There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

Breastfeeding: When Success Feels Like Failure

Most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Days into my daughter’s life, I learned that breastfeeding did not, at all, feel good. Every latch felt like a thousand tiny needles stabbing my nipple in unison. After a few moments, the sharpness would fade, replaced by my blunt determination. Nursing was the only thing that made my daughter happy.
I had thought breastfeeding would be easy to figure out, that I could leapfrog the issues that plagued others. Perhaps, because I had no experience with newborns, my brain filled the void with the most optimistic scenario.
My optimism evaporated within a week. Life became a series of marathon nursing sessions interrupted by short periods of sleep. Ten, 12, 20 times a day (and night) the pain pierced and took my breath away. I called her my milk vampire. My nipples cracked and blistered and bled.
My mother flew in from Chicago to help out. She kept me company on the couch for hours a day, the two of us watching “Bones” while I nursed her granddaughter. Sitting in my nest of pillows, I practiced each nursing position I’d been taught. I latched and re-latched my daughter, hoping each time it would make the pain go away.
My sleep deprivation worsened. My mother broke her arm, and my husband lacked the emotional endurance to soothe our always-fussy baby. In those first couple of weeks, my newborn daughter and I spent 20 hours a day in physical contact.
I expected my husband to bear these burdens with me. He expected me to soldier on, no matter the pain or misery. After three weeks, he went back to work, leaving me alone with only one effective parenting tool: my breasts.
Late one night, my husband snored while my daughter nursed voraciously. Just two weeks into her life, I wanted to scream at the pain. Instead I wept. “This can’t be right,” I thought. “This is why people use formula.”
At my loneliest, weariest time, I felt desperate for relief. I figured the signs of breastfeeding failure would be clear: If my daughter lost more than 10 percent of her weight after birth, or if the doctor mandated it. Never once did I consider that I could be in pain and exhausted, yet not quite failing completely.
I hadn’t chosen to breastfeed, not exactly. I had expected to breastfeed, the way a middle class teenager expects to go to college and expects to get a good job afterward. Feeding your child is a biological imperative. Humans have been doing it by breast for millions of years. My body would automatically make milk in the first week after birth whether I wanted it to or not. I felt entitled to an easy breastfeeding experience. Pain infringed upon my birthright.
In the dark, I hunched over my daughter like a frenzied, cornered cat, searching for escape. I saw formula dangling in front of me as the “easy solution,” the ever-present back-up plan. If I failed at breastfeeding, I knew I was supposed to transition to formula and convince myself to be happy about it. Liberated women must never feel guilty about their choices.
But nursing was my daughter’s sole source of comfort. I refused to give it up.
I needed fuel for my resolve, and I chose rage. I let myself hate formula and the people who sell it, their oily ads and counterfeit generosity. I turned on the parenting industry at large. So many useless gadgets, wasted time, and squandered hope. I seethed over the injustices of motherhood and its overflow of impossible decisions. But most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.
I raged until I had no anger left. When I was done, I wept for my own naiveté in thinking the world was fair and all problems had solutions.
I woke the next morning, and many mornings after, feeling battered. Would my situation ever improve? I didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine tomorrow, let alone next month. Every moment lasted forever. My pain felt eternal.
At six weeks, the pain disappeared. It was nothing I did, no grand revelation. Maybe my daughter learned how to suckle properly, or her mouth grew a little. I’ll never know.
Now I can think of 50 things I could have done differently. But when I look back, I can never see the moment where I should have known better. Every time I replay these events, I make the same decisions. It was all I knew. My breastfeeding experience was not a gold medal performance or an A+ on a final exam. In an alternate reality, I might have surrendered to formula.
In this reality, I’m still surrendering to the realization that sometimes success can feel an awful lot like failure.

