The Dance

The Dance

Art the Dance 2

By Allison Slater Tate

Though I think I have blocked most of middle school out of my consciousness in the interest of self preservation, I do still possess a few vivid memories 28 years later. Among the best: the night of one of our few middle school dances that fulfilled every excruciating promise of its kind, including boys on one side of the darkened, slightly gym and girls on the other, punch bowls and bad snacks, bored chaperones, and a distinct lack of actual dancing.

My neighbor’s dad brought us home, and I remember bursting into my bedroom, still decorated in the yellow gingham wallpaper of my childhood nursery, and throwing myself on my white wicker canopy bed, my cheeks flushed from the night’s excitement. My room was tiny, but I didn’t know it. My lavender, art deco style boom box sat on my dresser, and I turned on the radio and listened rapturously to the same songs that I had just heard at the dance: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Starship’s “Sara.” I was buzzing on a cocktail of hormones, friends, and the possibility of romance (Romance would not actually arrive in any real shape or form for another three years). I was a first child with no one to model, the owner of a mouth full of braces, a chest I didn’t know what to do with, and zits that befuddled me. I still carried the baby fat of adolescence.

There was nothing about me that wasn’t awkward. And still, I felt broken wide open, like anything was possible. Thirteen is not the easiest age, but it has its own magic.

I’ve lost the braces, but I still have a chest I never quite mastered, baby fat of a different nature, and, most maddeningly, the zits have returned, full force. I’m 41, and now my oldest child is 13. I never imagined when I was 13 that I would still be growing up, and yet, here I am, growing up alongside my child, both of us learning how to deal with chin hair at the same time.

From the day he was born, I have been anticipating this time: he’s coming into his own, growing into a body that has always seemed to fit him like his father’s shirts, filling out both physically and emotionally. He has opinions and a sense of humor and when he speaks, he makes cultural and literary allusions sometimes that make my heart leap out of my chest because I realize how much he is aware of now, how much he is in the world. He’s filling out his high school registration papers. He has middle school dances of his own.

He and I have our own awkward dance going on between us, too, because, frankly, I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. I have never parented a teenager before, and he has never been a teenager before. If there is anything I have learned in the past almost 14 years, it’s that every single child is different, so there’s really no book or set of instructions I can pore over and study and learn that will tell me exactly how to navigate his last four years at home. I have to wing it, and that feels a little like being 13 myself: broken wide open, like anything is possible.

That feels a little more terrifying from this vantage point.

Art The DanceSo I worry about how much time he spends alone in his room, even though I know I did the same, because I miss him. I leave new books on the staircase where he might stumble over them, resigned to the knowledge that anything I recommend outright will be dismissed summarily. I yell up to him in the mornings to wake him up a minimum of three times, my tone and my threats growing fiercer each time, then seethe when he casually shuffles into the kitchen 15 minutes before we have to leave for school and settles in for a leisurely breakfast. I nag, he shrugs. I cajole, he demurs. Push, pull, back and forth, as we each struggle to lead and not to step on each other’s toes.

Sometimes we are really in sync, and I hate to even acknowledge it, because I’m afraid I will puncture some hole in the bubble and it will all crash to earth: he wants to spend time with us, or he tells me about his day at school in more than one sentence, or he texts me about a triumph over a particularly gnarly biology test. After volleyball practice, he and I swing through a local drive-thru and we talk about music or books or what he is analyzing in English class. I tried not to grin too hard when he recently mused, “I tend to like ’80s music the best. After all, it’s what I grew up on.” My work is done here, I thought with a mental fist pump.

Other times, we stumble and fall, and this is where the hardest work is: learning when to let him struggle and when to offer my hand if he needs a lift, encouraging him to stretch and grow even when it is painful. Recently, he pulled a stunt involving his schoolwork that I pulled when I was his age. Because I had done it myself, I called him out immediately. He was busted, full stop. The question was what consequences to give him.

In general, I have been pretty lucky so far. My teenager is most definitely a teenager, but he is mostly responsible, mostly reasonable, mostly a kid who doesn’t make me worry too much…yet. But the problem is, I know to sustain that, I have to draw boundaries; I have to be a parent when the situation calls for it. That day, I struck a compromise. I let him know how angry I was, and that there would be very real consequences for his actions. I let him know that if it happened again, the consequences would be much bigger. I wasn’t easy on him, but I wasn’t quite as hard as I could have been. I didn’t exactly give him the gift of failure, but I gave him the gift of one strike.

The worst part of that day was having to discipline a kid that has only made one B in middle school, a kid that is excited about joining the Debate Team in high school and tells me he “doesn’t need the drama” of a middle school romance. He never complains about volleyball practice, he comes and kisses my head every night at bedtime on his own accord, and he fiercely loves his baby sister. He’s a good kid. Don’t make me do this, I wanted to plead to him. Don’t make me come down hard on you. Because I knew that I had to, but I didn’t want to. I know we’re both learning, both figuring this out, and as much as I want to give him room, I want to make sure he knows I am not a fool or a pushover; I’m paying attention.

