Thursday, December 18, 2008


This year I proposed to my husband and kids that we have a “homemade” Christmas. Between the four of us, the only gifts we could exchange were ones that are made by us using materials from our house or yard. The prevailing rule is that no one can spend any money on any part of the present.

Much to my delight, everyone agreed!

I’ve crafted fabulous gift ideas for Hubby, Abby and Henry. I’ve yet to start making/writing/photographing any of them.

The thing that surprises me about my homemade proclamation is how it’s affected me--in a fairly profound way. I’m going through retail withdrawal. I’m amazed that I’m feeling slightly empty thinking about a Christmas morning without any store-bought glitz under the tree. I find myself willing deliveries from the UPS man, with visions of retail wonders inside for ME. I'm both shocked and embarrassed by my reaction.

Every time I see an Old Navy TV commercial, I want to sprint to the store to stock up on $10 fleece for the whole family. While in Target, I suddenly find myself browsing the women’s pajamas that I could buy for the kids to give to me.

Why? Does anyone in my family really need a fourth fleece? Has society programmed me, a very willing participant, to buy Christmas? Am I just a retail whore? (Husband—please remember that these are rhetorical questions.)

My husband and I want to impart the true meaning of the holiday season to our children. We feel that by putting energy into others and by taking time to make thoughtful gifts, we will help them learn this lesson. As Dr. Seuss so wisely inspires in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, "What if Christmas...doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

A good friend of mine says that we teach that which we need to learn.

I have a very, very wise friend.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Expat Yankees

I just came inside from the ice storm that currently inhibits Little Rock. Most sane southerners have been safely inside, staying warm. But my husband, son, daughter and I all finished dinner, donned our jackets and dashed outside to enjoy the wintry weather.

It was beautiful. It was dark. And cold. Our chimney scented the air with fragrant smoke and all cheeks were rosy, all eyes shining. We laughed, danced and giggled through the almost-there snow flakes, trying carefully not to slip on the more prominent ice.

Since I’m out of winter practice, I forgot to put on a hat. My hair began to freeze and this was my signal to escape inside to the fire. As I sat by the dancing flames, I listened to my husband, Abby and Henry outside, scraping together snow balls. (Since we do live in the south, this required a shovel to pry the “snow” up from the deck.)

I love that after all these years, Brian and I still love winter. We love the contrast of the ice and snow against the warm lull of a crackling fire. I love the red cheeks flaming against the winter skin. I love that my children love the winter. I love watching them celebrate the novelty of their origins.

They just came inside. Abby said to hubby, “It’s so nice to be home.”

My sentiments exactly.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Moments of the Season

As a mother, I cherish it all:

Hugging Henry while his diaper is poop-filled and his face is covered with Abby’s kiwi mango melon lip gloss.

Tripping on Henry’s intricate trail of choo choo train tracks which have used my dresser for topographical interest.

Negotiating with Abby about how many red, green and silver Hershey’s kisses are really too many (while internally apologizing to her for passing down the “I-must-have-chocolate” gene).

Dashing down the driveway with Henry in search of the leaf blower that is “making dat noiwse”.

Receiving an early morning visit from a coughing daughter, snuggling in close and tight.

Reading a book to Henry and drifting off to sleep while his warm, just-washed head is nuzzled into mine.

Laughing with Abby while making our coveted Buckeyes about super-silly things which still elicit giggling in my heart.

Hanging Christmas lights with Henry's help which includes his standing on the last step of the step stool so I can't step down.

Realizing with a saddened heart that this might be the last Christmas that Abby innocently believes in Santa.

Rejoicing that Henry is just learning about that right jolly old elf.

Looking forward to helping Abby realize that Santa always lives in the hearts of those who truly believe.

Giving thanks for each moment this season brings.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


A tragic casualty of the Mumbai terror is a now-orphaned two-year-old boy, Moshe; his parents were murdered in the assaults. His father was a Rabbi, originally from the States and his mother was an Israeli.

I watched the heartrending footage of this two-year-old’s parents’ funeral as he cried out repeatedly, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I am glad my children were not in the room because I crumbled to the floor in sorrow. I cried for him, for his parents and for the unfolding of my worst fears.

This child’s reality is my worst nightmare. I dare say it is every parent’s nightmare, dying while our children are young and leaving them in the hands of others.

How can a two-year-old understand that Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming back? How can a five-year-old comprehend the loss of her parents?

I know that Abby and Henry would survive and even thrive in a post-parent world. There are many who have done just that after loosing a parent or parents. The black cloud of raw fear that unravels my heart is that my children don’t yet know that they will be ok if Brian and I were to die.

I’ll hold in my heart that they will thrive and hope that because I believe it, they will, too. I’ll continue to write them letters of encouragement, take photos and fill them with love. I’ll kiss their cheeks and hands and hug them silly. I’ll create lasting memories. I’ll lead a life that fulfills me, one which my children will be proud to recant with laughter, through tears, after I’m gone.

For now, we continue to live. I hold my children tight. I instill in them my love, my values, my empathy, my joys and my essence. I teach them how to quiet the noise and listen to their hearts. I hold on and hold dear because I don’t know when I’ll have to let go and let someone else do the holding.

If the unimaginable happens, when Henry cries out, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”, someone can hold him close and draw pictures in his mind of me, of who I was and how I loved him—and he’ll remember. When Abby cries, “But I told Mommy and Daddy that I didn’t want them to ever die!”, someone can fold her into their arms and explain that we will always live in her heart.

My most sincere wish today is for the well-being of little Moshe, whose parents are now living in his memories and his heart.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

All that I am and hope to be I owe to my mother.
- Abraham Lincoln

The Deck

Last week, Henry and I were on the back deck, just hanging out. Well, I was hanging out and he did the two-year-version of hanging out…

“Mommy, wook (look), an airplane!”
“Mommy, I heawr an airplane!”
(Run in a circle. Jump up on the bench. Hands in the pockets.)
“Oooohhh, Mommy, wook, a twee (tree)!”

As I’ve been trying to do as of late, I just enjoyed the connectedness and peace of the moment with Henry.

Then, he says,

“Mommy, who is dat?”

I look over and see our neighbor, Miss Ida, out on her back deck. A man stood with her, looking up at the sky and around her yard.

“That’s Miss Ida”, I quietly told Henry, “our neighbor.”


Miss Ida smiles and yells over the fence, “Hi Henry! Denise, this is my son, Greg.” We exchange hellos.

Miss Ida is about 90. (She was married to her first husband during World War II.) Greg is probably somewhere in his mid 60s. It struck me that although they’ve lived a lot more life than I, and now live it in different states, there Miss Ida and her son were, hanging out together on the back deck.

Mother and son, mother and son. Each on the back deck. One gently preparing to launch her son and the other tenderly receiving her son’s landing, his return home.

It was both symbolic and reassuring, knowing that even though those daily mother-son moments become less frequent in their recurrence, they continue. Continue to comfort and flow through decades and generations.

Maybe it comforts me because I am hopeful that Henry will always come home. Maybe it’s because I’ll always be his mom. And maybe it’s because he’ll always be my son, returning to the back deck, hands in his pockets, checking out the world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Four and a Half Hours

For the last two weeks, each time I pick Abby up from school, the first thing out of her mouth has been, “What did you bring for a snack?”

When my response is one that does not meet her expectations, she starts whining and almost sobbing out some story about how I said that I would bring something else, or how she doesn’t like what I brought and it's just not fair. Her reactions make me crazy.

Today, I delivered my long-coming response. I was firm, swift and direct.

“Stop complaining about the snacks I bring. I don’t have to bring snacks. Who doesn’t like Cheezits/pretzels/gold fish? You should thank me for always bringing you food. If you whine or complain one more time about the snack choice I select for you, I will stop bringing snacks.”

In hindsight, a more refined (and effective) reply might have been,

“Let’s plan out the snacks together so we can avoid this type of turmoil in the future.” (Ahhhh, hindsight….)

So, those were the first frays of the unraveling of the last 4 1/2 waking hours with my children. There were bright moments. But unfortunately, the many dark moments eclipsed the slivers of sunshine.

So, after the snack debacle, we headed to ballet. While Abby attended her lesson, Henry and I did our usual dance: Redirect. Run. Redirect. Run. When we (finally) got in the car, Abby asked what we were having for dinner. I asked what she might like to have. She requested quesadillas. Because there is a gracious God above, I had the makings for said quesadillas.