How I Missed My Kindergartner's Color Deficiency

Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It was only two weeks into kindergarten when my son, Roman, brought home a coloring assignment, a cut-out owl, with a big letter F marked in red on the top of it. The owl was colored not brown, but green, adorned smartly in a graduation cap and gown, holding a diploma and donning wiry spectacles. Under the bitter mark was a lengthy and unsympathetic explanation of the grade: Owls are NOT green! With respect for the rules of writing, I use one exclamation point here, but Roman’s owl had not, one, but three of these dramatic punctuation marks, marks that typically need to be well earned when chosen over a simple period for ending a sentence.
I’m not undermining the importance of following directions and learning the motor skills and conventions of coloring in a kindergarten classroom, and if this had been a high school final exam, perhaps a math or a science or an English language test, my own instinct would have been to ask Roman why he didn’t try harder, why he didn’t get a better grade, explain that an F is not acceptable, as my overachieving parents would have done. However, my son seemed to be faced with a burned out teacher radiating indomitable meanness at this early stage in his education, a time when fostering success and enthusiasm about school is paramount. Even worse, I suspected something more significant.
I suspected that something was medically wrong with Roman.
As I held the crumpled owl in my palm that I had balled up in anger, a wooden knot rose up in my throat. I swallowed, slowly spread the owl out on my desk, and examined Roman’s beautiful work, that I had initially been critical of myself, his best effort. I put Roman’s folders back into his book bag, recalling the many times we’d played toddler games. I’d quizzed him like the proud mama I was. I’d held up flash cards and pictures for him to name. Animals. Shapes. Even letters.
And colors.
In toddlerease, he proudly named chinchillas, ostriches, and bearded dragons, from his book entitled, “My First Animal Book.” He could tell the difference between a puffin and a penguin which, at his age, I’m sure I could not – all the more reason he seemed too smart not to know his colors correctly.
But I figured he’d catch on eventually, didn’t sweat it.
Then I thought even further back, to images from my own childhood.
I recalled my own mother throwing up her arms at my father’s mismatched outfits. My grandmother noting how he had to read the position of the traffic lights, instead of the colors, green, yellow, red. My dad was colorblind, and I was certain, now, that Roman was, too.
Then I thought of how I’d failed as a mother the time I’d yelled at Roman for not picking up his toys from the lawn, remembered the time clearly. There was a brown baseball in plain sight and I was pointing right at it where he left it, along with numerous other whiffle bats and balls, lying on the grass.
“I don’t see it.” He shrugged.
“It’s right there in front of you,” I yelled in frustration.
And then I thought of how my own frustration might hinder Roman’s determination to succeed in school, throughout the year, if I didn’t hold back my urge now, to march into the principal’s office and have the teacher reprimanded for her intolerance to his unconventional coloring that was, to me, at least, so obviously indicative of a visual disability.
Instead of reacting, I poured myself a glass of wine. I gave Roman a hug and told him I liked his green owl, flattened out the paper and blacked out the F, the unkind words, too, with black sharpie marker. I put a sticker on it and pinned it on my office corkboard next to his baby pictures and snapshots of our family vacations.
How could I have missed this?
What kind of mother was I?
What kind of doctor?
I gave myself a little slack on my professional vocation, since I’m an anesthesiologist by training, not a pediatrician, not an ophthalmologist. But as a mother, I truly felt I’d failed.
I was determined not to create a bigger problem for my son, yet I wanted to help him. I’m aware that there is no cure for color deficiency, so my determination focused on ways to help him succeed, despite a possible disability.
I held back, instead of reacting negatively like Roman’s teacher had done, undulating waves of her criticism in our direction that crashed on the deaf ears of a developing child who still, after receiving the grade, could not understand what he had done wrong. There was no way he could visualize the clear distinction between the green and brown. I held back and I learned everything I could about the condition of color deficiency, which I had been calling colorblindness, incorrectly. I learned that up to eight percent of boys are color deficient, not possessing the correct number of cones in the inner eye needed to see shades of red and green colors as well as the rest of us can. I quickly researched the diagnosis, reading up on possible treatments which sadly, are lacking. In Roman’s case, color chart testing performed by his pediatrician confirmed that he was a deuteranope, or red green color deficient.
When I left the office I wrapped my arms around my little boy, handled my glassed eyes with tissues, trying to wipe away the uncertainty. He seemed more vulnerable, imperfect, yet I loved him more for his flaw, and I felt the intensifying urge to nurture and protect him. I realized that he’d face certain tasks that made his life much more challenging. I still felt guilty for my flood of emotions when I thought of how much worse it could be, how it wasn’t the most physically limiting disability he could face, and yet I smiled.
I smiled because mostly, it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed. And as I took a moment to process the implications of his disability, I was determined to affect change in a positive way, a kinder and gentler way, when I explained his condition to his teacher. I thought of the thirsty bird in the famous Aesop’s Fable, who slowly raised the water level in the vase with each tiny stone it dropped into the vase with its beak. By solving the problem effectively and not knocking over the whole vase in the process, the bird quenched its thirst. Explaining Roman’s condition calmly to his teacher seemed to be a better way to try to prevent this from happening again in the future, than ratting her out to the principal would. And I knew that Roman would need to solve problems on his own one day, by labeling colors or asking for help.
She didn’t apologize.
This was disappointing, to say the least, yet I hadn’t created any additional tension that could affect Roman’s grades for the remainder of the school year. What was more important was the way I wanted my son to see me, not in tan or pale hues, not in shades of blonde or brunette or redhead hair, and not for the point of noticing the colors of my clothes, but to see the person I am. I wanted him to know that I would do everything in my power as a mother and as a doctor to help him. Even before doing so, I wanted him to see me as someone who would fulfill the Hippocratic Oath I took in medical school, one that applies as much to mothering as it does to medicine. I remained determined for him to see that my promise to him above all, is to do no harm.

