packing a sister’s diaper bag, the baby finding a lost crochet needle (regardless of how involved she happened to be in the losing of it). My own good deed is merely a sticky note covered with the words LAUNDRY LAUNDRY LAUNDRY, but I suppose we all start somewhere, and just a few months in, our wall of kindness is now littered with love.

Your Turn: Can you keep a list of goodness? Random acts of kindness, quotes that warm you, daily gifts you witness? It takes a moment, but it makes one, too.

There is more, I’m sure. There is always more in the way of abundance if we’re somewhere on the path of paying attention. And so: whatever your hard looks like right now, my hope is that you may, against all odds, choose one small thing to enjoy, wherever you are. May it bring a soaring you’ve long forgotten.

May it offer a heart in flight.


  • Your post made me think and pay attention. I will now make sure to look for the good. Thank you.

  • It’s amazing how the universe delivers exactly what we need when we need it. Beautiful, thank you. You’re a gift.

  • I love your writing, and the truth in it.
    Moving furniture,
    A grumpy baby,
    oh, I can so relate.

  • I once had a grumpy baby. She was my first and maybe this mama was just unsure of her mothering slippers and my sweet girl could feel my tension & apprehension. But, today that baby turned 33 and mothers her babes. Thank you for your beautiful words. They made me realize my little wings carried a family thru hard and messy. There are never enough words from you but will savor these until next time. XO

  • I was so delighted to see this essay grace my email this afternoon! As always, I savor your writing + perspective shift. Grateful!

    His mercies are new every morning (in every moment), bless the Lord.

  • Thank you so much. Today in therapy we discussed focusing on the things that are, and what could be wildly positive, rather than the swirling anxiety that creates doomsday scenarios for my poor brain. I’m not very good at thinking of the positive alternative. This post gives me a few ideas.

  • I am touched by your words as I always am. Emboldened by your own risk-taking and willingness to share your truths. I had forgotten about you for a bit, but now I happily remember why I feel so truly grounded after reading your essays. Thanks to you for sharing yourself and all the messiness of life.

  • Thanks for the beautiful reminder of abundance we all have but sometimes forget! And your thought about Paul praying without ceasing made me laugh out loud!

  • Lovely ideas, one and all.

    My sister was a difficult toddler. She turned into a really wonderful woman. My mother eventually had a good night’s sleep. xo

  • One last check of the inbox before bed and I come across your email. Thank you for bringing light at times when it’s most needed. Much love 🙏

  • I finished Chasing Slow a few months ago and it was such an encouragement to me! I am so happy to follow along on your blog now as well. An extension and reminder to implement all you shared in the book. thank you!

  • I felt my soul smile when I saw your name in my inbox. I made myself read slowly and let your words tell your story, I so miss your writings but applaud you on focusing on your family at this time. Please continue to share your thoughts with us. They are sunshine on this cloudy day and unpredictable world. Take care and love yourself as you take care and love your family. Thanks and hoping you will continue to keep writing and sharing g as your life allows. Mitzi

  • My days of lavender toes and insomniac 1 year olds is long past. I find joy presently in shared confidences of a teenager, giggles late in the night, a moved out son who asks his mom to come along when he buys his first new car. I am very mindful and grateful for these precious and poignant moments. I firmly believe that the foundation was laid long ago in tea, candles, read alouds, and long wakeful nights. It is my miracle and my joy to watch them unfurl their own wings and lifting them lifts me.

  • Thank you. Balm to a busy heart. Filtering and sorting through the lens of gratitude.

  • Simply extraordinary….as always. In love with this person and her writing, someone who makes your heart skip a beat every time your read her writing.

  • This fed me tonight. Your words are like a
    Song, artful, painful, real. Thank you for this.

  • Was so happy to see you in my inbox. Thank you for sharing. Waving from the slightly other side of a hard toddler (we’re 3 months in since he started sleeping through and I feel reborn). Always love to read on how you savor everyday life.

  • Thank you. I needed to be reminded that the tired butterfly wings can be lifted even when it feels like they are about to drop off… We recently lost a very dear friend to suicide and the last few weeks have seen my butterfly wings giving up. So thank you for your beautiful words today. I needed them.

    • I am so, so sorry for your loss, Delen. I pray you will see small glimmers of flight in such a heavy season. Sending love, love, and love to you.

  • Sitting at our kitchen breakfast bar asking God for a return to joy and for peace to reign again in my life. Asking Him to peal back the layers to a time when things were simpler. Your essay arrives in my inbox and I take time – I do not think I actually have time – to read it. It is a breath of fresh air to my soul. Honest. I’m starting this day better. Thank you. ♥️

  • Your writing this morning is so very beautiful and such an incredible gift. Many, many thanks for your inspiring words. XO

  • I smile over the description of your newest addition – we have one as well through adoption. Everything about her was intense from day one in every way you have described. And now she’s 11 and while the infant reactions have obviously dissipated, her sassy passion has remained. She will do great things but it is so hard to be her parent at times! Thank you for your honesty, there is hope also for you in these future years. Enjoy every second!

  • How beautiful, Bee observing life through a child’s heart – life produces life then dies. I sometimes wish we could accept life and death this way – simply.

  • I am so excited to have your name back in my email box!!!! I have one of those toddlers! The other day she was being babysat (which never happens) they sent me a picture of her, saying omgoodness look how adorable this face is….I had to quickly text back that is her I have a mouth full of coins that I found from somewhere face. Sure enough 5 pennies! haha! and thats why no one can watch her. The book I have to write on her! However……the book she will write of her life… that will be a page turner. Good vibes and strength to you momma!!!!!! Your words as always are beautiful.

    • Ahhhhhh, this made me laugh — I absolutely know that face!!! :) Bless these toddlers, and their tired mothers. :) All my love to you!

