Lonely Motherhood: An Introvert's Pondering

The women I spent time with before I had kids are still friends, but we don’t have as much in common anymore.

I see the picture as I’m scrolling through my news feed and feel a pang in my chest.
I’ve never considered myself the jealous type, but I can’t deny that that’s what this is – jealousy, mixed with loneliness.
A group of kids, several families’ worth, smile at the camera. They’re all classmates of my kids, and all their parents are good friends, the kind that get together for Sunday barbecues in the summer and Christmas parties in December. The kind who plan fun outings just because and even go on vacation together occasionally.
As a kid, I always had a best friend or two. Who they were changed from elementary to middle to high school, but they were always there: my people. Since becoming an adult though, and especially since becoming a mother, I don’t have that anymore.
It’s not that I have no friends. I do. I would even say I have a couple of good friends, ones I can text with a question or something funny that happened in my day that they, being in a similar season, readily understand.
But can I call someone a best friend if I don’t think she’d reciprocate? Can I call someone my person if she already had a well-established group of her own before I came along?
My husband has long understood my need for friendship, but we’ve never been in the same place at the same time. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s felt fulfilled in this area, having a variety of friendships ranging from acquaintances to best friends. He may have added someone here and there, but his core group has stayed the same.
For me, though, friendship has been transitional in adulthood.
The women I spent time with before I had kids are still friends, but we don’t have as much in common anymore. The friends I met when my kids were babies have gone their separate ways, and the ones I hung out with when my kids were toddlers I now see mostly online instead of in person.
My friendships have followed my kids’ developmental stages, so now I find myself with school friends. These are women who seem wonderful – I’d love to get to know them better – but they also seem to have avoided transitional relationships and have settled into deeper, longer-lasting friendships.
In other words, they have no need for someone like me.
I wonder if my perception is truly my reality. Certainly, other mothers must struggle with this, too. Perhaps even the ones who share pictures of their girls’ night out or their recent group shopping trip struggle with this.
Or maybe it is just me. I’m introverted and do not easily put myself ‘out there,’ so I alone am to blame for my loneliness. I should make calls, plan get-togethers, make the effort to get to know people. But that’s risky.
Maybe they won’t like me when they really get to know me. Maybe they’ll tolerate me because they don’t know how to say no. Maybe I’ll be the one who everyone secretly finds annoying. I’ll be left where I started – with people I say hello to in the school hallway and comment on pictures of their kids all smiling at the camera together, while trying not to feel on the outside.
Are my people out there somewhere? I think so. I just have to figure out how to find them.

The Bittersweetness of Five Bags of Hand-Me-Downs

For the last two years, my son has been wearing the clothes of a little boy who never got to wear them.

I went through my son’s clothes today. He’s past the point where size and age are measured in months, so the 18- and 24-month clothes had to go. They’ve been replaced by brand new 2Ts with slogans announcing his potential for trouble. Meanwhile, the last vestiges of babyhood go in a box.
The process made me sad, but not for the reasons one might think. Yes, there was a tinge of “Gee, they grow up so fast.” But the reason I mourned was because for the last two years, my son has been wearing the clothes of a little boy who never got to wear them.
My friend Kelsea lost her son Sam just after his first birthday. After years of trying for another child, she and her husband decided they were done. They packed up every baby thing in the house and gave it all to me, knowing my three-month-old could use it.
The amount of stuff was staggering. There were five giant bags of t-shirts, printed onesies, and pants with faces on the seat. There were boxes of tiny shoes and a box of wooden toys. Half of it still had the tags on.
I can’t imagine how much it hurt for her to go through each item – battling the memories and the what ifs. But Kelsea delivered it without a tear. Instead, she hugged me and said she was glad to help.
And she has helped. In fact, I wonder if she knows what her gift has done for me. Beyond the money I’ve saved, the effects of her generosity have been both profound and unexpected.
For one thing, her gift has made me a participant in her grief. I love my friend and I mourned with her when she lost her son. But I doubt her little boy would be so constantly on my mind had she not given me his clothes.
Now there isn’t a day I don’t think about Sam. I wonder how he’d look in the three-piece suit my son wears to church. I think about how the orange tee with the bike decal would set off Sam’s dark coloring. I imagine how much my friend looked forward to seeing him in the Superman shirt my son adores. It keeps his loss fresh in my mind. I can only imagine how Kelsea manages not to collapse under the weight of it.
The clothes are also a reminder of how lucky I am. My son is alive and healthy and mine. So many women can’t say that. I’m not sure why the destroying angel has passed by my door, but I’m thankful every single day.
While this new understanding doesn’t make me “enjoy every moment” – you’d have to be a masochist to enjoy some days – it does make me more aware of this thing called motherhood. Yes, I have days of absolute mayhem and chaos. I have days when I wonder how I’ll make to bedtime and whether this motherhood gig wasn’t a colossal mistake.
But even the worst day is sprinkled with tiny bits of incandescent joy. There are sticky kisses and garbled attempts at “I love you.” There are cuddles and laughter my friend will never know. And because of that, I feel like I have to relish those moments for both of us. I owe it to Kelsea and women like her to at least be conscious of what I have.
As my son’s new clothing goes into circulation and the last of Sam’s clothes go into a box, I’m pleased to see these lessons have stayed with me. I continue to grieve with those who’ve lost children, whether through death or infertility or custody battles. I send notes on birthdays and holidays to women mourning their babies. And I hold my own children a little tighter and grump a little less when they ask for one more story or one more cuddle.
I will always be grateful for Kelsea’s gift. Because of her generosity, I’ve become more of the mother I think we both wish we could be.

