It’s been several years since Meta Herrick Carlson sent her two youngest — twins — off to kindergarten for their first day of school. Her oldest is now about to be a middle schooler.
Still, she likes to remind herself and other parents to take some of the advice so often dished out to small children while waiting for the bus or before walking up to the school doors. Herrick Carlson, a pastor at Minneapolis’ Bethlehem Lutheran Church and a poet, wrote a blessing for parents at that moment:
There is a letting go, entrusting/ your child to the unfamiliar;/ faces, routines, and locations/ that will become uniquely theirs./ Connection is folded up today,/ like a quiet blessing/ tucked inside a pocket,/ where it can help them remember/ your love covers all the space/ between what they have known/ and what is now theirs/ to discover for themselves.
The author of “Ordinary Blessings,” Herrick Carlson recently published a new collection, “Ordinary Blessings for Parents,” with verses for nearly every parenting moment, from “For the Dad Bod” to “For Unsolicited Advice” to “For Their First Phone .”
Initially, she worried that a targeted collection of blessings might be a “slippery slope into ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul.’ ” But, while hunkered down in the house with her family during the pandemic, as every moment became a parenting moment, she realized that a book of blessings for parents was exactly what she needed to write.
“I think I had a kid in the room for every single one I wrote,” she said. “It became a really important and beautiful lens for all that time we spent together.” Our conversation has been edited for clarity and space.
Q: Why do you focus on the “ordinary”?
A: I’ve always been pretty decent at a bunch of things, but I never found my one thing that I was a superstar at, and I felt some social pressure to do that when I was younger. I found my joy when I realized most people are just looking for ways to bless the ordinary, and most people are just hoping that there’s delight for the things that they do pretty well, or do really often — things that are part of being in the trenches, or in the routine of life, that we take for granted or assume it’s not that interesting, or doesn’t matter that much.
When I was able to embrace my ordinary and recognize that, you know, in the stories of creation in Scripture, there’s not this call to perfection. … That’s set me free in a lot of ways.
Q: How did you come to write blessings in the first place?
A: As somebody who works and serves in the church, but also walks through spiritual and secular circles, I recognize how people are often looking for something with a little bit more sustenance than your average Hallmark greeting card for their big and little moments.
Even if they don’t go to church or participate in a religion, they look to religious professionals [to ask]: “What is the thing that you do or say here?”
I started writing blessings because other people would ask me to write them. … People would say, “Oh, do you have one for this?” I’d say, “I don’t, but I could.”
Q: When you write a blessing, do you imagine that people are reading them aloud to each other? Sharing them? Quietly reading them to themselves?
A: Sometimes I write them and I’m really imagining somebody, like, near tears in the middle of the night thinking that they’re the only one feeling this and the words leaping off the page and finding them in that late-night bottle feeding, [dealing with] postpartum depression or anxiety. And so they’re telling themselves something that’s different than their own inner critic.
And sometimes, I imagine people blessing each other. One of my favorite ones is “For Farewell to a Crib.” I have a couple of friends who couldn’t wait to get rid of their stuff, while some of us were just like, “It doesn’t take up that much space in the basement and I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it yet.”
I imagine these blessings as conversations between people, sometimes between people of different generations, between parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren, and between friends. I’ve written some blessings with a certain friend in mind, and they know that it’s for them and they claim it. And if it ends up in a book, I get to watch them pass it on to other people, too, and own it and give it away several times over, which is really fun.
Q: How do you manage to capture sentimentality and emotion, without glossing over the very real challenges of being a parent?
A: I am a very sentimental person, but I’m not a sappy person. I’m a realist. I’m a skeptic. I’m super-pragmatic. These are small and handy books that I hope people never really put away. I hope that they’re just kind of sitting around because there’s always something in there you need to hear or you need to share.
I hope that they’re practical tools for your real and rugged and messy and magical life. And you know, I am not a flawless parent. I’m a real and regular parent who’s just trying — sometimes I’m kind of trying, sometimes I’m really trying and sometimes I’m just surviving. So I don’t aim to write something that isn’t true to my own, figuring-this-out-as-I-go-with-grace, lived experience.
Q: Do you have a favorite blessing in this collection? Is there one that you turn to the most?
A: “For Unsolicited Advice” is pretty snarky. [It begins: Wait. Let me/ get a pen and paper/ so I can write down/ all the ways I do not care.]
The one that I have read the most to people is “For Emotional Labor” — for people who really don’t feel seen by their kids or the world and what a heavy behind-the-scenes lift that is. [It includes the lines: Blessed are they/ who fill out forms and organize,/ who wash uniforms and favorite blankets,/ who remember what no one else will.]
And then my favorite one is “For Awe.” It’s no small thing as a parent to just delight in your kids. I love that blessing because it kind of says, it doesn’t even matter what you’re doing right now. I might not even be able to remember it later. But I’ll remember the feeling of being in awe of who you are and that I get to call you my kid, even on my most stressed out, burned out, frazzled, messy parenting days.
The first lines of that blessing read: Today I stopped to marvel/ at you in an ordinary moment/ and counted myself among/ the lucky ones who/ have seen a glimpse of how good it can be in this life.