Goldfish In Bra AKA Roadtrips With Kids

We traveled to Colorado for Christmas. It is February and I can finally talk about it.


Taking a road trip with your children across the country should be punishment for stealing. I have met some people who really enjoy long car rides with their children, but I’ve also met people who think that jumping off a cliff with only a rope tied to your ankle is a good idea.

Over the holidays, my husband and I decided to drive with our two children to Colorado to visit my family. Which was akin to deciding to journey through the depths of Hell to spend some days staying with Satan himself and eating his pot roast. I have a large family—seven siblings—the majority of whom would be at my parents’ house along with their children and partners. My family is a lot like the Waltons, if the Waltons liked to yell, criticize each other’s hair, drink a lot of wine and play really tense card games late into the night.  So, nothing like the Waltons.

But it’s family and it’s the holidays. And one day science will find a direct link to eating too many cookies and forgetting that your family is insane and wanting to go visit them, but this is not that day. So, we left at two in the morning the day after Christmas.

Leaving early was my husband’s idea. At some point in the parenting process, my husband became a dad, a real dad, with tools and ideas about how money should be saved and travel should be undertaken. Many of these dad ideas coincide with frugality and “beating the crowd”, which are also true Midwestern values. And in accordance to those values, my husband likes to urge me to leave halfway through the Fourth of July fireworks because we need to “beat the crowds” and he cautions me against buying off-brand shampoo when I could just add water to the dregs of my Suave body wash and use that for my hair.

So, it should come as no shock that he planned on leaving at two in the morning, so we could save money by doing the trip to Colorado in one day and “beat the crowds.” Although, unless he meant cattle or the smell of cow farts, these “crowds” never did materialize.

It was just us and our kids at two in the morning pulling out of Cedar Rapids, miserable and tired. The plan was that our children would sleep for the first leg of the trip. This did not happen. Instead, they both screamed for an hour and a half, just long enough to give me a migraine. When they did sleep, they slept for another hour and a half and then they were up.

The number one way to get your kid to sleep in the car is to not want them to. I desperately wanted my  children to sleep, so they stayed awake engaging in activities like crying, demanding snacks, dumping snacks on the floor, demanding that I pick up the snacks from the floor, crying when I explained that mommy’s body doesn’t bend that way and no, she can’t get that goldfish in the wheel well.

Like all modern parents, we had gadgets and videos to lull our children into technology induced comas. But the baby wasn’t buying it and my three year old did not appreciate the fact that “bubba” was “frowing all his trucks” at her.

I began the trip totally against the idea of drugging my children with Tylenol to make them sleep. But by the time we stopped for lunch, I bought Tylenol and extra strength migraine medicine for me. “They have headaches, right?” I asked my husband.

“Sure,” he nodded.

That was all I needed.

By the time we got to my parents’ house, all nerves had been soothed by an elixir of drugs, candy and brand new snacks.

“How was the trip?” My mom asked.

“Just perfect,” I said pulling a goldfish cracker out of my hair. “Where is the wine?”

On the way home, we did the trip in two stages, neither beating any crowds or saving any money. But it was worth it.

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.

Don’t Be Fooled, This Is Not A Real Blog Post

You know when comic actors try out indie roles so people take them seriously? I feel like that is where I am right now. These past few weeks, I’ve been working on some very research heavy articles that I hope see the light of day (honestly, you can never be sure).

I’m really excited about the opportunities. But it’s also meant that I’ve spent every possible moment on work. Which means that E has taken to washing the windows with tissues as a fun game she likes to play called, “Mommy is neglecting the housekeeping and me.”

And I just changed a diaper from JQ that had an obscene amount of glitter in it, but I honestly don’t even care where it came from because he is happy and hasn’t tried to stab anyone in at least 20 minutes.

Also, we’ve all been sick and every night I soothe my guilty conscience with a serving of Nyquil and denial. “I’m fine. We can do this. My kids are okay.”

I also tried to do a week of no TV, because I hate myself. But that all went out the window on Thursday, when I had an interview for an article and everyone was sick. So, it was just like, please watch the “Octonauts” and don’t scream while mommy is a professional.

And then Dave came home and was like, “Have you heard about Yemen?” And I was like, “Have you heard about me not taking a shower in five days?!” And then, I became a stereotype.

I know. Whine. Whine. Whine. We all have kids (maybe, if not, you do you, no pressure). We all make choices, this is where our choices bring us. And that is right. It’s just that lately, my choices seem to bring me to the end of the night mainlining cake and Nyquil.

Also, Dave thinks “selfies” are pictures that other people take of you.  When he asked me if I wanted him to take a selfie on our date night, I was like, “Yes, I want to see you take a selfie.” Then he took a picture of me and I was all, “SON, DO YOU EVEN MILLENIAL!?” It’s clear Dave has been born in the wrong time. He also wants me to tell you to get off his lawn.

Also, my dear, dear neighbors are moving and I think I might be an emotional mess about this. BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.


So in lieu of any intelligent thing being said on this site, I give you links to other things I’ve written lately that you may like.


Here are a couple of my posts: 5 Things I Didn’t Expect About Having Two Kids–Like enjoying their mutual pain and tandem time outs. Ranting about maternity leave v. paternity leave

And I have a kind of semi-regular thing on Jezebel, which I’m acting all casual about, but really I’ve pooped myself maybe five times. So here is a second installment about the lady who gave birth to 365 babies at once.

Also, the inestimable Jane Marie launched a new beauty site called Millihelen. I may be writing a kind of sciencey feature for her over there. Unless it gets cut, then forget I said anything. But the site launches Monday, so look forward to that.

I did not write this. But it’s a great look at the childcare problem in the US, which is relevant to all people with children or not.

Women and body hair. So fascinating.

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.


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