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Kids

Little JoJo in the jungle: a tale of survival

December 8, 2017

My oldest daughter – my JoJo – is the second coming of both my face and my fits. And she is struggling to find her place among the elementary elite.

It started when … well it started getting really bad with the arrival of a solution to an 8-year-old dilemma, the Nipit. The Nipit is a genius product my mom discovered through the power of Amazon that’s worn on the elbow and prevents a child from bending their arm enough to get their respective digits to their mouth to suck. While it lacks in discretion – it’s bright, primary colors with loud velcro straps – holy heck it works. I’ve seen my girl with her fingers in her mouth once in the last three months. For a girl who was getting her suck on in the womb, that is nothing short of miraculous.

But, as is the case with most red and blue arm braces, it didn’t take long for the kids at school to take note. It’s different, which means she’s different, which means she’s “weird”, which means she has a giant red target right in the center of her tiny little back. Thus, the bullying began.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the last few weeks, and I’ve come to some clarity. I think the issue is, when we look into our child’s eyes, we see someone different. We see an unborn baby that got hiccups every night during our 9 o’clock show. We see the little human who turned everything upside down in the best, scariest way possible, and made us a mother or a father. We see a toddler whose hair grew in from the back forward and stuck straight up while she watched cartoons on lazy weekend mornings. We see her first birthday and her tricycle. We hear the crinkle of her diaper between thick, wobbly legs coming down the hall and her first words … “dada” of course.

When I look at my daughter, I feel her letting go of my hand on the first day of preschool and her pleading eyes when big change came. I feel cuddles from the best spooner on the planet and hear her telling me, at 4, that she was heading off to college just like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I hear her laugh. I see her crooked, gappy smile and pure, well-intentioned heart. I see a thousand tiny little pieces of myself, with her daddy’s build, walking out the door every single morning.

But that’s what I see. And I am her mother.

What kids see is another little second grader in a sea of 7, 8, 9 year olds, crowding the playground and trying not to do anything odd enough to get noticed. They don’t find her to be special in any of the ways that really count. They aren’t looking for that. They’re looking for different. They’re looking for a crack, an opening. They’re waiting for her to get comfortable enough that she shows something they view as a weakness or an eccentricity. If it lends itself to a nickname or a chant, all the better.

When the tiny opening presents itself, they put their toe in first, maybe a snide comment or whisper to a friend. Then they put in their leg, then torso, and eventually their whole body busts down that door, lashing out with hateful, belittling words that feel so good to them, so empowering. Because kids know no consequence. They know instant gratification and survival of the shittiest. It’s jungle rules out there and everyone is potential prey.

In his book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen”, Christopher McDougall wrote: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I send my little girl out the door every morning as this special ball of memories and potential, and the second she steps off the porch she’s reduced to bait. And do I blame the kids being unkind? Hell no! They’re just relieved they aren’t the girl with the brace on her elbow. And I totally get it.

Because no one wants to be that girl. Growing up, I had spacey, jagged teeth and a swoopy, horrible set of bangs for a good few years. I had girls pass notes to my BFFs saying they shouldn’t play with me anymore. I had days where I curled up in my mom’s arms, as she rubbed my back in her mustard yellow fabric covered rocking chair with the melodic squeak. Ask any adult and they can name their bully. If they can’t, they were the bully. It’s a rite of passage in some ways. Unfortunately. Stupidly.

It all came to a head recently, as one particular girl turned up the torment on my babe. We’ll call her Delores for the sake of anonymity and movie trivia. Delores has a girl gang. They think JoJo’s a big baby for sucking her fingers (predictable, easy), and they make sure she knows it on a daily basis. We’d been doing the usual coaching behind the scenes … Don’t fight hate with hate … The meaner they are, the kinder you should be … If you feel sad, tell a teacher … Just ignore her … Maybe she was having a bad day or she’s sad about something. Nevertheless, it persisted.

It persisted until earlier this week when JoJo decided to express herself about it. In a drawing. On the back of her homework. Where she’s throwing a bat at Delores’ head. And it’s labeled “JoJo’ and “Delores”. Needless to say, her teacher wasn’t thrilled.

Spike was waiting by the door for me that evening. “Mom, I’m not going to tell you what’s going on, but I will tell you that JoJo got in trouble and she has to go see the counselor tomorrow and if the counselor wants to, she can send JoJo to the principal’s office.” I walked into the living room to find my little criminal, sitting on the couch, red streaks from old tears subtle on her pale cheeks.

“You’ve taken a situation where someone was bullying you,” I explained, “and turned it around so that you are now the one doing the bullying. Do you see why this is wrong?” She nodded, her bottom lip curving down like a fat, grumpy fist in an animated feature. JoJo is certainly my creative chick, and this devilish doodle was, I’m certain, just a way for her to express her frustration, but regardless, it’s not how we roll.

Her teacher referred her to the school counselor, which, to be honest, I was a little relieved about. Finally! A professional can step in here! Somebody equipped with a degree and Inside Out dolls.

The day she was scheduled to meet with the counselor, JoJo was pacing the kitchen, whining. “I don’t want to go to the counselor’s office, Mama. I’m scared. What if I get in trouble?” I challenged her to be brave, and to be honest. I challenged her to step up to all the feelings of anger and sadness and loneliness she’s been feeling and share them with a grownup who could help. (And who she’d listen to more than her own mother.)

And then, I watched her step off the porch and go back out into that dark, vast jungle. Exposed and vulnerable and wearing her Nipit like a juicy, raw steak around her neck on the grasslands. A giant piece of my heart went right onto the bus with her and drove away.

I thought about her all day. I waited for the phone to ring. Maybe the principal would call and say she was suspended for the drawing. A black blemish on her spotless record. Maybe the counselor would call and tell me what a bad mother I was for waiting so long to alert them to the situation. Maybe her emotions would swallow her whole and I’d have to come get her.

But the phone never rang, and soon it was 5 o’clock.

I can always read the general temperature of our household within seconds. When something is wrong with one of the kiddos, it’s like walking into a room carrying balloons and a birthday cake after everyone else was just told someone died. So on this day, I was very tentative coming in from the garage.

“Hi, Mama!” JoJo greeted me. My whole body unclenched.
“Hi, JoJo!”
“Mom, I met with the counselor today and it was great. I didn’t get in trouble for the drawing and she told me I should tell Delores that what she’s doing is hurting my feelings.”
“Right. That’s great, JoJo!”
“Yeah, I feel so much better! Can I call Dad and tell him?”
“Of course.”

And just like that, progress. A touch of healing for a wounded little soul. She would live to roam the prairie another day.

I, of course, immediately sat down to type a teary note of appreciation to the school counselor, positive she had no clue how thankful I was for her 5-minute pep talk with my daughter. Positive I was being a little over emotional and positive I didn’t care a lick.

And the rest of this week has been better, though I know it’s not the last we’ll hear of Delores and her girl gang. The oldest child is such an experiment. They bring this stuff home to you, and you never know whether they’re being transparent or dramatic. You don’t know what’s normal and what’s a five-alarm fire. All you have to go on is your instinct and your own experiences as a child. (I mean, aren’t we all just projecting our childhood onto our own kids anyway?)

You just want to scream from the top of the school gymnasium, [in the voice of an Indian chief] “This is my daughter, JoJo! She is strong and funny and would be a really great friend! I am proud of her! And if you screw with her, I will squash your milk carton in your tiny horrible face.” But that’s not considered acceptable grownup behavior.

It will always be hard to hear. I’m the one who carries her stories, and because of that, I know what a treasure she is. I have the backstory. I’m invested, mostly because I grew her.

I’m the one who knows she called penguins “herbies” for years, even though everyone thought she was saying “herpes”. I’m the one who put her hair in long, flowing pigtails and cut the feet out of her penguin jammies so she could wear them a few months longer. I am in this thing for the long haul.

And I could sell her good points like popsicles on the Fourth of July. She likes to climb really tricky trees and eat Nutella straight from the jar and she can sing every word to every song from Descendents 2. She dabs like a boss. She’s a talented artist and can turn any strawberry into a rose too beautiful to eat. She always wears two layers of clothing, even in the summer, and changes into her pajamas within an hour of getting home from school. She did hygge before hygge was a thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with that girl?

There aren’t a lot of choices here. She has to keep going to school and I have to keep watching her step off our porch, bait though she may be. I can’t change the dichotomy of children, the hunters and the hunted. I can’t make my daughter’s skin thicker, no matter what I feed her at home. The only thing I can do is rock her when she wants me to and keep track of her stories, so she always has someone to remind her just how special she is. Someone who’s invested. Someone who isn’t going anywhere. Someone who, after all the deep lessons have been offered and her worries put to rest, will turn away from tiny ears and say the thing that everyone really wants to say.

“Ah, screw Delores!”

Kids

Giving parenting the finger

October 4, 2017

“We’re going to give it 6 more months, and if she can’t stop, we’ll talk about putting in a rake,” my dentist/friend said, at our last family appointment.

He was referring to JoJo, my pathological finger sucker. This child … ahhhh, this child. God bless her sweet soul, I have a picture of her sucking her fingers in my womb. And then a thousand pictures after that of her doing the same. The habit is rooted in her DNA. It’s just always been part of her, like her laugh or insanely thick hair.

My girls each have their quirks. Spike does this strange thing where she rubs her head back and forth when she’s tired or falling asleep. She told me once it makes her “feel silly and dizzy,” and she’s into that sort of thing. I remember the first time I saw her do it with her chunky little baby head. It totally freaked me out. I have another friend whose twin girls used to bang their heads against the side of their pack n’ play when they went to sleep. I imagine it’s a similar sensation? Kids are so weird.