7 Signs You're Parenting Right According to a Clinical Psychologist

In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

Parents often worry that they are failing their kids. Modern parents hold themselves to higher standards as we guide our children to adulthood. It’s easy to get caught in a comparison trap with other parents or look for outwardly measurable signs of our success.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

The seven signs of being an awesome parent

1 | Your child displays a range of emotions in front of you

Sometimes the timing of our child’s big emotions is difficult. We may not wish to see as much of the big emotions as we do, but your child’s ability to express anger, sadness, or fear in front of you is a good sign that she feels emotionally safe with you.
It worries me greatly when children hide their feelings from their parents. Often, this is a sign of big problems in the parent-child relationship. Avoid shutting down or distracting your child out of her feelings. Instead, pay attention and show appreciation for them.
“I can see from how you’re kicking the wall that you’re very angry. And you’re telling me this is because your sister won’t let you play.” This tells your child you can handle her feelings and you understand her perspective.

2 | Your child comes to you when hurt or facing a problem

I know that a parent is doing an awesome job when their child comes to them as a first port of call for their problems. This means you have provided a secure base that your child can return to when he needs help.
A good way to encourage this is to welcome your child with open arms and listen to his problems, even if small or the problem seems petty to you. This sets up the relationship to be open to communication about things that are difficult in your child’s life.

3 | Your child can discuss thoughts and feelings without fearing your reaction

This is a positive sign of an accepting, open, and flexible parent-child relationship. Some parents  unwittingly restrict communication with their child through their behavior, such as over-reacting to thoughts or feelings they don’t like or those that question their behavior as a parent.
Other parents appear so fragile to their children that they don’t want to burden their parent with their thoughts and feelings. I get concerned when parents say, “My child is my rock.” Parents are the rocks; children should never be their parent’s rock.
You can support this by accepting your child’s thoughts and feelings without making it be about who you are. If you need additional support for your feelings, do that with another adult – not with your child.

4 | Your feedback is non-critical and non-labeling

Awesome parents give non-critical feedback about behavior and avoid labels such as ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘greedy’, and ‘lazy’.
If your child eats all the chocolate biscuits before anyone else has a chance to share them, an awesome parent focuses on the behavior: “You ate all the biscuits without sharing. It is important in our home that you share with your siblings. How do you think you could make this up to your family?”
This is very different from saying, “You greedy girl. Go to your room.”

5 | You encourage your child to pursue interests and talents

Pursuing interests and talents helps children feel a sense of mastery and achievement. It can positively engage children through the teen and young adult years, teaching persistence and helping protect against risk-taking behavior. It’s a wonderful thing to excel at something you love.
Sometimes, I see parents directing children’s interests to fulfil unmet dreams and needs of their own. When you force a child to excel for your own reasons, all sorts of things can go wrong, even when they look like they’re going right. This can set children up for feeling like a failure, feeling intense levels of pressure, and feeling controlled.
Also, if they fail and a narcissist parent’s ambition is behind it, children wear the burden of disappointing their parent on top of their own disappointment.

6 | You create boundaries on behavior to keep your child safe

Awesome parents guide their child’s behavior by setting considered boundaries and limits. Children without limits and boundaries often end up in a lot of trouble or lost.
Boundaries help children feel loved and valued, even if they don’t like the boundaries some of the time. Some examples of helpful limits include a bedtime routine, respectful language towards family members, and not permitting teens to attend parties where alcohol is supplied.

7 | You repair your mistakes

Being able to repair relationship ruptures with your child is a sign of being an awesome parent. If you yell, over-react, or call your child a name, it is important to repair that rupture with your child.
Talking with your child about how you wished you had handled the situation can help. Explaining that your big feelings got in the way of you being able to respond in the way you should have also helps.
Although it’s tempting to look for signs of successful parenting, such as reading levels, whether they eat the “right foods,” or win on the football field, successful parenting is about providing a secure base for your child. This creates a place from which your child can thrive. It consists of an ongoing lifelong relationship not contingent on external results, but rather on love, respect, and connection.
That’s what being an awesome parent all is about.

Today Is an “I Hate Kevin” Day

I’m invisible, and today I’m letting myself be mad about it. I hate Kevin. I wish he had never been born.

