Category Archives: Mommyhood

Advice Boundaries & Birds

Image: The Fairy Pig looks at a great blue heron by popping out of the sunroof on the car. She’s borrowing K-Pants’ binoculars.

Let me tell you a story. I’m a birder. Until recently, I thought I was simply the daughter of a birder. Growing up, my mom would suddenly pull the car over, rattle off a list of very-specific characteristics of the bird she was looking at, then tell us to remember what she’d said so she could look up the bird in her Audubon guide when she got home. I knew a lot through osmosis.

Then a few weeks ago I headed to Sauvie Island with my friend Tony, his two boys, and the Fairy Pig. After a focused ten minutes spent discussing shorebirds with our binoculars pressed to our eyes, I realized a) I am a birder independent of my lineage, and b) I have my first birder friend. Tony and I were looking at a group of western sandpipers. 

Upon reflection, it’s possibly not the casual nature fan who can differentiate similar-sized birds in-flight. The bald eagle flaps its wings like it’s lifting weights at the gym; the turkey vulture soars like it’s the Platonic ideal of a glider plane; the great blue heron flies so slowly you think it might fall out of the sky.

This time of year on Sauvie Island (the country’s sixth largest river island, sitting near Portland in the Columbia River, attracting thousands of migratory birds), apart from the farms and locals, you’ll find a lot of birders and duck hunters. We occupy the same areas. But the birders keep outside the hunting borders because we like to stay alive and not bother the hunters. 

You can tell the birders because we’re usually not driving trucks, and we pull over at seemingly unexplained spots. 

On Sunday I took a crew to Sauvie: the Fairy Pig, Boy Woww, our new au pair, and me. We hopscotched viewing spots with a few other cars. At one point, a swoop of sandhill cranes took to the air right over our heads. I jumped out and started to video. It’s magic to watch anything take flight, but a group of sandhill cranes with their dinosaur-like rolling calls, their gangly spindle legs, and elegant opera-glove wing tips, well it makes me have a childlike sense of wonder and joy. And I’ve been video recording some of my favorite times in nature for mini-meditations on my Instagram page (@EvelynShoop). 2022 knocked me over with a coronavirus tidal wave and is demanding that I hold on and find moments of peace wherever and whenever possible. 

As I was walking back to my car, another birder car pulled up with an older man inside. He rolled down the window. “Can I give you some advice?” he said. 

Now if you’ve known me for a while, you’ll be sucking in your breath. I welcome advice if I ask for it. I welcome advice if you have walked a rough path of parenting or grief or self-discovery with me. If our lives are entwined and I reach out, I am all ears. But otherwise, no. N.O. I have to hold this boundary for self-protection as a human who parents. I have received so much unsolicited parenting judgment, errr… advice… that I am not interested in your advice even if it’s life-altering. Most often your advice comes from your own personal experience and it’s helpful and comforting to you for me to receive it. But not for me. And I already have a frickin’ awesome, all-star slate of advice-givers… some professional and some personal. 

So when my new friend The Anonymous Birder rolled up and asked if I wanted advice, it was very easy to just say, “No, thank you.” 

This was not what he was expecting. So he decided I should hear the advice anyway. It was something about not getting out of your car because you scare the wildlife. He didn’t get all the way through his monologue, though, because I repeated “NO, THANKS.” And I walked away. At which point he yelled “FUCK YOU,” and sped away. Which for birders in the wild is like 15 MPH. 

Advice is a lot about assumptions. He assumed I didn’t know what I was doing, that I hadn’t been to this exact spot five times since November, that I wanted to birdwatch like him. His advice was about his frustration that I wasn’t doing things like he does and that because of it I had altered the experience he wanted that day. 

So here’s the thing. On a normal day, I would be proud of myself for setting boundaries, but I would also be boring holes through Anonymous Birder Friend’s skull with my laser beam eyes. I would add the karmic insult he enacted upon me to EVELYN’S INVISIBLE VAULT OF GRIEVANCES. I always have it going. But this time I stopped and had a little chat with myself. 

