Adventures in Cussing

Whenever my family had to go anywhere when I was growing up, the ten or so kids who lived at home had to pile into our car like a group of clowns. Whether it was an Oldsmobile Sedan or a Station Wagon, there was never enough room for all of us to have our seats. The oldest kids would squish in first and then us younger kids would pile on top of them. With this setup, seatbelts were not an option. We had to hold on and pray for the best.

Getting out of the car was just as much of an ordeal that would last five minutes. Bystanders would stare at us and watch the unloading of the clown car. One time, when I was five, the process of us all exiting the car was so long and tedious that my sister Bridget slammed the door in my face thinking that the car was empty. She turned around just in time to see my mouth and exaggerate, “oh shit” of surprise.

Bridget laughed at the sight of seeing a five-year-old cuss. For me, it was just a prelude to a life of gratuitous cursing, which kicked into high gear when I was 12. It was then that I felt empowered by every “fuck,” “shit,” and “ass” I said. It made me more mature. At some point, I came to be known as the friend who said so many curse words that it got obnoxious. It was my "thing" since my debilitatingly time-consuming low self-esteem precluded me from having any really interests. Every other word out of my mouth wasn’t safe for young ears. Within a few years, it was a compulsion. I didn’t feel cool saying it anymore; I just didn’t know how to stop.

 The realization that I had to deal with a lot of my bad habits from my younger years was an unforeseen side effect of having kids. Smoking ended up being surprisingly easy to resolve. I got pregnant, had a bunch of morning sickness, and all of sudden the addiction I had been trying to tame for over a decade was gone. It was the cussing that had a more powerful hold on me.

I didn’t want to stop cussing because I thought the words were inherently wrong. I stuck to the non-degrading expressions, said in frustration after stubbing a toe or finding out that all the tea is gone, that were vague and aimed at no one in particular. I, also, wouldn’t mind if my kids said a "bad" word every now and again. What I was worried about, however, was the rest of the world. They cared, so I cared. Since my goal as a parent is to prevent my kids from being total pariahs in the public school system, I eventually complied and cleaned up my language.

It didn’t matter for the first year whether I cussed. The kids didn’t understand me anyway, so why should I try to stem it? I reasoned that I had already given up my two favorite things, sleeping and freedom, so I should be allowed to say whatever I wanted. It was once I heard the kids parroting words back to me that I needed to get a handle on the situation. Stray frustrated “fucks” and “shits” slipped, but I learned to mute these and just mouth the words. In a way, it ended up being an even better outlet for my frustration because I had to concentrate to do it.

There were times when I slipped up and said the words out loud. These were times I immediately regretted as the kids would latch onto them. They knew they were fun, but I did my best to stop them from repeating them.

“Shit,” I said as I dropped Darla’s shoe that I was about to put on her. It was not a necessary “shit,” because the situation wasn’t that fraught. It was just an old habit dying hard.

“Shit,” said Darla.

“I didn’t say that,” I said to Darla, sweating a little. “I said ‘sit.”

Gullible Darla believes me and I got a free pass on that one. Other times, I would suppress laughter as I pretended not to hear them (since kids cussing can be pretty damn adorable). Eventually, they would stop.

This tactic no longer works. My kids don’t believe they mishear things as much as they used to. Even when I try to downplay the severity of the word in the hopes that they will leave well enough alone, they still latch onto the words because they know they’re inherently powerful and awesome.

The most significant obstacle to keeping Darla’s world cuss-free is her ability to spell and read. Before kindergarten, Greg and I would spell out whatever we didn’t want her to understand. Suddenly, halfway through the school year, she was repeating back to us what we’d spelled. She was getting too smart for us. So, the spelling stopped, and mouthing curse words stopped. We made sure she wasn’t watching shows and movies rated above PG. We check to ensure she wasn’t sitting in the hallway when we started watching our shows at night, which we once caught her doing a couple of years back when the Jinx was on. We thought we’d keep her world insulated a little longer through these tactics.

There’s the general world, though, that we hadn’t accounted for. No one is editing the outside to make sure it’s filled with child-friendly content. That coupled with her position as an accelerated reader in her class has posed some unforeseen obstacles.