Sloppy Joan’s thing is rubbing the yarn on her special blanket between her fingers. It’s not as ingrained in her, and obviously conditional upon her having the actual blanket with her, but it’s her habit just the same. Well, that and pooping like 20 times a day.

So, now we come to my dilemma. How to intervene.

In the case of the spit-soaked fingers, it’s a matter of dental despair. I had braces for like 20 years, so the odds weren’t in her favor to begin with, but given her tendencies to put those things in her mouth, those teeth really don’t stand a chance.

The hygienist was kind enough to pull up an image of the rake for JoJo to see. It’s your typical orthodontia gem; a mouth apparatus that looks like a torture device crafted in a dungeon at the turn of the century. We got in the car and she immediately started sobbing.

“What’s wrong, doll?” I asked, over the sound of the sniffles.
“I don’t want a rake!” she wailed.
“Honey, you have six months. You can do it.”
“No, I can’t! It’s too hard!”
“Honey …”
“And I like sucking my fingers!”
“Babe, you have to stop.”
“But why?”
“JoJo, we’ve talked about this … It’s moving your teeth. Plus, you’re putting yucky germs in your mouth every day.”
“But it’s too hard and it’s going to hurt if they put it in,”
“Nah!” I comforted.

[more sobs.]

And every day since then, we’ve engaged in tense exchanges in which she repeatedly puts her fingers – the pointer and middle to be specific – in her mouth and I, running out of patience, remind her to remove them. This might come as a gentle, “Hey, JoJo, fingers,” or, if it’s been a long day, “Honey! Get your fingers out of your mouth! For the love!”

It’s frustrating. Parenting. And you can only do so much. Take this morning, for example. The girls were screwing around wrestling at the bus stop, which is at a busy corner in our neighborhood. I yelled and yelled, “Girls! Don’t do that so close to the road! Girls! Back up!” Nothing. Like I wasn’t even there. Then, Bus #53 pulled up, honking their horn like an ambulance in a traffic jam. It slowed and the door flew open, revealing a red-faced older gentleman behind the wheel. “Hey! You girls shouldn’t do that so close to the road. You could fall into the street and get run over by a car!” Then he drove off. I smiled and yelled from the porch, “Told ya!” I can only do so much.

Hank is, as usual, much more patient about the whole finger thing. He’s always the more patient one. But what is my role here as a mother? If I don’t stay on her, she’s left to her own willpower which is comparable to my own stoned at a donut factory. If I hound her, she gets frustrated with herself, and me, and ends up melting down. I just can’t do it! This is so hard! I hate this!

I have another friend whose son is obsessed with sugar and baked goods. He finds comfort in treats, and it drives her nuts. But this boy, as I explained to her, is everyone’s spirit animal. He fears that the good treats won’t be available if he waits. Something inside him is screaming for that treat, that instant. Like the ocean called to Moana, sugar calls to him, and I get that. That speaks to me. But, as his mother, my friend questions when and how to intervene. I get that, too.

JoJo is hard on herself as it is. And my nudges to quit doing what she’s doing on a 10-minute rotation are not helping. She has a special glove that my mom found online, and when she wears that, she can keep the habit at bay. So, our discussions often turn to her neglect of the glove. Why aren’t you wearing it all the time? Do you want the rake? You have to make up your mind to really try.

But then I really back the train up, and ask myself if an 8 year old is even capable of making a conscious decision to commit to that kind of change. I mean if I can’t toss out a dozen cookies at 34, what would lead me to believe my little girl could halt such a compulsive tendency? And if she is capable of making that choice, how do I encourage her in a healthy way? When I decided to have kids, I was prepared for nose picking and hitting. Biting, sure. Tantrums, absolutely. But no one tells you they’re going to come out sucking fingers and rubbing their heads until a giant bird’s nest forms on the back of their scalp.

Sometimes I can discreetly reach over and touch her leg when I see her going for it, but other times, I find myself completely losing my shit … like when she does it right after walking out of a public bathroom or playing in the campground sandbox. It’s nasty.

I don’t want kids to make fun of her, either. I mean, let’s face it, there are totally normal kids out there getting hammered at the lunch table every day. A second grader who sucks her fingers is as easy a target as the kid who toots during ciphering.

So, there’s my stuff. That’s my battle. What kind of weird shit do your kids do? Do they lick rocks? Hide in chimneys? Pull the wings off of flies? Let’s hear it. And how do you help them? I’ve brought bribery, nasty nail polish and the glove to the table, but I’m at a loss beyond that. The whole thing just really … sucks.

Kids

My village people

May 25, 2017

Spike was mumbling the words to “You’re Welcome,” which we were listening to for the second time that morning, staring at the car’s shadow on the road below and running her tiny pointer finger over her thin top lip. She always stops trying when Maui raps. I turned down the radio for my usual morning hype sesh.

“Oh man, babe … How ya feelin’ about the field trip today? The zoo is the best. You’re going to have so much fun!”

She whipped her head in my direction and said, “Yeah, did you know that of all the kids in the class there are only two moms who aren’t going?” (I knew one of them was me.)

She wasn’t being deliberately hostile. She wasn’t. She was just using her little innocent mouth to lay out the facts for me on a shitty mom platter. This would be breakfast today.

“Gosh, hon. I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, you and Jack’s mom.” (Who is a friend of mine.)

“Oh.”

“Yeah, Ms. Kylene’s going to let us be her partner since you won’t be there.”

“Well, that’s special!”

“Yeah, it is.”

Her eyes went back to the shadow. There would be no more talk of this topic for now.

It was that she said it, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, it was the way it lingered … like a pregnancy fart in a sauna. The way the “only” just hung out there so harshly, so ruthlessly, and then it latched on mercilessly to the “mom” and the two words gripped and clawed at each other in the front of my brain.

A played out Chainsmokers song picked up where the Moana soundtrack left off. My heart was drowning in my brutal interpretation of the situation …

You are the only mom not going. The only one who sucks … In a class of 12 kids, there are 10 good moms, one other mom, and you … If good moms and bad moms played Red Rover, you’d be the only one they could send over … Other moms make animal faces on their kids’ sandwiches using grapes and basil leaves. And then there’s you … You let me down.

I couldn’t adjust my schedule and make it happen. It was one of many, many times my cape was at the cleaners and I just couldn’t pull it off. And I hate that. Don’t you hate that? I would be missing – a noticeable gaping hole – in the standard group shot in front of the ZOO sign. I wouldn’t be on the log ride or there to help little people poke the straw through their juice boxes.

And the more I thought about the juice boxes and the group shot and the stupid log ride, the more I really started to go there. You know where … That dark place where jealousy infects your character with toxic judgements and ridicule. I thought of all the mothers in their perfect boyfriend jeans and trendy sweaters pointing out the orangutan baby to my child. I thought about all the embarrassing stories she would tell, and how I wouldn’t be there to laugh awkwardly and explain them. And I thought about how there would be this depressing white space in her preschool scrapbook where her own mother’s face should be. And down and down and down I went.

We pulled in and I held her hand to cross the parking lot. I love holding her hand. Her sweet, phenomenal teacher took the torch from my weakened grip and started hyping Spikey up for the big day. I needed to tap out anyway, obviously.

“Are you excited?” she asked. Spike nodded, shyly. “I can’t wait to be your partner,” her teacher added.

I smiled, squeezed my little bug, wished her the very best of special days, and walked out, feeling heavy as hell.

Every mother who has ever written on or for any platform or publication has covered this topic to an exhausting degree. In fact, you probably aren’t even reading this because you didn’t make it this far in. Same shit, different laxative, right? But people talk about it so much because it’s such a chronic pain. We work so that we can afford to pay a babysitter so that we can go to work. It’s a gross, sad ferris wheel, where all the riders are screaming and crying their heads off on the inside, but they can’t get off. Because if you get off, they might not let you back on when it’s more convenient for you to ride.

That said, I love my job. I’m not even lying. I do. I love it. I’m one of the fortunate people who only cries and screams on the inside on occasion, and usually Mondays. I get to write about topics that typically interest me and often help people and interview amazing people and I’m hyper cognizant of the fact that I’m lucky to get paid to do that. But with that comes the restrictive straight jacket known as the 8-to-5. (Remember the good ole’ days when it was 9-to-5?) It breeds anxiety for mothers and sets the stage for disappointment at almost every turn. Most days I’ve failed before my feet hit the floor.

Now, I know it might look like it, but this is not an argument about whether SAHMs or MOPS or working moms (who have no acronym) have it worse. I’m not dumb enough to take on that debate because there is no winner. In fact, when we argue about such extraneous crap, we all lose. It doesn’t need to be said here, but I’ll put it down just so we’re all 1000% on the same page: Being a mom from any location, in any conditions or in conjunction with any occupational obligations is a bitch. A beautiful, messy bitch that we’re all thankful for every day. Not like every minute of every day, but every day.

So, it wasn’t a shiny moment for me that morning in the car (in my head). And I said to myself, “No, Courtney. No. You will stop drinking the Hate-orade and quit being a chump right this second.” And I did. But it wasn’t until later, after Spikey shared how special her day was and how special everyone made her feel, that the real deep stuff set in. That I was able to sift through the litter box and find the golden turds of wisdom in the situation.

My family is my tribe. But the mass of other people – this vibrant collage of compassionate souls and patient beings – is my village. And I couldn’t mother without the village. Sometimes it’s hard for me to ask for help. And sometimes I resent needing that help, but I do. And sometimes help just shows up, in my friends and my family, and sometimes in people I don’t know that well. And that’s kind of really beautiful actually.

