My Kids Said “Mom” 159 Times in 6 Hours and I Nearly Lost It…Until I Made a List

At the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.

Let me start by saying that I love my children. More than anything in this world. More than the nirvana of shopping alone at Target, more than Ben & Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle. Even more than Maggie Smith on “Downton Abbey”.
BUT. If I hear the word “Mom” just one more time today, I am going to lose my shit.
In fact, I just googled “how many questions do kids ask in a day” because I know I’m not alone here. Are you ready for this? According to a UK study, moms field nearly 300 questions a day from their offspring, making them the most quizzed people around, above even teachers, doctors, and nurses.
Fun fact: Girls aged four are the most curious, averaging a question every one minute, 56 seconds of their waking day.
No wonder emails go unanswered, laundry piles up, library books expire before they are read, we scramble at the last minute for that birthday gift (please don’t ever leave me, Amazon Prime). We are constantly interrupted during any given task.
As an experiment, I decided to make a list of all the times I heard the word “Mom” followed by a question or comment for the rest of the day. I grabbed a small notebook like Harriet the Spy and lasted six hours before my hand cramped from all the writing. In those six hours, I was beckoned ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE times.
While I won’t torture you with reading all 159 questions and comments posed to me, here’s a small sampling below:

Nine-year-old daughter

“Mom, come look at this picture of Miley Cyrus.” (Please let it be the Hannah Montana version of her.)
“Mom, guess how many butt cheeks are in our house?” (Um…does the dog count?)
“Mom, who are you?” (Like, in an existential way?)
“Mom, this kid at school said that one middle finger equals 20 bad words. How is that possible?” (Oh, it’s possible.)
“Mom, I just found a HUMONGOUS house in California and it only costs $14 million dollars.” (Okay, I’ll get right on that purchase, sweetie.)
“Mom, can I put a ghost detector app on your phone?” (I’d kind of rather not know when there’s a ghost near me sooo…no.)
“Mom, I have a super duper secret.” (There should be no secrets from your mother. Ever.)
“Mom, do you want to play catch with me?” (Can’t, because I need a free hand to write down the 29 questions you will ask me while playing.)
“Mom, can I have a timer?”
“Mom, I can run down the hall and back 10 times in 37 seconds. Do you want to try?” (I’m good, thanks.)
“Mom, do I have to get the flu shot tomorrow? Because I’d like another few days to rest in peace before they poke a hole in my arm.”
“Mom, I got hurt.” (x3)
“Mom, what are we doing today?”
“Mom, can I invite a friend over?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“Mom, can I have candy?”
“Mom, do you think my Halloween costume will be good?”
“Mom, can you tell the dog to move so I don’t hurt him?”
“Mom, is today October 15th?”
“Mom, what’s a compass?”
“Mom (watching me type), why are you doing that?”

15-year-old son

“Mom, can you tell Ava to leave? I’m trying to watch a show.”
“Mom, have you seen my phone?” (x3)
“Mom, I can’t find my phone.”
“Mom, can I borrow your phone?”
“Mom, she’s bothering me again.”
“Mom, what are you writing?”
“An article.”
“On what?”
“How many questions I’m asked in a day.”
“Why, is it a lot?”
“Seriously? I’m adding that one.”

18-year-old daughter (away at college)

Mind you, I did this experiment on a Sunday, and my husband was home the whole time. He is a great, very involved, hands-on dad. But do you know how many questions I heard them ask him during that time?
When I said no to playing catch with my daughter, she asked him to play. He immediately said yes, probably because he wasn’t exhausted from 158 prior questions.
When I sat down to write this, I only had to glance at the kids’ lists to realize something significant. The older they get, the less questions they ask. The less they share. The less they actually talk. They have their friends and their smarter-than-a-mom phones.
I mean, my older kids would never ask me what the population of China is, they would simply google it. To my little one, I’m still the go-to, the one with all the answers. And I guess that’s a pretty great thing to be.
It’s hard to face the fact that, though my older kids still need me, it’s just not in the same way my younger child does. Someday all too soon my nine-year-old will be my 18-year-old. One morning, I’ll wake up and there won’t be anyone left to pepper me with questions all day long. And the thought of that makes me sad.
Sad enough to try harder not to lose my shit when I hear the word “Mom” one too many times in an hour. Because, at the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.
Feel free to comment with some of your kids’ best questions. I’ve only heard upwards of 159 today. I think I can handle a few more.
This post was previously published on the author’s blog.