While walking through an art gallery recently, we passed a series by the artist Paul Mccarthy, which he had created in honor of the Women's March. It was a piece consisting of eight skateboard decks hanging on a brick wall. The first was neon yellow, the second was a shiny red, and the other six were lacquered wood; all had words written on them with a black sharpie. Greg took one look and ushered the family away. I was slower to respond and didn’t pick up on this cue. I took in the whole picture of the skateboards and then started working my way from left to right, reading the words on them. The first skateboard, the yellow one, had a drawing of a head and read "I Love Onley Me." I didn't notice that the hair was a penis, so I moved to the next one. It was the red one. At the top, it said “Dickhead” and “Dicknose.” Right underneath it was a crude drawing of Trump with a dick for a wig, a dick for a nose, and an asshole for a mouth. Beneath that read “asshole.” It took me one second to react, but that was a crucial second. The damage was done.

The art that led to my anxiety. 

The art that led to my anxiety. 

“What’s dickhead,” Darla said, looking up at me with wide eyes. I looked at her mouth with its lost top tooth. Such a young mouth uttering such a sophisticated vulgarity seemed both hilarious and like the worst catastrophe.

“It’s nothing,” I said, suppressing a horrified laugh. “It’s a nonsense word. I wouldn’t say it anymore.”

“Dickhead,” she said.

“Stop saying it,” I said. “Just seriously, don’t say that word ever again.

I grabbed her hand and led her into a darkened room full of priceless crystal sculptures by Mike Kelley, so I could panic about my kids knocking over rare art instead of the new word Darla learned. 

Darla made her own sign for the Women's March. 

Darla made her own sign for the Women's March. 

I thought we were done with the topic until Greg received a major award from a podcast called Death Metal Dicks. In an attempt to get more reviews, the podcasts had said they would prize the best commenter with a handmade cow skull candle holder. Greg put his heart and soul into 250 words and won it. When the skull arrived in the mail, I knew exactly how the mom in A Christmas Story felt when the leg lamp came into her house: mortified and disgusted. The skull was cleanish, but the teeth on it were too reminiscent of the animal for me to feel comfortable with it. In the midst of my aversion, I didn’t notice that Greg left the stickers from the podcast on the counter until I heard Darla’s scratchy, six-year-old voice.

“I have three dicks,” she said proudly as she marched back into the room holding the three stickers.

“Oh no no no no,” I said, as I took the stickers out of her hand. “You can’t say that.”

“But why,” she asked all doe-eyed and innocent.

“Well you see, Darla,” Greg said, hoping to speak to her on a sophisticated level by getting into the etymology, “That’s a word that used to mean detective, but people don’t usually take it to mean it that way…” He trailed off as he realized how messy it was getting. “It’s just not a word you should say.”

“Why,” Darla asked, again.

“It could get you into a lot of trouble at school,” I said. “it’s a bad word.”

“Oh, ok,” Darla said still not entirely convinced.

“You really shouldn’t say it to any of your friends because, if their parents find out, then they won’t be happy,” I said, hoping to re-emphasize how much she shouldn’t say it without telling her what it means. I felt utterly ineffective; I grasped at straws. For some reason, this made sense to her.

“Ok,” she said definitively. “I won’t say that word to anyone.”

The next day, when I picked her up from school, she was proud that she had stayed true to her word.

“Mommy, I didn’t say dicks at school today,” Darla said with a smile.

“That’s fantastic,” I said. “Now, let’s just not say it at all.”

I was relieved that for the remainder of the walk home, she didn’t mention “dicks” once. I was effective in getting her to stop, but I felt dissatisfied with the way I did it. I resolved to read up on how to handle the next time a vulgarity comes up. I don’t think I’ll be able to read anything on the topic since I feel like the next cuss word is just around the corner, so I'm feeling a lot of anxiety around the topic. Maybe I should resolve to read about it tonight. Or, maybe I should just chill out and stand by my assertion that they're just words. 

My Dad Was So Trump

In the summer of 2015, when Donald Trump first decided to run for president, I knew very little about him. I was aware of his famous catchphrase, “you’re fired,” and his cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. I also understood that most people thought he was an asshole. Oh, I also was familiar with his toupe. No further research was needed before 2015. 