I’m not taking this personally. It’s about him. I’m doing a great job raising little birders, and he can go shove it. 

Confetti and marshmallows and dark chocolate did not rain down from the sky, but maybe next time. Or the next. Maybe you need to fill your punch card with 10 zen moments before you get your reward. Or maybe somewhere down the line I’ll be a less angry person in general and that’s the reward. [scratches forehead and ponders]

In case you have a lingering wonder about me scaring the wildlife, well, getting out of your car definitely annoys the song birds: the sparrows, the chickadees, the finches. They are fickle and often prey. Generally being alive scares them. But my experience is that the sandhill cranes, the snow geese, the cackling geese, the Canada geese, the great blue herons, the American coots, the mallards, and the great egrets could really care less. I mean, like, don’t chase the birds. But at this same spot back in November, my husband and K-Pants played football, the Fairy Pig and I ran up and down the road, and Boy Woww chilled in the car reading a book. The only thing that bothered the birds were three bald eagles dive-bombing them, which frankly created the most beautiful soaring cacophony I’ve ever seen or heard.

(For a video of sandhill cranes in flight, check out my Instagram page, or request to follow me: @EvelynShoop.)


Evelyn is screaming wearing red lipstick. There is a a comic-book style pow image in back of her.

I discovered recently that my biggest fear is that I’m a bad mother and that one of my children will die by suicide. It’s hard to write that because I don’t want advice or reassurance. I just want to tell you what’s really happening in my inner life. 

I woke up early from an anxious dream. I have anxious dreams a lot. They’re mundane. I’m trying to leave an event but I can’t find my car. There’s a hurt bird and I’m trying to call the Audubon Society but none of the numbers will go through. So I was laying in bed after a dream, calming my body, resting my head on a tension release thing. I decided to go through what I might be worried about, like flipping through a catalog. The tension release thing is like two humps of a camel that I put at the base of my skull. It helps relax tightness in my head. I started thinking of things…

Work? I hadn’t worked all of January recovering from omicron. No, it wasn’t work. Everyone in my business and our clients were incredibly understanding and for the first time I was letting myself rest and receive grace.

Money? Not working meant less money. No. I had a sense that things would work out. 

Child care? We hadn’t had reliable child care since mid-December, and things were still very much up in the air. Everything falls apart without child care. Strangely I wasn’t worried about this. Things had worked out before and somehow they would again. 

The kids? Boy Woww had been having anxiety attacks; the Fairy Pig and K-Pants were their intense selves. My head started to relax and rest into the tension release thing.

When I hit on the right thing my body tells me. It’s taken me a long time to be able to listen to my body, and still I often ignore it. 

I dove down this hole. Is it the kids themselves? No. Is it the intensity of parenting? No. Is it that I’m a bad mother? Yes. There it is. Is it that I won’t be able to help them? Yes. Is it that my badness as a mom will lead to terrible outcomes and one of my kids may die by suicide? Yes. 

Now let me be clear: I am not wishing these things into being. I am not writing them into being. I think that a fear of saying things out loud, lest they come true, keeps us silent and suffering in our inner worlds. And yet I tremble as I write the words. 

Here’s what’s happening at our house. Three beautiful, imperfect gemstones live here. They sparkle in the sun. They glow under kitchen lights. They have crevices that magnify the light. These three gemstones are my treasures. They’re my gifts from God. I want everything wonderful for them and I want to be whole and happy myself. 

And we live in the world. And the world is rough. 

Boy Woww has been having anxiety attacks to the point that they interfere with his daily life. He likes things to be calm and quiet. He’s lived through two years of pandemic so far, something I never had to do as a child. Boy Woww has a sister who is about to get a diagnosis of ADHD. Her body doesn’t allow her to be still. Personal boundaries are a roadblock that stop her from showing her love, so she casts them aside. When we want to watch a family show, she climbs the back of the couch and stalks the family as a predator cat, which drives K-Pants nuts. K-Pants is in his first year of middle school. Middle school has wild ups and downs. And when he has a bad day at school, the whole family feels it. 