4 Ways to Make Your Kid a Conscientious Citizen

There are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

It is 2000, I’ve just turned 18, and I’m excited to vote in my first presidential election. It’s Gore and Bush, in it until the very end. I watch the debates, register early, and read up on the issues. I ready myself for November. It feels momentous.
I’d grown up in a house talking politics – always a one-sided discussion. They were tried and true red, through and through. But my grandparents were all blue – democratic hardliners who survived the Depression and refused to call Reagan anything but “that actor.” There was no safe subject between the generations.
Regardless of party lines, however, they all taught me to care. It never occurred to me not to cast my vote.
This notion of not voting is arising more and more among current young voters. Only 55.7 percent of the eligible voting populous showed up to the polls in the 2016 presidential election. That’s a sad statistic for the present and a daunting one for the future of our country.
But there are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

1 | Talk about the issues

Don’t hesitate to talk taxes and health care and women’s rights in front of your kids. Let them hear both sides of every issue. Do they wonder why they always have to go to the dentist, the pediatrician, and the eye doctor before the first of the year? Explain high deductibles and why they matter.
Is there a filibuster in the Senate? Let your kids watch them squirm and fall asleep in their seats like children. Is your state primarily Republican or Democrat? Tell them why this matters. The more you talk about it, the more they know it needs to be talked about. This isn’t just stuff for government class. This should be part of the fabric of everyday life.

2 | Make it historic

My parents never took me along when they voted. They always went while I was in school. But when my son was seven months old, I strapped him to my chest and took him to the polls in 2012. We both got “I Voted” stickers.
Voting should be a celebration, a historic act of freedom that we don’t let pass by without a sense of importance. To vote is to execute your democratic right to freedom. It puts action behind words and should be something to commemorate.

3 | Encourage empathy

A recent program called Fast Track, originally created to help at-risk kids succeed in school, had a positive side effect. By encouraging social skills, specifically empathy, it created better voters. Of the adults who were in the Fast Track program as children, 7.3 percent of them turned up at the polls as adults.
John Holbein, the Brigham Young University professor in charge of the study, explained in a recent article in New York Magazine that “[T]here are people experiencing various things in their lives: various hardships, various difficulties, various obstacles in their lives. [Fast Track] gave [kids] the ability to see that and say, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about that?’”
If kids don’t care about what happens to anyone else, they won’t care about the big issues. Teaching your children to notice and invest in the people around them teaches them to care about the world at large.

4 | Promote perseverance

School, work, relationships, health – all the most important things in life require dedication and personal investment. The same goes for active citizenship.
Encouraging your kids to stick to the hard things – the new sport, the rough patch in math, or the after-school job – will also build the perseverance that will get them to keep fighting for the issues that matter most in their country. Being a good citizen means putting in the time to stay informed, to stay involved, and to stay in the ring just as long as the guys on the other side of the issue.
It is a great thing to give voice in politics and to participate in the checks and balances of the system. As parents, we can help our kids while they are still young to feel that they have a voice and to want to share it because it matters.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

How My Relationship With My Father Influenced My Tenacity

Maybe he was never home because his work was the main thing putting a roof over our heads. He didn’t speak English, nor did he have a college degree.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It’s almost eight months since the day my father passed away. By that point, we weren’t really speaking to one another. We were more like neighbors under the same roof. Two weeks before he died, my growing tumor turned out to be curable. It was also his birthday.
Who knew two Tuesday’s later he wouldn’t come home?
That’s the thing. No one knows why people die. Death just happens. What you take from it is what matters, because the grief will always be there.
The day he passed, I struggled to eat. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t cry. I was just numb. I still feel numb.
How do you differentiate between the determination to do nothing but prove someone wrong and the determination to carry out someone’s legacy after he passes away? I didn’t have anyone to speak to about this. I found myself in a unique situation. I was angry at my father but wanted no one to forget his name.
He had a machista type of attitude. He was a guy’s guy who, while not the best husband, was a good father. Watching the dynamic between him and my mother throughout my childhood and after moving back home affected my view of him. He never showed emotion other than pure joy, so I sympathized more with my mom. Also, as a workaholic, he often wasn’t home.
I never cared to consider that maybe he was never home because his work was the main thing putting a roof over our heads. He didn’t speak English, nor did he have a college degree. He had diabetes and his leg had been amputated. But he was a man’s man, and he took on everyone’s burdens anyway, including my mother’s fifth and most recent battle with cancer and my two-year journey to find a cure for my health troubles.
I saw how hard he worked. I saw how much pride he took in every little thing my siblings and I achieved in our academic and professional careers. Even though I have a completely different personality than his, it is all based on things I learned from him.
I always called my father out on everything. I never took no for an answer. I always spoke my truth, which was different from his. That, in itself, is where my tenacity comes from.
Left with so many unanswered questions after his death, I sometimes get angry for not being angry with him anymore. There are so many things he could’ve done better. As much as I prayed for our relationship to get better, I think there was always some ray of sunlight that shined through its cracks.
I am not a parent yet, but I know the invisible shield of confidence that comes from a parent reminding you of your worth. There is no such thing as saying “You can do it” or “I love you” too many times. As tough as things may get, your kids remember everything.
Because of my father, I work hard. He not only shaped my career ambitions, but my personal ambitions as well. I’ve made myself a promise to not get married or bring a child into this world  until I can do everything my father did for me as a child.
My goals are big. I can thank my father for that.

