Moms Night Out

Moms Night Out

By Susan Buttenwieser


You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.


The Moms from Toddler Room A have the night off. They are letting loose at the back table in a T.G.I.F. knock-off.

“Get your husbands to baby sit,” the email from Cruise Director Mom instructed earlier. She’s the self-designated organizer of the monthly snack schedule, teacher thank-you gifts, and lice outbreak alerts. “Because tonight is MOM’S NIGHT OUT!!!!”

Immediately, the Reply Alls started rolling in.

Compara-Mom was the first to rsvp. “So TOTALLY psyched!! Can already taste the salt on my margarita! I am ready to PAR-TAY!” Her main reason for getting out of bed each morning is to display her vastly superior child-rearing skills.

Cheery-Bitter Mom chimed in. “Literally cannot wait! Stuck at home all week with two sick kids and they are driving me crazy! Let’s get this PAR-TAY started!” She makes baby food from scratch, sews all her children’s clothing, and loathes them.

“Just wish we could start the PAR-TAY right now!” Overly-Aerobicized Mom signed off with her signature yellow smiley-faced emoticon.

Now here you all are in this brightly lit restaurant with no discernable cuisine. It is mostly empty except for a few happy-hourers anchored to the bar. The Moms pound umbrella drinks and nibble at nachos smothered in cheese and hot chilies. Nearby speakers blare that one Edie Brickell hit that gets Cheery-Bitter bouncing in her chair.

At first everyone is giddy and the conversation is easy. It is seven p.m. and you are in a bar. Not home navigating baths or bedtime stories or scraping barely touched chicken nuggets into the trash. So giddy that everyone is able to overlook the fact that the Cruise Director chose a place that is subpar to an airport lounge.

You discuss the preschool teachers where you all know each other from. How hard it is to find something to wear that feels remotely flattering. How hard it is to find time to exercise. How hard it is to find time to do anything for yourselves. How lucky you all are that the Cruise Director organized this.

But then that first sheen of excitement wears off and an awkward lull washes over the table. You are missing the social crutch of attending to your children’s constant needs in the confines of the playground or the pre-school hallways. The Cruise Director tries to flag down the waitress for another round. Compara-Mom tells Cheery Bitter that she looks like she’s lost weight. Overly Aerobicized agrees. And then there is more awkwardness.

So the Moms turn to the one subject that comes so easily: husband hatred.

Compara Mom won’t let her husband buy groceries. The Cruise Director can’t trust her husband to take their kids to the playground because he doesn’t provide “appropriate supervision.” Cheery Bitter’s husband always fucks up the laundry and Overly-Aerobicized’s can’t cook.

“He still hasn’t figured out how to put a diaper on!”

“He won’t get up with the kids in the mornings. Not even on Mother’s Day!”

“He thinks cereal is a suitable option for dinner. Sugar cereal!”

“He has no idea what he’s doing!”

Another round of umbrella drinks arrive along with baskets of Buffalo wings and fried mozzarella sticks. One Eagles’ song after another plays, followed by a Randy Newman double shot. The fluorescent lights beat down on as the grievances fly around the table.

“He never even thinks about buying wipes.”

“Oh don’t get me started on wipes.”

“They think the wipes somehow appear mysteriously in the apartment by themselves.”

“He won’t do anything about a routine.”

“He’s let’s the kids watch TV whenever they feel like it.”

It is hard to get a word in edgewise as the outpouring of vitriol grows louder and more vicious. Then Overly-Aerobicized over-shares about sexual problems.

A long silence follows. Finally the Cruise Director comes up with a lighter topic.

“Do you remember right before you gave birth? Those last few days of freedom,” she slurs. “What is your favorite memory from The Before?”

The Moms clamor to share their memories: getting breakfast in bed, foot massages, candlelit dinners.  

You decide to keep yours quiet. The week before your daughter was born, you and some friends went to a strip club in your neighborhood, which has since been shut down and turned into a bagel cafe. It was a no frills dive, a rarity in the city now. A small stage lined the whole of one mirrored wall with the bar directly opposite it. At one point during the long evening, the dancers all gathered around you, placing their hands on your outstretched belly, squealing whenever they felt movement. “Bless this baby,” the women said a few times, in between quietly complaining about the lousy tips they were getting that night.