The Lesson in the Succulent

It’s so many of us who have moved our own hardier selves right down to the bottom of the list of things that need to be cared for.

I’m losing another succulent.
Rather I am, in fact, losing the last remnant of my third succulent arrangement that I bought after the first two succumbed to the very same illness this last pathetic sucker has.
What’s the illness, you ask?
Neglect.
Succulents are easy, they say. They’re hardy. They don’t require much and they’re hard to kill and they look pretty and they’re totally trending on Etsy.
Sign me up.
Except around here, where there are two smallish humans and two medium-sized humans and two large humans and one dog who all are slightly less hardy than, say, a succulent, and require much more than a sunny corner of the house and an occasional squirt of water, all “easy to keep alive” means is you’re moving to the back of the list, buddy.
And the list is long, isn’t it? It’s three square meals cooked from scratch with farm fresh organic and locally sourced ingredients prepared with love (read: take out) that everyone hates and makes gagging noises over and feeds to the dog when you aren’t looking.
It’s a never ending mountain of laundry that we are doomed to cart up and down 800 flights of stairs everyday like Sisyphus, except worse, because it also smells like armpits mixed with old milk.
It’s bills, too, and groceries and work and worrying about them and worrying about us and worrying about our marriages and worrying about our parents and worrying about our cholesterol and cancer and trying desperately to remember if we locked the door before we laid our head down.
It’s taking on the full responsibility of an entire household like a martyr goddess because a) we’re good at getting this crap done and b) we love the heck out of these people and want to see them thrive.
So the succulent falls to the bottom of the pile. Tomorrow – we say to ourselves as we lie there debating whether to check the doors for the second time – we will take care of it. We will water it and trim it up nice and clean off the dead parts and put it in the sun and love up on it a little bit until it remembers that it’s supposed to grow and not wither away into another mess we have to clean up.
Tomorrow. Or the next day. Definitely next week.
Sound familiar?
This succulent is so many of us. It’s so many of us mamas and caretakers and lovers and servers who get so busy in the noble pursuit of keeping the people we love alive that we have moved our own hardier selves right down to the bottom of the list.
Where we are busy getting neglected.
Where we are thirsty and wrinkly and shriveled up and, well, kind of sad looking.
I get it. Believe me. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in some silly mama task, like cleaning out the kids’ closets, and maybe the radio is on and I’m jamming a little bit and my caffeine has kicked in and it annoys the freaking hell out of me that I have to stop and pee or eat or attend to some other stupid basic human need like catching my breath.
Then other times, I accidentally sit down on the couch before it is sit-down-on-the-couch-time and my body is like “oh, thank God,” and my kids are like “oh, heck no,” and I can physically feel myself drying up and dying a little.
It’s times like that, when I feel this weird kinship with my succulent that was once lovely and is now sort of struggling, that I’m compelled to remind us all that “easy to keep alive” (a.k.a. “harder to kill”) doesn’t mean immortal.
Let this little sad guy be a warning to us all and maybe the impetus to take care of ourselves once in a while. Maybe even often. Because nothing thrives without a little loving care.
Including us.
This was originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