When I Got Married, I Realized My Mom Missed Her Calling as a Wedding Planner

So what did all this neurotic attention to detail result in? The most magical wedding I could ever have imagined.

No wedding season would be complete without one or two bridal boutiques going belly up, leaving the unfortunate soon-to-be brides not stranded, but potentially naked at the altar. Don’t think “Say Yes to the Dress,” think, “Where the Hell is my dress??” The news stories focus on the shock and horror of these now-frantic young women, their last minute scramble to buy – heaven forbid! – off-the-rack, and, more often than not, their struggle to recoup their hefty deposits from these now bankrupt establishments. These women are in crisis, and a bride unhinged is not a pretty sight.

All weddings pose challenges, sartorial or otherwise, especially for type A-plus overachievers like me, who like things to go according to plan. My plan.

In the months before my wedding, I was studying for the New York State bar exam. Engulfed in torts, contracts, and criminal procedure, I had absolutely no energy left for picking between roses and orchids, lamb chops and prime rib, so I reluctantly ceded all decision making to the only person on the planet who was more of a control freak than I: my mother. I relied on her excellent taste and good judgment. What I forgot to factor in was her perfectionism.

If I’d been paying more attention, I would’ve realized early on that my mother was approaching the wedding planning from a heightened emotional place. The first time we went to look at a venue, there was a wedding ceremony taking place. My mother, my fiancé, and I stood at the back of the hall, assessing the space, the atmosphere, and the seating capacity. When I turned to look at my mother, there were tears streaming down her cheeks, and she had her fist in her mouth, stifling a sob.

“What’s wrong, Ma?” I asked, genuinely alarmed.

“Nothing. It’s just so beautiful.” She wiped away her tears with a big pink hanky clearly brought for just this purpose, and then blew her nose noisily into it. A few of the bridesmaids turned to stare.

“But we don’t know these people!” I countered. This, apparently, was thoroughly beside the point and did not even merit a response.

My mother’s detailed project management knew no bounds. One evening she summoned my future husband and me to her house to help assemble the wedding invitations for mailing. Before we were even over threshold, she held something out to us that looked suspiciously like plastic surgical gloves.

“What are those?” I naively asked.

“They’re plastic surgical gloves,” she answered. “You’re going to wear them while we put together the invitations.” My mother didn’t register one iota of recognition that there was anything out of the ordinary about this pronouncement.

My fiancé tried logic. “You do realize that the mailman will not be wearing gloves,” he said.

“I can only control what I can control,” my mother responded, almost reasonably. Her statement did have a certain ring of truth to it.

The night was far from over.

Unbeknownst to us, in addition to the printed white cards with driving directions that my mother had been given by the synagogue, she had separately printed directions on off-white colored cards, to match the invitations. She failed to inform us that some invitees – her guests who were sophisticated enough to notice such a thing – were to be given the off-white cards, while the others – like our colorblind friends – should be given the white ones. Not even recognizing the issue, we randomly included white or ivory with each envelope we stuffed. When we were about three quarters of the way through our assignment, my mother blanched white (or off-white), and announced that we had made a fatal mistake, necessitating that we start over.

Only his great desire to marry me (and my hand over his mouth) kept the groom from uttering unspeakable words that could never be retracted. Well, maybe one or two escaped.

As the actual wedding day approached, the frenzy only increased. A few days before the event, the caterer invited us to the synagogue to see a sample table set for the occasion, to make sure we were all happy with how it would look.

