The Most Beautiful Word


A few nights ago, I was woken by the sound of my 21-month-old child calling my name.


It was 1:30 in the morning. And he was really screaming, more than calling. “Mom! Mom! Mom! MAAAM!”

It was impressive really, the rhythms that he used. I was so proud of how loud he could be and how already he had out-grown the babyish “mommy” for the full on, “MOM!” My little guy is growing up.

After some Tylenol and rocking and several more minutes of shouting, he fell asleep. It was three in the morning. At five, it started all over again. “MOM! MOOOM! MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAAM!”

I remember when my daughter was an infant. I would wave toys in front of her as she looked at me unimpressed from the bouncy seat. What will her voice sound like? What will she say? I didn’t have long to find out. My daughter started speaking  when she was about nine months old. Starting with “Hi, dada” and moving quickly onto, “Mo mo cookie!” and my personal favorite, “No, mom!”

In fact, she could scream at me in full sentences before she could walk. A feat, she finally mastered at 18 months old. Right after she learned to correctly identify a space shuttle and Venus.  It took maybe a month of her talking before I instantly regretted ever wanting to hear what she had to say. As it turns out, all babies have to tell you is how you are failing and that they want more syrup and waffles, no pancakes! How could you even think that they wanted waffles?

Today, my friend Natalie reminded me that one of the first things my daughter said to her was, “Stop dancin! No dancin!” She said this as Natalie tried to dance with her.

Recently, my sister was lamenting that her daughter hasn’t quite gotten the hang of talking yet. My niece is very intelligent. She toddles around frowning and making small marks in notebooks. They are probably alien code, relating back to her home planet just how disappointing we all are as humans. She’s going to have her first book out at the age of four titled. “Sleep Train This! How to Break Your Parents and Win Supremacy of the Home.”

I told my sister that she doesn’t want to hear what her daughter has to say. Because, sure, while “I yub you.” Is really sweet to hear. You literally only hear it after giving them a fourth cookie and when you tell them you are out, they scream and probably say some sort of garbled version of “you are dead to me.”

I used to think that hearing the words “Mommy” would be some sort of sweet reward for the bloody nipples and eyeball quaking exhaustion, but I know I know–“Mommy” is one of the worst words in the English language. My kids weld “Mom” like a weapon. “MOM! YOU DID NOT BUY DA RIGHT COOKIES!” “Mom! Is dat on sale? Daddy said we should only buy fings on sale.” Or, just the classic: “Mommomomomomomomomomomomomom!”



Have you ever noticed how they never just say, “mom” like it always has to be screamed. It is always the verbal equivalent of the angry internet commenter who writes in all caps.

I’ve been working on teaching my son to say charming things like, “I’m gun be two!” (right now he just holds up five fingers and says, “FREE!” So, I’m nailing it.) And I successfully trained my daughter to sing, “Julio get the stretch!” But its all paltry comfort compared to “MOM! I HAVEN’T HAD ANY SCREEN TIME YET TODAY!”

Because no one ever says, “Mom” without some sort of expectation. It’s never, “Mom! Let me do the dishes.” Or “Mom, I bought you some scotch!” It’s always “Mom, my brudder put germs in my tacos and I won’t eat it.”

I have been at Target without my children and heard a child shout “MOM!” and I’ve whipped around and said, “What!?” Other parents don’t even judge you for that. They just look at you enviously, because even though you are having parenting PTSD, you are alone with your latte. Sweet glorious freedom that it is.

I understand kids are just little. They have needs and their needs mostly include wanting to sniff your breath to see if you were eating all the chocolate. I get it. But I’m beginning to think it doesn’t end. Like in 15 years I’ll be fielding phone calls: “Mom, can you do my laundry? My hovercraft broke again can I have a new one?”

I met someone recently who calls her mom Terry. That’s her name, Terry. And I just thought how Terry might have had this whole thing figured out already.  Good job, Terry.