The people in my village pick up where I hit my limitations, where I run out of time, and where I fall short. They hide in the houses and schools and stores I pass through like a wild tornado every day, jumping in when I have to step out. I couldn’t possibly name them all or acknowledge them all, but when I really stop and think about it, they are everywhere in force. My village is big, and it’s kind.

My village has Kay, who potty trained and taught the girls to go down stairs when they were 1 and instilled faith. It has Aimee, who teaches them to read and be modest, and Ms. Kylene who calls them “love bugs” and makes them feel special on the days they otherwise wouldn’t, and Mrs Hurley who shares her own stories of finger sucking so my daughter doesn’t feel like a freak, and Coach Kasey who made Spikey take that unforgettable shot. My neighbors in my village are these gentle souls who let my kids talk their ears off while they wash their cars and who bring over cookies and don’t say a word about the fact our smoke alarm is going off. My village is centered around courageous, selfless women – my mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my girlfriends – with a few fellas peppered in.

But it’s even bigger than that. There are strangers in my village who stop by but don’t stay. They pass out smiles and warm gestures that restore my hope when I fear for the state of humanity. They bend down and say sweet things to my girls in the store. They listen to my first grader read and they put the straw in my daughter’s juice box when her mommy has to work.

Listen, sometimes it gets hairy, this mothering thing. There are meetings that can’t be moved and rain dates that crap on good intentions and, to be honest, sometimes there are just days when the best thing you can do for your kids is be away from them. But don’t let all this bologna send you to that dark place. Don’t do it. Look to your village, instead. Leverage your village. Love your village. Express gratitude for your village.

Your tribe will be the better for it.

Kids

I wanna be like Spike

March 15, 2017

Women talk a lot about raising each other up. We make signs and applaud the movement to flex and demonstrate our strengths enough to generate a mighty wind, which we’ll use to power a greater good. We post about offering our shoulders for others to stand on, so they might finally be able to reach their dreams. But what does all of this really look like? What is the commonplace, everyday application for lifting up our sisters? Or our neighbors? Or our children?

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how abstract these concepts have been to me. I mean, the memes are great, and I love a good quote, but when you take the lipstick off, what does this particular type of empowerment look like? I wasn’t sure. Until last weekend, when I stopped looking for a grand demonstration and saw it, instead, in its purest presentation. In my daughter’s eyes.

I think I told you guys how Hank and I recently jeopardized our status as mediocre parents when, in an effort to save some of our Saturdays, we decided to sign Spikey up for the same basketball team as JoJo, even though she was two years younger and 4 inches shorter than her average teammate. When we started to question our decision, we resigned ourselves to the argument that it would build character and make her just that much better. Adversity, after all, breeds growth, right?

Each week, the kids would have 30 minutes of practice followed by a 30-minute game. Each little player was on the court for two of the four quarters. Well, on that very first week, Spike took an arm to the glasses, and that was all she wrote. She was still up for the practices, but she turned on the tears when the coaches tried to put her in for the game. “I don’t like people running at me!” she would say through pouty lips under a drippy nose.

The team had two coaches, a man and a woman. The latter, Coach Kasey, just had a way. She was young and athletic and a card-carrying mom herself. She pushed ever so gently by standing right behind them, supporting and cheerleading. She never forced Spike onto that court. Ever. And it was a good thing, too, because I did everything wrong. I pulled every ill-fated play from the playbook. I drenched her in compliments for minor tasks. I bribed. I threatened. I guilted. All laughable attempts that were destined to fall short. And why would they work? After so many “I believe in you”s and “Never say can’t”s, your parents just start to sound like the salesperson at a department store. “Oh my gosh, you can totally pull off snakeskin pleather pants!” It’s just pink noise.

Coach Kasey would check in on our girl and then jog over to the sideline and give me updates. “She said she’d try in the next quarter.” “She’s afraid of that girl on the other team.” “Her knee hurts.” “Her eye hurts.” “She forgot to wear underwear.” Always being a fellow mom to me, but a strong example to them. Positive and constructive and subtle.

At their second to last game, Kay came to watch the girls play. Spike had promised for weeks that she would play for Kay. In fact, she’d asked if her former caregiver would come later in the season so she could be at her very best. You have to really know Kay to appreciate the pressure here. She is a former volleyball and basketball coach and she gets a little … intense. She likes to yell and throw up ref signals, and I’m pretty certain it’s all involuntary. So, when it came time for Spike’s debut, and there wasn’t a lot of movement on the bench, I got a little worried.

But Kay sure as shit didn’t. She just tucked her coat under her arm and marched right over. Hank and I stood aside and looked on as Kay, Coach Kasey and the referee, a sweet older teenage gal, huddled around our hesitant five year old and coaxed her onto the court. We let the village raise our child. She played for two of the six minutes that quarter. Parents in the stands gave her enthusiastic thumbs up as she walked back over to her seat to grab her water bottle. When it was her turn again, she turned in a solid 45 seconds right at the end. I was thrilled.

The tiny taste of the action was enough to awaken the humble giant inside her. The entire week leading up to the final matchup, she told us she was going to play the entire game – all of the minutes Coach Kasey wanted her to play. She wasn’t going to be fast or yelling or waving her arms, she prefaced, but she was going to stay in and stay right there with her coach.

And you guys, she did.

She really did.

Just like the other kids, she played two full quarters, glued to the role model she admired so. Where Coach Kasey went, Spike went. When Coach Kasey told her to put her hands up, pass, run, she did it. Soon, she was running on ahead of Coach Kasey, as her knowing instructor hung back just enough to let her lead. Standing right behind her. Masterfully pushing her on.

And then, the Rudy moment. She shot the ball. Twice.

This adorable love nugget – who spent game after game sitting curled up, knees to her nose, arms crossed, peeking up over her legs with her sparkly purple glasses – that little bug stepped up and flung the ball toward the hoop with everything in her, from her toes to her fingertips. I’d be lying if I denied I got choked up over the whole thing, for the love of leggings!

After the final buzzer, Coach Kasey handed out awards. JoJo got “Best Listener” and Spike got “Team Spirit”. Might as well have been “Best Actress in a Lead Role” and “Best New Artist”. They raced over to show us their certificates and the shiny medals they were wearing with smiles to match. I bent down and gave JoJo a squeeze, then turned to Spike. “I am so proud of you, honey. You really did it.”

She asked if I’d take a picture for her. I followed after her wild brown ponytail, so much pride in her step, as she juggled her snacks and her accolades on a path to find Coach Kasey. As I watched their teacher crouch down in between them, I swallowed hard. This woman probably thought she was just volunteering to share her time and talent with her son’s team. What she actually did was positively alter the mental makeup of a stranger, my Spikey.

It’s truly awesome how people come into our lives and unexpectedly, through the most modest efforts, build new bridges on the map. They rewire parts of our confidence, our character, our backbone. That was what Coach Kasey did for my daughter. By staying with her, behind her, she ever-so-slightly reprogrammed the part of her heart where bravery resides.

As we walked to the car, Spikey’s mind couldn’t catch up with her mouth. “As I ran down and back and forth and I checked the ball and I shot the ball up there, I kept getting prouder and prouder and braver of myself!” She told us how badly she wanted to play basketball again, but only if Coach Kasey could be there. Hank and I exchanged knowing grins, heavy with the burdensome truths grownups carry around. Not a conversation for today. How could I tell those baby brown eyes that we would only be putting her in her appropriate age group going forward, and that made our paths crossing again unlikely?

As we made our way down the road, I heard mousey sniffles. I turned around and tears were rolling down her tender cheeks.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked. She didn’t answer.
“Are you hurt?” JoJo inquired.
“Are you tired?” I offered.
“Are you embarrassed you forgot underwear?” JoJo threw out there, which finally made her smile.
“I miss Coach Kasey,” she sobbed. And I felt stinging at the backs of my eyes.

Ugh! I hated that it clicked so late for my gentle lady. I hated that she’d made that connection and now it was over. It’s like when everyone tells you the fried egg sandwich at a local restaurant is to die for but you put off making the trip, and then you do and it is so amazing and then they take it off the menu the next week. The worst! I’ll be honest, I’m fine with getting our Saturdays back, but I would sit there seven days a week to see the pride I saw that morning on her face again. Those victories are so few and far between. And the first couple you get in life are the sweetest ones of all.

Coach Kasey packed up her own family that day and went back to her routine. And I’m willing to bet she has mommy moments of her own where, like all of us, she feels inadequate, disappointing, under-qualified. Maybe not, I’m guessing here. But I hope that Saturday she felt a small sense of what she gave to our middle chick. That she became my real-life illustration of what it means to lift people up. Small girls need grown women they can model themselves after. They will mimic what’s put in front of them, whether it’s good or it’s bad. I am so moved by the influence this woman, whose name I’d never heard 10 weeks ago, had on my ladybugs.

This is what I so desperately want for this place; A community that raises up our fellow citizens and our tinies and one that fosters a warm, safe morale where everyone feels empowered. I don’t know about you, but it’s felt like much of the world has been standing out in the cold for months now. It’s isolating living in a place so plagued by conspiracies and discontentment. But my hope for my children is that it’s different through their eyes. As I looked over and saw other parents clapping for my daughter’s air ball, I felt my heart swell. It was like taking a full breath for the first time this year. All the way in … and all the way out.

