Bon Appetit, Dick

Parenthood is not what I expected.

I had visions of Baby Bjorns, well balanced meals, family game nights, and children who sought my advice on everything. Some of those children were supposed to be female.

I got my Baby Bjorn. So dreams do come true.

But it was strapped to an aching back around an unfortunate pair of sizable love handles. Attached to it was a wailing child who needed to be nursed. A wailing child who repeatedly reached his clammy fingers into the peanut butter sandwich I was making for his older brother. And into the jelly sandwich I was making for his other brother…the one who wouldn’t eat peanut butter. And into the yogurt I had opened for his other brother…the one who wouldn’t eat peanut butter or jelly.

Well balanced meals consist of my leaning over the sink to eat slightly more chicken than my Weight Watchers points allow in the span of 45 seconds. I slam it down with my eyes on the boys, who still play outside. Because I know if I wait for them–to come inside, wash their hands, argue over who gets the Iron Man cup, and sit down–I will be ANGRY HUNGRY and singlehandedly ruin dinner. Dinner for them looks like white pasta with butter and salt in front of two kids. Cereal in front of a third kid. Three servings of rice pilaf and a small portion of chicken for a fourth son who refuses seconds of the protein because then he might not have enough room in his stomach to finish the entire family size bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos while the rest of us attempt to watch The Voice. During which I increase the volume repeatedly over his crunching until I reach the point when I finally bark, “you may only eat the Doritos during commercial breaks, or so help me Jesus I’ll shove the entire contents of the bag down the garbage disposal!” Because, for the love of Gooooooooooooddddddddd, I just want to hear what Pharrell has to say, but I cannot hear a mother fucking thing over my child’s incessant. fucking. Dorito. crunching.

But family game nights are fun, right?

Wrong.

I married a man who wins every game. Every time. Scrabble. Boggle. Rummy. Pictionary. Trivial Pursuit. Payday. Yahtzee. Parcheesi. Trouble in the Bubble. You name it…he wins it. Here is an experiment in human torture I’ve designed for you. Have a sunny disposition and a willingness to play any game that your spouse suggests. Try your best, yet have your ass repeatedly handed to you. Subject your kids to the same torture. Lose. Over and over and over again. All of you. Year in and year out. Not because you want to…because he is better than all of you at everything in the world. Do this for the next 20 years. Know that the average life expectancy for a man is approximately 75 years, but that your spouse’s male relatives seem to live a little longer. So, see if you can maintain that sunny disposition and willingness to play lose every board and card game for an additional 40 years, during which time your eyes, ears, and bowels are failing. After losing, try to compartmentalize your absolute hatred for every game ever invented in the history of the universe frustration and be really flattered, excited, and downright turned on when he wants to celebrate his winning streak by having sex with you.

Struggling with that? Yeah. Me too.

Back to the kids who, in my parenting fantasy, seek out my advice on everything. I yearn for my children to come to me with their problems, lay them out over the immaculate kitchen counter, and remain my captive, willing audience as I solve them with the perfect combination of experience, reason, and wit. All over a steaming plate of homemade brownies that I’ve coincidentally just plucked from the oven.

To be fair, my boys really do seek my advice on everything. And by everything I mean everything pertaining to the laundry or dinner. “Is my new shirt clean? Do you know what we’re having for dinner? I said I am wearing short pants…not LONG! You’re not going to make me eat that, are you? Did you lay out my clothes? Why do we have to eat this meatloaf when it’s so…so….so…meatloafy? You bought me these shorts, and they bother my skin! If I eat this, I know I will throw up. That was his shirt last week, why is it my shirt this week? I don’t care if it hurts when I poop, I said I want another yogurt!”

I had ideas about what it meant to be a parent before I had children.

Being someone’s parent in real life…it’s messy.

It’s both full of dialogue and simultaneously empty of conversation.

It’s hurting someone’s feelings and doing my best to win him back before the tears have even rolled down his cheeks far enough to reach his tiny jawline.

It’s forcing two brothers to remain in a room together until it’s worked out and in the same sentence explaining that I will be in the kitchen because I need a physical break from both of them.

It’s having a conversation with your child in which he believes he is being abundantly clear, and you are left having to apply a cold compress to your eyes in the quiet of a dark room.

It’s listening to my husband reprimand our child, disagreeing with what he is saying with every fiber of my motherly being, but biting my tongue so that I don’t contradict him in front of the kids.

It’s so much emotional work and so little positive feedback.

It’s one unwelcome, unexpected fiasco after another.

A few months ago, I made an announcement to B&B. “I’ve made a decision. I want to stop railing against the unexpected. Instead I want to try to embrace it.”

To emphasize my point, and maybe to remind myself that I’d had this epiphany, I hung a picture over our dining room table. It’s a picture my husband shot of an area in Philadelphia that is laden with graffiti. It’s one of my favorite pictures. There’s so much mess, and so much chaos. But, there’s beauty amid the chaos.

This says "bon appetit", don't you think?

This says “bon appetit”, don’t you think?

“Wow,” he remarked. “That’s a bold one. I don’t think most people would hang it in their dining room.”

“That’s why I like it,” I agreed. “Because fuck most people. It’s busy, and messy. And unexpected. Like us.”

The picture had been hanging in the dining room for a few days when the Verb decided to stand on a chair and inspect it more closely.

“Did Dad take this picture?” he asked.

“Mm hmm,” I answered.

“It’s kinda dirty, but I like it. Her lips are giant. And there are lots of like…words. Hey, I can even read one. It says ‘smile’ on this girl’s face! Mom, I can read it!”

I turned away from the dishes I was washing and gave him a smile of my own.

I knew this was the right picture to hang in that spot. Even my youngest son is finding the calm in the chaos and the beauty in the unexpected.

It was one of those parenting moments when I felt like I had nailed it.

Eureka!

I turned back to the dishes as the Verb asked me, “Mom, who is Dick?”

“Um, I don’t think I know anyone named Dick.”

“This girl in Dad’s picture knows Dick. It says so right on her nose! ‘She…suck…dick.'”

Yes indeedy.

So parenthood is not what I expected.

I said that already, right?

 

Who’s On Third?

Yoohoo! Houston! It’s me, Bethany!

Yep, we have a problem.

There’s a teenager in the house.

Waldorf is now 13.

And because, overwhelmingly, the response to an article I wrote for WhatToExpect.com was “Read Masterminds and Wingman by Rosalind Wiseman,” I bought the book and have been reading it.

I think I’m not supposed to ask my teenage son direct questions. At least not about school the minute he gets into the car. On that I’m fairly clear.

I’m not sure if the same applies when I’m picking him up from a social event.

Which recently happened.

And I haven’t read all of Masterminds and Wingmen, so proceed with one eye opened. And keep the other eye on your delicious toddler who is right now pulling on your pant leg and sucking on zwieback while you try to read. Know that one day, this too will be your life.

***

“So, your brother had a really fun time at his party.  He told me he played violent video games.” I start with this nugget as soon as the host closes the door behind us.

See what I did there? I am talking to him, but not about him. And I’m speaking his language. The language of video games. Also, I don’t know if this is right or wrong. But we’re in it together now, so just roll with me.  

“Violent video games? Hmm. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that,” he replies.

“It’s disturbing to me, but he seemed excited about it.” Because duh. Violent video games are fucking disturbing.  

We cross the quiet street side by side and he slides into the passenger seat of my car. At 5’8”, Waldorf is three inches taller than I am. Unless we drive somewhere as a family, he has permanently staked his claim to shotgun until he graduates to the driver’s seat.

Am I supposed to ask him now if he had fun? Or am I not supposed to ask him? Is that question off limits altogether? Is it school I’m not supposed to ask him about or is it everything?

Wait, am I even allowed to talk?

I haven’t read that far in the book yet.

You see, I want to read the entire book, but FOUR KIDS.

He breaks the silence with, “Speaking of violence, I almost got violent.”

Oh, great. More violence. “Really? In a video game?”

“No. At the party,” he says matter-of-factly.

Well, now I’m going to make some extra turns and go home the long way. Because what the hell is this?

“Oh, dear.” Oof, that’s not the right thing to say. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happened. One of my friends was acting…out of control,” he is casual, but out of the corner of my eye, I notice he is flexing and unflexing his fingers as he speaks.

“Define ‘out of control’,” I say in an award winning attempt to keep the alarm out of my voice. Despite the fact that my throat is closing.

“Like a dog without a leash,” he replies without hesitation.

“Wow,” is all I can manage.

Because Wow

A. We don’t have a dog.

B.That’s quite a metaphor for this particular boy.

“Exactly,” he says as though he has illustrated his point clearly. Game Over, Mom. Discussion Closed, lady.

“Well, some dogs are OK without leashes. Like Josephine who walks across the school playground? But other dogs always need to be on a leash,” I point out.

I can’t see him in the dark, but I don’t need to to know that he is rolling his eyes as he turns to address my profile, “Josephine, if you remember correctly, attacked another dog on the playground last year. You saw it with your own eyes. Which proves my point.”

“What point is that?” I ask.

“Pffffft.”