You don’t feel like these Moms would understand how at that particular moment, right on the edge of motherhood, it was just the boost you so desperately needed. The dancers’ collective excitement at your huge belly was like having your own personal alternative cheerleading squad.

Remembering this right now only widens the chasm you have been feeling all evening. You don’t know these other Moms very well, haven’t gotten past the small talk phase of friendship during late afternoon pick-up, when everyone just wants to get home. You’d been hoping that socializing with them might produce kindred spirits, maybe somewhat of a support network even.  

Instead, after making up an excuse about needing to get back home you leave some money on the table and start gathering your things. When you stand up to leave and push your chair in, the Moms seem to barely even notice your imminent departure. As if you hadn’t really been there in the first place. 

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in  Women’s Media Center Features and other publications. She teaches writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. This piece is part of a collection that is being developed with the artist/illustrator Sujean Rim.

Photo: Patrick Schöpflin

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. 

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

By Susan Buttenwieser

130874531The United States is one of only three countries in the world without a paid maternity leave law. The other two? Papua New Guinea and Oman. Workers in many other countries can also count on receiving paid paternity leave, elder care benefits and generous paid sick leave.

Meanwhile, the only federal legislation that American workers have is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to look after a newborn or a sick relative without losing their job. The law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees, and then if an employee has worked for a certain amount of time.

Although the FMLA provides important job protections, many workers simply can’t afford to utilize it, leaving parents and caregivers with stark choices. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, nearly half of workers who were eligible for leave but didn’t take it, cited lack of pay as the reason. Six in ten workers who took partially paid or unpaid leave reported difficulty making ends meet; half of these workers were forced to cut their leaves short due to financial constraints.

However, the tide may be starting to turn. Three states now guarantee paid family and medical leave—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and a similar law is set to go into effect in Washington State, possibly later this year. Additionally, studies of these programs have shown that they have been beneficial not only to employees, but to their workplaces as well. Various pieces of legislation are either being passed or introduced in cities and states across the country as well as on the federal level, with the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act being reintroduced in March.

Rachel Lyons, senior government affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families, shared her thoughts on this important issue.

Q:  There seems to be momentum around paid family leave right now. Do you think there is a shift in thinking on this issue?

RL:  There is unprecedented momentum around paid leave right now, and a number of factors have contributed to what we see as a watershed moment for the policy’s future in this country.

Women now make up nearly half of the workforce and are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children. Women are also still their families’ primary caregivers, so they are disproportionately impacted by conflicts between work and family caused by the nation’s lack of family friendly workplace policies.

There is also a powerful and growing body of evidence from existing paid leave programs and employer policies showing that paid leave benefits workers, their families, businesses and the economy. In particular, the success of paid family leave programs in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island demonstrate that.

People are struggling to manage work and family, and an overwhelming majority of voters (81 percent) want lawmakers to consider new laws that would help, like paid family and medical leave. They also say they are more likely to vote for someone who supports paid leave.

So, in many ways, the issue has become unavoidable for our elected officials. And some are stepping up to help advance the policy. The Obama administration just launched a new tour to highlight the issue, and the President has urged Congress to take action. The administration also dedicated and proposed funding to help states advance paid leave policies. And members of Congress recently reintroduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.

The National Partnership leads a coalition of several hundred organizations that is pushing for the FAMILY Act.


Q:  On the flip side, why is it taking the U.S. so long to catch up with the rest of the world? Why have we been unable to have these benefits sooner?

RL:  In many ways, our culture is very individualistic and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is pervasive. But we also can’t ignore the strong influence that business and business interests play in our politics and policy landscape. There’s a longstanding misconception that what’s good for workers is bad for business, and in the case of paid family and medical leave—like so many other basic labor protections—that’s simply not true.