But this is the dance now. When they were babies, it was a waltz: there was a rhythm, a cadence to our days, so that even when the unpredictable happened, it happened within a pattern. But now, we’re two-stepping, quick-quick-slow-slow, turns as fast as we can take them. I’m trying to keep up, trying not to step out of turn, trying to keep him with me – my cheeks flushed, my adrenaline pumping, broken open, because that is the only way to do this.

Allison Slater Tate is a freelance writer and editor and the mother of four children in Central Florida. She is a Contributing Blogger for Brain, Child, and she also regularly writes for the websites of both the TODAY SHOW and NBC News covering parenting and college stories. Her writing also appears at the Washington Post, Scary Mommy, The Mid, the Huffington Post, and the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Follow her on Facebook ( or at her eponymous website,

The Second Time Around

The Second Time Around

By Allison Slater Tate


It’s not easier to watch a child grow up the second time around. It’s harder.


When we filed into the elementary school last May on the morning of fifth grade graduation, my husband and I didn’t need to be told where to go or what to do. We dutifully walked around the arc of chairs set up around the stage, saving only what we needed toward the back. We knew the seats in the front would already be gone, snatched up by early bird parents wielding cameras on their laps, their faces eager with anticipation. We were more excited to be close to an exit; we knew how hot the auditorium would get by hour two when that many people filled the room and the class photo slideshow was on song three of the soundtrack.

From the time I held the fateful pregnancy test in my shaking hand, I wondered what it would be like to have more than one child. Our firstborn had consumed us, especially me, the first year of his life—literally and figuratively. I had submitted to the tide of motherhood and let it take up every thought, every feeling, every physical twinge. How could I do that, but squared? It seemed unfathomable.

But my second son was nothing at all like my first, and my experience as a second-time mother wasn’t motherhood squared, exactly. Where my first seemed to come from the womb speaking in sentences after we survived the colic of his first six months, my second was a quiet, content, jovial baby who eventually needed years of speech therapy. I feared I would suffer the same extreme sleep deprivation with my second baby that I did with my first, but my second ended up being a completely different kind of newborn—one I didn’t know existed—and he slept in his own crib early and often.

My first two children continued to be completely different personalities and people despite being separated by only 21 months in age, one independent and assertive, one more reserved and shy, one literal and straightforward, a fan of math and science; one lost in his own world of make believe and imagination, an artist and a dreamer. We added two more children, another boy and a baby girl, later. They too are distinct individuals, none of them following in the footsteps or even on the same path as any of their siblings.

A lot of my experience of being a mother has been marked by firsts: first birthday, first day of school, first ER trip, first lost tooth, first cavity, first field trip, first sleepover, first time going to sleep-away camp, first elementary school graduation, first teenager. All these firsts have been daunting in part because they were firsts; they hit me hard when they happened because I had never experienced them before as a parent and didn’t know what to expect. So when my second child prepared to go through each one, I thought, I got this now. I’ll know what to do, how to react, how to prepare. This will be easier.

But I was wrong. Because for as much as I desperately wish parenting worked that way, it just doesn’t. The second time around, following hot on the heels of my first, has still been its own individual parenting experience. I thought it would get easier to say goodbye to footie pajamas; instead, it was tougher, because I knew it meant the true end of babyhood. I thought I wouldn’t grieve preschool as much the second time, but I did even more, knowing that now time would speed up through the elementary years. In fact, every milestone hits me harder. I know exactly what I am saying goodbye to with each watershed moment—though I am never sure what I might face next, because it’s always different in some way or nuance.

That is how fifth grade graduation crept up on me. I have four children now, and my days fly past me in a blur of drop-offs, pick-ups, practices, meals. I was so focused on my firstborn going to middle school that I didn’t quite process how quickly my second child was finishing elementary school, and with it so many wonderful elementary school things: field trips to the zoo and daily recess on actual playgrounds, class holiday parties with games of BINGO and 7-Up, endless supplies of FunDip Valentines, shoebox dioramas about sharks, kickball games. I hardly paid attention to the details of the final days of school last year. I knew the drill.

But sitting at the graduation, surrounded by first-timers tucking in their kids’ shirttails and adjusting their collars, I was surprised to find myself feeling overwhelmed and a little shell-shocked. When my first child went through all of it, it was daunting, but exciting. It was new. It was an adventure. It felt surreal. I was nervous about middle school, but also so curious. I wanted to see where the path led, what the baby I brought home so many years ago now would look like as an adolescent.

But with my second child, though I still embraced that same excitement and curiosity about what his own future would bring, I couldn’t help fighting off grief for the things I knew would be over now. It felt final. It felt real. He is no longer the baby of the family, but he was once. He was the second child that made my first baby look gigantic overnight in the way newborns do to toddlers. He was the second child that promised to always seem little compared to my first. But now he is no longer little.

I’m preparing now for my oldest child to graduate from middle school. We’re filling out high school registration forms and going to open houses and talking about course selection. My second baby, now 5’5″ and wearing man-sized shoes, is finishing 6th grade. He still has his baby face—his beautiful skin hasn’t met hormones yet, thank goodness.