“Waldorf? Which point?”

“My. Point. That all dogs need leashes.” Again, duh.

I am so confused. Was there a dog at the party? Two dogs? Was his friend acting like a dog towards the girls? Pantomiming a four legged animal? Or acting like a metaphorical dog in a sexual manner?

“So, what does that mean in human terms? Being a dog without a leash?” I ask.

“You know what it means,” he fires back.

“Does it mean he was disrespectful? Was he inappropriate? Was he destructive in someone else’s home?”

“I don’t have time for specifics. You know what it means,” he snaps.

“I do?”

I do??

“Yes.”

Fuck!

WWRWD

What Would Rosalind Wiseman Do?

“What do you think I think it means?” I ask. It sounds like something a psychiatrist might say. I don’t know whether that’s a stroke of genius or the kiss of death. But it’s all I have.

“Oh, it means what you think it means,” he says.

What??

“What do you think it means?” Again with the shrink speak.

“What I think is different from what you think. But in this case, we’re both right,” he shrugs.

“We are?”

We are????

“Yes,” he crosses his arms and looks out the window.

I’m so confused. I’m so confused! Should I call the parents who just hosted my son and see if their dog is OK? Did someone let their dog out without a leash?

He interrupts my frantic thoughts, “Listen, when someone is out of control, there is only one thing that can happen, and you know what it is.”

“I do?”

“Yes.”

“Can you give me a hint? Because I feel really tired in my brain and I don’t know the one thing that can happen when someone is out of control.” Help me. For the love of god, help me.

“All you need to know is I handled it,” he replies.

You handled it?” I ask.

“That’s what I said.”

“Did you handle it properly?” I ask.

“I know how to handle these things. I handle them all the time. It falls on me. And so…I do it.”

Don't worry, Ma. I handled it.

Don’t worry, Ma. I handled it.

Now the moment I publish this, I’m going to get a barrage of texts from my Mom friends. “Spill it. Who is the dog without a leash? You’d tell me if it were my son, right?”

Who it was and what happened are inconsequential.

There is a much bigger issue here.

CAN ANYONE DECODE THE FUCKING CONVERSATION I HAD WITH MY 13 YEAR OLD SON???

We had a serious conversation. It appeared he felt that he needed to get it off his chest. And I love that he knew he could tell me.

But I am so very confused.

***

Later that night, after we send Waldorf to bed, B&B catches me digging through the bottom of a Lucky Charms cereal box.

“You don’t eat that cereal,” he says.

“I’m not eating the cereal. I’m looking for the secret decoder ring at the bottom.”

I relay the exchange I had in the car to my husband.

He laughs and remarks, “Good for him. Handling it.”

OMFG. Not him too.

“You’re not helping me. What does that mean?” I ask.

He shrugs, “I don’t know. Did he duct tape the dude to a chair or something? Pull him aside and tell him he was acting like a dick?”

I wave my hands frantically in front of me, “I don’t know! I need you to get to the bottom of it. I am so confused. He sounded like Luca fucking Brasi in the passenger seat of my car! But I’m not Don Corleone. I’M KAY!”

He smiles, “He’s figuring it out. Maybe that’s all you need to know. He had a conflict and he feels like he resolved it on his own. It’s OK for you to be Kay. Plus Luca Brasi is the enforcer. Which is bad-ass.”

***

It’s not OK.

Because Kay is the single most annoying character in The Godfather.

Even worse, Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.

The good news is, I heard Rosalind Wiseman speak at my kids’ school last night. And she was fantastic!  I’m going to see if I can get a hold of her email address. Then I’ll ask her to do me a solid and clear this mess up.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading.

Also, I’ve moved on to Cracker Jack boxes.

Because I could really use that decoder ring.

 

Summer 2014? Mulligan Please.

Dear Boys,

Do you remember that day when we went on the rides this summer? It was that blazing hot day in July. Ours was a minivan brigade with your cousins trailing behind us. We drove from Sea Isle to Ocean City and parked in the first open spot that we found. We made the trek to the boardwalk to get seven kids out of your grandparent’s house before the afternoon rain started. But the rain never came, so we shouted over the carnival music “just buy more tickets!” So we did. We bought and we rode. The music played and we yelled.  And there were copious amounts of cotton candy. Never ending bags. Your lips were lined blue and pink with sweet crystals that never quite made it into your mouths.

Remember when I kicked off my flip flops and followed you to that ride…the swings suspended from chains that go around and around in circles? I was so excited! Excited to go on the swings, but even more excited to be the Mom…your Mom…who goes on the swings with her kids. It matters to me, you guys. What you think about me. Yes, I know you love me. But Dad is like fun on crack. Exponential fun. Funfetti. And I like to do fun things with you too. And there’s a part of me that hopes that you think “I love that we have a Mom who does fun things with us.” But you probably just think, “I told her blue cotton candy. Why did she just hand me pink?”

So I ran with you. With the sun on my face, cotton candy dissolving on my tongue, sweat trailing down my back, carnival music playing in my ears, we ran toward the swings together. To the seats that were lined up along the outside because those are the ones that swing the highest. We buckled ourselves in, and I smiled when I realized that my bare feet didn’t even touch the ground. “Ha,” I thought, “will you look at me? Just like one of the kids.”

And then the ride started.

And my smile disappeared.

I white knuckled the chains of that swing as we flew higher and higher and circled around faster and faster.

My body flew horizontally through the air. My eyes were clenched tightly closed, and I spoke these words aloud. “I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

Maybe if I open my eyes it will be better.

I opened my eyes just long enough to notice you boys throwing your heads back with joy. And just long enough to realize that opening my eyes didn’t help.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK,” back to the mantra and the eye closing.

I willed myself to swallow down the rising bile and focus instead on your laughter.

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

That was you, Verb. You weren’t tall enough to go on the swings, so you stayed with your Aunt and yelled at me with your raspy little voice every time I passed over your head, “Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

Carnival music.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

Carnival music.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

I wanted so badly to love every minute of it. But, the reality was I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.

Which is a perfect metaphor for our summer.

You guys, I wanted so badly to love every minute of it.

But the reality was…I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.

I want to be good at summer. And I am. In June. And June does too count as a month because you finished school on June 3rd, Waldorf, and the rest of you finished on June 6th. And it was a half fucking day. So, come on. June was a full month of vacation in this house. And I was like funfetti for a change. I was yes to everything. Warm donuts for breakfast, water ice for lunch, cousins non stop, afternoons spent on the beach, buffalo wings for dinner, bedtimes be damned. So much yes. All of it yes.

I care. That we don’t fill your summer so completely that you head into a new school year under a cloud of exhaustion. So ours are unstructured summers. They are a throwback to a simpler time. It’s decompression at its finest. It allows you the time to recharge your batteries and be ready to do this school thing all over again come September. It is my gift to you, boys. It allows you the opportunity to be brothers. I need you to have time to be brothers. I need it for you. To cultivate that bond. To build that house on a strong foundation. And I need it for me. To watch you pair off and to listen to your conversations when you don’t realize I’m in the next room. Yelling at one brother, then defending him in the next breath. Laughing so uncontrollably that I sidestep the creakiest stairs so I can tiptoe up to your room to bear quiet witness to so much happiness.

It was a hard summer for me, you guys. Throwback summers feel like a fantastic idea during the mayhem that is May, but by mid-July the reality hits me like a gigantic WTF. There are weeks at a time that my gift to you feels like a punishment for me. Just like on that ride, I couldn’t find my footing at all this summer. I expect you guys to go through a million periods of WTF. So much of what lies ahead of you will be a struggle to find your footing. When it happens to me…and I feel like I should have a fairly good handle on this parenting thing by now…it freaks me out.

Ah, but my Facebook page was full of excitement, wasn’t it? We were making memories. Like a boss. We were making memories so hard I was hash-tagging it. #makingmemories

If my pictures could speak, here’s what they’d say…

nickprom “I don’t know. I’m kinda tired. I don’t even really feel like going out.”

2 Bethany's and a Kathy “If you feel something wet on your shoulder, it’s just my armpit. I sweat. A lot. It’s nice to meet you both, by the way!”

PaperMoon “I’m so glad we decided to go to breakfast instead of going for a run. No part of my ass is glad, but the rest of me is glad.”

Custards, Cakes and Creamery“Look at the camera now or I will take your ice cream and make you watch me while I eat it.”

18minutes “Jesus fucking Christmas. How many idiots does it take to make the number 18? Look like you mean it, guys!”

breakfast table

“No, we’re not going to keep the beads out all summer long. Because Mommy hates crafts, that’s why.”

zoo

“Waldorf, stop touching your brother and get out of the picture. GET OUT OF THE PICTURE! You’re ruining it, and you’re ruining my day. You better not ruin this entire fucking summer or so help me Jesus I will ship you away next summer.”

photographer

“Holy Moses. The only thing missing is a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. What’s that? I said the boys are so lucky they have a Dad who documents their memories like this!”

curleysfries

” I should be running instead of eating these. Oh well.We got cheese, right? I’m not eating these unless they’re smothered in cheese.”

snowcone

“Why would you ever choose a snow cone? They are the dumbest desserts ever. Flavorless. Now, smile, and pretend you made a good choice. Pretend you’re eating a chipwich.”