But, no matter why the nation has fallen so far behind, the country’s failure to guarantee paid leave hurts working families and our global competitiveness. When women don’t have access to paid leave, it is more difficult for them to remain in the workforce. In fact, women’s workforce participation, which climbed substantially in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, has stagnated relative to other developed countries.


Q:  Studies have shown economic benefits when workplaces have adopted paid family leave. What are the other benefits, the ones that may be less tangible or easily quantifiable?

RL:  Overall, paid leave strengthens the economic security of working people and their families. It provides income stability to families with new children, encourages workforce attachment, promotes families’ financial independence and safeguards workers’ income and retirement security. It can also promote men’s involvement in the care of a child—men who take two or more weeks off after the birth of a child are more involved than fathers who take no leave in the direct care of their child nine months later.

Paid leave contributes to improved newborn and child health because newborns whose mothers take leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups and get critical immunizations. Seriously ill children also recover faster when cared for by their parents, and paid leave helps make that possible. It also allows ill or injured adults to get critical care and take needed recovery time, and it enables caregivers to help ill parents, spouses and children fulfill treatment plans and avoid complications and hospital readmissions.

Paid leave reduces worker replacements and improves worker loyalty. It saves the government and taxpayers money through reduced health care costs, reduced reliance on public assistance, more people staying in their jobs and paying taxes, and increased earnings and savings over time.


Q:  What would implementing family leave on a federal level mean to the average American?

RL:  It would mean that tens of millions of workers and their families could rest easier knowing they are no longer one illness, injury or birth away from financial devastation. It would be a giant leap toward the family friendly America we have long wanted and needed.

Right now, just 13 percent of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent has personal medical leave. That means that, when illness strikes or babies are born, the majority of workers in this country have to choose between their health or the health of their families and their jobs. And the negative effects ripple throughout our communities and society.

A national paid family and medical leave program like the one the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act would create is a smart, affordable and tested way to ensure that working people in this country can take time to address their own serious health conditions and care for their loved ones without sacrificing their economic security. It’s a common sense policy that would bring our nation’s workplace policies in line with the rest of the word.

A confluence of factors has gotten us to a moment as a nation when we are primed for progress on paid leave. This is a unique and unprecedented moment.

Now, it’s time for lawmakers to make the most of it.

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. 

Photo: gettyimages

Doing It All Wrong

Doing It All Wrong

By Susan Buttenwieser


“Excuse me,” a woman approaches as you grip the metal rim of a garbage can on the western edge of Central Park. “Are you in labor?”

“Yes,” you pant, manacles tightening before an all-to-brief break. Your nose is inches from apple cores and plastic baggies filled with dog shit, as you focus on pain management.

The woman looks at you as if you are trespassing through her backyard. She is much more put together than you could ever hope to be. Wearing a business skirt/jacket ensemble with a leather briefcase hanging from her left shoulder, she’s probably the CEO of something.

“Well, I have three children, I’ve given birth three times and I can tell you that the breathing is really important. AND YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG!” Her lips scrunch into an oval of disgust, her pupils black daggers.

You go blank, unable to think of an appropriate response. And then yet another contraction is upon you.

They’ve been coming steadily since early this morning when you first woke up. The thing you’ve been waiting to happen all these months is happening. And it’s happening right now. The baby is a week overdue so you’ve been walking all over the city, as your old-school doctor recommended to help induce labor. It’s one of those crazy beautiful, early fall days and you’ve spent most of the afternoon hauling your heavily pregnant body all over Central Park. A picnic lunch of Italian subs from Lenny’s and potato chips on the Great Lawn. A loop around the reservoir and back down to the lake where you stood looking at the statue of the angel for awhile before going to your doctor’s office.

After confirming that you were indeed definitely in labor, the doctor advised walking as far as you could back to your apartment. You weren’t even close to being ready to deliver, she explained. Stay at home until the pain becomes too much before calling her. Then she’ll meet you at the hospital.

You left her office and headed home, attempting to do the special breathing the way you were instructed in pre-natal birthing class. Inhaling and exhaling at just the right moment. Rhythmically to be able to handle the undulating agony. But you needed something to steady yourself through an extra-painful contraction. You reached for the closet object: a garbage can. That’s when you encountered the woman.

YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG! It’s like the voice from the darkest part of your mind has somehow materialized into the form of this woman on the Upper West Side.

She gives one last sneer before turning on her heels and finally leaving you alone. You keep ambling along Central Park West, breathing in your own inept way. The late afternoon sun filters through fall-foliage tinted leaves. Reds and oranges and yellows spackle the tree-lined streets and avenues in this bucolic neighborhood. Every contraction causes you to buckle over. The pain comes at shorter and shorter intervals, multiplying exponentially, like some sort of sadistic algebra equation as the cervix dilates and the baby drops down into the birth canal.

The baby. A whole, entire, actual, real, live baby is somehow going to come out of an extremely small space in the very near future.

Once you reach your apartment, you remain on the couch, huddled in a ball, breathing and breathing, crazy with the pain. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, phone the doctor and take a taxi to the hospital.

But it turns out that despite your so-called inability to breathe right, you actually can do it just fine. Your daughter is born at three in the morning, healthy and okay. And the most incredible thing you have ever seen in your whole life. You break down when she arrives.

The first day back home, you wake up an hour before she does to stare at her. You walk around your neighborhood carrying her in your arms. “Look at this fucking beautiful baby,” you want to shout at everyone you pass. “She’s mine!”

You forget about worrying if you’re doing it all wrong. The woman’s words seem irrelevant. Being with your tiny, amazing daughter is the only thing that matters now.

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. 

Photo by Scott Boruchov

Do Bully Prevention Programs Actually Stop Bullying?

Do Bully Prevention Programs Actually Stop Bullying?

By Susan Buttenwieser

canstockphoto19166591I can still picture it vividly, like it was yesterday. The fifth grade recess routine. Watching the same group of boys pummel the same kid. None of us did anything, didn’t tell a teacher or help him in anyway. Not even when they smashed his head against a radiator.

It was the 1970s, but my experience is still a common occurrence in schoolyards, hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias and classrooms today. Bullying is a serious issue in schools across the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it a public health problem, with one in three students being bullied. Boys are more likely to be physically bullied while girls face emotional bullying.

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are particularly susceptible to bullying. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey, three-quarters of LGBT students are verbally harassed and over one third are physically harassed because of their sexual orientation; 30% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Grade point averages for these students are between nine and 15 percent lower than for others.

The negative effects from bullying can last after the taunting, shoving and wedgies have ended, well into adulthood, and even a whole lifetime. Victims are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal feelings. Childhood bullying is linked to lower educational levels, increased chance of being unemployed and having a lower salary at age 50. And the bullies themselves are at increased risk for substance abuse, academic problems, and violence later in adolescence and adulthood.

But coming up with solutions to this age-old problem has proven to be elusive. Almost every state has a safe school law but very few, if any, are funded. This means schools receive little support on how to implement laws, or the necessary training needed to reduce and prevent bullying. Many of the widely used bullying prevention programs and practices have shown little evidence of effectiveness, and lack substance. Merely putting up posters in school hallways is not nearly enough.

Lack of involvement and support from teachers, school staff and parents adds to the risk of bullying. But sometimes they don’t realize what is going on, even when it’s happening right in front of them. “School personnel often do not fully appreciate how unsafe students feel,” says Jonathan Cohen, president of the National School Climate Center. “In fact, in our assessment of schools nationwide, the single most consistent finding is that the adults in the community—parents and school personnel—view students’ social-emotional safety as much less of an issue than the students themselves report. There are several factors that contribute to this: too often adults label mean, cruel and/or bullying behaviors as normal or kids being kids. Due to this, students vastly under-report instances of bullying to adults, because they do not believe adults will help the situation; and, a significant amount of mean, cruel and bullying behaviors are subtle, and therefore harder to track from an adult perspective.”