“Ma,” I asked, plaintively, “can you go without us? Really, I’m happy with whatever makes you happy.” I was trying to avoid another showdown over whatever problem she might perceive.

“Absolutely not! It’s your wedding!” she declared.

We walked in single file behind my mother, expecting the worst, but the table, even without the floral arrangement, looked lovely. My mother circled the perimeter, checking every aspect, until, with one nod, she gave her approval. We thanked the maitre d’ and raced out to the car, my father leading the way in a hasty retreat.

We climbed in, ready to go out for a celebratory dinner at the local diner. My father started the engine and, just as we were about to pull away, my mother gave the order.

Stop the car.” Without another word, she marched back into the synagogue.

When my mother got to the table, she took one deliberate look, and called the maitre d’ over.

“This will not do,” she said, calmly. “The tablecloth is white, and the china is off-white.” We all stood in flabbergasted silence.

The maitre d’ foolishly tried to reason with her. “There will be so many additional things on the table: the flowers, bottles of wine, carafes of water, no one will ever notice that slight –“

My mother, her lips in a tight grimace and her eyes closed, raised one hand in the universal sign for “stop talking before I bite your head off,” and silenced the well-intentioned maitre d’. She shook her head slowly. Then she turned her back on the table and conceded defeat, walking slowly back to the car. White and off-white would have to coexist.

So what did all this neurotic attention to detail result in? The most magical wedding I could ever have imagined.

Try as I might to be more chill, I will likely be just as persnickety when it is my daughter’s turn to get married. One thing is for sure, there will be no wedding-eve lawsuits against a defunct David’s bridal. No, my daughter will wear my white wedding dress that my mother freeze-dried, I mean vacuum-packed, after the wedding and which now waits patiently in my attic. Even if she has her heart set on off-white.

Victoria’s Secret? Not Without My Daughters!

The warning signals about revenge beep the loudest in my brain when my daughters drag me to those crowded sales at Victoria’s Secret.

Motherhood is an early retirement position. Your children do grow up. – Colleen Parro
I was a woman long before I became a mother. Once I became a mother, I became superwoman. From there, everything went downhill. I lost my cape, flew in the wrong direction, had some close calls with Kryptonite, and I caught a cold.
Despite all the mistakes I made, I still take a cue from Bryan Adams: “Those were the best days of my life.” They truly were – the waking up in the middle of the night, the bottle warming, the knee scrape remedies, the schoolbag/lunch packing, the hugs, the kisses, the bedtime stories, the teen years, the fights, the hugs and kisses again, the college goodbyes, the phone calls, the quick visits….
I would not exchange them for anything in the world. And I had my hubby, faithful partner in the mission.
Then that period of stillness came, as it almost always does, and all parental activity ceased.
Recently though, shopping has officially become mother-daughter bonding time. Sometimes, I wonder if my young adult daughters are exercising a little revenge on me for making them wear matching dresses when they were little. They talk of this often enough with an exaggerated amount of horror, in my opinion.
“Remember how Mom made us wear matching dresses and hair bands? Uggghh!” They roll their eyes at each other and shudder, even as I protest that they looked really cute.
The warning signals about revenge beep the loudest in my brain when they drag me to those crowded sales at Victoria’s Secret. Anyone on the ascending side of 50 would balk at the thought of going there during sale time. Not only is it infused with young 20-something’s with near perfect bodies, but the color pink that reverberates from its walls can linger cloyingly in your brain for days afterward.
Overpowered by the femininity that oozes from the doorway, my husband disappears in an instant, mumbling something about checking out shirts at J.C. Penny’s. My daughters are already enthusiastically pulling out stuff for me to see. “Mom, look it’s only $25 for five pieces – such a great deal!”
“Uh, no girls. I don’t think my bottom would fit into that.” My protests are fully justified, as what they hold are thin wisps of some satiny material that is bordered with lace. Or is the lace bordered with satin? It’s difficult to tell.
I try to backtrack from the shop, but they drag me in further. The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of a group of women feverishly grabbing panties out of drawers and little-boxed cubicles marked by size and design. There are hordes of women literally fighting to get as many as they can.
I wonder why they need so many. Do they change them every hour now?
“Here, these will fit your bottom,” my eldest says loudly, never one to sugar-coat, attracting amused looks from fellow shoppers. She’s holding up tiny looking ‘shorts,’ which she has triumphantly pulled out of an XL drawer.
I don’t much care for them, but in the past, shopping has been nothing if not a fun experience for me, so I join in the happy scuffle and start digging in with the rest. It’s not easy as there’s a lot of huffing and puffing and elbowing going on.
I pull out a strange yet familiar contraption. “Hey look, bum floss!” I declare, borrowing the term from my husband’s droll uncle from Montreal.
“That’s a G-string, Mom.” The three of us collapse in a fit of giggles. The laughter comes easily in a shopping mall.
“Let’s get some bras for her!” says my younger one, and they drag a groaning me further inside.
I make a convincing and valid case about how Macy’s understands gravity and sells bras more my style, but my protests are drowned in their youthful exuberance as they pick out wired stuff and push me towards the trial rooms. I can see they are determined to get their mother to look young and sexy again.
Is that even a possibility?
I spend the next hour trying on bras in every shape, color, and size. I finally pick up two – one in flaming red with black satin edging and the other in a shocking shade of pink. They are both underwired and outrageously expensive, and I know they will lie in my lingerie drawer, unused and occupying too much space.
Why are bras these days made to look like mini helmets anyway? In our days, bras were bras; no big deal.
Still, at the end of the shopping spree, it seems worth it, buying all the useless, never-to-be-worn stuff, just to see the happy satisfaction on my daughter’s faces. Obviously, they feel they have slashed a big chunk off my chronological age.