What I Gained by Giving up Weeknight Drinking

What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? It matters quite a bit, actually.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
This is going to sound cliché, but as I’ve gotten older I have found it harder and harder to maintain my “happy weight.” I know, I know: Join the club. But I started examining the possible reasons and I had to admit something that I really didn’t want to: Calories from alcohol do count. But it wasn’t that simple.
What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? I eat a healthy diet (I told myself) and exercise every day, so I assumed it would all balance out. And yet, the less attention I paid to how much I was drinking, the faster the weight crept on. I decided that there was nothing else I could do. My knees will no longer allow me to work out three hours a day, and who has time to do that anyway?
The turning point came when I was watching TV one weekend morning, flipping through channels aimlessly. I landed on a show where a young, beautiful, skinny host travels to different exotic destinations and basically eats and drinks her way through all the cheesy, meaty goodness, and tropical alcohol combinations that the region could offer, all while cavorting on the beach in an impossibly small bikini. Or sometimes a sarong.
It should have been obvious before, but it hit me then: She doesn’t really do that. No thin person really does that. I wish it were true, but it’s not.
That was it, I was going to quit drinking. At least on weeknights. I honestly expected an amazing transformation, considering not only the calories in the alcohol I was drinking, but all the additional calories I was taking in as an indirect result of drinking.
Case in point: Almost every very morning I would wake up at 3 a.m., thirsty. I would go downstairs, fully intending to only get a glass of water, but the pantry would call to me. “A doughnut would go nicely with that ice water … How about a handful of crackers with cheese? Some olives would make a nice accompaniment. Come on, it will help you get back to sleep.” I gave in every time. Why I didn’t just bring a glass of water with me to bed every night and avoid the middle of the night doughnut dance is beyond me.
Then there were the morning breakfast choices. The mornings after not drinking, a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey seemed perfectly reasonable. The mornings after drinking, cold pizza was the obvious choice.
After three days of no drinking, I stepped on the scale, eager to see what I figured should have been at least a pound lost. Nothing.
Ok, maybe a pound isn’t enough to register on the scale. I’ll wait a few more days.
At the end of week one: Nothing. No weight lost. I almost gave up. What’s the point? If trying and not trying have the same result, why go through the effort of trying?
But I stuck with it, and somewhere during week two, I noticed something interesting. No, not weight loss. That still hadn’t happened. But I was feeling different. Mostly I was in a better mood. I realized this when I sat at the table with my son one morning and calmly told him to chew with his mouth closed. Any other day, I would have snapped at him for breathing too loud.
I was also sleeping more soundly. No more middle of the night trips to the pantry, no waking up thirsty or groggy. I got out of bed when my alarm went off, made myself oatmeal, and didn’t think anything of it. Who knew that feeling normal could feel so … normal?
My memory also improved. Don’t you hate when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you are there for? Well, that didn’t stop happening. I still do that, quite often. But the difference is that I remember what I came for much faster. I even produced an actress’ name in record time the other day. “Jessica Lange!” I blurted out in a conversation with my husband, rudely interrupting him. He couldn’t understand why I was so happy to yell her name.
Some weight finally started coming off in week three. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s been six weeks now, and I’m seven pounds down. It wasn’t the sudden, amazing transformation I was expecting, and I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’m about halfway there.
What surprised me is that the non-weight-related improvements have been as rewarding – if not more rewarding – than the weight loss. Once I realized that being crabby, tired, and forgetful wasn’t normal, I embraced my “new normal.” No drinking. I mean, on weeknights. I may be slightly transformed, but I’m not perfect. And I can live with that.