We got home. I started making quesadillas. Henry repeated “pick me up pick me up pick me up” through dripping tears when, of course, I couldn’t. Kate started coloring. When dinner was ready, I delivered tasty, REQUESTED quesadillas to the children. Kate asked if she could finish the sky on her drawing before eating. I said,


She wrapped up coloring and moved onto eating. She took a bite and spit out that bite.

“Mommy, these quesadillas are too dry.”

“Are you &*$%ing kidding me??!?!?”, I mentally retort. What I say aloud is, “What? They’re great! They’ve just cooled off.”

Big bottom lip comes to visit. Abby sits there and I watch her attempt to work herself into a large lather. “Will you,” sniffle sniffle, “please make me another quesadilla when you’ve finished eating?”

(At least her manners are impeccable.)

“Abby", I reply, "I made you exactly what you wanted for dinner. I let you finish coloring before you ate exactly what you wanted for dinner. And now you’re crying and telling me that they’re too DRY?”

Up until now, Henry has been quietly eating. He chooses this moment to start bombing our sisal rug with peas and quesadillas. The evening (and my patience) finished unraveling at this point. I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details, but I will tell you that it culminated with Abby in the bathroom, naked, sitting on the potty and bawling. She stopped crying long enough to throw Henry out of the bathroom.

I sat at the empty (more proof of the aforementioned gracious God) kitchen table wondering what in the hell happened. I ate my last bits of chicken quesadilla and savored my last sips of wine.

The evening was raw, emotional and ugly. I reminded myself that just because they are in foul moods doesn’t mean that I have to be, too. I told myself that it was great that they could unwind and land in the soft arms of home and mom. But, what I told myself and what I felt were, shall we say, slightly conflicted. I felt angry, frustrated and annoyed. Four hours can be an eternity at the end of the day.

Now, since the din has gone to bed, I can assuredly recap with these two thoughts:
1. I am so, so glad my whiney, worn-out children are asleep.
2. My life would be gaping without quesadilla bombs, quivering bottom lips and crocodile tears.

I'll take any four hours with them, even stretches like these. My wish for them tonight: sleep tight, sleepy children. Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not So Bitter End

Tonight the cold descended on Little Rock. Beautifully crisp and clear, the night called out for our first fire. So built it we did and enjoy it we did. It was perfect.

The sun set. I turned on some music and the Dixie Chicks' song, “Bitter End” came on.

“Farewell to old friends, let’s raise our glass to the bitter end.”

This song always makes me think of endings and beginnings. I’ve said goodbye to many friends throughout my tenure. Each time I hear these lyrics, I think of those friends, not often seen but still just as dear. As I sat there in the fire lit dusk, listening, Henry paused by my perch on the couch. I kissed his sweet blond head, soaking up his two-year-old-boy scent. Like a gust of the cold front blowing outside, I catapulted to the future; to his leaving for college, to his wedding day. To many steps, that I want him to take, no matter how much they make my heart ache. It would make my heart ache more if he did not or could not take them.

As I was projecting to the future, Henry hopped onto his riding Mater (from Cars, you know, "just like tuh-mater without the tuh"…), looked up at me and said,


And ambled away.

Just a slice of what’s to come. I’ll wish him well as I’m raising my glass to my bittersweet end and his joyous beginning, which will, as it always does, become my blissful beginning, too.

P.S. I bolted upstairs to my computer to write this. Henry must have seen me because I just heard a sound traveling down the hall toward me. He came into the room with a grin and his big, yellow Tonka truck. He said, “Hi Mommy!”. Ahhhhhh. Yet another joyous beginning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autumnal Catalyst

Fall is a time of obvious change. The weather changes and so do my outlook and my mood—my body leaps at the chance to enjoy cool weather and pending snow.

But it’s more than a time of change. It is a powerful catalyst for introspection. Autumn allows my innermost inklings and hopes to dance their way to the surface, jumping from their buried spot in my soul to the forefront of my heart and brain, primed and ready for action.

I love this season. Maybe I’ve mentioned it before. Maybe it's because this is the time of year I met my husband. Maybe it’s because I never tire of the stark contrast between the Crayola colors of the leaves blazing against the bright royal sky. One thing I know for certain--I love how the cold pushes me both inside and out, both physically and metaphorically. Out to embrace the stunning transformation and in to warm slippers, hearty stews, cozy fires and the pending changes within me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night….You-oh you will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, as you gaze up at the stars. It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh…I shall not leave you.

Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


While Henry and I sat in his glider reading books, we heard the nursery rhyme songs of Abby and Daddy dancing through the hallway and into our space. Henry said,

“Sissy singing?”

“Yes, sweet boy, Sissy singing.”

He hugged me. We finished Goodnight, Gorilla, and cuddled our way over to his crib. Henry snuggled in, cooing sweet nothings to himself.

No screaming, no scratching, no tantrum, no crying.

I padded over to Abby’s room to join and enjoy the evening wrap up. She read us Hop On Pop—I was mesmerized listening to her practice her newly acquired skill. (We’re still working on Constantinople and Timbuktu….)

A wonderful nightcap. A blissful, goodnight reprieve.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scratch That

Yesterday I wrote about my new turn and how I’ve been espousing grace and level-headedness during Henry’s tantrums.

Cancel all calls to the Academy. I’ve got some work to do on … something. But I’m not sure what. Every time Henry saw me yesterday, he started whining or crying or whimpering. He’d be happily playing with Brian and Abby. Laughing, smiling, chubby cheeks glowing. Then I’d show up and he’d immediately contort his face into a crabby grimace.

This has been happening for days and days but yesterday brought his behavior to a huge crescendo. I felt fairly flat.

After the kids were asleep, I jumped into the shower to wash off my frustration and general malaise. Out came my personal boxing gloves:

"I’m a rotten parent."

"Why does my presence elicit such miserable behavior from my son?"

"What am I doing wrong?"

"Why do I allow myself to wallow along with him? Why aren’t I staying calm, cool and collected internally as well as externally?"

What I wouldn’t give to be a cool cucumber once again.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oscar Nod

For the past three days, I have been calm. Collected. Some might mistake me for a cucumber I’ve been so cool. I’ve been trying a new strategy with Henry. When he becomes enraged, hysterical and physical (which he does at least twice a day), I become tranquil and composed. When he reacts with high-pitched temper-tantrum screams, my voice becomes smooth, velvety and low.

I transform myself into the exact opposite of Henry.

Even though it's working, it’s a huge façade. Inside, I am just as enraged, hot and mad as he is. Really, how often do I need to tell him not to use cabinet and draw pulls as climbing rungs? How many times does it take before he understands that I really mean it when I say, “Henry, we’re going to turn the water off, now.” How many times do I need to explain that I will take a turn brushing his teeth? And how often will he tantrum himself into a blind, furious rage?

A lot.

Therefore I will continue my peaceful front. I will teach Henry how to act and live all while dampening my frustration and anger. Call the Academy Awards—I see an Oscar nod coming my way. (I might nominate myself I’m so impressed with my acting prowess.) Hopefully, Oscar will nod me all the way to the red carpet where I’ll receive accolades for my skill and composure. Even if I don’t get the nod, I know that Oscar will be proud. And so will I.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Finish loading the dishwasher. Finish cutting the cucumbers. Finish sending an email. Finish changing diapers. When I’m in a get-things-done whirl, I hear Abby ask,

“Mommy, would you do a puzzle with me?”
“Mommy, can you do the wheel barrel with me?”

And Henry usually pipes in with, “Mama, hold you??”

“Just a second….” Or “I’m coming….” I usually reply.

When she was three, Abby started to say in response, “But I don’t see you coming…”

She called me on the carpet at the tender age of three. She was right. I wasn’t coming. I was a good five to ten minutes away from joining her. Why didn’t I just say so? So I upgraded to, “Just a minute, sweetie…” , delaying the inevitable push for my time, undervaluing my daughter and reinforcing the fact that I definitely cannot keep time.

My reality is that some of these important tasks have to be done and cannot be put off. For instance, if the dishwasher is full and the sink is full of dirty dishes, I have to put away and reload. On garbage day, I have to take the cans and recycling to the curb. I have to feed the family and clean up the kitchen and I have to make lunches. And although they must feel valued, children also must learn that they can’t always have what they want exactly when they want it. Wheel barrel races and snuggles must wait.