Over the next several months, I came to understand Trump a lot more as he campaigned on a narcissistic, bigoted, and hateful platform. I listened to soundbites of his speeches and I felt déjà vu. When he spoke of the wall between Mexico and the United States, such a hair-brained scheme that it seemed like it had to have been a joke, it became apparent why I knew him: Donald Trump was my dad. Not my literal dad, but Trump acted, spoke, and thought exactly like my dad did when he was alive. Building a wall between Mexico and the United States was exactly something he would propose. If my dad had a wealthy father who gave him access to unlimited cash and power expressly so he could squander it all away on parties and failed investments, I’m confident my dad could’ve run for president and won. Unfortunately, my grandfather drove a cab for most of his life, so my dad was destined to aim for a much more moderate level of success.

If given the opportunity to become the most powerful leader of the world, I'm certain my dad would, also, have insisted on throwing parades in his honor and spend most of his time talking about how fantastic of a president he was without actually doing any work to substantiate the claim. When we were younger, he would routinely stage re-enactments of the crucifixion and would loudly declare "I AM GOD" and in a whisper add the disclaimer "of this house," lest the lord be eavesdropping on his tirade. Both Trump and my dad are all about the pomp and circumstance. The louder and flashier the appreciation of their beauty and greatness, the better. Just don't ask them to do anything to actually earn it. 

Both native New Yorkers, my dad stood tall under the banner “great businessman” much like Trump does. Trump and my dad, also, had similar concepts of what constitutes “good business.”  My dad opened an insurance agency fifty years ago with one guiding concept that would assure his success: “location, location, location.” He decided that the best place to open one was across the street from the DMV. He set up the agency, put a bell on top of it (which he claimed was a historic mission bell to get publicity), and then proceeded to sleep until noon every day while my mom ran the business. His instincts were right. His location was so ideal that, within a decade, other insurance agencies piggy-backed onto his success. While Trump sleeps a lot less than my dad did, my dad ran his business the same way Trump runs his. When my dad wasn’t sleeping until noon or putting in two hours of work a day in at his office, he was losing money on the stock market and scheming to defraud the system of money. No matter how good of advice he got, he always ignored it and went with his instincts, which ended up costing him a lot of money. 

My dad was, also, just as litigious as Trump is. When my sister Sarah married a lawyer, his eyes lit up with delight. He immediately got to work on making every one of his lawsuit fantasies a reality. He took everyone to task, including the people who constructed a curb that he once tripped over. Although Trump has participated in more lawsuits than my dad, given the difference in finances, I’d imagine their litigations were comparable. 

My dad, like Trump, believed in tokenism to negate any accusations that he was a racist. At a campaign rally in Nothern California, Trump said: “where’s my African American” about a man named Gregory Cheadle who was at his rally. My dad, also, had a token black friend. If he said something racist, which he always would, he’d pull out a picture of his black “son” Dwayne. He was a man he met at a bar and became good friends with. He called him “son” because he sounded much less racist than if he were just a friend.

Another trick used by Trump and my dad to detract attention away from their fatal flaws is gaslighting. This is the process by which one manipulates another person into questioning his or her concept of truth or reality. Trump does this by calling African Nations “shithole countries” in front of numerous witnesses and immediately denying it. My dad gaslit us by giving us only fictional accounts of his life and boldface assertions that his perceptions of reality are the only true ones. Whenever my siblings and I brought up our grievances with our childhood, he would deny that any of it had happened. His insistence would lead me to wonder whether the things I remembered happening were real. My dad even one time convinced me I was drunk one night in high school when I hadn’t had anything to drink. Sure, I was drunk most of high school, but that night I happened to be sober. He stood so firm, though, that I started to wonder whether I was drunk despite not having anything to drink. My dad and Trump's insistence that falsehoods are truths is probably one of the more aggravating commonalities between Trump and my dad. 

