Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boo! (hoo.)

This was Halloween, circa 2003.

This is Halloween, circa 2014.

This year, she’s happy (and she’s the one behind the camera, albeit mostly taking selfies) and I’m the one in tears.

This year I won’t see a crying bunny or a grinning Blues Clues. I won’t see the cowgirl mad at her sheriff brother and I won’t see the cookie monster that bordered on being kind of weird in fifth grade. I won’t see the punk (and ill-advised) DJ who really wanted to match her friends.

I won’t see any more of it than is currently on her bedroom floor.

“Mom?” she asked tentatively, a few weeks ago. “I was invited to this Halloween party. And I didn’t go last year, but I really want to go this year. We’re going to trick or treat and watch Ghostbusters and have a sleepover. Can I go?”

This is what I wanted to say:

Are you crazy? No way. You may be 12 (and a half) and in middle school but you are still my baby. I don’t know that neighborhood. Will an adult be with you? Will they have extra batteries for the flashlights? Will you stay with a buddy? Will you not go to creepy houses? Will you stay away from strangers? Will you remember to eat something healthy so you don’t barf from all the candy? Who’s going to do your makeup? Not everyone can do perfect cat whiskers, you know.

Instead, I smiled.

Yeah, and what about the monster truck house? Won’t you miss that? And the haunted porch we go by every year? And laughing at Daddy acting silly, and coming home and dumping all your candy on the family room floor and engaging in a furious bartering session with Jack? And for the love of God, who’s going to make sure your candy doesn’t have razor blades sticking out of it? If we were in Colorado that could be MARIJUANA candy, you know. I can’t risk it. No.

I put my arms around her.

And definitely NO! We’re a family! We spend all holidays together, even kind of fake ones! What if Daddy dresses up? Will you stay with us then? What if I give out full-size candy bars and let you be my first trick-or-treater? Then will you skip the party? Please skip the party. Please stay with us. I’ll miss you so much.

And I said, “Of course you can go, sweetheart. I think you’ll have a blast.”

Later, my husband looked at me and said, “You know, she’s 12. It’s perfect.”

I sniffled.

He said, “How about I dress up (a little), and give you a giant candy bar, and maybe a to-go cup of wine, and we take the puppy and take Jack and go with friends and enjoy every single second of still having a reason to trick or treat? Because it won’t last forever with him, either.”

He's right. So that’s our plan.

And the part of me that loves seeing my kids grow up and become independent is cheering wildly.

And the part of me that wants to hold on to my little babies forever is a bit teary.

And all of it feels just like being a parent, which means always being caught right between a belly laugh and a few bittersweet tears.

And you know what?

It's just perfect.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My boobs are too big (and other reasons yoga’s not for me)

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Who said this? Albert Einstein? Rita Mae Brown? Narcotics Anonymous? Doesn’t matter, just lock me up in the looney bin.

Because, yet again, I tried yoga. You may recall that I’ve tried hot yoga without success. I’ve also tried warm yoga and down dog yoga and up dog yoga and general yoga and every time, I shake my head, resigned to the absolute knowledge that yoga and I don’t mesh.

After the mind-blowing decree from a neurosurgeon that I cannot run (or, as I like to interpret it, I cannot run right now), I once again thought I’d give yoga the old college try.

“Expecting different results.” Sigh. I’m an irrepressible optimist. And yet, as I sit here on the backside of yet another class, I must realize once and for all that yoga is NOT for me. Why? Well...

1. My boobs really are too big. There’s no “gracefully reach your lunge forward and gently frame your front foot with your hands” happening in any sort of zen way for me. Rather, it’s “wrestle those mofos out of the way and plunge your hands forward to the ground before those suckers swing back and you can’t reach your front foot anymore.” The zen goes right out the window.

2. As a runner, and only a runner, and a runner who never stretched, I am very inflexible. Therefore, yoga’s hard. And embarrassing, because the teacher kept having to dig in the bin and bring me blocks. I had blocks under my hands, blocks under my butt, blocks under my hips, all in the vain attempt to have different body parts touch. I looked like a Lego creation.

3. If I stay in one place and sweat, I smell. It’s not a bad smell, it’s kind of a body-wash/deodorant smell, but I do not like to smell myself. When I run, I don’t smell myself until the end (and truthfully, that’s not always such a great smell). Then I started to think I could probably smell other people, too, and they most likely didn’t shower before yoga like I did, and that grossed me out so I tried not to breathe. Which defeats the whole purpose of a class based on the principles of deep breathing. And left me gasping for air. Totally not zen.

4. I found myself mentally arguing everything the teacher was saying. For example, “Where you are right now is where you’re supposed to be.” Not true. I was supposed to be at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but I got sucked into the yoga class instead.

5. My balance is kind of...well...nonexistent. So if I was to balance on one leg and lean forward and stick my arms out in front of me and stick my other leg out behind me, say, then I bet I would totally and loudly fall over and the teacher would have to come check on me again. Theoretically speaking, of course.

Okay, once and for all, I'm done with yoga.

Because sadly, I could go on and on, but I won’t. I have to go to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll try Zumba.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pizzle and the puppy

Our little puppy, Piper, was spayed this week. She didn’t have a great reaction to the surgery and ended up being very sick for about 24 hours, until we could get her back to the vet and get her stuffed with fluids, anti-vomiting drugs and heavy-duty painkillers.

Now that she's better, I wanted to buy her a little treat. I went to the pet store and bought her favorite thing: a hard, brown roll called a bully stick. The store only had them in the 24-inch size, so I bought it and brought it home for her.

The kids asked what, exactly, a “bully stick” is. I told them that one pet store employee responded to my similar question with, “You don’t wanna know.” I left it at that. My kids...did not.

Caroline: Jack, look at the tag. It says it’s made of bull pizzle.

Jack: What’s pizzle? Let me google it.


Hysterical laughter.

Sidesplitting laughter from my two kids.

Jack, gasping for air: Pizzle is an old English word for PENIS!



After they told me, told my husband, texted a few friends and laughed at a very confused Piper, they settled down.

Piper started chewing on her bully stick.

And I heard Caroline say to Jack, sotto voce: That must have been a huge bull.

Ba dum bum.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


This vacation – the vacation we’ve taken for 18 consecutive years with my husband’s parents and any of his four sisters who want to come – starts as any other vacation starts.

With lists. Three-page lists full of items that need to be packed, each with an empty circle beside it that can be checked off with a feeling of satisfaction. Lists of to-dos, lists of in-case-of-emergency numbers for the neighbors. Lists of where the dog is going (where is her rabies certificate?), where the guinea pig is going (add that friend to the list of people for whom we need to buy presents) and who is taking out the trash (ditto). Lists of my clothes, the kids’ clothes, and Whit’s clothes. To dos and lists that leave me feeling exhausted but fully prepared.

We drive to this vacation of ours, anywhere from six to nine hours in the car. This is where I worry. I worry about traffic and I worry about my back hurting and I worry we’re going to get in an accident and I worry someone will drown on vacation. I worry that Whit’s parents will some day not be on this vacation with us. I worry my house will burn down, the dog will misbehave, I forgot to pay a bill that will be due while we’re gone. I worry.

We unload the car and I neurotically count our items and an efficient college student with an awesome summer job grabs our bags and bins and loads them onto a boat. Whit parks the car and says goodbye to it for a week. We board the ferry and it blows its horn and slowly chugs toward the island we’ll call home for seven days.

This island doesn’t have cars. We travel via golf cart, often with kids on laps and hanging off the back (shh). Our children learned this summer how to drive the golf carts, which gave them hours of thoroughly illegal fun (shh again…and pipe down, it was safe).

As my days on these beaches unfold, I suddenly care less about rules. I care less about what I'm "supposed" to do. I care less about helmets. I care less about food groups, which explains why Jack ate a popsicle for breakfast today. I care less about bedtimes, I care less about watches, I care less about the problems that await me at home.

What I suddenly care about is pulling the kids out of the ocean, away from their cousins, to reapply sunscreen to pink noses and shoulders. I care about whether or not there are enough Mike’s Hard Lemonades in the cooler for each adult and some of the older kids to have another one. I care about whether the light will be good for pictures on the beach during our traditional twilight cocktail hour(s). I care about the faces of my kids as an older cousin launches them into the air in the ocean or their smiles as they race toward me on a boogey board.