My other truth is that sometimes I deem tasks as urgent when really, well, they’re not. This feigned urgency is insidious, quietly creeping into my time with my family with more and more frequency. No one wins in the “Just a Minute” world. I would love to play, but I have to get other things done, too. I’m frustrated that I’m not able to finish a task and they’re understandably aggravated that Mommy is always saying, “Just this one more thing…”

So I’m recalibrating my priorities. I'm getting off the carpet and I’m going to be a better time manager. Does it really HAVE to be done now (or do I just WANT it to be done now?). If it’s gotta be done, I’m going to honestly estimate the time needed to complete it and set my kids’ expectations accordingly. I’m gonna try. Because if I continue at my current pace it won’t matter how many other things I've gotten done if my children are unhappy because they can’t catch a slot on my To Do list.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Crunchy Crunchy Crunchy

Fall has arrived in Little Rock. The crisp mornings and sun drenched afternoons resonate with my Midwestern sensibilities. It was 55 glorious degrees this morning. I had to put on a vest to keep warm while driving the kids to school. Zip-a-dee-frickin-do-dah!

The painted leaves amass more and more each day. I can put my shorts away (I know all friends will be glad to have a reprieve from my suntan-faded legs until spring) and stretch into long-sleeved tshirts and jeans. And fleece. Just the sound of the word makes me giddy with the anticipation of winter. Rock it. Break it down weather. It’s human weather, cherishable weather, skip-and-clip-your-heels-together weather.

Tonight the kids and I sat on the deck. I enjoyed a lovely Pinot Noir. I was chilly. They were chilly. No one was sweating. No bugs got stuck in our sweat. No bathing was necessary after being outside, in the evening, for 10 short minutes. I watered the plants and hummed a song rather than ripping the weather a new one under my breath. We could hear the reverberations of the high school football game, the announcer’s voice and the muted drum beats celebrating the home team’s touchdown. The snap in the air was not only audible but palpable, resting on our skin and tongues.

For as much as I’ve wallowed in my absolute disgust at the early autumn weather here, I have to give a big shout out to the current weather pattern. It is so lovely I could cry. I just might. Right after I pay homage to the weather gods.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Today, Henry came out of his preschool wearing his big orange back pack. He loves that backpack and I love him. As I watched him walk to the car (and thanked my lucky stars for the pickup line), tears swelled in my eyes. So many thoughts and correlating emotions surfaced in that moment—

That backpack is as big as he is.

He’s no longer a baby.

Abby just toddled out of those same preschool doors, wearing her very own backpack. Now she is a Kindergartener.

Three years is not a long time. Just moments. A blink. Zooooommmmm.

Before I know it, Henry too will be in Kindergarten.

I choked back more tears.

I have the benefit of experiencing life on the other side of the two-year-old pick-up line and Abby grants me this gift of perspective. As a result, I soak up and appreciate the minutes I have with Henry. It’s more challenging with the oldest because there is no one ahead of them gifting 20/20 hindsight. But, I will fold these learnings into my moments with Abby as she pioneers her childhood as the eldest child.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I going to stop writing and go run up and down a corridor and jump off of a big rock with Henry. As we run outside, Abby is inside learning ballet, leaping into her new year. When she’s done, instead of instinctively rushing to our car, I’ll let her leap off the rock, too. And hopefully, in so doing, I will somehow slow the leap of time.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I’m currently reading a fascinating book of essays, all written by mothers. It’s called Mommy Wars, edited and compiled by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

As the title predicts, Morgan Steiner sets out to understand why we have an ongoing battle in our society about mothers’ choices. She wanted to gain perspectives from women in each place: those with paying careers and those without, and all the places in between. Are there mommies who truly love staying home? Are there mommies who are so happy working? Yes and yes. Are there some that fall somewhere in between? Yes. I have enjoyed reading each of these women’s stories about each of their entrees into mommyhood.

Why do you work?
Why do you stay home?

It is my question. It is your question. It is our question. But my answer is really none of your business. And your answer is none of mine. Nonetheless, our overall question prevails—answers and decisions instigate friction and all-out-war between otherwise civil, smart, level-headed women.

The only constant in these scenarios is this: A woman becomes pregnant. She has a baby….

Like most aspects of our lives, we each forge our own path.

I always knew I wanted to have children. Always. I was also certain I wanted to stay home with them. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. After treatments and two surgeries, my doctor told me to start having children by the time I was 25.

“Sure”, I thought sarcastically, “no problem.”

So my twenty-fifth birthday arrived. I was single, living in Chicago and couldn’t figure out why this birthday felt so, well, poignant. It really wasn’t until today that I realized the impact of that birthday’s passing with not a single possible father in sight.

Four years later, twenty nine comes along and so does my future husband. I swear I visualized him just months before he appeared in my life. Strong, independent, tall, funny and tender-hearted. (I didn’t visualize stubborn, but then I’m sure he didn’t check the “anal-retentive” box on his wish list….) We married when I was 30. After several very deep and tearful conversations about when we might have kids, we decide to start trying. I purge my body of bad things and he is a happy camper. (Sorry, Mom.)

Four months after we marry, I’m pregnant. I couldn’t believe the stick. I had to take at least four more tests between the first one and my doctor’s appointment.

I did not want to go back to work after the baby was born but thought I might have to for financial reasons. After many more very deep conversations, we decided I’d stay home (or, more accurately, I convinced Brian that I should stay home). I would’ve loved to work part-time, but advertising clients are not part-time. Abby was born and life was sweet. I was thrilled to be home with her. But three months after quitting I was surprised by pangs (ok, earthquake-like jolts) of jealously when my only other “equal” was promoted to our (I mean her) next level. My thoughts danced, “If I still worked there, would I have been promoted? Was I even in the consideration set?” I was happy for my colleague (I still truly like and respect her) but I was envious. And it didn’t help that I was covered in breast milk and carrying an extra twenty pounds.

Two years later, my hubbie and I decided to go for number two. Two weeks later I was staring at another positive pregnancy test. My husband joked and said I made up all this infertility stuff.

I went from thinking I might never have children to having two, each one when we wanted to, give or take a couple of days. Absolutely miraculous. When Henry was born, Brian was six months into his MBA program and traveling every other weekend to school. All while working full-time. Even though I had bad days, and sometimes bad weeks, I knew that home with the kids was exactly where I wanted to be.

Should I be awarded for my sacrifices and desire to stay home with our children? YES. Does it make me a better person than many of my dear friends who have continued their careers? NO. Are moms with careers better because they are setting a sound example for their children, showing them that women can and should have ambitious careers? NO. Are they gaining joy from their careers as well as from their children? YES. (Am I very thankful that those women are there highlighting the diversity of women’s choices for my dear daughter and son? YES.) Are we all fabulous for the things we do for our children and the contributions we make? Ab-so-stinkin-lutely.

When I was younger, maybe 16, I thought that every woman would want to stay home and raise their children but only some, with the right financial resources, were actually able to do this. Now that I’m more seasoned, I realize, once again, how naïve my beliefs were.

Some of us have no choice and have to work. There are moms who have no choice and have to stay home. There are some that have financial independence and choose to continue their careers after their children are born. And there are moms who choose to stay home. I’m one of those. It was the right answer for my family and me. Even on my worst of worst days, I’m still glad that I’m at home with them. I love supporting them and helping them grow. I have loved watching each of their inquisitive minds catapult and synapse. I love watching their golden hair shine in the midday sun. I love not having to rush out of the house to get to work.

Do my counterparts who work enjoy these things any less? Or more? Although I don’t know for sure, I doubt it. We all sort through the gifts of our children at our own pace and with our own individual filters.

I respect women and their families for their choices. Even when they are different from my own. Not better, not worse. Different.

There are aspects of staying home that are hard. With a husband who has a very full-time job and extensive travel, I am solo a lot. There are times when I desperately need a break and cannot get one. I sometimes wonder if I will ever stop cleaning up poop or crumbs off the table. At times I feel like a built-in-babysitter. Being thwarted by a two-year-old tantrum has made me throw some private tantrums. Some days, I think of bed time as a shimmering oasis.