These are the things of life. And we’re living them.

I explained all this and more to my therapist. A good therapist is a critical resource. The Fairy Pig learned to walk in my therapist’s office, which I am quite proud of because it meant I was getting the help I needed when I needed it. 

Here’s what my therapist said (I’m paraphrasing, of course):

You can’t control the future. But right now, in these moments, you’re paying attention. Paying attention is important. You’re finding all kinds of ways to help your kids navigate the world in their own ways. For Boy Woww, you’re working to get him the help he needs in big and little ways. For the Fairy Pig, it will be interesting to see if after she gets extra help for ADHD, she becomes more manageable for Boy Woww. They are opposite personalities who need each other and it’s very difficult. You’re doing a really excellent job noticing things and validating your kids.

After getting this wonderful reassurance, I felt comfortable to tell her about how I get overwhelmed and scream at my kids. It probably happens twice a month, where a fire-breathing monster takes over my body. 

What happens when you do that? What do the kids do? 

They tell me to stop it, to take a break. K-Pants will roll his eyes and possibly swear at me. The Fairy Pig will yell back at me, “Mom, you’re NOT HELPING!!” In those moments, I think to myself, “How do I have such disrespectful kids?”

That’s a really good sign, actually. 

What? How are any of these things a good sign?

They’re not afraid of you. When you’re at your worst and you’re screaming, they’re not afraid. Even though it’s awful and no one likes it. 

I was hoping the screaming would go away, and it was for a time, but in pandemic, I’ve had plenty of times where I see myself ramping up, the embers getting fueled with air, and yet I can’t walk away. But still, there are many more times that I do walk away now. Does that make sense? I’m screaming like a cornered squirrel with its tail on fire at the same rate or more as before, but I’m also walking away and taking a break more. So I guess that’s a win?

You are parenting three intense children. Whenever you walk away that’s a win. That’s your whole goal at this point: walk away. 


Hearing this was a sensation of whole-body relief. I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I don’t consciously do it. But deep in my psyche there is a quarterback playbook filled with sure-fire runs and passes that I imagine other people using. Plays that get you out of tricky situations, that allow you to stay calm and also teach your children about problem solving and gentle parenting. Plays that I don’t know how to call for. 

So here I am on Scream Into the Void Tuesday. The void screams are so necessary and freeing. The screaming at my children happens. I do walk away more, and that’s a win. I’m noticing things. I’m talking about it. And that’s good enough for now. 

Grief and Transformation in Pandemic Parenting

This is a stuffed bear from my childhood. It's upside down, standing on its head on a futon.

It’s February and we’re coming up on the one year mark of when we all started Pandemic Parenting. If my great-great grandmother were alive, I could ask her about parenting through a pandemic, and the corresponding anti-mask societies that had popped up then. No one likes a pandemic and we all rebel against its restrictions, sometimes to our deadly comeuppance. Or to the unintended deaths of others. Because cause and effect, it turns out, are never more apparent than in a pandemic.

But she is not alive. And so we forge ahead untethered. 

And in this period of blind progress through time, I am sitting here, almost one year in, feeling a lot of grief. “I feel like we’ve taken one step forward and ten steps back,” I said when I was chatting with my husband in the bathroom last week. 

I have grief about parenting through a pandemic, about how my anger flares up so quickly, about how I wish my children wouldn’t remember me as a screamer but how I watch myself cementing those memories week over week. 

We are 11 years–a bachelor’s and a Master’s and a Ph.D.–into parenting, and here I am unmoored from the dock and I find myself lilting in the wild, open seas. All the parenting books and classes and child therapists we’ve seen, nothing has left me prepared or feeling like I’ve passed the course. 

