My Garbage Truck

My Garbage Truck

Drawing of car with family on blackboard

By Jennifer Christgau-Aquino

“Um, Mrs. Adeline’s mom…” says Kay, a classmate of my 7-year-old daughter Adeline, as she peers into the dark caverns of my car.

“You can call me Jen,” I say.

“Mrs. Jen, where am I supposed to step?” She looks back at me and then at the mess of smashed chips, books, hair ribbons, sweaters and raisins covering the carpet, which is invisible underneath the pile of junk.

“Anywhere, honey, anywhere.” I just want her and the other three children, including Adeline, to get into the car and off the busy street. It’s field trip day and I’m in charge of escorting four second graders to a goat farm in Pescadero.

She steps inside the car, wobbling over a book, crunching something green and once edible, and passing by melted crayons. Three others make the same perilous journey to the back of the car and buckle themselves in.

“Adeline’s mom, your car is really dirty. I mean, like really dirty. It’s like a garbage truck,” says another child Cleo.

I turn the key and pull away from the curb. “I know,” I sigh. “What do you guys want to listen to? We’ve got a long drive.”

In my rearview mirror I see Tyler pull a cookie from the back cup holder.

“Eat it,” my daughter, Adeline, dares. All four kids start screaming, “Ewwww.” He throws it on the floor, next to a pile of Legos.

“Why don’t you take the car to one of those cleaning places. There’s one with a duck that holds a sign and dances,” he says.

“Oh, yeah, that’s where my mom goes,” Kay says.

“I’ll pay the kids to clean it,” I say. “It’s their mess.”

“But the duck place is way better than doing it yourself,” Tyler says.

“Uh, huh,” I say. “But that costs money and I guarantee you a day later the car will be a mess again because this one,” I say, pointing to Adeline, “won’t know the responsibility of picking after herself. She’ll just think that someone else will do it for her.”

“Mom, I try to keep it clean, but it’s John,” says Adeline, pinning the mess on her 3-year-old brother.

“Yeah, I don’t think John does Mad Libs and colors,” I say, referring to the crayons stuck between the tracks in the rear captain’s chair.

“Well, just don’t let them bring anything into the car or eat in here,” Kay says.

“Good advice,” I say.

“I’d starve and be bored,” Adeline says laughing. I see her lick her finger and start drawing a picture on the window.

“Adeline, stop that. That’s disgusting,” I say.

“Mom, can you put on The Trumpeter Swan?” Adeline asks. “I want my friends to hear the story.”

“You even listen to books in the car?” says Cleo with more disgust than if I’d dared her to eat the cookie.

“Like I said, we spend a lot of time in here driving from one place to another,” I say.

“Yeah, me too,” Kay says.

“Not me,” Tyler says. “I just go to after school care because my parents both work. You should get a job. Then your car will be cleaner.”

“No, no, what you should do is just buy a new car,” Kay says. “You should get a new car and then don’t let anyone eat in it. Start over. That’s what my mom did. You should be more like my mom.”

“Mom, please with the Trumpeter Swan?” Adeline asks again.

“No!” my other three passengers scream.

“I don’t think that’s a popular request, honey,” I say. “We can listen to it on your way to CCD.”

“Adeline does CCD?” Cleo asks. “Is that like a music group?”

“No, it’s a religious education class that she attends once a week,” I say.

“Oh, I did do that last year on Sundays,” Tyler says. “It sucks. Hey, did you know that there’s a dead fly in a Tupperware back here?”

The girls scream so loud that they drown out the passing cars on Highway 1.

“It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s my son’s pet. Just leave it alone,” I say.

“You should do your personal best to keep it clean,” Cleo says reciting the school’s featured personality trait this week.

“Sadly, this is my personal best,” I say. “Sometimes you have to lower the expectations for your personal best, because there are too many other things you have to be good at.”

“I really don’t understand what you’re saying right now,” Tyler says.

“Can you turn on the radio?” Kay asks.

Jennifer Christgau-Aquino is a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist who can often be seen lounging in her front yard while her two kids clean the car. She lives in California with her husband, children, dog, cat and two fish.

Nothing Makes Me Feel Better About My Parenting Flaws Then Remembering My Mom’s

Nothing Makes Me Feel Better About My Parenting Flaws Then Remembering My Mom’s


By Lisa Goodman-Helfand

When I want to feel better about my parenting blunders, I need only to reflect on my own mother’s flawed judgment when raising me. By today’s standards, my mom would be accused of child endangerment.  I’m not referring to the typical parenting practices all moms in the 70s and 80s considered “safe.” Like many Gen-Exers, I walked to school alone at age 5, rarely wore a seatbelt, and was cared for by questionable babysitters. No, I’m talking potentially fatal errors in parenting. There’s an endless supply of examples, but I’ll stick with an automotive theme to illustrate my point.

I have fond memories of my grandfather hoisting my sister and me on top of his station wagon, and then getting in the driver’s seat shouting, “Hang on tight to the rails!” He drove us around the neighborhood like a pair of mattresses fastened atop the car, only we weren’t strapped to anything. We proudly waved at pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers (so much for holding on tight). Can you imagine doing something like that today? The authorities would be notified faster than my sister and I could have splattered onto concrete.

We also took turns sitting on my grandpa’s lap and steering while he worked the pedals. My mom would stand at the curb smiling and waving as we drove loops around the block. One could argue that plenty of 4-year-olds in the 70s took driving lessons and were considered more dispensable than a mattress, but I’m just getting warmed up.

When I was 6, our old Pontiac had a hole in the floor. And it wasn’t a tiny hole either. It was a gaping tear that fully revealed the road beneath me in the driver’s side backseat. Nothing stood between my dangling feet and the open road. I could have easily pulled a Fred Flinstone and been flattened by our hunk-of-junk. Luckily, my mom warned me to, “Sit safely on your knees with your legs under your butt!”

We finally got a “new-old” car when I was 8. This time it was a red Chevy that was safe enough to chauffeur the Pope in, at least compared to our previous clunker. That is until my mom accidentally hit a brick pillar and the back passenger side door caved in. From that point forward we could not enter or exit from that side of the car. Later on, that same car’s seat fabric got torn, leaving a large portion of the wire piping exposed. Why on earth my mom never duct-taped that sucker down remains a mystery to this day. Every time someone sat in that spot of the back seat, the wire would snag their pants, or worse, their nude nylons, and often resulted in blood shed. My sister has a scar on her thigh to remind her of those delightful joy rides. It’s a good thing the wire protruded on the side of the car where the door had been smashed, so we rarely sat there.

When I was in high school, we got another “old-new” car. It was a poop brown Oldsmobile that drove okay for a while until the fabric on the roof of the interior began to sag. Soon, the drooping material became a hazardous obstruction. Since safety first was our family motto, my mom cut the whole interior part of the roof off with a scissors. It was smooth sailing until the heat broke. Chicago winters and no heat is a bad mix, yet we went an entire frigid season without getting it fixed.

By my senior year in college, I used money I had been squirreling away for years and purchased my very own “new-old” car. I needed a safe, reliable car to get me back and forth from my student-teaching assignment. What could be safer than a used, rusty, powder blue Chevy station wagon? The car drove like a dream except for when it died at every red light. Approaching intersections would induce a panic attack, so I stuck to highways as often as possible.

I spent my formative years being mortified by our junkyard cars. I must have been an unusually dense child, because I never realized my mom couldn’t afford anything better. I didn’t know it then, but for several years after my parents divorced, we lived below the poverty line. My mom worked her butt off to fulfill our basic needs. We showed our appreciation by continuously whining and complaining about our embarrassing cars and lack of other material possessions. The truth is, my mom was doing the best she could under very difficult circumstances. Isn’t that the definition of a great parent? If it isn’t, I think it should be.

Only as an adult and a mother myself can I understand the sacrifices my mom made. In the end, my sister became a doctor and I became a teacher, all thanks to my mother’s dedication to getting us the best possible education. After a year of teaching, I traded in my old Chevy station wagon for a spanking new red 1997 Ford Escort with cloth interior, manual windows and door locks, and… wait for it… AM and FM radio (I know, I know, it was a major splurge).  To me, it felt like I was driving around in a Maserati.

Lisa Goodman-Helfand is a freelance writer and professional speaker living near Chicago. Her memoir, Does This Hospital Gown Come With Sequinsand blog, Comfortable in My Thick Skin, explore parenting, body image, and overcoming obstacles with humor. Connect with Lisa on her blog or on Facebook.





An Open Letter To My Son Regarding The Stuff Left On His Bedroom Floor

An Open Letter To My Son Regarding The Stuff Left On His Bedroom Floor

By Eizabeth Bastos

LegoMom3 w gray

Dear Son,

I do want to come into your room at night and give you a goodnight kiss like the children’s book Love You Forever but ALL THESE LEGO PIECES on the floor are killing it for me.

The Lego-brick head of what you call “a minifig of Sensei Wu” embedded itself in my heel. It really hurt. I’ll probably always have a limp.

It will remind me of the the injury I sustained wanting to kiss your damp sleeping sweaty forehead.

I’m not blaming you. But could you clean up a little?

When you’re old you’ll understand why old people like Mommy clean floors—clean of debris that might cause them to trip and break a hip.

I’m sorry I woke you and you heard me shouting that little f&*er! (I wasn’t referring to you. Honey, how could you think that?!?) I was referring to the Sensei Wu minifig wig that I had just stepped on, sweetheart. I’m so sorry I woke you. My foot was bleeding. I hit my head on your lamp shaped like Lord Vader. For a moment I saw stars shaped like Princess Leia.

Dear one, could you possibly not spread it around at school tomorrow that last night I threatened to sue the entire Lego company and the company that’s making all the new Star Wars drek? My foot was bleeding, and I thought maybe a raccoon had gotten into your room because I had to fight off something furry. That turned out to be your bathrobe. Covering a pile of overdue library books. Honey, really? How many times do we have to talk about the library book thing?

I’m not making excuses. I’m sorry I broke your Lord Vader lamp. It was dark—I don’t see so well at night, honey, please believe me: the raccoon theory was plausible.

Also, I thought your laundry pile was a bear. The darkness at night was immense and disorientating.

What the h-e-double hockey sticks!? I said. But not to you, darling. To Daddy. Why the f^%k is there a bear in the house?

Then “Oh. Never mind,” I said to Daddy. “Go back to bed. It’s just gym socks.” But I’d already woken him, and he had to go to the bathroom of course, and he slipped on your sister’s My L’il Ponies in the hallway.

Without my glasses I couldn’t see that it was Daddy and not an intruder stumbling in the hallway in Daddy’s slippers toward the bathroom so I punched him. “Intruder,” I yelled. Then I also slipped on your sister’s My L’il Ponies.

We might laugh about it later.

In the meantime, like I said, Don’t mention my wanting to sue toy companies. We all know sometimes Mommy gets angry and threatens to sue toy companies for outmoded gender roles, racism, predatory pre-blockbuster movie marketing, and the degradation of our suburban landscape with plastic. That’s just how Mommy is. Mommy is in a period of life called Perimenopause. But you haven’t even had 4th Grade Health Class yet, have you? This is not something you would understand.  

But just because Mommy is angry all the time about injustice and can’t see at night, but can’t sleep either, and Mommy lashes out at what she doesn’t recognize because she’s misplaced her glasses and has a deformed foot because Sensei Wu Lego brick head hat is permanently fixed in her flesh, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want you to be happy.

Darling, Mommy loves you.

Mommy just wants you to clean up all the toys that your grandmother (don’t get me started) keeps sending you that will eventually end up in the Great Pacific Garbage patch as floating garbage killing marine life, sea turtles and stuff, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want you to be happy, you know that, right, sweetie?

Furthermore, please tidy your gym clothes. I thought they were the Loch Ness Monster and I used your Lord Vader lamp on them and your Lego Lion Chi Temple in a manner in which ought not to be used. I’m sure grandma will send more.

Love you forever, even if I have a limp because of—you know.


Elizabeth Bastos is a Baltimore freelance writer and mother of two, currently working on a book essays about the Venn diagram between anxiety and parenting. Her personal blog is Goody Bastos. Follow her @elizabethbastos.

Illustration: Christine Juneau

The One Where My Father Teaches My Kids To Use a Phonebook

The One Where My Father Teaches My Kids To Use a Phonebook

By Francie Arenson Dickman


My children recount my eighty-four-year-old father’s childhood escapades the same way they do the episodes of Friends. The One Where the Dog Took Pop’s Cookie. The One Where Pops Stole the Truck. And their favorite, The One When Pops Quit Camp Freedom Because They Only Served Bologna Sandwiches. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner, they flung ’em to us out of the back of a truck like we were dogs,” he tells my kids from his kitchen table in Palm Springs, where I take my kids every winter break.

“Do me a favor,” he tells me each year, “stop bringing them here. There’s nothing to do.” If you’ve ever been to Palm Springs in the winter (or any other time of year for that matter) you know that he’s right. There is nothing to do. Which is why my 14-year-old-daughters end up sitting around the breakfast table for hours every morning listening to him tell stories. My father says it’s like putting them in prison, like Camp Freedom itself. There’s no beach. There’s little sun. There are no other kids for miles around and you can’t show up to the table with your smart phone because not everyone at the table has one. My father hasn’t the faintest idea how to work a smart phone. In fact, during our most recent visit, he showed up to the table with a phone book.

“What is that?” My daughter asked after my father dropped perhaps the last remaining Yellow Pages onto the table. We were deciding, as we do every breakfast, where to go for dinner.

“What do you mean, ‘What is this?’ It’s a phonebook.” He opened the book, shoved it in front of my daughters and added, “How else you gonna make a goddamn reservation?”

My girls studied it like it was something out of King Tut’s tomb as my father sat down, took a bite of his bagel and began to impart knowledge on my kids in subjects and in language that they’re not getting in school.

Breakfast, for my father, is a thing. It’s leftover, I suppose, like he is, from a time when folks had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than sit around the table and tell stories. When I was a kid, he’d get up at the crack of dawn to get the bagels that he and my mother would serve to my grandparents and whichever of my father’s friends came and went during the course of the lazy weekend day. It was the same every winter vacation of my childhood which we spent with my grandparents in Florida. No one had a tee-time or a tennis game to get to. Instead, every morning, we’d sit at a table at the Rascal House Deli where the adults shot-the-shit for hours on end while I watched them chew their bagels and prayed that no one would die.

The same, I’m sure, as my kids do now, as my father huffs and puffs, recovering from the carrying of the phone book. But all the while, they are learning, like I did, despite themselves. From their penance in Palm Springs, they know how to work a dice board, the same way I learned from my time around the table how to smoke a cigar. They know how to drive a car. And we all know how to dance the Charleston.

As my father is the only person they know who doesn’t own a cell phone or have an email address, he is one of the only people my kids know who is 100% present in their presence, 100% of the time. And therefore, so are they in his. They check their phones at the counter, just before the kitchen table where they munch on bacon and fried salami while they listen to his stories, the same ones my brother and I also know by heart. They rely on a regular cast of characters and a predictable plot, that of the underdog overcoming against all odds a series of hardships that tend towards the ridiculous and make his presence at the table nothing shy of a miracle. He is his own serial, a living, breathing situation comedy from which my kids learn (I hope) lessons that I don’t know where they’d learn anywhere else. From the practical—like entertainment need not come from a screen and success need not come from school. To the past—like how FDR ended the depression and the mob created Las Vegas. And for better or worse (there is, after all, The One Where Pops Gets His Mom Out Of Prison), they learn who they are and from where they came, which experts say is important in developing a child’s self esteem and confidence.

So maybe we don’t go zip-lining and we don’t go home with a tan, but in Palm Springs there is no bologna. Only salami and bacon and a perspective that is priceless. Especially now that my kids are teenagers and tend to tune me out. Especially now as their confidence waxes and wanes with the moon, with their identities up for grabs and the pressures of tomorrow upon them. They are, these days, preparing to go to high school, which means making decisions in areas in which they lack the necessary information. What subjects interest them? What activities do they want to do? These decisions domino into bigger ones about where to go to college, and to my anxiety-prone, analytical daughter, they trigger existential ones like, “Will it all turn out okay?” Naturally, they have answers to none of this and their parents’ reassurance carries no weight. But from a survivor of Camp Freedom and everything else, “Take it from me, none of this matters,” is comforting to hear. I can tell from the way they laugh as he talks and they recount throughout the year.

Pops is living proof that there is more than one way to skin a cat, which, in a society ridden with rules and driven by convention and a fear of the road less taken, is a valuable lesson. As valuable as knowing how to use a phonebook. “Just in case those phones or whatever they are stop working,” he explains as he chews his bagel, “you’ll know how to get your hands on a goddamn pizza.”

Author’s Note: I am excited to say that between the time I wrote this piece and now, my father acquired an iPhone. Of course, owning the iPhone and using it are two different things. He is set to start iPhone 101 classes this week. According to my mother, my father says he will attend. However, when asked to comment, he told me only that he is not throwing out his phonebook anytime soon.

Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have appeared in publications including, The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and has just completing her first novel. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


Warts & All

Warts & All

BullFrog and Tadpole w color and background

By Sharon K. Trumpy

I was relaxing in the cool water when Leo swam up. “Mama, how come we don’t look the same?”

“What?” I croaked nervously.

“Why don’t we look the same?” he repeated.

I’d known this question would arise one day, but wasn’t it too soon? He was so young! Times like this I wished I could say, “Go ask your father.” But I was on my own.

“Is it because you’re a girl and I’m a boy?” asked Leo.

“No, no,” I laughed. “It’s . . . well . . . Leo, you’re still a tadpole and I’m a fully mature American bullfrog. But you’ll grow into a big, strong bullfrog someday.”

No sense scaring him with qualifiers like my mother, the eternal pessimist, had. “You’ll be a bullfrog, Sylvia,” she’d said to me. “Assuming you aren’t squeezed to death by an overenthusiastic Boy Scout, eaten by a bird or dissected by a freshman biology class.”

No, I wouldn’t damage Leo the way Mother had damaged me. She gave me such a complex. “Ohhhh, Sylvia, really? Two mice for dinner?” she’d say. “You see my dorsal humps? Do you think I got dorsal humps like these eating two mice? Remember, a male can only spawn with you if he can get his forelegs around you!”

And it’d started way before then. Why, I was just a tadpole when she’d made me so self-conscious about my tail size that I began secretly gorging on algae. I really don’t think I’d ever have become a binge eater if it weren’t for her.

How will I become an American bullfrog?” implored Leo, breaking my reverie. My tongue darted out and I gulped down a struggling dragonfly. It was a bit of a nervous habit. Drove Mother crazy. She’d be in the middle of one of her lectures—“Regina’s daughter never hangs out by the dock eating breadcrumbs! I wouldn’t be surprised if you swallowed a fish hook one day!”—and I’d find my tongue snatching up a beetle or two.

But as jumpy as Leo’s questions were making me, I was determined to answer them. Unlike my mother, who’d left Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Metamorphosis But Were Afraid to Ask out on the lily pad without so much as a ribbit. Not to mention I already had hindlegs by that time! Geez, did I freak out the day that happened—I was certain I had tail cancer until my classmate Rhonda explained the life cycle to me. “Your mom didn’t tell you?” she kept saying. “What was she planning to do, wait until you were a froglet?” No way was I going to put Leo through that kind of humiliation.

Taking a deep breath, I began. “You see, Leo, when a tadpole first hatches, he or she looks like you, with a long tail and a skinny body. But soon, you’ll notice your body changing. Your hindlegs will grow, then your forelegs. Next, your tail will be absorbed into your body.”

Absorbed into my body!” gasped Leo. “That’s disgusting!”

Not as disgusting as your tail falling off, which was what I thought happened from my solo reading of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. There’d been a drawing of a froglet with legs and a tail and then an ominous arrow pointing to a tail-less frog. What would YOU have thought?

“It’s not disgusting,” I faltered. “It’s . . . beautiful. You’ll be on your way to becoming a full-grown male. Your voice will deepen and soon you and your friends will be sitting by the pond, chorusing for the attention of the female frogs.”
“Grossssss!” cried Leo. “Why would we do that?

Why had I mentioned the frog chorus? Suddenly our little mother-son chat had taken a giant leap in an unintended direction. I’d been reasonably prepared to talk about the transition from gills to lung ventilation, but I wasn’t even close to ready to say “mating grasp” to my son.

“Well,” I fumbled, “when tadpoles grow into frogs, they find a partner so they can have their own little polliwogs. In the evenings, the males gather and sing a low, rumbling jug-o-rum. And the females come hopping to meet them. And . . . well . . . when two frogs find each other they . . . hug.”

“Because they love each other sooooo much?” grinned Leo. “Like you and Daddy?”

Wow, if my skin wasn’t naturally moist, it would be now. “Welllll, Daddy was a . . . nice bullfrog . . . I’m sure. He . . . he had . . . big eyes like you . . . “

I couldn’t say, “We’d never really met before that night. It was springtime and we were like a couple of horny toads. All I cared was that I had a clutch of eggs waiting to be deposited, I was in the mood for a snack, and Jim was sitting next to a particularly tempting mouse hole.”

“Tell me more,” Leo pressed. “I wish Daddy hadn’t moved to that big pond far away! I bet he’s smart and funny and really good at lilypad tag and . . . “

I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, anything. “Your dad . . . ” I tried. “Your dad . . . well, all the females wanted to be his . . . partner.”

That was true. He’d had the best location in the chorus that year. I remember when I’d approached and he’d enthusiastically leapt on my lily pad. It just goes to show how abnormal my relationship was with Mother that in that moment my thoughts went to her. If only Mother could see this! Jim! Fertilizing her grandtadpoles. And that handsome Ernesto was definitely trying to catch my attention. But I wasn’t about to mate near the part of the pond where all you can eat are dead minnows and mosquitos. I have standards, no matter what Mother says.

But things with Jim hadn’t worked out as I’d expected. I’d imagined it like that illustration in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know . . . the egg mass glistening as we floated in the shallows, sharing a post-amplexus turtle. But the book sure glossed over how long the whole ridiculous process would take. All to make a few thousand tadpoles? I’d tried to casually shift and reach a foreleg down that mouse hole, but I couldn’t escape Jim’s grasp. “Oooh,” I’d murmured, “this is lovely but what say you we take a little snack break?”

When he ignored me the trouble really started. How many times had Mother callously pretended not to hear as I begged for a bite to eat? What did she think I was, an African Dwarf Frog? A bullfrog is supposed to have meat on her legs! Suddenly the shame, the anger, all those unfulfilled cravings welled up until I barely knew what I was doing.

“Mama? What’s he like? My dad?”

And all I could do was tell the truth. “Leo,” I said, “above all else, your father was delicious.”


Author’s Note: When my own little son grew curious about reproduction, I thought I was well-prepared. I told him that Daddy and I would be happy to answer his questions, but he quickly expressed his preference for Mommy since I was “waaayyyy more experienced.” Alarmed, I asked what he meant and I was not reassured when he replied, “Well, the dad pretty much just watches, right?” My heart stopped but then he continued, “The mom’s the one who has the baby and the dad just watches, right?”

Sharon K. Trumpy lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons. She is a Montessori teacher who enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Stealing Time and Adoptive Families magazines, as well as in Brain, Child.

Illustration: Christine Juneau

Top 10 Great Sanity-Saving Books for Moms

Top 10 Great Sanity-Saving Books for Moms

The Big RumpusBy Beth Eakman

For all of its blessings, motherhood can make you feel like you’ve got a leak in your beanbag. How’s a mom to maintain sanity in the face of isolation, exhaustion, straight up absurdity, and mental health obstacles, especially when you might be facing gatherings that involve extended family? You need commiseration, you need a laugh, you need advice—but not from some overachiever with sparkling bathrooms and abs of steel. Just in time for the holidays, Brain, Child‘s got you covered, from morning sickness to toddler anarchy to eye rolling teens. Grab one of these books, some new and some classic, and take some deep breaths. Not surprisingly, you will find some overlap here with a previous Brain, Child Top 10, on humor.

  1. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Anchor)

I read Lamott’s chronicle of her son Sam’s first year when I was pregnant with my first child and increasingly overwhelmed by the general weirdness of the experience. Lamott wrote Operating Instructions when she was in her mid-thirties, broke, pregnant, and single. Her son’s father had bailed out pretty quickly after she decided to have the baby. While her survival strategy of creating the proverbial village to help her raise her child is inspiring, the true sanity lifelines are the moments when she reflects on her own mental state. She frets about “the increasingly familiar sense that I am losing my grip on reality” and wonders if she is “well enough to be a mother.” This book is a modern parenting classic for a reason. She manages to confront the “mind-boggling questions” with humor, quite a bit of it (the laugh-til-you shake the bed, cry, and pee a little bit because your bladder is wrecked and that’s your life now) and if Anne Lamott can laugh about it, so can you.

  1. The Hip Mama Survival Guide by Ariel Gore (Hachette)

Alongside the standard-issue, sunny advice books about what we should expect and do and buy, with their assumptions that all mothers are married, middle-class, and settled, Gore’s memoir/advice is a refreshing reminder that real life doesn’t look like a catalog shoot. Based on her late nineties ‘zine Hip Mama, this survival guide isn’t using the term survival ironically. While the proper care of genital piercings during pregnancy and childbirth or dealing with custody issues may not be priority topics for all readers, Gore’s wit and honesty make them universally compelling. Her treatment of the hard stuff, the isolation, sleep deprivation, and postpartum depression is among the most grounded you’ll find. She’s warm and funny and pulls no punches. Motherhood has beautiful moments, she says, but who needs help with those? The Hip Mama Survival Guide is like your smartest, funniest friend for the tough moments.

  1. The Big Rumpus by Ayun Halliday (Seal Press)

By some miracle, Brain, Child Magazine sent me an invitation to subscribe to their brand new magazine when my daughter was about one-year old and among the treasures therein, I discovered Halliday’s essays. The Big Rumpus (another book to spring from an author’s ‘zine, The East Village Inky) follows Halliday’s adventures raising her toddler daughter Inky and her new baby brother in New York City. Early in the book she describes herself as Io of Greek mythology, a woman who’d run afoul of the gods and been turned into  a cow cursed with a cloud of biting flies. The flies, she says, want breakfast and tv and candy vitamins. They do not understand coffee or NPR. My son was born just before The Big Rumpus hit the stores and I was floored with gratitude to discover that the time in the afternoons between nap time and dinner time were torturous for someone besides me: “fucking grueling, mate,” Halliday writes. You’ll be relieved to know that you are not alone.

  1. Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan (Scribner)

In much the same way that moms used ‘zines in the 1990s and early 2000s, social media set the stage for a twenty-first century revolution in virtual community building and group-sourced sanity salvation for moms. Often called “the Mommy Bloggers,” (a bit condescendingly if you ask me) authors like Honest Toddler’s Bunmi Laditan found that the short form required for Facebook posts and tweets was perfect for both authors and readers: people with kids who don’t have time to read but need regular mental health boluses. Honest Toddler, first the social media posts and then the book, is written in the voice of the little despot inside every toddler. “In bed,” writes HT, “just noticed the color of my socks. They’re not going to work. Not tonight.” Hooray! You are not paranoid. The little stinkers ARE plotting against you. “Crushed the contents of an entire box of Ritz crackers. Hungry for Ritz crackers. Not these ones. They’re broken.” The short essays in which the toddler holds forth on Halloween and not being at all sorry for hitting another child are treasures.

  1. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann (Ballantine)

Here’s another brilliantly hilarious book of essays that started as a blog. Mann’s People I Want to Punch in the Throat takes on those people you’ve been secretly wishing harm from your front window. When my kids were little, the scrapbooking craze was peaking and so many moms in my neighborhood were selling pricey scrapbooking gear that I had to question the concept of supply and demand economics. I saw them walking down the street carting their special scrapbooking supply tackle boxes on wheels to a “party,” really a thinly disguised excuse for commerce and day drinking. I don’t drink and I might have scrapbooked if my kids ever wore pants between the ages of two and ten. Mann gives appropriately snarky voice to my lowest and least generous feelings toward “overachieving moms,” “douchey dads,” and other suburban scourges, and reading this book can provide a catharsis that is probably better and certainly more legal than doing the actual punching.

  1. The Lunchbox Chronicles by Marion Winik (Vintage)

Winik’s best-selling and now classic 1999 memoir of raising two young sons on her own is loosely structured around the hours of the day, which is appropriate for motherhood’s middle years. The kids are no longer babies, so you’ve got something resembling a regular schedule. On the other hand, getting through the day can still feel like a series of minor miracles. Winik shares her worst mommy moments—and heaven knows we all need to hear that we aren’t the only ones whose best intentions have gone the way of our dieting resolutions, often before lunch. Her epic treatment of the battle against the pestilence of head lice had me in stitches and her claim that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of effort you put into food and how much your kids like it is some sort of parenting law. Each short chapter can be read as a stand-alone essay, which works well for the waits in dentists’ offices, carpool lineups, and soccer practices that are the hallmarks of elementary-school.

  1. The Science of Parenthood by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel. and Jessica Zeigler (She Writes Press)

You’ll want to start this brightly illustrated collection of meme-style cartoons, infographics, and very short comic essays before your kids are old enough to need to do science fair projects. The entertaining entries will not only make you laugh, they’ll remind you that you once took science classes and might remember some vague concepts, which you will need when you, I mean YOUR KIDS, have to participate in the science fair. A good deal of the unscientific science deals with chaos theory, entropy, and random variables… Beautifully produced. Funny. This is hot off the presses and will make a perfect gift for mom friends.

  1. Queen Bees and Wannabes and Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman (Harmony)

Wow, some of these kids in middle school are real creeps. Not *your* kid, of course, but the other ones. These two books will explain why they are horrible and provide you with the perspective that hellish middle school experiences may help produce successful adults. Because I have a daughter and a son, I read both of these books. An unexpected mental health challenge of reading these books is that they can plunge you back into that strange place. Wiseman’s books will remind you that you are a grownup now. Thank goodness, and it wasn’t just you, middle school is tough.

  1. The Angst of Adolescence by Sara Villanueva (Bibliomotion)

When you have to make the HOLYCRAP! trip to the bookstore when your child hits his or her teen years, his is the one you’ll need to buy when it turns out that your very own teenager, your precious baby who was never ever going to be a horrible teenager because you read all the right books and did all the right things, is in fact a horrible teenager. In addition to being a PhD professor of psychology, Villanueva’ is the parent of teenagers and at this point that’s pretty much a requirement for anyone doling out advice. She manages to interweave scientific insights (bizarro sleep schedules are developmentally appropriate!), gentle explanations (assholish behavior is developmentally appropriate), and confessions that even research scientists with a scholar’s understanding of teenage brain development sometimes lose their minds with their own kids.

