The Pioneers Didn’t Have Netflix


The morning of our first snow in Iowa, we had three meltdowns over putting on snow gear and one of the meltdowns was mine.

I am not a native Midwesterner. I spent most of my formative years in Texas, before moving to South Dakota, then Minnesota, and now Iowa. In Texas, snow is mythical, like a toddler who eats anything without a fuss—often heard of, but never really seen. As a child, I fantasized about long, cozy winters, filled with snowmen, hot chocolate and Pa Ingalls tying a rope between the sod hut and the barn, so he doesn’t die while feeding the cattle.

No matter how good I become at being a Midwesterner–making tater tot hot dish and passive-aggressively saying, “Well, he’s nice.”–I don’t think I will ever be good at winter. Some Midwesterners view the first snow as magic. I view it as a warning to abandon all hope until April.

And this is why I dread the snow, because winter with children is less sweaters and snowman and more like a five month long scream of anguish.  As I struggled with the sadistic tango of hats, coats, mittens, hats, coats and more mittens. I had to send my three-year-old to time out for throwing off her winter apparel because it wasn’t sparkly enough. Then, I had to grit my teeth against the baby screaming, “No hat! No hat!” He has few words, but the words he does use are lobbed as weapons. “Up.” “All done.” “NO!” And now, I guess, “Screw you, I want to freeze!” Just in time for the winter. Write that one in the baby book.

Of course, when we got outside and the wind whipped around his fuzzy little head, he grabbed his ears and said, “HAT! MOM! HAT!” Like, why didn’t I think of putting a hat on him? What kind of mother am I? Thank you infant son, for making such well-articulated points. Could you do it without pulling my hair?

In High School, I read a book about a pioneer woman, who, left alone by her husband in a sod hut over the winter, goes insane. There is a scene in the book, where the husband returns from his chores to find his wife sitting in the cold, rocking in the rocking chair. I never understood that at the time. Why did she go insane? It’s just winter. But now I know. She had kids and she lived in a sod hut. I live in a charming house, but I’m one rocking chair away from going insane on the prairie and it’s only November.

To be honest, I don’t think my kids could cut it as pioneers either. My three-year-old won’t even put a toe outside unless she’s donned head to toe in pink winter gear. I try telling her that Laura Ingalls never had Minnie Mouse hats and she still survived, but my husband points out that it goes both ways. Ma Ingalls also didn’t have Netflix or a coffee maker or a heating system, so why am I whining?

I could think deeply about that question, or I could just go out and buy a rocking chair.




This was originally published in The Gazette as part of my column, “Pants-free Parenting.” I usually republish these on Fridays, but this was too apt going into Thanksgiving.

Don Quixote, Tome Club and links

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.


I haven’t forgotten you Tome Club and the two people still standing with me. We all had the flu for a week (except the baby, who eats a lot of dirt and thus is impervious to human weakness). So, I’ve been furiously catching up. Kindle says I’m 51% done with the book and my goal is to finish it this weekend. That’s right. Suck it, family time. I’m finishing this book.

Don Quixote is very delightful, when I finally worm my way in. But it is a bit of a slog. Because it’s just people talking and walking, which Dave points out is the majority of The Lord of the Rings, which I remember loving. Here are THOUGHTS. Such important. Much deep.