Life’s Curveballs

When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
35 years ago, my older brother Kip was born with a very rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Along with his diagnosis came a plethora of complications. In short, his body will not allow him to do what he wants it to do. He is completely aware of his condition, and could likely tell you (in great detail) all of the challenges that he has experienced as a result of an unfortunate chromosomal mishap during conception.
Kip survives in a world of print he cannot and will never understand. He faces discrimination and judgments daily. People stare, they whisper. His daily tasks of living take more effort and courage than most of us can even imagine. Ultimately, he lives captive in a body that doesn’t work like it should.
Most would agree that Kip has been dealt some very difficult cards. Most of us would also look at the many obstacles and hurdles that he faces, and give up. But not Kip. He’s an example. A daily illustration of perseverance. Of strength. Of pure grit and determination. He wakes up each day with hope in his heart, willing to face whatever obstacles life happens to throw his way.
Despite the many difficulties he encounters, he never backs down. He doesn’t succumb to bitterness, nor does he feel sorry for himself. As a matter of fact, in 35 years I’ve never once heard him complain about the challenges he faces or the hand he’s been dealt. Not once.
Kip is the kind of person who takes money out of his savings account and buys a ticket to ac-company you on a flight with your three children so you don’t have to fly alone. He’s the type of person who responds with “it’s okay, we all have bad days,” when he sees me lose my patience and yell at my kids. When my husband left for a week on a work trip, Kip came and stayed with us, so he could walk my (very nervous) oldest son to and from kindergarten on his first week of school. He’s the kind of person who would do anything for you, if he thought he might be able to lessen your load. He’s kind, calm, and genuinely helpful. It’s so humbling to see someone who has everything in the world to be upset about, choose love and kindness above all else.
Now I don’t know about you … but I wouldn’t be able to have this much courage. I would be bitter, angry, and sad. All emotions that I’m sure that kip has experienced plenty of … but when push comes to shove, instead of resentment, he chooses strength and compassion. Every. Single. Day.
Talking about my brother and his challenges has not always come easy to me. I am ashamed to admit that when I was a young girl, I used to be embarrassed that Kip was different. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have a “normal” brother like my friends. I would get frustrated and angry. I was young, self-centered, and could only see how his syndrome impacted me. As I write, these words are still as venomous and hurtful today, as they were 20 years ago. It breaks my heart and shames me, but I also know that these emotions were all part of the experience. The process. The teaching.
The thing is, Kip has been teaching me from the very beginning. When I waited for hours every morning while he finished his “routine,” he was teaching me patience; When I yelled at him for not being able to remember the phone message, and he told me “I’m sorry, my brain doesn’t work right,” he was teaching me humility; When I watched him approach my cheating high school boyfriend in the middle of the senior hallway and tell him he was a jerk “for making my sister cry,” he was teaching me unconditional love. Most importantly, his unwillingness to give up, despite assholes like myself, was teaching me about the true meaning of bravery.
Somehow I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn from Kip. Of all the families in this great big world, somehow our family was chosen. And the lessons are humbling. Lessons of strength, and tenacity, and persistence. He’s taught me perspective and to appreciate my abilities and the many things that I have been blessed with. He’s taught me empathy and the importance of valuing every single person’s worth. Above all else, he’s shown me that even in your darkest hour, when you think you can’t take another step forward, you can. I know it’s possible because he does it every single day.
My mom once told me that “it’s easy to be on top and keep your cool, but the true test of character doesn’t happen there. It’s when things don’t go your way, when life throws you a curve ball, that you are given the fleeting opportunity to show this world what you are really made of. Strength and tenacity only increase when tested.”
And she’s right. As for Kip, his daily life is a constant curve ball; and if you ask me, I’d say he’s batting 1000.
When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on. Because if he can do it every single day, I have no excuse not to. I’m so damn proud to call him my brother. I’m in awe of his strength and humbled by the way he handles his struggles with such courage and grace. It’s amazing. Inspiring really. To watch someone thrive, despite the daunting challenges he faces, and not ever give up. He’s making this world a better place, by serving as a constant reminder of what true determination really looks like.

