The Pacifier Remains

I wrote this for my newspaper parenting column back in May of 2014, when E was a newly minted three and still had a pacifier. Two months later, we lured her away from the pacifier by having her exchange it for a tea set and a lot of fancy fans.  But the ending still seems relevant, because that’s the thing with parenting. You conquer one mountain only to face the next. Right now the mountain we are climbing is how not to call people “Mean cricket faces” and steal all the toilet paper.


I often lie to myself often as a parent. Tomorrow, I will start teaching my daughter her letters. Tomorrow, I will take away the pacifier. Tomorrow, I won’t get frustrated during the tenth round of Princess Memory and walk away from the game while she is acting out scenes from movies with the cards. Tomorrow, I will finally stop getting up with the baby when he cries at three in the morning. Tomorrow, I will stop using crackers to make him sit in his car seat without screaming and arching his back. Tomorrow.

The lies are little ones; harmless really. Or, so I tell myself.  I tell myself these lies because they help me cope with the daily reality that I am not, nor will I ever, be the parent I thought I would be. I thought I would be fun, yet respected. Firm, but always imaginative. My children would have their early years spent in nature, wandering in naturalist Utopia, where they would learn as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, from “no book but the world.” They most certainly, would not spend most mornings slurping their daily allotment of milk from a bowl dotted with fruit loops. They most certainly would not they learn their colors from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” or their alphabet from a computer game. Rousseau would not approve of that.

I lie because it helps me save face to my biggest critic: myself. No one feels the shame of my lost moments of grace, my shouted commands, or my impatient urging more than me. So, I promise myself I’ll do better. I’ll make that craft I saw on the internet. We’ll all learn fractions from baking cupcakes. And really, I really will take away that pacifier. But the next day, I wake up after a long night because the baby learned to stand in his crib and the toddler insists that wolves do live in Cedar Rapids, right next to Wal-Mart, she just “knowed it.” Then, I don’t shower because I’d rather sleep. I don’t put on make-up because I’d rather drink another cup of coffee. I sit and watch my daughter slurp her milk from a fruit-loop dotted bowl, because she insists that’s how unicorns eat. The pacifier remains.

In the past three years of parenting, all I’ve managed to learn is how to unlearn—how to disentangle myself from my own unreachable expectations. My children don’t need me to be perfect. They need me to be present. They don’t need lofty ideals, they need a band-aid, a butt wipe, another reading of Fancy Nancy and five hundred kisses before bed. That, I don’t need to wait until tomorrow for, that I can do today.

So, tomorrow, instead of lying to myself, I will extend the same grace I give to my children and accept me not as the parent I imagine, but as the parent I am. Tomorrow, I will also eat like a unicorn. Tomorrow, I will fight the wolves instead of my daughter. Tomorrow, I will stop insisting that I can be perfect. Tomorrow, I will forgive myself the hundred little errors, the missteps and mistakes. Tomorrow.

My Kids Hate Mother Nature

This originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette as a part of my Pants-free Parenting column. As you can see, I really hit the big issues over there.

My Kids Ruin Nature

I love the world. I do. I love trees, grass, and the watery light of early morning. But having two kids feels like I’m personally covering the gulf coast in oil.

When my daughter was born, I was determined to keep cleaning with my homemade vinegar and tea tree oil concoctions. I also bought a lot of cloth diapers and a sense of superiority. This, like all my parenting plans, worked for a while. I cloth diapered until my daughter was potty trained, but the cleaning solutions weren’t cutting it.

As a baby my daughter had the charming habit of puking on our stairs. She would wait until I was carrying her up to her room and let out a little vomit right over my shoulder. As a result, by the time she was two, the stairs were covered in milky white stains. I tried scrubbing them with all manner of environmentally friendly cleaners, but to no avail. Finally, I broke down, bought some Mr. Clean and scrubbed the hell out of them. It worked. I got delirious with cleaning power and scrubbed down every surface of my home with all of the chemicals.

My son was the one who broke me of my adherence to cloth diapers. The kid poops three times a day and has a tendency to eat soap, which ups his fecal output.  At night, he was peeing through cloth diapers stacked three deep. I finally caved when one night, I saw diapers on clearance at Target. Maybe we just need a trial separation, I justified. That was when he was nine months old. He is 18 months now and Amazon delivers Pampers to our house once a month and it is glorious.

Of course, there are plenty of parents who haven’t caved so easily. I know a woman who has five kids and cloth diapered them all. She grows her own vegetables and cleans her home with lemons and scrubbing cloth of her own supremacy. My failure to help the environment, is all my fault. For centuries, parents have been able to raise kids without paper towels or spray bottles of bleach. But when faced with Mega Bloks covered with dried turds, those are the first two things I reach for. I want to believe that a simple solution of vinegar and tea tree oil will sanitize the floor that my daughter puked all over, but I have to walk on that floor with my bare feet.