I wiped tears away from my eyes that morning, realizing that it’s not easier to watch a child grow up the second time around. It’s harder.

Allison Slater Tate is a freelance writer and editor and a mother of four children ages 13 to 3. In addition to Brain, Child, her work can be found at her eponymous websiteToday Parents, Scary Mommy, the Washington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and the Huffington Post, among others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Light Sabers and Tears in Aisle 8

Light Sabers and Tears in Aisle 8

By Allison Slater Tate


I am missing the little boys who believed in reindeer food on the front lawn.


I cried in the Star Wars aisle of Toys ‘R’ Us at 10 a.m. this morning.

In a rare show of industry, I was trying to knock out the majority of my Christmas shopping in just one (painfully expensive) trip. With my four children all safely ensconced at their respective schools from middle down to preschool, I took my sweet time pushing my cart through the giant toy mecca, pausing at each aisle, carefully picking out candy canes and wands for stockings.

It felt indulgent and strange to actually give myself the permission to shop leisurely instead of bum-rushing my way through an online order—or, more likely, five online orders. I enjoyed picking up the toys and reading the boxes the way I obsessively did when I was a child; though I find the whole “unboxing” phenomenon on YouTube a little jarring, I understand why my 3-year-old daughter enjoys watching others open and play with toys so much, since it reminds me of how I was riveted to the Saturday morning commercials at her age.

I had made it through most of the store, and my cart was piled high with things for my youngest, who is my only girl—Calico Critters and Beanie Boos, Breyer horses and Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Paw Patrol figures and a Play-Doh kitchen I know she will squeal over—when I found myself in the Star Wars aisle. I was suddenly staring at a pile of lightsabers, red and green and blue.

Like a blurry video in fast forward, years flashed through my mind: all the other Decembers when I had walked through these same aisles, picking up Little People farms and Hexbugs, Hot Wheels tracks and Razor scooters. I remembered running my hands over heavy plastic playhouses, debating between massive Lego sets, searching for Thomas trains we didn’t yet own. I thought about 12 years of Christmas mornings, oranges in stockings, tiny, sticky candy cane fingers, nights of driving around neighborhoods with the radio station set to the Christmas music channel, the kids in their pajamas staring out the windows and admiring our neighbors’ handiwork. They were always ready to go home before I was.

And that’s when, for a few minutes, I just leaned against my shopping cart and let myself cry, right in the middle of Toys ‘R’ Us, amidst the Yodas and the Ewok dolls—not an ugly cry, not heaving sobs, but just a few tears—as I realized that those days, when I had little people constantly underfoot and Santa was definitely real in my house, are over. My oldest boys have grown out of toy stores altogether now. They’re not even that interested in the video games sold there; they now look to download more sophisticated computer games straight from the source. My 8-year-old, whether because of his personality, because he is a third boy and jaded by the knowledge he’s acquired through his brothers, or because 8-year-old boys are now somewhat more savvy and less into toys than they were in generations past, barely plays with traditional toys at all. And after a recent brutal grilling by the third grader, I am pretty sure the 3-year-old is the only one left who truly believes in Santa Claus.

So I cried, because I miss those little boys who so carefully placed the plate of cookies and glass of milk by our fireplace chimney and brought home sacks of be-glittered handprint ornaments from preschool and kindergarten. But in truth, I cried more because I miss those days that I used to just survive, and then only barely. I miss when my days were just chaotic blurs, ping-ponging through naps and playgroup meet-ups and hurtling toward bedtime every night. I miss them because now, through the magnifying glass of hindsight and the rose-colored lens of nostalgia, they seem so much simpler, even in their tedium.

My days have a different timbre now. No one wears diapers, no one drinks from sippy cups with a bazillion parts to clean. There are no naptimes to work around. Instead, there is homework and practices and school. My little girl still keeps me with one foot partly in the world of the toddler; she is my excuse for knowing what’s popular on Disney Junior, my reason for collecting picture books and acorns from the yard. But things have changed.

I am mourning the Christmas tasks I had just a few years ago. I am missing the little boys who believed in reindeer food on the front lawn. But even more, I mourn their mother—the younger version of me, who was able to immerse myself in the physical labor and emotional chaos of young motherhood, whose parents were still strong and hearty and not yet concerned with the trickiness of retirement and aging, who didn’t worry about puberty and high school transcripts. I miss the version of me who could spend naptimes baking dozens of Christmas cookies and whose biggest worry was making it to the preschool Christmas concert on time.

One of my friends often quotes George Bernard Shaw: “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” As my children grow up and out of the routines and rites of childhood, I learn with them. I learn what each new stage means for them and for me as a parent, what the view from here now looks like and feels like. Yes, at first, it feels like I have lost something. I miss something. I mourn something. But even as I wipe a few tears off my cheeks, I know that this Christmas, when we are all piled around the tree again in our pajamas and bare feet—the bigger kids with smaller, fewer, and yet more expensive packages, the youngest with a plethora of tiny treasures to delight a preschooler’s big eyes—I won’t miss anything. Everything will be there, in new shapes and sizes: all the pieces of my heart.