While they gaslight us, Trump eats and my dad ate absolute garbage and call(ed) it health food. Trump has a heart condition as my dad did. Did they both give up junk food and start exercising more after they were diagnosed? Nope. Trump took up golf and my dad would go to the YMCA sometimes to spend five minutes using an upper body ergometer (still wearing his jeans and dress shoes, no need for workout clothes here). Also, they continued to eat at fast food restaurants with slight modifications to their orders. Trump eats a Filet O’ Fish without bread (you know, cause Atkins etc..). My dad would order a Chicken Fajita Pita without cheese from Jack in the Box. This along with some medications, they believed, is/was enough to keep heart disease at bay. 

For Trump and my dad, spin is everything. When hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets to protest Trump, he tweeted, “Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March. Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!” Women all across the country screamed in frustration as they found their vehement protest fell on deaf ears. My dad would act similarly whenever my siblings and I would yell at him. He’d laugh and say, “my dear, look how much you love me." His insistence that we were expressing affection would further enrage us, and we'd yell louder. He would laugh some more and tell us that he loved us. 

At the end of the day, there’s one infuriating truth that ties both these men together. For most of my life, I waited for some apology from my dad; some kind of acknowledgment that what he did during his life was hurtful. That apology never ended up coming. So, for all of the world who is waiting with bated breath for Donald Trump’s grand apology, take a bit of advice from someone who watched the trajectory of his doppelganger's life: he’ll die before he ever apologizes.

An Awkward Wave

I spend most of my days either worrying about having to talk to someone, feeling embarrassed about a conversation I am currently having, or analyzing every misstep from a discussion I previously participated in. My life is fraught with anxiety surrounding the potential for awkward or humiliating experiences with other humans. 

I wasn’t always this way. This level of self-consciousness only comes from years of self-doubt and putting so many feet in my mouth. When I was a little kid, I wanted to talk to everyone. My brothers and sisters used to marvel at my ability to make friends everywhere we went. They likened my interactions to a square dance. I would do-si-do my way over to a kid who appeared to be an age within five years of my own and become his or her best friend. One time, when I was six, I even went door to door asking my neighbors if they had any little kids who might want to play with me. I was lucky that I didn’t knock on the door of a serial killer who would be more than happy to show me the basement where their “child” lived. I didn’t find any friends, either, but I would still count that day as a win since I was alive at the end of it. 

Somewhere along the line, I started to feel awkward. I began to feel self-conscious in conversations and second-guessed everything I said. I’m going to say this happened around puberty. I still haven’t moved past this pubescent-level of discomfort, and I long for the freedom from self I experienced as a five-year-old. 

I didn’t know my kids could feel awkward like this. Given that half the time they are trying to leave the house in their underwear, I assumed that embarrassment was pretty far off my kid’s radar. (Unless, that is, I’m the cause of the humiliation. I’m well aware that Darla is in a phase where I’m kind of mortifying to her). I’ve witnessed my kids feeling discomfited a couple of times, and it’s very notable whenever it happens. Something about awkwardness is so adult that it doesn't seem right coming from my kids. I assume they only think about legos, candy, and television most of the time. It never occurred to me that every once in a while they might think “Oh, that was awkward that I did that.”

Last week, after Jude and I dropped Darla off at school, we walked across the yard to leave the school grounds. On a typical day, Jude will run up to a teacher’s aide named Mary and give her a big hug. He calls her his good friend. As we approached the area where Mary usually guards the kindergarteners, another woman, who looked a lot like her, walked across our line of vision. Jude, an otherwise shy kid, perked up and smiled at her. He waved enthusiastically at the woman, who didn’t happen to see him. He then saw the real Mary in the distance. His smile faded and his hand dropped. The entire situation disconcerted him so much that he forewent his hug with Mary.  As we left the school that day, I took Jude’s hand, which had just been waving at a stranger he mistook for someone else. I gave it a squeeze that I hoped would say, “I know how you feel right now and, I hate to say it, but this is going to happen to you a lot more over the rest of your life. Sorry!”