I recently took the parenting anger management and kid anger books off the shelf and dropped them off at one of our little neighborhood free libraries. Those clear-cabineted giant birdhouses that hold literary gems and cast-offs. In fact, you may drop any parenting books that you feel might transform my life off on my front door, and I shall find homes for them in the little book birdhouses nearby. 

I find myself taking a radical new tack. I am centering my own wholeness and healing and liberation. I started to find hope through a transformational ending racism course I took, and the amazing mentoring of my business coach, Shamaka Schumake. Two avenues that are not focused on children. For me this comes as a shock and aha!

We’ve gone about parenting struggles as if they were child-centered and solving them focused on solving the child with parenting strategies. I remember myself as a compassionate and thoughtful person who didn’t yell before I had kids. So it seemed natural that kids were the root of my turmoil. But perhaps they are a beloved mirror, the original #unfiltered. They’re showing me my whole self.

I asked my husband to take an ending oppression workshop with me in March. It’s premise is that all people are good and all people are hurt, that oppression hurts everyone who participates in it, and that we must heal and discharge trauma so that we don’t keep perpetuating it. We were weighing whether we could afford the course for both of us. “We would spend this much on an intervention for one of our children,” I said. 

My oldest is two years past the halfway mark of his time with us, our middle child is halfway through, and our youngest is almost a third of the way. I have time. I can show them that I’m growing and learning and capable of transforming even under circumstances that only my great-great-grandmother would remember. 

P.S. A note on my parenting advice boundaries. You are welcome to share your experiences with things that have changed your life. I ask that you keep it focused on you and your experience without suggesting that I do the same thing that worked for you. As many of us with challenging parenting situations will tell you, we’ve had 6,000 different strategies recommended and we’ve tried 8,000. And although you are likely coming from a place of feeling like you are unique in recommending the thing that will change my life, you might not know that I’ve already been offered the thing unsolicited many, many times. What I don’t see offered up online enough are real and candid talks about parenting struggles in a way that centers the humanity and goodness of people. Writing also fulfills my need to be seen and heard. So I will keep writing and keep offering any unsolicited advice to the book birdhouses of the world (which, as a side note, is also where I stash phrases like this too shall pass and cherish every moment, perhaps because my heart is just a block of Minecraft obsidian).

The Best Day of 2019

There were many. And if I catalogue them my heart will fill with the helium of gratitude and fly off into the sky until the sun or the air pressure bursts it into a thousand vaguely biodegradable pieces. This is the gift of memory and nostalgia.

But one day.

There’s a favorite spot for hiking the boys and I have in Hood River. We don’t actually hike. We adventure to places that have interesting views or nooks and meadows to explore or hills for sledding. To get to these payoffs there may be a mildly noteworthy amount of walking.

We went to our favorite spot. When I say “our favorite spot” in relation to anything, it refers to a place I take my children that they cannot opt out of. Their actual favorite spot is the arcade. I hate the arcade.

Our favorite spot is up high, over the river. There are little paths and hills to scramble up. There are drop-offs. I do not like heights. But it’s fucking beautiful.

K-Pants begged to go to the top of the triangle hill that juts out over the meadows.

There’s this thing I do when I find something terrifying. I yell to myself in my head, “YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING TERRIFYING! YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING TERRIFYING!” I’m more open to terrifying things now. They are eye-level with the rawness and stimulation of parenting.

At the top of the little path of the scramble-up hill K-Pants’ soul left his body. He wanted my phone to take photos and video. I hadn’t brought it with us. I could see the car like a beetle down below in the parking lot—phone inside.

There are so many streams of consciousness and so many little decisions in living each day. As a group we decided Boy Woww and I would go down to the car, leave K-Pants on the hill, and come back with the phone. “YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING TERRIFYING! YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING TERRIFYING” leaving your child on a hill.


I love him. Very very much. He doesn’t admit that he loves me except in Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards. He took this photo of me from on top of the hill.

Hill down

I love him.