How To Raise A Boy

Before I had a boy a lot of people said to me, “What will you do with a boy?”

This comment was probably prompted by my complete disregard of anything masculine, except whiskey and bourbon. Which, let’s be honest, why did that turn into a “guy thing”? Whiskey and bourbon are delicious and they are mine.

I’ve never played an organized sport. I hate watching them. I only go to baseball games for the beer and the hot dogs. Once my husband and I went to watch the Red Sox play at Fenway Park on the fourth of July. After a tour of the stadium and the obligatory stadium food, I asked to leave. My husband turned to me very seriously and said, “If you leave Fenway Park on the Fourth of July we will probably have to get a divorce and you’ll have to turn Canadian.” I stayed. But only because I brought a book.

So, having a boy? Well, how in the world could I ever prepare for that? I mean, how could a person raise a man without pelting him with all manner of sports balls from birth until 18?

The other reason people made this comment was because my first child is a girl, who loves all manner of sparkles and unicorns and her ideal day is wearing a princess dress and making mud pies for her imaginary baby chickies, who follow her around and give her crowns and jewels. Or so I am told.

My mother in law, the mother of three boys, took me aside in the weeks after my son was born and said, “Is your daughter ready for a brother? Boys are different, you know.”

I just shrugged. “I guess she’s ready enough.”

My mother-in-law sighed and shook her head. She didn’t think we were ready. In the intervening 21 months since he’s been born, my son has been a very different child than my first. He scales counters. He can always find a knife. He throws everything—food, rocks, sand, glitter. He turns wands into guns, despite never having seen a gun in his entire life. It’s like he just knows that a stick that shoots fire and hurts people would be cool. I have a theory that even cave toddlers, in the days before guns, intuitively understood what a gun was and spent their days pretending to shoot things with sticks.

I think the same about sports too. If civilization were completely wiped out and there only remained a small collective of men who remembered nothing of their past lives. They’d probably invent the NFL before they even had a reliable source of water.

So, a boy, what in the world do I do with a boy? And I hear other mother’s ask this question as well. And it’s truly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Let me tell you what we do with our boy. It’s really complicated, so pay attention.

We feed him. We love him. We read him books. We let him pretend to shoot things. We also let him wear dress ups. We do crafts. We paint. We knock over towers of blocks. He throws balls at my head. He runs and we chase him. We run and he chases us. We put him to sleep. We put clothes on him. I teach him lessons about not hitting, about being kind and gentle, about saying, “Sorry” and sharing. We have him set his plate at the table and clear it when he is done. These are not new lessons but the very same we still teach our daughter. Also, sometimes we bathe him. Although we might give that up because it’s futile.

Do you know what his sister does with him? She gives him horse rides and plays princess. Sometimes they play house and sometimes she pushes him in the baby carriage while he yells, “MORE!” Sometimes she reads him books. A lot of times they fight, mostly over play make up and hairbrushes.

You know how you raise a boy? You raise him exactly like you raise any other human or houseplant, with food, water, love, kindness and a cultivated and careful amount of neglect.

Despite the fact that my kids are so radically different, I bristle at the assumption that raising a boy is so inherently different than raising a girl. People are different. Children are all different. One kid has taught me about magic. The other kid has taught me how to take a weapon from an armed infant. Both lessons are valuable.  But in the end, they are both humans first, I try to treat them as such and let them guide me with the rest.



This originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Baby Chickies


A few weeks after my daughter turned two, she told me I was squishing her baby chickies. Well, more like wailed, she wailed that I was squishing her baby chickies. I was six months pregnant and had heaved myself onto the couch in order to read her a book. “Oh no!” she screamed. “You crushed my baby chickies! You killeded them!”