IMG_5764

“For the last time, STOP STRANGLING YOUR BROTHER! Jesus CHRIST! Now smile so I can send a picture to Dad to show him how nicely you’re playing.”

license plate

“What the hell were you doing climbing on my car? Hang on. Just hold it up there while I take a picture. My GOD, your feet are dirty. Jesus fucking Christ with you boys. Disgusting creatures.”

tractor

“Just so we’re clear, I will beat your ass if you try to run your brother over with that lawnmower. You hear me, right?”

Delpool

“For the love of god, stop telling everyone you just puked! We cleaned it up without anybody noticing, can’t it be our little secret?”

IMG_5816

“Oh, mother fucker. Well, 80% of them are having fun.”

IMG_5821

“If you spin your brother too fast on that ride, I will beat you! BEAT YOU! Aw, look how sweet you two are.”

flag

“Let’s play a game. Here are the rules. I’m going to close my eyes. And you’re going to move your body away from me and stop asking me for snacks. 1-2-3-Go!”

 

realdiamond

“This Neil Diamond cover band would be so much more enjoyable if we had left these asshole kids at home. I fucking hate them right now. Hand me a beer, will you? Let’s take a selfie and pretend we’re having fun.”

icecream

“Do you want to wait in this line for ice cream or do you want me to drag you home and put you to bed right now? Stop being so annoying. Mommy loves you.”

bruise

“I guess you didn’t hear Mommy telling you not to run at the pool. This is what happens when you don’t listen to Mommy. Be careful where you put your penis. Trust me on that one too.”

snake

“Come on, Ma, get in! What is that smell? It smells just like earthworms after a rainstorm. Gross! Shit, where are the kids? Can you take this snake off of us so we can find our kids? Hurry before the let the ferret out!”

ycsic

“Can you boys stop acting like jackasses for one minute? Just ONE MINUTE??? JESUS! Now look at the camera and smile if you want electronics ever again.”

IMG_5898

“Hey, Verb, if you don’t listen to me, I’m going to dig a hole, put you in it, and bury you. Then I’m going to leave you there. How does that sound? Now look at me and smile for this picture.”

 

stanleycup

“Goddammit, Waldorf, do you have any sense of urgency in any part of your existence? There is an entire beach full of people waiting behind us! Fucking move! So help me, if you don’t smile, I will save every penny I have to send you to sleep away camp all summer next year. Hey, there it is! The Stanley Cup! We’re making memories this summer, guys, aren’t we?!”

stadium

“Hey, guys, could you at least try to muster a little enthusiasm? Woohoo! New school stadium! Can you play the part please? No? Thanks for nothing. Assholes.”

fountain “Wait, why would you put them in the fountain? Why not behind the fountain? You thought it would look cooler? Let me ask you something…how many people do you think took a piss in that fountain? And now our kids are standing in how many people’s piss? The city of brotherly love. Our kids are standing in a fountain. Of piss.”

artmuseum

“Lie down. Right here. Because I asked you to lie down. I want to take a picture of you boys lying down. No, don’t stand over there. Because it’s stupid. I want you to lie down. Why do you have to make this difficult? Fine. I’ll take the picture, but it’s going to look fucking stupid with you standing off to the side. Annoying child. Swine.”

pickyourown

“Stop stop stop stop. STOP. Stop throwing blueberries. Now. Stop. STOP. IT. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES AND LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME AND STOP. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES. LOOK AT ME. Look at me. Stop. Yes. NO. Stop. Look at me. Stop. Mother fuck it all. I fucking hate July.”

If my pictures could speak, I’d be in a heap of trouble, boys.

I’m a person. Just one person. A human being who screws up like every other human being.

And I feel like I screwed up this summer. And I’m sorry. My balance was completely off. I know I can do better.

There’s so much life in this house. There’s evidence in every corner of it. The shoes, the Legos, the home improvement projects, the artwork, the photography equipment, the books, the bodies, the voices. Ours is a full life. It’s a chaotic one. And as I sit and write in a house that’s still full but finally quiet, I am reminded it’s a finite one as well. There’s a beginning and an end. And you are not mine. You’re here on loan for a short period. Granted, it feels especially long every June, July, and August. But I’m reminded every time I see a Mom with a baby how very quickly the years go by. When I have to reach up to hug you, Waldorf. When you smile wide enough that your braces show, Kenyan. Every time you mutter, “whatever,” Interrogator. And the fact that I no longer have to wear you like an accessory, Verb.

You’re on loan to me for a short time.

Next summer, if you still want me to, I will kick off my flip flops and run after you. With the sun on my face, the sweat trailing down my back, and the music in my ears, I will buckle myself into a swing…the one next to the swing that goes the highest. I will smile when I realize, again, that my bare feet don’t touch the ground.

And with some luck, I won’t have to remind myself that I’m OK.

Maybe one of you will reach out and hold my hand. And that will make all the difference.

I think I’d like that.

I know I can do better next summer.

Love,

Mom

P.S. I’m serious. Always be careful where you put your penis.

 

True Blue. Not the Madonna Song.

It happens once a year. And usually only for a day. The past collides with the present as I reunite with the people who know the earliest chapters of my story best. They know it because it’s their story too. We experienced it side by side. They are my childhood people.

My very first friends.

We’ll go for months and months without speaking, but our friendships are like the lyrics to an old favorite song. We think we’ve long forgotten them, yet we find ourselves harmonizing in no time. They lie just beneath our embrace, which we hold a few seconds longer to honor the history that bonds us. The 364 days that have passed since our last visit are a mere blink. The decades fall away, and we are 10 years young again.

Hello, old friends.

She is 5 and I am 4. We are in ballet class, and the teacher scolds me for doing a curtsy instead of a plié. I blink back tears. She catches my eye and sticks out her tongue behind the teacher’s back. A show of solidarity. It’s just enough to make me smile instead of cry.

We catch up in pieces throughout the day. In a staccato-like conversation over the heads of our squealing children as we heave them above wave after wave until our shoulders are sore and our wrists ache. Side by side in chairs as the youngest ones demand we blow on freshly baked birthday cakes made of sand. In unseasonably cold waist-deep ocean water as we yell over the surf to our oldest kids, “Not so deep!”

I am 5 and she is 6, and every time I arrive at her door she greets me with her beloved clogs. She hands them over and lets me walk around in them–even though they are two sizes too big– because she knows how desperately I want a pair…and that my mom won’t allow me to have them.

We talk books, diagnoses, and relationships. The concern is genuine as we speak in hushed tones of parents who are suddenly old, others who have cancer, and those we worry continue to drink too much. We gaze out over the ocean to keep from crying as we relay the most recent updates from our children’s specialists. The place we hold in our hearts for one another opens just a little bigger when we admit that the word “chronic” in reference to our kids’ conditions has been the hardest of pills to swallow.

She is 9 and I am 8. We are back to back on her bike. I clutch the back of the banana seat and stretch my growing legs out on either side of me while she pumps the pedals to deliver me back home before dinner. “Hang on, I’ve got you,” she calls over her shoulder. And I don’t worry. Because I know she does.

The friendship among us is as sure as the tide that ebbs and flows around our sandy beach chairs. It is as old as we are.  It is a living breathing thing. It needs no “remember when’s”. I know their faces as well as my own. The creases that frame their eyes are the same creases I have. They wouldn’t be so deep had it not been for our shared fits of laughter, which are undeniably at the root of their very existence.

I am 10 and she is 11. We are sledding across a frozen pond. The ice cracks beneath my sled, and I am suddenly–frighteningly–chest deep. She laughs with the others at the sight of me as I scramble out of the ice cold water. But she gasps and wraps her arms protectively around me as soon as she sees how scared I am.

My heart understands that the children of these friends occupy an immediate and precious place. I see them only once a year but I’ve loved them from the moment their Mothers shared the news of their pregnancies. Long before that even. Perhaps from the time we sat side by side, holding our dolls, pretending they were our babies. I don’t know their favorite colors, I’m not sure who prefers chicken to pizza; but their Mothers are a part of every meaningful childhood memory I have. When I look into their faces, I see the young girls we once were, and I am transported back to a lifetime ago…when our days were spent playing dress up and paper dolls, putting on talent shows for our big brothers, picking blackberries off the bushes in the woods behind our neighborhood. When the world was big. A summer was a lifetime.  Our parents knew everything. And our stories were chapter upon chapter of empty pages waiting to be filled.

She is 17 and I am 16. She is tugging on my hair, weaving the locks into a french braid. “Do you love him?” I ask, peeking over my shoulder at her. As hard as she tries, she cannot deny the smile that plays at the corner of her lips. “I do,” she replies, as the smile lights up her face. I clap my hands together in delight. “Well, did you tell him?” I demand. “I did!” she exclaims, and we laugh and reach for each other’s hands, the french braid abandoned in our excitement.

Our kids are tentative around one another at first.

“Do you play baseball?”

“Join me in the water?”

“You like chipwiches? Me too.”