I don’t need my girls to be all star athletes, let’s not kid ourselves here. But I did see the invaluable struggle between self doubt and perseverance playing out for their tiny souls on that court. People talk about the parallels between sports and the real world all the time. Now I get it. And if our time in that microcosm has any correlation to the current state of things, perhaps there’s hope for this race after all.

Be someone’s Coach Kasey.

Raise someone up if you can.

Let them stand on your shoulders and offer your voice to make theirs louder.

When pure intentions and unbridled encouragement come together, hope has plenty of room to grow and spill over into all the dark corners and spaces where doubt likes to dwell.

Raise someone up.

Kids

The push and the pull … and the push

January 19, 2017

When we pack up our sweet little popup and head out to commune with Mother Nature, it is 100 percent guaranteed that my children will sniff out and frequent two places: The playground, crawling with feral wilderness kids, and the camp store. And these chicks are con artists, I tell ya. They can hit up their PaPa for a 5 dollar bill like a Las Vegas hustler and have a Rocket Pop in hand before we’re backed in and level.

On our last trip for the season, the third visit to this particular park that year, the older girls started wearing a path in the pavement. They’d go around the same loop on their scooters, always stopping at the camp store for a minute before hopping on their Razors and racing back to the site. They’d done it so many times, I’d eased up on my strict surveillance of the situation. And anyway, I was doing laps myself, mom strutting behind Sloppy Joan as she strolled about on her tiny legs under a bright yellow canopy of leaves, pointing at every dog, fire and bug. It was what I imagine sloth poetry is made of.

After a 30-minute .5 mile, we came up to the camp store and my mother sitting perched just outside with her tiny white rat dog on her lap.

“Ummmmm …” she said.
“What?”
“I thought you were in the camp store.”
“No, I’m walking with Sloppy Joan. Should I be in the camp store?”
“Well, the girls went in there. I think they were going to buy something. I thought you were already in there.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Right.”
“Right.”
“So …”
“So, I guess take Sloppy Joan and I’ll go check it out.”

I walked in and followed the intentional maze of tall wire shelves – past fridge magnets and Wiffle Ball sets and boxes of instant potatoes – until I reached the line. At the front of that line stood two little girls, their chins barely reaching the counter. The oldest, with her disheveled ponytail and Chick’s Rule sweatshirt, stood confidently as the middle one offered shaky support from just behind her, biting her top lip for comfort.

[Mom enters the scene.]

“Hey guys.” I said.
“Hi Mom,” JoJo sighed, knowing this put a damper on their hustle.
“So, whatcha got here?”

They had a lot of stuff, you guys.

Two candy bars, two packages of glow sticks, one notebook, one box of crayons and two, rather sizeable, stuffed animals. Dogs, if I remember correctly. I have no idea how long they’d been at the counter.

“It’s $33.50,” the irritated 17 year old with no children said to them (but looking directly at me).
“And how much money do you have, girls?” I asked.
“I have $5,” JoJo offered.
“So, if you have $5 to spend and $33.50 worth of toys and candy, what do you think you need to do?”
“Get more money?” JoJo proposed.
“Or, maybe, I was thinking … put some things back.”

Groans and those dreadful whines that announce the impending arrival of an actual, super-annoying cry started spilling out of child No. 1. My face was filling with the incinerating heat of extreme mortification. I turned to the gentleman behind us and, out of obligation and respect for the assault on his leisurely stroll to the friendly camping store to get coffee filters, mouthed a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine!” he said too kindly. “I love watching other people parent, and it’s a good lesson for them.” (I feel it’s vital to the story that I mention the dude looked like Jim Gaffigan.)

Two minutes later, we left the store with one candy bar, one package of glow sticks and one sour little camper. (Spike was fine. She, I deduced, was merely along for the ride.)

“What happened?” Mom pounced as we walked out.
“Oh, I’ll tell ya what happened. My children were trying to buy Christmas with a $5 bill and no parents. That’s what happened.”

She. Fell. Out.

I finally laughed, too.

Later, when I pulled JoJo aside to talk to her about the responsibility of carrying money and making smart purchases and always, always letting someone know where you’re going and what you’re doing, I realized that her frustration wasn’t just about the fact that I’d cockblocked the purchase of the one stuffed animal that brought her to an even 500. It was more about the embarrassment. She felt a false sense of confidence because she’d been to the store with me and now she just wanted to prove that she could be grown up, too. She could make a transaction. She knew what was going down.

Only, little bird, you don’t.

And thus the internal battle begins. I can appreciate the fact that she had the self confidence to walk into a store and do something “adult”. It’s amazing actually when you think about the fact that they had been casing the joint the whole time. And the last thing I want ever is to squelch my daughter’s spirit. But obviously certain things require supervision and guidance. She’s just in such a dang hurry to grow up, that one, always offering to cook dinner and watch the other kids. “You’re 7!” I want to scream. “Be my baby forever!”

It’s a tricky thing, instilling self-assurance in our kids. We want them to be carefree, but cautious. Capable but reliant. Brave but tentative. We tell them they can do anything in this world, as long as they let us hold their hands and take them there to do it. It’s a balance, I suppose, like everything. And it’s often necessary. I mean, my 7 and 5 year old clearly can’t be trusted to go off on their own with a sweaty handful of bills and a thirst for entertainment.

But even though I know it was the right one, my reaction on that day and in other situations, both before and after their Treat Yo Self 2016 binge, have me pondering some of the big motherhood questions. Am I standing back enough? Am I promoting independence and a sense of wonder? Am I flapping their hesitant wings with heavy hands, or am I teaching them to fly?

Seeking answers from within your social circle won’t help. Getting together with girlfriends is really just an exercise in self deprecation and unconditional acceptance. We shower our fellow soldiers in the comfort that they are doing the absolute best they can, and then solidify the support by immediately countering with a one-upper of a personal parental failure.

“You guys, I haven’t cooked a meal from scratch in 6 days.”
“That’s OK, I caught Susie eating a used Q-Tip out of the trash Tuesday night.”
“Oh, man … well, at least she’s eating. Henry only eats AirHeads and olive loaf.”
“I say give it to him. At least you’re feeding him. I forgot to make breakfast twice last week. Just plain spaced it.”
“It’s all good! I got mad at the boys for insulting my banana bread with a smiley face made out of chocolate chips in it, so I picked up the whole loaf, took it to my room, locked the door and ate the entire thing while I watched Breaking Bad and pretended to cry.”
“Awwww, you put a smiley face in it? You are such a good mom. I aspire to be the mom who makes food into faces. I was out of stationery this morning, so I wrote Desiree’s teacher a note about her eye drops on the back of a past due notice from the cable company.”
“But you’re communicating. Unlike my husband!”
And so on …
We can stop there.

If we’re really honest, none of us know what the hell we’re doing. And even if we did, sometimes it doesn’t matter anyway because the little shits have these minds of their own. The nerve. We spend all of our time with our kids pushing them and pulling them, and then second-guessing ourselves so we push them again. And then we leave them and spend the whole time dissecting what we did while we were with them. The bottom line is we just care too damn much.

Last weekend, Hank’s mom brought over some old photo albums. I flipped through as she squinted down at the snapshots and recounted old neighborhood buddies, the days they had no money, and injuries. Sooo many injuries. Stitches and staples and gashes galore. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess because they were boys and because I never went anywhere, and because I left home and got married right away, I was just always like, ‘Go! Try it!’ and they got hurt sometimes. But it all worked out.”

After she left, I thought about how strictly I police the girls sometimes. (Not always. Because sometimes I watch Mad Men and “fold laundry”.) I can hover like a rescue copter with the best of them, just waiting for the signal to drop my ladder. And I love to call out up-to-the-second instructions: “Don’t do that!” “Get down from there!” “You’re going to fall!” “Wait for a grownup!” “Look both ways!” Necessary? Often, yes. Beneficial? Probably not always, no. A little psycho? Perhaps.

But nobody tells you when you’re supposed to cut strings and nudge them out of nests and let go of their hands. I mean, I feel like, unless somebody instructs me or they demand it, my timeline for those initiatives is … never.

I do want to put them out there. I want them to feel like they can own their feelings because they were born from their own decisions. I want them to be bold when something stirs in them. I want them to explore. I want them to take risks. (The push.) But I want them to be safe. I want them to be aware of the possible outcomes. I want to protect their little bodies with traffic guard arms and their hearts with the wisest words. (The pull.)

My conflicting feelings on this matter have never been as palpable as they were this past Saturday morning as JoJo and Spike took to the basketball court. See, Hank thought, in the interest of saving some of our Saturdays, it would be best if we just put both of the girls on the team for first and second graders, even though Spike is in preschool (she is old for her class). The second the game started, my rescue chopper instinct kicked in. My curly haired babe was flailing. She was smaller, weaker and slower. The argument could definitely be made that this was not our finest parenting decision.

But the buzzer rang out at the end of their little game and she was still standing. Crying, because she got hit in the cheek, but still standing. Through with basketball because the kids were running over her too much, but still standing. Disenchanted because it wasn’t like playing P-I-G on the tiny hoop in the basement, but still standing. She was still standing, and she was fine. So why shouldn’t I be? Everyone needs that one story, “Well, my parents didn’t even believe in age groups! They just threw me in with the 10 year olds and left for an hour!” This, I suppose, will be hers.

Had I not walked into that camping store that morning, JoJo would have learned a tough lesson about finances. It just wouldn’t have been from me. But she would have gotten the lesson anyway. (Still, the thought of that is horrifying. “Where are their parents?” asked everyone anywhere watching that situation play out.) They’re going to fall off the bed whether I tell them to stop jumping or not. They’re going to run into each other, and get knocked down and slip off monkey bars. I guess it’s just the deciphering between “that’s where you come in” and “that’s part of life” where it gets muddy for me.