Here, I don’t despair that the doctor told me I can’t ever run again. Instead, I care about long walks on the beach, whether they’re at 7 am and my heart is pumping or they’re in the middle the afternoon as my son stops every five feet to dig for coquinas or it’s a long stroll to chat with my mother in law. I care about whether the single, teeny store will run out of chicken before we have thought about what we’re grilling for dinner. I may idly wonder if I should run a load of beach towels through the wash or if the golf carts are all charged, but they’re generally passing thoughts.

This is my favorite vacation. It’s the only one in which I’m totally, and completely, unplugged. From my phone, my laptop, my iPad. My lists. My stressors and my worries.

It’s my family’s favorite vacation, too.

There might be a coincidence lurking in there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Dads Do

When I married Whit, I spent some time wondering what kind of husband he’d be. I imagined our married life together; I wondered if he’d get mad if I spent $300 on a pair of shoes (yes) or drank wine with my girlfriends in the middle of the day (no). I never wondered what kind of father he’d be.

Neither Whit nor I had a close relationship with our dad. Whit became close to his stepfather a little later in life, so it’s safe to say he didn’t have exactly the perfect paternal role model during his formative years.

So I should have worried.

But then we had kids.

And they hit the daddy jackpot.

So, kids, when you’re older and reading this, let me give you a little primer on what dads do...based, of course, on what your own dad does.

Dads like breakfast. They take you out to diners and for bagels or croissants. They don’t even notice if you’re missing a food group.

Dads teach you how to play golf and throw the baseball on target and trap the soccer ball.

Dads lie down with you every single night and let you talk about your day, even when it’s well past your bedtime.

Dads give giant bear hugs and gentle kisses and always have a lap ready when there aren’t enough chairs…and sometimes when there are plenty.

Dads play snapping turtle and let you shriek as loudly as you want.

Dads let you eat ice cream before dinner, skip church and ride in the front seat.

Dads coach your teams. And if they’re not coaching, they’re sitting at every game cheering you on.

Dads pick you up from school when you’re having a bad day and take you out for nachos so you can talk. CAROLINE.

Dads are protective. They check every lock before bed and investigate every sound in the middle of the night.

Dads will do anything to make you laugh, whether it’s loudly breaking into “Let it Go” or burping at the dinner table.

Dads want you to know you’re loved. Your dad never gets on an airplane without sending me a text telling me he loves all of us, even the dog.

Dads stand outside at a freezing ice rink at 6 am so they can videotape a figure skating routine while there’s no one else on the ice...

...and dads get up at 5:30 every Saturday morning from November to February to get a little hockey player to his (ridiculously scheduled) practice.

Dads take you to four stores to find the flip flops you want, without ever becoming impatient.

Dads treasure the idea of family.

So, I suppose, I’ve learned a little something. You don’t get to be a great dad by watching someone else or reading a book or seeing a tutorial on You Tube.

Great dads aren’t taught. They’re born that way.

Happy Father’s Day to all the really great dads.

Especially ours.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Help wanted?" "Help needed" is obviously more like it.

Disclaimer: I am a very happy stay-at-home mom who volunteers a lot and also does sporadic freelance writing and is paid for it. However, as my children get older, the hours from 9:00 am and 3:00 pm stretch out longer and longer, and I miss the days that used to fly by because I was so busy. I’m not a “do yoga go out to lunch watch an episode of Breaking Bad and WHOOPS the kids are home” kind of mom; I’m much more of a “give me a long to-do list and let me at it and WHOOPS the kids are home” kind of mom.

All that said, here are my...

Top Ten Signs It’s Time to Get a Job

1. You google “ideas for organizing Tupperware.” And then you search until you find an Instagram picture you like, and then you rearrange all your Tupperware.

2. When you’re feeling blue, you go look at your Tupperware, and it makes you happy.

3. You consider becoming addicted to narcotic painkillers for fun.

4. The ongoing joke you’ve had with your husband about flashing your boobs to motorists for cash starts to sound genuinely appealing.

5. You live in fear of the question, “What are you doing today?” Doesn’t matter who’s asking it, you just never really have a great answer.

6. You’re secretly envious of anyone who has a job, whether it’s the barrista at Starbucks, the Nordstrom cashier or Savannah Guthrie on the Today show.

7. You start actually reading every neighborhood listserv email regarding dog poop, and you seriously consider weighing in on the issue.

8. When people ask what you do for a living, you find yourself spouting ridiculous, outdated facts: “In 1994, I went on a business trip and rode camels in Cairo!” or “In 1996, I took the shuttle to New York every week to negotiate a bond offering!” You repeat these impressive yet totally irrelevant facts because “I make lunches and change sheets and go to Costco!” just doesn’t inspire the same level of excitement.

9. The usual four-hour window for service people doesn’t stress you out. Just doesn’t matter. You’ll be home.

10. People yelling at you to keep your dog from peeing on their lawn constitutes meaningful social interaction with adults.

Sigh. The signs are clear; I’ll dust off my résumé.

But that’s all for now. There’s a tub in this house, and it’s not going to re-grout itself.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's how you play the game

It’s a tough time of year if you’re a kid who likes to play soccer and wants to be on a “select” team. At least where my daughter’s to-be seventh grade and my son’s to-be fourth grade teams are concerned, it was a weekend of tears, anger, threats and rumors. And that was just the parents.

Standing in stark contrast to the stress of soccer is the joy of my son’s baseball team. There’s room for everyone; Jack is appreciated whether he knocks out a triple or an outfield ball flies right past his mitt and the other team scores. The games are on Sunday evenings at 5:00, in our neighborhood, and the ice cream truck is always strategically parked near the field. As dogs and players’ siblings run around, the parents form an enthusiastic sideline with pretzels and opaque Solo cups passed from friend to friend. It’s always a good time, and everyone in my family...from Whit to me to Caroline to Jack...looks forward to the games.

One of the coaches is moving to Hawaii this summer, and they need another assistant coach to run practices and help with games. Jack has always begged Whit to coach one of his sports, and he quickly asked if Whit would help out.

My husband replied, “Well, I don’t know. I’d have to be asked nicely. It would probably have to be a written request, and it would probably have to involve scotch. And if I was asked really, really politely, I might consider it.”

Jack, who is old enough to understand his dad's sense of humor and roll his eyes with considerable talent, did so. And the matter was forgotten.

Until the game last night.

When the coach handed this to Whit:

And this note was inside:

With two airplane bottles of scotch:

And my husband shouted onto the field, “You had me at ‘Whit.’”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the right spirit (ha ha, get it?) for childhood sports.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yo mama

Sometimes, when I find myself repeating the same funny story about my kids a million times over, it makes its way into the hoped-for posterity of my blog. This is such a story.

(P.S. Jack, when you’re 30 and you call BS on this tale, let me assure you it happened exactly as I have transcribed it here.)

Jack came home from school earlier in the week, and he was kind of upset.

Me: Hey, what’s wrong? You seem bummed.

Jack, near tears: Mom, my friends made fun of you all day. I had to defend you from the beginning of school until the end.

Me: Oh, crap, Jack, did they find my blog?


Me: Honey, what in the world were they saying? Why did you have to defend me?

Jack: They...sniff...they said...

...fingers tapping...encouraging raised eyebrows...get on with it, dude...

They said, “Yo mama drives a truck!”

They said, “Yo mama is so old, she walked into an antique store and they kept her!”

Me, trying very, very hard not to laugh: Sweetheart, thank you for defending me. But “yo mama” jokes are a type of joke, and they’re not really jokes about me.

Jack, relieved: Really? They weren’t talking about you?

No, honey. But thanks for sticking up for me.

Jack: Well, it didn’t make sense anyway. I told them you drive an SUV.

Ba dum bum.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Letter to my son's third-grade teacher

Dear Mrs. E.,

Did you like Jack’s habitat? We thought that was such a cool assignment – pick a habitat and make a diorama. I used to really, really love making dioramas, so this was right up my -- er, his -- alley! Your explanation of your expectations was clear and I instantly asked Jack which habitat he wanted. He selected the mountains. I very gently suggested that mountains might be a common choice and asked him to consider something more exotic, like the Serengeti, but he was really clear he wanted the mountains, and this was, after all, his project. I really can’t stand those overbearing mothers who don’t let their kids just do projects themselves, you know?