“Are those Zotz? Do they taste like pop rocks?”

They get slowly reacquainted. And by evening, their faces are a sea of smiles. Their laughter echoes across the surf. And they chase one another through the cool sand under a night sky that is lit by the most brilliant fireworks. Our visit draws near its end, and it’s no longer my child on my lap…it’s hers.

I am 24 and she is 25. She smiles brightly as my Dad walks me down the aisle in the church by our childhood homes. A few months later, my eyes are brimming with tears as her Dad ushers her down the aisle in the church by the ocean where we spent our summers.

The fireworks are over, and each of the 200 sparklers has burned out. Our goodbyes are hurried because it’s late, and the dreaded bedtime routine still awaits. This year I’m able to make my way up the dunes behind my family before the tears begin to roll down my cheeks.

“Wait!” I tiny voice calls out behind me, “Wait!”

I turn to see the littlest of the littles running towards me with her arms outstretched. She is blond and blue-eyed. Like a real life Cindy Lou Who.

We wrap our arms around each other in a heartfelt farewell. I kiss the top of her blond head and continue my climb up the dunes.

“Wait!” she yells once more. I turn to find her arms open again, so I lean down to lift her up. She lays her head on my shoulder and exclaims, “I love you!”

She must be Cindy Lou Who. Because my heart grows 3 sizes in her tiny embrace.

“I love you too, baby girl.”

I place her delicately in the sand, and she races back to her Mom, to her aunt, to her sister, to her cousins. She races back to a world that’s big, to a summer that lasts a lifetime, to parents who know everything, and to a story that is chapter upon chapter of empty pages waiting to be filled.

Obligatory Childhood Polaroid

Obligatory Childhood Polaroid

She races back to my very first friends.

“Goodbye, old friends,” I whisper. “See you next year.”

And the first tear slides down my cheek.

Before, Before, Before…

Before the foyer was a mess of cleats and library books,

Before Axe deodorant established residence in the bathroom,

Before I began tilting my chin up instead of down to look him in the eye,

Before the kitchen counter became a catchall for birthday invitations and permission slips,

Before entire sofas were buried under clean laundry needing folding,

Before he cared what brand of sneakers he wore,

Before cool was on his radar,

Before play-dates became hangouts,

Before he asked me to stop singing his lullaby,

Before every inch of the house became littered with Legos,

Before I realized he didn’t inherit my straight teeth,

Before the invention of Minecraft–which, for the record, I still don’t understand,

Before running out to Target for poster board the night before a project is due,

Before I swore no child of mine would ever be medicated,

Before Little League games that went into extra innings but only on school nights,

Before piano lessons and all the complaining that accompanied his practicing,

Before he grew too big to carry,

Before I became selective about sharing the babysitter’s name for fear someone else might snatch her away,

Before the first visit from the tooth fairy,

Before the months of fretting over which school was right,

Before the wall needed repainting because those were permanent markers,

Before the first little lies he told, which were eventually followed by bigger ones,

Before time-outs on the step,

Before story time at the library,

Before swim lessons,

Before the panic of having lost him for two very long minutes in Kohl’s,

Before the discovery that Baby Einstein offered thirteen consecutive minutes of peace during which I could inhale dinner,

Before I could make everything better by pulling him onto my lap for a hug,

Before the torture that is sleep deprivation,

Before the exceedingly slow drive home from the hospital because we had a “Baby on board”,

Before I knew to trust my instincts because they’re actually pretty good,

Before I understood that this is harder than anything,

Before. Before. Before.

I held a baby.

Moments after he drew his first breath.

I had dreamed of him for as long as I could remember.

The love was there…fierce and primal and expected.

Even bigger than the love was the hope. So enormous and undeniably present that I could just about reach out and touch it. No dream was too big for this perfect little bundle who had his entire life before him.

Who will he be?

***

He’ll be as tall as his father. He’ll need braces. He’ll be exceedingly guarded, but never after 10PM. He’ll have a quiet confidence. He’ll have a good voice, but he won’t like to sing. He’ll be outstanding with numbers, but struggle with words. He’ll hate mornings. He’ll love hijinx. He’ll be resistant to change. He’ll be a brother again, and again, and again.

He’ll have someone whose love remains fierce and primal. And whose hope for him will always be big enough to reach out and touch.

He’ll call her Mom.

Well, hello

Well, hello

To all who stumble through this journey the way I do..

Vessels of hope…

Believers in dreams…

Folders of laundry…

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

The Tale of a Girl and Her Shoes

Once upon a time, there was a girl. OK, a woman. She was almost 30, but she still thought of herself as a girl.

One day that girl received a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 30th birthday card from her college roommate. A card that encouraged her to make this a year of taking chances and pushing limits. And she put that card away in a drawer, but the girl took that message to heart.

Because she was struggling.

So immersed and in love with her two little boys that they had become her identity.

Lonely and missing her husband, who worked two jobs so she could be home with their kids.

Shaken by the news that her father had cancer.

So she bought her first pair of running shoes. Which, for her, was taking a very big chance. Because the girl was an athlete, but never a runner.

Those shoes were good to her. Together the girl and her shoes jogged through the neighborhood. They ran before dawn because the girl was aware of the extra weight she carried from having birthed two children. She preferred the cover of darkness to hide a body that she was ashamed of.

She didn’t find running fun. But the girl stuck with it.

She remembered the card and its message she’d taken to heart. She said to the shoes, “Today we are pushing limits and heading out of the neighborhood!” So they did. And it was hard. Leaving the neighborhood had seemed like an impossible goal, but she’d believed that she could do it, and she did.

She looked in the mirror after that run and saw the girl looking back at her…not just the Mom. And she sparkled just a little bit.

When she came home from her runs to find goldfish crackers ground into the carpet and permanent marker on the walls, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her babies and said, “It’s OK. Mommy’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like crumbs and stains seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.

One day her brother joined her for a run. And that felt like a big deal. Because he had run marathons, and she had only just left the neighborhood. She wondered why he would want to run with her when he could run so much farther and faster on his own.

But it soon became clear. The laughter. The companionship. The consistency. The encouragement. The trust. The vulnerability. They shared it all. While the rest of the town lie sleeping in their beds, the girl and her brother cemented their friendship as running partners.

One day her brother encouraged the girl to register for a 10 mile race. That idea scared her, but she thought of the birthday card. This was her year for taking chances! And she liked that feeling of sparkling. She was feeling more and more like the girl and not just the Mom. And, it may sound crazy, but that made her a better Mom. A patient Mom. A happy Mom.

The girl and her brother trained all summer for that race. On race day, they decorated their shirts with the words, “Every step is for you, Dad.” And their father, whose body was fatigued from having the cancer burned out of it, looked humbly at them through blue eyes that shone bright with tears of pride.

The girl was very excited about the race. She’d bought a brand new pair of shorts for the occasion! Shorts that she’d never run in before.

One mile in, the girl realized her mistake. “These shorts are hurting my legs,” she told her brother. Two miles in, her legs began bleeding. Three miles in, the girl said, “Five is all I have today.” She walked off the course at the five mile point while her brother ran on to finish alone. When the girl saw the letters DNF next to her name after the race, she immediately vowed that there would be another race.

Then she tossed those stupid shorts into the trash where they belonged.

There would be another race. But there would be no brand new shorts.

Before another race, there was another baby. A third boy, and the happiest of her children.

His smile warmed the girl to her toes. But carrying that boy had been hard on the girl. She waited until he was six weeks old before she laced up her running shoes. So enormous were her boobs that she needed three bras…yes, three!…worn one on top of the other, to get through that run. And it hurt. And the girl cried as she ran. She cried for the pain. For deep in her uterus it hurt. She cried for how much fitness she’d lost through that pregnancy. She cried for the pounds, all sixty of them, that she’d gained. She cried for the effort it took to run with those pounds on a frame not designed to carry so much weight. She cried because, as much as she tried to deny it, the girl was suffering from postpartum depression. She felt dull and hopeless…like she would never sparkle again.

To keep the walls from closing in on her, the girl put her faith in those shoes and continued to run. She ran through the pain. She ran through the tears. She believed if she kept running, maybe she wouldn’t feel so burdened. The girl was so many things to so many people. All she wanted was to feel just a touch lighter. “Really, is that so much to ask?” the girl wondered.

When the third boy was five months old, the girl’s brother said, “I’m going to run that 10 mile race again.” Her brother-in-law said, “I’m going to join you.” And the girl remembered the card that still sat in a drawer. It had been several years since she’d first opened that card, but its message had remained her companion. She felt tired, heavy, and overwhelmed. Not at all ready to push her limits. The girl said, “I don’t think I’m ready, but I’d like to give it a try.”

She’d graduated from running with three bras to running with only two bras. The girl strapped on those bras and slipped into the most comfortable shorts she owned, old ones that she’d run in many times before, and she joined her brother and brother-in-law at the start. They ran slowly. And they stuck together. After five miles, her brother turned to the girl and said, “Five is as far as I go today.” And it was he who walked off the course that race. The girl looked at her brother-in-law, whom she loved. Even without the running, theirs was such an easy friendship. “I’m going for it. Are you coming?” he asked. And the girl felt OK. So she continued to run.