Lessons From Dyeing My Hair Blue

As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme was Determination. Enter your own here!
It’s the end of middle school when my best friend, Janine, and I show up to a sleepover with freshly dyed hair. It is so fresh that we haven’t yet washed it because we didn’t read the box, or maybe we wanted to make sure it really stuck.
Janine is tall and lanky and more gorgeous than she realizes. She’s half-Chinese and her jet black hair barely shows glints of the red Manic Panic she chose to put in it. My long dirty blonde locks are fully blue. Our spunkiness is (in our own eyes, at least) the talk of the sleepover party.
At some point, we realize that we are going to start staining pillows and sleeping bags if we don’t wash the dye from our now burning scalps. I hop into my friend’s shower, and a few minutes later I hear screaming. Her mother has gotten wind of the fact that there is blue hair dye running down the drain of her brand new shower in her brand new bathroom.
A moment later she bursts in and jerks back the curtain. She screams at the top of her lungs, like I’ve only ever heard my own mother scream, when she sees the deep blue circling down the drain as I cover my body with my hands. She slams the bathroom door and moments later, I can still hear her raging inside her bedroom.
I jump out of the shower and pat myself dry. Quickly, I throw my clothes back on and race downstairs where the rest of the girls are cowering, wide-eyed. Janine’s hair is still covered in red dye. We exchange a look that says “let’s get the fuck out of here” and in an instant, run out the back door. We roam the neighborhood a while, then head to my house which is only a few blocks over. We tell my mom the party was a bust and Janine sleeps there instead. We both decide our friend’s mother is a horrible bitch and to never see her again.
The next day, I’m in my room when I hear a knock at my front door. I’ve hardly been upset about what happened. It’s just good preteen gossip. I’m sure Janine and I laughed about it, or said horrible things about the woman who reamed us out and ruined the party. But my hair looked awesome so what else was there to worry about? When I hear the knock, I run downstairs to get the door. My mother works from home, so I’m guessing it’s just one of her customers who doesn’t know that they are allowed to let themselves in.
I bound down the steps and when I get to the bottom, notice who’s standing on the porch. I freeze, wondering if I have time to hide. It’s my friend’s mother. I have no idea why she is here – I had plans never to see her again, and now she’s standing on my front porch. I imagine she’s looking for my mother. I’m afraid she might scream at me again. Slowly, I open the door and step onto the porch, head down.
She takes off her thick, black sunglasses and reveals her red-rimmed eyes. They are swollen and puffy in a way mine have only looked when I cried all night over a boy. I’m used to her looking so sophisticated, I realize. Her hair in a short pixie cut and her all black clothing. But right now, she looks broken. I look at her sad eyes and before I can say anything, she starts to speak.
“Sarah, I am so sorry about what happened last night. I am so, so sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. I’m so embarrassed for how I acted.” Tears start streaming down her face. I can’t believe it. I’m shocked that she is apologizing to me when clearly, I was the asshole who showed up at a sleepover without washing the dye out of my hair. But before I can say anything, she wraps me in a hug.
“No – it’s okay,” I manage to get out. “It’s really my fault.” But she won’t let me own it.
“All the dye came out. It washed right down the drain. I ruined the party. I’m so sorry. I had no right to yell at you.” She was so sincere, so devastated, and I’d just been going on with my self-absorbed preeteen life, barely hanging onto the night before.
I’m sure I called Janine to tell her what happened the second I went back to my room. I’m sure I played it off like she was insane for showing up at my house – like, who does that? But a part of me was jolted. This woman, this 40-something, responsible mother, was badly hurting. And partly, it was because of me. But it was also partly because she made a mistake. A mistake she couldn’t take back. And for a second, I saw her as a human instead of my friend’s mother.
Until that point in my life, I hadn’t seen mothers as real people. Certainly not my own. It would be years before I really learned this truth completely. Until my own anger or selfishness caught me off guard as I struggled to parent my own children. But seeing her intense vulnerability, splayed out on my front porch like that, caused a delicate shift. I felt connected to this person in a way I couldn’t really deny. I didn’t hate her, even if I might pretend to to my friends. I understood her.
Years later, I saw her at a birthday party for my best friend’s mother. And she brought up the blue hair dye incident. “Oh! I was so awful to you girls that night … I’m so sorry!” she said. All these years and she was still carrying guilt from screaming about what she thought was the death of her new bathroom. Instinctively, I put my hand on her shoulder. I had a six- and two-year-old at home, and I wanted to bawl my eyes out right there.
“Please,” I told her. “We were brats. Are you kidding me?” I felt her relief. I, as a grown woman with my own children, understood. Parents are still human beings. Parents need things for themselves. A new bathroom. A vacation. A fucking moment of silence. Parents have deep, horrible emotions that they can’t control, the same as teenagers, the same as four-year-olds. I didn’t judge her then and I certainly didn’t judge her now.
As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings. I had once believed that motherhood itself would morph me, if by magic, into a much better human. In some ways it has, but my faults have not evaporated either. I haven’t found myself overflowing with endless love and compassion always.
On my worst days, when I’ve let my children down, when I’ve yelled, or been impatient, a thought lingers in the back of my mind – I am not the mother I imagined being. I keep a pair of dark sunglasses in my purse, even in the winter.