We were running short on time, and your letter did say parents could help, so I went ahead and went to the craft store while Jack was in school. I thought I’d dump a bunch of things on the table and let him at it! He didn’t really understand the role of the blue cellophane, so I told him I thought a mountain stream was a great idea. He loved it.

Now, I thought it would be cool if the mountains were made of paper mâché, and that takes a really long time to dry, so I did spend about three and a half hours making the mountains and baking them in a 100 degree oven while he was in school. Clearly that was a mom job, right? I mean, ovens and all. Total danger.

He did paint them all by himself. To be helpful, I created a little palette of three mountainy colors on a paper plate, and told him to just go nuts and let his imagination run wild.

The horned owl swooping out of the sky was my idea, and Jack did try to affix the fishing wire himself, but, honestly, you and I both know he’s all thumbs so it was easier for me to do it myself.

He didn’t like all the moss I bought. But I quickly googled it and told him that the mountain goats I bought do, in fact, eat moss, so he didn’t seem to mind as I added more and more moss every time I walked by.

He was super excited when he came home and saw that I glued Goldfish into the stream! I told him that made the outstretched claws of the horned owl more realistic, and he liked that so much he worked it into his presentation.

And the clouds. Weren’t they great? He was adamantly against clouds, but I had his sister run up and grab a few cotton balls and I taped those suckers in and even he agreed they look good.

Now, the mountain goat stuck in about an inch of dried hot glue on the very top of the mountain? Jack wanted to be absolutely certain you could tell that mountain goats climb mountains. I pointed out that the baby goat I had delicately tip-toeing up the mountain (with minimal glue) was sufficient, but he disagreed, and hey, it’s his project, right? So that part was all Jack. And the end of my glue gun.

Anyway, hope you loved it. He worked very, very hard on it.

(Truthfully, though, I still don’t understand why my husband patted him on the back this morning and said, “Don’t worry, buddy. She told me I could help, too.”)

It was great fun and he learned a ton! Fabulous project. We’d love to see more like that.

See you soon!

Mrs. Kennon

Friday, May 9, 2014

Another Hallmark holiday, right?

Very few holidays are more exquisitely complex for me, or generate as much emotion in me, than Mother’s Day.

I get teary because I know in my heart that to be called “Mommy” is the greatest gift God will ever bestow on a woman. Whether you gave birth as a scared teenager or a single mom or a happily married wife; whether you used a surrogate or IUI or IVF or prayer; whether you adopted or fostered or raised a family member’s child, you worked to get that title and, by virtue of having it, you have been touched by an almost indescribable and permanent love.

If you know me, you know how I feel about my children. They are, simply, my heart. They inspire giant love and awe and frustration and laughter and I wouldn’t change one single thing about either one of them.

But Mother’s Day goes beyond those two little ones I’m lucky enough to have.

Mother’s Day is my mom, eight years gone, who taught me to go to church and to use proper manners and to avoid chewing gum in public and to tell dirty jokes with panache and to choose the right fork and to make perfect crème brulee and to always, under all circumstances, hand write a thank-you note.

Mother’s Day is my mother-in-law, who taught me that you’re never too old to float leaf boats down a creek or play sardines with enthusiastic grandchildren or sit on a deck and count stars. She taught me about vegetable gardening and flowers and hummingbirds and orange-juice cake. She taught me that a mother’s love is available to anyone who needs it, and that it doesn't run out, even if you get in a fight with her son.

Mother’s Day is my sister, who raises two boys as a single, hardworking mom. She does it with humor, optimism, faith and lots of wine. She has her hands full all of the time, but never hesitates to reach one of those hands out to me when she thinks I need it.

Mother’s Day is my three sisters-in-law, some of whom needed miracles to have babies and some of whom needed miracles to agree to marry one of my brothers. I am bound to these three women forever; we are part of a completely dysfunctional, totally insane and unconventional family that makes every event one to remember, for better or for worse. We drop by each other's houses, attend countless happy hours together, brag about our kids to each other, live through drunken family Secret Santa exchanges, host each other's families and keep quiet about years of inside family jokes.

Mother’s Day is the friends and neighbors I’ve met through my children; the ones who drop off flowers or invite me over for coffee or text me a joke to put on the kids' lunch napkins or pour a glass of wine at a playdate pickup. They’re the friends I didn’t even know I needed, and now they’re the ones I can’t live without.

Mother’s Day is the friends I have had for so long I almost need a calculator to count the number of years. We studied for high school exams together, skipped school together, attended proms and football games together. We visited each other in college and went on vacation together and served as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We held each other’s newborns and have shared parenting advice and struggles for nearly 16 years. These are the speed-dial friends that make time and distance apart evaporate with a simple, “Hey, what’s up?”

Mother’s Day is the teachers who, I swear to you, treat my children like their own. It’s the teachers who have offered hugs and jokes and giant smiles; it’s the teachers who have made my children love to learn.

So for me, Mother’s Day is about being thankful for my own children. It’s also a silent (or, in this case, written) tribute to all those women who touch my life in a million little ways and make me a better mom, a better wife, a better sister, daughter and friend.

Cheers, ladies. And happy, happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you. I love you all. And Mom, you're still here, every day, and I see you everywhere I turn. I miss you.

Friday, May 2, 2014

If you are also on drugs, this won't seem random to you.

Sometimes weird things teach you weird things about yourself. And your priorities.

For example, I found out on Monday that I was having surgery on Tuesday (the minutia of why this was a surprise is totally unimportant). I was very, very nervous, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Not because of the idea of anesthesia, or the thought of someone cutting into my back and playing around with my spine, or even because of my pathological (and well founded) fear of my butt showing during surgery.

No, I was nervous because I had so much to DO.

Early Tuesday morning, I sprang into action.

The first thing I did was get a pedicure.

The second thing I did was plan out meals for the week and go to the grocery store.

The third thing I did was make meals for the week.

The next things I did happened in this order: I changed all the sheets, I did all the laundry, I paid all the bills, I watered all the plants.

I swept the floor.

I hobble walked the dog around the block.

I arranged for someone to take the puppy on an extended playdate. I arranged for someone to take the kids on extended playdates.

I changed two light bulbs that had been bothering me.

I took a long shower and dried my hair and looked as cute as I could without an ounce of makeup.

Then, and only then, did I tell my husband I was ready to go to the hospital.

So I learned I am neurotic and anal to an almost diagnosable degree.

Then, as my husband met my doctor and heard us joke around

(me: You’ve already done two surgeries today. How did they go? Dr. F: They didn’t make it. I’m hoping the third time is the charm. Let me get a shovel and then I’ll be ready for you.),

he looked at me, incredulously, and said, “You just like this guy because he makes you laugh, right?”

So I learned I rank humor as the most important trait in friends, children, store checkout clerks and surgeons.

As I have sat in bed for three days letting my husband wait on me, I have learned being lazy is completely overrated and it actually sucks.

I have learned that if you give me enough Vicodin, and a laptop, and a hefty dose of boredom, I will post a blog entry that doesn’t make much sense just so I feel like I’m talking to someone.

Now I’m going to go make some progress on season 4 of Breaking Bad.

Who says I can’t rock a Friday night?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happy Days

Have you guys heard about the project called 100 Happy Days? My friend Carly started posting pictures on Facebook with the hashtag #100HappyDays, and it made me curious. If you check out the link, you'll see that some kid (okay, he is 27, and sadly that is a "kid" to my almost-44-year-old self) started the challenge in December because, "I believe that being happy is a choice and everyone can be happy just by appreciating little things in life one has instead of engaging in the constant chase for ever rising internal & external expectations, which leaves no time for being happy." I won't comment on the grammar, but I love the sentiment. He asks that you join the challenge, and then every day, for one hundred days, you post a picture of something that makes you happy. Anything!

Last year took a toll on my happy, optimistic self. We started 2013 with a horrible and shocking loss that shook our whole family, moved on through a lengthy hospital vigil while one of my best friends from high school prayed her 12-year-old-daughter wouldn't die (she didn't), sailed through the fall down the stairs that nearly killed me, enjoyed the summer and then launched into my dad dying, my beloved dog dying, and a ridiculous hospitalization for me because things were trapped in my uterus (yup, try to figure that one out). I started 2014 with a guarded optimism that grew as the first few months were actually pretty nice, then I got crabby all over again when this damn disc popped in my back, flattened my nerves, numbed my leg and caused constant and unending pain.