The brother-in-law stayed with the girl for three more miles. Three very slow and painful miles. He regaled her with stories to keep her spirits up. But the girl was falling apart and holding him back. So she thanked him for getting her this far and urged him to run his race. And off he went.

By then it was only the girl and her shoes. The girl said to the shoes, “No matter what, we are not walking!” And those shoes were good to the girl. Which was no easy feat. Because the girl and her shoes were running on sand! The girl wanted to quit, but the shoes propelled her forward. Everything hurt, inside and out. So the girl thought of things that made her heart sing…the ocean beside her, the angelic faces of her children while they slept, how protected she felt in the arms of her husband, the outside shower she would take after the race, and the cold beer she would enjoy before bed.

And the girl found the resolve to cross that finish line. Accompanied only by her running shoes.  Who hadn’t stopped to walk even once.

The girl bid the ocean good night. She planted soft kisses on her children’s heads as they slept. She savored the heat of the shower on her aching muscles. She found she was too exhausted for that beer after all. She crawled into the arms of her husband with a smile on her face. The girl had felt the shift. The weight was lifting. She knew it wouldn’t be long before she began to sparkle again.

Years went by, and would you believe that girl went and had another baby?

Yep…a boy! Her fourth.

And when the girl was 39, she found herself struggling again. “I think it’s time,” the girl thought, “to take another chance.” And the girl and her running shoes landed in a city far from home on a relay team with a group of runners. Runners who were different from the girl, yet mostly the same. All girls. Girls who’d known joy, pain, fear, frustration, and the aching exhaustion of sleepless nights. They were kindred spirits. A resilient group. For they were all Moms. Special Moms. The kind of Moms who celebrate and support one another. The girl and her teammates got very fancy for the occasion and donned pink tutus. The girl couldn’t forget about her beloved shoes, which’d always been so good to her, so she tied glow rings to their laces to match her tutu. And the girl delighted in every minute of their adventure.

DC or Bust

DC or Bust

It was on this team that the girl befriended a woman…a Pixie of sorts. The Pixie was the tiniest woman the girl had ever met. But her size didn’t fool the girl. For as small as her frame was, the girl recognized that the Pixie had a spirit as tall as the biggest evergreen and a heart as warm as the sunniest August day. Color, hope, quirkiness, kindness…the Pixie was a rare and beautiful collage of them all.  As the sun set on the first day they’d spent together, the girl sat on the grass and watched as the Pixie strung lights through her tutu. The girl smiled as she thought, “Now her skirt glows as bright as her spirit.”

The Pixie sat down and looked earnestly at the girl. “Sweet girl, I see your struggle,” the Pixie said,”and the struggle is in your head. I promise, if you lead with your heart, it will never steer you wrong.” And the girl felt released. Like all at once like she might laugh and cry. And the Pixie’s advice has since become a mantra for the girl.

When she came home from that race to find dishes in the sink and laundry that needed folding, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her children and said, “It’s OK. Mom’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like dishes and laundry seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.

Nearly ten years have passed since the girl opened that card. A card that encouraged her to push limits. A card that prompted her to take chances. A card that led her to take a chance on her very first pair of running shoes.

In that time, the girl has run alongside women who have imprinted themselves on the fabric of her heart. From soul stirring laughter to confidences that will never be broken, the girl and these women share moments that will endear them forever.

The girl, this lucky girl, has known the unparalleled thrill of running alongside her son. And she was nearly blinded by how brightly he shines.

The girl has experienced more life in those shoes than she’d ever imagined possible. She’s nurtured her spirit. She’s abandoned judgment. She’s found love for herself when she thought she’d given it all away. She’s forgiven herself for the times she’s been too weak to muster strength. The girl celebrates her body, worn and weathered from growing and sustaining life, for the beautiful and unique gift that it is.

She is inspired by the people she’s met on her journey.

She feels grateful for all she’s accomplished with her feet in these treasured shoes.

For in these shoes, the girl slayed her dragons.

***

There is a girl. OK a woman. She is almost 40, but she still thinks of herself as a girl.

She’s not afraid to take chances.

She’s likely to push limits.

More often than not, she leads with her heart.

The girl is a runner.

Some days she sparkles.

And everyone deserves a chance to sparkle, don’t they?

The girl is not upset that she’ll soon be 40.

Maybe, just maybe, she’ll receive a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 40th birthday card from her college roommate.

The girl can’t wait to read what it says.

Disclaimer: The girl does not endorse running in the same pair of shoes for thousands of miles. For the sake of the story, and out of respect for her first pair of running shoes, she didn’t introduce a new pair in this essay. In real life, she replaces her running shoes every 400 miles. Or whenever she can afford it. Because feeding four boys gets expensive. 

This Is Childhood

“You’re going to want to write it down. All of it.”

My friend, a mother herself, smiled knowingly as she presented the journal she’d fashioned from an old marble copybook. It bumped my pregnant belly as she handed it to me. Everything bumped my belly in my ninth month of pregnancy.

She turned out to be right. I spent hours hunched over that journal during my oldest son’s first year of life. When I flip through its pages now, it’s a testimonial both of his growth and of my transition–emotional and anxious–to mother. Is he OK? Am I OK? Am I doing any of this right?    

When my second son was born, the journal was store bought and smaller in scale. The entries were just as fraught with emotion. They hinted at a growing maternal confidence. But they were documented much less frequently. He seems OK. Are we OK? Am I doing more right than wrong?

In the haze after my third son arrived, I scribbled down the details, “9lbs 2 oz, 23 ½ inches,” ripped the note off its pad and slapped it on top of his brothers’ journals on my nightstand. That’s the closest I came to a journal entry with him.

And, no. My fourth son didn’t even get the impersonal stats on a loose-leaf sheet.

Over time, I have accumulated a stack of sticky notes. Here is what they say:

“Paw-crits = paw-prints“

“Fun-quints = footprints”

“Ge-go = here you go”

“What o’clock is it = what time is it”

“Ya got crumbs = Do you need to shave”

“Leepeet = syrup”

“Lasterday = yesterday or any day before today”

All phrases coined by my kids at different ages. Journal-worthy. Indelible.

Individually, each captures a moment in time.

Together, it feels as though they are all that is left of my favorite years with my babies.

They belong in a journal.

Soon I will have one.

This Is Childhood

This Is Childhood

This is Childhood contains heartfelt essays about every year of the first decade of childhood. It provides writing prompts for those times when the words need some coaxing.

I finally took the time to write about my sweet third born. He was the inspiration for the book’s Age Six. I’m so proud to be a part of this collection and have my words sandwiched among those of so many beautiful writers.

This is Childhood is a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.

Somebody please tell my husband;-)

Because I still want to write it down. All of it.

God on High, Once is Enough

Imagine a Mom. A Mom with a deep crease in her forehead and saggy boobs.

You know.

A Regular Mom.

Imagine that Regular Mom has a husband and four sons. The poor girl is substantially outnumbered. No wonder that crease is so deep. So many boys. So little meaningful conversation. That Regular Mom with the deep crease and the saggy boobs longs to get the lowdown from her boys after school every day. How was that brownie I put in your lunch? Who did you sit with? Were your friends kind to you? Did you laugh today? What made you laugh?

But pfffft. Those boys of hers aren’t wired for chit chat. They come home from school, dump their bags precariously in the entryway where Regular Mom will trip on them, load their pockets with cheeseballs and head straight for the trampoline to beat the piss out of one another. So Regular Mom…that saint of a woman…heads into the kitchen to prepare seventeen different dishes that will be consumed by five males in the span of three minutes. She turns on Howard Stern–at least he’ll talk to her–and hopes that tonight’s dinner conversation does not include any sound, smell, or mention of flatulence. Just this once.

Regular Mom has a tough pill to swallow every March. Her kids have THE LONGEST SPRING BREAK EVER. Eleven days off from school.

In a row.

And that includes the weekends because oh yes they do so fucking count.

Many months ago, she researched what it would cost to fly that sizable family out to Arizona to visit her sister for a portion of that eleven day nut punch. A quick Google search showed that it costs too many American dollars to put six winter-weary butts on a plane headed West in the month of March.

Regular Mom’s parents don’t like shoveling snow, so they spend the cold winter months in Florida. Regular Mom did a quick Google search on the price of flights to Florida, and it turns out it costs too many American dollars to fly six people there in March too.

“Son of a motherless goat,” she said, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle before I do another eleven day staycation with crowd.”

Her offspring wouldn’t know a dinner conversation that didn’t include the word “fart” if it came up and bit them on their gassy little asses, but Regular Mom still wanted to connect with each and every one of her sons.

So she Googled the often-talked-about-but-never-before-visited Great Wolf Lodge.

Indoor Water Park Extravaganza

Indoor Water Park Extravaganza

Here is what she learned.