What Are We Apologizing for When We Apologize for Our Kids?

What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid.

“I’m sorry” I mutter when my three-year-old bumps into a stranger’s legs at the store.
“I’m sorry” when we cancel because she woke up at 3 a.m., was a terror all day, and finally went down for a nap.
“I’m sorry” that he can’t eat the treats because of food allergies.
“I’m sorry” when the two year old doesn’t share a favorite toy.
“I’m sorry” about the wiggles and squeals we try to suppress at church.
“I’m sorry” he acts hyper when he feels overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry” she wet her pants.
“I’m sorry” he’s eating your snacks.
“I’m sorry” she clings to the teacher in class.
“I’m sorry” someone pushed.
“I’m sorry” he’s standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry” they are loud.
“I’m sorry” they are in your way.
So many sorrys.
Recently we traveled to visit family. During the first part of our trip I spent a lot of time saying sorry – for spills, messes, misbehaviors, and early mornings. One afternoon, after struggling for several hours to get my kids to take naps, we showed up late at my grandma’s house for a playdate we had planned. When she answered the door I immediately began explaining myself, doing the “mommy sorry.” She cut me off, mid-apology. Looking me directly in my eyes as I fought off some tears of overwhelm, she said, “Please. You don’t ever need to apologize. We are in this together. We can be flexible.”
Her words melted me and all my mommy-insecurity into a big puddle of tears, right there on her porch. This was a veteran mom of six children talking. But more importantly it was my grandma, someone who loves and sees me and my kids for who we are, not how well we perform.
Her words lodged themselves in my heart, and they have caused me to think a lot about the superfluous “mommy sorry.” Why do so many of us do it? I hear you apologize for your kid not answering adults when asked a question, for your toddler not sharing, for countless other social infractions. I know I’ve said my share of sorrys too.
Why do we apologize for the growing process of our little people when it is not something we can control by verbally taking responsibility for it? Are we actually sorry? Their very existence hinges on inconveniencing others. When we say sorry for everything about our kids, it starts to sound like we are apologizing for the very fact they exist and for the people they are.
What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have been more concerned about pleasing others than properly parenting my kids. I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid. Or having food allergies. Or not sharing, although pediatricians say kids can’t understand sharing until age three. Why do I apologize for the social behaviors of these small people? For them not yet understanding personal space. For being attached to their mom. For struggling to master the art of whispering. For not noticing they are in the way because their eyes can’t even see over the shopping cart. Why do I apologize for their physical needs and the instincts they follow to meet them? Like wanting someone else’s snacks. Or taking a really long nap. Or having an accident in the middle of Target.
I’ve realized if there’s anyone’s forgiveness I should ask, it’s my kids. I hope they forgive me for the times I have apologized for their kid-ness. I want them to know I am not ashamed of them or embarrassed about the things that make them kids. Those sorrys were voiced by Mom’s insecurity, not her heart.
Parents of the world – can we stop apologizing to one another for our kids being kids? After all, we are all in this together. We can be flexible with each other as we all do our best to raise kind and responsible people. Let’s support more and judge less. Let’s be the village it takes to raise a child.