Maybe the balance rests in the letting go. Or maybe, like in Mean Girls, the balance does not exist. Maybe we never really let go because that means our job isn’t as important as we think it is. And I know parenting is important as hell. So, maybe instead, I’ll just concede a few things …

Spelling quizzes and checking their homework folder will be mine.
Tests and final school projects will be theirs.

Pep talks, protection and well-meaning warnings will be mine.
Perseverance and victories will be theirs.

Boo boo kissing, cuddles and words of advice will be mine.
The lessons will be theirs.

(Negotiations are ongoing.)

Kids

The woman who cares for my children

December 30, 2016

We sat outside on a sticky August evening – four tired mothers, spent from trying to keep all the plates spinning on our fingertips and tiptoes and the one woman who made it even close to possible, Kay. We raised salt-rimmed margaritas in celebration of our dear friend’s 59th birthday and looked lovingly upon her.

To know Kay is to know belief. She is proof that God walks among us; That He does some of His best work through others’ hands. She infuses everyone she meets with honesty and love and conviction. She has a peace that only comes with unwavering faith and firm truth and the understanding that you have found your calling. And the best part about all this? For five beautiful years, my girls have rubbed up against these rare qualities in Kay’s home, which is really their second home.

“You really need to do something nice and celebrate.” I said
“Well yeah, you know me.” Kay responded sarcastically.
“No, seriously … you do so much for everyone else.”
“Yeah, well, I have been thinking a lot about my kids and things I need to do and things I’d like to do and, well …” [pregnant pause] “… I do have a date.” [bigger pregnant pause] “I’ve decided to stop watching children around Christmas next year.”

Tears. So many tears.

And then congratulations.

And then more tears. This time with snot.

I knew this day was coming. I mean I practically promised to sell my kidneys to get JoJo in with Kay when we moved back from Indianapolis. I knew she was wonderful and I knew my children needed to be in her home and I was willing to stalk her, beg her and just start dropping my little girl and money off until she settled into the idea. But I didn’t have to do all that. After a good referral from a friend and a pleasant chat, Kay decided to take our then 2 year old. We, I was told, would be the last family she would care for before retiring.

When we had Spike she mentioned that when we were done having kids, she would soon be done as well. She told me the same after we had Sloppy Joan. She planted subtle reminders of her impending retirement along the way – pebbles for us to pick up and remember that her home, sweet as it was, would not be open to us forever.

But still on this suddenly unforgiving summer evening, with the bitter taste of the salt biting my tongue, I felt shocked. My heartbeats were thunderous in my eardrums and my eyes were drowning in hot tears. What would we do without Kay? What would any of us do?

I don’t call Kay a babysitter, a fact that has been pointed out to me by several different people on several different occasions. I’ll say, “Kay, who watches the girls,” or “Our friend, Kay” or “You know, Kay, the baby whisperer,” but never “babysitter”. It just feels so inadequate. A babysitter is a 15 year old who sneaks her boyfriend in the back door and gets gum stuck in her braces. Kay is a miracle worker. Kay speaks child. Kay is the captain and the wind and the vessel itself.

There have been so many times she’s told me something about one of the girls that should have been so obvious, but it took having her gently point it out for me to see it. She’s taught them all how to go up and down stairs. How to pray before meals. How to bump a volleyball and swing a bat. How to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and scoop up crayfish in the creek. She treats each one equally but sees the intricate nooks and folds of their little personalities perfectly.

In 27 years the woman has never taken a sick day. I’m not kidding. She doesn’t take vacations, she doesn’t get the stomach flu, she doesn’t get strep. She’s a machine. And it’s not like she just got good at connecting with kids in her veteran years, either. I rode up to Kay’s daughter’s lakehouse (because they actually want to spend time with all of us outside of the weekdays, proving she is, in fact, a saint) with two freshman in high school who grew up at Kay’s. Their stories were the best. Kay sent a snake home with them and it had 200 babies. Kay let them build a tepee in the ravine next to her house. Kay got them to do things their parents would only dream of. She was a main character in the beginning chapters of their lives, and they would never ever forget her.

And let’s talk about the food at Kay’s.

Kay shops at the exact same grocery store where we shop. Exact same. But for whatever reason (magic pixie dust one can assume) everything is tastier at her table. One of the teenagers I was with confirmed the hypothesis I’d had for years.

“So, you’re saying if I buy a gallon of Hawaiian Punch, and Kay buys the exact same gallon of juice, it will taste better at Kay’s house?”
“Yes.”
“But …”
“I know! I can’t explain it! It’s just better. The fruit snacks are chewier, too.”

Her cheese sandwich is one slice of white bread with a Kraft single on top microwaved for 22 seconds and folded over. The kids go nuts for it. I make it, and nothin’. No love. But the gleaming cherry on top of the sundae that is Kay’s, is the crumbs. Imagine if you will, the broken shards of fried potato that reside in the bottom of a grease-soaked bag of plain potato chips. You’d toss them away, right? Consider that a crime at Kay’s. At Kay’s, everyone has an assigned crumb day. When the bag gets down to potato pieces, she spoons one tablespoon of chip dip (a special Kay kind of chip dip that I have purchased but did not taste like Kay’s special chip dip) into the bottom half of the potato chip bag, which she has cut in half for convenience. She then uses her hands to push and massage and squeeze the dip/chip components together to form the ideal consistency. She hands the crumb day child the dip spoon and gives them the green light to shovel their prize into their watering mouth as the other children at the table look on in complete and utter jealousy. That, my friends, is the crumbs. And it is the holy grail of Kay’s.

Seasons passed. That summer gave way to this past summer and before we knew it, it was fall.

Every year over Fall Break Kay has a wienie roast and bonfire for the kiddos. They push leaves into giant piles and roll down her perfectly sloped hill and laugh and play and torch marshmallows. When I came to pick up the chicks on this special day, Kay called me over to show me pictures on her phone. The kids had found an owl sitting in a tree down in the ravine. How fitting, I thought. An owl, a universal symbol of learning, would preside over this, their final autumn gathering. The lessons learned in this yard, in this home, around that kitchen table, from this woman, are lifelong. She has been their greatest teacher in the years when the rules really matter and the instructions aren’t always clear for tired mothers and well-meaning fathers.

When you make the decision (or the decision makes itself) to be a working mom, you accept the sacrifices but they still keep you up at night. Agony is wrestling with all of the things you’re missing and the precious time you’re losing. Your greatest wish is that you can find a place to take your child where they will be safe and loved and understood. I know people who search and search and search for that kind of environment. We were lucky enough to have it for this short time and our girls will be better people because of it. Kay’s house is an extension of our home. It is warm and welcoming and her entire family has carried our children in their hearts.

Another season passed. And now, here we are at “Christmas time next year”.

It’s time for me to be an adult. (Let me go on record as saying I despise such occasions.) I’m so thrilled for this beautiful woman who’s dedicated so much of herself to other families. She deserves – more than anyone I know – a day off, a vacation, an impulsive decision. She deserves to sit with her grandbabies for hours and share her gifts with other people and to let others stand in her light. I tell the girls why it’s so important we support Kay and celebrate this time for her. Then I turn away from them and cry like the giant woman-baby I am.

I cry every time I think about Sloppy Joan missing those summers down in the ravine, when I pull up to find them sitting on the driveway barefoot with vanilla ice cream running down their sun-kissed arms to their elbows. Or the girls begging to go to “Kay-Kay’s” in footie pajamas with their blankies under their arms. Or Kay giving them kisses on their cheeks and telling them she loves them after they had a tough day. Or all of the 8 million things that only the families who went to Kay’s can appreciate, that won’t be part of our routine anymore. Our days will be a little less full without her.

A few weeks ago she had all of our families over for a Christmas dinner. Kay gathered the children around her dining room table, where they’d sat for so many meals, and she invited them to pray, just as she had so many times. As they folded their precious hands and followed her in making the sign of the cross, I felt those steamy tears I’d felt a year and a half ago rolling down my cheeks. No one could love our little tribe of misfits the way she had. What will we do without Kay? What will any of us do without Kay?

The night Kay told us she would be moving on, I went home and wrote this:

The woman who cares for my children is not a babysitter.
The woman who cares for my children is a maker of memories.
The woman who cares for my children is a friend to me and a light to all.
The woman who cares for my children is the wisdom through trivial tears.
The woman who cares for my children is a compass at the crossroads.
The woman who cares for my children carries them in her heart just as their mother does.
She is a light and a guiding force and a selfless soul whose role in this village will never be forgotten.

I feel it more today, on your last day with our babies, than I did on that August night.

We thank you Kay.
We love you Kay.

Kids

Motherhood: Praise-seekers need not apply

December 21, 2016

During my awkward but beautiful NKOTB elementary school years, my family spent a lot of time camping. Biannually, usually spring break and once in the summer, we would take a big trip to Myrtle Beach or some other southern spot with great historic locations my father could hike up his tube socks and take us all to. There were five of us in that travel trailer. Sometimes, it was cozy and could hardly contain our Griswald family contentment. And other times …

People hit each other.

The details have faded as the 20+ summers since this one particular event have passed, but I still recall the bullet points. There were these sunshine yellow melamine dishes tucked away in the cabinets of the trailer. For whatever reason, I loved them. We’d unhitch and level off and my mom would go about her routine; putting groceries away and optimistically teasing the amenities. “Those swings look like they go pretty high guys, I don’t know …”. She would hum the latest Top 40 hit from Genesis. Dad would cuss through the setup outside and go find wood. (He was always finding wood.) But of everything in this waltz we watched a thousand times, there was something about those canary dishes that signaled we were really staying. We were on vacation.