Allison Slater Tate is a freelance writer and editor and a mother of four children ages 13 to 3. In addition to Brain, Child, her work can be found at her eponymous websiteToday Parents, Scary Mommy, the Washington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and the Huffington Post, among others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

This is Adolescence: 12

This is Adolescence: 12

By Allison Slater Tate


Twelve is a bridge between childhood and the land of teenagers, a place of juxtaposition and paradox.


It’s the legs that really kill me.

At twelve, my oldest son’s face is still his face. Though his baby cheeks have hollowed and he now stands at my height, pointedly meeting my gaze when we argue, his eyes betray him every time: they still give me the face of the same baby I held in my arms twelve years ago, when I wondered for the first full year of his life if they would really stay blue. They did.

But not much else has remained the same about that baby from so long ago (and yet yesterday?) now, especially his legs. His stocky toddler thighs, the ones that curled into my body so easily when we still napped together daily, are gone. They have grown, beanstalk-style, until I find myself staring at them sometimes in bewilderment. They are not the legs of a child. These are the legs of a young man: long and lanky, increasingly furry, stretching out in front of him, capped by knobby knees I associate with baby horses or giraffes. I can’t believe those are the legs of my first baby.

Each age possesses its own magic, but twelve seems to shine a little more brightly than most to me. Twelve is a bridge between childhood and the land of teenagers, a place of juxtaposition and paradox. He still kind of wants to trick-or-treat, but he doesn’t necessarily want to dress up in a costume. He peruses the Lego catalog, but he doesn’t find anything he wants to buy with the same sense of urgency and enthusiasm he had even last year. He’s not interested in the pumpkin patch, but he likes to help get the decorations out of the attic. He doesn’t want to know the lyrics to “Let It Go,” but he does… along with the words to “All About That Bass.”

Twelve is both breaking my heart and healing it. After a colicky babyhood and a stubborn, incredibly willful toddlerhood, this child has blossomed into a full grown person, someone who reads faster than I do, who has hopes and dreams and goals of his own, who enjoys electrical engineering and marine biology and makes his own literary allusions that delight me when I catch them. He is a promise fulfilled: everything I ever hoped for, better than I ever imagined, a dream in flesh and Gap button-downs. He surprises me, sometimes, with unexpected kindness. Though everything is mortifying to Twelve, he somehow doesn’t mind telling me he loves me in public. He’ll still hold my hand. I could not have called this when he was 3 and 4 years old and a holy terror, but I am relieved and, yes, a little shocked that he has actually turned out to be pretty reasonable and cooperative most of the time.

But he can also sometimes be thoroughly exasperating. He can be irresponsible. Arrogant. Careless. He still does not understand consequences; he still doesn’t fear the world, for better or worse. He’s the same child who once jumped into the deep end of the pool before he could swim, who had to be rescued by a lifeguard at the beach because he did not believe a riptide could be stronger than he was, who ran into a tree trying to catch a frisbee because he didn’t look ahead. He believes, quite confidently, that he is smarter than we are. He scares me, because he is, more than ever, my heart walking around outside my body… only now, that heart walks on those long legs, with wizened eyes but without any life experience yet to inform his choices.

Twelve is PG-13 movies, absolutely mandatory deodorant, science fair projects, ear buds. Twelve wears ironic T-shirts (“The Periodic Table of Minecraft”) and shorts he outgrows almost before we can pull the tags off of them, sneakers larger than my own that wait to trip me on my way to the kitchen, socks I cannot keep white. Twelve is one-syllable answers and the occasional gift of a precocious turn of phrase, baby talk for his little sister and “‘Sup?” for his friends. It’s a lone pimple marring an otherwise still smooth and flawless face and long, careful fingers that belie the man he is becoming all too quickly.

Twelve is, for us, seventh grade. It is in all ways the middle: of middle school, of puberty, of “growing up.” I can see now the heartache that will come, slowly but surely. I don’t know all his friends, and I don’t know if he likes anyone in particular yet, but I know he will, and it won’t always end well. Similarly, I know other disappointments and other kinds of heartbreak are lying in wait, just out of sight. And there’s nothing at all I can do about it but love him and encourage him and hope that when the inevitable happens, he brushes himself off and keeps on the path that is right for him, probably while I hold my breath as close by as he will allow.

In many ways, I feel like I might be stepping gingerly into the hardest part of parenting: the actively letting go, the small glimpses of independence and shows of faith that will soon lead to driver’s licenses and Saturday nights out and college applications and internships and summers abroad and goodbyes that aren’t temporary. It’s not easy to manage the care and keeping of little people; the physical and emotional components of parenting are overwhelming when our children are young. But as thrilling as it is – and it is thrilling – to see my child grow up, healthy and ready to take on the world, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that being a good parent to him now is increasingly harder stuff than diaper changes or first grade homework. Bubble wrapping him would be easier, but it would be wrong.