Today is an “I hate Kevin” day. I have those a lot. Mommy says it’s okay. She has them too. You can’t control how you feel but you can choose how to act in response to your feelings. The behaviorist says that’s the biggest difference between me and Kevin. I can make sense of my feelings, all he can do is react.
The penis grabbing is getting worse. He’s doing it in school now. Today at lunch he stuck his hand down his pants and started doing the humping thing. I said, “Kev hands up, okay?” Then he started to cry, and everyone saw what he was doing, and I just wanted to disappear. Leela tells him everything is okay but he screams and throws his salad all over the floor. Before the aides even realize what’s happening my friends have cleaned up the mess, taken Kev to the bathroom, and calmed him down. Sharfa has taken something from everyone’s lunch so he has something to eat.
“Everything is just fine now isn’t it Kevin?”
No one ever asks ME if everything is fine. No one asks me if I’m okay after my brother sticks his hand down his pants in the middle of lunch and then throws his food all over the floor. You’d think, just once, someone might say, “Wow Kayla, that must have been embarrassing. Are you okay?” But they never do. I’m invisible, and today I’m letting myself be mad about it. I hate Kevin. I wish he had never been born. He wasn’t supposed to be born. I’ve heard the story. Mommy’s body knew he was broken and took away his air. Mommy’s body is smart.
I don’t have a normal life. I don’t have a normal family. I’ve had enough sleepovers to know how normal people live, and we don’t live like they do. I wish we could.
Take tonight for example. It’s a typical night in our house. 9:30 p.m. is bedtime, Mommy and Daddy say so, and Kevin starts screaming and thrashing. I go to my bed, because I’m the “good” one and just wait for it all to be over. Crying, counting, more crying, time out, Mommy and Daddy arguing because this one or that one always gives in, blah, blah, blah.
Tonight it only takes 15 minutes and Kevin’s in the bathroom. He can’t pee alone. Bob (his stuffed elephant) and Kevin Owens (the plastic wrestler) have to pee with him. Daddy stands at the toilet making the “pssss” sound, praising Bob and Kevin Owens for pointing their penises at the water and getting all their tinkle in the potty. Other daddies don’t have to do this.
Now Kevin is in our room and Mommy has to get him in his pull up and pajamas. 10-year-old boys aren’t supposed to wear pull ups and they can dress themselves. He lies down, and even though the tucking in routine has been the same for the past year, he recites the steps and makes Mommy repeat them.
Kevin: Cover me.
Mommy: Cover you.
Kevin: All way end.
Mommy: Pull the blanket all the way to the end.
Kevin: Kevin Ownens head here.
Mommy: Kevin Owens head goes here.
Kevin: Bob go here.
Mommy: Bob goes here.
Kevin: Need pink book.
Mommy: You need a pink book.
Kevin: Goes here.
Mommy: It goes here.
Kevin: Night night see moanin.
Mommy: Night night see moanin.
Now Mommy comes to me to sing our song but she’s not really here. Sometimes she is. Sometimes she looks right in my eyes and sings all the words to the song and she’s all with me, but tonight she’s somewhere else. She sings the words and looks right at me but she’s somewhere else in her head. Maybe she’s at work. Maybe she’s thinking about laundry. Maybe she’s in the other world she’s made for herself where Kevin doesn’t live.
I love that place. I go there sometimes too. I think it’s hard to pretend you’re in a place when you’re not in that place.
It took me a lot of growing up to realize Mommy isn’t here when she’s here. You have to pay really close attention because Mommy is good at pretending. You can have whole conversations with her and it seems like she’s paying attention but the next day she won’t remember a thing you said. Tonight is like that. She’s singing to me, making all the right faces in all the right parts but tomorrow morning she’ll ask me, “Did I remember to sing our song?”
I wonder if other mommies can do that: leave their body to sing all the words with all the right faces while they’re somewhere else. I wonder if other mommies HAVE to do that. I don’t think so. I think it’s just the mommies with broken children. I think when a child is broken the mommy breaks too and that’s how they’re able to be in two places at once. I wish Mommy was here with me, the song just isn’t the same without her.
Kevin: Kaya scatch my back?
This is the part of the routine no one knows about. It’s our secret. After Mommy and Daddy leave Kevin says, “Kaya scatch my back,” and I crawl into his bed with him. I have to repeat the steps too.
Kevin: Get under covers vis me
Kayla: I know I’m under the covers with you
Kevin: Put you hand up back my sirt
Kayla: I’m putting my hand up the back of your shirt
Kevin: Don’t ickle me
Kayla: I’m not tickling you
Kevin: Now you scatch
Kayla: I’m scratching
I scratch and scratch and just before he falls asleep Kevin says, “Night night Kaya I yuv you.”
Then I say, “I love you too Kevin.”
Sometimes, not all the time, maybe just on nights he needs to be sure he asks, “You yuv me?”
“Yes,” I say, and he says, “Awe! Gank goo.”
Tonight is one of those nights. He needs to be sure, so I stray from the routine a little bit and say, “Yes yes yes yes yes I love you,” and he smiles a little bit just before he falls asleep.
I feel so guilty. I’m a horrible sister. He knows. He knows about the world where he doesn’t live. He knows Mommy has to go there sometimes and leave the pretend Mommy to sing my song and now he knows I go there sometimes too. If I was a better sister I wouldn’t have to go.
Usually I go back to my bed once he’s asleep but tonight I’ll stay. I’ll stay all night long until the early morning so Mommy doesn’t see me here and it stays our secret.
It’s nice watching Kevin sleep. He has a really cute snore. I wonder if I did this when we were in Mommy’s tummy. Mommy says no. She says we each grew in our own bubble and when you’re in someone’s tummy you can’t leave your bubble to go visit someone in theirs but I think she’s wrong. I bet I left my bubble all the time to visit Kevin in his and scratch his back. I imagine the two of us growing just like this, face to face, hand in hand, but Mommy says that’s not right either. Once we got really big and ran out of room in her tummy my head was right at Kevin’s feet. That’s why I’m so goofy. I spent that last month in Mommy’s tummy getting kicked in the head all day.
I can’t sleep so I play with Mommy’s favorite part of me. It’s the little roll of fat at the bottom of my tummy. Mommy calls it a little extra Kayla and you can never get enough Kayla. I don’t like the roll of fat. It hangs over my bikini bottom and I’m afraid people are going to call me fat.
I told Mommy this one day and she got really mad and said, “Don’t you ever call yourself fat. You’re beautiful, you have a beautiful figure you’re perfect just the way you are.” But she says the same thing to Dana and she doesn’t have a little roll of fat that hangs over her bikini bottom. We can’t both be perfect we look completely different. I think Dana’s the perfect one. Dana is perfect at everything, Kevin is broken and I’m just … me.
I’m not even supposed to be here. It was just supposed to be Kevin. He zoomed down from Heaven too fast, crash landed into Mommy’s tummy and a piece of him fell off. That’s me. Mommy says that’s just a story I made up in my head but it’s not and I know it. I’m the piece of Kevin that fell off which is why neither one of us is whole or right without the other one. No one knows what if feels like to be a piece of somebody else. I’m the only one.
Do you know when Kevin is sleeping or smiling you can’t see the facial dysmorphia? He looks perfect. He is perfect. He isn’t destroying the makeup counter at MAC or throwing books at us in Barnes & Noble. No one is staring at us with pity or just ignoring us. He isn’t grabbing his penis and humping the floor in full view of my friends. I can have sleepovers like other girls because he doesn’t wander the house naked and flap like a bird until his medication kicks in. I have the life I see when I sleep over other people’s houses. Mommy says they have problems, too – we just can’t see them. Sometimes, when I sleep over other people’s houses, I walk around opening closets looking for their problems but I’ve never found any.
I feel better. Mommy is right about letting yourself be mad. If you don’t give the mad thoughts a voice they get louder and louder until that’s all you can hear. I’ve said the angry thoughts out loud like Mommy taught. I told God I hated Kevin and I wish he wasn’t here and God said “Okay,” took the bad words away, and replaced them with good feelings. I can look at Kevin and feel love again and I don’t need the world where he doesn’t live. I never stay long anyway. I feel peaceful when I’m there but here, I feel whole.
Tomorrow is going to be better. I’ll remember that Kevin and I are the most special twins in the world because the piece of him that’s missing grew into a whole person who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him flying down from Heaven too fast. I will lie here all night with him and Mommy won’t know. It’s not like Mommy still creeps downstairs to make sure we’re breathing. We’re 10 for God’s sake. She won’t see us curled up together hand in hand. It will still be our secret.
I’ll have to set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. because Mommy’s been getting up at 6 a.m. Daddy says she’s finally gone off the deep end. She says she’s quitting her job to become a professional beaver trapper. There’s a Mommy beaver named Becky living in our backyard with her five babies. They’re sooooooooo cute but don’t say that in front of my mom. They’re eating all her plants and trees so she goes out there every morning around 6:30 to yell at Becky and throw sticks at her. She thinks this will make Becky want to move but I don’t think it’s working. We can’t even call her Mommy anymore. She wants to be called Rachel The Great Beaver Slayer. I’m not allowed to tell Dad because he’ll say she’s being obsessive but Mom says she’s going to disguise herself as a rhododendron bush and stake out the beaver. She needs evidence. I think she’s taking Becky to court.
Yeah, I don’t have a normal life. I don’t have a normal family. I’ve had enough sleepovers to know how normal people live, and we don’t live like they do. But then again none of them have beavers, or a mother in the backyard disguised as a rhododendron bush, and that must be boring.