And although I contribute my time, energy and love to my kids, my husband, my dog, all their bodily fluids and schedules, I do not contribute financially. This strikes me as odd. Especially since I was a financially independent woman for a decade before I got married. My husband and I carefully navigated those financial waters and ultimately mapped a route that worked for us. Now that I am freelance writing, and earning a bit, it feels great to say I’m contributing monetarily. But I wonder why it is important to me. Is it truly essential to me or is its importance dictated our society? In the past, I always knew I was doing a good job when I received a promotion and a raise. Or a hefty bonus. Now, my only barometer is my own equilibrium. Am I happy with my choices? Am I doing a good job? Are my children thriving? Does this feel right?

Will I ever have the answers? Will I ever stop asking the questions?

I’m not sure. But I know that my questions, your questions and our questions are eternal; garnering different feelings, nuances and responses with the shift of a boss, an age, a season or even a tide. I’m just glad we’re asking. May your answers be forthcoming and fruitful and may they resonate truthfully within you.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Have Trucks, Will Travel

While packing for our recent trip to Colorado, I was frantically searching. Searching for our two identical garbage trucks. Our dear friends were meeting us in Colorado and they, too, have a two-year-old son, Cullen, born just five days before Henry. I thought it would be great for each of them to have an identical truck to play with to circumvent any potential truck envy. I could hear the possible conversations,



While a perfectly great dump truck sat by, idling sadly.

So, before I even placed my clothes into their suitcase, before I made sure I had all my mountain necessities gathered, I broke a sweat looking for these plastic beauties. I had just seen them. I checked under beds, tables, in closets, in the garage, the backyard. I found one, but not the other. Still sweating, still searching, still no twin garbage truck.

I regretfully realized the twin truck was in some cosmic garage, gleefully hiding from me along with missing Lighting McQueen and Sally. Outsmarted by a plastic garbage truck, I brought a dump truck instead.

I spent 40 minutes looking for a truck before I finished packing for a one and half week trip. No question about how much I love my son and my dear Cullen.

Post Script: Henry and Cullen are two of the best behaved, well-mannered two-year-old boys I could fathom. They had an occasional, typical two-year-old moment, but not even the unmatched trucks detoured their enjoyment of their vacation and each other. 10-4 good buddies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tall Oak Trees

Now that Abby is in Kindergarten, she is tired. As a result, we are all adjusting to her widened, slightly more volatile range of emotion. She now attends school five days a week, from 7:50 am to 2:45 pm. She is exhausted. And hungry.

She vacillates between:

“I’m a big Kindergartener! Mommy, I learned all these things today!”


“Mooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,” pout, pout, “what did you bring for a snack?”

As life’s rhythm usually dictates, my emotional swing that started before she started school has returned to center and now she’s swinging left, back, right and diagonally. I count my lucky stars that we’re not swinging wildly at the same time.

At any given moment, Abby's normally calm temperament will be usurped by a cascade of raw anger and tears. The bottom lip visits. The crocodile tears travel. The high pitched cry drowns. I have some dear, candid friends and they’ve confirmed the same types of behavior from their Kindergarteners (whew).

Even with this reassurance, tonight, I lost my calm footing and raised my voice (really, really raised my voice) while bathing the children, after ensuing an entire afternoon of attempting to stay calm during Kate’s post-school exhaustion. A brief recap:

“Mommy”, chokes out Abby through tears and whine, “why did Henry get to get into the tub first tonight and why did I have to wait?”

I answered calmly.

“Mommy, why does Henry get to sit in front of the running water?” sob, sob sobs Abby.

I deliver another measured answer.

“Mommy”, she cries as she’s now sitting in front of the running bath water because I moved her brother, and tears are still traveling down her face, “why was Henry's turn longer in front of the running water?”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (from Henry who is revolting against his demoted position in the back of the bath tub).

“Henry, sit down.” I say.

At this point, after two hours of visits from Whine and Pout, I’m vigorously washing the children, just hoping to get them clean, out of the tub and into the peaceful nod of bedtime stories.

“Henry, sit down.” I say again.

“Moooooooommmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!” cries Abby….

STOP IT!” I yell, “YOU, be quiet. YOU, be quiet. I’ve had enough from both of you!” (From my repertoire of brilliant, positive parenting methods I’ve picked up.) Now, both children are (rightfully) crying and mayhem ensues. Bedtime proceeds. After the squalls settle, Abby and I chat about the evening and how to make tomorrow a better day. We read, hug and love and she goes to sleep.

After this bath time debacle, I was still keyed and raw. I sat outside, rethinking my stellar parenting skills and figuring out how I could do it better tomorrow. It was a cool, dry fall evening (hooray!!). I gazed at the tall, pin oak trees that enshroud our backyard. Tall, elegant, graceful. Backlit by an aubergine sky. Strong. Reaching so high with their branches and so deep with their roots. Peaceful. Wise. Nurturing. Even after being thrown around by hurricane Ike. Just watching them calms me. In future emotional storms, I will remember the tall pin oaks and try to emulate their graceful strength. Strong roots, peaceful reserves. I will remember that I am setting a constant example for my children and try not to loose patience. But if (or when) I do, I will also remember that a big enough storm can knock down even the strongest, most resilient tree. I’ve learned from the oak trees and hopefully they can learn from me, too. We all get knocked down but then we pick ourselves up, brush off the pine straw and stand tall, simultaneously stretching back up to the sky and lovingly down to our children. No matter how strong the hurricane winds may blow.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh Baby

For about two and half years, Abby has been on the brink of demanding an answer--she desperately wants to know how a baby gets out of the mommy. She asked me diligently every three to four months and I've answered just as diligently.

When she was three, I said, “When it’s time.”

When she was three-and-a-half, I said: “At the hospital.”

When she was four, I tried: “When it’s time, at the hospital.”

At four-and-a-half, I replied: “The doctor takes the baby out at the hospital.”

“How does the doctor get it out?” she prodded.

“Very carefully.”

My answers have been honest. But at her last questioning, I saw her pondering the information (again) and looking at me curiously, knowing somehow that I wasn’t being as forthcoming as I should. I knew the time was near--time for the full answer.

I don’t believe in deceiving children about life’s larger events. However, I don’t think kids need intricate and intimate details until they’ve come to that point in their maturation. Well, welcome to that point in Kate’s maturation.

After school yesterday, Abby drew a picture of herself with a baby in her tummy. (It was quite lovely, actually. A big, round circle full of orange dots.) While I worked in the kitchen, she told me about the imaginary twin girls she had in her tummy, “coming out in about five days”. At dinner, she fixed her gaze on me and said, “How does the baby get OUT of the mommy?”

I tried “the hospital”, “the doctor”, “very carefully by the doctor”, to no avail.

“But Mommy, HOW does the doctor get it out?”


"I'll tell you at bedtime." (Whew.)

So bedtime arrived. Abby, Brian and I all laid in her bed. “So”, I said, “you asked me at dinner how babies get out of the mommy’s tummy.”

“Yes!” said Abby cheerfully. (“Finally”, I heard floating through her intonation.)

“The mommy uses her stomach muscles and pushes the baby out of her vagina.”

Abby said, “The vagina?!?! But the vagina is so icky in there!”

“Well, sometimes it can be. You know how you use your stomach muscles to poop? You use some of the same muscles to push a baby out.”

“But you don’t poop out a baby.”, Abby said matter-of-factly.

“Right.” I said. “You don’t poop out a baby.”

(But you might poop while you’re pushing out the baby. Luckily we didn’t have to cover that one tonight.)

To which she responded, “OK, let’s read Winnie the Pooh now!” She snuggled in between Brian and me and sleepily listened to the sweet adventures of Christopher Robin and gang.

Now I’m just waiting for the next destination in her maturation, “How does that baby get IN the mommy’s tummy?”

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Remembering those children who aren't with their parents.

Remembering those parents who aren't with their children.

Remembering their smiles, their hugs and their joys. Remembering the extreme sorrow of their losses.

Living fully today for those who no longer can.

Remembering September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Occasional Muse

Occasionally, my husband inspires my writing, too. Today is one of those times.

