( originally published in

A few years ago, we started a dinnertime tradition at our house called “Highs and Lows”. I stole this ritual from my friends Alex and Jennifer who live in Northern California.

“Highs and Lows” involves going around the table one at a time and everyone sharing their “highs and lows” of the day. For example, last night at dinner Elijah’s high was that he got to miss math class and his low was that Noah drank all the root beer.  My high was swimming and my husband cooking dinner, and my low was that one of my kids mumbled under their breath that they hated me when I insisted that they clean their bedroom. My husband reported a “no low day” and around the table we went.

I said to my kids that my low was the “I hate you remark” but in reality my low for the last several days has been unbelievable stress. Not the kind of stress where it is one thing in particular, but the kind of stress where it is everything in general. Stress from family, exes, and end of school year. Stress from work, deadlines and opportunities. Stress that wakes you in the middle of the night to remind you of the pile of unfinished business you still have on your desk.

The other night my husband and I were watching TV in bed and he placed his fingers along my forehead to smooth my furrowed brow. I didn’t even realize I was frowning. “Great” I thought, “ I am stressed and wrinkled…not fair”

Well this morning when I went for a swim I had a mini revelation. I can choose to not be crippled by stress or instead I can decide to be productive, loving and full of joy. In other words, I can practice what I preach to my kids.

Whenever my kids or my friends come to me with a problem I tell them that they need to approach their troubles “ bird by bird”, this referring to the Anne Lamott book of the same title.  In her book, she tells this story “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”

It’s so much easier to share this anecdote with my friends and my kids when they are struggling, than to “live it” myself when I am feeling overwhelmed. I guess that is why at least once a day we all need to remind ourselves that life is full of highs and lows and if we face our problems “bird my bird” maybe we will get lucky and score the occasional “no low day”.

Off to tackle the blue jay followed by the hummingbird.