My Kid Has a Favorite and It’s Not Me

We try so hard as parents not to play favorites. I just wish they would do the same.

“I don’t want you. I don’t want you. I don’t want you.”
It’s the phrase we fear in the deepest darkest pit of our psyches where junior high dates and first periods go to die. It’s the phrase that spills angst all over our best laid plans for autonomy.
Now put that on repeat and blast it on your biggest 80s boom box and you’ve got a sense of my current mental state. No woman is an island. But can you just send me to one until this storm passes?
You know that phrase “Daddy’s girl?” It’s cute, isn’t it? You picture a nightgown-ed daughter dancing on her Daddy’s feet and field trips to Home Depot for dollhouse supplies.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes for the Mommy in the Daddy’s girl trio:
My three-year-old kicks me in the sternum while I wrestle her into her pajamas while she screams, “I want Daddy to do it!”
“We have three kids, kiddo,” I say and dodge a foot. “That means, luck of the draw, you’ve got me tonight.”
Her response? A totally non-ironic kick to my uterus along her personalized c-section scar while she tries to scramble away.
I tap out at that point … just lay back onto the hardwood floor and watch her scissor kick in circles with her Paw Patrol pajama pants halfway up like a little old lady stuck in her pantyhose.
Here’s the thing. I love that she loves her dad. I love that they have a special bond and he “gets her” in all her stubborn toddlerness. I also get that this could very well be a phase – a phase that has lasted from birth to now, but here’s to keeping that hope alive. I also get that she is just a kid whose ability for empathy is slim to none.
I am the grownup. I remind myself of this by the hour when she cries for her dad while we eat lunch and she asks how many hours until he is home again. I remind myself again when she wants him to be the last one to kiss her at bedtime and again when he needs to be the first one to see her write her name and tie her shoes. We try so hard as parents not to play favorites. I just wish they would do the same.
I want her to want me.
I want that feeling of being chosen. I shouldn’t need it. Her twin brother loves everyone with an equanimity that even I can’t muster. And her older brother is the same. There is plenty of love to go around in our house. But when she runs around me to get to my husband when we come home from a date night, it’s going to sting.
I tell myself that I am not in middle school anymore and this has more to do with the fact that she averages approximately 10 more hours a day with me than him. I am the old toy and he will forever be the new. But man, those words “I don’t want you” leave a mark. I try not to let her see me get upset more than the obligatory “that hurts Mommy’s feelings, can you say you’re sorry?” with the best poker face I can summon.
But I have walked away to grab a Kleenex. I have locked onto my Headspace meditation app like it’s a personalized meeting with the Dalai Lama. And I have reached into my vault of affirmations and picked a few to carry me through:
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” – Brene Brown
“I like you very much. Just as you are.” – Mark Darcy, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”
“Let it go.” – Elsa, “Frozen”
And it works most of the time. Because the truth is, I know exactly why she prefers her dad. It’s because I birthed a Mini Me. She is a mover and a shaker and the very strong yin to her twin’s easygoing yang. We are two waves crashing into each other more often than not. One day, if I’m lucky the tides will shift and we will roll together in easy harmony.
But for now, I’ll hug the dog a little longer than necessary and continue to take up the mantle of second place. Because that’s what moms do … we fill in the gaps. We are the mortar that holds the family together and everybody who’s anybody knows it.