That whole complainy paragraph is to say that I'm not feeling too happy. I'm definitely not noticing things that should be making me happy, and I am probably not that fun to be around.

So! The challenge. I'm in. I'm going to post on Twitter (@muchmamadrama) if you care to follow along. I told Caroline about the idea of using Instagram for good, not evil, and she's going to start the challenge with a few of her friends...and I can't imagine a better exercise for middle-school tweens.

So here's my first picture. This was actually taken yesterday, when Whit, Jack, Caroline and I took Piper on a hike during our spring break trip. Bear in mind, Whit is still feeling crappy from the flu, Jack is still complaining about strep, and Caroline still thinks it's too cold for spring break. My back still hurts and Piper's not perfect when we drop her leash. I had plenty of negatives swirling around my brain, yet I did stop and appreciate this moment, when Caroline grabbed Piper's leash and sprinted down the path with her. It made me thankful for my beautiful, strong, healthy daughter, and my crazy puppy, and the crisp spring air, and the very lovely experience of a family hike.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The opposite of effortless

Hey, all you people posting happy, sundrenched Facebook pictures of your spring break trip...yes, you drinking fruity drinks in Puerto Rico, you frolicking in the sand in Palm Beach, you seeing hot Broadway shows with the family:

You suck.

Because I am jealous.

Because you make spring break look effortless.

Like you twinkled your perky little noses and you were transported to said drink/beach/show.

I, too, have a trip planned for this week. I, too, want to frolic and drink fruity drinks. I don’t even like Facebook but I could be convinced to post pictures if I were ten pounds lighter, in a bikini, on a beach, with a fruity drink, brought to me by a cabana boy. I would like to be on a porch, looking at a lake, reading a book. I would like to be in a hot air balloon, despite my fear of heights.

I would like to be anywhere, and I would like the getting there part to be effortless.

But it’s not, and I haven’t even left my house.

Maybe my angst is because I am kicking the malfunctioning sump pump every ten minutes because it is raining so hard that I swear to you Noah and his ark just floated down the street.

Maybe it’s because my husband, who is usually very helpful at times like these, has the stomach flu. Did you hear me? He's a man. And he's sick. Enough said.

Maybe it’s because Jack has strep and is complaining quite a bit, though I would point out the strep was a sneak attack and his throat didn’t even hurt until the lab results came back.

Maybe it’s because Caroline is...Caroline, saying that “yes I am excited about our trip but I wish it was going to be warmer there.” (Why, honey? Did the snow in the forecast throw you? Because yes, it will snow there. Yay. More snow.)

Maybe it’s because I am still dealing with that whole, painful devil-in-my-MRI issue.

Maybe it’s because as I am cleaning the guinea pig’s cage, the dog is chasing me trying to eat the guinea pig’s poop, and thinking of another dog and another spring break trip, I am just thankful the dog isn’t trying to eat the guinea pig.

Maybe it’s because I want to twinkle my perky little nose and be transported to our destination.


But no.

I will pack. I will get gas and fill the car with luggage and ditch the guinea pig (thank you, LW) and take out the trash and turn off the A/C and water the plants and kick the damn sump pump one more time and then turn on the alarm and toss the strep kid and his antibiotics and the stomach flu guy with a barf bag and the puppy fully satiated thanks to the poop and the tween with her mind-numbing iPhone…I will toss all of them in the car, and I will drive far away.

To a lake, and a porch, and a book, and maybe even a fruity drink.

Look for me on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Say YES to drugs!

Let me begin by telling you that I am not a drug person. Though I’m sure drugs were rampant in my private girls’ high school or at the “party hard” college I attended, I never saw them. We drank Sun Country Wine Coolers and thought we were cool; we never really felt the need to search out anything stronger.

Except, in fact, I once mentioned to my mom that we were going to try “ex” on a college spring break trip. I knew nothing more about it than that name and that it gave you energy and you could probably lose weight because you’d be dancing all night.

(The mom in me now knows I was probably actually referring to Ritalin. Which still sounds tempting.)

My mother, perfectly suited to manage five children, said, “For the love of God, you have enough energy as is. Don’t waste your money.” And that was that.

For the past (how old is that giant baby I carried?) nine and a half years (no coincidence), I have had problems with my back. I like to run and bike and hike and lift weights and take exercise classes and a long time ago, my lower back gave me the finger and told me to stay in bed. I didn’t, so it retaliates every now and then.

It retaliated hard over the weekend.

Actual conversation with my doctor Monday:

Me: What do you see on the MRI? The devil?

Dr. F, laughing: Yes, Julie, I see Satan on your MRI.

Me: Hey, don’t knock it. People see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Dr. F, squinting at the MRI: Well, actually, it does look pretty bad…

“Pretty bad” translates to me, in the emergency room, on Saturday. Crying. Begging them to hit me over the head with a baseball bat so the pain would stop for five minutes. (Ignoring my husband’s curiously enthusiastic request to be the one holding the bat.) Accepting a dose of Percocet, even as I acknowledged that upon ingesting it, I would likely never poop again.

Nothing worked. All I could do was pace, because if I stood still/sat down/lay down/sneezed/laughed/breathed I would be in even more pain, and it was already excruciating. So I paced. And paced. And cried because it hurt and I had been pacing for seven hours and I just wanted to sit down.

Then along came Nurse Tony. And his little IV.

And oh my God, if I could abuse whatever was in that IV, I would recklessly abuse it. The moment he pressed down the plunger, I felt it start in my arms and move all the way to my feet. My back went from a 10(0000) on a scale of 1 to 10 to a .5. My hip stopped throbbing instantly. I sat down. I actually laid down. He asked why I was still crying and I had to explain the relief I felt.

After a little while, my leg got shooting pains in it.

There was Nurse Tony, with another dose.

No more pain. Practically no more consciousness. But I didn't care.

If insurance people weren’t so picky, I would have checked myself into that hospital and kept that drug flowing until they could fix the problem.

It. Was. Awesome.

I told my doctor about it, and his eyes lit up. He had kidney stones, he told me, and the same drug worked miracles.

“In fact,” he said, “I’ve been told the feeling it gives you mimics the way heroin makes you feel.”

I raised my eyebrows.

I’ve watched Weeds and I’m halfway through Breaking Bad.

Mama might just have found herself a new career. And a happy back.

(I'll ignore how thrilled my husband looks at the thought of a second paycheck, regardless of its origins.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Callerpittars and pigtails

So while I have been busy battling her over Instagram and bugging her about her grades and enduring stony silences because I “just don’t UNDERSTAND,” my daughter turned 12 over the weekend.

I miss the callerpittars and pigtails of preschool. But, despite the preteen-ness of it all, I love the little girl who just turned 12: she is graceful and smart and funny and kind (and stubborn, and willful, and talkative, and sarcastic…because, after all, she is my daughter).

For her birthday dinner, Caroline wanted steak (because, after all, she is her father’s daughter). She chose a nice restaurant and acted maturely impressed when the maître d’ wished her a happy birthday upon our arrival. She gave us a grin when the waiter told her to close her eyes and sprinkled confetti at her place. She articulately ordered her petite filet and put her napkin in her lap without so much as a meaningful glance from me.

As I watched her, part of me wondered if there was any little girl left in there; a small piece so I didn’t have to say goodbye just yet.

As we waited for the check, she said, “Dad, you’re the closed hearts.”

I looked over, and she had taken the confetti and started a game of tic tac toe.

And I had my answer, and it was perfect.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring: zero. Winter: a lot.

Winter got in a good sneak attack today. We went to bed last night expecting a few inches of snow, which is not crazy weird in March, and maybe gives us a school delay. We woke up to about nine inches and everything – from schools to the government – closed. Social media was instantly abuzz with locals complaining about the never-ending winter, never-ending snow, never-ending missed school days. I, on the other hand, hold an extremely unpopular view.

(Clears throat.)

Top Ten Reasons I Love A Snow Day

(even if it’s almost trampling the first day of spring)

1. I do not have to make school lunches under the duress of my daughter screaming, “I’m late! Where’s my lunch? What’s in it? I don’t like that!”

2. I do not have to administer a lie detector test to verify my son brushed his teeth. On snow days, I don’t actually care if teeth get brushed or beds get made.