It took some moving of my significant girth and some talking before I came to understand that my daughter had three to five small baby chickies who followed her wherever she went.  At any time in the past two years these baby chickies have been named Princess, Princess Chickie, Naughty Pants, Bad Guy, Window and Shrelalala.  For almost a year, I had to set a spot for them at the breakfast table along with a small bowl for their own oatmeal. I’ve accidentally squished them with the back door and had to jerry-rig a special place for them to ride in the car because I refused to buy them their own car seat.

Once, after she heard me call them “imaginary” my daughter threw a fit and wouldn’t stop screaming until I told her they were real. There have been times, when she’s woken us up in the middle of the night because the baby chickies thought there was a lion on the wall and could they all come snuggle in bed? Of course.

Recently, I let my daughter play with an old digital camera. As I flipped through the pictures she had taken, I came across several of just the floor. For a four-year-old, this isn’t that odd. But there were a lot. Almost 30 pictures of nothing but floor. When I asked my daughter about them she rolled her eyes, “Oh mom, those are the baby chickies, can’t you see them? They are so cute!

A couple weeks ago, my daughter stopped talking about her baby chickies and I began to worry. Had they died? Had they run away? They had done all of these things before and I even had to mount a search party for them, just to stop my daughter from crying. (We found them under a pine tree, thank goodness.)

So, I asked my daughter where they were. “Oh they grew up and moved away,” she said casually.

I have spent the past two years caring for these imaginary (or excuse me “real”) chickens, they’ve become as much a part of the family as the beloved blankies and the iPad. And now, I was being told they had left us, grown up and flown the coop.

I sat down. “Oh no,” I said to my daughter. “They didn’t even say goodbye.”

My daughter came and sat by me. “It okay, mom. They love you and they will come visit soon.” She patted my leg.

I wanted to cry. So much of these early days of parenthood are defined by the ridiculous—bouts of screaming over the sun being too sunny or tantrums thrown over oranges being offered as a snack, right after a tantrum about oranges being wanted for a snack. Some days, parenting feels like walking through a fever dream. I feed stuffed animals crackers. I make up stories about monsters. Underwear is worn on heads. Mittens become socks.

These baby chickies are so much a part of who my daughter is right now. Her silliness, her imagination, her big, big heart for all creatures even those that walk the line between imaginary and real. I love them, because I love her and now they are gone.

“I want them back,” I told my daughter. “They are too little too leave.”

She just laughed. “Mom, everybody grows up.” Then, she walked away.

By the time you read this, my daughter will be four. Four is old. Four is zipping-your-own-coat-and-preschool old. Four is getting-your-own-snack-and-playing-Candyland-and-Go-Fish old.  But four is so little too. She still comes to our bed at night when aliens climb on the walls. She still needs pink band-aids to make things better. And she still has the baby chickies. They came back after being gone a week and they are still here. This morning, I had to make them pretend pancakes with magic beans, which I was more than happy to do. I know that they will be leaving me forever soon and I will be so sad to see them go.

This article originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This Is A Self-Indulgent Post Full of Links and Brags: Do Not Click

I really hate curtain lifting posts. They seem so meta and self-indulgent. Like you just come here for the stories, so who cares how many emails I get asking me to shill $50 onesies or $6/a pouch organic yogurts, right? Sometimes I write back, “That is expensive, babies poop on that!” Mostly I just delete them. This is why my blog will never make it

But of course, this is a curtain lifting post. Do you like how I did that?

A lot of you know I finished a memoir manuscript last summer. I worked on it in my stolen moments between nap times and pool times and 2-5am, because the baby was still waking up at 2am last summer. And now, this happened:


!!! HOORAY!!!

Don’t worry. I’m not turning this into a writing blog. I always give terrible advice anyway. Sometimes people email me asking for writing advice. (Note: this doesn’t happen often.) I think maybe sometimes people think I might have insider information. But I really don’t. So, I always write super long email responses with tips on querying and pitching and lots of “hang in there” “you got this!” cat poster kind of stuff. And I never hear back. I imagine that most people, upon receiving my advice, delete it and just decide that buying a motivational calendar would have been a better use of resources. And to that I say, probably.