I Miss My Husband

It seems silly for me to say I miss my husband because it is silly, because he’s right here next to me most of the time.

I miss my husband.
It seems silly for me to say that, because it is silly, because he’s right here next to me most of the time. In a development that has surprised at least 65 percent of the guests at our wedding all those years ago (including probably both of us), we are still very much married, with four kids, and all the chaos to show for it.
But I miss him still. It’s true, even as we move around each other through the kitchen and the bedrooms and the school concerts and the 500 grocery store trips we take per week, combined. I miss him the way you miss something you used to have and totally took for granted, like collagen or personal space or uninterrupted sleep.
We are good at what we do, tag-teaming our way through this working and parenting life like a well oiled machine on our good days, passing kids to each other like relay batons without even breaking our strides. It’s a thing of beauty, a master dance that took years to achieve and yet still is so tenuous that one string pulled could unravel it into a pile of children at our feet. Even so, I have the gall to miss him.
And I do.
I miss him.
I miss how, when we first started dating, he had this way of looking at me like I was something delicate and fragile that needed to be handled with care. It was the first time I had ever seen myself as anything other than hard edged and mostly broken.
I miss the way we could sit across a table in a dimly lit restaurant and talk for hours about everything and nothing at all, and it would feel like time had stopped and the universe had shrunk down to just us two and a candle and a bottle of cheap wine.
I miss being able to banter back and forth about how we wanted to spend the time that spread out before us, languid and easy and open – so arrogant, like it would always be that way, and we could make it into whatever we wanted.
And today?
Well, today, he looks at our children the way he used to look at me.
Today, we lie across a bed, a child or two tangled in between us, and it’s like the universe has expanded just enough to fit the whole six of us into it nice and snug.
Today, we don’t plan and plot and worry as much about the future, not because it’s not still laid out there – it is, I hope – but because what’s right in front of us right now is so miraculous that it’s hard to pull our gazes away for long enough to remember to dream.
So, yes, I miss my husband, the same way I miss my youth, or my pre-baby body, or who I was in high school. Fondly, sure. Nostalgically even. That guy I married all those years ago was incredible, no doubt.
But this one I have now is even better.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Playing the Chess Game of Shorts in Winter

Harry, my four-year-old, is into fashion.

This morning, he emerged from his bedroom wearing a red bandana, a pair of soccer shorts, and a short-sleeved T-shirt that read THIS KID RULES. When he asked me if he looked cool, and if his brand name shorts made him look like a real soccer player, I said:
“Harry, the man makes the clothes. Not the other way around.”
He responded by falling down on the living room floor, and between comically loud guffaws, he said, “Silly Daddy, kids don’t make clothes! And I’m not a man!”
With his red bandana tied neatly at the back of his head, he looked like a miniature Bruce Springsteen coming back from a trip to the gym. I laughed and he laughed, and then I asked him to go put on long pants and a jacket so we could go to the park.
In a flash, he was upright and stomping his feet at me. “No, you can’t make me wear pants! I like shorts!” He crossed his arms. He looked at me as if I’d just threatened to take away every toy in his room and burn them on the lawn.
As a stalling tactic, I sipped my English Breakfast and looked out the window. Frost covered our cars in the driveway. Bundled up in a parka, gloves, and winter boots, my neighbor (originally from Wisconsin) was walking his dog on the sidewalk, his breath escaping in thick, white plumes.
“It’s winter, Harry,” I said. “You can’t wear shorts until spring.”
He gritted his teeth. He balled up his fists. He growled at me like a hungry lion. “You can’t make me do anything!”
I resisted the urge to lecture him, a habit I’ve been trying to break ever since I stopped being an English professor and became a stay-at-home dad. Instead, I watched my only son storm into his bedroom and slam the door behind him.
I finished my tea. I waited until my heart beat slowed, and then I knocked on his door.
“Harry, may I come in?”
No answer.
I knocked a second time.
“Fine,” he said, “you can come in.”
Inside, I found him laying face first on the rug, his red bandana now tied around his wrist.
“I’m not going to take off my shorts, Daddy.” His tone was matter-of-fact rather than angry.
I stepped farther into the room, removed a pair of thick sweatpants from his dresser, and tossed them on the ground beside him.
“Sit up,” I said. “I’ll show you something.”
He didn’t move.
“Please,” I said pulling out my iPhone. “I think you’ll like it.”
Sighing heavily, he sat up, and I showed him a video of Harry Kane, my son’s and my favorite professional soccer player, practicing his dribbling skills on a snowy field in London. “You see how Harry Kane is wearing sweatpants with his shorts over the top? You see how Harry Kane is wearing a cool soccer jacket?”
My son smiled. He asked to see the video three more times. When he’d had enough, he gave me back my phone, and I asked him if he was ready to get dressed.
Without responding, he removed his shorts, revealing a pair of Lego Batman underwear. He put one leg into the sweatpants, and then stopped and looked at me.
“I’m doing this for me,” he said. “Not for Harry Kane.”
I nodded.
He put on the sweatpants with shorts over the top and then added a jacket. He asked me to retie his red bandana around his head, which I did.
“I’m ready to go to the park,” he said.
“First, you need to eat breakfast,” I said. “No candy or marshmallows, either.”
My son then gently shoved me out into the hallway. “I’ve got a lot of things on my mind,” he said, shutting and locking the door behind him.