  • I love that we haven’t met Dulcinea, I hope we never do. I love the power of a character who never shows. Tom Stoppard did this in Arcadia. Lord Byron is a powerful character, who never has a line. In this way, you see the tension of how people create characters in their minds. How much of these women is reality and how much of them is just the narrative pushed on them by the men? Again, I think of Marcela, who just says, screw you I’m out and walks out of the story, because she can’t win. She can’t compete. She can’t fight. She cannot be who she is without the men around her pushing their own narratives on her, so she walks away. In this way, I hope we don’t meet Dulcinea, I hope she doesn’t play.
  • Also, hello, author anxieties. At the beginning of the second part, Cervantes lashes out against a counterfeit part two of his novel, which I thought was a narrative device. But no, actually, some fool wrote a fraudulent part two and Cervantes got nasty about it. Of course he did. He has every right. But still, it makes me giggle a bit, because even the author of one of the great works of literature had a pissing match. It’s perfect. Team Cervantes.
  • Also, side note: The gross lover storyline at the end of part one? Where the girl who marries the man who raped her? This is why I don’t want Dulcinea to show up. Because, lord love him, when ladies do show up in this book, despite Cervantes best efforts, he still screws them over in the name of “dignity.”
  • But that development of Sancho, right? I love how he corrects his wife’s speech, but still finds himself being corrected constantly.
  • The delusions here. They are frightening. DQ is so entrenched in his beliefs that everything, even the things that prove him wrong, prove him right. And oh, the manifold applications to modern life. I actually feel worried. Like, omg, is everyone around me a Sancho? Am I delusional? Is everything I do a lie? But then, I remembered that you all constantly correct my grammar (AS YOU SHOULD) and only two people are reading this with me, so if I have delusions, they aren’t very grand. But are we all deluded? And what is so wrong with delusions? Why is the truth preferable? Is it better to life a cruel truth than a beautiful lie?
  • And I say that line about who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him in reference to my marriage constantly. So, I better stop thinking about that too deeply.
  • I am going to come back to that idea of playing in a narrative that you can’t win at. Don’t play, Dulcinea and Marcela. Don’t play. Walk away. Make your own.
  • I read somewhere that the artist Honore Daumier believed that Sancho and DQ, merge into one. And I see that happening, in a way. DQ is merging toward sanity and Sancho toward insanity. Their folie a deux of grandiosity is so much the addict/enabler prototype. In this way, I wonder if this book isn’t really just about marriage. But you know, gay marriage. Cervantes was so progressive.
  • Before I started this book, I read that DQ was the beginning of the modern novel, because it’s a book where the main character is aware that he is in a book. Meta. Right? But isn’t that just a natural progression of being the main character in your own life? Of doing things just to be remembered. (Also, dear lord, did you not love that digression about people doing terrible things just to be remembered. The guy who wanted to throw himself down on top of the stained glass? Very Kardashian in it’s sentiment, no?) Couldn’t you argue that Chaucer’s character’s are just as “aware” because they are all arranging their lives into a form of meaning through their pilgrimage? Kundera, that same writer who convinced me to read this book in the first place, talks about how we all organize our lives according to the laws of beauty…we all seek a narrative. It’s why we look for meaning in things that have no right to be meaningful. We insist that pain will work for good, when pain is just pain. We demand that everything fit a narrative arc. We ignore those facets of life that don’t. It’s not just Cervantes or the shepherds that push the women into a mold. We do that to ourselves.

Okay, links. Who wants them?

No. Fine.

Take them.

Here. HERE! Eat all of your links before you can leave.

I wrote about why I let my kid sleep in our bed. I wrote about why kidless people know a lot about kids. So, STFU people who say, “Well, because I’m a mom…” A thing is on HuffPost Parents. My marriage is well, a marriage with two kids. I read this wonderful essay about writing. Stassa Edwards on abortifacients. 


If You Want My Advice…


Sometimes, I get emails asking for writing advice. I’m not a famous writer. I don’t have any books out. I know, I’m trying. But these things aren’t easy, right? So, I’m not exactly sure why people write me for advice. I do always answer. Always. Even when all I can say is, “Just keep at it. I’m getting rejected too.”

I understand the impulse to write and ask people how they do it. I used to do it all the time. I have some emails from some of my favorite writers, who I wrote to to ask, “How do you do this?” When they wrote back, their advice was very fundamental or generic. It chafed me at the time, but now I understand it. Each writer forges their own way. It’s hard to be prescriptive. I know people who have just been approached and asked to write for places. That’s only happened to me once and it’s because it was an editor I had worked with years before. When I got an essay on the New York Times Motherlode, that was a result of almost two years worth of pitching, writing, rejection and even meeting the editor in person. It’s not always so hard for everyone. It’s not always so easy.

So, how can you say, “This is the path”? When you don’t even know what the path is yourself. I once took a writer I admire out to lunch. She has books and a job teaching. I was plying her with food so she could give me some advice. I was surprised, when during our lunch, she started asking me for advice. When I told her I was shocked, she kindly rolled her eyes. “We’re all trying to get somewhere else,” she said.

Right before Ellis was born, I printed out an article (which I have since lost), that was advice on finding time to write. I was so afraid that having children would swallow me whole and I would never pursue the things I wanted to do. Because writing is so nebulous. Success is so scanty. Writing requires an investment of time that is often unpaid. And when it is unpaid, the pay is crap. I don’t remember much about this article, except that it advised me to steal time whenever I could. To refuse to do the dishes during naptime or vacuum during a quiet moment. Write, she said, always write. I’ve taken this advice to heart.

My mentor from grad school, AJ Verdelle, once told me when I complained that I didn’t have enough time, that Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer-prize winner, had four kids and wrote in 15 minute snatches. She also told me that if I took the time I used on my blog posts and put that toward a book, I would have had five books by now (I have three now, two crap novels and a pretty awesome memoir). AJ said she wrote her novel as a single mother working full-time as a statistician. So, I try to whine less. I do my best not to clean when my kids are down. I don’t do dishes. I don’t cook. I pay for my kids to go to school for 8 hours each week. That’s my writing time. And when my kids nap, that’s my writing time too. I’m not supposed to be on Facebook or Twitter (I use a browser extension called “Stay Focused” to limit my time). Just writing. I can cook and clean when the kids are up (sure it’s harder, but it’s better than not writing).