But when adults do get involved, it is not always in a helpful way. Many programs are focused on identifying and punishing the bully, and some states mandate that school administrators report bullying to the police. But researchers have found that these “zero-tolerance” programs, where schools rely on law enforcement, suspensions, expulsions, metal detectors and other overly aggressive tactics, don’t work either.

“There are over 15 years of empirical research that underscores the fact that zero tolerance policies hurt. They do not help,” says Cohen. “In fact, we know that restorative practices can have a much more profound effect on student behavior and success over the long-term than punitive-based policies that merely address the instance but not the underlying causes for the behavior.”

And one study found that the students at schools with bullying prevention programs were actually more likely to be bullied than schools without these programs. Researchers posited that bullies were adopting the language from the anti-bullying programs.

A major roadblock is that many anti-bullying programs are centered around the bully and on short-term lessons. They don’t engage all members of the school community, both children and adults, and are not grounded in educational and developmental theory, say the authors of Rethinking Effective Bully and Violence Prevention Efforts.

Instead, positive development of the school community should be fostered rather than a focus on problem prevention. Everyone in that community, including the students, needs to work together to develop a shared vision of the kind of school they want to have. Having an inclusive curriculum is crucial. For example, GLSEN reports that students in schools with an LGBT-inclusive curriculum were less likely to feel unsafe. And a more diverse curriculum where everyone’s history is learned will have benefits that extend far beyond preventing bullying. The more students know about one another, the more cultures and difference are celebrated, the better.

And then of course, there are the witnesses. Bullies need an audience. Effective programs need to motivate them to step in and reach out to an adult. Empower the kids, like ten-year old me, with my jagged bowl haircut and unfashionable bulky parka, standing on the sidelines, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone, just grateful not be on the receiving end of all those fists, all that hate, to do something.

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. 

Photo credit:

Mixed Tape Of Shameful Parenting Moments

Mixed Tape Of Shameful Parenting Moments

By Susan Buttenwieser


Side 1

Making a behavior chart so three-year-old will put on her socks without having a meltdown.

Using the chart.

Chasing someone else’s toddler in the playground who stole your daughter’s beloved cracked turtle bucket and refused to give it back. Even when asked nicely.

Tussling with someone else’s toddler once you caught her, both of you gripping tightly onto the bucket handle.

Saying Duckie in front of people outside immediate family members.

Cruising the princess aisle in K-Mart. During work hours.

Purchasing princess bling.

Owning a Barbie after pre-child claims that you would never, ever let your daughter play with them. Or watch princess movies. Or dress up like a princess. And never, ever have Bratz dolls.

Owning so many Bratz dolls, accessories and clip-on shoe/feet that they fill a giant plastic storage container.

Walking down the sidewalk with your daughter dressed in a Barbie wedding dress, the only way she would agree to leave the apartment after long rainy day inside.

Tearing up at princess movies.

Tearing up when daughters wear matching Gap pajamas after their bath.

Tearing up at their dance performances.

Tearing up at everything.


Side 2

Shouting vagina on D train platform when pre-kindergartener asks what part of a woman’s body a baby comes out of, but then had trouble hearing the answer over screeching subway tires, even though the word was repeated six times.

Placing infant in Lost & Found milk crate on top of broken goggles and hair-laden bathing caps during Family Swim at the Y because strollers aren’t allowed in the pool area and older daughter needs supervision in the water.

Placing infant in laundry basket amongst dirty underwear and socks and ignoring her while cooking dinner, making brownies for school bake sale, helping older daughter with 100th Day of School art project which involves gluing 100 pairs of googly eyes onto 100 balls of cotton.

The six weeks of taking your toddler to the playground with her left arm in a cast.

One daughter hurling a full pint of milk onto pizza restaurant floor at the exact same moment that other daughter has sudden case of explosive diarrhea.

Every time they are rude in public.

Every time they are rude in private.

Every time they totally lose their shit.

Every time you totally lose your shit.

Every time you find yourself inside a Buy Buy Baby.

Allowing your daughters to eat Froot Loops, so unhealthy that Kellogg’s can’t even be bothered to use correct spelling, as if to speed up the brain-damaging process.

The many hours spent only in conversations with people under the age of two.