It costs $500 to:

  • frolic about in an indoor water park in ankle deep water that is arguably 50% urine from the bladders of other people’s kids,

  • spend the night in a smaller bed than she’s used to in one room that will sleep her entire family,

  • wrestle on a bathing suit unexpectedly three months earlier than she usually dreads doing, and

  • leave exhausted with the high likelihood of plantar warts in her near future.

So she said to her husband, “WHAT KIND OF A RACKET IS THIS?”

But Regular Mom’s husband said, “Think of our third son. That boy loves being in the water more than anything. Picture the look of excitement on his face when we tell him we’re going. It’s well worth the price of admission merely to see the happiness in his eyes.”

And Regular Mom thought her husband made a good point. Boy #3 is a patient soul with an infectious smile and a pure heart. So she confirmed the overnight arrangements with the vision of her elated third born son’s face in her mind’s eye. And a twitch in her actual eye from the exorbitant price of admission.

Regular Mom bought several pairs of new goggles on the sly. She crept up the stairs into the frigid, dark attic–a space not fit for a full grown adult which forces her to navigate all the clothing bins on her knees–to locate and launder the bathing suits. She packed the overnight bags surreptitiously. So great was her anticipation of her third son’s excitement, that she smiled and chuckled aloud as she prepared for their surprise overnight trip.

And when the time came to share the news with their four sons of the trip to the often-talked-about-but-never-before-visited Great Wolf Lodge, Regular Mom and her husband assembled the children at the table.

“Please guess where we are taking you.”

“Lolly and Poppy’s New Jersey beach house.”

“No.”

“Lolly and Poppy’s Florida beach house.”

“No.”

“Arizona.”

“No.”

“Why not Arizona? I want to go to Arizona. You said we would go to Arizona one day.”

“Stop complaining. Keep guessing.”

“The Oreland Swim Club.”

“No, but close.”

“I don’t have any more guesses.

…This is a stupid game.

…Can’t you just tell us already?

…Can I watch a show?”

“OK, boys, Dad and I are taking you to…”

Regular Mom looked at her husband, and he reached out and squeezed her hand. They smiled because a moment like this–when you make an announcement that elicits pure joy in the people you love so fiercely and completely–this is what makes all of the sleepless nights and the backtalk and the bad pre-teen Disney shows and the vomiting on fresh sheets at 2AM worth it. This is the moment.

“We are taking you to…

…GREAT! WOLF! LODGE!!!!”

Regular Mom craned her neck around her youngest son and looked expectantly at her third son, the sweetheart of the bunch, the boy whose smile warms her all the way to her toes.

“What?” he stammered, “WHAT?!”

“Yes!” Regular Mom nodded and clapped. “Great Wolf Lodge! The indoor water park! What do you think?!”

And her third son yelled, “I’M NOT GOING IN THE WATER! AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” And then he covered his crestfallen face with his hands, laid his head on the table, and proceeded to cry. Hysterically.

Not the happy tears.

Regular Mom looked at her husband, and he looked back at her. And there was no need to speak. Because they were both thinking the same thing.

This, unfortunately, is what parenting is about.

Parenting is thinking you’ve got it so perfectly right…only to discover you couldn’t have been more wrong.

Parenting is the illusion of a whole lotta YES…and the reality of OH, HELL NO.

Not just one NO.

A series of NO’s.

NO’s that get progressively louder and borderline violent.

Welcome to parenthood! Jump in, the water’s great! We’re swimming in somebody else’s pee, but honestly. It couldn’t be better. Embrace the unpredictability!

They dried the tears of their third born son, hurried the children into the car just as the snow began falling, and drove North towards their destination. What should have been a ninety minute drive became ninety minute drive + sixty additional tense minutes. Because four kids.

They checked into the hotel. Donned their bathing suits. Scarfed down Uncrustables. Distributed goggles. And down to the water park the six of them schlepped.

When they were finally together as a family in the pool–before the lifeguard whistled at the oldest son for pulling the second born under water, and before the other lifeguard whistled at the youngest for taking a running leap into the pool and cannon-balling his tiny muscular frame onto the heads and necks of unsuspecting strangers, and before Regular Mom threatened her husband that if he dared to take one more picture she would rip that expensive lens off his camera and send it down the party slide in an oversized raft–Regular Mom and her husband shared a smile. They were surrounded by their children…no one crying, no one in trouble, no one demanding a snack, no one having to poop…and life was good.

Regular Mom stood contentedly in four feet of disturbingly warm water, waiting for her youngest son to launch himself into her arms, when she felt a tap on her leg underwater. She turned to find her third son breaking the surface of the pool.

“Hi, Mom,” he smiled.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she smiled back. Her smile grew bigger as she noticed his goggles weren’t properly suctioned. His eyes were swimming in little pools of water behind those goggles.

“Sorry I was in a bad mood about coming to Great Wolf Lodge, Mom,” he said quietly.

“That’s OK, buddy.”

“I thought we were going to the Lego Store, Mom. I really just wanted to go to the Lego Store. But this is fun.”

“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” What a precious boy.

“Mom, can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely, buddy.”

He looked over both his shoulders, swam up almost on top of her and asked, “Mom, would you sacrifice yourself for me?”

What’s that now?

Regular Mom chewed on the inside of her mouth to avoid smiling, “Without hesitation.”

“Does that mean yes or no?”

“That means yes. And twice on Sunday’s,” she nodded, as she kissed his wet forehead.

“Twice on Sunday’s? What is that, Mom?”

“It means yes. I would sacrifice myself for you,” it took all her effort to keep a straight face. Especially with the chlorine rolling directly into her eyes.

He nodded his head. Looked over his shoulders once again. Emptied his goggles, dove under water, and swam off without so much as a glance back at Regular Mom.

Sacrifice myself? She wondered what he could possibly be talking about when her reverie was broken by her youngest son’s wet, flying body. Which struck her square on the side of the head.

“You were supposed to catch me!” he spat the words at her. Along with some pool water for good measure.

Once she regained her faculties and was no longer seeing two, three, and four of her children…oh, wait, that’s how many kids she actually has…she swam over to her husband.

“I don’t know what #3 has planned, but he just swam up to me like the Loch Ness fucking Monster and asked me if I would sacrifice myself for him.”

Her husband raised his eyebrows and nodded his head, “Really?” he asked. “That’s interesting. Because he asked me earlier if I know anyone who had fallen into a ravine and survived.”

Hang on, what?

“Let’s keep our eye on that kid,” Regular Mom said.

“And let’s not make plans to visit the Grand Canyon anytime soon.”

“Good call,” Regular Mom agreed.

Regular Mom, her husband, and sons enjoyed hours at the indoor water park. They stayed until well after their two younger sons’ bedtimes. They stayed until Regular Mom could feel the sting of chlorine on her eyeballs when she wasn’t even in the pool. She worried maybe the fine people of Great Wolf Lodge were vaporizing the chlorine and pumping it into the air supply to compensate for all of the peeing in the pools, and that’s when she gave her family the high sign. They trudged up the four flights of stairs to their room, and decided on sleeping arrangements.

The younger two, who were exhausted, would share the pullout sofa bed since it sat on the opposite side of a partitioned wall and offered a modicum of privacy and quiet.

The oldest boy announced, “I’m not sleeping with my other brother,” and both Regular Mom and her husband groaned.

Because that meant one of them had to share a bed with that action.

Non-stop kicking. Sideways sleeping. Talking in his sleep. Walking in his sleep. Night terrors. Hogging of covers. That’s what it’s like to share a bed with their second born son. He is a beacon of light during the day. And the angel of death in slumber.

“Fine. I’ll sleep with him,” Regular Mom’s husband grumbled. The light went out in his eyes as the gravity of the night ahead of him sunk in.

It had been a long time since Regular Mom had slept in the same bed with her oldest son. When he flopped on the bed as far away from her as possible without rolling onto the floor, she was reminded of how much he’d grown and how twelve year old boys pretty much altogether suck.

She smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoon with you.”

He rolled his eyes, and replied, “As usual I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t touch me, old lady,” and then he flipped his head so she wouldn’t breathe on his face.

Regular Mom doesn’t pray very often. But, lying in an overpriced room with her family, sharing an undersized bed with her oldest son got her thinking. These are the people I love most in the world. They are my reason. Every day.

And Regular Mom was overcome with emotion.

Mostly that emotion was dread.

She lay next to her firstborn son–whose voice is deeper, whose shoulders are broader, whose feet are as big as his grandfather’s, whose upper lip is covered in peach fuzz, whose hormones are raging–and Regular Mom prayed.

“God on high, Hear my prayer. In my need, you have always been there. He is young. He’s afraid. Let him rest. Heaven blessed.”

It was just like Jean Val jean singing over Marius in Les Miserables.

Except it was nothing like that.

Because, it was night two of her period.

The night her uterus bleeds with the vengeance of five uteruses.

Uteri?

So her prayer went more like this:

Dear Patron Saint of Heavy Periods,

Please hear and answer my prayer. My son is 12 years old. It’s an uncomfortable age. That was a particularly awkward year for me. I remember flashes of sequins and a favorite pair of fluorescent striped corduroys.  Please, PLEASE do not let me bleed all over these white sheets.  I have nowhere to hide. If I leak, if my oldest child wakes in a pool of his mother’s uterine lining, he will be scarred for life. More scarred than I was by that awful haircut I had at 12 years old. And I’m still carrying that around.