12 Books You Won't Be Able to Read Your Kid Without Crying

While these make great bedtime stories, you may want to cram a tissue up your sleeve, grandma style for those guaranteed sniffles.


That’s Me Loving You

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (author) and Teagan White (illustrator)

A soft breeze, a clap of thunder, a rainbow…these are the ways a child will feel his mother’s love when she’s not there to hug. This book would’ve been sweet enough if it weren’t published months shy of the author’s untimely death. I double-dog-dare any parent to read this with a kid in your lap without a box of tissues in arm’s reach.


Love You Forever

by Robert Munsch (author) and Sheila McGraw (illustrator)

A roundup of books that make parents bawl would be incomplete without this story of the enduring bond between parent and child. This book is so sweet that readers young and old overlook the creepiness of the mom sneaking into her grown son’s room to sing him the lullaby she’s sang him since he was born.

If reading this story doesn’t completely destroy you now, it probably will once you know its genesis: Munsch was inspired to write it after he and his wife had two stillborn babies.


Yo Soy Muslim

by Mark Gonzales (author) and Mehrdokht Amini (illustrator)

This is a father’s letter to his daughter, but it’s also a tale of identity, strength, love, and hope. With stunning illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, this book is a pep talk, a love note, and a family history rolled into one.

“And there will come a day when some people in the world will not smile at you… No matter what they say, know you are wondrous. A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training. Say it with me: Our prayers were here before any borders were.”


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by JK Rowling

Reading this with my daughter – the first time for both of us – we were both captivated by the story. It has richly drawn characters, villains, heroes, magic, and suspense for days. It also has a scene where Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, which completely slayed me. I’m talking full-on ugly-crying. If you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you’ve been warned.

The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams (author) and William Nicholson (illustrator)

This book is the definition of a classic: a story of friendship and love that never gets old. While the Boy’s love for the Rabbit breathes life into the Rabbit’s stuffed body, it also finds him with patches of fur worn thin and countless other “age spots.” This story offers a powerful lesson on the beauty that exists inside us when we are real – not in spite of, but because of our imperfections.



by R.J. Palacio

“Wonder” is the heartwarming story of Auggie in his quest to belong. He’s a typical 10-year-old boy – except he’s been homeschooled his whole life and is entering public school for the first time as he starts the fifth grade. And he has a significant facial deformity.

As parents, we’d take our kids’ pain a thousand times if it meant they didn’t have to suffer. Auggie’s loving parents watch him take on more than his fair share of heartache as he navigates the unfamiliar and often unkind social dynamics of his new school – which is why it’s pretty much impossible to read this book without tearing up.

All the Places to Love

by Patricia MacLachlan (author) and Mike Wimmer (illustrator)

A family welcomes a baby boy, and later, his little sister. Woven into the fabric of the family’s life are the beautiful places they love. Together in these places they play, explore, and make memories. The only thing more touching (read: tear-jerking) than the big brother showing his little sister his favorite place is the fact that the grandfather cries when each child is born.

The Giving Tree

by Shel Silverstein

This is the story of a boy and his tree, but it’s also a story of generosity, kindness, selflessness, and love. A beautiful, heart-wrenching story, it can also spark a conversation about boundaries and friendship.


I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love

by Nancy Tillman

This tender story uses rhyme and humor to show the deep ocean of love a mother feels for her child. No matter where he goes or what form he takes, be it a snowy owl or a grinning camel, his mom promises she’ll recognize him.

“I know you by heart, so my heart never misses.”

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs

by Tommie dePaola

This is for anyone who has ever felt the love of a grandparent. Four-year-old Tommy has a special bond with his great-grandmother. Basing the story on events from his own life, dePaola uses vivid language and pictures to illustrate Tommy’s joy in his connection to his beloved “Nana Upstairs” as well as the pain he feels when she passes away.


Just the Two of Us

by Will Smith (author) and Floyd Cooper, Jon J. Muth, and Kadir Nelson (illustrators)

You probably know he was born and raised in West Philadelphia and spent most of his days on the playground before he became the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but did you know Will Smith is also a children’s author?

I’ve bopped my head while listening to the lyrics of his remake “Just the Two of Us” many a time, but there’s something special about seeing those words in print alongside Kadir Nelson’s touching and colorful illustrations. All parents will relate to Smith’s love for his child, his desire to keep his son safe, and his hope that his son grows up to make him proud.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B. White (author) and Garth Williams (illustrator)

This story of love, friendship, life, and death is one that will captivate you and leave you with your heart cracked wide open. I read this one when I was younger, so I knew what I was in for the first time I read it with my daughter. While she was surprisingly stoic, I cried enough for both of us.

Do you have any favorite tear-jerkers on your book shelves? Recommend them in the comments section below!
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Bend Me, Break Me

Little did I know how perfectly this wooden toy would represent our marriage.