  1. What Diamonds Can Do by Claire Keyes (WordTech Communications)

Just as the monsters who’ve taken over your previously adorable kids are beginning to show signs of civilization, your teens get ready to launch. Now you are ready to use the tiny bit of brain space that has been cleared out by your kids’ burgeoning maturity, but not yet destroyed by the shocking decrepitude that has snuck up on you for the past couple of decades while you were distracted by other concerns. Whatever ragged remains of mental stability you still possess may yet survive. Diamonds is the perfect combination of the kind of high art that soothes the soul and reflections on the trip of parenthood that you need in order to start getting your head around the looming empty nest. Her poems are not sentimental but will remind you here and there that these increasingly delightful adults were just a few short months ago the wonderful horribly frustrating, clever, complicated, and messy people that they really have been all along.

To Do

To Do

Dec 15 Motherwit ARTBy Mariah Mottley


8:11 AM Call the pediatrician to tell her about the worm your husband found in the baby’s diaper. Be sure and spell it out so you don’t have to actually say it. She will ask if it was alive, and how big it was.

“uh, the W-O-R-M was about as big, as I don’t know, a piece of linguine? Are you going to want it? Because we saved it. I have it right here. I’m happy to drop it off. I was going to be in town anyway and-”  Stop talking because you sound insane.  Baby worming appointment set for 10:15.

8:44 AM Confirm the address of the lady you found on craigslist to make a fleece coat for your goat, make a copy of the “Well Tempered Hoof” the academic paper you are going to mail to your old farrier along with $15 gift card at Dunkin’ Donuts along with the news that we won’t be needing his services anymore. Check to make sure that preschool daughter Billie is wearing an appropriate outfit and tell her it is time to get ready to go. Change the baby’s diaper, trying not to look at his anus, in case there is a large worm glaring back at you. Double bag wormy diaper in a second ziplock bag and add to the pile of outgoing mail and reusable grocery bags you will be taking to the car with you. Make sure everyone has coats, socks, and shoes on, with a hat and gloves for preschooler.

9:12 AM Drop Billie off at preschool but pretend to be on time and that circle time has not started. Drop eldest daughter, Bela, who slept in, off at elementary school. List ‘bad temper’ as reason for her late arrival.

Arm yourself for viewing of the W-O-R-M at doctor’s office with latte ala Dunkin Donuts. It won’t help.

10:34 AM Your baby, who is arguably no longer a baby but a little person who walks and talks and apparently, eats dirt, is diagnosed with roundworms. How disgusting. Try not to sound neurotic and self-involved. Fail. Ask panicked questions about life cycle and obsessively nibble your nails until the kindly nurse practitioner mentions twice that she has emailed the prescription to the pharmacy and stands up.

“He is a gem,” she says, about the wonderful baby, who, not a baby at all, is pushing around an oxygen tank and clonking it into things. He does not seem concerned at all about the army of worms he may have wriggling inside his bottom. You can barely finish your coffee for thinking about it, however. As the nurse is leaving, grab her sleeve.

“If we give him the pills, won’t more come out?”

“We do want them out,” she says, and gives a little wave.

11:22 AM Call your husband from car. Inform him that your baby has been diagnosed with roundworms, and that you are obese. You shouldn’t have, but you got on the scale at the office. There was a BMI chart in the bathroom. It seemed like a victimless crime at the time, but now it turns out that your husband is the victim. The baby has roundworms from eating dirt, or eating vegetables that were grown in the dirt, and his wife is obese.

11:29 AM Call the goat coat lady. Find her house, pick up the goat coat. It is lovely.

12:04 PM Pick Billie up at preschool, and by all means DO NOT squish her Christmas sculpture, or her Christmas tree with the glitter glue on it. Say no when she tells you to buy her gum at the pharmacy.

12:24 PM Try and act normal in front of the ridiculously hot pharmacist. Maybe he doesn’t know that the prescription is for worms. He totally knows. Ask if you should give the medication with food. Laugh inappropriately loudly and suggest you could always hide the tablet in peanut butter ‘like we do with the dogs’.  Stare at the counter in horror. Back home, cross your fingers and change the baby’s diaper. Beg him to wait to poop until his father gets home.

2:45 Pick Bela up from elementary school. Do not shout at her first grade teacher that the baby has roundworms and that you are obese. Put everyone into the car and drive home, where you will serve Goldfish crackers and sliced apples with cheese before you try the coat on the goat. It will be too big.

Originally from Manhattan, Mariah Plumlee lives in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. She is author of The Great Burn, a memoir about modern marriage, rural living, and kid-having. She can be found @MissesPlum and at her blog,


15 Reasons Moms Are Just a Half-Step Away From Insanity

15 Reasons Moms Are Just a Half-Step Away From Insanity

By Jackie Ashton

1. “Have you seen the butter?” heard three times a day per child, caregiver or other “human” who frequents your home. (On any given day, there are at least three sticks of butter in, of all places, the refrigerator.)

2. Just as you are walking out to take a much-deserved yoga class, your first in ages, the babysitter texts in a cancellation: she has been bitten by a spider.

3. “Mommy! Where! Is! My! Bobo!?” screeched at ear-piercing volume, 300 times per day per child. (Note: Bobo, the bright-blue elephant, is usually splayed out on the kitchen floor—right where he was left!—often within eyesight.)

4. Your 2-year-old daughter returns from preschool clutching a bag of clay and detailed homework instructions involving said clay. That’s weird, you think, I didn’t know preschools assigned homework. You cancel wine night with the girls and dutifully follow the instructions, cheerleading and coaching your toddler along with enthusiastic fist-pumps. The next day you help your daughter pack her clay creation ohsocarefully into her backpack. For weeks, you inquire about this important (and unannounced!) clay homework. You receive the same cheerful reply each time, “Oh, that! She never collected it!”

5. Subsequent calls to the now radio silent, spider-bitten babysitter are returned with a text that says “I’m. Just. 2. Emotional. 2 B UR babysitter. I quit. L8R!”

6. Lice.

7. You stop at the vet’s office to pick up special “Diarrhea No More” food for the geriatric family dog. You leave your 3-year old son and 4-year old daughter in the car for a blip of time that does not exceed one nanosecond. You return to find a pile of your son’s warm poop perched like a bow on the present you just bought for your nephew’s birthday.

8. In an attempt to be an involved mother, you volunteer to organize the kindergarten end of year party. You receive 47 emails to discuss and re-discuss, hash out and re-hash out, schedule and re-schedule the five tasks that need to take place to pull off a one hour party for five-year-olds.

9. You send your son to school wearing red pants and a black Spiderman T-shirt. He awaits you at pick up wearing shoes, a pull-up that does not belong to him and nothing else in 40-degree weather. No explanation for his strip tease is provided.

10. The mother-loving lice are back. Your children will now wear tea tree oil-dipped ski caps at all times. So. Help. You. God.

11. You are thrilled to receive a last-minute invite to see Phoenix, your favorite indie band. You call your top five babysitters; none are free. You try the B-list babysitters, eight of them: they’ve all been bitten by spiders. Your cousin calls to say that her next door neighbor’s nanny’s ex-husband’s parole officer has a new girlfriend who sort of likes kids and would you like her number?

12. You volunteer to drive some of the children in your daughter’s class to the zoo for a field trip. It’s unclear whether he suffers from the bubonic plague or swine flu, but one of the children assigned to your car is definitely dying.

13. You receive a 5-inch thick packet in the mail from the school your children have attended for three years. “New forms must be filled out by hand each calendar yearthanks in advance!” chirps the letter from the Director.

14. You pay a boatload of money to send your kids to the “Summer Fun Zone,” a June camp marketed as a week of fun-filled outdoor frolicking for your kids while you work. “How was camp?” you ask them on the ride home, hoping for festive tales of water-balloon-tossing and capture the flag. “Awesome!” your 4-year-old son replies, “We didn’t even have to hold hands crossing the street!”

15. It’s your 10th wedding anniversary. You’ve planned a much-anticipated night away with your husband. As you are applying mascara for the first (and quite possibly the last) time in 2015, the just-hired-quadruple-reference-checked babysitter calls (ah-ha! she does have vocal cords): “Jackie, hey, listen, I know this sounds super random and weird, but I think I’ve been bitten by a spi”CLICK.

Jackie Ashton is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon and Redbook, among other publications.

Photo: Getty Images

Excerpt: Situation Momedy

Excerpt: Situation Momedy

Situation Momedy CoverThe following is an excerpt from Situation Momedy by Jenna von Oy (2015 Medallion Press)

Chapter 1

Houston, We Have a Pregnancy!

A scenic view of my past

It was season four of The Parkers, the black sitcom on UPN on which I’d been costarring since episode one, and I still felt totally out of place. I didn’t fit in, and it made me insecure. You know the old Sesame Street song that went, “One of these things is not like the other”? I was “one of these things,” and I was having trouble letting that roll off my back. They could talk about things I couldn’t. They had stories to tell that I couldn’t relate to and special inside jokes to share that proved I wasn’t “one of them.” I wasn’t a member of their exclusive club. Every now and then, Countess Vaughn would even make a comment like, “You can’t possibly understand. You just haven’t been through the same struggles we have.” Gee, thanks. Way to make a girl feel like an outcast. Way to make me feel like . . . the nonparent I was. What, you thought I was referring to being the only white cast member? Ha! Not a chance. Skin color never made an ounce of difference to any of us. In fact, Mo’Nique often quipped that I wasn’t Caucasian, just “light-skinned.”

Being the only cast member on The Parkers without a kid made me feel like a petulant child in a roomful of working adults. I was the only one who didn’t have a family to go home to, who didn’t know what it was to be a parent and have that special love in my heart for a tiny human being. And I wanted it desperately.

So desperately, in fact, that I started adopting dogs. Lots of them. Which led me to believe, in all my twentysomething wisdom, that I knew what it meant to be a parent. Why alienate me just because my kids had four legs instead of two? Because they barked instead of crying? Because they left their toys strewn across every room of my house and drooled all over my furniture? (Technically the latter two examples cover both dogs and children, but you get the idea.) I thought parenting puppies should at least grant me a pass for their elite clique, but no one else seemed to take that notion seriously.

Single life was sucking big-time, and my biological clock was spinning out of control. I wanted a family to ground me; I wanted to finally belong . . .

Cut to . . .

So much for a feeling of belonging. Turns out I had no clue what to expect when I was expecting, dogs or no dogs. After all, my canine kids go to sleep when I tell them to, clean up any food that gets dropped on the floor, and were potty trained by two months old.

And wanting a family to ground me? What was I thinking? Impending mommydom made me feel like I’d been sent to orbit the moon for a while, armed with only fuzzy pink slippers and a casserole dish . . .

But hey, at least I was finally in on all the jokes.


My cradle chronicles

“So you’re having a baby.” In my experience, most instructional pregnancy books start out with this phrase or some equivalent of it. Thank you, faceless authors, for stating the obvious and handing me my sign. After peeing on a stick (or four), racing to the doctor faster than I could say “biological clock,” throwing out a refrigerator’s worth of soft cheese and deli meat, flagging every baby name site on the Internet, reading all the back issues of Parenting magazine, prematurely plotting a nursery design, and indulging my urge to tell every pregnant woman I saw that I was becoming a member of her club, I’m pretty sure I’d already established the fact that I was bringing a child into the world.

Or had I? It’s amazing how long it took my head to catch up to my heart.

But still, “So you’re having a baby” seemed like such an unceremonious introduction. After waiting for so many years to get knocked up (I was thirty-five when I gave birth to my first daughter, Gray), I wanted a parade in my honor, dammit! But one has to start somewhere, right? Parades take time to plan, and I suppose a float in the shape of a uterus would be a little weird. Also, “So you’re about to spend the next eighteen years letting a tiny human be the CEO of your life, huh?” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

In retrospect, I guess there’s really no better conversation starter than the one they’ve all resorted to. But how about adding a little enthusiasm to the mix so it sinks in? I know it isn’t feasible to be showered in confetti or offered a congratulatory neon marquis via book pages, but some amount of excitement is nice. You know, slightly more than one might experience when one’s bologna is ready at the supermarket meat counter.

How about trying this version on for size: “So you’re having a baby. Holy hell!”

Or “So you’re having a baby? You did it! You got the little guy to swim upstream! Go kiss your spouse and celebrate with a pint of peanut-butter-and-chocolate ice cream, for heaven’s sake. You deserve it! Here’s a coupon for a complimentary cream puff!” I swear I’d send you all a bottle of champagne right this minute if it were feasible. On second thought, perhaps I’d send a nonalcoholic beverage such as sparkling apple cider, so the pediatric police don’t hunt me down. Either way, consider this my written version of a celebratory rally for you. I’m whistling “Hail to the Chief” as I type this.


Situation Momedy CoverClick here to read our Q&A with author Jenna von Oy

Buy the Book







Dear Fellow Soccer Mom: I’d Be So Grateful If You’d Talk to Me

Dear Fellow Soccer Mom: I’d Be So Grateful If You’d Talk to Me

By Kristen De Deyn Kirk

Soccer Ball on Blackboard


We’re both watching our teens play soccer, and we’re likely to see each other three times a week for a few months, so please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Kristen, middle-aged mom of two teens. I’m an introvert who knows for sure that “introvert” does not mean “anti-social.”

Let me explain. Most days, I talk to no one outside of my family. It’s my fault; I choose to be a freelance writer, comfy in my yoga pants and day-old hairdo, at home, with my laptop. Yep, me and my laptop.

Sounded ideal at first. Then the loneliness kicked in.

My next-door neighbor, a fellow work-at-home mom, used to be reliable for a couple of chats a week near the mailbox. But she moved.

My other friends are weighed down with homeschooling, from-home businesses or traditional jobs. We catch up once a month in person, a true treat.

If only those 29 days between get-togethers flew by instead of dragging….

So, fellow soccer mom, when I see you standing near the field, I smile. Forgive me, my smile might be too wide, and as I approach you, I might talk too loudly.

I’m not completely crazy, I promise. I’m grateful to see someone who is around my age, who gets the agony and amazement of raising teens and who is bravely stepping outside the safety of her minivan.

You can talk about whatever you want. Tell me your son is not much of a talker, and you wonder if that’s true in school, too. I’ll understand when your face lights up when you then see him chatting with a teammate. (My face did the same at our last game, when my son saw an old friend and actually walked over to him to talk.) If you’d rather talk about the long drive you have to the practice field, and how your husband can’t get out of work in time, that’s fine too. I will commiserate and share that mine is hoping to drive to the next practice. We like the dads involved, don’t we? You can also mention that you’re starting a full-time job soon and you’re thinking of a million contingency plans. What happens if the school bus doesn’t come in the morning — and you’ve already left for work? What if one of your children has an afterschool club and no school-provided transportation back home? How will you manage dinner and then practice if you’re late driving home because of traffic? My heart will ache for you, and I’ll tell you I get it: The trade-off for a full-time job is a gut-wrenching juggle of responsibilities. As we continue to talk, you can even go political and tell me you love the candidate I hate. I’ll appear diplomatic. I’ll ask questions, and you’ll think I’m in the undecided camp. Or if you’d rather keep the conversation light and mention your addiction to The Real Housewives of New York City, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the team and The Property Brothers, I’ll do my best to play it cool, nod in agreement and save my happy dance for the privacy of my kitchen.

If you want to talk as long as that last paragraph, I’ll listen.

If you want to talk as short as this sentence, I’ll talk instead. Either way, I’d be happy.

Kristen De Deyn Kirk is a freelance writer from Virginia. She writes about parenting, education, politics and wine — and dreams of regular assignments that combine the four. She tweets at @KristenKirk.

Photo: Getty Images

To The Disapproving Man Watching Me Breastfeed in a Restaurant

To The Disapproving Man Watching Me Breastfeed in a Restaurant

By Allison Martin


To the disapproving gentleman at the corner table,

I’ve been lumbered with ample bosom since my mid-teens and it has been a source of embarrassment, not pride. I’ve covered up in baggy tees and long-envied more athletically built ladies, their ability to wear tank tops or halter necks without unsightly straps spoiling their sartorial elegance.

So, believe me when I say that sitting here, in this restaurant with my breast on show, I’m as, if not more, embarrassed than you could ever be.

I say on show but there’s less flesh flaunted here than you’d see on MTV, in the movies, on the covers of dozens of newspapers and magazines or on any beach across the world on a hot, summer’s day.

My baby son’s head and body cover much of my milk-filled mammary as he, oblivious to your distaste, enjoys his own lunch while you attempt to choke down your steak in the face of such horror.

I could cover the little guy with a scarf to spare us both any blushing, but I suspect if the waitress asked either of us to eat with a tablecloth over our heads we would be aghast, an unpleasant, hot and bothersome way to take a meal. I’m sure you’d agree.

I could remove myself to avoid your embarrassment, feed my hungry child in the bathroom but then, the idea seems somewhat ridiculous and, not just a little, unsanitary.

If the manager suggested you or I munch our margarita pizzas to the backtrack of hand dryers and toilets flushing we would, I suspect, protest.

I understand that the sight of me feeding my child is a painful experience. Getting to the point of being able to feed him was something of a painful experience for me. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but boy was I surprised when it didn’t come naturally. Initially it was agonizing, so much so I almost threw in the towel, then an infection meant I was unable to feed him for two weeks. I can’t tell you how heart-breaking this was, expressing milk only to pour it down the drain in the vain hope my little man wouldn’t reject my boob having developed a taste for the bottled stuff. Again, with much support and encouragement from friends, family and an incredibly patient partner, we persisted.

I know you’re embarrassed to be eating your green beans just yards away from such exposure, I can see it in your eyes. I had that same look as my boobs were manhandled by a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor who came to my home and worked with myself and my son as we tried to get it together as a feeding team. I’m not ashamed to say there were lots of tears, a good dollop of anger and the occasional expletive along the way. But I’m guessing you’ll understand that level of frustration, you look pretty frustrated right now as you mutter to your friends and throw disapproving looks in my direction.

I could, I suppose, pretend I haven’t noticed your annoyance or ignore your feelings but, then, I was raised to respect the feelings of others and I intend to raise my own son that same way. I’m sure you’d agree that compassion is a much-underrated quality and, God knows, society could do with more of it.

I am, I like to think, a caring human being and, as such, I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. I know you came here hoping to enjoy a delicious meal, good company and maybe a beer or glass of Chardonnay. I know this because it’s why I’m here too. I don’t get out that much so I aim to enjoy myself on the rare occasion I do. I can only apologize that the sight of something so offensive, so freakish as a mother mammal feeding her cub is putting you off your potato dauphinoise and putting a real chink in your dining experience.

I wish I was able to oblige you but, unfortunately, my priorities must be with the hungry 12-week-old and, unlike you or I who may complain to the maître-d if the service was tardy, my little boy has neither the communication skills nor patience, he will, if denied, just howl the place down. Perhaps that would be preferable, less intrusive to your lunch than the vista of the top third of breast you’re currently being confronted with?

Maybe if we both focused on our own meals, our own friends and their lively conversation it would make life easier. In short sir, if the amount of bosom on show, which would frankly fail to raise eyebrows in a Jane Austen novel, troubles you so deeply, might I suggest, to avoid yours and my own discomfort, you simply STOP LOOKING, and let me feed my baby.

Yours sincerely,

A breastfeeding mum

Allison Martin is a freelance writer and mum-of-one. She used to be a news reporter for The Daily Mirror and now writes features and blogs for The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, Mother & Baby and the Huffington Post amongst others. She lives in London with her partner, three-year-old son and a goldfish called Bookworm. You can follow Allison on Twitter @AlliMartin

The Broomstick and the Plunger

The Broomstick and the Plunger

By Rachel Ida Buff


The year Ginger was three years old I started dressing witch-ugly instead of witch-sexy. I painted my face green and blacked a tooth.


My kids don’t need me anymore, not like they did when they were little and wanted to dress up as my familiars on Halloween. Of course, they still depend on me for some things: who else is going to stockpile the discount candy, order the pizza, and plunge the toilet?

Witches too are useless in a way, beyond the demands of husbands, children, town or civic associations. Maybe this is why they are scary: they soar defiantly through the night sky, glorious in their freedom. Sometimes they are seen together, in the dreaded covens. But they are more often outsiders — alone.

I am not exactly alone tonight. My house is full of enough to delight even that cranky, child-luring, deep woods creature made notorious in the story of Hansel and Gretel. My husband is out of town and both of my daughters are getting ready for the evening with their own covens of friends.

The archetypical witch rides a broomstick, converting that modest implement of domestic order into a vehicle for nocturnal flight. Her hands are free to clutch the broomstick while she is riding it, even when she dismounts, she is often seen holding the thing. When the girls were small, I barely swept, let alone drag a cleaning utensil around for show.   

Instead of taking off on a broom tonight, I ply the plunger. This is urgent: some indignity cannot be swallowed by our toilet, and we have eight of us, in and out of the house. Dressed in my long, black witch dress, wearing the green-face I have carefully applied, I confront a familiar adversary — the toilet in the second floor bathroom. I have a complicated relationship to plungers, more fraught than the question of order or flight provoked by the broom.

For one thing, there is my father-in-law’s house, where they don’t stock the regular rubber bulb with the stick coming out, the kind that waits unassumingly behind the toilet, to be mustered into service when the time comes. Instead, when the need arises, a request must be made from the master of the house. The plunger, a tripartite device the likes of which I have never seen before or since, is retrieved with great fanfare from my father-in-law’s workshop in the garage.  A big deal is made of the inconvenience. The plunger is then paraded through the house, before being deployed in the bathroom. Only the master of the house can use it; the rest of us are forced to stand by.

This happened on two successive visits, before I realized I had to conjure an alternative. I now make a habit of driving to a nearby gas station once or twice a day during visits to that household. That solved that problem.

But somehow, our toilet at home also backs up frequently. Thinking it might have to do with the ancient plumbing in our house, we eventually sprang for a new toilet. The handyman who installed it left the house grinning, assuring us, “you could get a bowling ball down that thing.” But plunging is still a routine task, something that just has to happen. And somehow it often seems to fall to me.

Plunging takes skill as well as courage. First, when the water refuses to go down, there is the grudging realization that something will have to be done. The shit lurks towards the bottom, silently threatening to ride a swirl of water back up, even out. So I try again, flushing and jiggling the handle, hoping for a miracle. I panic as the water swirls up and threatens to surge over the top of the rim. Then I am antic with the plunger, relentless, until that sound I have learned to wait for–the unmistakable suck, the still second before the water swirls and goes back down, this time.

What would a real witch do? I hitch the long black dress up and deal with the situation, emerging victorious from the bathroom. There is riotous teen laughter on the front porch, where Celeste and her friends are handing out candy and waxing nostalgic about the costumes they used to wear. Ginger and her friends are roving the neighborhood, dressed as pirates and hippies; they are almost too old for costumes, but still flushed with the excitement of the cold, dark night.

My current long black witch dress was once a pregnancy shift. The label announces it: “Full Moon.” I first wore the dress trick-or-treating with Celeste on a warm and misty Ohio Halloween evening over a decade ago. That night, the dress caught moisture from the air, from the ground and from puddles. It lengthened, trailing behind me as we made the rounds of our neighborhood. I was a few months out from giving birth to Ginger then, that elasticity a welcome reminder of what the dress and I could be capable of.

Growing up, I never thought that witches were ugly. I knew that the Wicked Witch of the West was supposed to be dark and ugly in contrast to the simpering good witch of the North. But Margaret Hamilton looked a lot more like the women in my family than Glenda ever did. I am far more scared of simpering blonde locks than scolding dark tresses.

Since my twenties, the opportunity to dress as a witch on Halloween has seemed like a relief and a party rolled into one. “Type casting,” I cackle to myself. (A cackle does not ask for or require an audience.) And dressing up as a witch is a popular costume: you can easily go witch-sexy by tossing on your favorite little black dress, a pair of heels and a pointy hat.

The year Ginger was three years old I started dressing witch-ugly instead of witch-sexy. I painted my face green and blacked a tooth. Ginger cried until I convinced her it was really me. “Mama Witch!” she finally said, happily. After that she always recognized me, waiting impatiently for Halloween and planning ever more non-traditional familiar outfits.

The witch archetype reaches back, through wicked Hollywood witches west and east, to Salem, to the medieval European archetype and her troubles with the law. Witches are scary because they are powerful outsiders. And because of that cackle. When The Wizard of Oz was first screened, Margaret Hamilton’s laugh was considered by many to be over the top. Small children had to be escorted out of an early screening.

Having cleared the toilet, I rove the house. Most of the candy has been given out; I locate a bag of Snickers my husband has hidden for himself, pour it into our black plastic cauldron, and hand it out to the last tiny stragglers. Ginger and her friends go up to the attic to engage in elaborate candy trades. Two of Celeste’s friends go home, and she and her best friend, Serena, shut themselves in her room to pour over their iPods together.

It is cold and I am almost ready to shut off the porch light on the evening’s trick or treating. Just then, a boy of around 6 in a rainbow afro wig rings the door. I have seen him already and given him candy. “Back again?” I ask him.  

He shakes his head and gestures to a tiny, barely-walking girl dressed as a pumpkin. She is almost completely hidden behind him. I crouch down and address her. “Want candy?” I ask.  

She shakes her head. “Pee!” she says, wide-eyed. Her brother nods vigorously. I prop the screen door open, looking beyond the porch to the sidewalk. A woman bundled up in a wheelchair waves and nods emphatically. I take the pumpkin girl’s hand and lead her inside, and up the stairs to our fully functional toilet. Her brother stays on the porch. Halfway up the stairs, I realize that this tiny pumpkin girl, her brother and her mother in the wheelchair have to put their faith in me: a strange white woman in a pointy hat, black dress and greenface.

Pumpkin girl is small enough that she needs me to help her get her pants down and sit on the toilet. I wonder if I could have let tiny Celeste climb the stairs with a stranger who would have had to help her in this way. I don’t think so.  

Pumpkin girl slides off the toilet; I help her with her pants. She pauses at the top of the stairs, and I pick her up and slide her onto my hip, carrying her down to where her brother waits. She grins at me and snatches a Snickers bar from the cauldron. Her brother takes her hand and they run down the stairs to where their mom waits for them.

I take off my hat and close the door. Sitting on the couch, I sort through the cauldron to see whether there is one Almond Joy left for me.

For several years, off and on, I have had the feeling of flying. It comes at odd times, like when I am driving Ginger and Celeste to the dentist and we are all singing songs we remember from the Shrek soundtrack; or when I am walking the dog in the morning after we have all eaten breakfast and the girls have gone off to school and I am thinking about what to do with a couple of hours of writing time. It occurs to me to google this, just to see if I am suffering from some identifiable syndrome: “feeling of flying in middle age.” And then I remember the witch, soaring off on her broomstick into the night sky. I turn on the computer and get to work.

Rachel Ida Buff is a mother, a writer and a history professor who has already stocked both greenface and tooth blacking makeup for Halloween. She is a writer of essays and short stories as well as academic articles and books. Currently, she is completing a novel, Into Velvet.

Motherwit:  Child Psychology 101

Motherwit: Child Psychology 101

Dictionary photo

By Sue Sanders

Parenthood introduces us to a rich new vocabulary. To help make better sense of it all, here is a glossary of psychological terms for parenting:

abnormal – the state of a parent’s stomach before spending years helpfully polishing off a finicky toddler’s dinner.

adolescence see antisocial behavior

anal-retentive – at a bathroom stop on a long family trip, the three-year-old firmly declares that she doesn’t have to go, that she won’t go and that no one can make her. In the car, twenty minutes later she becomes anal-expulsive. And there isn’t a change of clothes.

antisocial behavior see adolescence

closure – realizing lazy Sunday mornings, filled with nothing but New York Times reading and coffee drinking are over for good.

collective unconscious – what parents fall into at night after a hard day of child wrangling and a night of companionate love.

confirmation bias – what religious grandparents accuse new parent of when told that, no, family will not have child baptized, confirmed, or attend church. (see also conversion disorder)

countertransference – what a parent needs to do when the grocery clerk puts out her light and slaps a “closed” sign on her lane after parent has taken out of the cart a week’s worth of groceries, some of which have been carefully selected by three-year-old who is beginning to show signs of divergent thinking.

denial – when parent is certain he/she will have enough money saved to send child to college in three years.

depressive realism – what life sometimes seems when parent has had little/no sleep because infant wanted to play all night and parent now has an entire day of meetings.

ego – what toddler boldly announces (usually followed by the simple, declarative demand: “Now!”) as soon as parents enter the children’s concert they’ve just spent $50 on. Parents just want child to cut id out.

explicit memory – what thirteen-year-old shows no signs of when reminded tonight was the night that her grandparents are coming over for dinner and she promised to stay and be social, but she’s already made plans with her friends. (see recovered memory, retroactive amnesia, selective attention)

gender role – delicious with cheese and mayo.

hierarchy of needs – there is no hierarchy, all needs are equal: everyone needs something at the exact same time.

hindsight bias – what a parent feel when he/she sees it in the mirror so he/she decides yet again to start running. (see denial, negative afterimage, procrastination)

inferiority complex – develops when visiting new mom friend who has written three books, has a beautiful, organized house, and clean laundry put away. For a mother with i.c. reality is vastly different. (see also depressive realism)

long-term memory – forgot about it.

libido – forgot about it.

motivated forgetting – something sixteen-year-olds excel at.

nervous system – often first located when parent gazes into infant’s eyes and realizes he/she don’t know what he/she is doing.(see night terrors, panic attack)

observer bias – when total strangers tell mother to put socks on that baby, his feet are cold, what are you? a total idiot? Often cause of defiant disorder in new mothers.

paradoxical sleep – before parenthood, one slept during the night.

psychobabble – when a shrink’s child is beginning to speak.

recall – call again and again for preschool packets; why the redial button was invented. (see reflex)

rooting reflex – the “hooray!” a mother feels when she finally sees her infant latch on for the first time.

secondary sex characteristics – unimportant when exhausted parents have forgotten what their primary ones are.

self absorption – to get psyche-d about really good diapers.

sex roles – vowed never fall into before had a child. (see short term memory)

Skinner Box – at times, it actually sounds pretty good.

stranger anxiety – what many parents feel when seeing another adult approach their child.

working memory – although it seems as if it’s often on strike, it comes roaring back when a parent looks at their sleeping child and their unconditional response is unconditional love.

Sue Sanders’ essays have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Brain, Child, Real Simple, Islands, Parents, the Rumpus and others. She’s the author of the parenting memoir, Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore.

Return to the October 2015 Issue





Bedtime in 21 Easy Steps

Bedtime in 21 Easy Steps

By Christine Alderman

21 steps to bedtime

To the Management,

Lately my bedtime has not been to my satisfaction and there has been some confusion about what I require. Here are just a few tips to help clear things up.

1. I prefer a bath that is warm, with some more cold water, and then some more hot water, and then some more cold water, with a little bit more hot water.

2. Only empty the bathtub after I am done playing. Which is never.

3. I try to make you proud by using the potty. I prefer to climb to the potty on my potty steps myself. Unless I don’t. Please know which one it is.

4. I prefer at least three books from each parent. And then one more from each of you so I don’t forget your voices all night. Because I love you. And then another one. Because I love books.