One warm afternoon, after the melamine coffee cups had been washed and the Sunbeam bread used to feed the local ducks was tucked away, my brother came in and took a giant proverbial crap right in the middle of everything.

Back then, Matt hated being with us. He barely spoke and when he did it was to complain about what we were eating or where we were or who was there. It was super obnoxious. My parents were just trying to be memory makers, right? They carted us around to check off the snapshots every family had in their photo album in the 1980s … kids on a beach … kids in front of a roller coaster … kids on a hike. It was never enough for him just to stand in formation, put a smile on his face and pretend to relish the thrilling rides at Dollywood. Oh, no. Not Matt. He had to make his disgust and general dislike for the people who grew him known.

Anyway, on this one warm afternoon, after Matt nudged her and nudged her and nudged her, my mom, the sweet lady who weeped at Casey Kasem’s long distance dedications and introduced me to the Shoney’s breakfast buffet, God bless her … well, she completely lost her shit on my brother. Right there in the camper. Her arms were swinging and sounds were coming out at triple speed and didn’t quite form all the way and my brother’s eyes were wide and wild as he succumb to her fury. He had walked across the limb so many times, and on that day, in the camper of family dreams, the limb snapped.

I watched it. The whole thing. So did my sister. So did my dad. I don’t think any of us took a breath for the entire 56 seconds my mother spent physically and verbally retaliating against her almost-teenage punk of a son before storming out of the trailer in tears. Huh, I thought. I guess Mom went crazy.

Then I grew up, had kids of my own and realized we’re all just one forced fart, recorder recital or “She hit me!” away from crazy.

Being a mother is a thankless, soul-sucking, humbling, disgusting, exhausting occupation. I used to imagine my mom pulled everything out of her ass. I needed something for a school project, she got it. I was sick and wanted saltines with peanut butter, she made them. I wanted to try gymnastics, she signed me up. She drove me. She watched me. It all just got done. I never thought about why she needed to take a hot bath and pound peanut M&Ms by 9 o’clock every night. I just never considered it.

And neither do my kids.

I babysat for my niece one summer break during college. She had this little car she could ride on. It had mermaids and fish all over it and sang this stupid song … “I’m a happy mermaid, down in the sea – something, something, something – and dance with me.” She used to scoot around on that thing pressing the button on the steering wheel every 2 seconds. So to my tired ears, it was just, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …” for minutes on end. The funny thing was, she loved the end of the song. Whenever she got distracted and made it to “… and dance with me,” she laughed with joy. And then she’d go back to pressing the button with the hope of hearing it in its entirety. Of course her rapid trigger finger meant, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a ….” The insanity! But now, I am that mermaid car. I am the button on the other end of a child’s fingertip – constantly trying to get it all out, to get to the end, to the point.

The number of times I repeat myself in a day can clock in at no less than 900.

“Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please.”
“Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast!”
“Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please.”
“Tie your shoes, please … Tie your shoes … Tie your shoes, please.”
“Come on, please … Come on … Come on.”
“Eat your dinner, please … Eat your dinner, please.”
“”Stop jumping off the couch, please …”
“Clean your room, please …”
“Brush your teeth, please …”
“Go to timeout, please …”
“Get in bed, please …”
“Stop talking and go to bed, please ….”
“Go to bed!”

No one hears me. At some point between when they exited the womb and they started using more than 3 words together at a time, my voice was tragically muted. I know, and you dear reader likely know, that if I don’t move the circus along, no one gets where they need to go. No one gets to the bus stop on time and I get yelled at for chasing it down a few stops away. No one feeds the dog and she dies. No one gets their library books and the teacher sends a scathing note home. I’m just trying to help! “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …”

And yet, the gratitude tank runs dry most days. Living in a home with young children means you better be prepared for prison rules, man. Because only your child would take a giant deuce in the middle of the dinner you spent 3 hours making. And then tell you they hate what you made anyway. Only your child would rub her hard moss-colored boogers against the only white shirt you own. Only your child would headbutt you when you’re trying to kiss them, or kick your nose during a friendly tickle or pee on your bath rug or vomit in your hair on your 30th birthday (that really happened). Kids are cruel. They don’t know and they don’t care, and when they do know, they still don’t care.

You have to go into it knowing you won’t collect on those gratitude IOUs they’re leaving all over the tubs they’re pooping in and rooms they’re trashing for at least another 18 years. And that might be ambitious. And you aren’t really allowed to care. You’re expected to be durable and flexible and resilient. You’re expected to be both Betty Draper (in the early seasons) and Sheryl Sandberg, depending on the scenario, and settle for a fart vapor’s worth of appreciation for both social archetypes.

I’ve spent hours planning my menu on Pinterest only to have Sloppy Joan turn her plate over and throw it across the table more times than I care to share. I’ve had chicks climb into my Epsom salts detox bath because they were cold and it looked fun. I’ve walked in to find every item of clothing from the bottom bar of the closet ripped off the hangers and thrown around the room just minutes after I finished putting them away. I’ve had more little people watch me poop than a pony at a county fair.

But we love them.

Sometimes it looks like rocking ourselves in a corner with drool streaming out of ours turned down mouths, but we love them.

It’s an abusive love. Like the way people with ulcers love flaming hot Cheetos. We love their toots and boogers and ridiculous requests and come back for more day after day after day. We plot our escapes and then crave their sticky, sweaty, vaguely pissy scent the second we drop them off.

Being a mother is thankless 23 hours out of every day. But man … they really reel ya in during those 60 minutes when it really counts, huh?

It’s rarely with words. Though sometimes it is sweet, silly, wonderful words I reach into the air, grab and write down somewhere to relive later. But more often it’s a little warm body climbing into my lap while I’m distracted with another conversation. Or a drawing that comes back in a folder from school with stick figures holding hands, the taller one labeled “Mama”. Or a cheerleader. Or an impersonation. Or a cry in the middle of the night. It makes me feel needed and seen and responsible. Yes, it’s a thankless job. It isn’t for the weak or the praise-hungry. The pay is shit. But if you play your cards right and keep your eyes and ears open, the benefits can be pretty sweet.

Kids

Little JoJo and the case of the first grade burdens

November 21, 2016

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We’re working through something in our house right now … or, rather, something is working its way through us in our house. I’m not sure which way it’s going to be honest.

When you have kids, girls in particular, you anticipate some emotional ebbs and flows. I mean, think back to those tumultuous times. You get out first in ciphering. The teacher busts you passing a note about needing to poop. You get Danny from New Kids on the Block as your future husband in MASH. You want to play ninjas and your friends are all about house. Your pants split up the butt. Someone points out you’re digging out your wedgie. Those early (and late) school years are a social minefield and you’re just trying not to get blown up every day. True to the timeline, it seems our oldest chick has hit a valley and to be completely transparent, we’re not quite sure how to pull her out.

A few weeks back, on my birthday, JoJo invited me to her school. “I want to buy you lunch, mama!” she offered through that delicious, jack-o-lantern grin. How could I turn down chicken fries and refried beans charged to a card my 7 year old routinely exhausts with bags of Doritos and impulse cookies? I moved a meeting and accepted her invitation.

Now, I try really hard to be the cool mom. Because, you know, I’m guessing it beats the alternative. So, at 11 o’clock sharp on a Tuesday morning, I wedged my old woman butt onto the sticky, minuscule little stool next to my daughter and started working the lunch table.

“Hey Madison! What’s new girl?”
“You’re JoJo’s mom, right?”
“Ahhhh … yeah! Remember, I was at the Valentine’s Day party? With the fruit kabobs and M&Ms.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“Yeah, so, what’s the word? What’s happening in the first grade these days?”
“Well, we’re learning about the water cycle.”
“Whaaaaaa?!?!?!”
“Yeah, you know, condensation, evaporation, runoff …”
“Whoa. That is so cool.”
“I guess.”
“And Mary … is that you? How are you ya little cutie?”
“Hi.”
“Mary, did you get a lot of Halloween candy? JoJo said she saw you trick-or-treating.”
“I did! Like, a lot.”
“Oh man. What’s your favorite kind?”
“Kit Kat. Duh.”
“Yum, I love Kit Kats. So, do you live in our neighborhood then?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, fun! We’ll have to have you over to play sometime.”
“Yeah, but I can’t Friday. Missy’s having her sleepover Friday.”
“Missy is?”
“Yeah … all the girls are going I think.”

But all the girls were not going. Because my little girl was not going. I knew this because she runs all of her social engagements through me first and there had been no Elsa invitation sealed with a sticker. No call from a mother. No, “Can I, Mom, can I? Please, please, please.” None of that.

In these situations, there are always two navigation options. The high road, which looks something like:

“Oh gosh, Mary, that sounds so awesome. We hope you girls have a great time at Missy’s and we’ll find a day to have you all over soon.”

Or the gutter, which is more of a:

“Oh. Really? Well, Missy’s house smells like cat urine and she’s only allowed to have sugar between the hours of 1 and 3pm. So have fun with your lame little sleepover. I hope someone sticks her hand in a bowl of lukewarm water and she gets a terrible new nickname, like ‘Pissy’ or something even more terrible. We’ll be watching Kidz Bop Live on repeat and hittin’ Reddi-Wip straight outta the can at our crib, sucka, so, smell ya on the other side.”

But that is just so, so ugly. And I’m really trying to counterbalance some of the ugly in the world right now.