We have a giant attic where we live now. One half is carpeted and cozy. Give a hard shove to a wooden door that sticks, and you’ll see the other half, with exposed beams and loose floor slats, filled with tubs of memories and stages of our 12 plus years together. I avoided those storage tubs for years. They were filled with some of the things we kept of our son, Noah, after he died. His “I MARCH TO THE BEAT OF MY OWN DRUM” T-shirt with an alligator on a skateboard. His brown sweater that he’s wearing in my favorite picture of him and my husband. The big wool throw blanket imprinted with that same picture that I gave my husband for Father’s Day. That’s a tough one. We still haven’t taken it out of the storage tub. Noah used to love to lay on that blanket and laugh and say “Daddy.”
I was looking for the box of winter decorations in the attic yesterday. I realized I never even put out the Fall decorations this year when I came upon that box filled with all things Autumn. I got very sad about the passing of another season without celebrating it with my burlap decorative pumpkins, the scarecrows, the garland of orange and red leaves. Damn it. I missed Fall.
I pulled out some lights, some greenery, some snowflakes, some little ceramic figures to hang on the wreath at the door. And then I found a bag filled with our wedding favors. You know those little wooden toys we’d get as kids? You press the bottom and the dog or cat puppet-like figure would bend and sway and jerk around. Sometimes they’d collapse at the knees or drop down on all four paws. Instead of a cute little animal, our wedding favor was a tiny bride and groom. I found them in retro styled toy catalog. And these little wooden people were about to bend in every direction.
Marriage is a funny thing. Or more simply, as my friend Kate recently texted to me, #marriageisweird. You are bound together. But you are still separate. You love each other. You would do anything for each other. You annoy the shit out of each other. You wish the other would just go away for a little while. But not too long. Because it doesn’t feel the same when they’re not there. And then they come back. And you’re happy. And then annoyed again. My husband and I suffered one of the most devastating events a marriage can endure. The loss of a child. I had heard the statistics. In fact, in my hysteria the same day our son died, I remember actually saying “Couples don’t stay together after a child dies! My husband is going away too! It’s all over!”
According to Andrea Gambill (owner and editor of Bereavement Magazine):

“The original percentage of divorce, cited as high as 90 percent, came from the book ‘The Bereaved Parent‘ by Harriet Schiff in the late 60s. Harriet is a bereaved parent and a former journalist for the Detroit Free Press and she never meant that statistic to be considered as a reliable scientific study number. She was trying to make the point in her book that the death of a child creates a stressor in marriages and that families need extra support and attention after the death of a child because men and women grieve differently.”

In 2006, The Compassionate Friends, an international support group for grieving parents, took a survey consisting of voluntary participants and one of the questions dealt with divorce. They found that only 16 percent of parents divorce after the death of a child and only four percent said it was solely because of the death of their child.
But even for couples not living in the shadow of their worst nightmare, #marriageisweird. I pulled a few of these little wooden toys out of the storage tub, still with our names and wedding date tags on them. I remember handwriting them and tying the little blue ribbons on in the living room of our apartment from five apartments ago. I figured our four-year-old daughter would like to play with them. I also thought maybe a visual and tangible reminder of our actual wedding day, aside from the photos on the wall, may reduce some of the weirdness lately. When we’re both too busy. And nerves are on edge. When we forget to be kind to each other.
I found myself playing with this toy while I watched the coffee drip into the pot this morning. It’s never fast enough these days. I pressed the bottom with my thumb and laughed as the bride smacked the groom in the face. Then I pressed again and watched the groom bend backwards while the bride threw an arm stiffly up in the air. I kept pressing the bottom to see what jerky movements this young couple would do. They came up with every possible combination. They were glued to this base that kept forcing movements and punches and they just kept popping back up.
It was the nature of the toy. It’s how it was designed. Little did I know how perfectly this wooden toy would represent our marriage. We are glued to this base. Arms flailing and knees collapsing. Backbends and lurching forward. We will just keep popping back up. Bending but never breaking. Bending separately and together.

The Tiny Blue Stocking I Pack Away Each Holiday Season

There are only four of us in the family. But that fifth stocking belongs to our family, too.