5. Please rock me in the big chair until I am ready to get in bed. I will indicate this by going stiff as a board.

6. I want to climb in my own bed. Do not help me. Except if I slip. Then help me. But don’t help me too much or I will need to do it again so I can show you I know how to do it.

7. I am hungry. I think I need dinner again now.

8. Thanks for the cold milk cup that is only cold enough if it waits in the fridge until the minute I need it. I will keep telling you I need milk until you get back upstairs in case you forget.

9. My bed feels nice. A clean sheet each night helps my complexion. Thanks.

10. My bed is too hot. I need a different blanket.

11. My bed is too cold. I need a different blanket.

12. My bed is not right. If I get out and climb back in that might help.

13. Please cover me up with almost all of my arms covered up, but not covered up too much, and my feet, but not my left foot.

14. Please fix my pajamas so that the footies don’t cramp my toes, but aren’t so loose that monsters can get in there and get my toes. Monsters love toes.

15. Now that I think about it my teeth are a bit sore. Medicine would be great. Purple would be great. I will say please over and over until you get back with it. You like it when I say please.

16. My mouth is sticky. I need water.

17. I need to go potty. You like me to go potty. You ask me all day. I will make you proud now and use the potty!

18. Please cover me up again with my blanket. But not this blanket. The other blanket. The one that is in the washing machine. I miss that blanket.

19. Please pat my back for a little bit. A little bit is the same amount of time as when you say we will be at the grocery store for just a little bit more.

20. Please put sweet dreams in my head. Only the best dreams. I have suggestions if you need them. Sit with me and I will tell you about them.

21. The door needs to be open a crack so I can hear you. Please don’t be too loud.

If I am not asleep please see above steps. You must have missed one. I can remind you of them if you want.

Please note that I have a separate issue with your naptime performance. I will address this in a separate memo.

Best Regards,

A. Toddler

Christine Alderman has worked with children, youth, and adults in juvenile detention, prison, and schools. Christine has a Master’s degree in Education from Harvard University. She lives in Texas with her husband and her threenage daughter.

Stay-At-Home-Mom Bingo

Stay-At-Home-Mom Bingo


Mindi Wisman is an American social worker and freelance writer living with her family in Brussels, Belgium. Her work has appeared on The Toast, One Chic Mom, and World Mom’s Blog. She has worked as a mental health therapist, sports psychologist, and academic researcher, but is still trying to make her dream of being a back-up singer to Dolly Parton come to fruition. You can find her on Twitter.

Illustration: Christine Juneau

Alone All Day With a Toddler Meal Plan

Alone All Day With a Toddler Meal Plan

By Susan Buttenwieser



One sip of hot coffee with milk, swallowed seconds before toddler topples her breakfast off highchair tray.

Toast crusts basted in toddler saliva retrieved from floor.

Honey Nut Cheerio remnants. Slurp out of princess bowl hunched over kitchen sink.


Pre-playground snack:

Rest of now-lukewarm coffee with congealed milk. Serve over ice and gulp while trying to convince toddler to wear something other than her zebra dress for the fifth day in a row.

Cheese stick inside folded over bread heel with mustard dollop. Eat with one hand and apply sunblock with the other, carefully working around butterfly stickers lining toddler arms that must not be compromised in any way. Fish dirty dress out of laundry basket as a change of clothes. Shove into backpack along with a clean diaper, sippy cup, Goldfish crackers, plastic bag of broken sidewalk chalk, and toddler’s beloved cracked turtle bucket. Scoop up toddler and click her into stroller.

Iced coffee from coffee truck parked on 7th Avenue in front of sex toy store. Banana chocolate chip muffin is an unplanned purchase to placate toddler, which could be argued is the slightly healthier option over a donut.


In-playground snack:

Occasional sips of lukewarm water from fountain covered in pigeon poop. Frozen water bottle was forgotten at home and the only other source of hydration, now that every last drop of iced coffee has been drunk including the ice, is toddler’s sippy cup or a complicated negotiation for a trip to the nearby deli. Temperatures have already reached 93 degrees on this smothering, wind-free morning. Stand on black rubber mat that is flip-flop melting hot and push toddler on swing. Sweat cascades from armpits, forming a tributary down the lower back area. Smells from overflowing garbage can and glass-shattering shrieking from nearby children create head-ache vortex. Adjacent mom, a one-woman show of every nursery rhyme ever invented, doesn’t help. Especially when toddler looks over at her longingly.

Handful of toddler’s Goldfish crackers while she plays in nearby puddle with beloved cracked turtle bucket. Nearby dad provides a long detailed discourse on how the nose is blown to his son. “Look at me. Hold the tissue like this,” the dad says, his brows furrowed in concentration. “Now blow. No, look at Daddy. Watch Daddy do it. Like THIS. Look at Daddy. See? No, not like that. Like this!”

Just three more Goldfish. And that’s it.

Stuff bag at bottom of backpack as inhalation prevention technique.

Temptation of Day-Glo orange crackers proves too overwhelming and suddenly they are completely gone. Dry off toddler after she has crawled through the sprinklers, using crumpled up napkins discovered at bottom of backpack. Move to sandbox area. Shellacked-in-Lycra mom takes a break from micro-managing her child’s attempts at making a sand castle to offer wipes for toddler. “So you can wash his face,” she says and has trouble accepting that toddler is actually a girl. “You should pierce her ears so people can tell,” she advises. “Was she premature? Is that why she’s not walking yet?”



Hurry home with hungry, snack-deprived toddler. After feeding and changing her, wipe her off with washcloth and put her down for a nap.

Cold, macaroni and cheese rejected by toddler. Eat with tiny purple spoon and read the Daily News.



Banana-chocolate chip muffin crumbs straight from the paper bag, using fingers as shovel. Try to write. Make coffee and bring to desk. Panic about clutter. Decide a fruit snack will help with concentration. Cut up apple into slices and return to desk. Get distracted by folder filled with pictures from high school. Somehow an hour passes and now there’s only maybe another 30 minutes for writing, showering, sweeping kitchen floor, folding and putting away the clean laundry that has been in the basket for two days, chiseling off crusted food blobs on stove top and the mildew growing up the edges of the tub, paying the overdue Con Ed bill, watering the not-quite-yet-dead plants. Intersperse with anxiety attack about plethora of dust balls, lack of meals cooked from scratch, the miniscule amount accomplished on a regular basis. The only thing to show for this day so far is pushing a stroller five blocks without getting hit by a car. Whatever is left of a professional life feels far away.


Late afternoon refreshments:

Frozen ice water during excursion to the library and supermarket. Underbelly of stroller weighted down with books and groceries, balanced only by toddler body.



Tall Boys with dinosaur chicken nuggets on Curious George plate and side of uneaten peas after bath and bedtime story, toddler slumbering soundly in her bed, the New York City night pulsating outside darkened living room windows.

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Teachers & Writers magazine and other publications. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. 

29 Ways You Know You’ve Had a Good Day At Home With Toddler + Baby

29 Ways You Know You’ve Had a Good Day At Home With Toddler + Baby

By Maria Morgan


Picture this: you just spent the day at home with your toddler and baby. Your husband comes home and asks how the day was. You pause for a moment to replay it all in your head, and if any of these 29 things are true, you know you can truthfully answer, “It was a good day!”

1. You showered.

2. You ate three square meals.

3. It’s not the winter, your plumbing functions, nobody is sick, and your car works.

4. Your mom, a.k.a. The Laundry Fairy, came.

5. You managed a trip to the grocery store.

6. You managed a trip to the grocery store without having to stop to change a diaper or breastfeed.

7. You bought Frosted Brown Sugar Pop Tarts at the grocery store.

8. When you got home, you ate some.

9. Your toddler doesn’t know you have them.

10. Or that they even exist!

11. You cleaned the kitchen, the toilet, or some Goldfish crumbs from the bottom of the diaper bag. Whatever. Something is cleaner than it was earlier in the day.

12. You realize that your baby has suddenly become a tummy time champ.

13. A friend visited! Even better if she brought food or coffee. Or washed your dishes.

14. Both kids napped.

15. Both kids napped at the same time.

16. Both kids napped at the same time—and so did you!!!

17. You tried leaving your cell phone out of reach to see if you’d enjoy the time with your kids more. It helped. A lot.

18. Finger-painting wasn’t nearly as disastrous as you thought it was going to be.

19. Not even once did your toddler get all up in your space when you were breastfeeding to let you know (with or without words) that he needed a poopy diaper changed.

20. At one point your toddler asked, “Mommy, are you frus-ter-a-ted???” which made you realize that your efforts to help him manage his emotions must be working at least a little. Plus it was ridiculously cute and helped diffuse some of your frus-ter-a-tion…

21. Your toddler spent much of the day pretend-breastfeeding his stuffed giraffe.

22. Two words: Baby. Smiles.

23. The two of them spent a moment lying on the floor gazing at each other. You put your feet up and let your heart melt a little. It lasted about 4 seconds, but it was really nice.

24. The baby snoozed in the swing long enough to allow you and your toddler some much-needed cuddle and story time.

25. You prepared and served dinner. Bonus points if it was something other than hot dogs or frozen tortellini.

26. You comfortably wore non-maternity pants all day.

27. Your husband is home in time for baths—hooray!

28. Your husband brought you flowers. Or wine. Or leftover Danish from a morning meeting. Whatever little treat makes your heart skip a beat.

And you can get through any day when #29 is true:

29. Sleepover at Grandma’s tonight!

Here’s hoping that any of these 29 things are true for you today.

Maria Morgan is a wife, mother, and middle school teacher whose writing has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamalode, and BonBon Break. She is the voice behind Sandboxes and Sticky Back Felt. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

An Open Letter to My Teen Daughter Who Is In The Next Room

An Open Letter to My Teen Daughter Who Is In The Next Room

By Margarita Gokun Silver


My dear girl,

Before I delve into serious topics and lose your attention to Instagram, several things:

  1. You left the lights on in the bathroom
  2. Your shoes are in the middle of the hallway and I tripped over them twice already
  3. You left the lights on in the kitchen
  4. There is a collection of candy wrappers, dirty tissues, and remnants of popcorn in the living room
  5. You left the lights on in the den

Please attend to the above before I am forced to walk into your room and attempt to confiscate your electronic devices. We both know this doesn’t usually end well.

Now on to more important issues.

When it comes to household chores, asking you to unload a dishwasher or walk the dog isn’t the same as making a Cinderella out of you. Plenty of people get out of bed before noon to take out their dogs so your claim that a noon wake up call qualifies as a violation of basic human rights is completely unsubstantiated. And while we are on the subject of rights, let me assure you that allowance is not a human right. Neither is it your indisputable right.

Moving on. There is a reason they call it “private property.” You cannot appropriate your father’s telephone charger because you’ve lost yours. Similarly, you cannot grab our cell phones whenever you want to take a selfie. Perhaps next time when you fix your phone again you can keep it intact for longer than just two weeks.

This may come as a surprise but the rule of respecting other people’s property also extends to my wardrobe. Borrowing my bras, shoes, and clothes without prior permission is not okay. Your argument that you have nothing to wear doesn’t stand up to the realities of your closet, which is so cram-full of clothes that it can easily conceal a bazooka, a taxidermied bear, and a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

I know we’ve spoken about this next issue in the past but it needs repeating. WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram don’t constitute research venues for a science project. Or for a language paper. Or for a math exam. Similarly, your claim that both Saturday and Sunday should be reserved for maintaining a focused gaze on your electronic devices doesn’t have any basis. People have been known to go outside during weekends.

This brings me to the subject of holidays. Despite what you may think we aren’t out to ruin your vacation when we book a family trip to see Prague, Vienna, and South Bavarian castles. And we are definitely not trying to take all fun out of your life when we take you to explore Catalunia or Cantabria or Asturias during a long weekend. Just think of all the Snapchats you can take and share.

Finally, your father and I really don’t appreciate being called stupid idiots when we happen to disagree with you. Neither slamming of the doors nor screaming loud enough for the neighbors’ dog to bark seem appropriate. You may want to save your voice for all those renditions of Adele we hear regularly from your shower.

To conclude, I’d like to ask if I could apply for a position of your friend. I’ve noticed you treat your friends much better than your parents. So will you be my friend?



Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer and an artist. You can see more of her writing on her website at She tweets at

How to Survive the Night

How to Survive the Night

By Ashley Lefrak 


9:36 PM

Walk your toddler back to bed for the twenty-seventh time.

Start reading on-line parent forums about what to do when a toddler keeps leaving his room after bedtime.

Read about people claiming to have solved this problem through the purchase of special sheets and fun tents! Read posts accusing these parents of either lying or having simple children. Read the sheet/tent parents telling the other parents to shut it about their kids’ intelligence.

Walk your child back to bed.


9:49 PM

Note the number of people publicly losing their minds online due to powerlessness in the face of toddlers. Commend yourself for not losing yours. Worry briefly about how you’d know if your mind were unraveling.

Read about those for whom calmly walking their child back to bed worked after two nights. Curse them loudly into the computer.

Read one woman’s post that says, “They grow up so fast cherish this time!” Admire her briefly. Accuse her of lacking an inner life.


9:45 PM

March your child back to bed.


Start counting something besides the number of times you, or your husband, have done this. Focus on the tiny hairs on your fingers or the not so tiny ones sprouting from your toes.

Don’t think too hard about toe hair and whether your amount is normal.


10:02 PM

Learn about people locking the door to their child’s room and wondering if it qualifies as child abuse and other people saying no it does not and still others claiming, “If you think it may be child abuse, it probably is child abuse.”

Notice your son, no longer standing in the doorway.


10:12 PM

Remember you have a husband. Attempt conversation with him unrelated to children or bedtime or exhaustion level. When this fails, contemplate his toe hair.


10:20 PM

In a sequence you can’t later recall, fall off your chair and realize you are asleep.


12:13 AM    

Startle-sit to the full upright position. Your baby has woken to find himself in the comfortable confines of his crib and is screaming as if someone just removed his liver with a soup spoon.

Try soothing him using the many methods you have devised. Listen to him wail and wonder what could possibly make anyone being held in the arms of a familiar, milk-scented giant this unhappy.

Imagine, for momentary comfort, that you are being held by a friendly milk-giant.


1:03 AM

When the only thing that gets the baby to sleep involves clutching him to your chest while bouncing in the dark, or spinning in a circle while rhythmically lifting your heels off the ground while trying not to fall, commend yourself. If you cried a little bit while bouncing or spinning, don’t worry. You will have another opportunity to not cry in less than hour.


2:12 AM         

Roll over. Grab your husband’s shoulder. If he doesn’t wake, start finger jabbing him directly in the rib cage.

If he still doesn’t stir, say something concise like, “Can you seriously not feel that?” If he still doesn’t move, there’s a chance he’s dead.


3:28 AM         

Have a delirious conversation with your partner in voices laden with misdirected accusation regarding whose turn it is to go to the baby.


4:32 AM         

Feel a sweaty palm, heavy as a wet towel, on your shoulder. Shove it away only to discover your toddler softly sobbing, clutching his arm to his chest like a wounded wing.

Walk him back to his bed. Stay with him until he falls asleep or you begin to drift off on the thin rug beside his bed indifferent to the feeling of your spinal column, disassembling.


4:50 AM         

Limp to the door while avoiding heel puncture from plastic toy anatomy strewn in your path.


5:20 AM

Tell the small child chanting, “Morning time! Want. Mine. Breakfast!” two inches from your bubbling saliva that it is, in fact, despite sunlight, still bedtime.


5:21 AM

Observe your toddler, bed height, exhaling CO2 directly into your mouth. Propose that he return to his room and make a tower out of his diapers, or play “eating breakfast” with his diapers, or any other task involving his diapers because you’re pretty sure he can reach them.

If he is still staring at you, give your voice the cadence of a new and exciting challenge. Ask if he wants to try something new and exciting. Come up with a developmentally inappropriate and therefore time-consuming task.


5:22 AM

When he says he “Don’t want to!” at a volume that explodes molecules formerly nestled in your brainstem, tell him he can do anything he wants.


5:23 AM

Contort yourself into an exaggerated “C” to accommodate the thirty-pound body now lying perpendicular to yours.


5:32 AM         

When the self-deception that you are getting anything approximating sleep ends, beg your husband to take the toddler to the kitchen. To Madagascar. Make wild and impractical promises in exchange for five more minutes of sleep.


6:12 AM         

Give the crying baby milk. Negotiate with him in your mind. I give you nutrients, you give me sleep.


6:19 AM

Briefly become a human hurricane powered by coffee strong as crack. Stay in motion or risk collapse.


7:02 AM

If you are waiting for a free moment, don’t. Go ahead and sit with the baby atop your thighs while trying to use the bathroom.



Prop the baby on a hip with one hand while jogging up your underwear with the other while flushing the toilet with your foot.


7:04 AM

Exit the bathroom to confront the mounting sounds of your toddler trying to speak over your crying infant trying to cry over your speaking toddler.


7:07 AM

Hide somewhere. Tell your toddler you are playing “hide and seek” but neglect to tell him what “seek” means.


7:12 AM

Overhear your toddler singing to the baby a lilting tune in his impossibly high voice about tinkle tinkle. About widdle. About tars.


Ashley Lefrak is a writer and photographer. Her work has been featured in n + 1 and The New York Times. She can be reached at

Re: A Millennial Love Story

Re: A Millennial Love Story

By Donna DeForbes


Hey Mom, New job’s going well and… wait for it…. I’m engaged!!! His name is Kale. Pic attached.


Dear Isabelle,

Your father and I are, of course, happy for you but admit to some surprise at your hastiness. You’ve only known this man a few months. Does he work at the agency with you? Where are his parents from?

For a Communications major, I’m surprised at your typo — certainly you meant Hale and not the leafy green? Regardless, I’m thrilled to be finally planning your wedding!

P.S. There must have been an error when I downloaded the photo; I don’t see a diamond on your ring??


#EthicalMetal, Mom — look it up. No big wedding. Going green. Simple beach ceremony?


Dear Isabelle,

Is green the color scheme you’ve chosen? I’ve retrieved Nana’s wedding dress from storage, but I’m not sure it will work for a spring theme. When will you be home for a fitting? Be sure to bring Kale. We’re having the Great Room redone so we can meet him properly.

P.S. What happened to using complete sentences? Are you being charged by the word?


LOL, Mom. Check this sick video of Kale’s proposal to me — it’s gone viral!


Dear Isabelle,

I do hope you’re taking those vitamin supplements I sent. More importantly, why am I the 1,732,455th person to see a video of my daughter’s marriage proposal? I haven’t even put the engagement announcement in the paper yet. You are my only daughter, and I have rights as the mother of the bride!

P.S. Your father wants to know if Kale being a vegetarian means he won’t eat my famous escargots à la Bourguignonne.


Not veggie but #vegan and #glutenfree. Follow me @Izzie85 for recipe ideas.



I’m catching up to you on the social media now! Aunt Bea got me set up on “Pinterest” so I could create a “board” of fabulous wedding ideas. I’ve printed out color copies of all my “pins” and am mailing them to you. Tell me which ideas you like.


Mom, Great Hangout chat last night. Kale thought Daddy was hilarious! Small change re: the invitations — I’m keeping my name. TTYL


Dear Isabelle,

I never thought I would meet my future son-in-law through a box on the computer screen. Nana is surely rolling over in her grave! Kale had less hair than I expected. Was that a temporary tattoo?

Please come home for Thanksgiving. We need to meet with wedding coordinators and talk cakes. I’ve put the invitations on hold until you change your mind; surely, you’ll want to make it easy on the children.

P.S. Your father has never been hilarious.


Kale’s away for Thxgiving doing volunteer work in Mexico City. Catch you at Xmas?


Dear Isabelle,

I am putting my proverbial foot down (which is now ensconced in those gold Manolos I told you about — a golf guilt gift from your father). But seriously, we must see you at Thanksgiving to discuss this wedding in person. I don’t understand your request to keep it “small” and “green” — a woman only gets married once, you know!

Unless you’re not sure about Kale? In which case, I’ve heard that Dr. James Harrington from the club was recently jilted at the altar…


Dear Isabelle,

Since I have not heard back from you, Daddy and I booked a flight to come out there for Thanksgiving. We’ll stay with some friends who own a winery not too far from you. I’m bringing fabric swatches and menu samples.


OMG, Mom! Cancel the flight!! I won’t be here – going to Mexico City with Kale. James Harrington – r u kidding me?


Dear Isabelle,

Please do not take the Lord’s name in vain, even in acronyms. You never know when you’ll need a favor.

What will you do in Mexico City? Isn’t it enough that you volunteer at that homeless shelter? I’m forever worrying about your safety… and how would it look if you died before the wedding?


Love you too, Mom. See u at Xmas. And tell Aunt Bea I appreciate her suggestions on wedding favors, but we’d rather plant trees in honor of our guests.


Dear Isabelle,

How can people take home a tree? Will they be engraved?

Your father and I want to show our support for your “eco-friendly” lifestyle, so we’ve bought you and Kale a honeymoon trip to Costa Rica. It comes with a private jet, a personal tour guide and a stay at this five-star resort recently built on what used to be a wildlife refuge.

I’m booking a mother-daughter spa day for your return. All this wedding work is stressing my skin. Travel safe, darling.


Mom, No more planning worries — Kale and I got hitched in Mexico City! Crazy, right? Pix on Instagram.  <3

#spontaneouswedding  #KaleandIzzie  #YOLO


Donna DeForbes is a graphic designer, writer and the founder of Eco-Mothering, a blog that makes “going green” fun and easy for the whole family. Donna lives by the Bay in Rhode Island where she enjoys hiking, reading, zumba, wine and long walks with her husband and daughter on a pollution-free beach.

Comments from Strangers Upon Seeing My 3 Sons Out In Public This Week: An Annotated List

Comments from Strangers Upon Seeing My 3 Sons Out In Public This Week: An Annotated List

By Katy Rank Lev


You are a busy woman!” Heard 2 times, both from men, one a passerby on the sidewalk and one, the cashier at Costco, where I purchased $346 worth of diapers and string cheese. These men are right, of course. I feel busy and astounded each time it takes 17 minutes to buckle my sons into my minivan, which I also filled with gas at Costco. Without comment from bystanders.

Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” Heard from countless droves of strangers, mostly women, often in parking lots, sometimes in stores or doctors offices or museums where I am using my foot to kick open a door and loudly instructing my five-year-old to then hold the door open for me so I can back in with our stroller full of sons. Where I sometimes have to shove the commenter out of the way in order to bustle inside an elevator whose door is about to close with one of my young sons inside.

Sometimes, actually, my hands are empty despite this comment, because I’ve got the baby in a sling and the big sons are crouching to stare in wonder at particles of rock salt.

That’s a lotta boys!” Heard from one woman, shouting from the driver’s side window of the school bus she stopped in the middle of the road in order to speak to me as I pushed all three of them up the hill from the school bus stop in my very large stroller, all of us singing “Everything is Awesome.”

Do you need help getting out to your vehicle?” Heard from the blessed, blessed grocery bagger at Whole Foods, who carried my bags to the car while I carried the children. He loaded my grocery bags into the back of our minivan while I forced stiff, protesting bodies into car seats. He lingered just long enough to see my prolonged exhale as the last buckle clipped into place.

He really should be wearing gloves, or a hat. Or at the very least not pajamas.” Zero people in zero stores, even on days where the temperatures never broke double digits, which represents a 100% decrease in such comments since the arrival of the third son. Only in tallying this list did I realize what relief I feel to no longer hear comments about what my children are not wearing.

Ya tryin again for your girl?” Heard from one man in the cereal aisle of the grocery store as we both reached for the multigrain Cheerios, on sale this week. Since the moment I was visibly pregnant with my third son, I’ve been bombarded with comments about the gender distribution of our family. The streak of Y chromosomes intrigues strangers so desperately they seem unable to refrain from comment. Generally on the very edge of panic, I cannot fathom keeping another child safe, nor can I muster any sort of response.

Which one is making all that noise?” Heard from one sort-of-smiling man, working at Target, where my sons are sobbing from the mega-cart that enables me to seat and buckle all 3 of them securely even though I cannot steer around corners on our mad dash for two dozen eggs, which will last our family 4 days. They weep in stores because it takes us so long to do anything at all, and we’re always, always out of bread.

Make sure they wipe their feet.” Heard from one elderly couple selling their home, who fibbed on their listing and said their laundry room was a 4th bedroom. Our realtor tells us the space is technically a bedroom because it has both a heat vent and a door. Though the house is too small for my family of sons, I smile both because they did wipe their feet and because I can imagine them climbing happily around the wooded back yard.

You remind me of a little Russian lady counting all her monkeys in a cartoon.” Heard from one very earnest woman in the halls at school as I took census, trying desperately not to lose track of the carpool kid whose hat matches every other kid’s hat. We just made it inside before the bell, having run from our parking spot two blocks away. With a child in each arm, I feel the burn of my muscles more acutely than my confusion regarding the meaning of her observation.

You guys must be going crazy in this weather.” Heard from one woman, on the morning of the umpteenth day our rhythm was disrupted by a school delay for sub-zero temperatures. I smile and think that crazy isn’t quite the right word to describe what it’s like cooped up with these sons, who ricochet between building ships from cardboard boxes and peeing on each other in my bed.

Can I help you?” Heard from one woman, who gave up her spot behind me in line at Target when she saw my toddler sobbing because he’d spilled his popcorn, because the Chapstick was not blue. Is it possible she saw the creep of my embarrassment over the cacophony? Was it obvious I’d run out of ways to soothe him?

I drove by and saw you, with that baby strapped to you while you were getting your other boys in order, and I am straight up in awe. Praise hands!” Heard from one woman who just moved in down the street, who said so on a day I was home alone with my tiny sons for 13 hours and really needed to read it.


Katy Rank Lev is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her three feral sons inspire her work covering parenting, women’s health, and family matters. 

Quiz Alert: Are You A Terrible Mother?

Quiz Alert: Are You A Terrible Mother?

By Leslie Barnard

Terrible Mother Quiz 2

As a mother, you often find yourself feeling guilty and conflicted. You are constantly given unsolicited parenting advice from grandparents, friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers. But are you really a terrible mother? Take this quiz to find out.


1. Do you plan to breastfeed your child until he or she self-weans?

If so, you are a terrible mother. The co-dependence you are fostering will prevent your child from maturing into a healthy, independent individual and make it impossible for him or her to form satisfactory relationships throughout his or her life.

2. Do you plan to give your baby formula, exclusively or supplementally?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Breast is best. It rhymes, so it’s obviously true. Formula is worse than rat poison.

3. Do you plan to go back to work when your child is still an infant?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Children need a mother who is with them 24/7, who meets all their needs immediately and sacrifices everything for them.

4. Do you plan to stay home with your children?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Children need a mother they can look up to, one who embraces feminist values and contributes to the family financially.

5. Do you co-sleep with your child?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Your child will never be able to go to sleep without you and will not be able to attend college because co-sleeping with parents in the dorms is generally frowned upon.

6. Do you require your child to sleep in a crib in a separate room?

If so, you are a terrible mother. You have literally put your child behind bars. Those who grow accustomed to this arbitrary isolation will later be drawn into a criminal lifestyle, subconsciously seeking incarceration as a way of “going home.”

7. Do you plan to wait for your child to potty train him or herself when he or she is ready?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Your child will never, ever initiate potty training on his or her own. At best, he or she will learn to squat in the woods while other kids laugh uproariously and poke him or her with sharp sticks.

8. Do you plan to raise a “diaper-free” baby, using elimination communication to anticipate your infant’s toileting needs?

If so, you are a terrible mother. You will not be able to successfully intuit when your infant wants to pee or poop, so you will be peed on and pooped on regularly. Your hair and hands and face will smell like poop. Even after you shower. This experience will make you even more incapable of dealing with your emotions, and you will cry all the time, which will permanently scar your child. Additionally, your child will find your efforts to cue defecation by making grunting sounds both invasive and humiliating, and yet, ironically, he or she will continue to require you to provide these cues well into adulthood.

9. Do you stay close to your toddler at all times, making sure to keep him or her safe?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Your child will never learn to self-regulate or solve problems on his or her own.

10. Do you encourage your toddler to play independently?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Your child could climb up on the countertop and eat a box of detergent or set him or herself on fire, all while you recklessly diddle away the time wiping gobs of hummus off the floor.

11. Do you let your child eat birthday cake?

If so, you are a terrible mother. You are teaching your child that sugar and fat are the only means through which to recognize and celebrate meaningful milestones. Your child’s teeth will rot out of his or her head, and he or she will struggle with obesity for the rest of his or her life.

12. Do you make your child banana-cinnamon muffins as an alternative to birthday cake?

If so, you are a terrible mother. Your child is going to be ostracized by his or her peers, who will turn their noses up at this so-called birthday “treat.” In addition, your child will rebel in his or her teens by stealing twelve boxes of Sour Patch Kids from the nearest convenience store and stuffing his or her face until he or she barfs up a pile of neon blue goo.

Give yourself 1 point for each YES answer. That total is your TERRIBLE MOTHER score. If it is above 3, you are an ESPECIALLY TERRIBLE MOTHER. Congratulations!

Leslie Barnard is a fiction writer, essayist and mother of two based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices 2010 and Briar Cliff Review, among others.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

The Underwear Metamorphosis

The Underwear Metamorphosis

By Mary Dunnewold

Barbie Underwear Final w pink

When I was a girl, my mother bought me “Lollipops” underwear, the kind that come up to the navel and bag a little in the behind. My sisters and I called it “big underwear.” It came mostly in white, occasionally in pastel solids, always 100% cotton. I didn’t like big underwear much, but I didn’t realize one had choices when it came to underwear.

In practical terms, big underwear is the best kind. It doesn’t creep up, fall down, or cause panty lines. It also makes great dust rags when the seams shred and the elastic wears out.

But one morning, while painstakingly experimenting with which of the three underwear openings her legs should go into and in what order, my four-year-old, Elena, asked me, “Mommy, why don’t you have any Barbie underwear? If you had Barbie underwear, we could look the same.”

“They don’t make Barbie underwear for grown-ups, honey,” I told her, wondering if that was true.

But she was persistent. “Do you have any Elmo underwear?” “Nope.” “Dora underwear?” “Nope.” “Little Mermaid underwear?” “Nope. I have mostly plain old white underwear. But I like your fancy underwear.”

She looked perplexed.

“But Mommy, why don’t you buy some fancy underwear too? Then we could be the same, and your bottom would be happy.” She finally got her legs in the right openings and did a little underwear song and dance to celebrate.

I went to my bedroom and looked in my underwear drawer. All cotton. Mostly white. A few beiges, a few faded pinks and blues. Hard to tell what was originally an uninspiring pastel and what just turned out that way in the laundry. No trimmings.

That night in bed I asked my husband, “Would you like me better if I wore fancy underwear?” He didn’t look up from his crossword puzzle. “You’re beautiful. I like you just the way you are.” I tried harder to get his attention. “Would you like me better if I didn’t wear underwear?” “Sure. What’s a three letter word for sister?”