Ultimately, my baby is the number one reason the environment will eventually be destroyed. He has a spiritual gift for making a mess out of everything. I once gave him apple slices and string cheese for a snack and went to make coffee. When I came back, he was spitting the string cheese out onto a pile of regurgitated apples and smearing them into the cracks of our dining room table. I couldn’t even be mad. He had taken the two of the least messy foods and turned them into revolting mortar that I had to scrape out from our dining room table, with a knife and copious amounts of cleaning chemicals.

I sent a picture of the mess to my husband with the words: “Look, he’s disgusting at a sixth grade level!”

I still try. With the exception of bodily fluids, I stick to cleaning solutions that claim to be all natural and green. I use a wash cloth more often than I don’t. But cleaning with two kids around is like fighting a foul hydra. The moment I get one thing clean, the baby wipes his snot on something else. Most messes, I don’t even know how they were made. The spot on the wall is brown and crusty, but it doesn’t smell like poop. I don’t usually do a detailed analysis, it is always best to bleach now and ask questions later. Yet, every mess makes me realize that instead of having kids, I should have just tied plastic bags to all the trees in Bever Park. It would have less of an environmental impact.

Garbage Waffles

sword and face

Anything that is wrong in my house can be explained in five words: Mom went to the bathroom.

Baby has a diaper cream mustache? Mom tried to go to the bathroom.

Three-year-old runs over baby with a bike? Mom tried to go to the bathroom.

And it’s not like I take my time. I am the second child of eight kids. Most of the homes I lived in had less than three bathrooms. I am the fastest peeer in the Midwest. I also, understand the stakes. I know what is at risk when I rush upstairs for a pee. Sometimes, especially during the dicey evening hour, right when I am making dinner and before my husband emerges through the door, like a Polo-wearing crusader, here to rescue us, I’ll wait.  But I’ve had two kids and it is winter. Waiting to pee means that I am one ill-timed sneeze away from needing to change my pants.

A few days ago, I emerged from a very quick pee to find my son and daughter running around the living room eating the remains of what appeared to be a day-old waffle dug out from the trash. Bits and pieces of the waffle, which were covered in day-old syrup and butter, were smeared all over the couch.

“What?” I said.

My three-year-old smiled, her teeth full of crumbs. “Oh, bubba found us a snack! I helpeded him and broke it in half on da couch. See, we helpeded each other.”

The baby just ran in a circle yelling, “Wa-wa, wa-wa!” His word for waffles.

As a quick aside, it should be noted that this was 9:30 in the morning and both children had already had breakfast. In the baby’s case, he had already had two breakfasts. These were not hungry children.

It should also be noted that only 24-hours prior I had scrubbed the floors. A practice I do every Sunday night, because I enjoy starting the week with the fresh smell of utility.

I looked at my happy children and the gross mess. I tried to imagine the scene: Baby running into the kitchen, unlatching the cupboard (he can do that on one side, I know, I’m screwed), and opening the trash. My daughter coming in to watch him, awed by his casual ability to just transgress. I imagine him triumphantly pulling a waffle from the trash and declaring, “Wa-wa!” and passing it over to his sister, who smiled, “Oh, fank you, bubba!” And then ran back into the living room, the baby toddling behind, where she divided it among them.

I don’t like clichés, but this cloud of waffle garbage did have a silver lining: sibling cooperation. I mean, look at them, they were sharing. They were as happy as two garbage thieves could ever be. I remembered all the times my sister and I snuck into the pantry and stole marshmallows. Or all the times my brother and I stuck a “Kick me” sign on my mom before she left for the store. The comradery created by our shared transgressions, still holds us together. It is something we can still laugh about now, even though time, life and the complications of adulthood mean our conversations are often strained.

So, I threw up my hands. “I love it when you two work together,” I said. “But don’t eat trash!” They both just laughed and kept running, spewing out crumbs in between giggles.

I figure their partnership requires a common enemy, I’m willing to play that role.


I am THAT mom

The moment my infant son hit a girl in a wheelchair was the moment I knew, I am that mom. You know her, the woman who has no control over her kids. The one who is flying after a toddling little terrorist, mumbling apologies.

I was at a craft store, making some last-minute holiday purchases and made the mistake of letting my son out of the cart. By that point, he had wiggled out of the belt and was standing on the seat screaming, “All done! All done!” Frankly, I was all done as well. I don’t like craft stores and all their expectations. I always feel like a failure walking down the aisle. What do you do with 600 Popsicle sticks? I don’t know. But apparently there are a lot of people on earth who do.