Not to mention I think the sleepover was really a minor symptom of a much bigger problem. Hank and I had started noticing some changes in our JoJo well before my birthday lunch. A shorter temper, angrier reactions, more emotional than usual (if one can fathom that), not wanting to go to school. Do I think that Pissy and her party were the sole catalysts for these changes? Nah. But I think there’s a piece to the puzzle there.

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Looking at my oldest daughter is like picking up large fragments of a shattered mirror. Not all, but so many of her mannerisms are identical to my own. Perfectionism? Ah, there I am. Trying too hard to please everyone? I see you, Courtney. She carries these pieces of me deep inside her, so I recognize them right away. She worries … my God does she worry. She holds herself to an unattainable standard and it levels her when she doesn’t reach it. If she isn’t winning it all, she’s losing completely. She is her toughest critic. If people don’t adopt her approach, she disengages. Over the years I’ve learned to curb some of my self-sabotaging habits, but my little girl is so far from recognizing her struggles as struggles. She just straps them on her tiny back and sinks.

Birth order is a funny thing. People always say, “Typical first child,” and for the longest time, I thought that was crap. (Spoken like a true youngest child.) But now I’m not sure. When you’re first in line, followed by a class clown who always gets the laugh, and an adorable little parrot, it has to bring a lot of pressure.

I agonize over helping JoJo find her place. She is a wonderful student, and learning, to this point, has come fairly easily for her. But that brings its own set of challenges. She looks at things differently. She over thinks and inflicts a lot of self punishment. She spends an exhausting amount of time and energy dwelling on defeat, large and small. I wonder if she’s hopping around in my footprints. If I’m unintentionally showing her how to slide right into that all-or-nothing straight jacket and tighten the straps.

Hi, my name is Courtney, and I need help being a parent.

As I age and grow as a wife, mother and temporary inhabitant of this world, I’m finding that when you are open to learn, you discover great teachers everywhere. I had plans to attend a mindfulness workshop with my brother a few nights ago and one of the participants, who’d attended the class before, mentioned that she keeps a soft stuffed animal with her in her car. Whenever she starts to get “too in her thinking mind” (translation: close to losing her shit) she reaches over and touches the soft dog. This brings her to her senses, literally – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – and away from that trail of toxic thought. It’s a mini mediation. It brings calm.

Inspired, I went home that night and grabbed a small emoji pillow JoJo had won in a claw game. (Sidenote: Can they just eliminate all of the gosh dang claw games in all of the gosh dang restaurants and waiting areas already? Can that be a universal agreement? No, I don’t have any quarters. There are no. more. quarters.) I sat my girl down and explained to her that I wanted her to carry the pillow with her. When she felt herself inching toward yelling or pouting or losing her temper, she should rub her thumbs back and forth on the winky face and think about what it feels like. Is it soft? Is it cold? And what it looks like. Is it yellow? Are the threads coming undone? The idea is to diffuse her neurological nuclear attacks. To bring her calm through sensory awareness.

[Experiment update to come at a future date.]

It’s so simple to disassemble and assess myself. What’s working. What isn’t. What takes me off track. What stirs things up for me. But with my kids, it’s like a constant A/B test. In Marketing, it’s common practice to pit two similar strategies in design, messaging, etc. against each other and compare the results. The approach that performs better is the lever you pull going forward. There’s so much of that in parenting, except it isn’t just Choice A and Choice B. There can be hundreds of choices to test. Hundreds of strategies to try.

Is she sad because she didn’t ace her test? I need to help her fix the one she got wrong so she feels it’s complete. Or maybe I should try explaining it a different way. Whatever, she has to get over this perfection thing.

Did the girls in class leave her out? I need to have someone over for a playdate. I need to talk to the teacher. No, I need to tell her about how little girls were mean to me when I was little. I should get her a diary.

Are the other two getting too much attention? I need to take her on a mommy date. Or maybe help her find a hobby she likes. I should have let her bake those dang brownies from scratch. I need to celebrate her more.

It’s taxing trying to be the fixer.

And so maybe we shouldn’t. In “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,” Brené Brown talks about how hope is actually a byproduct of adversity. If we swoop in and try to work through things for our children, or find ways to numb the discomfort for them so they never have to feel it, we are taking away some degree of pain, yes, but we’re also robbing them of those earned feelings of hopefulness and optimism.

Not to mention sometimes I think that all that mopping up messes and bandaging bad experiences gets to me. Like I sponge up all of the ugly and sad, only to have it eventually erupt out of me and all over them after a particularly long day.

Then, the other morning, the biggest Brené gift yet was placed in my lap with a generous red bow. So I opened it. Christmas come early! After surviving a stupid morning triggered by a 2-hour fog delay, I raced to put JoJo on the bus. As I finally watched her hesitantly shuffle across the street to the big yellow bird, which would carry her to the battlefield to face problems I’ll never see and can only hypothesize about resolving, I hit play on my audiobook and listened as the narrator read Brené’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.The smooth voice filled my car …

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And the game changed.

I don’t care what stage of parenting you’re in. What problems your children have, or you have, or this world has, those words are a beautiful, soul-shaking truth bomb. I will print them out and hang them in my closet, in my office and on my fridge. They are the ticket. They are the door, the bridge, the gospel. I want to have them tattooed onto my crowded, burdened brain.

I can not wipe my daughter’s struggles clean. Whatever she’s working through now, it won’t be the last time she has to sort through things to find her balance and her bearings. My fear and worries and apprehension and anger won’t absolve her of adversity. But I can hold onto the hope that letting her work through whatever she’s facing now, knowing I’m standing right at her shoulder, will carry her one step closer to being a capable little warrior of this world.

I will pull up a chair at her table. I will curl up next to her in her bed after the battle. I will let her snot and sob on my sweater. I will hand her a small emoji pillow or a tissue or a baseball bat (whoa, just kidding there). I will do my best to be strong, confident and vulnerable in all the best ways, so maybe she feels empowered to do the same. I will show up for her when the Pissys of the world don’t. And I will work toward being wholehearted and kind to myself so her sweet, impressionable little ticker starts to fill up, too.

(Unless anybody has any better ideas. In which case, private message me immediately.)

Kids

Losing Lisa Frank (and other elephant problems)

August 18, 2016

Snap my suspenders and label me a yodeler, cuz I just have to climb up into the Desperately Seeking Superwoman Swiss Alps and echo the statement I’ve said from this platform a thousand different ways, using a thousand different words … time is freaking flying, man! I disappeared from DSS for a hot second to collect the final sunny seconds of the girls’ summer vacation and get our shit together so this household could slide back into the dreaded grind, but I don’t really know how we got here. It was like we went to get frozen yogurt on the last day of class and, before it even had a chance to melt, we’re back to CrockPot dinners and homework folders.

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When I said, “get our shit together,” I was mainly referring to one thorn that is still lodged in my bitter, soft side. Can we just talk for a second about the transformation of the school supply list? What the Boy George happened there? I can remember, as a greedy grade school gal, sorting through stacks of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and folders with puppies in various states of play and trippy holograms and Disney characters, agonizing over the decision, for what felt like an eternity. I needed Troll pencil toppers to tickle my chin during boring Spanish lessons and gel pens and, of course, a killer crayon box. I despised the required items … Paste? Why? So Betty has an afternoon snack? No. 2 yellow pencils, my ass. Maybe for amateurs and basic Bs. I’m gonna mix this up right here with some mechanical action that’s gonna blow their minds.

So, let me fill you in on a little something; it’s not like that anymore. The school supply list has been twisted and bastardized into the most exhausting, infuriating scavenger hunt known to man. I waited too long, I did, I’ll admit it. Like a fool I downloaded the list and shuffled into the local supercenter the Sunday before classes resumed. JoJo came along for what she optimistically categorized as, “special Mom and JoJo time.” She trailed behind me as I snaked, dumbfounded and squinty eyed, up and down the same 3 aisles over and over again searching for stupidly specific items like, “vinyl 2 pocket folders in yellow, green and blue,” and “pack of 3 plain pink erasers with the word ‘eraser’ printed in Comic Sans.”

But the best part was the camaraderie. Hell hath no fury like a group of parents driven by the mob mentality of collective failure. You know when you talk to your child about something, but you’re really just sending out a Bat signal for an adult to commiserate with you? There was a lot of that. “Honey, I don’t know why you can’t just use the generic colored pencils. The list says they have to be Crayola.” “Stay with me, honey, we have to find this last folder. I know you’re tired. I’m really trying, babe …” And then, the connection … “I know, I couldn’t find that folder either. This list is insane,” a fellow frazzled grownup says. “I know, right?” I responded in an aggressive, clingy tone. Success. You’re both pissed. You’re not alone. You have delivered a synchronized verbal middle finger to the supply list and all it represents.

Confession: 20 minutes in, I called it and told JoJo we’d shop at mommy’s favorite store, Amazon. We got frozen yogurt and laughed through the window at all the suckers walking in with their lists. Now that’s special mommy and JoJo time, if ya ask me.

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In spite of my lackluster preparedness, the first day came and went without incident. One brutal update to the routine is the bus, which conveniently arrives 10 minutes earlier this year. Before I share this next part, it must be said that the driver she had last year was religiously tardy, OK? We’re talking up to 20 minutes late some days. It conditioned me to be lax with our roll out time. It all came to an unpleasant climax this morning when, pulling out of the driveway, I saw the taillights of the big golden bird disappearing down the neighboring street. JoJo, always a bit high strung, began sobbing at the thought of being left behind. It never occurred to either of us that I could have just braved the drop-off line and taken her to the actual school. Oh no, we were going to catch that bus.