I lay there for the next half-hour working myself into a state, ready to believe that his lack of attention resulted directly from my years of uninspiring underwear. If I wore underwear like Scarlett Johansson’s, he would never even pick up a crossword puzzle.

I’d worn big underwear most of my life. Sure, in high school, when I was 5’8″ and weighed 120 pounds, I wore bikini underwear, like most skinny high school girls. But it was always cotton and always white or pastel. I could wear bikini underwear because there wasn’t much to cover up, and I probably thought panty lines were enticing. In fact, high school boys seemed enticed by the mere suggestion, including panty lines, that girls wore underwear. My mother was still in charge of buying bras, so I wore plain, functional models since she wielded the credit card.

Then in college I became a feminist. Being a feminist meant wearing plain cotton underwear as a political statement. Cotton was the healthiest choice; it allowed air circulation and prevented infections. And I refused to pander to the patriarchal conception of what the female form should look like or be clothed in! This meant bras were out. I wore men’s white undershirts to keep warm.

This phase lasted for a few years post-college, until I was faced with the prospect of getting a real job. Real jobs meant real clothing: pencil skirts instead of jeans; snappy jackets instead of shapeless sweaters; actual shoes. Career women are seamless and don’t sag. So when I went to the store to buy underwear, I had a new reason to buy big cotton underwear: no one would take me seriously if I had panty lines. Bras were a must, but I had to ease back into them gradually, so I bought conservative, expensive models.

A few years into my career phase, I got pregnant. Pregnant women have few underwear options. Basically big, really big, underwear. Plain cotton is best (to avoid yeast infections). Bras were the same story. Bigger than I ever imagined. The easy access panels of nursing bras were a novelty, but were intended for the wrong audience. Besides, after the baby was born, nursing pads and baby stains killed any inclinations towards sexy.

Then came early motherhood. In those days, I could hardly remember the last time I changed my underwear, let alone care what it looked like. I sometimes lapsed into the no-bra look, but mostly because I couldn’t find a decent one to put on, not to make a political statement.

But here I was. Thirty-five, kids past toddlerhood, married for over ten years, and I’d never even tried on fancy underwear. I decided to start small.

The next time I was shopping, I causally slipped a three pack of black cotton briefs into my cart. When I got home, I sent the kids out to play, then went into the bedroom to try them on. I discovered I had picked up a package labeled “low rise briefs,” not my usual full coverage affair. They rose only half way to my navel. I felt wonderfully daring. I couldn’t bring myself to wear them with my white bra, though, so I shoved them into the back of my underwear drawer and returned to my usual white.

But that night I put the black “low rise” briefs on under my flannel nightgown. I felt like they were glaringly obvious, begging for notice even under the heavy flannel. I expected my husband to immediately drop his crossword puzzle and demand to know what had possessed me. If he noticed, he didn’t comment.

A few weeks later, while the kids were at school, I went to a department store and tried on bras. Lacy bras, silk bras, push-up bras, bras that somehow made me look like I was 22 again. I kept expecting the sales clerk to politely inform me that bras for women my age were over there and point to the rack of standard issue white armor. I chose a lacy black push-up decorated with a few pearls in front. I wore it home under my sweatshirt.

The next day, I wore the entire black ensemble under my jeans and t-shirt. To my surprise, nothing happened. My mother did not call to demand an explanation. I was not expelled from the PTA. I went around all day feeling like I had a terrific secret. I was sorry to take it off and put on my flannel at bedtime.

In the next few weeks, I made a number of covert stops in lingerie departments. I discovered tap pants, camisoles, teddies, chemises; matching bras and panties in shocking colors and elaborate florals; fancy embroidery; tiny bows. I acquired a small collection and began wearing them every few days. I cleaned out the worst of the washed-out cottons and put them in the ragbag.

I felt like a new woman. For the first time in years, it seemed, I was doing something because I wanted to, because it made me feel good. Not because I had to; not because it was practical; not because someone expected me to; not because I’d always done it that way and never thought to do it differently. I began to wonder, if I could change my underwear, what else could I change?

And one morning while Elena and I were sorting laundry, I noticed her examining a pair of lavender silk briefs with lace insets and a matching bra. “Mommy, whose are these?”  she asked, eyes wide.

“Those are mine, honey.”

“Mommy. Where did you get these?”

“At the store.”

“Can I have some just like them? Your bottom must feel like dancing all day when you wear these.”

Someday, I told her, maybe she could have some just like them. But to wear underwear this fancy, you have to be really grown up.

Mary Dunnewold is an attorney and writer from Northfield, Minnesota.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

The Runaway ‘Tweeny (with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

The Runaway ‘Tweeny (with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

By Shari Simpson


Once there was a little ‘tweenager who wanted to run away. So she said to her mother, “I am running away. Because you are, like, getting on my last nerve.”

“If you run away,” said her mother, “I will run after you. Because you are my little ‘tween. And because I grew up in the ’70’s and saw that made-for-TV movie about runaways starring Eve Plumb and it ruined ‘The Brady Bunch’ for me for the rest of time. Hey, we should watch more movies together! You know, for Mommy-Daughter bonding!”

“OMG, could you be more annoying?” said the little ‘tween. “If you run after me, I’ll go and hide in my BFF Tara’s basement because her parents are way cooler than you and let Tara have a sip of real champagne on New Year’s Eve instead of sparkling cider which is for babies.”

“If you go and hide in Tara’s basement, I’ll become a lock on the basement door so that I can keep you safe,” said her mother. “Especially from people who give alcohol to minors, dear God, what in the world are Bob and Carol thinking?!”

“I said ‘a sip’! You always make a big deal out of everything!” said the little ‘tween. “If you become a lock on Tara’s basement door, I’ll totally become a bird and fly out the window to escape to, like, a tree. Or the mall.”

“If you totally become a bird, I’ll totally become a BB gun and shoot you down. It might hurt a little, but it will be for your own good, like most things in life that build character,” said her mother, “and I would only shoot you because I love you so much, you know that, right?”

“Oh, puh-leeze.” said the little ‘tween. “‘If you become a BB gun, whatever that is, do you even live in this century, I’ll become a Quest Super Bruiser Longboard skateboard under the feet of Sam Jenkins, because he is soooo hot, all the 8th grade girls literally die every time he walks by, seriously, DIE, uh, I totally can’t remember what I was saying, oh yeah, and then I’d ride away from you!”

“If you become a Super Bruised whatever you said skateboard,” said her mother, “I’ll become a crack in the sidewalk that looks like nothing until you try to ride over it, then wham! you wipe out and you’re like ‘woah, what just happened?!’, and I’m like ‘I just happened, sweetheart, your mother just happened!, and hot little Sammy Jenkins is now in traction!”

“‘Okay, you are so freaking me out right now,” said the little ‘tween. “I’m just gonna become a child genius in the Gifted and Talented program so that I can go away to college, like, three years early, and get away from you.”

“If you become a child genius in the Gifted and Talented program,” said her mother, “Well, first, I’d be so proud because I knew it, I knew you had my genes, I told your father that!, but then I’ll become a guidance counselor who would advise you to not try to grow up faster because these years are so precious. Oh, and I would refuse to give you a letter of recommendation so you’d be stuck, but only because I love you so much, you know that, right?”

Whatevs,” said the little ‘tween. “I so can’t win with you. I might as well just stay in this prison and live out my days in emo angst.”

“That works for me,” said her mother. “What do you want for snack?”

“Hot Pocket,” said the little ‘tween. “Thanks, Mommy.”

Shari Simpson was the BlogHer 2012 Voice of the Year in Humor Writing and is currently adapting the YA novel “The Swap” for the Disney Channel. She lives in Hoboken, NJ with her bemused husband and four children (two human, two pug).


A Rundown of Tonight’s In-n-Out Dining Experience, For Your Entertainment

A Rundown of Tonight’s In-n-Out Dining Experience, For Your Entertainment

By Shawnee Barton


1.  While I’m ordering, both my children disappear. I leave my card and instructions to “Just add some stuff” with a perplexed cashier. Then I fetch them out of men’s room.

2.  Dylan (my two-year-old son) runs laps around the restaurant.

3.  I stop him by enticing them both to try the ketchup pump. Charlie (my four-year-old daughter) is licking ketchup off every finger, lollipop style, within 3 pumps. So much for creative parenting.

4.  Back to the bathroom (women’s this time) to wash hands.

5.  I wrangle the kids into a booth. Charlie pretends she is drinking ketchup. It’s funny. We laugh until she accidentally spills the entire cupful down her shirt and pants.

6.  Dylan thinks Charlie’s idea of playing with food is a great new discovery. I see it in his eyes. While I am distracted with cleaning Charlie, he dumps another paper-cupful of ketchup onto the table and starts finger painting.

7.  A table of teenaged girls is looking and snickering. I think, “May you all have little devils and feel similarly defeated someday.” A sweet lady who looks like she’s had a hard life (or a bunch of kids) brings me a stack of napkins. It feels like one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.

8.  Everyone is momentarily calm and eating. I get in two bites between helping and refereeing (Dylan is in a phase where he wants all the food on the table. He doesn’t necessarily eat it. He just wants to own it). Charlie asks for a milkshake. I feel bad that her brother stole most of her dinner, so I give her my credit card. She gets in line to order. Dylan doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to play store with his sister, so he wriggles his way around my legs and out of the booth. Calm time is over, as is my dinner.

9.  Dylan grabs my card from Charlie and bolts across the restaurant, screaming this time. Before I can catch him, he tackles a “Wet Floor” sign and splats on the ground in front of two young guys who correctly guess his age. “Two, I knew it!” they say laughing. I smile, as in, “Yeah, isn’t this just hilarious!!!!”

10.  Dylan likes the spot on the floor he’s found, and he’s causing no destruction, so I let him be. Judge me if you will, but I needed a break. He begins entertaining the crowd with a series of down dogs—my own little Iyengar. A lady in line starts laughing out loud at Dylan. She apologizes. I can’t blame her. The whole thing is ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. I am judging me. The tally of crowd involvement is at 9 now.

11.  Charlie orders. The cashier looks and talks to me, even though I am 5 feet away and Charlie is standing right in front of him. It’s as if she doesn’t exist. I hate this for her and wonder if anyone has ever told him that kids are human and that most of them living in this country understand English.

12.  Plenty of milkshake drama.

13.  Dylan creates a new hobby of hiding salt packets in fake plants. When he’s bored with that, he begins a different game that I’ll call “Scale Mt. Booth.” This invites still another table into our drama since reaching the “peak” and throwing something—a spoon, a French fry, anything really—down onto that occupied table next to us is definitely the goal of the game. This, apparently, is my limit. I say, “I’m sorry,” to the saintly group, who hands me back a cold French fry instead of cursing me, and then, “Let’s go,” to my kids.

14.  Dylan takes off again while I’m trying to get our dirty-napkin-tower into the trash bin. Once the table is at a reasonable level of messy, I look up and see him releasing a parting shot—he chucks his little green Croc over the counter and into the kitchen. I run into the galley, grab it, apologize profusely (once again) to a stunned crowd, and carry him—one shoe on, one shoe off—underarm, as one would tote a squirming piglet, through the rain to the minivan.

15.  Somehow, amidst the chaos, Dylan managed to also drink Charlie’s milkshake. She understandably cries halfway home about this.

Shawnee Barton is an artist, writer, poker player and mom living in Austin, Texas. She is currently working on a book about embryos created through infertility treatment. Visit her online at

Illustration by Christine Juneau


The Physics of Parenthood

The Physics of Parenthood

By Chrissy Boylan

Quantum Theory2

Anyone need a hulking pile of gently-used parenting books? Perhaps you’d like to stack them one on top of another to make a conversation-starting side table. Or use the pages within as eco-friendly kindling at your next backyard bonfire. Hell, you can even hollow them out to use as decoys for the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy we both know you own. I don’t care. All I know is that I won’t be needing them any longer.

That’s right. After years of buying books to feed my parenting addiction, I have seen the errors of my way. I have concluded that parenting is not the linear, academic science to be studied and mastered the way parenting ‘experts’ would have us believe. Parenting is too full of inherent contradictions (“How to Discipline Your Child Without Using the Word “No!”); conflicting opinions (“Experts Advise Always/Never Allowing Kids to Play Unattended Outside); and variable factors (“What to do When Your Child Hates People”).

As a result, parenting books are no different from hotel swimming pools: to be used at your own risk with no lifeguard on duty.

Neither are children, the subject of parenting books, reliable test subjects on which to derive empirical insights. If I’ve learned anything during my tenure as a parent, it’s that children are as difficult to predict and manipulate as subatomic particles. Their behavior defies logic and is best described as random.

Therefore, in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the task in front of me—successfully helping my children cross the chasm between childhood and adulthood with my sanity at least partially intact—I have decided to toss out my parenting books and trust in quantum physics instead.

Yes, quantum physics.

Think about it—quantum physics exists solely to document the ways in which the immutable laws of our universe don’t hold true when applied to our smallest counterparts. Physicists have staked entire careers trying to prove the ways in which the behavior of smaller beings (i.e., subatomic particles and children) run wholly counter to what we know and expect from larger beings (i.e., things of discrete mass and fellow grown-ups).

If this isn’t the best metaphor for parenting since herding cats, then call me a quark and spin me around and round in a particle accelerator! And so, I am cutting the cord between me and the divisive parenting books swallowing up my psyche. I am taking a quantum leap—ha, ha—and living by the following three parenting principles:

1. It’s All Theoretical.

Quantum physics has been around for over a hundred years and yet no one, not Einstein, Planck or Bohr, has been able to prove a damn thing. Even their experiments are theoretical. So what makes me think that parenting ‘experts’ know what they’re talking about? Will eating peanuts while pregnant prevent or produce peanut allergies? Which dynamic is more important to a child’s future: nature or nurture? Why is Caillou bald? No one knows, least of all me.

2. Children’s Behavior is Totally Random.

Since my children refuse to adhere to the physical laws of our universe, I am ready to admit that any prior success I’ve had with specific parenting strategies was purely incidental. Remember that one time my child ate a green vegetable and I bragged about it on Facebook? I was so proud of myself for following the advice of experts, who advise serving eschewed vegetables more times than seemingly worthwhile. And voilà, one night when Mercury was in retrograde, my child ate a green vegetable! Yet. Seeing as how I have not yet been able to recreate this small miracle ever again, I can only now conclude it was a random occurrence, and therefore a statistical outlier.

3. I Am Both a “Good’ Parent and ‘Bad’ Parent All at the Same Time.

According to Erwin Schrödinger, and his poor cat stuck in a box, no one, including me, will be able to predict whether my children will turn out better or worse for having had me as a parent until it’s too late. They have as much chance of becoming better people from my labors as they do turning against me and all I stand for. Either way, I won’t know until they are adults themselves. Even then, the philosophical argument will remain—to what degree are my children a reflection of my parenting and not of their own choices, unique genetic material and the society in which they live?

In the end, my track record with the latest and greatest parenting craze is like my track record with any and every diet I’ve ever tried. The advertised results are not typical and definitely vary. This isn’t to say I won’t still skim the latest research, blanch at people’s brags on Facebook, and adapt my parenting approaches as my children age and grow. I will. But I won’t look for the one ‘right’ way to parent my children. I’ll be too busy having a quantum physics-fueled existential crisis along the way.

Chrissy Boylan is a writer and parent in the Washington DC area whose work has appeared in several publications including Brain, Child, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. You can find more of her work at

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Glitter and Glue: A Book Review

Glitter and Glue: A Book Review

By Rebecca Luber Sullivan

Glitter and Glue Paperback coverAn Amazon search for humor parenting books relies on the shock factor; drinking during playdates and calling whiny toddlers a-holes and letting children watch TV all day while drinking Mountain Dew out of a sippy cup. These books are a departure from the parenting books on the other extreme that put pressure on mothers to breastfeed exclusively, sleep train with military precision, and only feed kids wild raised salmon, organic berries, and quinoa. There’s something in between those extremes, which is what Kelly Corrigan recalls in her funny, yet realistic, memoir Glitter and Glue.

There are mothering memoirs and there are memoirs about mothers. The mothers I tend to read about are dramatic, glamorous, neglectful and manic: mothers of authors Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, Wendy Lawless in Chanel Bonfire and Diana Welch and Liz Welch in The Kids Are All Right. But Kelly Corrigan’s mom, Mary Corrigan, is as steady as can be, a middle class, devout Catholic, strict and serious mother. Practical, predictable and judgmental and sometimes cold, Mary Corrigan as a mom is the opposite of Greenie, Kelly’s fun loving dad, who she adoringly wrote about in her first memoir, The Middle Place. She looked at motherhood less as a joy to be relished than as a job to be done.”

“Glitter” and “Glue” refers to Mary’s description of parenthood in the Corrigan household. She was the glue and Greenie was the glitter. Even now, in the most progressive parenting dynamics, Mom is typically the one enforcing bedtime, while Dad is the fun one, wrestling and riling up the kids when they should be calmed down. (It’s maddening!) Dads can be more fun, but moms get things done. Most Moms will be able to relate.

After college in the early 90s, Kelly decided there was no way she was going to “be just another apple rotting at the base of my mother’s tree,” or the glue, and decided to leave her entry level job to travel to Australia. Plans for glittery adventure and working abroad don’t turn out like Kelly envisions, and she ends up taking a job as a live-in nanny to care for the young children of John Tanner, a recent widower. John Tanner does his best, but the kids need their mom, or a mom-like figure.

Through his grief for his wife who died from cancer months before, John Tanner tries to hold it together for Milly (who is wary of Kelly) and little Martin (who laps up affection from Kelly). Kelly realizes what these children need is the steadiness of a mother to cook meals, check homework, and drive them to school and her twentysomething self conjures up memories of her mother to help her get the Tanner family back on track as best as she can. Kelly realizes, through caring for the family, how much her mother taught her and how she needs her mother.

Turns out that every family needs some glue, even though that glue can be so judgmental that she grouses about non-serious churchgoers who just want to see who is at Mass or only show up at Easter and Christmas to show off their outfits. Mary Corrigan’s grumpy diligence as the glue of the family and no-frills attitude, often foiled by Kelly’s desire to be a fun loving young woman, are part of what makes the book as witty as it is heartfelt.

The humor in Glitter and Glue comes not just from experiences, but Corrigan’s telling of them. When Kelly decides to start feeding the Tanner family homecooked meals, she buys ground chuck on sale at the grocery store, remembering: Once or twice a month after a sale, she’d pull a block of anemic brown turds from the freezer, slap it against the Formica to break the patties apart and voila- dinner for five!

Throughout her time with the Tanner family, Kelly reflects on her relationship with her mother. When Kelly wonders who will tell Milly about her period, Kelly remembers Mary giving her the talk and asking if Kelly had any questions. I had noticed something in the Reilly master bathroom the last time I babysat… “What’s a douche?” “Oh, Kelly!” She shrieked like I’d put a centipede on her leg. “That is dis-GUS-ting!” “It is? Even Summer’s Eve?” Mary goes on to describe a douche and then exclaims, “And to think Susan Reilly is a Catholic!”

Glitter and Glue reflects on motherhood and being mothered through the eyes of a woman in her 20s, who thinks she knows everything, but realizes how much her mother really knew all along. Someday our kids will realize this, too… Hopefully all the glue and glitter will look back with humor and love together someday.

Rebecca Luber Sullivan is the mom of a middle school girl and 2 boys (elementary school and preschool-aged). She handles PR for companies in the advertising industry, and would love to do more creative writing instead of writing press releases.

How to Potty Train in ONLY 15 MONTHS (or More!)

How to Potty Train in ONLY 15 MONTHS (or More!)

By Kristen Bird

humor series


(Note: The detailed method explained in this article works best for the Type A, control-freak organized and focused mother who encourages her toddler to throw a good old-fashioned tantrum express his/her emotions effectively. Regardless of your parenting style, this method can work for you!)

After seeing the nightmare success of my potty training regime, many of my friends and neighbors asked me to detail the steps I took when potty-training my now four-year-old daughter. I hope sharing my moments when I tore my hair out insights will help you achieve the same success. You too can potty train in only 15 months! My process includes three easy steps.

Step 1: Choose the Right Time

I was fortunate enough to experience this step twice. The first time was two months after my daughter’s second birthday. We stupidly thoughtfully chose a daycare that required potty training for a barely two-year-old, so this gave us the hardship and pressure incentive and motivation I needed to freak out encourage her every time she had an accident. It certainly helped that I was shooting hormones into myself daily blossoming as a woman as we embarked on our second round of IVF.

The second time I learned about the “Right Time” concept was two months after my daughter’s third birthday. We hadn’t quite mastered the potty training yet, so I despaired decided that the next-best perfect timing to “newly-pregnant mothering” was “post-partum mothering.” We’d just welcomed new twin girls to the house. What better time to harass nurture our oldest daughter and her aversion affinity to potty training? This proved to be our perfect storm situation.

Your situation may be different, but be sure to ask yourself, “Is this the Right Time?” Some examples of the Right Time for you may be after a major move, just before taking a new job, or at the beginning of an economic recession.

Step 2: Choose the Right Place

One of my most horrific special memories of potty training was the time I refused declined to use Pull-ups while at a dinner party at a friend’s house. After listening to ridiculous well-meaning advice from family and friends, I decided that Pull-ups would unfairly stunt my child’s fifteen-month potty training experience.

It seemed other guests at the party laughed at respected my decision until one of our single friends offered to leave, drive to Walmart, and buy Pull-ups. What kind of mother did he think I was? Never. I stood my ground even after my daughter peed all over my friend’s new white Pottery Barn rug.

Again, I understand that not everyone has this kind of frightening ideal situation. Your Right Place may be at the museum, at the movie theater, or even in your car on the way to somewhere “dressy.” Just be sure that you do NOT train in the comfort of your own home. Staying on your toes is one of the keys to our fifteen-month method.

Step 3: Choose the Right Potty Training Accessories

Gone are the ancient days of potty training with a child and a toilet. Now, you have a selection of items to complicate enhance your journey from wet to dry. Here are a few of my favorites:

*Mrs. Panda (or any favorite stuffed animal): Use a special friend to help your little one inaccurately learn what it looks like to pee on the potty. These special friends are also a great way to take out your aggression remind you of your unholy special day of training after your little one is fast asleep, wearing a diaper.

*Candy and juice: What better way to punish reward yourself and your little one for attempting a new skill than to hype them up on sugar? The extra stimulant will enable them to go more often all over your couch, thus giving them even more chances to try their new talent!

*Traveling Potty Seat: These colorful seats come in all colors and never become disgustingly covered in urine or feces. Dora, Thomas, Elmo, or even the Disney Princesses. Choose the face your little one would like to defecate all over!

*Thick Cotton Panties: These thick-lined panties not only let the pee leak out the sides; they also get extra-wet, reminding you and your little one of their continued inability opportunity to fail at practice potty training.

*Potty Watch: These devices provide an obnoxious memorable tune that will replay in your dreams. Every 15, 30, 60, or 90 minutes, you can hear the potty time theme song and fight with encourage your child to use the damn potty.

If none of these accessories sound like your cup of tea, no worries. Just visit your local money-sucking baby store and peruse a variety of unhelpful accessories.

I trust you have found the potty training method I underwent with my oldest daughter filled with warnings and “do-not-attempts” insightful and encouraging. And remember, if fifteen months seems too short, feel free to add a few months here or there. Not everyone can experience success as quickly as me. I would rather poke a fork in my eye than I cannot wait to practice these tried-and-true steps with my twins in just a couple of years though we may wait until they are ten years old to begin.

Kristen Bird lives near Houston with her husband, five-year-old daughter, and two-year-old twin girls.  She teaches high school English, and her work has appeared in The Galveston County Daily News and on


Ten Types of Breastfeeding Moms on Social Media

Ten Types of Breastfeeding Moms on Social Media

By Jinny Koh



As if breastfeeding isn’t tough enough, now, thanks to social media, it is easy to feel stressed when you see perfect babies milking their perfect mommies on blogs and Instagram. To help you navigate this complicated territory, here are ten types of moms—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you should look out for so that you won’t be caught off guard when you meet them online, or off:

1. The Cow: Every circle has one. The leader of the pack, she is the object of admiration and envy, often posting photos of her pump sessions—four to five bottles of milk at one go—exclaiming, “You can do it too!” Throngs of Moms ask her for advice to increase their milk supply, and everyone wants to be her friend including you (although secretly, you wonder if those bottles are filled with cow’s milk).

2. The Hoarder: You were feeling pretty good about your milk supply until you meet this Mom who has her freezer packed to the brim with neatly slotted packets of breast milk. You try not to think about your one spare bottle sitting alone in the refrigerator as she bemoans the need to donate her stash to free up space. (Note: The Hoarder and The Coware often fast friends.)

3. The Non-Certified Doctor: Can you take acetaminophen while breastfeeding? Will eating broccoli give your baby gas? Does breast milk cause diaper rash? Whatever question you may have, this pro-breastfeeding Mom has the answer. Even if your baby is not gaining enough weight on breast milk alone, she’ll tell you to ignore your pediatrician’s advice to introduce formula. “Some doctors don’t know anything,” she quips. “Just keep on latching and the milk will come.” Who needs doctors when you have a network of experienced Moms telling you what to do, right? Right?

4. The Critic: Always the first to point out flaws in other Moms “to help them achieve their breastfeeding goals,” The Critic polices your every move. This means telling you to quit being lazy and get up in the middle of the night to pump, or don’t be vain to think about dieting while breastfeeding. Breast milk is king and you, as a Mom, should sacrifice everything in order to provide for your baby. Now off to breastfeeding boot camp, you lazy toad.

5. The Trophy Mom: Unlike most Moms who battle dark eye rings, spit-up stains and unwashed hair, she’s able to maintain her svelte figure, perfectly curled tresses and thick make-up while breastfeeding in the middle of the night. And she makes sure you, and the rest of the Internet, know it, by posting pictures of her latching her baby on the bus, at the shopping mall, at the park, and any other spot she can find.

6. The Businesswoman: This shrewd Mom can work a catalog even better than Kim Kardashian herself. Using her blog to promote her success with certain breast pumps and bottles, she is so persuasive that she can sell milk to cows. (Note: The Trophy Mom is often her spokesperson, I mean, friend).

7. The Statistician: Numbers is her game and she can shoot off facts and figures faster than you can ask questions. She loves to gather information from other Moms on the number of times a day they latch their baby, their pump output, their babies’ weight gain, just to prove that breast is best.

8. The Paranoid: Constantly needing validation from other Moms (especially from The Non-Certified Doctor), she often posts questions about anything and everything: Is my baby drinking enough? Is milk that has been refrigerated for more than 48 hours safe? My pump valve has milk residue—will it poison my baby? You try not to be affected by her fears, but even as you wash your baby’s bottles, you find yourself scrubbing each rim thrice to make sure every trace of milk is gone.

9. The Bragger: Armed with an arsenal of photos to show off her baby’s chubby cheeks and rolls of fat, this Mom loves to say, “This is what breast milk does and I’m so happy I stuck to it!” To prove her point, she declares that a recent visit to the pediatrician showed that her baby had jumped the charts, weighing at an impressive 90thpercentile (a piece of information immediately documented by The Statistician for future reference).

10. The Melancholic: Often the one to garner the most comments and encouragement from others, this Mom is plagued by a host of breastfeeding problems: blocked ducts, mastitis, unsupportive husband, invasive in-laws, fussy baby. As much as your heart goes out to her, you can’t help but feel like a million bucks after listening to her. At least you are doing something right.


Jinny Koh is a full-time mother and part-time entertainer to baby Ariel. When she is not busy changing nappies, she can be found writing. Her work has appeared in The Conium Review, Role Reboot, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and FORTH Magazine, among others. 


The Continuing Disintegration of My Mind

The Continuing Disintegration of My Mind

By Carrie Friedman


Flecks of my brain are starting to chip off like old paint. Is this just part of getting older, or what happens when one has a two year old and a one year old.


I threw a bag of trash into the washing machine last week. I didn’t realize it until after I’d poured in the Tide. Flecks of my brain are starting to chip off like old paint. Is this just part of getting older, or what happens when one has a two year old and a one year old and, thus, feeds one’s brain a steady diet of Sesame Street and Peppa Pig, with no time to dine on the newspaper or that Meg Wolitzer book from last year that’s been collecting dust since it was preordered on Amazon? I can’t be certain why, exactly, I’m losing it, but I am and I don’t like it one damn bit. I am becoming one of THOSE women—the kind who putters around instead of walking with purpose. The kind who constantly tells you to remind her to do something, or wanders into rooms and stands there, lost, asking aloud: “Why did I come in here?”

My husband feebly tries to make me feel better about my brain erosion. He has to lie to me and say it’s endearing because he’s married to me. He took that vow. No one wants to be married to a putterer or dodderer. No one finds this attractive, especially when the dodderer in question is a mere 37 years old.

But it’s getting worse: For a whole day I walked around thinking the late night comedian’s name was GEORGE Letterman because I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember his real name.

“I think I have a brain tumor,” I told my husband.

“No, you’re just tired,” he assured me, adding, “I still can’t think of the name of that thing that floats—”

“A floatation device?” I volunteered.



“No. It’s kind of like a tent?” he said.

“A boat?”

“No. It’s made out of the same material as a tent.”

After TEN MORE MINUTES of this, we finally arrived at the word Raft.

Fucking raft.

If we are going down, at least we are going down together, on our own fucking raft.

I once had a beautiful mind (not a Beautiful Mind, mind you). It was full of interesting nooks and crannies, fabulous contradictions: the same brain that stored memorized poetry and Chaucer (in Old English, obvs) also knew ALL the words to Notorious B.I.G.’s final album (may he rest in peace) and remembered every single phone number I’ve ever had. Once upon a time, I could calculate tips for waiters, think of witty comebacks on the spot, recite Annie Hall from start to finish.

Now, not so much.

I asked my husband this morning: “What’s 9 times 7?”

There are two things that make this question unacceptable:

1. I tested out of AP Calculus in high school, then CHOSE to take more math in college because I LIKED IT SO MUCH AND WAS SO GOOD AT IT.

2. I can’t blame fatigue anymore! Our children each sleep an incredible 12 hours a night! Uninterrupted! (To be clear, I am not upset about this. Only disappointed I can’t blame them for my shortcomings.)

Mama don’t do math and Mama don’t speak so good no more. Yesterday, while observing my daughters being nice to each other, I said: “Good sistering, girls!”


There are other examples too. Not neologisms that I am cleverly spouting off, but further evidence that I am not who I used to be. Here are other words I’ve unintentionally made up (and what I meant):

-Revisement (revision)

-Upsetion (anger)

-RandPauly (adjective to describe Tea Party republicans)

It’s a terrifying new frontier, this. Next up, no doubt: a Fanny pack and Med-Alert jewelry.

Now where was I going with this?


When she IS able to write in complete sentences, Carrie Friedman’s latest project is the blog What I DIDN’T Expect When I Was ExpectingShe has two small children, a couple of pets, and one awesome husband.