So, um, Amen?  

Regular Mom only slept about 45 minutes total that night, so scared was she that she would bleed all over the shared bed and damage her son irrevocably.

So she lay awake all night long.

And early the next morning, when she shimmied her way out of bed, she smiled. It had been a perfect, leak-free, sleepless night. Her 12 year old son’s delicate psyche would remain intact. At least until the next family vacation.

Regular Mom’s husband had already left the reservation to take pictures get her a Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Is that the sun coming up? Nice shot. Say, why's my coffee so cold?

Is that the sun coming up? Nice shot. Say, why’s my coffee so cold?

She made mental notes about the day ahead. There was packing to do and breakfast to make and hours more fun to be had. But for now, she would let her boys sleep.

Regular Mom crept over to peek around the partition at her two younger sons, who were just stirring.

“Mom, can you lay with us?” whispered the third son.

They made space for her between them, and she slipped under the sheets and wrapped her arms around her third and fourth babies.

“Mom, what o’clock is it?” asked the youngest.

“It’s still dark outside,” she whispered. “That means it’s the perfect o’clock for you to lay with Mommy.”

“Mom, are we gonna come here again? To Great Wolf Lodge?” asked her third son.

Regular Mom replied, “Well, we’re going to have fun at the waterpark again today. But I don’t know if we’ll come back after that. For our family, I think visiting Great Wolf Lodge once is probably enough.”

The two boys snuggled up against her, she kissed the tops of their heads and whispered, “This is the best part of my day.”

Her third son reached his arms around her neck and gave her an unexpected hug. He gazed up at her with that face that melts her heart and said,  “Mom, does that mean we can go to the Lego Store tomorrow? Because I really only wanted to go to the Lego Store this spring break.”

***

And that, my friends, is what spring break looks like in the life of a Regular Mom.

Just add nine more days.

Word.

 

A Book, A Contest, And a Hell of a Sandwich

You know that saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s me right now.

Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch.

Overwhelmed Mother of four who is dropping balls right and left, who has abandoned Weight Watchers, who hasn’t cooked a vegetable this calendar month, but is surprisingly well versed in this season’s talent on both American Idol and The Voice. Who may also have a teeny tiny simultaneous crush on Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Harry Connick Jr.

Well, yes, that sounds about right.

I was talking to someone recently, describing how I feel a little overextended. And by talking, I mean crying. I don’t know if it was the twitching of my eye or the dusting of confectioner’s sugar across my chin, but she hit me with some hardcore Oprah.

“You know what Oprah says. ‘You can only do three things well at one time.’”

Fucking Oprah.

I hate it when she’s right.

And she’s always fucking right.

Except for the time she laid into James Frey about A Million Little Pieces. She went too far that time.

So I thought about what three things I’m doing well in my life right now.

Eating? Yes. I’m eating semi-well, but I’m chasing two of three meals a day with chocolate. And I now need a late afternoon coffee to get me through the dark hours otherwise known as homework, baths, dinner, and bedtime. You know, the quality family hours. Also, I’ve made this ironclad contract with myself that pizza should be consumed with beer. And beer goes best with two slices of pizza + the cheese from Waldorf’s pizza.

So eating? Maybe not so well.

Sleeping? Yes, I’m sleeping. But every single morning at 4 AM, the cat pushes the bedroom door open, jumps onto the bed, climbs across my husband and begins grooming my hair and face with her long claws and her sandpaper tongue. And it fucking hurts. And her cat breath stinks. I have to envelop myself in a cocoon of covers, but I’m mildly claustrophobic, so as soon as I start panicking that I can’t breathe, I peel the covers back and BOOM! That bitch is on me again.

So sleeping? Not doing it well.

Wifely duties? I’ve been wearing flannel pajama bottoms like it’s my job. I pair them with a hideous bright blue sweatshirt with a penguin emerging from a Superman emblem on the front. It came with the entry fee to a local five mile race. It’s as comfortable as it is unflattering.

So wifely duties? Negative.

Mom stuff? I’m on top of the sorting, the washing, and the drying of the laundry. The folding? Not so much.

Would you like to have a seat?

Would you like to have a seat?

I’ve announced, “It’s breakfast for dinner!” at least four out of seven nights a week since…oh, I don’t know…Thanksgiving. We are down to one presentable pair of pants for each of my kids. And by presentable I mean I fully expect you to ignore the gaping hole in the left knee and the fact that said pants are short enough that my kid’s ankles are showing.

All things Mom? Not setting the world on fire.

Exercise schedule? I was fully prepared to run on the treadmill the other day. I noticed that the snow-blower is parked directly in the treadmill’s path on my back patio. It looks like it weighs five gazillion pounds. It’s on wheels, and I probably could have tried to move it. But that seemed like a lot of fuss, so I ditched my run and headed straight to the fridge to bust out four rectangles of chocolate. Oh, come on, it was dark chocolate.

Working out? Meh.

Breathing? Involuntary breathing is a no-brainer. Yoga-matching-my-movements-to-my-breath-breathing? I suck. I keep holding my breath in yoga class when something hurts. And don’t roll your eyes, that shit is hard. And every time my instructor tells me to be present and bring my breath to where I feel uncomfortable, I find myself wondering if that means I should blow on my left hip and then I wish I were somewhere else. Eating chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate. Jeez.

So, breathing? Don’t hold your breath.

Writing? I have so many stories. So very many stories. If you’re Facebook friends with me, you’ve probably noticed that my status updates are breaking records for number of characters used to communicate one stinking thought. And, yes, I did see M. Night Shymalan, and yes, I did lean across an unsuspecting Waldorf and scream, “You are the BEST! The BEST!” And I didn’t feel at all embarrassed except when I added, “Woohoo, go Philly!” I’ll admit, that was possibly the geekiest thing I’ve ever yelled across my oldest child at a famous movie director. But I like to think he appreciated it. Is this a blog post begging to be written? Absolutely. Add it to the list. The list right below the Costco list that is growing faster than my kids, who don’t own a pair of pants that actually fit them. Oh, but do me a solid and add “Superfruits” to that Costco list because we’re all out. Thanks.

So, writing? On Facebook, yes. Stringing sentences together to create paragraphs containing a beginning, middle, and end? Nope.

If I think hard–really hard–about something I’m doing well right now, I can come up with one thing. And it’s three words, so it may have to count as three things.

1. Buffalo

2. Chicken

3. Sandwiches

Boom!

We’re eating them once, sometimes twice, a week. And the older boys only complain that they’re too spicy to consume every other time I make them. So, I’m killing it—half the time—with the buffalo chicken sandwiches.

Take that, Oprah.

You know who is doing three things well right now?

My husband. Yes, B&B is handling his juggling act with ease, and he has JUST as big a crush as I do on Adam, Blake, and Harry. Except he looks way hotter than I do right now. Because of the Weight Watchers fail/no vegetables consumed/eating my feelings in chocolate situation.

This summer, it will be twenty years since he, a very tall, deeply tan, alarmingly handsome boy whose name I didn’t yet know, leaned over to me and said, “I’d like to buy you a drink, but the bar just closed. Where will you be on Saturday night? I’ll make sure I’m there too.”

I haven’t been able to shake him since and, believe me, I’ve tried. If I had to list three things he is doing well as an individual, they are three things that also make us work as a unit.

1. He is the bomb diggity of all Dads. He plays with the kids. And has actual fun doing it. And he likes to help them with their homework if they have questions. The dreaded math questions are his favorites to answer. He reads to them, he bathes them, and he disciplines them. Not as well as I do, but still, he is an active participant in the raising of our children.

2. He has interests outside of mine. For instance, I find Ultimate Fighting barbaric. He cannot get enough of it. He is an adrenaline junky. I prefer predictable (read boring) routine. He needs to understand how things work. I just like to know that things are indeed working. He hates doing the dishes. Oh, wait, that’s not a good example.

3. He lets me do my thing. (My thang?) Whatever my thing is, he supports me. These days, that thing is writing. He is even supportive when I write about him.

I wrote a story about B&B and his hobbies, and I got lucky enough that it landed in a book. And I did not throw him under the bus. Not this time at least. It is surrounded by hilarious stories written by some of the funniest broads on the internet. It’s all about the men in our lives. It’s called I Just Want to Be Alone, and it’s the sequel to I Just Want to Pee Alone.

Real books. That is my thing. I’m lucky to have a husband who supports my writing, and I am so enormously grateful to Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat for carving out a spot for me in both of these anthologies.

I really want you to do a girl a favor and buy the new book.

I said this to my husband. I said it because it's true.

I said this to my husband. I said it because it’s true.

It’s funny. And laughter is good. It heals. It gives you laugh lines. Laugh lines are the sign of a happy person. Buy this book. Laugh. It makes me happy to make you happy. Help me help you.