When I was rapidly getting ready to take the kids to school this morning, I had no time to dress. So I slipped on this super comfy brown jersey dress and flats. When I took Henry into school, so many people complimented me I was getting a bit embarrassed. Even people in the hallway paid tribute to my outfit—it was a great way to start the day. (I should note here that this dress is quite an a.m. wardrobe departure for me. I usually drop-off the kids in work-out clothes and a baseball hat. The fact that I had on anything other than wrinkly pants and a hoodie is cause for notice and probably a parade.)

Thus, I was feeling quite cute in my long, brown jersey dress. I was out running errands and I called my husband to see if he could meet for lunch. Yes! He could! He’ll get to see me looking so sassy!

I picked him up outside his office in my cute mood and sassy dress. He pops into the car and says, “What’s up, sweatpants?”


I had to shake my head to make sure I heard him correctly because I expected to hear, “Babe, you look so nice!”

But no, he indeed said, “What’s up, sweatpants?”

I replied,

“What’s up, jackass?”

(To minimally defend my husband, three points:

1. I usually AM in sweatpants or clothes that have been sweat on and

2. when I glanced down at the dress while I was sitting, the jersey material did drape over my legs looking suspiciously like sweatpants and

3. when we got out of the car at the restaurant, he genuinely complimented my obviously darling outfit. Smart man.)

So this evening, my hubby and were playfully bantering about his sweatpants comment. I recapped the exchange, and pointed out that maybe my retort should’ve been something like, “What’s up, no-sex-for-a-year?”

He giggled and said, “That’s not funny.” Even though he’s today’s muse, he wasn’t amused.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I lay my hand on my sleeping son's back and my heart fills with so much love and power that it overflows into my chest, warm and full. I float into a wonderful mommy orb.

Kissing my daughter's slightly sweaty, sleepy head grounds me each night. Knowing she's sleeping, she's alive and she's there allows me to pad my slippered feet into sleepy contentedness.

It's my ritual. I love it. I love them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fledgling Finances

My husband and I think it is very important to educate our children about finances from an early age. We want to raise fiscally savvy children. To accomplish this, we discuss money, why it is important, how it is earned, how to save it and how it helps us get the things we need and want. Our children have to save half of any monetary gift they receive. We discuss the value of a penny, a nickel, a dime, a quarter and a dollar. In our household, Daddy has a job that rewards with financial gains and Mommy has a job that does not. (But I do have a memory bank full of weathered storms and sun-dappled reflections.)

Before we heavily embarked into the financial conversations, Abby tried to wrap her arms around this elusive idea of money:

“Mommy?”, Abby asked from her car seat.

“Yes, Abby.”

“I want some money to put in my new wallet.”

“Well,” I said, “maybe Daddy and I will have to find a way for you start earning money.”

“No Mommy. I just want some of the money from your wallet.”

Not too shabby, I thought. Time to start delving into money talks a bit more. So after several months of discussions of how the money Daddy earns pays for our house, and our cars and our gasoline and food, clothes, water, electricity and lunches, Abby had another question for me:

“Mommy?” she opened while I was cooking dinner.

“Yes sweetie.”

“Do you mean that Daddy goes to work… (pause)

and earns the money… (pause)

and then he just GIVES it to you?”

After I suppress an initial internal giggle, I felt like her small question had hit me square in the gut. I explained in the simplest terms that I could that yes, Daddy earns money and he and I decide how it is spent and saved. Likewise, I spend my days with her and her brother but that Daddy and I decide together how to do it. I told her that although I do not earn any money for our family, I add immeasurable, fabulous, far-reaching value by helping her and Henry grow, navigate, learn and play.

To which Abby responds,

“So you mean he just gives it to you.”

Needless to say, we’ve got more work to do on this one.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory

Tonight, on the eve of her first day of Kindergarten, Abby lies in her bed. After we hugged and snuggled and kissed goodnight, she was practicing. Practicing saying her Kindergarten teacher’s name in the softest whisper imaginable,

“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory…”
“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory…”
“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory…”

I lay there, listening to her independent vocal stride.

On Friday evening, we went to the school, saw Abby's classroom and sat at the little tables where she’ll fill her brain with wisdom and insight. And we met Mrs. LaGory. Ever since our meeting, we’ve been practicing saying “Mrs. LaGory” so Abby can say her teacher’s name with ease on her first day.

I, too, have been practicing her name.

“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory, but today I’m leaving my first born child with you. Please protect her as if she is your own. Please look after her and always keep her best interests and safety in mind.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory, would you please know that my sweet Abby is very shy and might be very quiet at first but please, please help her integrate with the other students?”

“Excuse me, Mrs. LaGory, but I’m going to leave now. I may stop in the bathroom with the tiny little toilets and throw up after departing this classroom because I not only leave you my daughter today but also my heart. Then, Mrs. LaGory, I’ll try like hell not to bawl all the way home so as not to permanently scar Henry about the pending arrival of his kindergarten debut in three short years.”

“I know she’s ready, Mrs. LaGory. So I’ll leave you two to continue her journey. Together. I’ll pick up where you leave off, at three o’clock each day.”

“Goodbye, Mrs. LaGory. Goodbye, Abby. I’ll meet you on the other side of the day. I love you.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New School

Today we visited Abby's new elementary school. Not only is it new for us, it is new for all. Construction is complete and they’re giving tours so all students and their families can view the new digs.

I started to cry this morning when I told my dearest friend that our day would include a tour of the school. I now realize that this is one of those poignant intervals of my life and my response has been reflective, raw and guttural. (Note: I successfully buried all gutturals and purchased school supplies. The tears gave several stellar attempts at a visit but my stoicism prevailed.) (Note 2: Abby is over-the-moon thrilled about starting Kindergarten and wants to know why she can’t start now and why she can't wear her uniform now.)

When the tour started, I reached out to hold Abby's hand. I will be forever grateful that her hand met mine as I desperately NEEDED to hold hers. Her cool, smooth little palm nestled next to mine.

Technically we were shown around the school by a first grade teacher and I guess our legs carried us through. But my official tour guide was my emotion. It showed me Abby's curly blond head, bent in concentration, at a brand new Kindergarten table. It pointed out that my daughter would be using the cute little potties and short sinks in the bathroom all by herself. Then it drafted a picture of Abby, beads of sweat on her brow, hair flying as she ran off the playground. It reminded me that she would be one of the youngest, tiniest students in the entire school.

I held her hand as long as I could, until my brave, independent little girl did just what I’ve always hoped she would. She let go.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mo Tuck

Tonight I spied a flatbed truck idling in our cul-de-sac. An odd occurrence but one that gave me a splendid idea.

I grabbed Henry, my “tuck”-loving boy, and walked out to our driveway. We stood in the twilight, illuminated by the street lamp and serenaded by the diesel chug of our visitor. Henry was mesmerized.

I whispered, “Look Henry, a truck.”

He whispered, “Tuck”.

We sat in our sloped driveway, him in my lap, and the truck driver lowered a fork lift from the back. He picked up loads of sod and drove them away, delivering them to their destination.

The sweet sweet words tumbled out of my Henry's mouth, each time the fork lift departed, “Mo tuck? Mo tuck?”

Henry sat still. Henry is never still.

Each time the fork lift returned, Henry peacefully murmured, “tuck”. All was right in his world.

The sod delivery was complete. The truck driver replaced the fork lift and got back into his truck. He waved to us and we waved goodbye in return.

Henry whispered, “Mo tuck.”

I quietly (and surprisingly sadly) explained that the truck had to leave.

“Mo tuck.”

The truck departed, singing farwell with its diesel chug.

It was my first true “little boy” moment with Henry. I never imagined that watching a truck would be so riveting, contemplative. But I reveled in Henry's pure joy.

Mo tuck indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weather Girl

Yesterday morning, I was in a bit of a huff. Everything, every little thing, bugged me. I don’t know exactly what made me so cranky, but cranky I was. And unfortunately for my children, their age-appropriate actions really threw my crankiness into overdrive.

Abby spent the post-breakfast half hour coloring and asking me how to spell many words. On the 379th word (ok, ok, 42nd word), my intelligent daughter asked,

“Mommy, how do you spell birthday?”
“Mommy, how do you spell birthday?”

"Mommy, how do you spell birthday?"
“Mommy, how do y…



I finally, huffily explained that I couldn’t concentrate on making lunches and spell many words at the same time. I told her that I might put her cow’s milk into her milk-allergic brother’s lunch, give her blueberries (gasp!) instead of applesauce, etc. I fancy myself a proficient multi-tasker. Apparently I am not so proficient or fancy and I successfully smacked that learning fever right out my inquisitive daughter.