On Suitable Punishments for Your Child Other Than Murder

On Suitable Punishments for Your Child Other Than Murder

By Stacey Gill



Don’t hassle me. I already have kids for that.


I’m writing this in desperation, in the hopes that I may glean some advice from the veteran mothers out there who have struggled and come through similar hardships, possibly even find an answer to a very troublesome question, one that has plagued me for years. This question has come into particularly sharp focus again recently, and I thought others in the wake of a lengthy and trying spring break may be grappling with the very same issue. My hope is that upon open discussion we will share our experiences and, ultimately, learn from other another, finally solving how best to handle this most difficult of situations. One in which you might want to murder one of your offspring.

I’m confiding in you (and Facebook) because I’m at a complete loss. I have no words for the rage-fueled frustration I feel at the hands of my children. I did, however, have many, many words on Facebook the other day, and since I have no intentions of writing them all over again in a clear, concise, coherent post, I’m just going to transcribe my Facebook exchange here. Don’t hassle me. I already have kids for that.

“What do you do when your kid swears all spring break long he doesn’t have homework then on the first day back to school you get a note from the teacher saying he didn’t do his homework?”

It was a cry for help, I’ll admit. I really didn’t want to have to kill my son. I was hoping for other feasible solutions to this vexing and chronic problem. And the people of Facebook had some mighty fine suggestions.

“First,” my friend, Erica, wrote, “the Xbox controllers go in the trunk of my car.” Wait. What? Trunk of the car? Like a mob hit? She continued, “The cell phone gets a new lock number that he doesn’t know, and I hide the remotes for the TV/cable box.” That ought to do it.

“We got the same call today,” she added. Oh, thank God.

I had considered the X-box. It’s my go-to toy, and I explained I was going to take it away, but, really, I blame my husband. He should know better than to take my son’s word for it.

I should probably note my husband posed the homework question to our son around 11:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, an hour before guests were due to arrive. As I stood at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables, I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and continued on with the prep work. I figured I’d check his assignment book later that evening, but it was a long day at the end of a long week at the end of a long life of kids bouncing off the walls for exactly 11 years straight, and I forgot.

Erica wasn’t done though. She had much more to say. “I never check grades online. I never even registered to have access.” Never even registered? I pondered in wide-eye wonder. I didn’t know you could do such a thing. Erica, did you ever know that you are my hero? You are everything I wish I could be.

Erica continued. “My stance is simple. He gets the grade he earned. I won’t intercede on his behalf. If he fails, it’s on him, and then he’s REALLY in trouble.” Oh, man, I wouldn’t want to be in that house when that goes down.

But, Erica, was onto something. Because, really, I like nothing better than swiping that Xbox control right out of my son’s unsuspecting hands when he’s incurred an infraction. Still, I’m telling you when I picked him up from school that day and saw the sad look on his little face from the hour-long test prep session he just endured following a long day of school, and I was driving him straight home to meet with the math tutor for an hour, I just couldn’t do it. I thought the Xbox penalty might push him over the edge. It could crush him because nothing, NOTHING, is more devastating to that kid than losing his Xbox. It’s pretty much the only thing he has to live for, and, I thought, 11 might be a little too young to break a person.

While my son certainly can be maddening, he’s genuinely a good kid. When he makes mistakes, they’re relatively honest ones. I know it may not seem like it in this case, but it’s true. When you ask him something like, “Do you have homework?” he checks with his brain and gives the first response that pops up. He’s not lying, per se, it’s just that his brain immediately thought “no,” and that’s what he went with. And being a kid, he doesn’t feel the need to check his backpack or assignment book or anything that might actually provide him with the correct answer.

Even on this account Erica weighed in with some solid advice. The whole problem, she noted, might stem from an innocent mistake on my part, one with an easy solution. Perhaps I was posing the wrong question. Perhaps asking when they will be doing their homework as opposed to if they have homework would be more productive. With just a slight alteration I could sidestep the whole tantalizing opportunity for deception and lies.

Good thinking, Erica.

So for now he gets to keep Xbox, but he’s sure to mess up again, and then I’ll be ready.

What would you do? Take away the Xbox? Confiscate all the Easter candy? Kill your kids? What?

Stacey Gill is the mastermind behind the humor blog, One Funny Motha, and co-author of the upcoming parenting humor anthology, I Still Just Want to Pee Alone.  Her work has appeared on such sites as The Huffington Post, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Mom365 and Mommyish. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

A Letter To My Children’s Future Therapist

A Letter To My Children’s Future Therapist

By Emily Nelms



Dear Future Therapist to my Son(s):

My name is Emily Nelms, and I am (insert either or worst case scenario, both children’s names here) mother. I understand that my son(s) has requested your therapeutic services, and feel it’s important that we get to know each other. Truthfully, I don’t expect our paths to cross for at least another 15 years. After all, my children are only eight and five years old, which means I have years of mistakes ahead before I screw them up badly enough to need your aid. So why take the time to write this letter now, long before its expected delivery? Well, as a mother with an additional full-time job outside the home, I am sure you can appreciate the need to scratch this inevitable task off of my “to do” list.

First, I want to thank you for counseling my child(ren) on what I am sure is a multitude of issues easily blamed on me. For what it’s worth Doctor, I readily admit that I was far from perfect. I wish I had been the type of mother who had it all together. The type that never let her children go to bed without brushing their teeth, took the time to create chore charts or remembered to hide the vegetables in the brownie mix. But sadly, that was not who I was. Instead, I was the mom who had a tidal wave of Sippy Cups fall to the ground every time she opened her car door. There was a lingering aroma of grape jelly that followed me, and I was surrounded, inexplicably, by the constant presence of cheese puff powder. So obviously, there was some room for improvement.

You see Doctor, despite having a supportive husband and years to plan, I just wasn’t prepared for how difficult this would be. What can I say? Exhaustion took over. Maybe it was all the time spent watching the same Disney movie over and over until I could recite every line. Or maybe it was the constant cleaning up of poop (and not necessarily in diapers). Whatever it was, motherhood took its toll. Do you have any idea how agonizing work heels are after having your feet impaled with the Legos scattered across previously scratch-free hardwood floors? Those unnaturally tiny torture devices are particularly painful when they take their aim in the middle of the night as you navigate your way through a dark house to comfort a crying child. And to be clear, all of this excitement was typical of a single evening.

Often, the evening before an important meeting at work was planned, or a big presentation was due, cementing my struggle to maintain the proper energy levels to get through either the next day. Although, if I’m honest, the searing foot pain did help to counteract the lack of sleep, creating an illusion of alertness in front of my coworkers. But my perpetual tiredness ultimately hit levels that not even my addiction to Red Bull could overcome. My work and home life became completely intertwined, with no relief from either. There was just too much to do, and there was not enough time to do any of it very well. My business suits always bore the stains of the goodbye morning hug ritual that I shared with my children before rushing out the door. I’m not entirely sure what caused these stains, but I choose to believe that it was remnants of soap left behind from when my kids washed their hands. It’s important to hold on to positive thoughts such as these. It was not an uncommon occurrence to reach for my Blackberry in a meeting, and pull out my kids Leapfrog instead. And then there was the time inclement weather caused the roads and schools to close, forcing the week long physical coexistence of my work and home lives, a disaster in the making. My fears were realized around midweek when my youngest son picked up the other end of a work dedicated phone line that I mistakenly thought I had put on mute. He loudly introduced himself to a meeting full of senior level executives, being sure to use both his first and last names so that no one could mistake whose child had hijacked the call. He was able to get his age out too before I ripped the phone cord out of the wall and rejoined the meeting via my cell phone.

So you see Doctor, there are two sides to every story. I mean, can you really blame me if, on occasion, I took the easier path in rearing my children? There were times when all I could do was plead with my boys, tearing up behind my already red-lined eyes to just sit quietly and watch TV, when I probably should have been reading to them instead. And yes, there was probably a time or two that I sent them to school with a dose of Tylenol to mask a low-grade fever. Although, even I must concede that the peanut butter cracker and popcorn was a poor dinner choice, even with the supplemental Flintstone vitamins. But how can I convince you how necessary it all was? I needed one, just one moment of calm and silence. Just a few seconds where someone wasn’t asking me to do something, fix something, or be somewhere. One glorious, beautiful minute of serenity before the next chaotic wave of life crashed down around me.

Now, I realize how all of this must sound to you. It’s not difficult for me to picture the disapproving look on your face as you read these words. How can it be, you wonder, that an educated, gainfully employed adult allowed her life to become so disordered? How could she lose control of her well-being, and at times her sanity just because there was a lot to do? Why wasn’t she more prepared? And I don’t know what to say except, I tried. Truly I did, and I hope I haven’t messed them up too badly. But, of course, you’ll be the judge of that.

All that said Doctor, I am sure you will agree that I should be allowed to present a defense for my actions or inactions surrounding any childhood grievances my son(s) may choose to bemoan. And it is to that end that I expect that this is only the first of many letters I will need to write through the coming years to ensure you have all the relevant facts. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. And if it’s not too much trouble, could you remind my child(ren) how much I love him/them and that I never stopped trying to be a better parent. Oh, and please discourage any ideas to write a tell-all book.

Emily Nelms lives with her husband and two sons in Mooresville, NC.  The stress of her career in the Financial Services industry contributes to her insomnia, which allows her the time to write. Follow her on Twitter @esnelms.

Photo by Scott Boruchov

Homeschool U

Homeschool U

unnamed-5Hey Moms and Dads! Overwhelmed by the amount of glossy materials your high schoolers are receiving daily, begging them to apply to schools they can’t get into and you can’t afford? Pulling your hair out over FAFSA forms more complicated than the Mars Rover assembly instructions?

There’s an easier way: Homeschool U.

In a single weekend, using tools you have in your basement and bull-slinging skills you honed during your own days as a liberal arts undergrad, you can transform your student’s humble childhood home into an institute of higher learning, and upgrade your status from hapless, penniless parent to Assistant Dean of Student Life.

Don’t wait—get “early action” on the domestic renovation that can save you $55,000 a year, minus the upfront investment in a freestanding keg cooler.

Kitchen = “Dining Services”

Install a swipe-card reader, and you’re ready to start staging the same delicious, nutritious, culturally authentic dining experience touted by the top colleges for a fraction of the board bill. Their food is “just like home-cooked,” yours actually is home-cooked. They tout sustainability; you serve the most sustainable meal on the planet—leftovers. Their freshmen pack on 15 lbs., your kitchen comes complete with a Nutrition Coach unafraid to point out the rising muffin top or burgeoning “one pack” on the student body.

Family room = Student Union

Here beats the social heart of Homeschool U, the place where students can kick back, stream Family Guy and scarf Bacon Ranch Pringles while Skyping with their dorm-bound buddies—just like real college. For added authenticity, set up a card table stacked with pamphlets urging Homeschool U students to take back the night, confront their gender-normative prejudices or up their carbon awareness. And unlike real campus unions, you’re free to serve beer—at the for-profit price of $3 per Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Living room = “Library”

Academics don’t take a back seat at Homeschool U—they take the couch. Here, in the living room-turned-library, students are free to study the majors you and your partner pursued in decades past, using the same classic texts (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Women’s Room, and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, the latter in paperback with its cover ripped off for added authenticity). Engage the restless mind of your Homeschool U student with 24-hour access to Google, YouTube and MythBusters reruns on cable; upperclassmen wishing to pursue a more aggressive course of study should be encouraged to friend Drew Gilpin Faust on Facebook or follow Nate Silver on Twitter.

Basement = “Laundry services”

A web cam and debit-card reader are all you need to transform your washer-dryer from cost center to revenue generator. No more hauling baskets of stinky workout wear or Victoria’s Secret hand-washables to the musty depths; simply Tweet “#wshr1nowfree” to your student anytime after 4 on a Sunday afternoon to get your for-profit laundry business rolling. When students get desperate, Just Like Mom’s wash-dry-fold service correctly sorts their clean wardrobe to the proper dresser drawer, just like in the old days, for $15 a basket (cash only, in advance).

Mom = “Resident Assistant”

Before, you were the cook, the carpooler, the signer of permission slips, funder of shopping excursions, supplier of soccer snacks—in short, the mom, lowliest of the socially acceptable, bottom of the fashion food chain, recipient of eyerolls uncountable. Now you’re the Resident Assistant, the knowledgeable “big sister” on campus with the self-confidently retro wardrobe and the frank talk about HPV vaccines, incipient eating disorders, and why hooking up with that loafers-no-socks risk management major is a bad idea.

Dad = “Director, Career Services”

As the father of the household, your pleas to cover up a little more, come home a little earlier and think a little more carefully about that Francophone Studies major fell on deaf ears. As Director of Career Services, you wield a bit more power—namely, a LinkedIn profile chockablock with contacts for unpaid internships and a resume replete with past favors ready to call in for that first job post-graduation. If that doesn’t hold your scholars’ attention, they might dedicate themselves to Homeschool U’s motto—Lux, Veritas, Virtus, Verizon, or Light, Truth, Courage, and unlimited texting on the family plan—to graduation and beyond.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Labor Pains

Labor Pains

By Sharon K. Trumpy

appleIn retrospect, I got a little out of control with the idea. Okay, a lot out of control. It’s like this. Have you ever bought a label-maker? You thought you’d label those bins of seasonal clothing in the basement. Pants, 2T. But soon you’re labeling everything. Light switches, kitchen cabinets, canisters of flour. Suddenly labeling seems like the answer to everything.

That’s how it was for Me on Day Six. I’d been tinkering with reproduction since Day Three, when I’d created the seed-bearing plant. But by Day Six, I was tired. When I got to the rabbit, I was just looking for a shortcut. Internal sexual reproduction seemed like the answer. “I can spend eternity creating rabbits,” I thought, “or create a self- perpetuating rabbit and take a day off, like, TOMORROW.”

Easy choice. And when I saw how successful the technique was—the rabbits took to it right away—I started using it on every animal. When I got to man, I was drunk with success. “You know what you need?” I said to him, “A woman. Made in My own likeness.”

Oh, you thought Adam was made in My own likeness? Probably because of the “God the Father” thing. It’s my pen name. I’m no fool—male authors sell more books.

So I made Eve, put ’em both in the Garden, and took a day of rest. Which I’d need, since the humans turned out to cause Me many a sleepless night.

I was proud of them. But they were also … challenging. Spirited. Spunky. No. They were self-absorbed, demanding, and unappreciative. I’d spent half of creation making edibles, apparently for nothing. “Ewww, what’s that green thing?” whined Adam.

“It’s a pear,” I answered.

“I don’t like pears.” Same for peaches, strawberries, peppers, mushrooms. Didn’t taste them, just insisted he didn’t like them.

“Fine then,” I replied, “I guess you’ll be hungry.”

Eve, however, tried everything. A bite of banana, a nibble of walnut. She actually licked a lettuce leaf and dropped it, uneaten, to grab a nearby pineapple. I tried being nice. “Sweetie, you need to finish that lettuce before you …”

“Yuck!” She spit out a mouthful of the pineapple’s prickly outer skin and headed for the apple tree.

“Hold up!” I said, “You can’t eat that one.” Eve gave me a smirk and reached for an apple. “If you eat it, you’ll … die.”

“I’ll DIE?” she gasped. “For real?”

“Uh, yeah,” I replied. “You can eat anything except that because … you’ll die.”

Oh, don’t act so shocked. Remember when your three-year-old threw a tantrum in the grocery store and you hissed that he’d never get ice cream again? You thought no one heard you. But I did.

That’s how I felt when Eve reached for the apple. I couldn’t let her mess up that tree because, well, this is embarrassing, but I was thinking of testing a prototype—apple trees that reproduce like animals. Not exactly like animals but I don’t want to get into details. Trade secrets. Plus, tree penis talk is not for the faint of heart.

Point being, Eve knew not to eat the apples. When I found her hiding with Adam, I knew the score immediately. I was fuming, but I acted casual, like you might when you spot your potty-training toddler straining and red-faced behind the living room sofa. You know what she’s up to but you’re like, “Hey kiddo, whatcha doing back there?” That was Me. “Hey, Adam. Hey, Eve. Whatcha doing behind the boxwood shrub?”

Adam cracked on the spot, “We ate the apples!” he sobbed. “We did! I wasn’t going to—they looked gross—but Eve made me!”

Eve was like, “It was the serpent!” Well, Eve may have been born yesterday, but I wasn’t.

I probably should have scrapped the whole human race at that point—it would have saved Me the trouble of that flood—but I was too angry to see straight. I’m ashamed to admit it, but Eve’s punishment was payback. Honest to Me, eye-for-an-eye sort of stuff. Eve had left Me so stressed out that instead of experimenting with sexual reproduction, I started experimenting with narcotics. And I was going to make sure that sexual reproduction left her wishing for some pain relief too.

Brain, Child (Spring 2012)


A Real Mom’s Resume

A Real Mom’s Resume

canstockphoto5572533By Mandy B. Fernandez

I have been both a stay-at-home mom and a work-outside-the-home mom. During my at-home stint, I was asked by others, “So, what do you do for a living?” When I answered, “I’m a mom,” I was often faced with sympathetic looks or simply dismissed.

Upon reentering the workforce and having to explain maternal gaps in my employment, I dreaded explaining my family priorities to a new company. Didn’t the hiring official know what I had endured just to be on time for the meeting?

After one particularly grueling interview process, I came home and completely re-wrote my resume to reflect what I really wanted to say about the work of being a mom. I grant any mother out there permission to borrow it. Please feel free to hand out the below document to your future employer or to the wise guy who asks what you do all day.

A Real Mom’s Resume

(Insert Your Name
And Address Here)
Phone: It is out of order, my kid threw the device in the toilet

· Extremely organized since I manage two children, a husband, this household and a crazy pet
· Highly resourceful when it comes to restraining myself from pulling my hair out each and every day
· Dedicated to excellence in bringing up fine children (forget that incident where kid number one pulled that lady’s pants down, will you?)
· Possesses a positive mental attitude (for at least five minutes a day when I lock myself in the bathroom)
· Willing to learn and ready for increased responsibility, training and education (I’ve mastered the art of saying “no” under extreme manipulation and regularly manage a borderline dysfunctional family)
Goal: To work for an organization that allows me to escape my world and pretend I’m 22 years old, single and fifteen pounds lighter.

Technical Skills:
· Wipe butts
· Talk on the phone, burn dinner and help with homework all at the same time
· Read and do the voices of all animals in a book
· Type while completely ignoring my children
· Operate heavy machinery and build things (Have you seen the toys these days and the engineering degree you need to put them together?)

· Degree in Early Childhood Education (okay, not really but I’m raising two small children who haven’t killed each other. Shouldn’t that count for something?)

October 2007 – Present: Position of Overworked, Underappreciated Mother

· Manage all personal affairs of the humans that came from my never-region
· Coordinate meals, teeth-brushing, illnesses, meltdowns, and bedtime stories
· Notify upper management (grandparents) when I absolutely need a break from the above listed items
· Record the number of daily tantrums for historical purposes (to throw it back in my children’s faces someday)
· Manage records retention program (throw out old artwork, doctors’ bills and expired coupons)
· Manage travel accounts and expense reports (trips to the grocery store, children’s museum, coffee shop, bookstore, etc.)
· Update filing system (photos of children that haven’t been updated in two years!)
· Coordinate all slobber and snot removal in the house, for kids and dog
· Supervise the details of all holidays, birthday parties and all the shopping that goes along with those events (except for Thanksgiving since I had a meltdown after the turkey fell apart and I burned the pumpkin bread)
· Balance checkbook and organize finances (eating only cheese and crackers until the next paycheck)
· Coordinate occasional opportunities to have a date with my husband (never mind find time for myself)
· Memorize cult classics known as Sesame Street, Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and every Disney film known to man (what’s an adult movie?)
· Nurse every bruise, scrape, cut and fall that my children incur in my presence
· Defend the dark arts—monsters, thunderstorms and imaginary creatures that scare us
· You name it, I do it. Now do you really think you could hire someone else that would do a better job than me?

References: I have them. They’re just smeared with peanut butter and jelly right now so I can’t clearly make out the names and numbers.
I’ll look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks for the consideration.


Mandy B. Fernandez is a freelance writer living in Pensacola, Florida with her husband and two children. She writes creatively and professionally on topics such as education, business, creative arts, health, family life, parenting and natural foods. You can learn more about her at

Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned

Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned

By Asha Jameson

It’s been eight thousand, three hundred, and ninety-five days since my last confession. I have judged my neighbor. Really, I judged moms and dads on how they parent before being in their shoes. And I want to apologize.

I’m so sorry I passed judgment on you, (now my fellow) parents. Before I had a child, I had no idea. I had no idea what you were going through, existing with a new human being in your lives. I had no idea what it meant to be responsible for a tiny living thing. I had no idea that having a baby could throw your expectations 180 degrees from where you thought they’d be.

Hypothetically, I knew life was tough and at times, chaotic. But, what I didn’t understand is that you were spending every minute, every moment, making sure he was ok. I didn’t ‘get’ that you were learning a new human being, and were completely absorbed in understanding him and responding to his needs promptly and effectively. I had no idea how hard it was to simply get through the day! Even as a woman with siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews, I judged you based on my own assumptions about what parenting is, and what kind of parent I knew I would be.

What kind of parent was that, you ask? Well, I didn’t really know. But, for example, I just knew things like… “I would never be one of those parents who had a kid with crusty stuff all over its face.” How hard could it be to keep your baby clean? My kid was always going to be clean and utterly adorable.


What a load of horse#$%*. Anyone who has attempted to clean pureed carrots out of an active and squirming 9-month-old’s nose when they are rushing to get out of the house to make it to work knows that sometimes, frankly, it just isn’t going to happen. So, again, to all the parents of crusty kids…I’m sorry.

I also knew “I would never be one of those parents who sat in the back seat of the car with the baby while the other parent drove.” No way. That baby was coming along with us. We’re the parents and we sit in front.

Oh really? Well, after a couple car trips filled with blood-curdling screams and the honest belief that she could possibly be dying back there, I changed my mind real quick. So, I apologize for not realizing that when you have a brand new baby, this is not a choice you make—to cater needlessly to your baby and choose them over your spouse. This was not a choice, it was just reality. I get it now. I’m sorry.


Finally, I was absolutely sure “I would never be one of those mothers who happily left their kid behind and headed back into the workplace with vigor.” Being a mother was going to be the end-all, be-all. And work, though necessary to pay the bills, would pale in comparison to being the loving, impeccable mother I knew I would be.

It took me a long time to realize how grateful I was to go back to work. How the car ride by myself in the morning grounded me. How the solo decision about where to have lunch excited me. How I could finally relax because someone else was in charge of making sure she was ok. And, I’m a better mother because of it.


So, I apologize. I’m sorry I judged the parents who have walked before me. I will take any penance you want to give me, except for listening to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ fifty times.


Asha Jameson is an attorney who lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and 9-month-old baby girl, Clover. She writes about balancing work and family life for the blog,, under the pseudonym “Hope.”

Home Health Hazards

Home Health Hazards

By Heather Holt Totty

Osha_big_fnYou have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was enacted to prevent workers from being killed or seriously harmed at work.

If you think your job is unsafe and you want to ask for an inspection, please fill out the form below.

Describe briefly the hazards(s) you believe exist:

I am writing to request an inspection of my work conditions. In reviewing your standards, it has become abundantly obvious that my work environment poses a significant health hazard on a daily basis. Here are a few of the standards that are being violated:

1910.22 – Housekeeping

This standard states that all work places “shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.” There is nothing clean or orderly about my work environment. I am now looking into the main work space (known by some as the “living room”) and can see no more than three, one-foot-square patches of carpeting beneath all the strewn toys, clothes, and dissected parts of old electronic equipment. As for sanitary conditions. Well, I’m quite sure that the piece of toast that the baby just fished out from under the sofa and stuck in his mouth was from Sunday egg and toast day. Today is Thursday.

1910.34 – 1910.39 – Exit Routes for Emergencies

What exactly constitutes an emergency? My 3-year-old seems to think that running out of Goldfish Crackers is a capital offense. If we did have to get out the door in a timely manner (and this, of course, would mean at least some of us wouldn’t have our pants on), I would have to fall back on that one track meet I participated in a lifetime ago (before realizing that running, jumping, and hurtling weren’t my strengths) to navigate a path to the front door.

1910.95 – Occupational Noise Exposure Protection against the effects of noise exposure shall be provided when the sound levels exceed those shown in Table G-16.

OK, so I’m not an engineer and I don’t really understand what that table is trying to demonstrate, but I’m quite sure that the whining, screaming, and crying in my workplace reach levels that put your wimpy little line chart to shame.

1910.133 – Eye and Face Protection

This standard states I need to have protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, etc. The particles that go flying around here would astound a particle physicist. I’m talking oatmeal, applesauce with minced kale, sour milk shaken and ejected from a sippy cup dug out from under the sofa (notice a theme here?). Don’t even get me started on the recent bout with explosive diarrhea. Then, this morning, I was lying on the bed after breakfast lifting the baby up into the air, singing “Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen” (because, among my myriad duties here, one is entertainer). My mouth was gaping open as I sang the word “fly!” And, don’t you know it, that’s when the baby decided to lose his breakfast. In my mouth. And I swallowed. I’m here to tell you that regurgitated oatmeal, yogurt, and banana mush doesn’t taste half as good as you might think.

1910.141 – Toilet Facilities

While there is a bathroom on the premises, I don’t believe the spirit of the law is being honored here. For one thing, there certainly are “unreasonable restrictions” imposed on my use of the facilities. I hardly ever use the bathroom uninterrupted and am usually accompanied for my most intimate functions. Several times while working in the field, I’ve been denied use of the facilities altogether. The baby demands to be nursed, the toddler refuses to leave the playground and all the while I just have to hold it in. I confess, I’ve taken matters into my own hands on a number of occasions. Let’s just say, that portable potty in the minivan isn’t just being used by the kids.

I could go on citing the code violations but am running out of space on this form. (I hope it’s all right that I’ve written in the margins and on the back.) I understand that OSHA has neither researched nor issued standards requiring that workers be permitted lunch and rest breaks. Well, if you do get around to that, I’ll have a number of other complaints to file. I work all hours of the day and am frequently woken up in the middle of the night. Lunch (as well as breakfast and dinner) is usually eaten standing up, or at the very least with someone crawling all over me.

Oh, and did I mention that I don’t get paid? Please dispatch an inspector ASAP. This place is run by tyrants!

Heather Holt Totty is a freelance writer who likes to craft anything from grant applications to magazine articles to children’s stories. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two young sons. She can be found online at


Brain, Child (Summer 2013)

Photo Credit:

Excerpt: Mama Gone Geek

Excerpt: Mama Gone Geek

MamaGoneGeekThis is a sponsored excerpt from Lynn Brunelle’s  Mama Gone Geek: Calling on my Inner Science Nerd to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Parenthood.

Chapter 25

Sucking the Bounce

I can’t jump on the trampoline with my kids anymore.

Hell, I know it’s not even safe to let them do it in the first place; but there it is. I think the plusses outweigh the minuses.

Our trampoline, also known as a huge “attractive nuisance,” sits in the backyard right next to the awesome zip line Keith put in when he turned fifty. (Is there a correlation? Maybe.) Anyway, the trampoline has enabled my guys (and myself) to bounce-bounce-bounce in the loveliest of ways. It’s just wonderful to use that potential energy and transfer of energy to get so high in the air. God bless you, Isaac Newton!

“Mommy, Mommy, bounce with us, PLEASE!” Kai and Leo plead in tandem.

At first I thought it was because they just loved being with me and playing together. I cherish these moments, because as they get older, I know it’s only a matter of time before they won’t be able to handle the embarrassment of seeing their mother on the trampoline.

“Of course!” I say. No matter what I was doing, I would drop it and bounce. It’s fun! And not without side benefits. My aerobic capacity has increased, and my legs are downright steely.

It took me a while to realize what was really going on.

Leo’s agenda was to perfect his flips, twists, and other acrobatics. My job was to sit on the trampoline and watch him twist and spin through the air and then attempt my own version of “flipping,” which was a baby roll. Sad, but elegant in its way. Leo utilized my efforts as a benchmark of comparison to which his own stunts reflected like gold.

Anyone would look like an Olympian next to me. I was happy to serve my role.

While Leo perfected his gymnastics and his confidence, Kai was working some serious physics.


“Yes, Honey?”

“How does the trampoline make me bounce so high?”

“How do you think it might work?”

“I bounce down and it bounces me back up?”

“Exactly. Look, there’s a frame made of metal and all these springs. Then there’s the stretchy fabric. That’s a trampoline. Bounce down on it and you are loading this thing with energy. The springs stretch out and are loaded with power. When they snap back, they pull the fabric tight, and all the energy you put in with your jump flings you right back into the air.”

“So a big bounce makes me fly higher?”


“And the more I weigh, the bigger the bounce?”

“Yup. The harder you push down on the trampoline, the more energy is stored, the more powerful the snap back will be that will send you soaring through the air—”

“Come on Mom, BOUNCE!”

We did; but suddenly I was no longer sailing joyfully into the air. I was bouncing and working hard, but getting no lift. Kai, on the other hand, was flying higher than ever. He was figuring out how to jump at the exact spot and time to suck the energy from my considerable bounce and use it to fling himself sky high.

It was brilliant and exciting. It was also physically deflating and exhausting for me. My jumps were no longer high flying, but Kai’s were off the charts. We would go on like that for a time, and then I would collapse in a heap on the trampoline. Kai would join me and we’d look up into the trees overhead. One of us having sucked the bounce, the other sucking wind.

“I go SOOO high when I bounce with you!”

“Yup.” Pant. Pant. “Technically, the entire total of your energy is made up of the moving energy called kinetic energy plus the stored-in-the-springs energy—your potential energy.”

I may make a huge bounce and only be capable of a baby roll, but I could still pull my weight with science at least!

“Mommy, you have a LOT of stored energy!”

What mother wouldn’t love to hear that?

“Thanks, Honey.”

Kai was up and bouncing. Ready to make more experiments.

The fact that Kai used my energy to fly higher was a metaphor I could understand. It was beautiful in its way, but kind of frustrating. I still wanted the air.

Hell, I needed the air at that moment. I lay flat on the trampoline as Kai bounced. I breathed deeply. Still gasping. It was all I could do to keep up with my boys, but to launch them to new heights was exhausting my resources.

I gazed up into the air. It was late summer. The light slanted through the pine trees and the air itself with dotted with dandelion fluff, tree fuzz, and various tiny seeds and spores. It dawned on me that this trampoline dance of ours was more than just a metaphor for the energy that we put into parenting, it was a symbol for the nature of all things. Parents of all sorts stand up to launch their offspring—from the top of the heap right down to the bottom dwellers—as best they can into the world. It wasn’t just me. It was the throbbing life on the planet, all doing the same thing.

Ponder, as I did prone on the trampoline, the microscopic dung-loving fungi (called coprophilous—if you must know). It’s not an elegant job they provide but a necessary one. If not for microbes like these, we’d be up to our eyeballs in cow dung, horse dung, llama dung, and any other array of friendly herbivore dung. Not good.