Luckily, when I need a hug, he gives me one willingly. His arms now wrap all the way around me, his cheek next to mine, his feet on the ground. I hope those crazy legs of his hold him steady and strong when he walks away from me someday. I know now that it is my job to make sure they do.

Author’s Note: Adolescence was a period of my life that was both turbulent and rich in all kinds of ways: it was horrible, magical, challenging, and at times, unexpectedly wonderful all at the same time. Now, as I begin the chapter of parenting an adolescent, I am both intrigued and terrified. I wanted to initiate this series because I find having a “tween” almost like being a newborn parent again; it’s mystifying and isolating and I never know what is a “just a phase” or where the end of any given tunnel will be. My hope is that this series can highlight the edges of these ages – the round and smooth and the jagged and sharp – so we can celebrate them and face them together.  

Allison Slater Tate’s writing has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and elsewhere. Find her at


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Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert

Parenting as an Introvert/Parenting as an Extrovert


How does personality affect parenting? Lindsey Mead is an introvert and relishes quiet family time above all else. Allison Slater Tate is an extrovert, always on the look out for the next adventure. Their children’s lives are quite different as a result.

Parenting as an Introvert

By Lindsey Mead

Introvert Revised w gray“Mum?” I glance up from my desk to see Whit standing in the doorway of my office, a forlorn look on his face.


“I’m bored. May I have a playdate tomorrow with George?” His knees are smudged with mud. It’s mid October, and we live in Boston, but Whit is still wearing shorts every day. I had asked our babysitter to stay with him at the playground at school after the day ended.

“Sure. Did you play today on the playground?”

“Yeah. But everybody left and went home, and John went to George’s house. We came back here. I just wish I could have had a friend over.” He frowns.

“Okay, yes. I’ll text George’s mother now.” I look down at my phone and tap out a text. I feel a sinking in my belly. I have let Whit down again. We never have enough social activities planned for his taste. I think some of it is because I work and I’m not there at pickup to make spontaneous after-school plans. But I know a lot of it stems from my innate introversion, too.

My childhood was of a distinctly the-more-the-merrier variety. My mother never met someone she didn’t want to welcome with open arms, and my memory of my childhood home is of a steady stream of friends and visitors. My sister and I used to joke that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a foreign student or two whom we’d never met at the table. My memory of my family (and my continuing experience of it) is of a roving, magnanimous extroversion that manifests itself in a million friends, a phone that’s always ringing, a lot of plans, dinner parties, coffees, and people stopping by just because. One of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth. She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.

I am not that kind of mother. I fiercely wish I was. My natural orientation is inwards.  On the upside, I tell myself that Grace and Whit are growing up certain that our nuclear family is holy to me. I prize time spent the four of us, alone, above almost all else. When we have an empty day, without school or sports games or any commitments, my immediate and powerful instinct is that we do something as a family. Truthfully, it’s not, hey, let’s bring some friends along.

But there is a downside, of course. What are we losing because of my bias towards quiet?

Both of my children have friends I think are terrific and whose company I enjoy. But there is something I find vaguely stressful, in an inchoate, inarticulate way, about having other people in our home. This is true even with my own friends. We don’t have visitors very often. I’m always glad when we do, but it exhausts me to have people here. Maybe it’s our small house. The noise bothers me, absolutely, but is it something else, too? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I struggle to initiate and organize playdates as often as either child would like.

Birthday parties are also something that I dread thinking about, even though I end up enjoying them. I worry about the chaos and the crowds and, perhaps most of all, that my discomfort will cause me to let Grace and Whit down. When the children were little I used to love planning parties, with themes and stationery and favors. I remember vividly the personalized melamine plates I made for the children who attended Whit’s clown-themed three-year birthday, and the superhero capes with each child’s initial on the back for the attendees of Grace’s six-year party. I loved these tasks, probably because I envisioned and executed them in the quiet of my office.

Now, perhaps because the terrain of friendship has become more complicated, because the stakes seem to have gone up in birthday party land (a clown no longer thrills), or simply because I’m becoming more introverted as I age, I find Grace and Whit’s parties—both the planning and the attendance of—more strenuous than I used to.

I often wish I could replicate the kind of merry, go-with-the-flow warmth that animated my own childhood. We live near school, and I really want to be an open-door mother, with other children running through my kitchen as comfortably as my own kids do. The fact of the matter is, though, I just don’t think I’ll ever be that person.

Grace, whose personality is more like mine, chooses quiet and often prefers to be home, alone, studying or reading. Whit, whose natural extroversion is something I both admire and find baffling, is routinely dismayed by the lack of playmates nearby. My relationship with him is an interesting echo of the dynamic I shared with my own mother. That his orientation towards the world is so different from mine creates opportunities for both learning and, of course, friction.

My introversion and natural shyness surely means many things for my children, good and bad. I worry that the bad outweighs the good, that my lack of outgoingness and my struggle to include other people in our life sacrifices something important for them. All I can do, though, is be the best version of who I know I am. All I can do is swear that I will keep trying to open up—myself, our home, and our family.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives near Boston with her daughter, son, and husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online sources, several anthologies, and she blogs regularly at A Design So Vast.