Time flew by at an impossibly fast pace while I was busy juggling career and home. I want to take my children shopping, dress them up, hold their little warm bodies in my arms, and smother them with kisses and hugs.
But they are too big to pick up and hug. I can’t walk into their rooms and find them sleeping under the blankets. They are thousands of miles away for most of the year. The emptiness in my arms is tangible at times as I look at them, wishing them to be smaller again.
They shoot similar looks at me when they think I’m not looking, worried that their one-time invincible young mom is now growing older – the one who had never-ending energy, and who now huffs and puffs when she climbs stairs. Her once smooth skin has faint wrinkles. Her memory, once so sharp, now seems muddled.
Our shopping sessions, however, override all the worries. I cannot but gratefully grab these moments as they, too, speed by.

I willingly step into the shorts and wriggle them up my bottom, breathing in resolutely while I button up. I optimistically climb into slinky dresses and sometimes slide them off halfway, as they refuse to go over my chest. I slip on pretty tops and twirl around in flouncy skirts, all as two pairs of eyes inspect me from head to toe.
Our roles are reversed now. I’m the one who’s whining now.
When I get tired, trying on stuff, they say, “Just one more, Mom. Trust me, this will look really good on you.”
I give in and try it on, and when they smile, all seems okay in my universe. One more shopping experience. One more shared memory.
The sadness, the nostalgia, the long periods of separation all seem to ebb as my daughters and I, surrounded by fabrics, textures, colors, designs, blur the lines between our roles. I’m not sure who’s the mother, the daughter, the sister, or the child now. We have casually flung our identities over each other, like old comfortable cloaks, and have simply become women. Women, who love each other and hold onto each other.
This love strengthens me over the passage of time.
Who needs Superwoman anyway?

If You Do Divorce Right, Your Kids Will Thank You in 30 Years

I knew deep down that my parents really did care for our best interests because of the way they treated each other in front of us.

My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. They sat my big brother and me down on the couch and told us together. They told us that they’d always do what was best for us, even if it was hard. I wasn’t completely shocked but, of course, I was sad. Life changed after that, we all moved around to different homes and apartments, and visitation schedules were put in place without our input. I remember feeling fairly calm throughout it all. My ten-year-old self perceived my parents to be in control and organized. I know now that probably wasn’t really the case, but they put their brave faces on and I bought it.

From the very beginning, special days were spent together. My dad would come over to Mom’s house for our birthday dinners. He was always with us on Christmas morning when Mom would make a big brunch and we’d open presents together. We walked out together, one parent on each arm, at halftime in the Homecoming football game when I was a member of the court. Everyone was present and sitting together at my graduations.

This isn’t to say there was never tension, or that everything was perfect. Even so, I knew deep down that my parents really did care for our best interests and were trying hard for us kids. I knew because of the way they treated each other in front of us.

My dad remarried in the spring of my senior year of college. I was married just a few months later. All three of my parents, Mom, Dad, and my new stepmom, were a part of my wedding. We have a family picture with all of us together. The thought of any drama between them never even crossed my mind. I knew they’d be civil to each other.