The mature fungi have a challenge. In order to survive, they need to make sure their spores are eaten by the herbivores that produce the dung. It’s their circle of life. Think about that the next time you’re having a rough day. Spore into the cow—fungus pooped out.

Here’s the thing—even the dimmest herbivore knows not to graze near where it poops. Since poop is where the fungus lives, and it doesn’t have any legs to move around with, that makes it tough for a fungus to get its spores far enough away and into the path of a hungry herbivore. Its job is to make sure its spores are going to be eaten.

So these fungi have developed ways to really launch their spores out into the world: the stalks that grow out of the dung swell with fluid. The spore is perched on top. The fungus matures. It measures about 1/20 of an inch tall. The fluid builds up at the end and then BLAMMO—it explodes, shooting the spore at speeds of thirty-five feet per second! That’s the fastest recorded flight in nature! The spore gets height as well, reaching peaks of over six feet and landing eight feet away from the parent fungus. Technically the fungus can launch its seed over a cow from a dung pile to a patch of tasty grass in the blink of an eye. The mature fungus then collapses. Its job is done. Energy expended. Spore launched.

The irony is not lost on me.

Our boys were experimenting and staring down limitations of physical and epic proportions. It synced up perfectly with the beginning of the bittersweet journey into separation and identity, puberty, and beyond.

Kai and Leo needed me now. I was helping to load their springs. I know it won’t be long before they dazzle the world with the flips and heights they’ll reach on their own.

* * *

Mega Bounce

Use a basketball and a tennis ball to bounce the tennis ball higher than the roof.

What You Need

  • A basketball
  • A tennis ball

What You Do

  1. Hold the basketball at shoulder height, and with your other hand, hold the tennis ball directly on top of the basketball.
  2. Drop both balls at the same time.
  3. The tennis ball should bounce off the charts!

What’s Going On?

The basketball hits the ground, but that’s not all. The ground also hits the basketball giving it the energy for a “bounce.” The basketball is way heavier than the tennis ball, so it’s got a lot more energy in its bounce. With the tennis ball on top of the basketball, the basketball hits the ground, it bounces back up and hits the tennis ball. So now some of the basketball’s energy gets transferred to the tennis ball. It may not be much to the basketball, but to the tennis ball, it’s a huge amount of energy. The basketball kind of flops. It doesn’t bounce high at all. But the tennis ball bounces super high! It gets launched! It’s all about energy transfer!

Read an interview with Lynn Brunelle.


An Open Letter to My Son’s First Lover

An Open Letter to My Son’s First Lover

By Abby Sher


Dear Eleanor,

(I’m calling you that in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt because you’d better be smart, daring, passionate about humanitarian causes, and a big advocate for skirt suits.)

I hope you’ll forgive me when I scowl. And I promise I will definitely Google you on an hourly basis. Maybe by the time I meet you, there will be an easy chip implantation method so I can track your every move and thought. It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s just that you cannot possibly be deserving of my son, Zev.

He is three and a half years old and already has a dozen original knock-knock jokes. Yes, most of them end in the word poop, but they are truly hilarious. He’s generous and loving and ridiculously kind. The other day as we trotted through an afternoon downpour he said, “Mama, whoever made this umbrella did such a great job.”

Eleanor, you are in for a wild ride. This boy is ravenous. He eats and loves with his whole being. He screams and cuddles, wrestles and roars all in the same breath. Then he usually starts singing a new song he’s just composed about his imaginary friend, Marcel. They run the marathon together on a daily basis.

“Go Marcel! You can do it!” he yells across our apartment.

Because everyone needs encouragement.

I know you will treat my son with respect and admiration. (If you don’t, I will hunt you down.) Maybe you’ll see him across the university quads—he’ll be at least a junior by then and have gotten a scholarship for discovering a rare dinosaur bone. He’ll still have that wild hair, turquoise eyes and cinnamon-colored freckles. You’ll think Who is that? What tune is he crooning that makes him so deliciously happy? And how is he comfortable wearing his shoes on the wrong feet?

You will court each other slowly. Remember, I’m watching. All written materials, like love sonnets or texts must be spell-checked. I am okay with you being explicit, but I cannot stand lazy grammar. You will talk about your feelings before, during, and after any intimacy. I also encourage you to consult a therapist because you will be quickly overwhelmed by his magnetism. You must never see him without bringing snacks.

Let me be clear. I don’t resent you, young lady. I envy you. Zev has turned my world (and our tub of Legos) upside down on a daily basis. Even in the heat of a tantrum, I feel like he’s teaching me how to be truer to my emotions. He is loud and unafraid. He is all I want to be. I have just a few more precious months, maybe a year before he’s done hanging out with me, though. There will be shrugs and doors closed and a scruff of beard before I’m done giving away his old diapers.

This is the ecstasy and the agony of loving someone this much. You’ll know soon enough. So get your game face on and memorize the soundtrack to Frozen. This guy is the real deal.

Sincerely, (but not fondly)

Abby Sher


Abby is a writer and performer living in Brooklyn with her husband and three kids. She is available to eat all leftover noodles.

If You Give a Mom a Nap

If You Give a Mom a Nap

By Katherine Almy

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 1.59.48 PM(with apologies to Laura Numeroff)

If you give a mom a nap, she’ll wake up refreshed and in a good mood. She’ll probably let you bounce on the bed as she’s getting up. After you’ve bounced her out of bed, she’ll be ready to play hide-and-go-seek with you.

Playing hide-and-go-seek will make her hot, and she’ll want to go outside. She’ll be happy to trudge up and down the street with you while you zoom around on your toy fire truck. When you fall off your truck and skin your knee, she’ll pick you up very gently and kiss you tenderly on the boo-boo.

After she’s kissed your boo-boo, it’ll feel better and you’ll see the swing in the neighbor’s tree. Mom will joyfully push you on the swing for fifteen minutes.

All of that pushing will make her hungry, so you’ll run inside and she’ll fix you a snack. Just as she’s sitting down to eat her snack, you’ll remember that you’re thirsty, too, so she’ll jump up to get you a glass of milk.

As she’s settling down to take a bite of her snack, you’ll spill your entire glass of milk. She’ll give you a look, but she’ll get up and get a rag for you to clean up your mess. You’ll push the rag around a bit and she’ll clean up the rest.

When she sits down to finally eat her snack, you’ll remind her that your glass is now empty and you need some more milk. With a sigh, she’ll get up to get it for you.

When you’re done with your snack, you’ll hop down from your chair and run to the electrical outlets in the living room. Mom will leave her mostly uneaten snack to make sure that you don’t electrocute yourself. You’ll run away into the other room, giggling and looking over your shoulder to see if she’s chasing you.

While you’re running and not looking where you’re going, you’ll run smack into a chair. You’ll scream and holler. Mom will roll her eyes and tell you it was your own damn fault, but then she’ll feel bad and kiss your boo-boo. She’ll suggest that you do something quiet for a little while, like reading a book.

You’ll pick out a Thomas the Tank Engine book. Listening to the story will remind you of your train set, and you’ll ask her to pull it out for you. She’ll get out the train set and help you set up a track. You’ll ask her to run the track all the way into the bedroom. You don’t have nearly enough track pieces for that, but when she looks into the bedroom, she’ll see the bed.

And chances are, when she sees the bed, she’ll want to take a nap.

Brain, Child (Summer 2006)

A Letter to My Waiter … From Me and My Baby

A Letter to My Waiter … From Me and My Baby

By Asha Jameson

photo 4

To My Waiter,

Thanks for working tonight and I’m sorry you’re waiting on people instead of enjoying a meal out yourself! Oh, and sorry to have caused that little grimace on your face when you saw me and my baby at your table.

I’m a complete and utter foodie AND a new mother. I’m also an ex-waitress of 15 years. Let me assure you, I’ve read everything and will DO everything to make sure this experience is pleasant for you, me and the people around us.

I’ve made sure she’s not tired. I’ve made sure she’s not hungry. I’ve brought a plethora of toys, books and other distractions with me. If she melts down, I will leave, and most importantly, I have chosen this restaurant carefully! And while I don’t agree that babies should be banned from fancy restaurants, like the chef for Alinea in Chicago expressed on Twitter, I definitely know which restaurants will work for us, and which won’t.

Hope you don’t think I’m rude, but here are some suggestions that might make this a little easier on everyone, including you…

1) Please bring me a menu right away, not 15 minutes after I’ve sat down. I only have approximately 17 minutes total, so that can make the difference between a smooth and enjoyable meal, and having to spend your time packing up untouched food to go!

2) However talented you are in carrying 12 hot plates at once, please don’t hold them over my baby’s head while serving them. It stresses me out and can make for a really serious situation.

3) Please don’t place my full-to-the-brim martini glass directly in front of my baby. The glistening liquid and tantalizing skewer of olives are pretty much the most exciting thing she has ever seen. (“Oh my goodness, that’s AMAZING! I NEED to grab it NOW!!!”)

4) I want the check as soon as you bring my food. If I want dessert or coffee, I’ll let you know. I’ll also have my credit card ready for you, so please don’t drop a check and disappear on your smoke break for the next 30 minutes, please. (Totally me 15 years ago! )

and finally,

5) If you smile at me or offer some help, somehow, I will be overcome with happy feelings and gratitude. This will result in me leaving a HUGE tip and complementing you to your manager on my way out.

That’s all. Thanks again for all that you do.



The lady with the bags under her eyes and spit-up on her shirt, carrying the bottle of 1994 Burgundy.


Asha Jameson is an attorney who lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and 9-month-old baby girl, Clover. She writes about balancing work and family life for the blog,, under the pseudonym “Hope.”

The Trouble With Naming You

The Trouble With Naming You

By Greg Schreur

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 4.55.03 PMSome of the names we’re thinking of giving you, we know right now, are all wrong. Take, for instance, the name Brian, which happens to be the name of the man your mother was originally engaged to until he gave her a black eye. There is no way you could be named Brian, even if it was, as Brian claimed, a terrible accident. Or Thomas, the name of your paternal grandfather, who is the reason your father will have to bite his lip when he helps you struggle through your math homework or watches you flinch away from ground balls while you play second base. Or for that matter, even Rob, a classmate of your father’s in sixth grade who will forever be remembered for eating his own earwax.

These are only some of the names that must be discarded for reasons of negative association. Creepy neighbors and obnoxious co-workers must also be eliminated, along with names like Benedict and Osama. Other names may not suit your surname because the resultant alliteration or rhyming would make you sound like a character in a children’s book, or the combination of the names would create an unfortunate homonym (Mike Rotch is not the sort of thing we want on people’s minds when talking to you). Still other names may seem promising, but even your mother’s father, who is a wonderful man and an ideal person to be the namesake of, would never consent to your being named Marinus.

Indeed, we find it easier to brainstorm a list of names not to give you. We diffuse the tension by suggesting names like Roscoe, Hyman, Dooley, or Yakov. Yet after all these rejects, there are a plethora of candidates that are not readily dismissed. When one of us suggests, say, Paul, we’re both silent for some time as we go through the battery of tests: It is biblical without being sanctimonious; neither of us ever had nor knows anyone with a pet named Paul; in fact the only Paul either of us knows is a man from your father’s office who is a decent person with whom your father has little enough contact to keep it from being awkward. So we repeat the name, using different tones for calling you in for dinner, congratulating you for some random accomplishment, scolding your disobedience, or screaming at you to get out of the way of an oncoming car in a hypothetical future that is itself pregnant with expectancy and nauseating pressures.

With some names we can’t foresee the troubles. But we can imagine. Perhaps your name will be given to another child who grows up to be a mass-murdering cannibal, or your name will be given to a Category 5 hurricane that wipes out an entire city, and although you have never knowingly eaten human flesh or breached any levees, people will metaphorically associate you—your neediness, your intrusiveness—with these things.

Perhaps unseen linguistic forces will cause your name to become a pejorative. At one point, for example, Dick must have been a harmless and honorable name, but then, well, you know, it became something else, and when kids at school start calling you Dick, of course you’ll be smart enough to know that they aren’t calling your name, nor do they think you are actually a penis, so you’ll decide it must be an expression of their feelings about you, and your self-esteem understandably will suffer. You’ll be too embarrassed to go to someone like a teacher. Besides, what would you say, they’re calling me Dick? It’s your name, they would reply, and you would be left alone to make sense of humankind’s depravity, well before you are ready.

Instead of seeking adult help, when a group of boys—one of them perhaps named Peter, another one maybe Rod—when they offer a sense of belonging, you’ll go along. You won’t ask why when they offer you something to smoke. You’ll just smoke. You won’t like it, but you will like being with people who understand you, so you’ll keep smoking until you do like it. This could lead anywhere, but let’s just say that it leads to something more, like partying instead of studying and hiding a bottle of cheap vodka in your bedroom and avoiding your parents when they ask where you’ve been and then a first fateful dabbling with marijuana in the back of Peter’s van.

We aren’t going to name you Dick. We’re just making a point here.

The safe route would be to give you a very common name so there will be several of you in the same class. You will likely be of marginal popularity, both statistically speaking and what with having such a regular name. Of course someone with your name will be the guy whose name all the girls write on their notebooks, but this will only remind you of your own anonymity and cause you to lose touch with reality as you try to live vicariously through him.

Then one of those girls, whom you’ve certainly fantasized about, will call you by your name but will mistakenly use the last name of a guy who’s a total nerd, and you’ll harbor such resentment against her that you will be unable to establish a healthy relationship with a woman until you are well into your thirties, but by then your body is sagging and you’re measuring your life out in coffee spoons like J. Alfred Prufrock (himself nominally challenged). On the positive side, because you will never be with a woman, you will never have to go through the agony of naming your own child, but when the time comes that you’re sitting alone watching Jeopardy while your neighbor is outside playing catch with his son, this does not offer much consolation.

The obvious alternative is to give you a wildly original or unique name or at least a new take on a familiar name, something like Joscua. At first it will be novelty. People will comment favorably about its uniqueness, and this will become a part of your personality. You will be your own man and forge your own way in the world. You will not care what others think. But then you will grow tired of people asking how to spell your name. You might even become resentful of us and stop coming home for Thanksgiving.

We will certainly call, pleading you to see us, even if not for the holidays, but the independence we instilled in you when we named you now comes back to haunt us when you slam the phone down and stop answering. Several Thanksgivings pass, and while we are devastated, you live a successful and carefree life, marry a beautiful woman, and have a son of your own; such interdependence, however, chafes your individualist nature so you remain aloof in your other pursuits, one of which includes your secretary, who falls in love with you, or at least the idea of you, until she is downsized in a round of layoffs and is forgotten. That will not be your concern; there will be other secretaries. Meanwhile, something must be happening back at home with your wife and child, who are themselves learning how to live without you. You won’t think about this until you hear Harry Chapin singing “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Of course you think it’s Cat Stevens, but that’s not the only thing you’re wrong about: No matter how strongly you believe you can undo the sins of the past, you’re no different than the man in the song, and like him your son is too far gone by the time you start reaching out to him. You die alone with scar tissue in the places where your connections to both the past and the future once were.

We will also be careful not to name you Butch or Biff, names that would be difficult to live up to, but your father will try convincing your mother to name you after some sports figure. She will resist but eventually compromise, and in the end you become a Junior. This will make your father proud in a way that surprises him, although he tells people at the hospital that he wants you to be your own man—although seeing his name many years later on report cards filled with mostly Bs and Cs and on the back of a clean sports uniform hunched over on the bench causes him to feel slightly nuanced pangs of disappointment. After one game where you do play much of the fourth quarter, you run up to him excitedly. Although he smiles weakly, he is not looking at you, and no matter how much you strain you cannot meet his eyes.

A few days later you go into your room and find your father sitting on the edge of your bed, slouching so that his head almost rests in his lap. He leaves without saying anything, and although neither of you grasps the symbolism of the moment, you are so disturbed that for the next few nights you sleep on the floor until it becomes too uncomfortable, and sometime in the middle of the fourth night you crawl back under the covers where you warm quickly and fall asleep. Before next season you announce at supper that you’re not trying out for the team, at which your father merely grunts with a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

Oh, we struggle mightily with this responsibility. It leads to disagreements, even arguments. Paralyzed by the opacity of uncertainty, we put you out of our minds or distract ourselves from the obligation of naming you by focusing on the mundane details of your imminent arrival. That is, until someone asks us about your name and we smile coyly, hoping to evade the question; later, however, we resolutely bring out the baby name books, but the names will not have changed and the uncertainty will remain. You are born, and still we have not decided. We refer to you simply as “He” or “Baby” or “Boy.” As a result you are never baptized, never enrolled in school, never called on the phone or sent any mail. You are devoid of identity, like an undiscovered atomic element. Those who are even vaguely aware of your existence speak of you as the son of your father or in a similarly indirect manner. We will try to protect you from a world that chews up and spits out people without a name for themselves. We pad your existence with toys and treats and encourage you to stay with us where we can lovingly and guiltily provide, and you never seem to grow up. In fact you seem to get smaller each year while these things increase, filling up every part of the house, until one day you disappear altogether, never to be found, even by yourself.

I’m not making any predictions here. Despite our fixation, your name will not determine the course of your existence. After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose. Neither fate nor the Divine has conspired against you or your name in deciding your fate; you will have some control over the person you will become with whatever name you are given.

I guess I’m not saying anything except this: Despite all our efforts and good intentions in assigning you a name, this obligation is fraught with so much inherent danger and affected by so many factors outside our influence that you really cannot blame us for anything but the one thing we ultimately did have control over, which was the decision to bring you into a broken world full of overbearing fathers and abusive ex-boyfriends and earwax eaters, traitors and terrorists, name callers and potheads, serial killers and love-struck, downsized secretaries, all of whom, including your parents, are just trying to make sense of their own names.

Author’s Note: This essay came from my growing realization that it’s the bane of every thoughtful parent to worry that you’re warping your children by foisting your own personal quirks onto them. For the record, my wife had no abusive boyfriends, and it was my grandpa who was named Marinus, a wonderful man with an unfortunate name. Also for the record: I’m married to a Kristen, and my three children—Annie, Jack, and Charlie—all are appropriately named. I think.

Greg Schreur writes and teaches in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writing has appeared in Eclectica, Cantaraville, and Rock & Sling, in addition to educational journals.

Brain, Child (Fall 2008)

Who Knew Having Young Children Would Hurt So Much?

Who Knew Having Young Children Would Hurt So Much?

elbow sketch w grayDear children with your sharp elbows and poor depth perception,

I’ll forgive you birth, because that was supposed to hurt. “A necessary evil,” I think they call it. I’ll even forgive you your freakishly large heads, disproportionate as they were to my slender, girl-like hips. I never expected a baby the size of, well, a baby (with a head the size of, well, a cantaloupe) to emerge from one of the orifices of my body and leave it unscathed. But those were the war wounds I was prepared for, at least in theory: the contractions that sent me into a fit of curses through the epidural; the stitches and swelling and stinging in what used to be a happy place; the three-inch incision across my abdomen, still numb to the touch.

No, what truly took me by surprise was all the pain that came next.

Like the time I first put you to my breast. I looked into your wide, grey eyes and smiled serenely as I shoved your face into my inflated balloon of a boob. And then almost shrieked out loud as you clamped on with gusto. Ah the beauty of Mother Nature! I couldn’t feed you in those early weeks without curling my toes and digging them, fiercely, into the fibers of the carpet, so as to concentrate on anything other than the throbbing, sandpaper-against-silk sensation emanating from my red-raw nipples. Before you, would I ever have guessed that the words “blood” and “nipple” could sit together in the same sentence, without a hint of irony or metaphor?

Breastfeeding was when the shoulder and neck pain started. The hunching, the 45 minutes cramped in an awkward position, because I’d rather endure the discomfort than run the risk of breaking a decent latch. All the while that pesky hormone, “Relaxin” (I mean: who’s relaxin’ here?), is coursing through my veins, the one that makes a lactating woman’s joints loosen up and essentially turns her body into a ticking time bomb of injury. Injury sustained from, oh I don’t know, carrying the weight of a sack of potatoes around for 14 hours a day. I won’t name names here, but I’m talking about you, baby number two, who spent at least three months of your life taking “naps” whilst strapped to my chest in a contraption that made me feel like a kangaroo, except without the benefit of such an ergonomic design.

And then you got bigger and heavier and there was the lifting, all the lifting. Into the crib, out of the crib. Into the high chair, out of the high chair. Into the car seat, out of the car seat, which requires that lethal twist of the spine at the end. My lower back has never been the same. (Shout out here to my twins, because doing everything twice took an extra special toll on my lumbar region). I would try to bend my knees for support, the way the massage therapist coached me, but how exactly do you bend at the knee as you yank from his playpen a prostrate, spaghetti-limbed toddler the heft of a small elephant? Oh I longed for the day when I wouldn’t have to lift you so much and then it came and I offered a silent prayer to the attachment parenting gods.

Happy times, you could climb into your own car seat now! But you could also climb all over me. I became, at once, a human jungle gym. Little elbows dug themselves expertly into my boobs, an ideal spot, apparently, from which to gain enough leverage to smack your forehead against mine. Fat feet planted themselves on my lap, bouncing up and down, up and down, and, whoops, that’s my pubic bone you just landed on with your heel. No, no, my shins are not for tightrope walking. How, oh how, was it always that the sharpest, boniest bits of your body would magically find the most vulnerable bits of mine?

As you got older, the games became more sophisticated. “Let’s play hairdresser,” you squealed, raking sticky fingers through my hair and pulling it out at the root along the way. “Let’s play doctor now,” you cried, as you thrust the thermometer into my ear and it occurred to me that maybe I would actually end up in the Emergency Room after all. “Let’s look at a book,” you suggested and I exhaled a sigh of relief. But how quickly I learned the cardinal rule of parenting young children: never let your guard down. For in your hands, even reading could become a contact sport. Like that time you caught me in the corner of the eye with Goodnight Moon. The “Goodnight mush” page still has a smear of my blood on it.

Over time, darling children, I’ve come to see that your affection for me knows no bounds. And I mean that quite literally. Sometimes your eager kisses are accompanied by teeth. Sometimes your sweet caresses leave scratch marks down the side of my face. And sometimes your hugs, your wonderfully enthusiastic hugs, Knock. Me. Over. The old clichés are true. Love is an assault on the senses, they say. Love hurts, they say. You know what I say? Some people’s love hurts more than others.

(Gentle) hugs and kisses,



Illustration by Christine Juneau

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The Mom From ‘The Cat in the Hat’ Finally Speaks

The Mom From ‘The Cat in the Hat’ Finally Speaks


What is Motherhood? is a Brain, Child blog series, with original posts from our writers, and reposts from some of our most favorite websites and blogs, all answering the universal question—what does motherhood mean to you?

This post is republished with permission from our friends at the New York Times Motherlode blog:


www.seussville.comEvery mother feels societal pressures, but few have experienced as much parenting scrutiny as the mother from “The Cat in the Hat.” In this interview, she tries to set things straight.

Let’s just start with the obvious question: Where were you?

I know what you’re getting at, and let me just say for the record that my kids were not that little. They were 10 and 12. That’s the No. 1 thing I’m always criticized about, leaving young kids unattended.

What else do you get flak for?

Are you kidding? That I didn’t teach my kids how to entertain themselves properly. That I have terrible fashion sense, thanks to my polka-dot dress/kite. That I leave dangerous yard tools and birthday cakes with burning candles strewn around my house. That my son, you know, doesn’t have a name. And of course that I allowed my kids to catch other children with nets and lock them in a box.

Things One and Two?

They looked a lot like the Davis twins from across the street.

But didn’t you feel responsible when you found out what happened that day?

As if I could have predicted that a giant talking cat would pop by and destroy my house! Listen, it must say something about my parenting style that the mere sight of my feet would get everyone scrambling around, shaking with fear.

Still, you left your kids alone all day in your unlocked house, and they didn’t seem to have much awareness of “stranger danger.”

O.K., a), that cat was benign compared to my in-laws, who were always arriving unannounced. And b), we did have a baby sitter.

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Hansel and Regrettal

Hansel and Regrettal

By Sara Levine

winter2010_levineOne day the old witch hobbled out of her gingerbread house and found a boy and girl standing at the lollipop gate, staring at the colored icing and the peppermint candies studding the window shutters. Hungry and dirty, they’d no doubt been wandering in the woods for days. Good, the witch thought, who was half-starved herself. She gave them a moment to take in her appearance: the red eyes, the bulbous nose, the hump. The girl shrunk a little. The boy’s attention was fixed on the house.

“What’s it made of?” he asked.

“Sugar and spice and everything nice,” she answered.

“Real sugar?” the girl replied. “Or corn syrup?”

“Children, you must be starving! Break off a piece of the window!”

But the children stood with their hands in their pockets.

“Pry a shingle from the roof,” she said. “Do you like marzipan?”

They shook their heads. They’d never tried it.

“Poor children! Come in, come in.”

She sat them down at her table and offered them pancakes, caramel apples, jelly doughnuts. They wouldn’t touch any of it. This one was bad for the heart, they explained; that was packed with calories; those looked good but weren’t what their stepmother called “growing food.”

“Do you eat this food yourself, Old Mother?” Gretel asked, her forehead creased with worry, as the witch brought out a nutmeg maple cream pie.

“Not very much,” she answered, thinking of the tender morsels children made. “But I make sweets for the children who pass through the forest.”

“They must have terrible teeth,” Hansel said.

Prig! thought the witch. Probably their muscles had been subjected to long, vigorous exercise, and their meat would be stringy and tough.

“My little ones, you’ve got to eat something.”

The children looked doubtfully around the cottage. “Do you have any purslane?” Hansel asked at last.

Oh, to hell with fattening them. She’d eat them as they were. You take what comes to you; you appreciate; you don’t complain.

“Children, go and sit on the bread paddle,” she said, “and tell me if the oven feels hot enough to put the bread in.”

They looked at her warily. “We never eat white flour,” the girl said. “It has a higher glycemic index…”

“All I’ve offered, and you won’t help me with one little chore?” the witch said.

“But we don’t know a thing about ovens,” Gretel said. “When you heat food over 116 degrees, you lose the nutrient value.”

“Actually,” Hansel said, “enzymes degrade at a temperature of 106 degrees. That’s why Stepmother prefers raw food.”

The witch rolled her eyes up to the meringue-covered ceiling. These awful, difficult children! She could bake them for an hour, and they’d still be tough.

“Listen,” she said, “if you round the house and head west you will come to a patch of blueberry bushes you can eat from.”

The children stood, their faces flooded with relief. They thanked the old woman and bounded out the cottage door.

Goodbye, tainted meat, the witch thought. Only after she closed her graham cracker door did she remember the ogre. His house was a mile from the berry patch, and he loved nothing more than to gobble up wandering children. He’d been a good neighbor these last three or four hundred years. Should she warn him about the meat? The witch had hobbled as far as the gumdrop doormat when she stopped herself. Probably she was over-reacting.

Brain, Child (Winter 2010)

Sara Levine is the author of the novel Treasure Island!!! and the short story collection Short Dark Oracles. You can read more about her at

Six Parenting Vocabulary Lessons

Six Parenting Vocabulary Lessons

image-1Friends warned me that parenthood changes everything.  I understood and accepted that parenthood would change me, but I didn’t understand that parenthood’s influence was even greater than that.  Parenthood has transformed my parents, my vacations, my house, and my relationship with coffee.  Parenthood has even transformed words I formerly considered synonyms into words that mean drastically different things.

Parenthood changes everything.

Quiet vs. Silence

Before children, silence and quiet were relatively interchangeable.  Silence just meant deeper quiet.  Now I believe the difference between quiet and silence should be taught in every pre-natal parenting class.  Putting a diaper on wrong or forgetting to burp the baby can lead to trouble.  But, that trouble is nothing compared to the trouble that mistaking silence for quiet can cause.

Quiet means children are focused.  Quiet means children are sleeping.   Quiet means the cartoon you are letting them watch is having the desired effect.  Silence, on the other hand, means there is a gooey substance being spread somewhere in the house. Silence means something rolled, stacked or organized is being unrolled, toppled or jumbled. Silence means crayons or paint are being applied to a non-paper surface.  Silence means a child is pooping in an isolated corner.  Quiet is a treat. Silence is trouble.

Click vs. Snap

Before children, click and snap were just two words in a long list of available onomatopoeias to describe life’s soundtrack.  Now, I know that a clicking sound and snapping sound are not the same.  It is essential to know the difference between click and snap during the “some assembly required” phase of a new toy.

Click is the goal.  Snap should be avoided at all costs.  Click indicates you have accurately interpreted the cryptic graphic instructions and lined up two pieces that were, indeed, intended to fit together. Snap indicates you are about to make a kid cry and will be required to plug the tear dam with promises to replace the now-cracked piece of plastic that no longer feels like a bargain.

Going to Bed vs. Going to Sleep

Before children, I thought you sent kids to bed and that was the end of it.  Oh, the bliss of ignorance.  Now I know that the time you send children to bed has no correlation with the time they go to sleep.

Going to bed means entering the bedroom and putting oneself in a horizontal position on the mattress.  Going to sleep means actually closing one’s eyes and entering a period of slumber.  Those two events are separated by lots of interim steps.  Requests for water.  Requests for another hug and kiss.  Claims of being scared that are delivered with a wide grin and a surreptitious glance at the living room TV in a never ending quest to crack the mystery of grown up television.  A trip to the bathroom.  A knock-knock joke sibling session.  Another trip to the bathroom.  And, finally, sleep.

Snack vs. Meal

Before children, I thought a snack was a small bit of food eaten between meals.  Now I understand that it is sometimes food between meals but mostly just a marketing trick that transforms unacceptable foods that will not pass a toddler’s lips into delicious treats.

Carrots served on the go between a park excursion and home?  Delicious!  Carrots served at home as a side dish to the main course?  Unacceptable.  Green beans grabbed from the garden on the walk to the car?  Delicious!  Green beans grabbed from the garden and served on a plate?  Unacceptable.   Hummus at the zoo?  A tasty and exotic dip!  Hummus with dinner? Unacceptable.

Trip vs. Vacation

Before children, trip and vacation meant the same thing to me.  Now, I understand that parents do not take vacations (periods of exemption from work).  Parents take trips (voyages, journeys). Travelling with children requires the same amount of work you do every day, only in unfamiliar setting with less comfortable accommodations.

Vacations involve reading trashy novels with your feet in the sand.  Vacations involve sipping adult beverages with colorful umbrella accessories.  Vacations involve drifting in and out of sleep in a sunny lounge chair while you try to figure out what day of the week it is.

Trips involve hauling luggage filled with enough board books and plastic toys to start a daycare.  Trips involve contorting your left arm to reach under the seat for the dropped sippy cup.  While it is possible to lose track of the date on a trip, it is always clear when it is meal time or nap time.

Trips are exhausting and leave you in need of a vacation.

My Parents vs. My Children’s Grandparents

Technically, my parents and my children’s grandparents are the same people.  They inhabit the same body.  But, that is where the similarities stop.