I sped down our street, knowing the driver had at least 3 more stops. Holding a mug brimming with steamy coffee in one hand, I leaned over the steering wheel, anxious and recklessly accelerating while calmly assuring my oldest daughter that we would get her on board one way or another. After a second miss, we approached the bus at its final stop. The next 30 seconds were a flurry of action. “Run! Go! Go! Go!” I coached. Of course she couldn’t get the door open. I was still in drive. I hit the unlock button and, with tears in her eyes, JoJo took off down the sidewalk. Two SAHMs, standing at the corner having a leisurely chat with their chai tea and boat shoes saw my girl sprinting with every bit of energy her Cinnamon Toast Crunch would give her, and they gestured for the driver to wait. We had done it.

As the bus pulled away, I allowed my car to crawl toward them. I rolled down the window and raised my mug in genuine gratitude. “Thanks guys!” I said. “Of course!” they responded. “Hey, aren’t you Matt’s sister?” one of the moms said, squinting in my direction. Great … juuuuust great. I always prefer my early morning servings of humble pie with a side of anonymity. No such luck. [awkward laugh] “Oh, yeah, I’m his little sister who apparently needs to change the batteries in her watch!” [more awkward laughing] “OK, see ya!” I can be a real turd sometimes.

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An extra-special treat this year, our Spikey started preschool. I know her teacher. JoJo had her a few years back, so I know she’s sweet, but let’s all pray she has a good sense of humor. Spike picked out her prettiest floral dress for her first day. She couldn’t have looked more precious if her entire face was made exclusively of dimples and cuddling sloth babies. On JoJo’s first day, I remember she was tentative and sheepish. She stood at my side and looked up at me with questioning eyes. Not Spike. She barreled in there, found her cubby and all but kicked me out. I think her confidence worked like a dam for my mommy tears. They never actually came until I was away from her, in my car, pulling out of the parking lot.

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The subsequent days got a little more interesting. Hank was out of town, so I was sure to organize what I could the night before to ensure a smooth morning. I put out their clothes, packed snacks, boiled eggs for breakfast, and set out shoes and bookbags. I had it dialed in. On our second day of the chaos, just as me and my car full of chicks started to pull out of the garage, my little preschooler innocently asked, “Mama, do I have to wear underwear to school?” “Yes,” I answered. “Do you not have underwear on, honey?” “No, I’ll go get some.” I backed down far enough to watch JoJo run to her bus stop and waited, patiently, as my streaker sauntered back into the garage, skimpies in hand and proceeded to pull her boy shorts on over her sandals while standing in the streaming bright yellow glare of my headlights. A jogger came upon the scene and I causally waved.

That night, Spike described to me the difference between a mouse problem and an elephant problem. “See, Mama, a mouse problem is when someone says they don’t like you … or your body smells … or they don’t want to sit with you at snack. You should just talk that out. If you tell about a mouse problem, that’s called tattling. An elephant problem is when you throw up or get cut or get hit. You should always tell someone if you have an elephant problem.” I can tell you that, to me, sending your child to their second day of preschool bare-butted in a dress is what I would categorize as an elephant problem, but to Spike, we’re talking about merely a mouse situation.

That night at dinner, she took it up a notch.

“Spikey, how was your day?”
“There was this girl and the other girls were so mean to her and I told her to sit with me.”
“That’s so nice, Spike!”
“Yeah and she can’t see very well, so I hug her and kiss her forehead.”
“Awwwww!”
“And today, she went to the hospital.”
“Whoa, what?”
“I’m lying. I don’t know why I said that. I just made that up.”

Have a great school year, everyone!

Kids

So you’re going to be parents

July 1, 2016

There’s a sound that every woman past the age of 20 instantly recognizes. It’s an obnoxiously boisterous shriek that starts at a grown woman’s toes, works its way right past her ovaries, and jogs by the ole’ ticker before erupting like a volcano out of her mouth. It’s a universal celebratory cry reserved for two specific occurrences: Engagements and babies. Even if the sound doesn’t volunteer itself from our vocal chords, almost every woman knows how to fake it, instinctively.

Last week, while hammering away on my keyboard at work, I heard the call and, as we all do, went running to add my shriek to the choir. A coworker was expecting. Her first, it turns out. “Ahhhhh, bless her little heart,” I thought to myself. “Bless her naive, innocent, untainted little heart.”

People want to know what parenting is like. But they really don’t want to know what parenting is like. It’s a similar story with childbirth. “Tell me everything!” [Insert stories with words like “tear” and “blood” and “plug”] “Why did you tell me all that? Gawd!”

It’s really not that bad. You see, parenting is basically like this …

You know when you walk into your house and the odor is off? Like, you know something went awry. Something terrible transpired in the minutes or hours you were away, but the only way to pinpoint the exact scent invading your nostrils is to go on a terrifying scavenger hunt to track it down. Well, when you’re a parent, you play that game, like all the time. You leave no shirt, underchin, diaper, palm, head of hair, or ear unturned. My children, for whatever reason, typically smell like a potpourri of maple syrup, black dirt and a hint of pee. Why? I don’t know. It’s all part of the game. I find that asking the right questions is key. “Did you fall in the mud or walk through it?” “Do you have to go potty or is too late?”

OK, so also, being a parent means living in the strap of a giant slingshot. The strap, you see, is made up of threads of your child’s emotional instability. The thrill is not knowing when you’re going to get shot into the air as a result of their tantrum or general displeasure or really for no freaking reason at all. It is guaranteed that at some point in your evening you will be hurled, full-throttle, into the throws of a meltdown-fueled tail spin. You develop a scale in which you can gauge the insanity from foot stomping to full-blown breathless sobs. Anything that falls at desperate mean-spirited accusations and below, I tend to just ignore. Now, the mistake a lot of rookies make is thinking there will be some sort of lead-up to this irrational hurricane. Like you’ll see it coming and be able to distract or deter. [smh] Just buckle up and prepare for the free fall back down. (That’s when you get to hug them.)

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Also, being a parent often involves conversational exchanges that remind me of the ones you have when you show up at a kegger and start chatting with someone who’s been there a while. I think I’m shaping a young mind with lines I picked up in a children’s psychology book and, you know, generally killin’ it, and they think I’m merely filling some time before we move on to what’s really important. Like how Captain Hook lost his hand.

Me: “Honey, when you say those things, it makes JoJo feel attacked. And do you think it feels good to be attacked? This world is so full of sad, mean things. Be the one in the crowd that makes people feel good and loved and heard.”
Spike: “Mama, did you know that last night I lived on the moon? In my dream. I lived on the moon and ate Cheetos.”

You also have to have very serious conversations where you focus really hard on not laughing about their problems. Painful poops come to mind.

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Remember right after the Blair Witch Project came out and everyone got super jumpy and lost their shit at the slightest twig snap as soon as the sun went down? There’s a little bit of that going on with parenting, too. Things that are perfectly acceptable in the daylight make for a crowded, sweaty bed in the moonlight. My kids have had night terrors to the tune of Cookie Monster eating them, the masked man from Big Hero 6, curtains, a local (poorly produced) car commercial with a Halloween theme, Ursula and a campfire song about the Chicago Fire, just to name a few. The challenge is to maintain your cool at 2 a.m. when you’re jolted awake by a frightened face illuminated by the blue glow of your alarm clock just 2 inches away from your eyeballs. Now that’s scary, man.

Another thing is the total mass destruction of your word association game. Let me ask you something. When you hear, “Push it” in any context, how does your mind complete the sentence? “Push it real good” is the correct answer. How about, “It’s Friday”? What you’re looking for here is, “You ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do.” But when you’re a parent, the concept is the same, but the words change a bit. Now, I’m all like, “Finish each other’s” “Sandwiches, that’s what I was gonna say!” and “Here’s the mail” “It never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail, when it comes I wanna wail, mail!!” Don’t even say the three dirtiest words in the parent dictionary. You know the ones. Three words, seven letters total, rhymes with “Get it, Bro.” Don’t say them or I’ll be forced to cut you.

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And being a parent means you’ll never be lonely again. Even if you want to be. You want a few minutes to reflect on the day, or a big decision, or why in the heck JoJo (not my JoJo) sent Wells home last Monday? Don’t go to the following places: The bathroom, the bathtub, the shower, your closet, your bedroom, your car in your garage, your pantry or your linen closet. They will find you there. They will find you and they will sing Lost Boys for the 500th time and you will be forced to sing along in your head because gosh dang it, it’s catchy.

I’d also liken the messy part of being a parent to cleaning up spilled raw egg (which, for the record, is how I imagine Big Bird’s snot might be). You wipe and wipe and there’s always more shit. Literally and figuratively. Since becoming a mother, I’ve had boogers, pee, poop, vomit and blood, none my own, on my hands. The weirdest part is, at some point your gag reflex becomes immune to the disgusting insanity of it all and it crosses over from, “I have shit on my finger!” to, “Can you take the baby, please? I got shit on my finger.” And then there’s all the other crap. The shoes with no match, the long-neglected components of Happy Meal treasures past, the markers with no lids, the books with torn pages, the Barbie shoes, the beads, the princess jewelry. And don’t try to contain it. I thought it would all live happily ever after in the basement. But it doesn’t. Somehow, piece by piece, all the crap migrates into your garden tub and onto kitchen counters and the floor of your car. It invades. It multiplies. It sucks.

So, what my friend here’s trying to say is love is blind … I mean, parenting is pretty much the coolest. If I’ve helped to prepare anyone in any way, then my work here is done. For more parenting gems, you can check out this and this.