I think there is this myth out there that we are mothers first and everything else second. That we must put all of that after the job of mothering is done. We will write when the house is clean, when dinner is made, when the kids are perfectly calm. But that never happens. Instead, we find ourselves pushing what makes us ourselves to the outer limits of our time and our priorities. Look, the house will never be all clean, the dinner will never be all made, but you have these 15 minutes, hold them, make them work for you.. The truth is we are not mother’s first, we are humans first. We are complicated. We are so much more than a monolithic thing. We are not defined by what comes out of our uterus or our relationships. All of what we are works together to make us who we are. If we want to be something, we should just be it and not wait for permission from time, from the housework, or our kids. Because if we don’t just stand up and take it, no one is going to hand it to us.

I’ve had times when I’ve been on a deadlines and I put a bunch of markers and paper in front of Ellis and said, “Color, mommy is working.” I hate that. But I do what I have to do. And I hope that she see’s an example of a woman working. A woman trying to be the thing she wants to be. Because that’s what I want for her. I don’t wrack myself in guilt over it.

I use Microsoft Word to make lists of ideas I have for stories or articles, or places to pitch. Whenever I read something I like, I stalk the author. I see where she has published. I add those places to the list. I get up at five in the morning to run, while I’m running, I think of things to write, I think about what I am writing, I think about the things that I have read that I love. When I come home from my runs, I go and write those ideas down. First thing, before the coffee, before the babies, before I shower.

I heard my mom tell a friend who was considering her PhD to go for it. “Look,” she said, “time will go by whether you are working toward that goal or not. You might as well work.” I think about that all the time. My mom’s friend was 40 when my mom gave her that lecture, by the time she was 50 she had her PhD and her dream job. Time always passes, grab it. Make time work for you.

I’m writing this in a week that I’ve received two rejections for the book I finished editing and revising this summer. I also am writing this advice this week after receiving an acceptance for a pitch I sent to a site I’ve always wanted to write for and having an essay published on a site I’ve always wanted to write for. Big failures. Small successes. Writing is 10% talent and 99% being stubborn son of a bitch. (It’s also 5% being bad at math.) I want to cry. I want to raise the roof in an awkward white girl fashion. I want to nap. But I only have 15 minutes left of rest time, so back to work.

And if you want my advice, you should do the same.

Don Quixote and Some Links

I am a useless waste this week. The only thing I have accomplished is almost finishing the first part of Don Quixote. But I am beginning to suspect that Tome Club, while a high-minded idea, might not be a thing whose time has come. I think, like maybe me and two other people are reading the book, which is hilarious and full of poop jokes, and I have a lot of important THOUGHTS about the book. I’ve also enjoyed some great Twitter conversations about it. But perhaps, maybe, I’ll just make it a Facebook thread once a week?

I’ll take the sound of crickets chirping as my response.

Okay, here are some links to things I’ve written recently on the internet. I feel like a jerk, always pimping my stuff. How about you all leave links to your things in the comments, so I have something to read tonight while I’m ignoring my family.


I’ve been ranting a lot about modesty and clothing.

The baby wants things and he will hurt me if I don’t cave to his demands.

Okay, your turn.

Making Decisions About Babies

Guys, we need to talk. We need to talk honestly about the decision to have another baby.

No, I am not pregnant. Shut up and listen.

This month, there have been two wonderful essays, wait, three, that discuss the decision to child or not to child, very openly and honestly. And I love them. But they also make me sad. Sad, for two reasons: 1. That not having a child is a position that people need to feel like they have to justify. Like choosing not to bring a child into the world is somehow an indefensible position? Please. That decision is just as brave, noble and responsible as choosing to have a child. For all the same reasons.  The other reason it makes me sad is this: 2. That choosing or not choosing a child is a privileged few have.

In a recent essay on The Guardian, Linda Tirado, talks openly and honestly about being poor and living below the poverty line. She talks about how there is no such thing as free. That even acquiring birth control or condoms are fights that few poor people have the time or energy to pursue. Free clinics aren’t free (co-pays and time and gas). And she writes: “The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re ‘breeding’. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.”