My parents forbid soda, chips and cookies.  My children’s grandparents sneak them an extra spoonful of brown sugar in their oatmeal.  My parents required regular cleaning of dishes, rooms, and bodies.  My children’s grandparents think chores and baths can wait until the block castle and all its outbuildings are complete.  My parents insisted on respect for elders.  My children’s grandparents barely hide their chuckles when my kids roll their eyes at me.  My parents taught me that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.  My children’s grandparents tell stories about my childhood that set a less than stellar example for the next generation.  I wish my parents had been as cool as my children’s grandparents.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  My friends tried to tell me that parenthood would change everything.  I just didn’t understand that everything meant EVERYTHING!

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What We Share

What We Share

By Kris Woll

holiday2Like many families, my family keeps several Christmas Eve traditions.  There is the array of treats, brought by each of us to share, with a few new recipes appearing annually amidst certain staples – Mom’s meatballs in a little crockpot, almond bark pretzels in a holiday tin.  There are the Christmas carols sung – off key, off tempo – first around the piano and then, after bundling up in hats and mittens and boots and coats, in the yards of kind neighbors, neighbors who actually open their doors in that frigid air to listen to us croon.  They always clap when we finish, and I understand why.

And there is one other, a tradition kept year after year, season after season, a staple of our holiday fest, something that lasts longer than anything else we share in the glow of that one holiday night …


You know the tradition, right?  The exchange of germs.  The sharing of bugs.  The passing of the virus.  There were at least three years in recent memory shut down early due to stomach flu, and one particularly uncomfortable yule featuring lice.  Other ailments – sore throats, sinus infections, standard-issue colds – have made an also made an appearance in Christmas’s past.

Such a tradition is unavoidable, really.  We are a collection of people living our ordinary, non-holiday lives in varied germ pools.  We are toddlers and teenagers and college kids and teachers and parents; some among us (I’m not naming names, but you know who you are) don’t even wear tights with our Christmas dress even though the night’s temperature starts with a minus sign.  We travel through airports and stop at grimy convenience stores on our way to that evening’s gathering, and then hug and sing and dish up some meatballs off the spoon that some young person, just a bit earlier, decided to lick.


Suffering through the season’s bug, whatever it might be, is never very merry.  For the inflicted, festivities come to a crashing halt as the first symptoms appear.  The music stops, the lights dim, and goodies are packed away; there is extra praying (O God, I hope I make it …) and some promises for reform (I will never eat another meatball…) followed by a whole lot of silent nighttime suffering behind closed doors.

(At least we are all cozy and warm in the new flannel PJ’s Mom and Dad gave us.  The whole family, young and old, sick and well, resting in matching plaids.)

And then, as the flu and the holiday passes, the story forms, the story that will be retold at the next Christmas gathering, after the spinach dip — new this year — and the meatballs, that old staple, are set out on the table and before we start singing indoors or out.  We laugh about plagues past.  It is our own sort of holiday cheer.

Which sort of makes me scratch my head when I think about it, because it seems that the closeness of my family – maybe of any family – probably has more to do with making it through the stuff that goes wrong — through the long nights, through whatever might come up — as it does with sharing the stuff that goes right.  A good thing to keep in mind during and after the holidays, and through most of the year, I guess.

Of course, I could also be scratching my head because I remember that year with the lice.  No more sharing Santa hats at our family festivities!  Now we all bring our own.

Kris Woll is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Read more by Kris at

Prayers for a Young Mother, Proposed

Prayers for a Young Mother, Proposed


motherwitsummer07Prayer for the Care of Children

Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children: Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ.   —The Book of Common Prayer, 1976                                                                                                                                                                             

Prayer before the Market

O God, please let this be a good and productive shop. Please help me to keep my wits about me, even though I appear to have left my list at home. Please give me the clarity of mind to remember that, like the animals on the ark, good things come in pairs: the peanut butter and the jelly, the bagels and the cream cheese, the yogurt and the one hundred percent organic no fructose no sat-fat cereal bars, the Fresh Step and the Meow Mix. Please let this not be senior citizen day, or, if it is your will that it be so, please give me patience and good cheer as I maneuver around their carts which clog every aisle. Please help me to remember that the time will come soon enough when I too will need help reaching the extra large box of All-Bran on the top shelf. Please open my heart so I never forget that this $105 worth of groceries is a blessing directly from you, O Lord, and that I should therefore swing by the food bank and deposit some of it on their doorstep. Please give me the time to do this and not be late for pickup. Amen.

Prayer at Pickup

Please let me be on time. Please help this stupid, stupid woman in her gigantic planet-trashing SUV to turn off her phone and make the left turn already. And then please keep the light green for just one more second. Please don’t let me be late. If it’s somehow your will that I am late, please fill the small, tight heart of the program director with mercy and pity so that she doesn’t charge me the completely outrageous one dollar per minute late fee. Please let there not have been any more biting. Please don’t let those moms with the perky blond ponytails and the girly pink baseball caps judge my child. Please don’t let them give each other that look, or at least please don’t let me see them do it. Please let my baby be happy today. Please no tears, please not that thing with the screaming and the knees. Please let us have peace at pickup. Thank you.

Prayer before Sex

O God, please let this be fast. But not, you know, too fast. Please let it be just enough for both of us, if you get my meaning. Please let our blessed babies stay where they belong, especially Mr. I-just-turned-two-watch-me-climb-out-of-my-crib. Please let me forget about the groceries and that nightmare at pickup this afternoon. Please help me relax. Please send us a little lightning bolt of that old giddy feeling, that wave of engulfing joy that first brought us together, that helped us make this family. Please let us be carried away for just a few minutes. And after, please send us sweet release so we sleep in each other’s arms like the sheeted dead. It’s been, as you know Lord, a long day. Amen.

Brain, Child (Summer 2007)

Artwork by Beth Hannon Fuller 

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The Adolescent Remedial Guidance Home Help Program (A.R.G.H.): A School of Remedial Learning

The Adolescent Remedial Guidance Home Help Program (A.R.G.H.): A School of Remedial Learning

By Laura Amann

DEPT_motherwitWelcome to the A.R.G.H. School of Remedial Learning! We’re glad you’re considering our program. This intense, competency-based curriculum is designed for students who grapple with the obvious tasks in everyday life. Our school fills educational gaps often misunderstood or tuned out during private, individualized home instruction.

Our qualified, experienced instructors help students face the challenges of daily life. Graduates of our programs are better prepared to face the rigors of living in a household shared with family, friends, or roommates.

Please read below for our course listing. (Discounts are given upon registration of more than one class. All-day intensives are also available).

Toilet Paper Roll Changing (Course Number: 0244)

Students learn how to execute the basic properties and intricacies of changing a toilet paper roll. Using a multi-sensory approach, students identify an empty roll, locate a new roll, change the roll, and dispose of the cardboard tubing.

This is a hands-on course. Students will come away with an understanding of the spring mechanism inherent in a toilet paper holder as well as proper identification of a full and empty roll.

Dish Maneuvering (Course Number: 0232)

This class focuses on the skills needed to maneuver plates, cups, and utensils from any location to a dishwasher or drying rack. Students will demonstrate the ability to pick up dishes and transport them safely and efficiently to the sink area and then promptly remove food particles before placing in dishwasher. Emphasis is placed on identifying and avoiding pitfalls common in dish maneuvering, such as leaving dishes in sink without moving to next step. By semester’s end, students will execute the proper operations in the correct order. (Extra consideration will be given for ability to load dishwasher or drying rack with maximum efficiency.)

*Note: This course is a prerequisite for “Emptying Dishwasher (Course Number: 0242).”

Towel Hanging (Course Number: 0254)

In this inquiry-based, multidisciplinary course, students gain hands-on experience hanging wet towels, and learn a variety of options for towel hangers, such as bars, racks and hooks. Discussions will include inherent problems with using the backs of chairs and the floor as towel holders. Instructors will cultivate the students’ ability to recognize when a towel needs to be washed. Homework includes identifying appropriate towel hangers within the home.

*Prerequisites: a basic grasp of the properties of gravity, a rudimentary understanding of mold and mildew propagation, and a working knowledge of personal hygiene.

Removing Toothpaste From Sink Area (Course Number: 0264)?                                                                                                    

One of our most deceptively challenging courses. Curriculum is specifically designed for those students who believe they have already mastered the challenges inherent in rinsing toothpaste off the sink. The instructor will guide students through the necessary and imperative steps to ensure that all toothpaste and toothpaste foam is successfully rinsed down the drain.

This course also covers the necessary steps to replace the lid on a tube of toothpaste. Extra consideration will be given to students who can maximize efficiency when squeezing out toothpaste.

*Note: This class does not delve into the properties of basic oral hygiene, focusing instead on the environment surrounding the action.

Undressing Effectively (Course Number: 0322)

This course will critically analyze the relationship between clothes-wearer and clothes-washer. Students will learn the finer art of removing clothes without inverting items and how to keep clothing separated. Students will focus on success- fully removing a pair of pants with neither socks nor under- wear balled up inside and will learn to take off shirts, sweaters, pants, socks and other articles of clothing properly and efficiently. Emphasis is placed on correctly identifying inside-out and right-side out. Extra credit will be given to students who can correctly identify the difference between the space just outside a dirty clothes receptacle and the space in- side said receptacle.

Note: Please come fully clothed to all sessions. This is a G-rated course and no nudity will be permitted.

Folded Clothes (Course Number: 0328)

This advanced-level class builds on the concepts and skills covered in “Undressing Effectively (Course Number: 0322)” with an emphasis on mastering the delicate act of moving clean, folded clothes into dresser drawers or onto hangers in closets. An accelerated version of this course guides students in the finer art of searching through a drawer without unfolding the items contained within. Emphasis is on speed and skill of maneuvering without disrupting.

Don’t see what you’re looking for? Classes are being developed regularly. For a complete listing of courses as well as those being considered, please email us at:

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and editor who mothers a brood of four in the Chicago area. Her award-winning essays have also appeared in Salon, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Parent.


Fish Stuff

Fish Stuff

By Sarah Degner Riveros

betasWe had company today, our neighbors and their three kids. They showed up unannounced. We were doing what we usually do on a Saturday, making messes and not cleaning them up. We had a fort built out of two armchairs and two crib mattresses gracing the living room, with a happy kid perched on top like a pirate.

Our uninvited guests dragged garbage bags full of clothing that they wanted to get rid of. We welcomed them in. We can use hand-me-downs in all sizes and shapes and everyone knows it.

As I offered to make some tea, my neighbors’ younger daughter checked out our trashed playroom. And then called, “Mom, come see the fish!”

The mom raced down the hallway to see the fish. She is that kind of mother. The fish-viewing lasted about three seconds. She bolted back out to the living room, where I was nursing the baby and trying to convince my older child to serve the gingerbread, which was made with barley malt instead of honey because that’s what we had on hand.

“When was the last time you cleaned the fish tank?” the neighbor whispered. “My daughter cleans the tank,” I said. “Maybe about a month ago. Is he dead?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I have two fish and I love interacting with them,” she said. Even though I was nursing and the oxytocin love and peace hormone was flowing, I became defensive.

“I’ve researched fish. I understand them,” she said.

Great, I thought, I was dealing with a fish whisperer.

“Fish thrive on constant interaction,” she said. She barely needed to point out to me that her fish swim right up to the side of the tank whenever they see her.

I did not doubt the validity of her playtime with her Betta fish. If I had heeded the advice of my therapist of the past three years for one moment, I would have asked a sympathetic question. Something along the lines of, “Do your fish have names?” But instead, I sat there stunned, and said, “This is our third Betta fish, and each of our first two Bettas has lived at least four years.” She was unmoved. She told me that according to her research, Betta fish need five full gallons and their water must be changed weekly. She pointed out that the little fuzzy balls on the bottom of our tank were probably feces. I neglected to share that our toddler sometimes over-feeds the fish, and the little food balls disintegrate and can be mistaken easily for other things. She swung her hair back and forth, her face red, appalled that the five-gallon tank only had three inches of water in the bottom.

There is a reason that we have one Betta fish and not, say, three cats or a dog. I throw all my energy, money, time, and love at my kids. And, I had, in fact, consulted my own fish expert—my best friend from high school—when we purchased the little fellows. She is a very clean person. Too clean, in fact. “I cleaned the fish tank so often our fish died within weeks,” she had said.

I’d also done research on the Internet, and now knew that Betta fish are a breed of Japanese puddle fish. They live in muddy puddles, which was a major influencing factor in our decision to purchase our first Betta back in 2003, because we were as good at creating and maintaining muddy puddles then as we are now.

I went on defending my fish-care practices. “My Betta fish always live for four years,” I said, then suddenly waved my hand at my living room. “In our modern society, many people believe that a healthy home must be immaculate. Like a magazine.” I could not stop myself. “Obviously, I do not believe in cleaning. Exhibit A: My living room.” She stared politely at the living room, where my toddler was stooping to pick up a half-eaten rice cake off the floor and stuffing it into his snotty face.

When she left I was certain she’d go home and change her two fishes’ tanks that night, after she was done sterilizing her three cats’ paws with some hand sanitizer, just for good measure. But I will sleep well tonight, knowing that the care and feeding of Betta fish is one area where I feel quite secure. I know my fish shit.

Sarah Degner Riveros mothers a biracial blended family of four in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.


Raising A Chatty Child

Raising A Chatty Child

By Janet Freeman

0-5My daughter likes to talk. A lot.

I knew I was in trouble when, at age three, she raced a neighbor to the corner. “Look at us!” she squealed, legs pumping, arms flailing. “We’re running! We’re running so fast! We’re racing each other to the corner and I’m gonna—!”

How did that sentence end? I have no idea, nor do I remember who won the race. It’s inconsequential, one memory among thousands. But memorable for the fact it was the first time I realized there is no task in the world, no self-contained experience, my daughter would like to keep to herself.

Is there a term for this? Loquacious doesn’t seem to do Lu’s chattiness justice.

Another example: this morning after a few minutes of Lu—now six—simultaneously crunching her cereal flakes, brandishing a sausage link as a microphone and talking to me about … something, I asked her if, for once, please, we could sit in silence. Just for a little while. Just until Mama finishes her cup of coffee to recover from the morning’s wake-up call that occurred when she climbed in bed with me before sunup, scratching bug bites on her shins and kicking her feet and asking if I really had come in her room last night to shut the window (I don’t know, can you look?), if it was true I’d pulled the covers to her chin the same as the night before and the night before that and 2,190 nights before that? (Hmm … is there a logic-pattern that can be applied to this?)

“Lu,” I mumbled, “will you please let me sleep? For just a minute?”

Just a minute has become a refrain around here, a plea and command both, though rarely executed without a tone of resignation. I consider myself a fairly decent disciplinarian, but my inability to get my daughter to be quiet for more than ten seconds has led me to believe she simply can’t do it.

Another example. This morning after I asked her to please eat in silence—for just a minute—Lu brought her finger to her lip, whispered loudly, “See? I’m being quiet.”

After I nodded and smiled encouragingly, she for some reason felt the need to repeat the fact that she was being quiet, over and over again, until finally the idea for this essay came screaming through my brain and I told her I’d be back, that I only needed to run upstairs for a minute. I crashed into my study, grabbed a pen. I was jotting down notes when I heard footsteps on the stairs, too light to be her father’s, too nimble for the dog’s. My hand raced over the page but my heart sank: sure enough, it was Lu, bursting into the study and shouting, “BOO!”

“Time to make your bed,” I said, shaking my head.

“Okaaaaaaaay, Mom.” Languorously, she turned on her heel, hands sliding down the door jam as she left the room.

A few seconds passed and then I heard her again, telling me—something—from down the hall. I couldn’t make out what it was, and irritated, snapped, “Can you please just make your bed?”

“I am!” she replied happily. “I’m doing it and talking at the same time!”

I love my kid. Really, I do. But if you’d told me that birthing her meant the end of solitude as I know it, I may have hesitated before that final push, the one where the midwife stood beaming as she encouraged me to finish what I’d started. Closer to home, the nurse standing at my elbow tried a different tactic. As I flailed on the table she grabbed my chin in a sturdy grip and admonished, “You need to stop.”

Stop pushing? How is that productive?

Oh, no. She meant the screaming. Apparently I was making quite a bit of noise.

Janet Freeman lives with her daughter in northern Colorado, and is the author of A Man Worthy of Your Attention. A freelance writer, editor, and book doctor, she can be found online at:

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day

Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day

It’s a little maudlin at my house these days. Through a combination of natural attrition and a distressingly adventurous Youngest, our nest is prematurely (if temporarily) empty. I’ve been wandering through bedrooms and sighing a lot, remembering the times I said “I AM SO TIRED OF THIS” instead of “Sweetie, come here. Tell me.” It’s going to be a long-ass haul to December.

In one room, left bittersweetly messy, I am dwelling on all the times I got it wrong when my eye falls on a coupon. It’s taped high on the wall, safe from the chaos below:

homeschooling coupon

One of the tragedies of working full time was that my evenings were all about tasks. Weekends, of course, were errands-and-sports. Eventually I realized that, to get several hours in a row that were PURE FUN, I was going to have to steal them.

Everyone knows that stolen time is sprinkled with pixie dust, all activities more magical when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Tom Sawyer had more fun playing hooky than he ever did on a Saturday afternoon.

But casting myself as both Tom and Aunt Sally would be tricky; it’s a far more gifted parent than I who can manage the message: “Cutting school with me is special fun, but try this with your little friends and INCUR MY WRATH. School matters!”

But I wanted to playyyyyyy.

And so homeschool day was born. Each kid got a single coupon a year.

I didn’t always know what precipitated the triumphant cashing in of a coupon – time for a break? a good weather forecast? – and I didn’t pry. I just took the coupon and started planning. And because our kids have been blessed with many of the best schoolteachers on the planet—thank you, thank you, thank you—we always had cheerful school-side partners in crime. (Ditching work was harder, but, you know, whatever.)

Now, if I were actually homeschooling, I’d have needed things like a long-term plan and possibly some training. But really, how much damage could I do? Tomorrow, my darling would be back safe with the professionals. (NB to actual homeschooling parents: Wow. Go you.) Having absolutely no responsibility to anything made my prep work giant fun.

I made Highly Official trappings. A printed schedule, with class periods and color coding. Very legit. Such hullaballoo is hardly necessary, but I found it upped the fun AND kept me feeling good about the messaging—this was different school, not skipping school.

And because I am hip to all the big-league educational trends, my homeschool always sported an INTEGRATED CURRICULUM. When Eldest, third grade, slapped down her coupon one dreary November evening, my subsequent lesson plan was as Thanksgiving as a smiling, bulletin-board turkey.

Four days later at 8:30 sharp, first period, we headed to the kitchen for Mathematics (she loved when I called it “Mathematics”). Our task was to quadruple all the recipes for Thanksgiving dinner BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY, LEFTOVERS ARE THE WHOLE POINT. We got out actual ingredients when necessary, and the lightbulb that went on when Eldest measured 3/4 cup butter four times—”Hey! That’s three cups!”—was barely dimmed by the surrounding white haze. (Flour is not the best choice for teaching fractions. Well, now I know.)

For Literature & History (double period, 1-2:40), I read aloud from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, because it is vaguely Pilgrim-y. Plus, it has that chapter where the Tory governor cancels Thanksgiving, even though long-suffering Mercy has already made the pies.

And so on.

In Homeschool Day, we found that sweet spot where what my child likes anyway (school in pajamas!) hit what I really wanted to share with them (books from my childhood!).

One year, we revolved Middlest’s day around his favorite part of regular school: P.E. We jogged a mile to our favorite park, then talked about why exercise makes us sweat. Flopped on the grass that was today our classroom, we read Jackie and Me, a fictionalized look at the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, and then we calculated batting averages.

The quasi-formality I drummed up each Homeschool Day resulted in a kind of role play, Student and Teacher. This broke some of the unpleasant habits we fell into as Parent/Offspring. I’m sorry to admit that I was reliably more patient as Math Teacher than when I was monitoring math homework.

The kids stepped up their game, too. When Mom chirps on a weekend morning, “Guys! Let’s go to the museum!” it’s just a groan. But when your homeschool schedule reads:

1 pm: Field trip, The Frye

Well, that’s a whole other thing.

And when we went to the Frye Art Museum (a free collection of manageable size, and close to home), I had Eldest pick her favorite picture (ART CLASS!), then create backstory for it in the form of a poem or a fairy tale (WRITING!). While she scribbled in her notebook beneath a painting twice her size, I wandered the museum and created a kind of scavenger hunt:

Identify art that. . .

…makes you feel scared

…makes you feel hopeful

…makes you feel sleepy

Afterward, we tried to pin down what the artist had done to elicit those feelings. Bonus: Her “scary” picture had a battle scene on it, so we went ahead and learned what the fighting had been about. (HISTORY!)

We got a lot of mileage out of the museum. Then we went to its café and ate a lot of cake. (LUNCH!)

My kids are too old to want homeschool days, now. (Not to mention NOT EVEN PRESENT. So unacceptable.) But a relic on the wall above a crash scene of rejected clothing brings back those stolen moments: in the museum, at the park, in a cloud of flour. I wasn’t only drudgey. There were times I got it right.

The Drudgey And The Profane

The Drudgey And The Profane


0-1The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun. Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter!  It helped.

I don’t know that I’m a good person (seems unlikely), but I do do a lot of good-person things. I offer old people my seat on the bus and give money to people who need it. I’m polite to strangers, even though many of them bug the shit out of me. I call my parents. I try to do what’s best for the children.

And I swear like a motherfucking sailor.

I was raised better. I grew up in gentle gardens of dangits and shoots and, when the crud really hit the fan, my mom might let fly an effing or two. But while most of my peers likewise cleaned up their acts when parenthood hit, I’ve held my profanity close.

This isn’t, for one minute, because I think words don’t matter. Of course words matter. Their mattering is exactly why I can use them, in my ongoing campaign against drudgery.

See, the Drudge in me waxes and wanes, and I’m at my grumpy drudgiest when I’m feeling trapped in the Mom-role. (It’s the role I love most, but it can get kinda trappy in there, amirite? What with all the clutter and the exhaustion and all.) And just about everything I do—my sleep, my finances, where I live, how I spend my time—is determined, quite rightly, by that role.

But the way I talk—I can make that role-agnostic. Words are something I can choose exactly the way the non-parent me would choose them. When I stub my toe and say an honest Shit!—that’s the me of me speaking. (Sometimes I wonder wistfully what it would be like to have been born with a gentle temperament, the kind where daily annoyances don’t make you want to swear, or throw dishes.)

As I was evolving my Philosophy of Profanity, I noted that letting-me-be-me might be nice conceptually, but there really are good reasons not to swear in front of the children. For example, no one wants to hear kids swearing. And also, profanity offends people (who might then get judgey about my parenting).

Totally legit reasons! Oh my goodness, I should never swear in front of the kids! But when I looked a little closer. . .

1.     We shouldn’t swear because we don’t want our kids to swear.

Um, hypocrisy much?

Most of us don’t want our toddlers knocking back martinis, yet we drink in front of the kids. We tell our children not to hit—then we turn on the football game. And violent rampages by evil geniuses are obviously verboten, but fuck me if every film in the entire James Bond canon isn’t some kind of PG.

Pick your poison. All of us have behaviors we don’t want our children to mimic, but we expose them anyway. (You don’t? Ever? Yay, you! Now, please never come to my house. I love my children very much and I fear that you will earnest them to death.)

2.     Profanity is upsetting to others.

In all things, I figure, be kind. Swearing near children is going to bug some people. In those cases, minding my tongue isn’t not being myself. It’s simply being the self to whom my mama taught manners.

At our house, Youngest hates it when I swear. (She’s pretty status conscious; I think she doesn’t want me to sound common.) So I try to keep it clean when she’s around. As a parent, I prize caring for each other over any vocabulary option.

Along these lines, the one curse I stay away from is the one just about everyone else uses freely. How in the world did “Oh my God” (or G-d, for my friends in the Tribe) become the least sweary of all the swears? Of the myriad curse words available, that one is actually supposed to be sacred. It’s vested with emotion and meaning that people hold dear. (Okay, perhaps some people feel that way about the world asshole, but I’m going to posit that they’re an edge case, and not mine to worry about.)

I use a lot of words in vain, but not God. I ask my kids to refrain, too. Because words matter, I tell them.

*   *   *

Since I chose to employ profanity as a means of staying More Me, Less Drudge, I had to come up with some ground rules.

Swearing, I tell the adorables when they’re little, is a grown-up thing.

Later, I work to combat the notion that kids swearing is cool: You know that kid who always tries to act older than he is? Yeah, he looks ridiculous. Don’t be that guy. Leave the swearing to the professionals until you get your learner’s permit.

(Obviously, you have to be able to swear once you can drive.)

When to swear, and around whom, is nuanced. I figure (not rationalizing at all) that my profane ways provide a decent object lesson in situational ethics: I may swear around you but you may not swear around me; neither of us curses around grandma; how you talk with your friends is up to you. . . .

*   *   *

The jury’s still out on the good-person thing, but I’m pretty sure that my occasional “Fuck it!” is infinitely better than me lobbing the salad plates. And when Youngest hears me bite it back at “F…,” she knows I’m doing it for her.

What’s best for the children? A mama who feels like she’s many, many things—including a mother. A mama who recognizes that caring is reflected by more than whether our sentences would get past the FCC. In my case, that means being a mama who swears.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.


Dear Drudgery Series

DD page

Dear Drudgery:  A Margot Page for Brain, Mother series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what

1.  I Am Totally Breaking Up With You

2.  Clean This! (In Which I Trick Chores Into Being Fun)

3.  Resumé Of An Anti-Drudge Zealot

4.  Carpe Diem Edition: Seize The Fun

5.  You’ve Been Outsourced

6.  Xtreme Driving Edition

7.  The Drudgey And The Profane

8.  Setting the Table For Thankfulness

9.  Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day

10. Pajama Night Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means



 Illustration by Christine Juneau


In The Mix: A Tale From The Trail

In The Mix: A Tale From The Trail

By Kris Woll

0-5My neighbor looked at me with amazement as I presented her with the large plastic vat of trail mix.

You know, I said, trying to poetically explain the rationale behind my rather unconventional gift, for the journey.

I didn’t always give M&M’s, raisins, and mixed nuts as a baby gift. I used to give things like cute and tiny onesies and plush stuffed teddy bears.

But then something changed: I had kids. And kind, well-meaning, and totally uninformed (either they forgot, or they didn’t yet know) people around me started bringing cute size 0-3 onesies and puffy bunnies and soft sheep to my house—my house that I could no longer clean, given that I had at best 15 minutes each day with both hands free; my house that was coated in last week’s laundry still to be folded but never to be put away; my house that was always a little light but had become so much so with the arrival of yet another resident, even one that small. Yes, they brought onesies and snuggly bears to my house and left them there, wrapped in three layers of tissue paper and placed inside a perky little bag with ribbon handles, for me to find a place for.  To find a place for somewhere in the “baby’s room,” that crowded former office space that now served as storage for diapers, wipes, onesies, and stuffed animals. And as the guest bedroom. And also the coat closet. (The baby was nearly the only thing not stored in the room; she slept near us.)

In other words, motherhood taught me to rethink my approach to post-baby gift giving, taught me to think about real wants and needs …

Like M&M’s! And a cashew or two! Mixed with—because, let’s face it, those early bowel movements are not a piece of cake—raisins!

I first gave trail mix as a gift to a mom down the street, a neighbor I knew only casually from front-yard conversations on warm summer nights. I gifted the trail mix to her just a few days after she arrived home with baby number two; the pink balloon still danced, though a little deflated, in the front window when I arrived. It was just a few months after I had my second child, the blur of the earliest days only starting to lift, and I gave the fruit and nuts and chocolate with a straight face, believing wholeheartedly that not only was it a totally appropriate present, but that it would be sort of a dream gift.

I expected my neighbor to open the door with her one free hand as she cradled her newborn to her breast with the other, and to tear up my thoughtfulness. I’m so hungry! she’d shout, and I only have one hand free! And the microwave buttons beep so loudly that they wake the baby! And the pretzel bag crinkles too loudly, too! And I want to save the leftover frozen pizza from last night’s dinner for tonight’s dinner because the thought of even unwrapping cellophane at 5pm is just more than I can handle, and, like the microwave buttons and pretzel bag, that cellophane is just so damn loud! 

But trail mix! she’d exclaim, now there’s something I can eat! With one hand! With no dishes! Oh, how did you know?

This is not what she said.

At first, as I held the plastic tub her way, she thought I was asking her to hold our snack while I adjusted the baby in the carrier on my chest. I motioned toward her as she tried to hand it back, adding, no, no, it’s for you!  She laughed but quickly caught herself, too polite (we live in Minnesota) to offend. Oh, wow!  she responded. Wow, well … (awkward pause, while she looked at me like I was the real nut in the doorway) … thanks! 

I stared past the door she opened to me and my baby. Admittedly, her life beyond our shared sidewalk was a mystery. And what a glorious mystery it was—behind her was a sparklingly-clean home with space far beyond that of my unexpanded version of her cape. Not a toy in site, even though her preschool-age daughter peeked through the stairway railing. She had brushed hair, and the top she was wearing not only lacked drippy stains but also coordinated well with the pants she had on. She wore lipstick and even a bracelet. I knew as I stared at the charms that adorned the one of her two free hands—the baby was asleep, presumably in its own room—that perhaps my trail mix was a miss. That maybe I should have re-gifted one of the cute size 0-3 onesies still stacked—unworn, unwashed, tags in place—on a shelf in my “baby room” back home.

I tucked my hands and bare wrists into the carrier and swayed with my baby to try to cover my embarrassment. I wished her well, and turned toward home.

I have not reverted back to giving onesies (even the cute ones at the co-op with “locally grown” stamped on the chest), nor have I given any stuffed bunnies or bears since that particular day, but I’ve not tried the trail mix again, either. Lately I opt for diapers or a gift certificate for a pedicure.

Yet I can’t help but think it’s the new mother’s loss. Those microwave buttons can be really loud. And frozen pizza is so hard to unwrap with one hand.

At least for some of us, those early weeks can be an arduous—blissful, yes, and rosy in mind now, but arduous at the time—climb. When I think back my first weeks with a new baby, I remember now all those hours spent rocking, rocking, rocking, and rocking, how hard it was to get up from the chair, and how hungry I got, and how good that trail mix tasted along the way.

Kris Woll is Minneapolis-based writer.  

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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Please RSVP

Please RSVP

0037On the invitation to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, I included the acronym RSVP.  I am certain the word “optional” did not accompany this request for a reply so I remained puzzled as to why so many did not inform me as to their intentions.

The crisp white invitation included the details of the day in a turquoise font. And then, in hot pink, to really stand out for the invited guests, the words “please RSVP by October 6th.”  My decision to add the word “please” before the letters RSVP could technically be construed as redundant since RSVP comes from the French phrase, réspondez, s’il vous plaît, which literally means “please reply.” Yet, my decision for the additional “please” was perhaps a subtle attempt to convey to my guests that I would really appreciate for the invitees to accept or decline by the designated reply date.