3. I get to experience that childhood thrill of seeing our school on the list of closed schools. Remember what that was like? But back then I was listening to a radio under my Laura Ashley quilt and didn’t subsequently think, “Well, I’m not going to get a damn thing done today.”

4. Sledding. Come on. It’s like dressing up on Halloween or jumping on a trampoline; adults don’t do it…but adults with kids look perfectly normal on a saucer.

5. Shoveling. Don’t laugh; I race outside on snow mornings to shovel. One, it’s great exercise. Two, it appeals to my OCD personality. Three, no one wants to help so they all leave me alone.

6. Cookies. Pot roast. Comfort food. I actually gave up sweets for Lent (so, obviously, everyone suffers) but the pot roast is in the crock pot as we speak.

7. Proof of pet elimination. There’s color coded, visual evidence that proves whether she was just in a weird position or she’s done and I can go back inside. Plus, even squishy dog poop freezes on contact with snow and can be picked up easily.

8. The kids are exhausted from being outside, in twenty pounds of snow clothes, all day. I’m tired from cleaning up after them and mopping melted snow off the hardwood floors. The dog is tired because she’s a puppy and the snow is taller than she is, so a walk becomes a rapid series of vertical leaps.

9. This neighborhood full of new McMansion construction looks pristine. Even a hydraulic excavator looks good covered in snow.

10. Oh, look at that. It’s 5:00. My New Year’s resolution to never drink wine on a weeknight is clearly voided on a day I went careening down an icy hill, did three hundred loads of laundry and didn't try to sell my children on eBay.

Bottoms up, baby.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Parenting is parenting, period.

In 2004, when Caroline was two and I was pregnant with Jack, I wrote an article that would've been a blog post if this blog had even been a twinkle in my eye. Instead, I wrote it, stored it in "Julie's documents" on my computer, and forgot about it.

However, little 12-week-old Piper made me remember this tale, and I thought I'd dust it off and post it.

Two kids, two dogs and ten years later, I'd like to tell my coworker he can bite me. I was totally right.


I sighed in exasperation when I saw the yellow puddle on the floor of the playroom. I then looked into the guilty eyes of my two-year old daughter, Caroline, who was stark naked, and the patient eyes of our five-year-old yellow Lab, Bo, who was also naked except, inexplicably, for a colorful birthday party hat on his head.

“Who did it?” I asked sternly.

No response. Then Caroline, currently in the throes of potty training, said in a whisper, “Bo did it.” Bo just looked at me, almost rolling his eyes.

This unclaimed accident wasn’t the first time I had considered the parallels of parenting kids and dogs. In fact, it was then that I remembered a conversation I had with a coworker about four and a half years ago. He was telling me about being awakened repeatedly the previous night by his toddler. I innocently responded by telling him that I had been awakened repeatedly the previous night as well, but by Bo, who needed to go to the bathroom four times. He told me his son had drawn on the walls with crayon. I commiserated, telling him Bo chewed a chunk off the edge of our antique coffee table. Getting agitated, he told me his son was lactose-intolerant. I told him Bo couldn’t eat onions.

Outraged, he finally snapped, “Raising a child is completely different from having a puppy. It’s insulting to me that you would even dare to compare the two.”

Ignorant, not yet a member of that exclusive parenthood club, I backed off. I figured I couldn’t imagine the difficulties one would experience raising a child, so I considered myself lucky to only be dealing with a puppy. I ignored my mother, who said, “Have a baby, for the love of God. They’re easier than dogs.”

I soldiered through the nights of not sleeping, the destroyed property, the incessant barking and the concerns about his weight gain and doggy development. I fought the panic that arose when our boy dog wouldn’t lift his leg to pee and preferred to squat like a girl dog, wondering if he did, in fact, know he was a boy. My husband and I took Bo to puppy kindergarten, then basic obedience classes, then advanced obedience classes – all on Saturdays at 8:00 am, half an hour away. I cleaned up accidents in the house. I read books on the best way to train dogs and I went to health food stores to buy the ingredients to make homemade dog treats. I planned play dates with neighborhood dogs so Bo would be socialized. I hired an expensive dog walker so Bo would be well taken care of while my husband and I worked. All the while, I remembered my friend’s comment, and I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to have a baby.

Then I had a baby.

I didn’t sleep. Everything I owned was pooped or puked on. To say she cried often is giving her quite a bit of credit. Concerns about weight gain and development ruled the first year of her life. I fought the panic that arose when she tried to dance and I thought she was having seizures. She’s been in Gymboree classes, swimming, gymnastics and music classes since she was six months old. I clean up accidents in the house. I own – and have read – books on every child-rearing philosophy out there. She never ate baby food from a jar; I steamed and pureed organic fruits and vegetables for her. She has a play date network that makes kindergarten pale in comparison. When my husband and I have something to do, she is taken care of by my closest siblings and friends so she gets incredibly attentive care.

It’s exactly like having a dog.

Bo chewed the heels off a pair of $300 pumps. Caroline threw diamond earrings in the toilet and then used the same toilet. Yes, the earrings were recovered, but it wasn’t pretty. Bo needs a three-mile run every day or he’s bouncing off the walls. Caroline needs a solid two hours of physical activity or she’s incorrigible. Now, I love my child infinitely more than I love my dog. He sank down the priority ladder when I had Caroline, and he’ll be lowered another rung with every subsequent child we have. But that doesn’t change the fact that raising a puppy and raising a child are remarkably similar experiences.

My coworker is now the vice president of marketing for a dotcom that made it. I’m a stay-at-home mom expecting my second child. We live in vastly different worlds, and only one of us spends every day with both a dog and a child. I received a smug email from him last week, saying, “Still think having children is analogous to having a dog?”

I didn’t respond. You just can’t talk to people like that.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Torture is being The Tapeworm Mom and losing control.

Torture is having your child beg for something and have panic well up inside you as you say no and usher her back into her soundproof, lifeproof bubble.

Torture is wanting to be a cool, understanding mom and also wanting to protect your child from as much hurt as you can.

Torture is, in a word, in this house, Instagram.

Or, as I call it when I talk to my husband, “fucking Instagram.”

She pleaded. She made promises. She said “everyone has it” and everyone ended up being two people. She bargained and negotiated and asked if she could look at it on a friend’s phone and played the “don’t you trust me?” card.

And I said no and “you have to be 13 by law” and told her how horrible social media is for tweens and explained that she will end up a cutter if she has an Instagram account. (Not really. But I came close.)

She won, because she has an Instagram user name (because even I know that an unequivocal, immovable NO! Because I said so! isn’t exactly stellar parenting).

I won, because I set it up and it’s my email address and I get all the notifications and she knows I check it like I’m looking for lice.

So yes, I see the 11-year-olds in bikinis striking post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus, tongue-hanging-out poses. And I see the bad language and the insults and the urban legends. And I see that Caroline is, so far, keeping her promise to us – she’s posting pictures of sunsets. And the new puppy. And the guinea pig inexplicably riding a skateboard.

For now.

Because yesterday I saw my daughter’s face in a square on the elimination game. Which is played all over Instagram, every day.

Someone posts a grid of their friends' faces and asks, “Who should be eliminated?”

Based on looks? Maybe. Personality? Popularity? Yup.

Based on kindness? Intelligence? Loyalty, honesty? I highly doubt it.


I’m not so far out of touch that I don’t understand the draw. I can’t tell you I wouldn’t have played that game when I was twelve, if “car phones” weren’t still cemented underneath the ashtray in the station wagon and “Love Boat” wasn’t as raunchy as my Saturday nights got.

But I’m enough of a mom to know that the population of 11 and 12 year old girls who can handle being the first one voted off the looks/popularity island is pretty damn small.

Caroline was surprised when she saw her face on that grid. Her response, though, was, “I don’t really care what people think. It’s just a game.”

Sure, Caroline. “Hey, you, sixth grader? Out of six/eight/ten people, you’re the ugliest.”

I’m a grown woman and that might make me cry.

We (we being Whit because I was in DEFCON 5 mode and was googling “convents instead of middle school”) explained our concerns. Explained how other kids might feel about being pressured to play, about being eliminated or not, about engaging in that voting process.

Did we get through? I don’t know. I have no idea if she checks to see whether or not she was eliminated. I do know that she took all her selfies off Instagram and left up the puppy pictures. But it’s just a matter of time; she’s a normal kid and she’s going to get sucked into all the shit that is now part of growing up.