Or just go buy Dear Sugar.

Anyway. As I understand it, the work has just begun.

So, now, so I feel like I’m giving you something. Here are some links and just because I just finished a brag. I’ll give you links to other people’s stuff.

And yeah, okay fine. Here is some of my own stuff too. One time someone told me that all my self-promotion made them feel more bold about their own self-promotion. So that was a thing that happened.

The Bad Days Don’t Need To Have Meaning


The Monday’s after holidays are sugar-crash-the-baby-is-a-candy-addict-and-will-knife-me-if-I-don’t-hand-over-another-M&M kind of days. My daughter lay on the couch today begging for chocolate Easter bunny for breakfast.

“No,” I said.



“Can you just put some frosting on my tongue?”

I finally relented and gave both kids candy because my daughter eloquently argued that when she sleeps in her bed the whole night she does get a treat. And the baby eloquently argued, “AHHHH! CANNN-YYYY!” Well put, baby.

I figured it was like giving them a bit of the hair of the dog for their sugar hangover.

It sated them for a bit. But then they both started begging to go to the library, but SOMEONE had left the dome light on the car on and it wouldn’t start. This is what we have AAA for. Plus, then they’d get to see a big truck, which is always a good day. I called and was told an hour. So we played outside and played. And one hour turned to two. So we ate lunch and folded clothes and the baby kicked over the towers of clothes. My daughter sobbed and called him “your naughty son!” Then it was nap time and I told the AAA lady to forget it. But I didn’t use a nice voice. Honestly, I don’t think I was using a nice voice since I woke up at 5am.

(That’s right, I willingly start most of my days between 5-5:30, because that is the only time I have to work out. I told this to a group of Starbucks baristas once and effectively delayed their reproduction for another decade. I deserve some sort of award.)

So, I hauled both kids upstairs and was reminded that they were both missing key members of their stuffed animal entourage. I went downstairs, then upstairs, then downstairs. When all members of the group were accounted for, I walked into the baby’s room and saw my son and daughter snuggling on the chair reading a book together.

This is where I am supposed to tell you about how my heart warmed. About how it’s all worth it. About how love is great and parenting is hard and something, something, small things and joy. But screw that.

Of course, my heart filled with all those happy cliches as I watched them snuggle and read. I love those two. And they love one another until the moment where they start beating one another with pool noodles and wands. But then they love each other again. But really, love isn’t the point.

So much of these little tiny things, like dirty chubby fingers and jelly bean drool on dimpled chins, I will forget them. So will they. They are the little nooks in the sheer rock cliff of our days. They help us get from one place to the next. We bless them. Then we forget about them as we reach for another.

Kundera called life a struggle of memory against forgetting. He meant the big things–war, human, atrocities–I mean the small things, the holes in the hard rock of our days. But I’m okay with forgetting. I’m okay with time washing over these rocks and smoothing out the stone. I’m okay with things seeming better in hindsight than they are right now.

I don’t think it’s dishonest. I think its about perspective.

Kundera also wrote that kitsch is an ideal with no room for objection. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.” There is no room for the shit in the grass with kitsch.” So much of talk about parenting is either the kistch or the shit. No in between. But in reality, it’s all in between.

I’m not grateful for the bad moments. I don’t want them. But they are here. I don’t have to pretend there is some greater point to them. Or justify them with high minded ideas. Here they are. Here is the baby beating me with the Elsa wand. Here is my daughter telling me that I have ruined everything because I can’t find the play-doh. And here in the next moment is a snuggle a kiss. A clamor for me to sing “You are My Sunshine” and I do.Because that moment is here too.

In hindsight, these colors will wash into one another. But I’m here now, reaching for that next spot in the rock, making room for tears, shit, and kids in the lawn. Letting my memory and my forgetting bleed together and binging on jellybeans during nap time. I need my hair of the dog too.

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