Passing the Birthday Torch

My parents would throw one, standard-issue birthday party. Not one party a year; one party period. Usually, this was the fifth birthday. Entire classes were invited to our house to run around in our large backyard, break a piñata, eat cake, and open gifts. After the last guest left, the streamers were taken down, the balloons were popped, and the birthday kid was officially done with birthday parties for the rest of his or her time while living at my parents’ house. Hopefully they enjoyed it because there was no chance another party would be thrown in his or her honor until it could be paid for with his or her own damn money.

To be fair to all twelve of the kids, each child should've received the same treatment. There shouldn’t have been an exception to the rule since any deviation from this plan would send the message that some sibling was less than the others. There was, however, one child for whom they made an exception. That one child was me, the youngest of the twelve kids. I didn’t have one birthday party when I was five. I didn’t have that one celebration that helped me feel for just one day that I was unique; that I stood apart from the rest of my family as an individual. 

I didn’t have that special party on my fifth birthday because I had a birthday party every year when I was a child. These celebrations were big affairs where I invited every kid in my class and kids from the neighborhood. Clowns and magicians would perform for my friends and I. Face painters would decorate our little cheeks with hearts and butterflies while we imagined the sweetness of gentle chocolate buttercream and cake melting on our tongues.  

My mom even indulged my desire to be utterly picky about my cake whereas she would pick out the cake she thought my siblings might like on their birthdays. If they didn’t like it, there was nothing to be done about it. However, a lot of deliberation went into my birthday cakes.
I chose my birthday cake from Stanlees, a bakery in the center of town that we’d drive by every day. Watching the bright orange, arched entranceway pass by my window always got me to thinking about their frosting, which was thick and buttery without leaving a coat of fat in your mouth. (It’s a frosting I haven’t found anywhere else, the closest being a cake from Albertsons). A few days before the party, my mom would bring me to the bakery where I would carefully page through the plastic sleeved binder to pick out my perfect design. My mom would sit by patiently as I slowly weighed my options.  

Most often, my mom would indulge my choice of cake decorations. The only year she refused was the one where I wanted the one with a naked baby on it. She said “no,” which is a decision I assumed she made because she thought the cake was too immature for me. I didn’t learn until years later that the baby was a naked, big-breasted woman laying above a banner that read “Welcome Home, Soldier.” (If it were my kids, I would allow them to get that cake just for the sake of the pictures).  

My birthdays were more significant than one day. It needed to span the entire month. February eventually became known as my birthday month. I would have a birthday party with just my family, a birthday party with friends, birthday dinner with my family, and then I would discuss the details of my birthday every other day of the month. I'd spend the days after my birthday crying and feeling so sad for myself. I imagine all my siblings were seething in the background, unable to fathom why I had so many celebrations. I don’t know why I did either, but I was more than happy to accept them.

I now am a parent with two kids who live for their birthdays, and it feels like karma. Every year, despite me resolving to keep it simple and only invite two of their friends over for a big old nothing of a party, I end up allowing it to get bigger and bigger. The guilt starts creeping in as I think about how many birthday parties I had gotten. I’d be pretty selfish if I didn’t attempt to do the same for them. They, also, wear me down until I have no energy to resist the party. 
This year, Darla, whose birthday is the beginning of March, began talking about her birthday on December 26th.

“Mommy,” Darla says as she walks into the kitchen where I’m washing dishes. “Can I go to Disneyland for my birthday?”

“You already said you wanted to have friends over for pizza and a movie,” I say, struggling to suppress a sigh. The wrapping paper from Christmas still lay in a sloppy pile in the hallway. Most of her gifts were still in their packaging. “You’re only allowed one birthday party.”

“Well then,” she said, “I want to make it a Disneyland party.”

“Darla, I can’t do this,” I said. “Christmas isn’t even really over yet. I can’t talk about your birthday party yet.”

She let the conversation stand that day, but she has come back with more requests every day since then. So far, she’s vacillated between wanting a Chuck E Cheese birthday (which I always support), a movie birthday, and a Disney birthday. She, also, has made a list of birthday gift ideas that includes every item on display at every kiosk in the mall (a steamer, a squishy ball, and a wooden plaque are among her top choices). We still have two more months left, and I’m pretty sure she’ll eventually add a hair straightener and a year supply of Accutane by the time her birthday comes. 