After my wedding, I was technically a grown woman. At that point, my parents lived in different cities. During the holidays I often wished it were easier to visit everyone at the same time, or wished I could call just one house, instead of two, to check in and chat. It could be hard to schedule get-togethers and divide time equally between everyone. We made it work as best as we all could.

When my husband and I had babies, all three grandparents were there to help. All three are active in my daughters’ lives. I can send a group text to Mom, Dad, and my stepmom of the girls’ first days of school, or of the girls in their Halloween costumes. I can send group emails and not worry about any awkwardness between the recipients. I hadn’t really given much thought to the beautiful divorce my parents continue to have until just a few months ago when my mom’s father died.

There I was, 38 years old, sitting in the church for Grandpa’s funeral. In walked my dad, stepmom, stepbrother, my dad’s mother, and two of dad’s sisters. I was so touched to see them all there, supporting my brother and me, but also showing us that divorce didn’t sever the relationships within our extended families. I listened as my mom told them all to “sit up front with the family.”

My parents have been divorced for almost 30 years and yet they still strive to do their divorce right. I can look back and sincerely thank them for sticking to their word and doing what is best for their kids and now their grandkids. I know it couldn’t have always been easy. I feel so abundantly loved through all that they do to maintain a relationship for our sake. Doing divorce right, working hard to create a beautiful divorce despite the mess and hurt, is something children like me will thank their parents for. Especially in 30 years.

If Recollection is Subject to Our Own Perspectives, I Hope My Kids Remember It This Way

When we look at any one of the photographs that depict a childhood, the unspoken story therein will be read differently by each of us.