Despite the fact that my huff was picking up speed, I was about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Beds were made, kids were dressed, camp backpacks and lunches patiently awaited our departure. So I thought I had time to pop onto the computer to send an important email. Silly Mommy. Henry walks in covered in water. Abby walks in with a beaming smile, so proud of the butt-part hairdo she’s given her brother. While she dutifully dampened his curly mop to comb it, he dutifully played in the running water and soaked his camp clothes.


They then hopped on the guest bed, clearly plotting against me to undo the one bed I hadn’t had to make this morning.

So I hit send, slammed the computer closed, remade that already-made bed and headed to the bathroom.

Abby pulls out all my lipsticks and glosses and asks which ones she can wear and why there are some she cannot. Henry bee-lines to my closet and with grand flourish pulls many pairs of my shoes of their shelves and starts handing me every one of my necklaces. This is a typical morning. But my huff is now way past huffdom and I’m now well into pissy.

Somewhere during this bathroom fun Abby brought me a picture she’d colored for me earlier. I quickly put it on the bathroom counter and dashed. I got the kids to camp. (Henry, now a member in the pissy club, screamed when I left him because his regular teacher was on vacation.) I got myself to the gym, cranked up my MP3 player and tried to work out whatever funky-funk had taken residence.

I pondered my moodiness. I had a visit from my self-critic and she pounced,
“BAD MOM! Kids will have awful days because of your bad mood! They don’t think you love them! BAD!” Moodiness quickly moved over to make room for heavy guilt.

I went home, showered and glanced down at the bathroom counter. There sat the drawing Abby had given me earlier. Four dark gray clouds lined the top of the paper. Thick green, blue and yellow hash marks fell from the ominous clouds. My perceptive daughter forecasted my mood perfectly with her Crayolas.

Interestingly, her perspective started to part my storm. I remembered a conversation we had on the way to school:

“Yes, mommy?”
“It’s hard for me when you and your brother take apart things that I’ve just put together, like the beds. I was in a bad mood this morning and I’m shouldn’t have been grouchy with you. I’m sorry and I love you.”
“It’s ok mommy.”

She’s right. It IS ok. Being a good parent isn’t about being a perfect person. A good parent teaches their children how to deal with life’s inevitable, four-dark-gray-clouds-and-multi-colored-rain days. I showed her that bad moods happen to everyone (especially mommy). I hope she remembers not that I was a bitch but that I rectified a situation that I had handled badly.

I hope that she begins to grasp that people, including her, are not perfect. Life isn’t happily-ever-after with blue birds on our shoulders. The perfection myth needs to be busted open (but I shall blog on that another day). It’s a continuing life lesson which I’m clearly still trying to master after 36 years of ardent practice.

My take-away today: some things are meant to be undone. My great undoer undid my funk. And today, Abby's forecast called for purple flowers and rainbow skies. So far, she’s predicting with 100% accuracy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Target Meltdown

We’ve been eagerly preparing for Kindergarten. Uniforms, discussions about the brand new school and typical days. I knew that I might experience some wistful moments leading up to Abby's first day of Kindergarten. But nothing prepared me for the emotional upheaval that the procurement of school supplies caused.

I went on my weekly run to Target, picking up thises and thats. I figured I’d knock out the purchase of Abby's supplies before we left for vacation. I pulled out my list. But I couldn’t read the words on the page. I blinked. “Hmm.” Shook my head. Ok. “Let’s see, Elmer’s Glue.” I looked up at the shelf and all the supplies were a menacing blur. I couldn’t see because of the unexpected tears that threatened to pour down my face.


I looked down at the floor, took two deep, cleansing breaths and tried again. “This is silly”, I told myself. But emotion was now the boss and logic and efficiency mere underlings. I was stuck in place, holding a list of benign school sundries and I could not locate them, look at them or purchase them. My gut was churning. My breath was shallow.

I realized I had to leave immediately before I bawled my way out of Target.

Each threatening tear made its bold statement:
Abby is starting Kindergarten.

Next month, NEXT MONTH!, my baby is going to school five days a week.

She’s going to get out of the car in her little blue jumper and peter-pan collared shirt and walk into a HUGE school. She’s going to spend more waking hours with her teacher than she will with me.

I quickly paid for my non-school related items and was dashing for the exit when I saw a mother and her 18-year-old daughter pushing a cart which carried a big metal trunk. This mother was preparing for her baby’s ultimate departure to college, to another town, to the adult part of her life.

Flood gates officially opened. “Get to the car, get to the car”, I kept muttering to myself.

Abby was not just starting Kindergarten. This was the official beginning of the end, a short skip and a jump to her final departure. In 13 years she would be going to college. Holy shit.

Could I make it to the car?

I called my Mom. I bawled. I gasped. I cried myself hoarse.

How did we get here?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Locks of Hair

I love Henry's tow-head curls. I love how the sun dances on his golden locks. I love the Sqiggy hair-do (thank you Laverne & Shirley) he gets at the pool when he comes up from being under water. Every time I cut Henry's hair and watch the golden locks drift to the ground, I get this panic in my belly. What irrational brain function makes me feel that it might be sane to save EVERY cut strand of his hair from now until he's 18? Why is it so hard to throw these precious pieces of hair away? I don't have any problem throwing away nail clippings (thank goodness). Do I think that a keepsake box of his hair will forever hold his sweet, little boy smell and that I could open that box and inhale deeply, soaking up his scent?

Or is it that I hate to waste anything that is so essentially him?

It's probably this same brain activity that lead me to my firm (and not so sound decision) to continue washing Henry's clothes with baby detergent well after the statute of limitations had passed on this "requirement". That scent was so him, so luscious baby boy, that I couldn't withhold such a lovely bouquet from my mommy olfactories. (Even though he's now two, I just recently bought another bottle of the detergent so I can occasionally wash his clothes in sweet memories. Don't tell my pragmatic husband.)

It really is about the memories. I worry that I won't remember. I don't ever want to loose the image of Henry dutifully looking into my eyes as we discuss the whys of the world. I don't want to forget the feel of his clean, chubby cheek and just-washed, damp hair again my neck. However odd it may seem, I will continue to grimace each time I have to toss his golden locks, and with it his shrinking infanthood. Luckily, you can all exhale knowing there is NOT a box hidden in my attic holding all of Henry's hair trimmings. Instead, I will rejoice in knowing that all of his essence is locked within, and that it will journey with him through the decades. I know that in twenty-some years, when he's relaying some powerful life occurrence, I will again look into those same eyes, see the same dancing golden hair and maybe, if I'm still, catch a whiff of my sweet, little boy.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Our day was filled with bliss.

I remained calm.
Henry listened.
Abby rose like a shining star and filled the holes left by my deficiencies with distractions and fun for her brother.

I didn't yell--not even once.
Henry only visited time-out TWICE (that's an 80% reduction in misbehavior from yesterday!)
Abby closed the door from the house to the garage without a reminder. !!!

We still lived with two-year-old and four-year-old behavior (both the ugly and the pretty) and we still experienced rough spots. But, as usual, the emery board of distance and perspective came along and smoothed away the jagged edges of the previous four days.

Good night.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.

Even though I fed my kids hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches and frozen veggies for dinner, I am a good mom.

Even though my children's nails and finger prints mark the inside of the front door from when I left the house in a horrid huff and escaped to the front porch and they tried desperately through crocodile tears and cries to get outside to me, I am a good mom.

Even though I was sure that if I heard yet another cry or whine I might forever begrudge myself for the awful thoughts I had, ("Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP! I CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE! I'm going to punch the wall if you follow me around crying much longer! I'm going to vomit if I have to hear your mopey-mope-mope about NOTHING for another moment. STOP ITTTTT!!!!"), I am a good mom.


I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.

Even though I feel like a cruel, heartless dictator at times, I am a good mom.

Even though I open snacks at the store and feed them to my always-hungry children before I've even paid for said snacks, I am a good mom.

Even though I thought I might hurl the riding Mater ("My name's Mater. Kinda Like "Tuh-mater"... but without the "tuh" ") out the window if I had to step over his inconvenient parking spot one more time, I am a good mom.