She’s got a tough road ahead. Growing up isn’t easy these days.

Neither is being a parent these days.

In some ways, it’s torture.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shameless self promotion....

As you might know, a big reason I persevere with this blog is because I think it would be the coolest thing in the world to have, in writing, my mom's thoughts and stories of my childhood. Particularly since she died so young, I'd love to know if (or confirm that) I drove her crazy or made her laugh. I'd love to remember awesome trips we took or great birthday parties we had; and I'd love to get to know a younger me from the perspective of my (still) 43-year-old self. It's a gift I'm trying to leave my own kids.

To this end, I've often wanted to write a post about an amazing book club a friend of mine started when Caroline was in first grade. I want my daughter to always remember the afternoons we spent discussing fantastic books with our friends, and to actually have directions on how she could do the same thing with her kids.

Thanks to Twitter, I got to know Leah Lesser of Barefoot Books, and she inspired me to sit down and do it (and then take the scary step of sending it somewhere).

The product is on Mamalode's website today. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


There’s so much I should be writing about right now.

Like how I pulled my kids out of school and drove directly into the apocalyptic, epic snowstorm last week.

Like how I drove 90 miles an hour and literally allowed one stop – “PEE AND GET CHIPS” – on the seven-hour trip, all in an attempt to beat the snowstorm advancing from the south.

Like how I failed to beat it about an hour outside of Knoxville.

Like how I swung through the Knoxville airport and picked up my husband, stranded by the storm while on a business trip.

Like how we drove through white-out conditions, on r-e-a-l-l-y slippery mountain roads.

(Like why the only reason we did it was so that my husband could stand in his mother’s house on her 75th birthday, and call her on the phone to ask if our present had arrived. Like how she said no, and he suggested she check the kitchen. Like how the kids were standing in the kitchen with balloons, hopping up and down with the excitement of a killer and thoroughly unexpected surprise.)

Like how I let my kids sled down this:

On this (yes, they lived):


But I won’t go into detail about all that, because I just don’t have time.

Because we didn’t come home alone.

Because Lab Rescue texted me somewhere along the drive north.

And so this.

And this.

And the most bittersweet love in the entire world, because we still miss Bo(eing).

But we sure do love Piper.

(And, obviously, airplane names for dogs.)

So while she’s napping, I’ve got to run and do all the things I can’t do with a wide-awake puppy.

Like shower.

Or do laundry.

Or cook.

Or sleep.

So we'll chat later.

And I'll try very hard to keep the cute puppy pictures to a minimum.

Or at least restrict them to Twitter.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Are you ready for some FOOTBALL??

My husband loves football.

In particular, he loves the Denver Broncos.

Whether they win, whether they lose, he cheers for them.

(He went to flight school in Colorado and swears he frequented a bar that was also frequented by John Elway. In guy-speak, enough said.)

The last time the Broncos went to the Superbowl, we had just thrown a Mexican-themed engagement party for some friends the Saturday night before. We watched the Superbowl wearing sombreros with the Margarita Man standing vigil next to us. (While the Margarita Man was actually a rented margarita machine, I think the mariachi band had found it overnight and was still hiding in the house somewhere.) (I think the guests had also found the Margarita Man, because now that I think about it, the cast of characters for the engagement party and the Superbowl party were one and the same.)

Ah, youth.

That was then. Like 15 years ago. This is now.

For some of us.

My thoughts are crystal clear: will the kids have done their homework? How late should I let them stay up? When can I prep the food? Who can I invite that will have to go home early to put their kids to bed? Who can I invite that won't make a mess? I can’t wait to see that cute puppy in the Budweiser ad. Will Whit remember to wake me up so I can watch the fourth quarter?

My husband’s thoughts are also, for the moment, crystal clear: barbeque. Beer. Chips. Who can I invite that won’t talk except during the commercials? Who can I invite that will not say one nice thing about the Seahawks? And where is that mariachi band when you need it? They could play the Broncos fight song. Is there a Broncos fight song? I need a Broncos flag. Wait, first I need a flagpole. Nah, I think I need a beer. Thinking of beer, what are the chances I can convince Julie to buy this to hold all that beer?

I give up. All you mariachi-playing, sombrero-wearing, tequila-swilling Broncos fans, I've got your soul mate right here. Just don't talk and you can sit next to him during the game.

I'll be upstairs in my pajamas. Yell when that cute commercial comes on.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A long post you don't have to read unless I gave birth to you.

I have a friend with whom I can analyze everything and everyone. She knows me pretty well, which means she could tick off a list of my faults from now until Thanksgiving.

The other day, she said something in passing that has reverberated over and over with me.

She said, “You’re kind.”

Um, hello? I’m passive aggressive and snarky and judgmental and I definitely think incredibly mean thoughts that would probably crush people if I said them out loud. I’m not kind.

“Yes, you are. Whenever you have a choice, you choose kindness. You try not to hurt people.”

I thought about that. True or not true, it’s definitely a quality I value. I remember a conversation with this friend when our daughters were barely walking. She said if she had one hope for her daughter, it was that she’d be tough. I said if I had one hope for mine, it’s that she’d be kind.

Then I started wondering what I’d say today. That little pigtailed toddler is now a pretty awesome almost-12-year-old with an equally awesome nine-year-old brother. What is it, in my 43 (okay...43 plus) years of wisdom, I’d wish for them?

Well, I’d hope for happiness. I’d hope for a happiness that isn’t dependent on grades or money or friends or soccer goals or weight or looks. I’d hope for a happiness that starts so deep within their cores that nothing can ever steal it; an intrinsic happiness that exists because they love who they are.

I’d hope for gratitude. I’d hope they wake up every day thanking God for the ability to open their eyes and get out of bed. I’d hope they appreciate it when their most basic life necessities are met, because not everyone has a roof or heat or food. I’d hope they appreciate the extra things they have, whether they’re (ah-hem) fabulous parents or nice clothes or great trips or junk food. I’d hope they appreciate their health every single day.

I’d hope for self respect. I’d hope they know what gifts their bodies are, and that they take care of them. Physically, emotionally, mentally, in relationships, with the food they eat, when they’re confronted with alcohol or drugs or any of the other crap they’ll face.

I’d hope for honesty. I’d hope that they can be honest with themselves, with their friends, with their eventual (and mighty lucky, if I do say so myself) spouses. I’d hope they’re trustworthy, because little destroys someone more than being betrayed. I’d also hope they understand the value of a good little white lie (remember, I want them to be kind, and I don’t really want to hear that my butt’s gotten huge or my dinner looks like dog throw up).

I’d hope for courage. I’d hope they know they can do anything they want, and let common sense – not fear – be the only thing that stops them.

I’d hope for loyalty. I’d hope that they can always be counted on, I’d hope that they always show up. My husband has a history of showing up when he’s not expected but greatly appreciated; he’s gotten on more last-minute flights to attend funerals and be at bedsides than I can count. That’s one of my favorite things about him.

I’d hope for faith. It can be any kind of faith; we’ve given them the foundation of one religion, but faith isn’t defined by one religion. I’d hope they believe that God exists and loves them, and that their faith provides a moral compass and sense of contentment and security that nothing else in the world really can.

I’d hope they have an enormous capacity to love and an equally enormous capacity to forgive. Loving means they will likely get hurt. Forgiving means they won’t be destroyed. Loving and being loved are so fundamental to happiness; I’d hope my kids never have baggage or walls that hamper their ability to do either.

…and I’d hope they know when to let go. Let go of toxic friends, let go of toxic relationships, let go of anyone who doesn’t treat them with kindness and respect. I'd hope they don't harbor grudges, don’t look for retaliation, don’t stuff anger down inside; I'd hope they just accept that people are different, and move on.

And yes. I’d hope they’re kind. I’d hope they’re not the reason someone feels ashamed or inferior or picked on. Rather, I’d hope they’re the friend whose phone rings when someone can’t stop crying. I’d hope they’re the friend who will stick up for a buddy at school or be the one refusing to join in a derogatory conversation about a classmate. Later, I'd hope they're the ones who will stop malicious gossip in its tracks. I’d hope that, when given the choice, they choose kindness. There’s so much heartbreaking meanness in this world; I’d love to know that there are a couple more souls out there trying to counter it.