I sit at the computer scanning photographs that cover 25 years, hoping to give my two young adult children a digital record that will be the insect in amber, preserving a bit of who they were and what we all did together in those years we thought would go on forever.
A pile of pictures slips from my lap to the floor, fanning out into a kaleidoscope of faces that stare back at me. If the mouths in those photos could move, I think they would speak two truths I already know.
One is that of course it would end, those chaotic years under one roof. And it would end sooner than anyone in the throes of homework (that no one in the house knew how to do), temper tantrums (the parents’), swim practice, stomach viruses, broken arms, broken hearts, driver’s ed, head lice, and shopping for prom dresses ever thinks it will.
The second is that, when we look at any one of those photographs, the unspoken story therein will be read differently by each of us.
How and why we remember things fascinates even the experts in the field of psychology. Ask any two siblings about their childhood and you’re likely to get two vastly different accounts of the same town, same house, same parents. It’s the Rashomon effect, whether it’s about witnessing a crime or sharing a family story.
Will my two kids recall how I pretended to love sleeping on the ground, cheering from the sidelines, and waking at 2 a.m. to go out in the bitter cold so they could experience camping, soccer, and shooting stars? (For that last one, I grumbled a lot about the ungodly hour and the freezing temperature, but I now concede that nothing compares with lying on your back in a dark field with your kids, watching for the Leonid meteor showers.)
They both possess literally volumes of reminders that I had to quit my bookstore job after Michael was born, not because a second child was time-consuming, but because I had bought so many children’s books, I always owed more than I earned. “The Little Engine That Could”, “The Snowy Day”, “Miss Rumphius”, “The Runaway Bunny”, “Curious George”, so many others. Even when we weren’t reading them, they were crammed into bookcases or piled like teetering cairns to silently beckon or simply reassure.
As for music, I wonder if in some future moment of sleeplessness, they will stumble upon the ballads of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell and be taken back to the nights they nodded off while those exquisite old folk lyrics rose up from a CD player wedged in the narrow hallway space between their bedrooms.
Our rituals were few and uncomplicated, but I’ve got pictures that reveal their essence. How I treasure (do they?) the snapshots of the birthday girl, boy, mom, or dad, basking in that singular moment of attention while balancing the breakfast-in-bed tray on his or her lap, trying not to spill orange juice all over the bedspread.
The juice spilled many times, of course. There were yellow stains on the blankets to prove it. Even Goodwill didn’t want them. The wooden breakfast tray will never be tossed, wobbly though it is. It is a family icon.
Enshrined in their memory better be how I rarely required them to do dishes or rake leaves if such banal chores interfered with scholarly pursuits. This is set in stone. No matter what they say. How could they ever forget that instead of assigning mundane tasks, I took them apple picking or bike riding? Oh, wait…that was their dad. I was probably reading on the porch, modeling scholarly behavior.
They may not recall serving food in a soup kitchen in one particularly dicey city neighborhood. Marita was about four and Michael was still crawling (I remember this well because he would nosh on whatever fell from the trays of the hungry). I hope they have absorbed the spirit of those activities.
Seder meals shared with friends, a Mass celebrated by a radical woman priest, blissfully quiet Quaker Meetings, poetry readings, and political protests. I hope their memories of these are visceral but also intellectual. It is clear that these experiences have shaped their desire for peace and their love of justice.
I doubt they remember their very first museum visits, each child, in turn, swaddled in a sling across my chest, mother and baby one amorphous being, contemplating serene Hudson River School landscapes or provocative Andy Warhols.
Recently, I crossed paths with a young dad strolling his baby through a gallery. I warned him that if he made a habit of it, the kid just might grow up, as one of mine did, to become an art history major with meager job prospects.
One story that gets recounted with unassailable veracity and needs no embellishment is Michael’s early sex ed lesson, though he didn’t know it then. A late start and then a detour en route to a vacation spot landed us in a cheap motel for a night. As we settled in for the unexpected layover, telltale sounds from the next room became louder and louder.
What was unmistakable to us was at first mysterious, and then disconcerting, to a six-year-old. We turned up the volume on our television and tried to distract him with marathon games of Uno, accompanied by our own inordinately loud conversation. Soon we couldn’t contain our laughter.
When the headboard on the other side of the wall began to bang, Michael’s eyes grew wide and he said, “Daddy, I think someone’s being killed in there!” Finally, we convinced him that it was a very rowdy movie on the TV in the next room. “Oh, like Jurassic Park?” He seemed relieved. Yes, we agreed, must be something like Jurassic Park.
So what do I wish them to erase from the magic lantern of the mind? When I yelled too much or too long. Worse, when I made my displeasure known with silence and pursed lips. When I said “No, you can’t” instead of “Yes, go ahead.”
How I hope Marita and, more importantly, her friends have forgotten a certain long-ago Dave Matthews Concert. Surrounded by the gaggle of sixth grade girls, I fist-pumped in the dark auditorium and (cringe) swayed. Then I put us on the wrong return train back to the suburbs. Yep, I did that. At least I wasn’t wearing mom jeans. I’m sure I wasn’t wearing mom jeans.
Recalling a gaggle of a different sort – real geese this time – I hope Michael has no flashbacks of the slow moving birds I hit on a rural road one bright morning rife with sun glare. Who screamed loudest as blood, bone, and feathers flew across my windshield? Me, the doomed flock, or the boy in the back seat? Better to forget.
Let’s forget, too, all the times I fussed over baking a perfect cake for company instead of allowing two curious kids to make a happy mess of measuring and stirring and letting flour dust down on us like snow.
Here’s a tough one: Do I want them to remember, or forget, or at least understand the times I searched their backpacks, smelled their coats and their breath, and eavesdropped on a few of their conversations. All I can say is I breathed a huge parental sigh of relief every time my worried sleuthing turned out to be unwarranted.
My very first memory of my father is a vivid one. I am sitting on his shoulders holding a light bulb that he is about to exchange for the burned-out one in the ceiling lamp of our front entryway. (He was tall enough to forgo a step stool.) With one upstretched hand keeping me steady and the other deftly replacing the old bulb, he brought light to the darkness that moments earlier had threatened to engulf my three-year-old psyche in fear.
The scene made an indelible imprint on me, but my father has no recollection of it. I suppose for him it was one of a million times he had changed a light bulb, and I am one of 10 children he had held aloft, no doubt, for one reason or another. What parents dismiss as quotidian, children, for better or worse, often elevate to something momentous. Ask any therapist, or any poet.
In the years to come, when my children reminisce together for laughs – and I hope the laughs are abundant – I want them to agree on one thing only: that the parenting patchwork of bright silk and rough edges, missteps and triumphs, was sewn together with one unbreakable thread of love.

Coming to Terms With My Empty Nest

Now I go home and the house is clean, lights aren’t on all over the house, and there are no dirty dishes stacked up in the sick. I miss it all.