Even though I had to ask Abby to turn off her closet light for the 53rd time, and had to ask Henry to stop hitting for the 276th time, I am a good mom.

Even though today I was not so sure that I'm a good mom, I am a good mom.

For all those things I didn't do and the many seemingly perfunctory tasks I did do, I am a good mom.

I admitted today that motherhood is many hours, and days, of not so pleasant stretches. Today, just today, after five years of parenthood, I realized this? Yes. With a large dose of honesty, frustration, exhaustion and blunt observation, yes. I'm allowing the dark side of mommyhood out of the guilty corners of my brain. Being a parent is eternally hard. Each of us has a different journey, some exponentially harder than others. My trying day might sound like a snooze in a lazy hammock to you. Although our paths differ, I believe that there is universality in the raw emotions evoked by parenthood.

Thankfully, these long stretches and dark emotions are punctuated by sweet hugs, snuggles, gleeful smiles, secrets, kisses and epiphanies. By the dusk-illuminated eyelashes of a child mesmerized by a book. Yes, there are many days that are epically better than this one.

I am a good mom because I love my children even when, well, even when today happens.

I am a good mom because I had to soak up LOTS of bath water from the floor and thought, "well, now I don't have to mop."

I am thankful that bedtime has passed, all children are fed, clean and slumbering in their beds, and I am on the other side of this day. I will continue to repeat my Momtra,

I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.
I am a good mom.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nahnah Mama

Since our son got tubes in his ears about two months ago, his speech development has been phenomenal. His articulation and vocabulary grow on such a steep crescendo that I feel like I'm watching his brain synapse with each new word.

In the last two weeks, he started linking words together famously, like, "Buh bye Dis (Sis)" or "Nahnah Dada (night night Dada)". His words and rudimentary sentences are like an infant symphony, still crude but powerful in its ability to swell and move.

Tonight I nuzzled his sweet-smelling neck in the last moments before I put him down in his crib.

I said, "Night night, Henry, I love you."

He said, "Nahnah Mama. Nahnah Mama."

This was the first time he ever uttered those words to me. I almost choked on my raw reaction to his beautiful, verbal sentiment. I left the room, listening to his sweet song, "Nahnah Mama." I whispered, "Night night, Henry" in reply.

"Nahnah Mama" he's still repeating as I type.

Goodnight, my sweet symphonic prince. I love you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Way Ticket to the Moon

Henry can feel the impending milestone of his second birthday. I know because he has been an absolute wretched stinker the last three days. He hits. He pulls. He throws. He screams NO whenever anything doesn't completely suit him (even my choice of clothing). And he is driving me and Abby and Brian nuts. Even Ruby is steering clear of him.

Yesterday morning he sat in timeout three times before 8:30 am. Today we realized a stark improvement with only one timeout before we left the house. At Abyy's dance studio, we had cupcakes because it was her last day of lessons. I offered Henry his "tuptake" but explained that I had to hold it for him. This yielded five solid minutes of tantrum. In the middle of the dance studio. Because he wanted to hold it. Tonight we had macaroni and cheese for dinner. Henry loves mac and cheese. He loves eating it out of a bowl and using a spoon. Tonight he dumped all the lovely macaronis onto his tray. Then he hurled his bowl, and then his spoon, at me. (On the bright side, the kid really has a good arm--he threw both a good six feet AND met his target, moi.)

I know that sweet Henry is still in there. He still delivers the best I-love-you-so-much hugs. And he still looks at me like I hung the moon. So, in order to make sure that I foster the spaces between us, and to ensure that Henry makes it to his second birthday, I've promised him a one-way ticket to the moon. I hope he likes the way I hung it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Let There Be Spaces Between You

During our wedding mass, our priest told us to imagine our new marriage as two seedling trees, newly planted next to each other. Together and close, but with enough space between them to grow healthfully and to their full potential. That one nugget has knocked around in my head many times since our wedding day. I consider it fabulous advice for newlyweds and parents alike.

My sweet daughter Abby has always been timid with new people and situations. She'll try new things and go new places but she doesn't like to talk much during these adventures. Hoping to raise Abby as a polite, interactive and socially comfortable child, I've always been her social fairy godmother, prompting her to say thank you after a compliment has been delivered, to return a friendly "Hello!" with an equally friendly, "Hi!" and to generally interact with others graciously.

As a parent, this is my job. I've taken it very seriously. As a parent, it is also my job to allow my child to be who SHE is at HER pace. I realized today that I haven't allowed enough space between her rapidly growing tender-leaved tree and my own solid, old tree.

Today we were at lunch and our server complimented Abby on her necklace. Abby smiled nervously at the woman and paused. I held my breath. The less-aware, less-evolved me (read: yesterday's Denise) would have quielty said to Abby, "What do you say, honey?". Today's me just sat and waited. Three long seconds later Abby looked the woman straight in the eye and responded to her compliment with a gracious, "Thank you."

Swooosh. I could feel the wind joyously dance in the space between us. I exhaled. Abby beamed. On this Mother's Day, I am reminded that yes, I am a teacher. But I am also a student, learning from this very wise, tender-hearted young tree.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Easy Editor

I was at dinner last night at a restaurant filled with families. We sat at a table that was very, very close another table seating a lovely couple and their not so lovely 3 ½ year old. Every word, every demand, every action dripped with sass, whine and audaciousness. She cried and complained when she had the wrong drink. And continued to cry and be belligerent until the correct beverage arrived. She whined when she wanted more pretzels and dipping sauce. “I want more PRETZELS!” Her nose was wrinkled and her brow furrowed. She yelled “NO!” at Henry when he looked at her. I turned on my best kid smile (I consider myself a bit of a child charmer) and challenged myself to find a smile and a lightened, brightened mood. No dice. I didn’t blame this little 3 ½ year old for her behavior. I blamed her parents.

How did they handle the situation? Well, I can tell you what they didn’t do. Her parents never once requested that she say please. Never did they ask her to rephrase her rude requests—they just gave her what she asked for. They rewarded and reinforced every rude sound, glance and grunt by fulfilling her requests. One after the other.

So, there I sat in my uncharmed seat, recoiling at the lovely parents’ choices and perceived lack of parenting savvy. I was judging them. I would like say that I don’t judge others but then I would be lying to you and me. I’m guessing that you’ve found yourself in a similar situation and judged another’s parenting choices, too. If you haven’t, please contact me immediately and let me in on your altruistic secret.

So, back to me and my judging. I thought about how differently I handle my children and was very grateful that my husband and I are relentless about expecting manners and respect from our children. We treat them with respect and we expect the same in return from them. I don’t deliver on whiny, rude requests. These requests are ignored until my children deliver them in a nice, polite manner. Yeah me! Yeah us!

The next morning I woke up recalling the previous evening’s events. I was struck by the ease with which I was able to judge other parents’ actions because I had the gift of distance and perspective. I wondered how I would judge and edit my own parenting if I was able to offer this same gift to myself. I wished for a hidden video camera to record our daily interactions that I could later watch and edit. Hoped for a visit from the Super Nanny so I could brush up on my child-rearing acumen.

As I don’t see either of these options materializing, I’m going to do my best to remember the following:
1. I am not perfect.
2. I, therefore, should not expect perfection from my children (or other parents).
3. One of the best gauges of the parent is the child itself.
4. I will continue to do my best. When I do not, and, as Dr. Seuss says, sometimes I will not, I hope that I will see my mistake, accept responsibility for it, correct it and LEARN FROM IT.
5. Through this, I will show my children that I am fallible. This is crucial. I will show them how I handle my fallibility. This is essential. Hopefully they’ll sponge this up like a dry piece of toast with an egg over easy.

It is with this constant strife and desire to learn and grow that we become better parents. And since we cannot always see the errors in our work, the next time I mess up, I hope another parent is present so they can mentally edit my mistakes and carry away an affirmation of their own.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Note to Husband

Dear husband,

Just because I was (yes, now in the past tense) in my PJs until 12:45 pm today does not mean I was not a productive member of society and our family. Look at all of the fabulous, industrial things I accomplished since 4:00 am today:

4:00 am Henry cries. Hold conference with husband and both agree to let Henry cry to teach him that 4 am is not an acceptable time to start the day.

6:00 am Wake up because Abby and Henry wake up (and slept in!)