Parenting as an Extrovert

By Allison Slater Tate

Extrovert w grayOn a recent day off from school, I took my kids to a local breakfast diner for pancakes. “Hey, Allison! You have everyone today!” the hostess called to me when we walked through the door. Our waiter told me he read my latest blog post as he put a Diet Coke down in front of me before I could ask for it, and another waitress passing by asked me how my trip to California was last week. I waved and greeted two other tables, one inhabited by my assistant principal from high school, another by a fellow mom from the elementary school.

“Everyone knows you,” grumbled my ten-year-old, slumping down a little in the booth as if to regain some anonymity. “That’s what happens when you live where you grew up,” I remind him.

Of course, it is more than that. I definitely do know a lot of people in my suburb, because I grew up here and I still run into former teachers and classmates and their parents often. But I also know “everyone,” at least in my children’s eyes, because I have spent a lot of time in our communities, both real and virtual, volunteering at my children’s schools and preschools and for local and alumni organizations. I crave connection, and I get it by throwing myself into everything I can. I also have a hard time staying within the four walls of home, which means that, yes, the staff of the local diner knows me and my children well.

I grew up the child of a resolute introvert and an even more resolute extrovert. My mother has never met a stranger, could talk for days on end without stopping, and truly hates to stay home. She was always up for any adventure at any time of day or night, and she encouraged me to have the same mindset. As my children say, “Grammy makes friends with everyone, and everyone likes Grammy.” I seem to have inherited her need for people and activity, to know and to be known, because I feel almost a physical need to be out in the world, meeting and connecting. I believe it’s a reason that I now have four children: I wanted, and thrive on, the chaos and noise of so many bodies in the house with me.

My children are hybrids of my introverted husband and me. My oldest often turns away friends at the door who come knocking to ask him to play, something I cannot fathom. He has a small cadre of very close friends, but he is happy to be alone and does not necessarily crave companionship. My middle two boys are more gregarious. They have best friends, but they are also friends with everyone in their classes and spend their weekends begging for playdates and going to birthday parties. It seems like I never make everyone happy: some combination of my children always wants to stay home and just play in pajamas all day, while another desperately wants to see a friend and get out of our house.

I encourage my children to make and spend time with friends. We don’t host events at our house as much as I would like because of logistics, but we ask friends to come over, we hold big, sprawling birthday parties, and I nudge my children to invite friends with us on adventures to the zipline or a football game. I don’t mind plus-ones; it makes me happy to have a car full of children and chatter. I hope that my children find confidence in my model of extroversion, because I tend to use it to overcome intimidation and fear. I hope they see it as warmth and openness to the world and other people. Because I have been so involved and engaged in various communities throughout my life, my children now have many chances to visit and experience cities and families all over the country through my friendships and connections.

That’s not always what they want, though. “You talk to everyone for soooo loooong,” my 12-year-old complains to me. “We are always sitting and waiting for you to finish talking.” He’s not wrong. And when I told my two middle children I was taking them to Disney’s Halloween party last week, my seven year old immediately asked, “Who are we meeting there?” When I said it would just be the three of us, he looked perplexed. “Oh,” he said finally, obviously confused by the concept.

Sometimes I wonder if my extroversion is a boon or a hindrance to my children. Do I push them out the door (or their comfort zones) too much, or just enough to teach them how to take risks and develop resourcefulness? Is my restlessness keeping us from honoring the quiet family moments – movie nights, board games, lazy days in our pajamas – or are we creating different kinds of family moments? Am I passing my restlessness on to my children, or am I giving them permission to fully engage in the world?

Like my own mother, I find that my extroversion makes me friends with spontaneity. I am up for late-night trips to diners, spur-of-the-moment road trips to cooler weather, impractical Disney jaunts on school nights. I feel like my children will remember me for this attitude of ready-for-anything, and I think it makes their childhood feel rich with possibility. But on the other hand, they might also remember that for me, it was never enough- never enough adventure, never enough friends, never enough time to do everything I wanted and needed to do. I hope that never makes them feel like they are not enough for me.

After a brief career in Hollywood, Allison Slater Tate decided to work somewhere even crazier: her own home, with her own four children, now ages 12 to 2. Her writing has appeared both in print and online, most notably at the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and Brain, Child. She is both a Leo and ENFP and behaves accordingly. 

Illustrations by Christine Juneau

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

By Allison Slater Tate

babyteethThis past week, my oldest child lost the last of his baby teeth. It fell out, a fat little molar, without any pomp and circumstance at all. Just like that, a chapter—maybe even a whole book—in his life and mine was over. As he casually handed it to me, so far past the age when he still believed in the tooth fairy, I had to swallow back a little cry. It felt like a little moment disguising a big one, a turn in the road I didn’t know was coming up quite so fast. Not yet, I thought. I’m not ready yet.