My son was screaming and would rather jump head first from the cart than walk down another aisle of buttons. (Why so many buttons?) So, I let him down. He turned to run and his pathway was blocked by a really nice girl with two broken legs, being pushed by her father in a wheelchair. Frustrated by this impediment, my 17 month old baby yelled and smacked the girl in the leg. She didn’t flinch. So, I don’t think any nine-year-olds were harmed in the making of this story. Still, I was mortified. I went to grab my baby and he screamed and prostrated himself on the floor in a blind rage.

This is not my kid. This is Damien from “The Omen.” Sometimes I think this is the look at least one or both of my children will have at my funeral. I don’t think I’m wrong.

I picked him up and he wailed louder. I apologized and tried to exit the store. Except, the lines at the registers were long.  So, I struggled to hold him while he screamed, “All done, mom! ALL DONE!” Finally, I set him down and he grabbed some candy and started shaking it like maracas. He seemed happy and since he wasn’t harming a child in a wheelchair (I know, a low bar) I let him be. The cashier stuck her head out to glare.

“Ma’am, did you know that your baby is playing with the candy?”

SO, nice of her to take time to judge me instead of, you know, hurrying up the line. This is another thing I don’t understand about craft stores: they sell a cornucopia of craft items for children, projects for children, items to give to children, and yet, they are the most child unfriendly place in the world.

“Oh wow,” I said flatly. “I had no idea. Thank you for telling me.”

I took the candy. He grabbed more. I took that. He grabbed more. I picked him up and he screamed. By now, the entire store was staring at me. It didn’t help that the father and daughter team were now in line two people behind us. I avoided eye contact. Finally, I slung my baby over my shoulder. His feet were waving in the air. He was laughing. A lady behind me said, “Oh, well now he seems happy.”

Thank you, lady.

That’s how I approached the check-out, dangling my giggling baby over my shoulder and pushing the cart with my hips.

The next day, this same child ripped a cabinet door off with his bare hands. To be fair, it was the door that accessed the garbage. So, it was his Mount Everest.

I’m beginning to realize that for the next couple of years, I should probably just never leave the house. And if I do, just know, I am that mom. No, I can’t control my child. And I really am sorry.

I Don’t Even Know


When I came to school to pick up my daughter, the teacher pulled me aside.

“Do you have a princess ring?” She asked glancing at my daughter.

I blinked. “Um no.”

“Well, she says you forgot her princess ring and she’s been upset about it all day.”

We have many princess apparel items and princess accessories, but my three-year-old owns no princess rings. Nor did she mention wanting a princess ring. Nor has she ever mentioned wanting a princess ring. I shrugged at the teacher. “Look, I have no idea what is going on.”

My daughter lives in her own world, with her own rules and her own requirements. On any given day, I am met with a list of demands and rules that constantly baffle me. No one wears black on Mondays. Princesses only drink milk at lunch. Dresses with foxes on them are only for the library. Syrup doesn’t belong on pancakes. Or on planet earth. We don’t have enough beans. Socks have to go inside out. And mom is not allowed to sing any songs that appear in the movie “Frozen.”

She declares these rules with a toss of her head and just the tiniest hint of an eyeroll. Like I should obviously know that spiders only play the tuba. DUH. How could I not know that?

I wasn’t kidding when I told the teacher I have no idea what is going on.  Because I don’t.

At school, when I fished my daughter out of a group of her friends, she smiled at me and told me that she didn’t miss me at all because she was too busy having fun. In the car, I asked her if she wanted a ring.

“What ring, mom?” She said, her eyes wide.

“Didn’t you ask your teachers for a ring?”

She shook her head and started singing a song about baby chickens who want to go to Wisconsin on vacation. Then, when we got home she asked me to pick up a giant, imaginary jewel off the ground. When I mimed picking it up, she frowned. “No, you got a baby chickie!” I went through this mimicry four times, before I gave up. “Get your own jewel,” I said.

She began sobbing. If she didn’t get the jewel she would get eaten by a Jaguar and it would be all my fault. I gave her a hug and put her down for a rest.

Sometimes, parenting feels like watching over someone who is just high on drugs all the time. Or being a nurse in a mental institution. After a while, I forget who is the sane one and who is the three year old wearing underwear on her head. Look, I don’t know much about life, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good idea to feed the baby dried macaroni and sequins. Rest time, is when I get to recalibrate. Remember that life is more than just chickens, jaguars and Wisconsin. So, while my daughter warbled a song from her room, I sat on the couch to try to get some reading done, but I made sure to make some room for all those baby chickies.


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