One full week after my RSVP deadline, I stepped away from my computer screen after sending messages to 18 parents and 14 couple friends. I added some pleasantries and exclamation points to the emails to soften the potential embarrassment of missing the response date. I fell short of adding the smiley faces that jump up and down and wink at the email recipient and realized that if I was going to add emoticons that an angry facial expression would be a more accurate interpretation of my actual feelings.  And, perhaps an added “p.s. I’m sorry I even invited you if you can’t find the time to let me know if you are coming.” I had mailed the invites six weeks prior, giving a full month to respond. Why do people ignore invitations?

I’m still uncertain whether I would have received a larger response rate if I had included a reply card with a self addressed stamped envelope for the invited guest to fill out and return by mail. My “greener” approach, providing an email address to respond to, perhaps presented some with technical difficulties. My parents’ friends, however, responded in a timely fashion via email yet I am still not sure whether it is a coincidence that their replies were in all capital letters. Is it that the “caps lock” button was activated or were they screaming at me for not including a simple reply card?

Maybe using RSVP is too vague. Maybe in the future I just need to write on the invitation what I really mean. I wonder how the invitees would react if, “please RSVP” was replaced by “I really need to know whether you are coming and don’t make me chase you down.”  Or, maybe, “if you don’t let me know by the reply date, you won’t be invited to any more of my parties.” Perhaps then my invited guests would let me know whether they plan to attend.

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Our Preschool Potty Training Policy

Our Preschool Potty Training Policy

By Carolyn Rabin

0-14We are teetering on the edge of disaster.  My three-and-a-half year old son is one potty accident away from being kicked out of preschool.  The first strike was on Tuesday.  When I picked Jacob up from school Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that he was not wearing the same pair of pants he had on that morning.  Instead, he sat at the arts and crafts table in a rumpled pair of blue pants that is usually stashed away in his cubby.

“Jacob, what happened to your pants?”  I asked, my throat tight.

“What?” Jacob said, focused intently on chasing a glob of green paint around his paper.

“Honey, what happened to the pants you had on this morning?”

“OOOOOh.  I changed my pants,” Jacob explained with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Yes, but WHY?”

“My other pants were full of peepee.”

I looked over at Jacob’s cubby and there it was.  Taunting me.  The letter reminding me that any child who has three accidents in two weeks is suspended from preschool to be “retrained.”  It was only Jacob’s first strike, but I was already rattled.  With good reason.  The next day, Jacob had another accident.

It’s not that Jacob can’t stay dry, it’s just not a particularly high priority for him.  For Jacob, sporting a dry pair of pants is a very distant second to hearing the rest of the story at meeting time or holding onto his spot in the pretend play area.  Perhaps it was at preschool, having established his priorities, that Jacob adopted a remarkable equanimity toward potty accidents.

A typical conversation on the topic at home:

Jacob (calmly): “Mommy, I need new pants.”

Me (less calmly): “Jacob, are you having an accident?!?”  (I look spastically down at his feet and observe the beginnings of Lake Erie).

Jacob: “Yes.  But that’s okay!  It’s just a little accident.”

Where did this placating banter come from?   Not from me.  And, absolutely not from his father.  As soon as Dan sees a spot of moisture on Jacob’s pants, he picks him up with fully extended arms and runs toward the nearest bathroom at a speed intended to reverse the rotation of the earth by just enough to make it to the bathroom before the accident begins.

We are now in sudden death mode.  One more accident before the end of next week and he’s out.  I arrive to pick up Jacob on Thursday afternoon with my heart pounding.  (Please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords-please-still-be-wearing-your-tan-cords.)  As I drive up in my car, Jacob’s class is being led out on the playground.  Incredibly.  Painfully.  Slowly.  I wait for him to emerge from the building with every muscle in my body clenched.  There he is.  Tan cords.  Thank you, sweet God of Bladder Control.

Don’t get the wrong idea.  I adore my child and I love spending time with him.  I have rearranged my work schedule to do so.  But two solid weeks at home to focus on potty (re)training?  What this really means is two weeks of bouncing around our living room playing an unending game of puppy preschool  (Jacob’s invention).  Two weeks of Jacob’s mind spinning from boredom and me answering an unending string of questions such as, “If a car isn’t alive, does that mean it’s dead?” “Now that I’m a big kid, can I get an iguana?” and “If tomorrow is Daddy’s birthday, will he get bigger?”

Fast forward a week to the following Thursday.  Jacob has miraculously made it through each day without a wardrobe change.   A healthy share of the credit goes to his teachers who have been taking him to the bathroom every three minutes.  When I drop him off each morning, I thank them.  Profusely.

Friday morning arrives.  It is the last day that Jacob must stay dry to avoid suspension.  Should I not tempt fate and keep him home?  It would be a cowardly move. I am totally considering it.  But ultimately I drive Jacob to preschool as usual.  When I drop him off, I stop by his teacher’s desk.  “Thanks again for taking Jacob to the bathroom so often.  It has clearly made a HUGE difference.  Anyway, today is our last day of sudden death . . . .”  His teacher looks at me concerned.

Three hours later, I receive an email from Jacob’s preschool.  The potty training policy has been changed.  Children are now allowed FIVE accidents in a two-week span before being suspended.  The director explains that the policy was never intended to cause stress, but merely to quantify what it means to be potty trained.  That afternoon, I arrive to pick Jacob up from school with a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in a while.  I spot him across the room, crawling around the carpet and barking.  My little policy maker.

Carolyn Rabin is a health psychologist at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and mother to Jacob and his one-year old sister.   In order to more carefully chronicle their mischief, she recently started a blog:

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Dear Drudgery: You’ve Been Outsourced!

Dear Drudgery: You’ve Been Outsourced!


0-1Ah, lecturing. The joy of knowing things that the children do not, and telling them all about it. How lucky you are that I understand so much, is the subtext of every parental lecture. And that I am willing to share my wisdom with you.

We have talked some in this series about nagging, but lecturing is nagging all growed up. Nagging lives for the moment: Clear your dish. Get your backpack off the couch. Lecturing takes the long view. It’s not just this dish, this minute. Lecturing understands that the left-behind dinner dish is merely a fleeting symptom of a deep character flaw—our children’s selfishness, thoughtlessness, and senses of entitlement are problematic, and so we must lecture them out.

“Pick up your backpack,” is a nag; the lecture is more like: “The world is not just about you, sweet cheeks. It’s time you realize what it means to be part of a family.”

Because we’re not just creating a tidy living room; we’re creating people. In procreating, we have taken it upon ourselves to send children out into the world, and I don’t want mine to get out there and be assholes. This is a reasonable fear! Perfectly adorable children grow up to monopolize conversations, be sarcastic to the elderly, and talk loudly on their cell phones on public transportation. And so I lecture, for a better world.

My parental lecture series has many installments. Your Life is Cake and You Should Appreciate It, is a biggie, as is It’s Actually Pretty Easy To Be Helpful, So Why Not? My most artful lecture, Why You Should Share, is one I stole from a friend several years ago. This beauty is pithy, concise, and in just a few short sentences manages to turn standard childhood pettiness into a life-threatening character flaw:

“Sweetie, I can see you don’t feel like sharing the toy with your sister. And I understand—it’s yours! But remember this: That girl is the closest genetic match you have on this planet and one day, you might need a kidney. When that day comes, your sister might not feel like sharing.”

By definition, my lecture topics are rarely pleasant. This makes lecturing a prime candidate for funnification.

I share this truth with you now:

The very most absolute fun thing you can do with lectures is to outsource them. 

Here’s how it works.

You take a standard lecture, and you give it a name. And then you open it up.

At our house, the This is Dinner speech as delivered by me went roughly like this:

“Guys, this is dinner, and I’m just making the one. If you don’t like this dinner, that’s fine, but I don’t need to hear about that – you’re welcome to cheerfully make yourself something else. If you don’t finish your dinner? Also okay. But when you come back hungry in a couple of hours, don’t expect snacks until you’ve eaten some growing food.”

One night when Eldest was frowning at her asparagus and gearing up for god-knows-what, I turned to Middlest. “Think you could give the This is Dinner speech tonight?”

COULD HE EVER. Standing up, Middlest made his eight-year-old windpipe go very deep. “This” he intoned, “is Dinner.” He embellished. He listed myriad alternative dinner options available in the kitchen. He made sure we took this very, very seriously.

And we were off. From that moment, I could always say “What lecture do you think I’m about to give right now? Think you could do it?”

“Oh! Oh! I want to! Let me!”

When we lived in Costa Rica, the biggest linguistic milestone of the year came the evening that Youngest gave the This is Dinner speech in Spanish:

“Esta es la cena. . .” she began in her five-year-old lisp, standing on her chair to get everyone’s attention. “Mama he hacerlo. . .”

Do the kids think it’s kinda dumb? Of course. Do they do it anyway, and is it better than having to do it myself? OH YOU BET. And here is a point, a very important one so probably I will harp on it for a while because, you know, it’s what I do: Standing up against drudgery is not actually about whether the kids are having fun. Here in the 21st-century U.S. of A., parenting is already hyperskewed toward ensuring these children are living marvelous, fun, enriched lives every minute of every day. My anti-Drudge campaign? That’s about ME having a good time.

Bottom line? Each of my kids still has to share/pick up their stuff/not be bratty about having to share a bedroom—whether I’ve written a limerick about it, made them pick a task out of a jug, or just become slightly unhinged. It’s the journey, darlings, I say to them. And I want to enjoy it, even the tedious parts. Do I want the kids to enjoy the journey, too? Oh, so much. But believe me: When I’m having more fun, all of us are.

All three of my kids babysit, now. Not long ago, Eldest came home, tired but glowing, from a long summer day with the three adorable girls she takes care of. “I taught them a speech,” she told me. “We called it ‘This is snack.'”

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Ten Things I Didn’t Fully Appreciate Before Children

Ten Things I Didn’t Fully Appreciate Before Children


0-7Ten Things I Didn’t Fully Appreciate Before Children:

1. Ziploc Bags. I’ve abandoned all environmental principles and fully embraced these plastic wonders. Peed in underwear. Wet swim suits. Snacks. Toys for road trips. The possibilities are literally endless.


2. PBS. All the entertainment without the requests for plastic crap or sugar cereal. For years, Cat in the Hat was the only reason I was able to take a shower.


3. NPR. Another acronym I appreciate deeply. The “news and information” allow me to participate in adult conversations I would avoid if I was forced to rely on newspaper articles I had time to read.


4. Drive-Throughs. Getting kids out of the car is a pain. Motherhood has turned this previous champion of all things local, urban and walkable into a fossil-fuel burning maniac who will drive out of her way to visit the coffee stand with a drive-through window. I curse my high-minded snub of the mega bank with a drive-up ATM in favor of the local credit union with street parking.


5. Dinner and a Movie. Before children, this seemed like a lame date. I judged “dinner and a movie” types as lacking creativity and initiative. Now, the idea of a leisurely dinner back to back with a two-hour movie seems positively indulgent.


6. Hand Sanitizer. Kids are gross. They touch gross things. They do gross things. The ability to sanitize after nose picking and before sandwich eating is a must.


7. Handicap Bathrooms. Children are a legitimate handicap. It takes a lot of space to assist a child with emptying his/her bladder. It is helpful to have some elbow room in which to undress, squat, lift, position, cajole, wipe and re-dress. It is also nice when it takes your kids a few steps to cross a stall. That way, you have a fighting chance of buttoning your own pants before they start selling tickets for the peep show.


8. Slip-On Shoes. By the time I’ve brushed three mouths full of teeth and three heads full of hair, the last thing I need is three pairs of shoes to tie. Slip-on shoes dramatically increase the likelihood of timely arrival at our destination.


9. Other People’s Cooking. I am an enthusiastic acceptor of dinner invites. I would rather eat boxed macaroni and cheese at your house than caramelized root vegetables and steamed salmon at mine.


10. Grown-Ups. I love grown-ups. Their conversation topics. Their voice volume. The fact that they can go to the bathroom by themselves and usually flush without a reminder.

Kristina Cerise is a Seattle mom trying to find a little meaning in the madness.  She blogs at, tweets as @DefineMother, and talks to anyone who will listen at the local coffee shop.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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An Open Letter To My Placenta

An Open Letter To My Placenta

By Jessica Dur Taylor
0-8Dear Placenta:

You might be wondering why, nearly three months after your birthday, you are still wrapped in that indelicate red plastic, frozen solid. Each time I fetch an ice cube, I feel a pang of guilt. You, the unsung hero of birth, nestled in between the Rocky Road and the Trader Joe’s meatless corn dogs like so many bags of peas! (Then again, you don’t see me using them for bicep curls, do you?)

It’s just that I’ve been way busier than I bargained for, what with all the cloth diapering and sling-wearing and breastfeeding on demand. Has my daughter (who owes her life to you, placenta) stolen your thunder? Well, obviously.

But today is your day.

For nine and a half months you held tight to my uterine wall, kept waste and nutrients flowing in all the right directions, and blocked the stray molecules of carnauba wax and yellow #5 from infiltrating my fetus’s bloodstream. Dang those rainbow sprinkles! You did exactly what you were designed to do, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

So why, given all your awesomeness, didn’t I just eat you outright? You were delivered by a midwife in a low-light room after 22 hours of excruciating “natural” labor. Surely you figured you were headed straight for a red wine marinade and the broiler. Or at the very least dehydration. And believe me, after hearing the horror stories of postpartum depression, of new greasy-haired moms hovering under the sheets with the curtains drawn, I seriously considered having you dried out and made into handy capsules, just in case I felt myself daydreaming about putting my baby in the freezer. Or worse.

But by the time we finally met, I was too exhausted to care what happened to you, placenta. Can you really blame me? I’m a woman of average size, even after forty pounds of pregnancy weight gain. So why did I grow a ten pound baby? (Okay, to be more accurate: why did we grow a nine pound, ten and a half ounce monstrosity?) Was it my daily froyo habit? All that grass-fed beef and Dino kale?

All I know is that after pushing for four hours, until my face was swollen and my hair nearly dread-locked, I could give a rat’s bung about imprinting you on acid-free paper, the way I’d once imagined. Was I expecting to be charmed by my baby’s first bedfellow? Did I think you’d make for some artsy photos, maybe inspire a multi-media collage? Perhaps. What I didn’t expect was something resembling a giant uncooked liver, better fit for a haunted house than a matte frame.

Still, heavyweight drippy squid creature or not, you never pulled any punches. I read the disquieting What to Expect When You’re Expecting (note to self: burn it), so I’m well aware of all that could have gone wrong. Even in my post-labor semi-alert daze I knew I couldn’t let you go the way of the hazardous waste bin. You faithfully delivered the antibodies that made one healthy, alert, dare I say it, exquisite little baby–naturally, I was in awe of you both. So I lugged you home, along with my unworn nightie and uneaten snacks, with benevolent, if cloudy, intentions. The last thing I wanted for you was freezer burn!

Have you heard that in some regions of Africa the query to a stranger is not “Where are you from?” but “Where is your placenta buried?” In fact, a quick Google search reveals that burying the placenta is de rigueur all over the world. Here in California, there are more than a few lemon and olive trees growing out of placental internments, I assure you.

And so. The hole has been dug. The cupcakes are cooling. You’re defrosting in the kitchen sink. Soon you will be released from your plastic prison and returned to your natural, gooey state. Time for one last look, cord and all. I may even snap a photo or two.

Since I’ve been flummoxed about what to do with the remains of my wedding bouquet, all dried out and crumbly, I hope you won’t mind me tossing that in as well. Somehow it seems appropriate—after all, that auspicious event did essentially lead to your creation. I’ve also gathered a few heavy rocks to place on top of the burial mound, just in case the neighborhood dogs come a-sniffin’.

As for what to plant on top of you, I’m thinking something low maintenance and hassle-free, like wildflowers. May you nourish them as you nourished my sweet baby girl, and may you rest in peace, placenta, at last.

Jessica Dur Taylor teaches college composition, writes about food for the Bay Area alt-weekly the Bohemian, and makes the most of her daughter’s nap time. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Stealing Time, Prick of the Spindle, The Mom Egg, Gloom Cupboard, Hip Mama online, and others. She lives in Santa Rosa, California.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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A Field Guide To Urban Early Literacy

A Field Guide To Urban Early Literacy

By Vivian Manning-Schaffel


New York provides abundant opportunities for your child’s burgeoning synapses to string letters into words like popcorn onto a garland. Early readers are constantly faced with an onslaught of linguistic stimuli; a seemingly infinite barrage of letters and numbers swoosh by as inky shadows through transient subway platforms. But for the parents or caregivers of these fired up young minds, urban life can require a refined hair-trigger creativity when it comes to definitions.

During a midday sojourn to a health food café on Avenue A, my then five-year old son and I were enjoying a bite to eat when he suddenly had to use the restroom. We ducked into the dank, fragrant stall and, like many bathrooms in older establishments in the Lower East Side, the walls were festooned with colorful commentary. He begins his business only to pause mid-stream, gaze up and, among the exclamations, diatribes, band stickers and phone numbers in eyeshot, focuses intently on a single statement.

Then he zips up and turns to ask me oh-so-casually, “Mom? What’s F*&k Bush mean?”

I don’t know what this says about me but my first instinct was to marvel at how he pronounced the word perfectly. Like it was an innocuous a term as “shoe” and he’d been saying it since he could talk. I crank up the water faucet to suppress a startled giggle and concluded he must’ve drawn a parallel between that word and “duck,” a common sight word. But I had to think carefully about how to answer this question and I had to think fast.

Problem was, this seemingly simple statement of aggression, sexual implication and political unrest was a minefield to race through. There was no way I was going to attempt to explain it as a verb in the literal sense. I was bound and determined to keep fornication off the table for at least a few more years if I could help it. And if I did opt for honesty and tried to paint it as an intimate, loving act, he’d wonder why was it written in anger — as if it were a bad thing. Then, it occurred to me there were also two ways to explain the whole “Bush” thing, but I opted to steer clear of the anatomical angle and went with the President.

“Well, ‘f*&k’ is not really a nice word,” I start, with a full grasp of my hypocrisy as it holds a prominent place in my post-bedtime vernacular unless I drop something on my foot.  Then, anytime will do. “People really don’t like President Bush very much so they’re being mean to him.”

“Does he come in here to pee too?” asks my son astutely.

“I don’t know,” I say, grateful to locate a germ of honesty in my side of this conversation. “I guess they were really mad and felt like they had to write it down. But that’s not something that’s cool either,” I back peddle, fully aware that I’m not making a whole hell of a lot of sense.

“But what does ‘f*&k’ mean?” persists my boy, never one to let go of a question until the answer is explored in its full circumference.

F*&k. What do you mean to me, oh honorable f-bomb? I don’t literally mean penetration each time I say it or think it.  So what do I mean?

“Does it mean ‘hate’ then?” he continued.

“Kind of,” I responded, blatantly stalling while marveling at his insight. It did devolve into meaning hate, in a way. What kind of a people were we to degenerate something so fun into something so…unfun?

“Does it mean people want to hit him? Like, people should hit Bush?” he pressed.

Naturally this made me laugh even louder on the inside. Yeah, I thought, sometimes it means you like to ‘hit’ that. Then, I pictured him telling his Kindergarten teacher that a classmate ‘f*&ked’ him at recess. So that was out.

Having exhausted all my options, it was time to put an end to this seemingly endless inquisition.

“You know what honey?” I said, wiping my hands dry. “You have to trust me when I say that it’s a word that you are too young to understand. I promise I will explain it when the time is right. But you have to promise not to repeat it until then, okay?”

Much to my surprise, he nodded obediently and let it go. Silent obedience usually indicated he was considering the prospect of learning a magic, grown-up word and the dark foreboding force he’d eventually wield with it in a magic, grown-up world.

I paid the bill in haste, bundled him up and ventured back out into our city, one full of elusive definitions.

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a freelance journalist and essayist who writes for a vast array of publications, including CBS Watch!, The New York Times, Working Mother and The New York Post. She writes/performs sketch comedy and is an upstanding member of US Weekly’s Fashion Police, poking fun at red carpet risks in its pages every other week. Read more of her work at and follow her on Twitter @SoapboxDirty.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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A Letter To The Teenage Boy Wearing The Offensive T-Shirt

A Letter To The Teenage Boy Wearing The Offensive T-Shirt

By Tiffany Doerr Guerzon


To: The teenage boy wearing the offensive T-Shirt

From: A mom

Subject: What I wish I would’ve said to you

You know who you are. You are the boy wearing the T-Shirt emblazoned with the message: Sorry girls, I only date models.

And you know who I am. I am the middle-aged, overweight mom who stood and glowered at you for a full thirty seconds after reading your T-Shirt. Or maybe you didn’t notice me, because I’m not a model. But I’m here to tell you that I am a model—a model mother, wife and citizen.

I know I don’t look like a model to you, as my hair is highlighted gray instead of peroxide blonde. And if my hips are roughly double the circumference of the average super model, it’s because I pushed three babies out through these hips, you ignorant twerp.

If my silicone-free breasts offend you because they aren’t as large or firm as those you would find in the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, that’s because I nursed all three said babies with those breasts. If these tired old boobs want to lie down and rest, then I say they have it coming.

You probably didn’t notice my legs because I’m not mincing along in stilettos. I’m wearing sensible shoes because my feet hurt from years of walking the floor with fussy babies and standing on the sidelines cheering at my kids’ sports games.

I know that my face isn’t smooth and wrinkle free. Those lines are a roadmap of my life and the crap I’ve had to put up with from punks like you. At least you can tell I’m pissed off by the expression on my Botox-free face.

Furthermore, the bags under my eyes aren’t heroin chic but the real thing. They are the product of years of parenting-induced sleep deprivation and nights spent lying awake worrying about my daughters going out with snot-nosed kids like you.

So I am a model, just not the kind you’re looking for. My advice to you is to go home and kiss the mother who brought your sorry butt into this world. Or, if she let you out of the door knowing you were wearing that T-Shirt; then slap her for me.

Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is a freelance writer and the mother of three children.  Her work has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood, the Christian Science Monitor, and over forty regional parenting magazines across the US and Canada.  Read more of her work at

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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What It Means When the Spanx Catalogue Appears In Your Mailbox

What It Means When the Spanx Catalogue Appears In Your Mailbox

By Aline Weiller

0-1I got the Spanx catalog in the mail today.  Yes, there is an actual Spanx catalog, showcasing every variation on this magic, modern-day girdle.  I’m not sure who tipped off the cellulite police, but there it was, that catalog, in my mailbox, waiting for me to order some form-fitting device made to disguise any hint of motherhood or mid-life.  Talk about an AH-HA moment.

Am I at the Spanx stage of my life?  Really?  Is it not enough that I’m in the throes of peri-menopausal power nesting?  Must I be reminded of unfit thighs to boot?  Maybe it was a mail mishap, I rationalized.  But, no, my name spanned the label in all its glory.  Apparently, I was the intended recipient, the proverbial target market.  Ugh.  I peeled out of the driveway.

It took a King Size Hershey Bar and mani/pedi to lift me from my funk.  The salon walls were a cheery pink, but the lighting dim with irony.  Younger women at my sides — friends in tennis attire — spoke right through me, their perky words a contrast to my predicament.  “I’ve got a great new girl who does my brows, I’ll text you her name,” the blonde with dark roots chirped.  “Terrif,” her freckled friend replied.

Suddenly polished, I decided my mailbox epiphany was a positive sign, a gentle reminder I was embarking on a new life chapter.  Nails buffed and painted, I stood ready to take on the world, tissue between my toes and all.

Until at a doctor’s office later that day, when once again I was reminded of my mature phase.  “Insurance card, please.  Is everything the same?” asked the busy receptionist.  Yes, except that I’ve entered the Spanx demographic, I thought, then confirmed my information, clipboard in hand.   The nurse kindly said I didn’t look my age, while the doctor gave me the ole’, “Now’s the time to come into your own.”  Though an unlikely setting for this clichéd advice, I embraced it and mapped out goals for the potential Spanx-sporting me.

As for my catalog, it’s bedside bound, on-call should I need to give it a gander.  I haven’t been moved to make a purchase, but there it’s perched — part stylist, part lifeline, urging me to stay active.  Did I mention I scheduled an extra session with my trainer this week?  I scan it nightly as the choices abound — bras, leggings, apparel and activewear that all promise “On-the-Go-Flattery” and come in different “Power Levels” — medium or hardcore, a control freak’s nirvana.  You can even “Shop by Body Part,” no joke.

But, wait, it doesn’t stop there.  Spanx swimwear (a.k.a. the “Miracle Suit”) exists and creates a more palatable beach body.  Maybe not Baywatch results, but passable for spring break with the fam.  Men, too, can sport Spanx as there are “Shapewear” and “Compression Shirt” offerings for the flabby set.  There’s even a go-to “Starter Kit” for the ever-economical guy.  The selection is endless.  Kudos must go out to Spanx founder, Sara Blakely, who Forbes named the youngest self-made billionaire, for dreaming up the Best. Idea. Ever.

My brush with Spanx has served a dual purpose: a helpful reminder not to “pack-in-it” and reason to celebrate the modern-day me.  Who says I can’t wear skinny jeans, Converse sneakers, and the occasional bedazzled tee?  It’s who I am, despite my birthday.  If need be, I’ve got a back-up wardrobe in my trusty catalog.  I’ve even been eyeing a Spanx-infused LBD (little black dress) named the “Bod-A-Bing,” I’d don, if need be.  My perspective, and mid-section, were on the brink of change.

With newfound vigor, I made Type A to-do lists.  Work out more.  Check. Launch my own business. Check.  Have more “me time.”  On the horizon.  Buy Spanx.  Done.  Change was a good thing I thought, contemplating a “Carpe Diem” bumper sticker.  In fact, reinvention rocks (thank-you Madonna).

Let this be a shout-out to fortysomethings everywhere, it’s really okay to have a Spanx calling.  Let it spur you to start anew, as it’s done me.  Join the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanx,” why don’t you?   Repeat after me, “Spanx is my friend.”  We all need a little help from our friends, right?

Aline Weiller is a freelance writer/journalist whose work has been featured in print/online publications and blogs.  She is also the founder of the public relations firm, Wordsmith, LLC, based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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On Drudgery: Resumé Of An Anti-Drudge Zealot

On Drudgery: Resumé Of An Anti-Drudge Zealot

0-1This is third installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parent-related tedium what’s what. Previous posts include such easy-to-implement practices as Hassle Poetry and the Jug of Endurable Tasks.

This post is less practical. Consider it optional background reading.

If someone came ambling down the Internet presuming to tell me how to be more fun, I’d want to kick her in the face. (Hey! That is not a very fun thing to do!) So. If I’m going to commit this act of breathtaking hypocrisy—and it appears that I am—it feels appropriate to provide my qualifications.

But, um, oops. I’ve performed no analyses, measured no heart rates. I’m no funner than you are, most likely. BUT I OBVIOUSLY HAVE SOMETHING GOING FOR ME, BECAUSE I JUST USED THE WORD “FUNNER” AND NOBODY DIED. So, you know. Respect.

What I have is a story.

Once I had a really shitty year. So, so shitty. I had three small kids in a messy yellow house, a gaggle of ambitious colleagues, and a very kind, but very silent, husband.

At home, life was a jumble of clutter and carpools and diapers and homework. Every single day, there was more to do than I could ever get done. (No matter how many times we made dinner, the children needed to eat again, the very next day! They really had no shame about it.) And while Husband’s silence wasn’t malicious—I’m married to one of the most amiable humans ever spawned—it simply didn’t occur to him to speak to me. Our extended non-conversation made me lonely, and not always cheerful.

During this period, way too many of my sentences started “Oh for god’s sake. . .” and ended with exclamation points. (Not the fun kind).

That was home. At the office, I built software alongside energetic, wanna-be-millionaire dudes. (In certain pockets of high tech, and I was in one of them, it was pretty much always dudes back then. It’s evened out.) While I was scurrying to produce quality work and get the hell out before daycare closed (I had no millionaire aspirations, which turned out to be SO LUCKY), the guys never seemed to be in a hurry—they took lots of breaks, then worked late. It was no secret how they pulled this off: To a dude, they were either completely unencumbered, or they had wives at home to wipe the snot and manage the details.

One rock-bottom day, as a band of merry teammates held their daily frat party foosball game down the hall, I closed my office door and let the tears leak out. Sure you can play games all afternoon, I seethed, phlegmily. You have all that fucking wind beneath your wings.

(In full-on self-pity mode, I can turn the sweetest of sentiments into an exercise in profanity. I am the master.)

Husband didn’t get it, which was of course part of the problem, and the kids were too little to understand. Plus, it’s not the children’s job to understand their mama’s shitty year. It’s their job to keep growing. It takes a lot of focus to learn to use your words, especially when biting makes a much more honest statement. Keeping it together is the parent’s job.

So at work I was leaking and seething; at home, there was yelling and guilt-tripping. Keeping-it-togetherwise, I was not—to steal vocabulary from my day job—meeting expectations.

The day I overreacted to foosball, I knew for sure: This woman, scrambling through life trying not to slap anyone, is not me. I can flee, or I can find a way to inject more fun and lightness into this whole enterprise. But if I keep feeling like this, I will lose myself completely and I will surely die.

Fleeing would be embarrassing, and dying seemed likely to scar the children. So I went with funnification; it was the only option left.

(Note: I’m not saying one has to end up that close to the edge in order to un-drudge. In fact, I recommend strongly against it. And of course, true, clinical depression can’t be decided away. But I was not clinically depressed; I was what your mental-health professionals refer to as “kinda bitchy, really.”)

I had a friend in a similar place. We whined at each other regularly, “But I used to be so fun. What happened?” One day we decided: We would no longer let the tasks of survival be the whole story. We would Commit to Fun.

We wanted to stop acting like life was such a freaking chore all the time. To very consciously create little zones of joy and air and light amid all the daily tasks, pockets in which tiny green shoots of fun and freedom could survive. The next day I set out to find or make a million sunlit spaces, where before I’d thought there was only room for Getting Things Done.

I began to feel like myself again, and life was vastly better inside the yellow house.

And that is the creation story of my assault on drudgery and my commitment to fun. It comprises the entirety of my qualifications to speak on the subject:

1.     Once I lost myself in drudgedom, and I didn’t like it.

2.     I found simple gimmicks to make our days more fun, and

3.     Life was more joyful, then.

Of course, every so often I still get lost, and have to remember to drag myself back. You have to keep working the program. Truth be told, we have the makin’s, again, for another no-good era at my house. But I’m older and a little wiser, and I’ve gotten out of this hole before.

Not this time, Drudgery, I shake my finger at it, because I am so bossy. I win, again.

Enough with the navel gaze. Next time, back to the gimmicks—we’ll pick up with Backpacks of Possibility.

(P.S. I keep my face in Seattle, in case you would like to try to kick it.)


Illustration by Christine Juneau