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?


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.


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?


Top Dog

“Let’s play wrestle!” he yells, his tiny body assuming an aggressive stance.

“Let me take my coat off first so that..” before I can finish my sentence, my youngest son has wrapped all four of his appendages around my leg. He holds on with a vise-like grip.

“AHA! I’m Iron Man, and I’ve got you now! You’ll never escape me!”

I walk to the closet, dragging my right leg…said 4 year old child attached to it…behind me as I hang up my coat.


“That’s it. I’m done,” he announces as he tosses his sneakers one at a time into the laundry room. He’s just returned home from playing basketball. His face is a mask of anger.

“Uh oh. What happened?” I ask my husband.

“I’m done. I’m so frustrated playing with these guys. Nobody takes the game to the level I need to play at in order to enjoy it. It’s a total waste of time for me.”

“Why is that?”

“Who knows? They play like a bunch of old men! Maybe they’re afraid to get hurt or something. I’d rather never step foot on the court again than compromise the way I play.”


“Want to play Scrabble?” my husband asks.

I answer quickly, “With you? No.”

“How about Boggle?” he suggests.

“You against me?” I shake my head,  “Nope.”

He’s annoyed. “Come on. Why not?”

“Because I hate to lose. And you always beat me. At Scrabble. And Boggle. That’s why not.”


“This is ridiculous,” he scoffs.

“Stop talking. I’m trying to watch Survivor. Save it for the commercials,” I chide my spouse.

“I wouldn’t be talking if this competition weren’t so absurd.”

I sigh and pause the TV. Thank God for DVR. “Why do you say that?”

He gesticulates wildly towards the TV, “It’s ridiculous that they can’t swallow a grasshopper faster than that! It’s a grasshopper! Just shove it in your mouth and swallow it down! What’s the big deal?”

Calmly, I reply, “I wouldn’t eat the grasshopper. Even if it meant I’d win the reward. And the reward is chocolate. And I love chocolate. I still wouldn’t eat the grasshopper.”

His chest inflates, “I guarantee I would eat that grasshopper. Not only that, I’d eat it faster than anybody on the show could eat it.”

Oh, here we go. “Would you eat it faster than any contestant on any reality show ever consumed any grasshopper?”

He nods assuredly. “It’s true. You know it’s true.”


“Nice race,” he heaves, catching his breath.

“You too,” I reply, matching my husband’s effort to steady my ragged breathing.

He nods behind him, “I took a wrong turn and ran farther than I should have.”

“I was wondering why I crossed the finish line before you did.”

Because that never happens. Even when he’s pushing 100 lbs of combined weight belonging to our youngest two kids, whom he pushed the entire race in the double jogging stroller.

He offers his hand, “Come on, let’s go over and see how everyone else did.”

I wave him off, “I think I’m going to stay here, thanks.”


“Because I can’t walk.”

“Are your legs beat?” he asks.

“I hurt my foot,” I point to the underside of my right foot, searching for the invisible knife  responsible for the searing pain.

“What happened?”

I shake my head, “I wore my racing flats. No arch support. I should have eased my way into them. Never should have raced in them today.”

He winces, “Did you first feel it when you crossed the finish line?”

I smile. “Nope. I felt it a mile in.”

“Why did you keep on running? You should have dropped out!”

I shrug. “Quitting was not an option. After all, I had all of these strangers to impress.”

He nods, “All of these people you’ll never see again for the rest of your life?”

Perfectly serious, I answer, “Exactly. I didn’t want them to think I’m a quitter. Because I’m not.”

He places his hands on his hips and smiles down at me, “Well, I’m sure they’re all very impressed by your effort. I know I am. Now let’s get you a pair of crutches. Non-quitter.”


“I’ll take pop culture for 600, Alex.”

Alex Trebek announces, “Alright, you’ve chosen the Daily Double!”

B&B yells at the Jeopardy contestant on TV, “Make it a true Daily Double! Bet it all!”

I holler at the same TV contestant , “Don’t listen to him! Bet ½! Maybe less than ½!”

He turns to me, incredulous, “What?! She should bet it all!”

I frown, “If she bets it all and gets the question wrong, she’ll have nothing. If she plays it safe, she’s still in the game.”

He raises his eyebrows, “If she bets it all and gets the question right, she takes the lead. Better to bet it all and take the lead.”

“Nope. Better to play it safe and stay in the game.”


“We need to discuss this,” he balances the kids’ dirty plates on his forearms and follows me to the sink.

“Now?” I ask.

“Yes, now!” My husband is nothing if not persistent.

I sigh, placing my hands on the counter. “OK, what do you want to know?”

“What do you want done with your body when you die?”

The Interrogator gasps audibly, “Mom, you’re gonna die?”

