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.


This Was Your 2014 On Facebook

This was originally published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette in my column Pants-free Parenting.


I opened up Facebook and saw, “This was your year!” I clicked on the picture of me, one I had posted in April. It was a picture of me at 10, with my giant purple, plastic framed glasses. A sundress with a lace Peter Pan collar and a hat, I had decorated myself with rosettes made of purple tulle. I’m bony, my teeth stick out at so many varying angles it would make Euclid cry.

That awkward picture of me is the most honest picture of the group. The rest that Facebook used to curate my year, were all pictures of my children smiling or engaged in charming activities like dancing, sleeping or “getting along.” The pictures of my husband and I show us smiling, no bags under our eyes. No exhausted elbow jabs. No you change the poopy diaper.

I appreciate Facebook’s attempt at giving me nostalgia. But it’s dishonest to call those pictures a summation of my year.  In fact, I’ve scrolled through a lot of those year in review photo collections and they are all just a bunch of hogwash. They are just the sunny, perfect pictures we share to hide the grim realities of the rest of the year. And we all curate, we are all complicit in this game of showcasing who we want to be, rather than who we are.  But I won’t do it. I won’t share those pictures. I won’t pretend that my year was just happy, smiling faces on vacation. Because, while I do love remembering the good times, I have a problem with forgetting everything else.

In art, the balance of dark and light is called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is used to give paintings a sense of volume and dimension. It’s what makes faces in paintings glow, even hundreds of years later. It’s what makes expressions come alive. Light and dark, together make a picture real. One without the other and what you get is something flat and abstract. So, with all due respect to the lighter pictures that are curated by social media, they are not an accurate reflection of anyone’s year.

For every smiling picture, there are a dozen more darker moments, unshared and unremembered. For example, this year, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep until August. This year, I learned how to disarm a baby welding a knife and that children can ingest nicotine and be fine. I scrubbed my friend’s refrigerator. I took hours cleaning the crumbs from the drawers, washing the shelves, sniffing pieces of cheese, listening to her sob in the other room—grieving the loss of her infant son. I stood for two hours in a church, feeling pain in my heart and in my knees, not knowing how I could possibly cry anymore and yet, still finding the tears. I’ve watched a dear friend leave a violent relationship. I’ve wallowed in abject failure at least a dozen times. My baby screamed at me and bit my leg. My daughter cried and called me stupid and said I hurt her feelings and she wasn’t wrong. More than once, I said things to my husband that I wish I could take back.  And I’ve had things said to me—passive aggressive remarks from disappointed family members and snide emails from people I’ve never met.

These too are not the totality of my year, but they are a part of it. And I want to remember them too, not because they are perfect, but because they are mine. They are part of me. I want to remember them because they balance the more joyful moments. They remind me why joy is joy, that life is complicated and that we are so much more than a handful of smiling, edited photos. And in our remembrance of our past, we do a disservice to ourselves in not remembering those moments too. Because it’s the dark that balances the light and dark is part of all of this too.

I hope you have a happy new year. But I also hope your year is wonderful and deep and complicated and above all, real.

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