Losing the ability to speak to other adults.

Losing the ability to be an adult.


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. 


The Day You Really Became A Mom

The Day You Really Became A Mom

By Susan Buttenwieser

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Up until this morning, your anxieties revolved around your parenting abilities. You’d been consumed with fear, even before your daughter was born, never felt so inadequate.


You are on the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street when it happens. Right in front of Ricky’s, pushing your three-year-old daughter in her stroller, as you head home. Just like hundreds of other days, weeks, moments.

This time, however, things are different. Thirty minutes ago, you were on the roof of your building. Watching with your neighbors in stunned silence, as if unable to decipher what you were witnessing. The tallest building in New York City pancaking down on itself. It was there, the South Tower was just there, with a burning airplane inside. Then it was totally gone, replaced by an enormous cloud of smoke, like the aftermath of a detonated nuclear bomb. How many people had been in there, people who were certainly no longer alive. You couldn’t conceive of it, no one could.

The first person who spoke was a woman instructing her boyfriend to take a picture. “I can’t,” he said, though his camera was on a tripod inches from him. Then everyone was in motion with the sickening realization that the other tower could fall down too.

You were frozen at first. Finally it hit you. Your daughter at Pre-K, several blocks away. Even though you didn’t feel remotely safe, she should be here, with you.

In the stairwell, you could hear a neighbor’s tortured moans. Her boyfriend worked at Windows on the World. It was a sound you never heard a human make before. Her wailing continued throughout the entire day, a never-ending soundtrack.

The streets and sidewalks were complete pandemonium. Filled with people crying and clinging to each other, helplessly looking downtown at the smoke and debris snaking through lower Manhattan, and a blank space where the South Tower used to be. The North Tower still stood.

You ran the whole way to your daughter’s Pre-K. When you got there, she said good-bye to her teacher and calmly got in her stroller. She didn’t seem afraid as she sat there, waiting to be taken home, expecting you to make it okay for her. Expecting your most basic function. To protect her. No matter what. Even right now.

Up until this morning, your anxieties revolved around your parenting abilities. You’d been consumed with fear, even before your daughter was born, never felt so inadequate. All the other parents came across as organized and cheery and prepared. You were none of these things and less. Lackluster, late and always making emergency stops at delis because you forgot something at home or lost it on the way. And in the dawning of this new millennium, retro-domesticity was an obsession with the other parents. The list of their skills felt endless, everything from making bagels and play dough from scratch to hand-stitching their own children’s clothing. Meanwhile, you were barely getting through the day.

But then, there is this moment that changes everything. Rushing home from Pre-K with your daughter in her stroller, you reach the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street, right outside Ricky’s, just as the North Tower falls down. People go crazy when it happens, start running uptown, away from it, as if it will come crashing down and smother you all. The grouchy cashier from Ricky’s bolts outside, looks downtown and screams when she sees that it too has completely collapsed. That the World Trade Center no longer exists at all.

You try somehow to get through the next few hours and days. You take your daughter to the nightly candlelight vigils in Union Square, to the school next door housing out-of-town firefighters, and help set up makeshift beds. You do regular, every day things, like going to the playground, to friends’ homes. There is even a party, all the parents welling up when the children sing “Happy Birthday” in their high, hopeful, three-year-old voices. A week later, you find out you’re pregnant with your second daughter.

But during that moment outside Ricky’s, as people are literally running for their lives, your parenting anxieties have become a vanished luxury. There isn’t time to worry about what the other parents are doing. You have to go with your instincts.

Maybe there is more to being a mom than craft projects and baking. And maybe what your daughter really needs is for you to stay focused on what is right in front of you: her.

For once, you have no hesitation about what to do. Bending down, you pick her up out of the stroller. Arms wrapped all the way around her, you cradle her face in the crook of your neck, in the midst of this swirling, panicked, out-of-control crowd.

“That’s right,” a man rushing past says. “Hold onto her.”

And you do.

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. She read this piece at a Listen to Your Mother, NYC event in 2013.

Photo by Scott Boruchov