Every Christmas, when I get out our boxes of decorations, I find the box containing our family’s five stockings. Because there are only four of us in the family and we have no pets, you can be forgiven for wondering why I have an extra stocking.
But that fifth stocking belongs to our family, too.
After I had my first son, I went garage-sale crazy. Although I am not much of a shopper, I’ve always enjoyed the scavenger hunt feel of going to garage sales. With a new baby, I had a reason to stop at every yard sale I could find. I watched out for everything – clothes in the next sizes up (for both the baby and me ), clean toys, winter boots and snow pants with some wear left in them, and yes, Christmas decorations, including stockings.
I didn’t really need to stock up on stockings. I had one, and so did my husband, and my son got one from his Grandma on his first Christmas. So when I found the little blue fleece stocking with a snowman and the embroidered phrase “Let it snow!”, I didn’t really need it. I was pre-emptively stocking up on stockings.
I started having children much too late. There’s no other way to say it. Both for reasons within and outside of my control, I was 36 when my eldest son was born, and therefore already well-ensconced in what obstetricians so charmingly refer to as Advanced Maternal Age. (When they really want to twist the knife, they refer to you as a geriatric pregnancy or elderly primagravida.) By the time my son was one year and I was rounding my way into my late thirties, it occurred to me that I wanted a lot more babies.
This was a shocking revelation, to say the least, because I had never been a stereotypical “baby person.” I had never really smiled at babies I didn’t know or demanded to hold the new babies of relatives. Even four months into new parenthood, still recovering from my c-section and wincing when my son kicked my tender midsection while he nursed, I figured, no way, no how, could I ever do that again.
But somewhere in the middle of the feeding and the bathing and the worrying when he had a cold, I became aware that I was enjoying taking care of him. I didn’t mind the night feedings, during which he nursed like a champ and I watched the full run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I’d never had the time to do before.
Of course, it wasn’t all warm contentment and syrupy love. I remember clearly waking up my husband some nights because the baby wouldn’t go back to sleep after nursing. But overall, I was living the introvert’s dream of never leaving the house while simultaneously being in the constant company of someone I loved.
Who wouldn’t seek to replicate such a good time, all the more fulfilling and joyful because it was such a complete surprise? So there I was, 37-edging-ever-nearer-to-38, desperate to have another baby, and buying superfluous stockings in a fit of hopeful mania.
After six months of trying, it seemed like my dream was coming true. I was a couple days late. I excitedly bought a pregnancy test. It was positive. It was springtime, and I was growing a new baby. I called and made my first appointment with my obstetrician, at what would be eight weeks’ gestation.
In the weeks leading up to the appointment, I tried to push away vague uneasiness. With the exception of a few meals, after which my stomach felt unsettled, I hadn’t been having nearly as much morning sickness as I had during my first pregnancy. I tried not to worry about it, figuring all pregnancies were different. Perhaps it meant I would be having a girl!
When it came time to go to the doctor, the nurse didn’t bat an eyelash when I told her I’d been feeling great, much better than I’d felt in my prior pregnancy. We chatted away blithely, checked my height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse, and then she took me for my routine ultrasound before I even saw the doctor.
I could tell from the way the radiology technician paused before she turned from her screen to my face that something wasn’t right. There was no happy detailing of the size of the embryo. She said she wanted to get the doctor before we talked further.
The doctor entered, and after a few pleasantries and a quiet, concentrated look at the image, a few manipulations of the wand to explore the images more fully, he confirmed the news I was by now fairly sure I would be receiving. The embryo had already stopped developing. I wasn’t showing any of the outward signs yet, but I would soon miscarry the baby.
The rest of the appointment was a blur. I tried not to cry and largely failed and was only dimly aware that I chose the option of waiting to see if the miscarriage would occur “naturally.” As I left, I asked if there was a different way to exit the office rather than through the waiting room, ostensibly because “I didn’t want to upset anyone” (I was by now a blubbering mess), but mostly because I didn’t feel I could bear to look at other still obviously-pregnant women.
I stumbled out the back door, made it to my car and home, where my husband and son waited, playing in the living room and turning their bright eyes on me as I came in. I smiled at my son through my tears and then burst out, to my husband, “There’s not going to be any Peanut.”
We had called our first son Tadpole while he was in the womb. We’d been calling this baby Peanut.
I am not a girl to sign up for medications or medical procedures that are not absolutely required, but walking around the following week, waiting to miscarry and referring to myself in my head as Death, Destroyer of Worlds, was exhausting enough. If it had continued much longer, I might have sought alternatives to the natural wait-and-see method.
I tried to concentrate on caring for my toddler. I tried to concentrate on my freelance work. I never said it out loud, but every now and then, I would allow myself to dream that the doctor had made a mistake. Every day without blood made that weird conviction a little stronger. So it was with both profound relief and crushing sadness that I finally woke up one bright June morning with blood in my underwear.
When the bleeding kicked in in earnest with painful cramping, I was also relieved that my husband, by complete lucky accident, also had the day off from work. I hadn’t thought it would be necessary for him to stay home and watch our son, but as the day progressed, it became increasingly clear that we were very lucky that he was home. They played outside, in one of the earliest and hottest summers we’d ever had, while I went to my bedroom and laid down and cried and then periodically rushed to the bathroom to change pads. I couldn’t quite believe yet that it was really happening.
Later in the afternoon, when events were not quite as dramatic, I picked up the book on my nightstand – a biography of Shirley Jackson, author of the infamous short story “The Lottery,” titled Private Demons – and ate a full-size Hershey bar. Why the hell not? I read and ate and bled, and somewhere in the middle of all of that, I had a moment when I stopped everything and just sat. I thought of my Peanut and thanked him, or her, for being with me for just a little while. I thanked her, or him, for going through this with me because I couldn’t have faced it by myself.
Which brings us, in a roundabout sort of way, to this tiny blue stocking that I unpack every Christmas season. I don’t say anything about it to my husband or either of my two sons (after my miscarriage, I was lucky enough to have a second little boy at the ripe old age of 39). But each season, I quietly put that stocking in the drawer of my nightstand. I put a Hershey bar in it, and at the end of the holiday season, around the time of the festival of Epiphany, I go to my room and I read a book and I eat my Hershey bar and I thank Peanut all over again for being with me. His due date was to have been January 8.
Every year, I think, why don’t I enact this odd little ritual in June, around the date that I miscarried? I never really had an answer for that. This year, finally, I think I do. I don’t want to celebrate my baby’s passing from this world. What I want to celebrate is birth.
I want to celebrate the fulfillment of possibility. Because that is what Peanut represented to me: the possibility of new life. The possibility of a new person and personality to get to know. The possibility, even, of being efficient enough to have still more children. Because in addition to losing the baby, the miscarriage made me feel like I was losing one of my possible futures – a future with more children in it.
As I told a friend at the time, not only did feeling like Death, Destroyer of Worlds, bother me, I was also bothered because miscarrying at 38 means that you are quickly running out of months in which to recover, try again, perhaps luck out and have another baby, and then try to recover in time again to do it all over again. I think my exact quote was “This begins to put the kibosh on having a third kid.” I know. How greedy can you get?
I still wish I could have a lot more babies. But now, at 42, I am too old and too scared to try for any more. I am a risk-averse person married to a risk-averse person, and I live in the modern age, so I know entirely too much about what can go wrong, and the many, many statistics that are not in my favor.
I also know that I have been luckier than I had any real right to expect. I have two sons whose company I enjoy endlessly and a husband who says he could have been happy with no children or more children, but who is obviously and entirely thrilled with the two that we have. All of my boys worry and interest me because I don’t understand them at all. All three sadden and thrill me because I understand them completely.
And somewhere in the middle was the baby who was all joy, all possibility, who was and always will be all mine.
Merry Christmas, Peanut, and happy birthday.