Am I some fabulous role model for my children, embodying the fulfillment of each of these hopes? Not a chance. I’m a little of some of these things, none of others, and a lot of others. I'm definitely a work in progress.

And that brings me to my final hope for my kids: I’d hope they don’t give up. I’d hope they don’t give up on happiness just because life gets hard; I’d hope they don’t give up on who they want to be just because they aren’t; I’d hope they don’t give up on love because they get hurt.

And I’d really hope that, as adults, they remember to call their mother every day to say, “I love you.” Because I can already tell you I'll really miss them.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Devils to angels, just like that.

I woke up this morning a lot earlier than intended because there were little feet tangled up in my legs. There was an arm belonging to the feet draped across my neck, and there was a little head nestled into my shoulder.

I don’t really like to be bugged when I sleep. I’m a ridiculously light sleeper; my poor husband knows that if he turns on a light downstairs, breathes heavily or rolls over a lot, I’m up and then I’m up for hours. The whole day, usually.

So my day began at 4 am and I was pretty crabby about it.

“Ugh!” I thought crabbily, as my brain started ticking away with my worries and to-dos. “Now I’m up. I can’t wait for the day these kids don’t come crawling in my bed!”

I got up without disturbing the invader and walked down the stairs, thinking, “I can’t wait for the day there aren’t handprints going down the stairs! Clean walls, that’s what I’ll have.”

“Hmpf,” I grumbled in the kitchen, “Someday I won’t have to make these lunches every morning. The kids won’t expect seasonally appropriate jokes on their napkins (What do you call a really old snowman? Water!) and I won’t have to have all this dumb environmentally friendly packing cluttering my cabinets.”

As the day went on, that was my paradigm.

Someday my mornings won’t include anyone saying, “It IS clean. I barely wore it yesterday.”

(That’s gross.)

Someday I won’t be a breakfast short-order cook, mentally calculating grams of protein.

(Eggs? Cheese? Yogurt? C'mon, pick one.)

Someday I won’t ask one single person, “Did you poop or do you need Miralax?”

(Okay. Seriously?)

Someday I won’t have to tie shoelaces (“You do it tighter!) or brush hair (“It doesn’t hurt when you do it!”).

Someday I won’t have to put on a bra to walk to school in 20-degree weather.

(Yup, I was still crabby.)

Someday I won’t have to step over Nerf guns on the stairs.

Someday I won’t have to fold so many piles of laundry.

Someday I won’t have to remember to buy Goldfish or Cheerios at the store.

(A thought, quickly banished: Will these aisles make me feel nostalgic? Sad, even?)

Someday I won’t get football-tackle hugs outside the elementary school at 3:00.

(Oh, but I do love those after-school hugs.)

Someday I won’t get asked to help with homework.

Someday they’ll ask for the keys instead of a ride.

(Oh, right. I guess so.)

Someday I won’t have to correct manners at every meal.

(But we’ll still be having family dinners, right? Yes, right?)

Someday I won’t be able to sing the entire Phineas and Ferb theme song.

Someday I won’t lay down with my children and say prayers at night.

(Um, but the whole “If I die before I wake” thing – isn’t it risky to not say prayers?)

Someday no one will ask me to “activate” their dream catcher.

(Really? A world with inactive dream catchers?)

Someday no one will come find me because a bad dream was scary and a parent’s hug will make it vanish.

(Totally unacceptable. My superpowers...where will I use them?)

And someday no affectionate, sleepy kid will come crawling in my bed and wrap his or her arms and legs around me.

(Sniff. Sob. I can't bear it.)

Tonight I was sitting on the couch with a book, well past Caroline’s bedtime. She came down and silently sat next to me. She snuggled up and said, “Can we cuddle? Just for five minutes? I’ll sleep better.”

And as I put down my book and held her close, I said, “Guess what?”

“So will I.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Because he's nine and it's cute.

The other day, Jack remarked that he saw “a dog that looked like a cross between a Chihuahua and a brussel sprout.”


It was like a game of 20 Questions. “Was it round?” “Was it green?” “Did it look like a stalk or a single sprout?” “Was it close to the ground?” “Was it fat?” “Did it just remind you of a brussel sprout?”

I was genuinely curious. And I had to be sure he wasn’t suffering from a stroke.

“Noooooo...” He was truly puzzled by my questions.

I kept firing away. "Jack, how in the world can a dog remind you of a brussel sprout?"

Finally, blessedly, a light bulb went off in my head. With all the enthusiasm of a contestant hitting the jackpot on Jeopardy, I screamed, “A JACK RUSSELL TERRIER!” and he screamed, “YESSSSS THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT I MEANT!!” and I thought, “Wow, I really need to feed these kids a vegetable other than broccoli.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pride Goeth Before the (Potential) Fall

My first mistake was thinking I had outgrown it. Out-matured it.

The paralytic fear (are these real terms or am I making them up?) I once had of lice, that is.

I thought I could look at the old me and laugh, kindly but wisely, and say to myself, “There, there. You were just the crazy mom of...um, a toddler through a fifth grader, really, because it lasted a while...who was terrified of something like lice that would both titillate and annihilate your barely concealed OCD personality. But you were so completely batshit crazy that your long-haired daughter will never share a brush. She’ll resist the urge to swipe that fun clown hat off her friend’s head so she can try it on. Really, her ears could be frostbitten and an innocent saleslady could offer her a cashmere scarf and she’d think of the likelihood of lice and say no thank you. Because you’re that much of a lunatic, and you’ve brainwashed her into being a conscientious lice avoider just like you.”

I was proud of what I had overcome. No longer did I hear about neighborhood lice outbreaks and calculate whether it had been at least 72 hours since our last playdate! No longer did my heart seize with fear when I heard those awful words: “I want to wear my hair down!” I could delete the never-called Lice Lady from my contacts! I could throw away the preventive RID that had occupied a shelf in my medicine cabinet for nearly a decade! The only elementary schooler I have left is a boy, and he has short hair and isn’t going to hug his friends all day! Hallelujah!

I let my guard down, that was the problem. Damn you, complacency. Damn you.

Because that maturity existed before my daughter went away for three days with her entire large sixth grade class. It existed before she shared a cabin with ten girls, before I knew about pillow fights or (shudder) the “extra” pillows the conference center made available.

I got to pick her up today. All morning, I thought of nothing more than how excited I was to see her. I thought of how much I had missed her, of how happy her brother would be to see her. I thought of what we’d have for dinner and of how we’d sit together and laugh and she’d fill me in on everything that had happened.

When she got off the bus, she looked…tired. And a little unkempt. But I was just really thrilled to see her.

As we waited for her luggage, I found myself quite unconsciously scanning her scalp. “Stop!” I reprimanded myself silently.

I reached out a finger to see if I could brush a little white speck off her hair.

She rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t have lice.”

“Of course not!” I laughed nervously. “I wasn’t looking for lice!”

But it was too late. Latent Lice Paranoia had swept in and obliterated all sense of peace. My brain had every neuron screaming, "LICE! Pass it on!"

When we got home, she saw the Hershey jar had new chocolate hearts in it and started toward the kitchen. “Later!” I trilled as I pushed her up the stairs. “Let’s get you into the shower! I bet you didn’t shower for three days!”

“I showered last night. Can I at least take off my coat?”

“In the bathroom, in the bathroom...” I herded her in and brought the clothes hamper in. And shut the door.

It was like a decontamination chamber. Clothes and ski jacket came off, went in the hamper and then into the wash (hot water) and dryer (high heat). She shampooed her hair twice, rinsed it twice, then sat through a serious and microscopic visual inspection. After she cleared the initial inspection, I dried every strand of her hair with the hairdryer on high to render her scalp inhospitable to any lice that were potentially on our street and thinking of popping in.

Her luggage went from the car into the wash. Her sleeping bag will remain outside for at least a week, in the polar vortex, far from any human hosts.

Did my daughter have lice? No. Of course not. Did she sit patiently while her completely certifiable mother confirmed the lack of lice? Yes, of course she did. Because she loves me just the way I am.

And she wanted access to those chocolate hearts.

So, two postscripts. One, I know plenty of mothers who will read this and completely understand the nutty place my mind went. They just won’t admit it.