I think about this position of privilege now, especially now, as I weight the merits of a third child. It’s not a decision we are going to make anytime soon. This second baby, lord love him, has been challenging to me in so many wonderful and exhausting ways. He’s finally giving me a good night sleep now at 14 months. But this was about the age E was when we decided to have a second child. It took us a while to get pregnant. Then we had a miscarriage. And then we were pregnant. And honestly, I still feel the whiplash from all of that.  Once we decided to have kids, we always knew we would have at least two kids. We both have siblings and we believe in the value of spending your childhood getting the crap kicked out of you. (Slow down, only children are good too. Perfect even. This isn’t a referendum on your choices, just an honest discussion about mine.) But the transition from one to two was hard on me. What do I mean by that? Well, I found myself screaming at my two year old over nap time then locking myself in my room and demanding my husband come home from work. I found myself frustrated and disengaged. Tired and yelling with everyone. Because I was exhausted. Because the baby wouldn’t take a bottle. Because I was overwhelmed. Because I felt like I was crushing under the weight of everyone’s needs and I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t get an escape. That I would never escape. Those feelings are mostly gone now. We have sleep. We have a schedule. We have school. We have sanity. I’m not trying to be glib and say, “Worth it!” But I am trying to say, here we are in a place of love and we can breathe.

So, a third?

I’ve been on a fact-finding mission. I’ve been grilling strangers and dance moms, friends and family, what is it like to have a third child? Some tell me it was so easy. After two, everything is a cinch. (Liars.) Sure, it might not be as hard as another transition, but parenting and “cinch” don’t belong in the same sentence unless the sentence is “Cinch up your belt and get ready for parenting.” But that is a dumb sentence, so never use it.

Some people tell me three is also a hard adjustment. But universally, no one ever regrets that child’s life. Because of course, you love them. I understand. No one ever wants to look at someone and say, “I wish I didn’t have my child.” Even if that’s a little bit true, you love your children. And part of having them means loving and part of loving means wanting, even if there was an ambivalence and hardness through their birth and life. So, I understand. But I don’t think everyone is being honest with me. And fair enough, in most cases, I’m not a best friend. I’m just a lady asking another lady about her uterus. They don’t owe me any insight into what is a complicated decision or sometimes even not a decision.

But it’s so hard to be honest isn’t it?

I recently read an article on Buzzfeed about how teenage moms feel that the Whisper app is the only place they can do to honestly talk about their feelings about their children and their lives. For so many of them a child wasn’t a choice. The child was just there. (I’m not trying to be political. Take your talk of choosing to have sex and virginity elsewhere, thank you.) But they feel they can’t have an honest discussion about their children with their friends and family, so they take that talk to strangers.


I recently had someone criticize me for being negative about my kids all the time on this blog. Negative? Since when is honesty negativity? As long as we are honest about the good and the bad, isn’t that just transparency? It’s not comfortable to look around at the mess and the screaming and admit, “I am not happy. I don’t like this.” But part of parenting (and life) is that it’s not about momentary happiness or immediate likes or dislikes. That it’s about a bigger picture. So sure, there is the transcendent love. But there is also the moldy milk cup in the car and a baby biting your shin. It’s about being so happy this person is part of your life, but also acknowledging your career has taken a hit and you are scared. You want to be with them. You want to work. You want them to go to bed. You miss them when you fall asleep.

And through that muddle we have to make decisions or learn to handle the lots we’ve been given. It’s great to have reasons. But reasons are a privilege. I linked to the essays about having children v. not having children because I love that the writers so honestly shared their stories and reasons. They are especially salient to me as we waver between what we want our family to look like. But I never want people to feel like they have to justify. I never want to justify. But I also don’t know. Are my reasons for wanting to stop at two good enough? Are Dave’s reasons for wanting three compelling? Somehow we have to weight these decisions, privileging choices. Making choices of privilege.

This is it. The tension of what I’m trying to say: It’s a muddle. I’m trying to find a best way.

Have a good weekend. I have no answers.

  • I wrote a post on about how despite my children being very stereotypical with their gender expressions, I refuse to chalk it up to biology.
  • Also, I wrote on my Facebook page about reading a “classic” novel together. I’ve have a goal of reading classic novels I have never really read, but hate that I haven’t read. In past years I’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Mis, Great Expectations, Middlemarch (this was a reread) and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was thinking of reading Moby Dick, but while lots of you want to read with me no one wants to read about thinly veiled phallic symbols and white men and white whales. Instead it seemed lots were cast for Don Quixote or Jane Eyre. JE would be a reread, but probably worth it. I’m leaning toward DQ.  Cast your final votes! We’ll decide on Monday.
  • Also, in case you missed it, my post this week was sponsored (the first one since February) and has a discount code. Also, tips on disarming a weaponized baby.
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