I place my arm around his bony shoulders, “No, honey, I’m not gonna die. Not today.”

B&B turns to our 6 year old son, “We’re all going to die. Probably not tonight. Don’t worry about this, buddy, Mommy and Daddy are just talking.”

I whisper to my husband, “Can we talk about it after he goes to bed?”

He shakes his head, “Now.” Persistent.

“I want to be cremated,” I reply.

He nods. “Well, you better tell your family that.”

“OK, I will.”

“Now,” he adds.

“Why now?”

“Because what if you die tomorrow? If I tell them you want to be cremated they may not believe me. They’ll know it’s true if you tell them yourself.”

I nod, “OK.”

He nods, “OK. So tell them.”

“I will.”


Jesus Christmas.

“Alright. Calm down. I’ll tell them.”

Now I’ve gone and poked the bear…

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You know I hate when people tell me to calm down!”


“Hey, Mom, you have to come over here and play this game with us!”

I walk over to stand next to my oldest son, who is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. He is watching his father play a game on the iPad.

I peek over Waldorf’s shoulder. B&B is tapping out a pattern on the game’s 4 different pie-shaped colors…blue, red, yellow, green.  Recognition sets in, and I laugh immediately. “Is that Simon? The memory game?”

B&B looks up to meet my eye. His laughter echoes mine. “Yes! Do you remember this?”

I nod, “I loved that game when I was young! Can I have a turn?”

Waldorf nods, “Sure! It’s Dad’s turn now. Then my turn. Then yours.”

We watch B&B race to match Simon’s pattern.

“Slow down, dude. Just get the pattern right,” I say.

Waldorf shakes his head, “No, he’s right to go fast. You get more points for speed.”

Now B&B looks at Waldorf. Two sets of eyes alight with the excitement of this additional pressure.  Deflated, I watch their delight.

“I’m out,” I announce. And I retreat back into the kitchen, where the dirty dishes await.


Are you confused yet?

I’ve just finished reading a galley of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  And I found it fascinating.


I began this book with a slight sense of dread.  Last year, I read Bronson’s and Merryman’s Nurture Shock, which resulted in a near nervous breakdown after realizing B&B and I needed a complete parenting style overhaul. Waldorf and the Kenyan will likely need extensive therapy as a result of our abrupt shift. The Interrogator and the Verb stand a fighting chance of turning out half decent. (Want to know if your parenting style needs revamping? Read this excerpt from Nurture Shock, which appeared in NY Magazine.)

As I read Top Dog, each of the above scenarios popped into my head in reference to different points made in the book. The research the authors compiled helped me understand the reasons why my husband, sons, and I behaved the way we did in each of these examples.

  • The youngest child often has the most fight in him. “Let’s play wrestle” is my youngest son’s most often used expression.
  • When competing, men often focus on what they will win. This often leads to overconfidence. May I present…my husband.
  • Women refuse to waste time with losing. Which is why I no longer play Scrabble and Boggle with my husband, who wipes the floor with my rear end in both games. Even though I’m the alleged wordsmith in the marriage. Self-proclaimed wordsmith.
  • I pushed through a race (like a fool), running the risk of further injury, because there were spectators watching. I was running, which is something I train for, enjoy, and typically do well. Had I been trying something new, like tennis, their presence would have increased my stress level enough for me to quit.
Hey, what's this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

Hey, what’s this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

  • B&B fits the book’s classification of a warrior, which means he needs stress to perform his best. One of the worst things I can encourage him to do is to “calm down”. That’s going to take some work on my part. Dammit.
  • Men risk a greater percentage of their money when answering a Daily Double in Jeopardy than women do. *Side note, B&B always yells “Make it a true Daily Double!”
  • Additional stress within a competition makes men less emotional and more calculated. While it can create too much stress for women. This explains why B&B and Waldorf rose to the occasion to compete in a timed game of Simon, and I willingly chose to wash dishes.

In every chapter of Top Dog, I was able to identify instances in my everyday life to which the psychology behind winning and losing applies.

And don’t think I didn’t bust out a ruler to measure the lengths of each of our index fingers and compare them to the lengths of each of our ring fingers. But you’ll have to read the book to understand why…

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing is available on February 19th. Po Bronson will be speaking at SCH Academy in Chestnut Hill, PA, at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, February 20th. The event is free and open to the public.

I look forward to meeting him. I’ve almost forgiven him for my near nervous breakdown after reading his last book.



Our This Is Childhood series continues today with the fabulous Allison Tate’s take on Age Five. Allison is the rock star responsible for writing The Mom Stays in the Picture. Her writing elicits such emotion in me. And the pictures that accompany This is Five are priceless.

Next week, I’m tackling Age Six.