A few days later, my youngest child turned two years old. She is still years—I hope—from losing even a first tooth. There are almost ten years yawning between her and her oldest brother, and for so many reasons, I am grateful for them. It’s true that, with her, we “started over.” There are four years between her and her next oldest sibling. She is the only one not in full-time school. We had been out of diapers for years when we had her, and I still remember being a little scared when I was pregnant that I might not “remember” how to breastfeed her after such a long break. I now have to remind myself which foods can be choking hazards or that she might not be able to walk certain stairs on her stocky toddler legs alone.

But there are blessings to starting over and having a baby in the family again. In many ways, I have cut my own parenting “baby teeth” already, and I feel so much more prepared and ready to receive the experience of parenthood now with her and, possibly, because of her. The things that stressed me out when my older children were babies are inconsequential now; I don’t sweat a random tantrum or a blown-out diaper or a missed nap. I am able to feel grateful for the block of time I have to set aside every day for her nap and awed at how easy it is to feed her—she has not yet developed super strong opinions against certain foods like her brothers—and put her to bed, as opposed to my older children, who like to play mental chess with us every night in the form of bedtime stall-and-delay tactics.

So when we celebrated my baby girl’s second birthday this weekend, my emotions were a complicated cocktail of gratitude, happiness, overwhelming love, and, in a small amount, sorrow. This surprised me, because when my oldest were younger, I felt like I was always running (or more accurately, hobbling) in a race, trying to get to some finish line that kept moving. I just needed to get my baby to sleep through the night, to eat solids, to potty train, to swim, to go to preschool—if I could just get to that next milestone, then… then I would be able to let my shoulders slump, and I would get a full night’s sleep without waking with worry, and it would all get, dare I say it? Easier. I looked forward to the two-year mark before.

But now, I know that secret about parenthood that someone might have once told me, but I never heard: It doesn’t get easier. Physically, yes, it eases. Babies and toddlers are much more physically taxing than children are, in my experience. But parenting only gets harder. As my children’s legs grow longer and their thoughts grow bigger, my worries have only stretched. As my children walk further out into the world under their own power, the world scares me more, but I can show it less. I have to bite down on my tongue, smile, and urge them to explore, with only my hope and faith in them and in the world to soothe me.

When I signed up for a fourth baby, when I signed up to “start over” again, I did so knowing it would never get easier. I did it knowing full well that craning to see ten fingers and ten toes is only just the beginning of struggling to feel that our children are prepared for the world, and that preparation actually has nothing to do with fingers or toes at all. I did it knowing that baby teeth come and baby teeth fall out, and what is left is a human being that is both our child and not. I did it knowing that every child I have is a part of my heart I get no control over, laid bare to a world that can be indifferent and cruel. And I did it anyway.

So I leaned over the birthday cake and helped my little girl, no longer a baby, blow out two little candles on her massive birthday cake. I watched her play tea party with two older girls. I later swept her hair, newly cut for the first time, from her neck and helped her take off her party dress. I wept a little, because there are no babies in our house anymore, just children and parents growing and coping and learning and failing and conquering, every day. I wept for plush baby thighs, for wispy baby hair and cheeks like pillows, for toddler bellies and diaper covers, for pacifiers and sippy cups. I wept for baby teeth still to come and baby teeth all gone. It never gets easier. The finish line keeps moving. Now, I know: the pain and heartache of parenting is part and parcel with the wonder and joy of it. The beauty of parenting, the part that makes it feel like life itself, is also the result of the struggle. And the struggle is a privilege, even when it doesn’t feel like it.


Allison Slater Tate is a writer and mother of four children. She also writes regularly at and Huffington Post Parents as well as Facebook ( and Twitter ( She hopes her writing will make up for a lack of completed baby books when her kids grow up. 

Read an excerpt from Allison’s “This is Five” essay, from This is Childhood, a book and journal on the first ten years of motherhood.


This is Five: Allison Slater Tate

This is Five: Allison Slater Tate

Kris Woll interviews Allison Slater Tate, a contributing writer in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood:

Allison Slater TateWhat was your inspiration for writing this piece?  Have you written other things about this age/stage? 

When Lindsey Mead brought this idea to me, my first reaction was that I wanted to write about the age of 5. My children range in age from 1 to 11, so I have been through every age in the series at least once, and I love 5. It is probably my favorite. Five marked the end of the hazy baby years and the beginning of the ages when I really see my children develop into full-fledged people.

What is it about age 5 you liked the most? The least? 

I love the increasing independence, the beginning of school, the development of real friendships. I love that they really begin to discover the world on their own at 5. I don’t love the resulting strong opinions and negotiating, though I realize it’s all part of the deal.
What do you wish you knew before you had a 5-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?

I wish I had more assurances that for the most part, things do work themselves out and click into place. I worried with my first child because he didn’t read early. He is that kind of child who likes to do things well immediately, and he balked at reading. As a person whose whole life has revolved around reading and writing, I was a little terrified when he wasn’t an early reader. Of course, now I know that doesn’t matter, and he is a voracious reader. First children are scary. They don’t come with instructions.

Besides your own piece, which other piece in the collection do you relate to the most? Why?