  • Your writing is lovely, simple, elegant and so meaningful. Thank you for posting again today.

  • I was just thinking of you the other day and hoping all was well with your family. This post brought the assurance that yes indeed, all is well and that life with littles, especially strong willed very littles, is a bunch of much sized challenge! If it gives you any hope, my strong willed very little’s persnickety personality improved when he had enough words to tell me exactly what he wanted (or more often, didn’t want). One day that little everything-est girl will move mountains – whether you want them moved or not.

  • Some days we all need to realize the joy around us. Thank you for making me stop and realize it. My joy is from you. Thank you.

  • Thank you for pointing my heart and soul in the direction of abundance. Your words are always a balm and compass. Thank you. May you receive back all of the goodness PLUS SOME that you shared with us.

  • Ahhhhhh. I would like to reach out and hug you if I could. You are so right about all of this. I, too, had an “everything-est” baby. The hardest years of my life. I remember one time when she screamed constantly in her car seat for the 45 minute drive to grandma’s house. I got out of the car with shaky knees and at least five years of youth drained from my body. I survived by also “praying without ceasing”, reading Psalms in the New Living Translation over and over, and also Romans. Eventually, I came to the slow realization the God had a greater grip on me than I would ever have on Him. In that, I rested. And the days became better. Now my “everything-est” child is ten. She cooks breakfast for the littles, reads many books and writes her own essays. Being a baby and toddler was not her thing, but she’s really great as wise little woman child. Troubles- they don’t last always!

  • Thank you for your beautiful words, Erin. It’s difficult to explain how much joy they bring me. You are honest, authentic and an inspiration. Your essays always come at a time when I need them most.
    Good luck with everything!

  • So glad to see you are writing again! Good for our souls and hopefully, good for your soul as well. You have a beautiful family and it will all get easier in time.

  • So many thoughts in my heart after reading this! Thank you Erin. I’m really hoping writing another book is in your future (hint, hint) You have been gifted with so much insight and the most delightful way of putting them down in words.

  • Miday here and I literally made space for myself to go enjoy some tea, sun, and a good ‘ole Erin read. I came for an older post and was so delighted to see you here again! And as always, filling up our souls with such powerful words. Baby sounds just like my 2 1/2 year old. Ironically it’s the strong-willed ones that make you reach even deeper into yourself. So happy to hear you are doing well despite the sleeplessness, which I might add, I am not sure it ever gets any better. 😆

  • Thank you for this fresh perspective. Five years ago I birthed a hard baby, and it’s interesting to be reminded of that time through your current lens. While it was trying, it’s interesting how I can now see her personality was shining through even then, but in ways her tiny body just wasn’t able to demonstrate as beautifully as a five year old girl can. She is unique and fun and lovely (and strong willed, and… and…) and I’m glad we had no choice but to press through to experience the now. Your suggestions on how to get here in the meantime are wonderful. Your writing always brings me so much joy. Thank you!

    • I love hearing this, Melissa —- you’re right; their personality shines through and it all makes sense! :) So much love your way!!!

  • Oh, my soul needed this. It’s been a hard season. The hardest of all the what seemed endless months of Covid. But these words gave me a breath – hope and an opportunity to see differently. My sincerest thanks for gifting them to us. And also giving a bit of permission to not excuse away the hard around us but to savor the beauty on the flip side of that coin.

  • Thank you for this. My twins turned two this week… and they also learned to say “have mercy” which they think is a joke. But they heard me say “Lord, have mercy” a few times the week.

  • i love this – it reminds me of years ago when i had a ‘difficult child’…….candles were my best friend and rearranging usually happened in the middle of the night when he had me awake! thank you for reminding me of those days. know that these days will pass but continue to grow with and through them!!! keep writing – i always look forward to your words!

  • I love how you use your words…they bring light, comfort, warmth and joy. Thank you for sharing your deepest thoughts and life. You’ve impact my day for good and for God.

  • Was just thinking of you so dropped by to check in on you and your family, and to be calmed and inspired (always) by your words. Sending peace and rest to you and Ken, in the little snatches they come right now. Amazing, really. My grumpy baby, the one who didn’t sleep or nap, shades of whom I recognize in your descriptions, will be walking in his college commencement next month. Your essay, this snapshot, reminds me how heroic parenting is, how remarkable it is to shepherd a life, a person, as they make their way to themselves. It takes so much stamina and trust and honesty to embrace this process. There’s beauty in the rubble, but there’s also ruin, and we do ourselves no favors when we pretend otherwise. Like you said…it’s abundance. When we can make room for ALL of it, we can experience that fullness. Doesn’t make things easier exactly, but at least we know this is the way of things. PS. I still have to remind myself about this all the time. There is no “arriving,” is there? Only continuing on. Much love to you, Erin.

    • Oh Asha —- I always love your beautiful words and perspective, especially this: There’s beauty in the rubble, but there’s also ruin, and we do ourselves no favors when we pretend otherwise.

      I miss you deeply! So admire and love your work in this world.

  • You always arrive at the right moment and leave a much-needed gift. And I am grateful for you, Erin.

  • Dear Erin, I sent this essay to three dear friends as soon as I finished reading it the first time, because when the soul receives an ember of light, she likes to share it. And now I’m re-reading this breathtakingly (breathgivingly?) beautiful essay again to savor. I love every word of wisdom and gentle humor you shared. What you wrote about keeping a list of goodness — “”It takes a moment, but it makes one, too.” — is particularly resonating in my heart chamber. Thank you again and always for sharing your insights.

  • You are a beautiful writer, so throw that on a sticky! I love the lighting of the good candles. You’ve inspired me to do some rearranging. Wish bus luck! Keep kicking butt, super mom!

Comments are closed.