And two, both of my kids can bookmark this page to show their therapists when they’re middle aged and trying to sort out their emotional baggage. I know, kids. I'm sorry. Call and I’ll give you a credit card number to pay for your appointment. It’s the least I can do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sister Sledge

I have a gigantic family: four siblings, a zillion cousins, several sisters-in-law, numerous nieces and nephews and lots of aunts and uncles. My husband has four sisters, two sets of parents, two brothers-in-law and eight nieces and nephews. My kids are two of nearly 20 kids in their generation. We see almost every one of those people a lot, and the interpersonal relationships (for better or, often, for worse) and the conversational landmines to avoid and the old arguments and the taboo subjects get overwhelming and quite tiresome. When they do, I usually feel an urge to take my little group of four and move to an island and change our last name to Smith.

Some people think even being one of five kids is pretty cool. Several friends commented to me that the five of us walking down the aisle at my dad’s funeral mass painted a striking picture. One friend even said we made her want to have more kids. I responded, mostly in my head, with, “What the hell are you talking about? Do you know what it’s like to be one of five? We beat the crap out of each other until we moved away from home. With four siblings, you’re always mad at one, and usually talking behind his or her back. Your parents totally have a favorite and a least favorite and you always know where you stand. You get one twentieth of the parental attention and you always get compared to someone else. Having a pretty picture at a funeral just isn’t worth it, trust me.”

On Saturday night, I had an interesting group (some would say a motley crew) around my dining room table. Me and my husband. My sister. One sister in law. My father’s brother’s wife. My mother’s brother and his wife.

We had a ball. We ate and we drank and we laughed and we talked and it didn’t occur to me until much later that it was an odd assortment of people. I mean, there were five different last names, and different ages and backgrounds and financial situations and marital situations and political perspectives, and yet we’re all related somehow or another.

Yesterday, I realized that it was one of the most effortless dinner parties I’ve ever thrown. It didn’t matter who sat where, or if the napkins were perfectly ironed. It didn’t matter if you wanted to talk about religion or politics or some other forbidden topic. It didn’t matter if your child screamed bloody murder from the kitchen (not mine, I must point out) or if you wanted to put your elbows on the table.

It mattered that there was a lot of food (check), a lot of wine (duh…check) and tons of laughter (check).

And I realized that’s the upside of family. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about people who know you and accept you. It’s about people you don’t have to impress. It’s about people you can’t really offend. It’s about people who live in different states and have totally different life experiences and yet can sit around one table and have an endless stream of conversations about a crazy range of topics that are oddly applicable to everyone.

It’s about my aunt sitting up until almost midnight telling me stories about my mom, or my uncle stopping by to say hi and staying for dinner. It’s about my sister stopping for something I forgot at the store even though she had three kids with her. It’s about the fact that I could’ve screwed the whole night up, and they’re still stuck with me, or they could have (HAD KIDS WHO THREW OREOS ALL OVER MY KITCHEN AND THEN STEPPED ON THEM) screwed it all up and they’d still be invited back.

Yes, it’s about age-old wars and one-upmanship and hurt feelings and gossip (by about 10 p.m., I bet ears were burning up and down the East Coast and even across the ocean) but it’s a gift. And, at least this past weekend, it’s not one I felt the need to return.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

80s Flashback

Did my mother have to deal with this?

In 1981, I was 11. I wish my mother was alive (for many reasons) but so I could call her after a morning like yesterday’s and say, “I’m so sorry!”

I’ll set the scene – my kitchen, Friday morning. Few inches of snow on the ground so schools were closed. It was seriously cold at 16 degrees. The first middle school ski club trip was planned but cancelled because of the sub-freezing temperatures and, oh, the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. You know. Everyday perils for kids.

Caroline was really disappointed. Very disappointed.

Caroline: Can we still ski today?

Me: Sure. But it will be really, really cold. Dangerously cold.

Caroline: Never mind. Forget it.

Me: No, I don’t mind, but maybe you guys take your lesson for an hour and see how you feel.

Caroline: My friends don’t want to take lessons and it’s stupid to go there for a lesson then leave.

Me: Okay, but if you’re going to be alone on the slopes without an adult, wouldn’t you feel safer having brushed up on skiing?

Caroline: You always tell me what to do.

Caroline: And you always tell me what the weather is.

Me: Okay, well, skiing is certainly an option. If not, Jack has a hockey game scheduled – we could go do that.

Jack: I measured the snow with my tongue because my tongue is two inches long.

Caroline: I don’t want to go to hockey, I want to ski.

Jack: We have three inches.

Me: Okay, let’s ski.

Caroline: But I’m not taking a lesson.

Me, brightly: Okay! (In my head: Bad choice.)

Caroline: Didn’t you hear me? None of my friends want to ski.

Me, brightly: Okay! (In my head: Here we go.)

Caroline: I want to ski.

Caroline: But I don’t want to take a lesson.

Caroline: But it might be too cold.

Caroline, near tears: Stop telling me what to do!

Me, smiling brightly but not saying a word. (In my head: I didn’t say a word.)

Caroline: UGH! This is the worst snow day ever!

Caroline, stomping up the stairs: WHY CAN’T YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO?????

(In my head: Oh, Mom. This is what you meant by payback kid.)

(In my head, as an afterthought: Isn't two inches abnormally long for the tongue of a third grader?)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 2.

Close your eyes.

Picture a lady, hunched over. She has one hand on her lower back and a permanent grimace on her face. She walks with lurching steps, stopping to sit every chance she gets. If she must stand for long, she leans heavily on counters and against walls.

Now picture she’s asked to sew something. Some little thing, perhaps for a kid. (A demanding kid.) She peers at the thread and changes the needle for one with a bigger hole. She holds the needle at arm's length, squinting at it. She brings it in closer. She holds the needle and thread against the dark wood of a cabinet so she can see them. She tries, unsuccessfully, to thread the needle with poorly aimed stabs before she just gives up.

Now open your eyes.


It’s me.

Can you believe I just described a 43 year old woman? A woman who, until recently, was up to any physical challenge that didn’t involve heights? A woman who scoffs at offers of help carrying things and takes out the trash and DOESN’T HAVE TIME TO BE OLD??? Well, neither can I. My ruptured disc is mad about something and my contacts aren’t working and I just aged thirty years in 24 hours.

However, the good news is that I’m not really old, and I’ll feel better in a few days.

But I still won’t really know how to sew.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New year, new me. Sort of. Not really.

Whew, it’s 7:56 pm as I start this – which means I still have time to implement one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Pretty much, I hate the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions because they ask you to list all the really crappy things about yourself and then prioritize to find the crappiest and then try to fix that one or those two. Then, if (when) you fail, say around February 1, you feel like you’re even crappier. That sounds fun.

I know my areas of – ahem – weakness. I don’t floss. I have a wicked sweet tooth. I still like Diet Coke even though chances are it’s making a nuclear wasteland of my brain. When I am trying to decide between a nice cup of herbal tea and a nice glass of wine, the wine usually wins. When I don’t feel like working out, I don’t. If I have something really funny to say but it’s a little bit snarky, I still say it. Sometimes I forget hostess gifts and thank-you notes. Sometimes I am doing something really nice for someone and I complain about it and then I lose ALL the celestial brownie points for being nice. I harbor a secret desire to paint my husband’s fingernails while he’s sleeping because he has GORGEOUS nails. I would be at a perfect weight if I lost ten pounds. Sometimes I still dream of being an only child. I get jealous of really good moms who also have really good careers. Sometimes I want to move to a desert island all by myself and stay there. There are days I eat M&Ms for lunch and cheese and crackers for dinner. Sadly, I could go on and on.

Mainly, though, one of my big self complaints is that I love to write and yet, in all the sadness and anxiety of that crummy S.O.B. that was 2013 (and 2012 wasn’t so hot either), I just stopped. Flat. Out. Stopped.

And now I want to start again, and there’s only one way to do it…wake up every day and write something.

So I’m going to try something that’s intrigued me for a while, and I am going to use writing prompts to try to write almost every day. I am going to post whatever I write here, because that holds me accountable. But I’ll go ahead and ask you now to not read what I write. I won’t put it on Facebook or Twitter unless it’s a real post; pretty much, if you’re answering writing prompts and listing what you did all day or using 650 words to explain you’re tired, it’s just not interesting writing. If it works, though, I will go back to semi-regular real posts in February.

So, this counts. Day 1.