I recently took my only child to college and dropped him off five hours away from home. I would like to say that I handled it with class and dignity but then I’d be a liar. Truth is I cried the minute we arrived on campus (the athletic coordinator had the audacity to ask me how I was holding up), during the closing ceremony – which would have made even the hardest of criminals weep like a baby – and almost the whole way home.
If that isn’t bad enough I’ve cried at seemingly insignificant occasions for several days since. For example, when I went to the grocery store the next day and realized I didn’t have to buy milk this time I started crying right there in the milk aisle, with everyone looking at me like I had lost my mind. Strangers were coming up to me asking if there was anything they could do for me.
It’s amazing to me how big the hole in my life seems right now. 18 years of having him around, picking up after him, fixing meals for him, taking him to baseball practices and games, doing laundry at midnight because he forgot he had to have his uniform for the next day – all the things I used to complain about I now realize I loved. Every minute of it.
Now I go home and the house is clean, lights aren’t on all over the house, and there are no dirty dishes stacked up in the sick. I miss it all. If you had asked me five years ago I would have said I can’t wait for my house to be clean again and I wish he could just learn to pick up after himself. What did I know then? Do you think it ever crossed my mind that I’d long for the days when my house was a mess?
We parents tend to get caught up in the daily activities and the needs of our children and forget to stop and appreciate them while we have them. Most of us are just trying to get them through school and life without doing too much damage. My advice is this: Don’t complain – just pick up the sock and put it in the hamper. Take your time. Slow down and appreciate what you have been given because one day you’ll look back and remember that it wasn’t a big deal to pick up a pair of shoes or get out of bed to make a late night sandwich – it was something to be cherished. We complain and even yell at our kids to pick up their room and go to bed, but once they’re gone who is left to yell at?
I know he’ll be home for break before long, making a mess and eating me out of house and home again. I’m looking forward to that more than I ever thought I would. We have both grown so much in these last 18 years and while I’m excited to see what the next stage of life brings for him (and me) I can’t help but be a little sad that the days of him needing me are largely a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong – him not “needing” me is a good thing because it means that we raised a self-sufficient, strong, independent man, but it also means that my little boy is forever gone.
And that’s okay. I did my job as his mother and now it’s time for both of us to move on and grow our relationship on an adult level. I know we will both flourish in this endeavor and I look forward to the future!
So hang in there all you moms and dads taking your kids off to college for the first time. I know all too well how hard it is but the tears and the missing them will subside and they will be back. In the meantime, work on yourself, rediscover your mate and your hobbies, and start truly living for yourself again. You’ve earned it!

Thoughts on Empty Nesting One Year In

Last year, we moved our youngest daughter to college at the end of July. There are some things about this empty nest no one prepared me for.

Twenty seven years ago, the first of three precious daughters entered my life. From that point to now, I have collected my fair share of unsolicited advice. A big piece of that: doom and gloom about the year our last one would leave home.
Well here we are, almost one year into it. Last year, we moved our youngest daughter to college at the end of July. Our middle daughter moved out in November. Our oldest had already gone, came back and gone again. There are some things no one prepared me for in all that doom and gloom I had collected. I would like to share them, in hopes of better preparing others.

Simple life

First off, it is a ton cheaper to eat out when you are paying for two meals instead of five. Grocery bills go down. Power bills are less. The bathroom is no longer sticky with hair spray on every corner, except when they come to visit. “Alone time” can happen anytime. Who left the light on is much easier to discern. You can pack up for a quick trip anywhere on a whim in five minutes, anytime, anyplace. There will be no arguing in the car on said impulsive road trip.

Children become friends

Second, instead of rules and disciplinary discussions, there are deep discussions about life decisions. Those friends are priceless. I buy the girls things now because I want to, not because it is expected or required. When they have time, I get to meet them for lunch, coffee, or shopping. I can look at their messy rooms and leave without a second thought – it’s not my house. I can choose to worry or I can choose to trust in the strong young women we raised them to be.

Once a mom

Third, if you expect it to be bad, chances are it will. But, if you have done your job well, and they have done theirs well, you will still be a part of their life. It is not over. Adulting can be hard. They will still need support and encouragement at times. My role as their mother has been changing over the last few years. Seriously, it feels like in one blink, they went from 12 to 20-something. But that is a good thing.
There have been some bumps in the road. I don’t want you to think there haven’t been. Some relational adjustments had to take place. But now, both our roads are wide open. Another great adventure has begun. That saying “dance like no one is watching” I can do that around the house now. No one will roll their eyes and say, “No, Mom! Don’t!” I can turn my music up as loud as I like. Heck, I could even dance naked if I wanted to…as long as the curtains are closed!