Is “Dad Guilt” Even a Thing?

Of course, there are reams written about the ubiquitous syndrome of “mom guilt.” But what about dads? Are they immune?

Over the last few years, mom blogs have sprung up like mushrooms in Italy. They’ve been interesting and meaty, sometimes delicate, sometimes audacious, sometimes indelible.
We hear about mommy friendships forged on the crucible of potty training. We read about the crumb trails that moms investigate and the mountains of laundry they clamber over. We nod along to stories of feeling judged or feeling empowered.
And, of course, there are reams written about the ubiquitous syndrome of “mom guilt.” It happens when you work too much, or too little. It happens when you yell at your progeny, or miss an opportunity to disciple and mold them. It happens when you’re the hovering, helicopter type, or the hands-off, free-range type. It seems like every mom has some measure of it.
But is “dad guilt” a thing? Do fathers experience some degree of remorse for not investing more in their kids? Or for working too much? Or for taking the wrong discipline tack?
In my home, “guilty” is a verdict that my husband of 12 years and the father of our two kids sometimes imposes on himself. He takes his work-life balance very seriously. Thankfully, the “life” part of that equation doesn’t mean sitting, bleary-eyed, in front of the television every weekend. It means spending time with the kids. When he doesn’t get to do that, I’ve been witness to dad guilt.
I’ve often heard the hubbers comment, “I really want to spend time with the kids in the evenings,” or be quick to offer to take our son to soccer practice, especially after consecutive evenings away on work.
Guilt, it turns out, is not a mom prerogative.
In a recent online survey of 1,200 men from Fatherly and Today.com, about one in five (19 percent) dads said they feel guilty about not being “present” enough with their children, and 17 percent said they suffer from “dad guilt” about working too much.
One in five? Maybe that’s not a huge number of dads riding the train to Guiltville. But it’s a decent enough number to realize that dads are trying, too.
In fact, dads today are more involved than ever in parenting. Over the past half-century, fathers in America nearly tripled their child care time from two and-a-half hours per week in 1965 to seven hours per week in 2011. (Interestingly, women’s parenting also increased to 14 hours in that same period.)
Yet, the survey points to the fact that these feelings extend to career as well. About one in four (28 percent) reported they feel guilty about not making enough money to provide for their family the way they’d like to. Maybe that’s an old-school, “dad brings home the bacon” mindset, but it remains a pretty heavy burden to carry.
Maybe dads need a few blog posts encouraging them. Maybe dads need a word of acknowledgment every now and then. Maybe dads need to know that it’s okay to hang up the cape, that we all make mistakes, that perfection and parenting don’t go hand in hand.
To all those dads who are trying – and sometimes failing – we say, you’re doing awesome. We see you and we appreciate you. It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out. We don’t either.
Speaking of things moms and dads have in common, the study also unveils an interesting piece of information: 26 percent of dads pull the hide-in-the-bathroom trick to shirk parental responsibility.
Just every now and then. When the shrieking gets too loud. When the man caves are overrun by toys.
We get it. And we’ll let you in on a little secret: The pantry works pretty well, too.