I definitely related a lot to Lindsey’s essay on the age of 10, because my oldest child was 10 as well when we first wrote the series. Ten is also a watershed year that feels like a turning point to me between childhood and the Great Beyond (also known as middle school). It feels like that moment when a flame burns the brightest just before it starts to fade—the moment before your child becomes less your child and more a person of the world.

How do writing and mothering fit together for you?  How has that fit over time?

I have processed my mothering through writing. Writing encourages me to see and remember the details of mothering my children—I use all the senses and try to use them in my writing. In many ways, I feel like I was reborn when I became a mother, like this is a whole different life than I had before. Writing has been a way to feel less alone.

What is your advice to other mother writers?

I think writing in and of itself is the reward. Sometimes I feel like I need to justify my writing as a “job” or as a purpose. Really, it’s enough just to write, to have captured both my children and myself in this moment in time. It doesn’t have to be a job to be meaningful.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece?  From this collection? 

I hope readers will see that little bit of awesome that is the age of 5 in my writing and that it will remind them of how, apart from the daily grind of living, this life has so many moments of beauty and joy and wonder in it. I think 5-year-olds just radiate joy. They are pretty special.

Read an excerpt from Allison’s “This is Five” essay 

When My Tween Son Doesn’t Love Me

When My Tween Son Doesn’t Love Me

By Allison Slater Tate

907397_10151321959836493_473111420_n“Have a good day,” I said as my firstborn stumbled out of the minivan door, significantly encumbered by a giant Jansport backpack loaded with textbooks and a lunchbox packed with my own hands. “I love you.”

“I don’t love you,” he answered confidently, each word measured and punctuated by his eyes piercing mine. He slammed my passenger door and stalked off toward his friend awaiting him at the end of the sidewalk at our carpool drop-off, his exit less dramatic than he wished due to the way he had to shift his own 90 pounds of body weight to hoist his ridiculous backpack.

I watched his back for a few moments. I saw his friend glance furtively in my direction as he exchanged a few words with my angry son. Finally, I set the car in motion and drove away, down the street, so that we could both start our days without each other. The subject of our disagreement was nothing special; the problem is that these small, tedious disagreements happen almost daily, and they wear on both of us.

This is how our story goes these days. When he was little—when all of them were little—I found myself frustrated and sad because being The Mommy was not very fun most of the time. Once we left their infancies and entered their toddlerhoods and beyond, I felt even less like I was on the same team as my children. I was the bummer, the fun sponge—the one who had to enforce the bedtime, end whatever dangerous activity was occurring that moment, or announce the next transition that would frustrate them. I tried hard to provide discipline and guide them without being their adversary, but in the end, it’s too often Them vs. Me. I am their primary caregiver and the parent most often on duty. And, frankly, it can suck. It makes me feel hard to love.

But it sucks in a whole new way with my tween. I’ve been told these middle school years can be harder than the high school years in some ways, and I am hanging on to that thought—that if I can just eke through these next few seasons of not-awesomeness, it might get better, or at least smoother, afterward. Then I get to do it all over again. (And again. Oh, and again, because I thought once that four kids would be a grand adventure. Woo-hoo! Adventure!)

In the meantime, I have the privilege of being the one to drag my firstborn out of bed in the morning, all the while struggling to remember days when he woke me up way too early almost as if for sport. I have to usher him, however reluctantly, through the morning routine and make sure he gets to school on time. I have to receive him in the late afternoon when he is tired and cranky after a long day in the jungle of middle school. Then the real fun begins: the constant dance of do-your-homework/is-your-homework-finished/I-told-you-to-do-your-homework, with him pulling and resisting the entire time, desperate for just a little more time to play, to decompress, to resist thinking. The truth is, I don’t really blame him. That makes it even less fun to be The Mom, the Enforcer, Buzzkill-in-Chief. I’m on his side, and I can’t even tell him so, because I’m not ready to take on the whole school system and the way it doles out homework.

We still have our moments, and I hang onto them with both hands: when a new book arrives that I ordered without telling him, and he eagerly scoops it up and begins reading it immediately with a genuine, “Thanks, Mom!”; when he comes back to my room a second time before bed because he “forgot to give me a hug,” even on the days that started out with a door slamming and icy words; when my husband is away on business and I let him stay up with me, his nose deep in a book while I finish working on my laptop in my big white bed. He’s fun to be with when our internal agendas align, and I want so desperately to be able to enjoy him more and nag him less. We’re just not always there yet.

He is my firstborn. There is no one in the world that holds his unique place in my life. He is the boy who made me a mother, the boy who has challenged me unlike anyone else. He knows exactly which buttons to push; he knows the nuances and personalities of our little family better than I do. He is still my heart every bit as much as he was the first day we brought him home from the hospital. But sometimes, in hormone-filled (me), puberty-rich (him) moments, when his assertions of independence and will meet my obligatory parental push-back, he doesn’t love me. I have to be okay with that, and I will be, as long as I have hope he will always come home at the end of the day loving me again.

So far, he has.

Allison Slater Tate is a writer and mother of four children. She also writes regularly at and Huffington Post Parents as well as Facebook and Twitter. She hopes her writing will make up for a lack of completed baby books when her kids grow up.