6:25 am Negotiate Abby's melt down which occurred because I threw away the little plastic ring to the newly opened milk carton which apparently she desperately needed/wanted. Hugs and kisses administered.

6:42 am Second conference with husband held. Discuss trash responsibilities and request that he adopt a later work departure so said husband can be with children while I finish preparing trash for waste disposal.

6:47 am Third conference with husband/negotiation with Abby regarding little plastic milk carton ring which husband unknowingly threw away. More tears, further pacification.

6:50 am Administer nutritious, balanced breakfast to offspring.

6:50 am Empty dish washer.

6:50.30 am Administer more food to offspring.

6:51 am Put away hand-washed dishes.

7:00 am Turn on Today Show for national and international news updates. Learn, in small sound bytes, about the world outside of my very productive two-room universe.

7:15 am Discovery: wet, moldy clothes in clothes washer that the laundry fairy never transferred to dryer. Run quick cycle and transfer to dryer. Place new, soiled clothes into washer.

7:15 am Discussion with oldest Abby about why M&Ms cannot be eaten at 7:15 am.

7:17 am Turn on computer, check email, start ToDo list.

8:00 am Teleconference with Toyota service department about reasons behind missed service appointment last week. Issue apology and reschedule appointment (which, unfortunately, coincides with regularly scheduled work out regime. Muffin top prevails for another day.)

8:30 am 17 minute teleconference with new accountant.

8:40 am (During aforementioned account call), navigate snack demands of Abby and Henry.

8:50 am Accounting call is finished. Administer further nutrition to children.

9:00 am Teach spatial concepts to Abby through activities with hearts, diamonds, squares and circles.

9:00 – 9:30 am Teach Henry the importance of perseverance and patience through repetition of the phrases, “Henry don’t put the crayons in your mouth, crayons are for coloring.” “Henry, please color on the paper, not the chair.” AND “Henry, sit down in the chair.”

9:31 am Teach Henry that even the strongest camel has a back-breaking straw by pounding the kitchen table and yelling, “Henry Benjamin, SIT DOWN for goodness sakes! Gheshhh!”

9:31.30 am Mission accomplished. Henry's bum is in the chair and he will forever remember that one must yell to get anything accomplished. (Call the Mother-of-the-Year committee, they have a winner.)

9:40 am Continue researching the intricacies of the democratic party’s nomination process.

9:46 am Help oldest daughter write thank you notes to Grandmother and Aunt for Valentine’s Day care package.

10:00 am Transfer wet clothes to dryer, put more clothes into washer. Refill dog’s water dish.

10:10 am Edit my writings.

10:15 am More coloring, playing, general lounging around.

10:30 am Discussion with Mother about upcoming Democratic National primaries and the role of the super delegates. Probe her for answers to my unanswered questions.

10:45 am Lunch plan discussion with children.

10:50 am Administer milk to cows (ahem, children).

11:15 am Prepare lunch foods for children; serve.

11:17 am Clean downstairs bathroom while children eat. Listen to happy giggles as I scrub away pink mold and other unmentionables.

11:40 am Clean up lunch tools.

11:45 am Play a bit.

11:50 am Parse husband’s shrimp and crawfish gumbo into freezer safe containers. Clean stock pot, fill dish washer. Pick up all crazy straws Charlie removed from cabinet immediately under foot.

12:15 pm Put children down for naps. Henry into sleeping chamber first. Listen to protest screams while putting Abby down second.

12:20 pm Fold all previously cleaned laundry. Distribute.

12:30 pm Wash face, floss and brush teeth. Improve general appearance.

12:41 pm REMOVE PJs.

12:42 pm Adorn self with clothes.

12:46 pm Strip sheets off of master bed.

12:48 pm Insert sheets into washer.

12:50 pm Return missed phone call to husband who laughs when told I was getting dressed when he called earlier. He apologizes for getting me out of bed. I make a mental note to shoot off tongue-and-cheek email to husband.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Drip Drip Drip

After years of steady patience, the so small drip of water makes a dent in the sturdy, durable rock. Drip drip drip the water falls, each small drip doing its part to leave an indelible smooth dimple on the rock. The water cannot see its effect, it is only with time that the magnitude of the water’s movement can be seen and felt on the rock’s surface.

I am the drip of water. My daughter is the rock. Since her life began, I’ve been dripping away at
her. Please be gentle. Drip. Please say thank you. Drip. Please don’t bite. Drip. Please pick up your toys. Drip. Please don’t whine. Drip. Drip. Please use your words to tell me why you are upset. Drip. Drip. Drip. Many weeks and months pass and I keep dripping. Sometimes I plop and others I rage like a white capped river. Sometimes the rock seems to defiantly throw my little drip back up into the air. At other times the rock is steadfast, not changing, no matter how many times I drip.

In my nascent parenting years, I thought raising children was a bit like molding clay. A pliable, malleable young life in my hands and my charge was to mold him or her into the right form. I now know that this thought was delightful yet naïve. Children are beautiful, natural, exquisite miracles. Jagged, hard miracles.

My children are delightful. They are well-mannered and sweet. They also do very good sturdy rock impersonations. As the (mostly) patient drip of water, I’ve been witness to the most amazing thing. I can actually see the dimple of my efforts on one of my sweet little rocks, Abby. After years of working with her on good and appropriate ways to manage her moods and emotions, she has folded all of the advice, tips and drips into her repertoire. They are a part of her. The last two weeks I’ve watched my sweet daughter have a wave of whininess descend upon her and instead of me dripping advice onto her, and instead of her whining and crying at me, she’s taken quiet time. (!) And then come to talk to me rationally and politely about what she’s feeling and what she’d like to see happen. (!!!) It is tremendous, refreshing and heart-warming. All my days of guiding, moments of frustration and drip, drip, dripping have sculpted a tough rock into a smooth little girl who is striding further and longer with confident, sturdy steps.

I know I will always drip. It is the maternal way. I will always probably remind my children to write thank you notes and to R.S.V.P. in a timely manner. They will probably say, “Moooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmm, I know! Will you stop?” And I’ll try. But like any good water drop, I’ll continue dripping diligently remembering that long after I’ve stopped, the paths and ways of my children will always be paved, indelibly etched, with my advice, guidance and love.

Post script: I just realized I’m resting my feet on Henry's dump truck which has somehow found a home underneath my desk. “Oh Henry,” drip, “come on over and let’s put this truck away.” Drip. Drip. Drip.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Abby and I sit on the back porch steps looking out into the cool, gray afternoon. The event is normal, ordinary and calm. But my thoughts start to ricochet between the calm bliss of this moment and the anticipated arrival of her kindergarten debut.

Her sweet, rosy and round cheek glows in the late afternoon light. Her inquisitive and thoughtful eyes survey the barren trees and seem to reach thirstily for the future. I am awash with hope, pride and bittersweets. I see both my baby and the woman she will become, standing somewhere in the first few feet of the brick path of her life. The path being paved by her, by me, by her Daddy, and soon her kindergarten teachers, one slab of brick and mortar at a time.

I try to imagine what her eyes see, what her mind dreams. In this moment, she is an independent, formidable force, seeking, searching, seeing. Eyes and soul wide open.

How does her future path look? Is it curvy and detoured or straight and direct? I don’t know the fifteen year route but I know tonight, tomorrow and even Tuesday’s plans: play, sleep, questions, answers. Hurt, joy, anger, happiness. As much as it will all change in her distant young woman’s world, it will all be similar, familiar as different events garner the same emotions.

So I equip her with tools, big and small, subtle and strong. This is necessary as she is a complex person wondering in one moment how the sun knows how to set and in the next why her baby brother got his milk first. Not too surprisingly, the workings of my four-year-old’s mind are not too varied from my own:
Why can’t our country find a sustainable solution to poverty?
Why don’t I ever seem to have anything to wear?

This poignant back porch moment is significant because soon, for the first time in my first baby’s life, she will spend more time with other adults than with me. And maybe even more prominent is my guttural knowledge that these steps to elementary school are just the beginning of her path. A fresh, bright journey.

At this moment, her path leads us to the back porch. And so we sit, symbiotic in our journey together, as one and alone. Connected so firmly and deeply neither of our earthly, human minds can navigate the intricacies of our association. We sit, looking out, looking in, at each other and back out again.