I’ve teamed up with my co-authors from Pennsylvania to give away five copies of I Just Want to Be Alone for free. Meredith of The Mom of the Year, Stephanie of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion, Christine of Keeper of The Fruit Loops, and I are bound by the polar vortex nightmare that has been this PA winter. We are bound by a love of story-telling that inspires us to look at the chaos of our lives–polar vortex included–through the lens of humor. Most importantly, our stories are bound together–polar vortex not included–in the pages of this kick ass book.

Four winners will receive a copy of I Just Want to Be Alone. One especially lucky winner will receive a copy of the book and a $25 Amazon gift card. I know. Totally awesome. If contests are your thing, you can enter this contest to win the book by clicking on the Rafflecopter below. The contest ends at midnight on March 26th, 2014, and winners will be contacted via email. To enter, you must be 18 or older and live in the continental U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make dinner. Guess what we’re having?

Is Anybody Listening?

Fact: Nobody in this house listens to me.

Observation: When someone chooses not to listen to me, that someone gets hurt.

Fact: Not as the result of telepathy or voodoo, nor by my hand.

Observation: I don’t particularly like eating humble pie, but holding back the words “Well, I told you so, numb nuts,” can be just as tough.

Another Fact: I run.

Observation: It keeps me sane.

Fact: B&B runs.

Observation: This format is annoying, so I’m just going to tell the story. But first, one more fact.

Fact: Someone didn’t listen to me. And that someone is hobbling around with an injury. Related? You be the judge.

***

I run. I just do. For lots of reasons. Mostly to cope with the fact that no one listens to me and then people get hurt.

Three years ago, you non-runners may have noticed an ugly footwear trend among the running community. The Five Finger shoes. As if you didn’t already have enough reason to laugh and point at us. They really are aesthetically ridiculous. I was among the first laughing and pointing.

“Look at that fool tricked out with those ridiculous things on his feet. They aren’t sneakers, they are foot gloves! Freakishly ugly foot gloves. I know he has toes, but I don’t need to see each little piggy in all its individual glory.”

I’d done the same thing with the capri trend back in 1998.

“What exactly is she wearing? The choices are simple: shorts or pants. Please commit to one, you just cannot have it both ways.”

I was guilty in the year 2000 of laughing and pointing at Uggs as well.

“$100 for those ugly clodhoppers? Save your money. They’ll never make it beyond this season.”

I type this wearing my capri pants and Ugg boots, while choking down a slice of humble pie with a side of irony. I don’t know where my writing will take me, but I’m fairly sure it won’t land me a gig penning fashion trends.

Have you ever slipped your feet into a pair of Uggs? Sweet Jesus. It’s like walking on warm clouds.

Capris are a genius solution to the tricky bastard I call knee fat. It happens to all of us sooner or later, ladies. As luck would have it, the capri trend arrived before the invention of the shorts with the 3” inseam. Because, post childbirth, 3 inches is the exact measurement that my butt cheeks now rest, collecting perspiration, along the backs of my thighs.

Just like capris and Uggs, the benefits of those Five Finger shoes outweigh the curb appeal. So, yes, of course I bought them. And they were expensive, so luckily the humble pie that came along with them was free. I also bought a pair of racing flats, which are not nearly as ugly, but have arguably less support. Probably not, but this is my story, so I’m rubber/you’re glue. I purchased both pairs with the understanding that I would transition to my running in them slowly and gradually. An abrupt change would almost definitely result in immediate injury.

No problem. People remark to me all the time, “You’re so patient,” and, “I don’t know how you do it, I don’t have the patience,” and, “Sure, your house is a pigsty, but hey, are those Uggs you’re wearing?”

I thought I had enough patience to parent four sons AND gradually transition my running from stability shoes to barefoot.

Not So Fun Fact: I was wrong. It takes all my patience to parent the kids.

I prematurely wore my racing flats during a 5K race. And developed plantar fasciitis as a result. In exchange for my stupidity, I earned a 3 month mandatory break from running. It happened to be the exact same 3 months that the boys were on summer vacation, fueling B&B’s ongoing argument that “there is no god.” I also can’t walk around with bare feet. Ever. Even in my house. Which is actually OK because Legos underfoot hurt. Also, it fuels my argument, “the first to feel the crumbs under his feet should be the first to wield the Swiffer.” That’s not working out as well as I’d hoped.

What’s the lesson here?

Be careful what you mock or you may find yourself injured while your children are home for 90 consecutive days.

***

So, B&B runs. For lots of reasons. Most of them involve fancy concepts like resting heart rates and VVO2 max.

One day he whizzed past me in the kitchen. “I’m going to get racing flats.”

“Oooh, that’s a terrible idea. You need patience for that,” I laughed.

Never once in his life has anyone ever accused my husband of having patience. Is he resourceful? Yes. Is he relentless? Hell, yes! Patient? Never ever ever ever.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Transitioning to racing flats requires patience. I rushed into it. That’s how I developed plantar fasciitis.”

“You had plantar fasciitis?”

Do you see what I mean? NOBODY LISTENS TO ME.

“Yes, dear. Don’t you remember I couldn’t run for 3 months? And I slept in that godforsaken sock in the heat of summer? It’s why I am wearing flip flops in the house right now. It’s why I always wear shoes in the house. I can’t go barefoot ever again.”

“I thought you just liked flip flops. Anyway, I’m getting the racing flats.”

“I’d like to go on record as opposing this idea. I have really high arches. You have flat feet. We are both at high risk for developing plantar fasciitis, and if I don’t have the patience to do it properly, there’s no chance you do.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“It’s an irrefutable fact, Jack.”

“Don’t call me Jack. Where did you get your information about flat feet being prone to plantar fasciitis? I’d like the source, please.”

“I don’t know. I read it somewhere. 3 years ago when I had plantar fasciitis.”

“If you can’t cite the source, maybe you made it up.”

“Why would I make it up?”

“To win this argument.”

“I am not trying to argue with you. I’m on your side.”

“It doesn’t sound like it.”

“I’m on the side of plantar fasciitis sucks, and I don’t want you to develop it. That’s your side.”

“Hmm.”

Within a few hours, he was the proud new owner of racing flats. Because nobody. listens. to. me.

And he ran in them. And he didn’t develop plantar fasciitis. I sat one morning and reflected on this. I guess I was wrong. I was actually relieved to be wrong.

I was poised to eat my self-imposed slice of humble pie when B&B limped into the kitchen. “My foot hurts.”

“Did you drop something on it?”

“No, it hurts on the bottom.”

“Did you step on a Lego?”

“No, it hurts where my arch meets my heel.”

“Ooooh. Shit.”

“What?”

“That sounds like plantar fasciitis.”

“What?”

Here we fucking go again.

“Don’t you remember? Plantar fasciitis?! I had it 3 years ago!”

“Hmm.”

And out he hobbled. And I placed the humble pie on the shelf. Just in case.

After extensive internet research, several borrowed library books, and urgent phone conversations with family members who are also health care professionals, B&B announced to me, “I have plantar fasciitis.”

I have no poker face. So I met his declaration with a mix of facial acrobatics, none of which are available to the Botox Community, who by the way are the same bitches who can pull off those shorts with a 3” inseam post-kids. Sure, I’ve got deep creases, but I corner the market on facial expressions while I simultaneously rock my capris. So there.

It’s really hard not to say, “I mother fucking done told you this would happen,” when I’m trying to show my spouse empathy. Empathy is the one where you can understand what the other person is going through because you’ve been through it yourself, right?  Also I am burdened with this thing called foresight. And in the instant that he announced his injury, I immediately had visions of days, weeks, months of surliness and an existence devoid of post-exercise endorphins punctuated by a mantra of, “there is no god.”

Thank you baby Jesus I was wrong. Not about the plantar fasciitis, about the weeks and months of surliness. B&B is a man with a plan, and his plan was a cortisone injection.

To prepare himself for the procedure, he watched YouTube videos of people receiving the cortisone injection. Have you ever heard an animal wailing and writhing in agony? No? Watch YouTube videos of people receiving cortisone injections directly into their heels. I beg you. Because that’s what I liken the human screaming to. B&B watched them throughout the week at maximum volume so I could appreciate what he’d have to endure.

It was almost as loud as the screaming in my head because this entire injury could have been avoided.

But nobody in this house listens to me.

So I run.

It doesn’t always do the trick.

Which is why I write.

And occasionally, somebody says, “Hey, you have some funny stories. Can you write one for me…and please spell out your numbers…so I can publish it in my book of funny stories?”

And that just happened! Which is not only tremendously pleasing to me, it also silences B&B’s “there is no god” argument for like 2, pardon me, two whole hours.

Cover 2500x1563

I Just Want to Be Alone. It’s true. It’s also the name of the new humor anthology containing one of my stories. It’s a funny one involving B&B. Not the one where he dresses like a witch and I pound cupcakes and fantasize about becoming obese just to get some one-on-one time with Bob Harper. A different story, but equally funny.  It’s available for pre-order now! So, now’s your chance…

Pre-order I Just Want to Be Alone. Be a pal.

Please listen to me. The book is a scream, and you need to own it.

I would hate for you not to listen.

You might just catch plantar fasciitis if you don’t.

Worth the risk? You be the judge.