I can’t say where my irritation about discussing her birthday stems from. Maybe it’s because there’s only so much involved in a birthday, that two months of conversations about it is incredibly tedious and boring. I can’t spend hundreds of hours contemplating balloon colors and designs. Or, maybe I can’t abide another person stealing my thunder and dominating the birthday conversation so close to my own. 

A smug, little birthday brat.

A smug, little birthday brat.

Treat Your Kids Like You Work With Them

Professional interactions are a hotbed of passive aggression. Restraint prevents us from speaking our minds directly, so, lest there be any misgivings, we talk to intolerable co-workers or employees in veiled terms. It’s a level of “fuck you” that leaves the other person feeling disjointed, offended, and embarrassed, yet unable to pinpoint what exactly had just happened to them. They know what you did was insulting to them, but they can’t be sure why. For the passive aggressor, it releases just enough steam from the pressure cooker to allow her to feel vindicated against the person who failed them professionally. It may not be the most efficient, direct form of communication, but it serves its purpose and keeps us all on task.

If passive aggression is good enough for work relationships, which make up about 50% of our lives, it’s good enough for parent/child interactions, which make up the other half. In the case of children, it’s best to speak to them as if they work for another company who has an exhaustive list of requests as opposed to employees or colleagues since kids don’t do any viable work for us. Most times they only create unnecessary work by dumping full bottles of shampoo on the floor or stripping down naked minutes before it’s time to leave for school. When you find yourselves dealing with these types of “workplace” situations with your kids, here are some useful passive-aggressive techniques.

1.      “Per my email…” When someone in a professional setting fails to put even the most minimal amount of effort by, let’s say, reading every word of an email you sent, a good response is “per my email…” If such wording fails to have an impact, you can go straight for the throat with a more overt act of aggression, such as copying and pasting the original email.

The equivalent to this in a parent/child relationship is giving detailed instructions on how to do correctly execute a demand they just made of you. If your child holds up an empty glass and shouts “water” inform them of how to get the water their own damn selves. Make sure the instructions are drawn-out, pedantic, and exhaustive.

“You might have noticed there’s a room right next to the living room,” you might say. “That room is called the kitchen. The kitchen is where we keep our food and beverages. In the kitchen is a refrigerator in which we store the water. You need to grab a cup from the cupboard and pour water from the refrigerator into it. Once you fill the glass, close the refrigerator door.”

Since children have no concept of irony, they don't understand that you’re being rude as shit here. To them, you’re just giving them valuable information. And, maybe the reason they demand you serve them water on a daily basis is both because they’re lazy and they forget how to pour water themselves. 

2.      Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. When a colleague doesn’t respond to an inquiry, ask it again. And again. And again with little to no variation in the wording. With my kids, I just repeat the same thing over and over again. “Stop hitting your brother. Stop hitting your brother. Stop hitting your brother. Stop hitting your brother.” It’s not a successful strategy, but it does allow for anger to sneak its way into the words and is a good outlet for frustration.

3.      Eye Rolling Behind their backs. When you’re unable to be direct and tell people how you feel, lest you damage professional relationships that your boss has spent decades fostering, the best recourse is to give them a hard eye roll behind their back. It’s a proper release. You can do the same with kids. When they’re not looking, roll your eyes. It’s very cathartic. Then, when they look back at you, resume your stoic expression, so they’ll never suspect how painful their two hours of freestyling was for you.

Following the same coping mechanisms, you utilize during your work day to deal with your kid’s idiosyncrasies helps them be much more tolerable. It allows you both an outlet for frustration and helps you maintain your relationship with them without having to apologize too much. Beware, though, kids start developing a sense of irony around nine, so the usefulness of this passive aggression will surely go away by the time they’re in fourth grade. 

Oh, and just an FYI, if we have worked together or will work together in the future, these are all just techniques I’ve heard about from other people. They’re definitely not something I’ve utilized in real life. All my interactions with you have been 100% authentic.


Down with Homework

In Kindergarten, it seemed to me that Darla was doing college-level work. She learned to read full words and was even required to write in a journal once a week. The start of Kindergarten was a horrible experience for both of us. In preschool, Darla spent her days running around on a playground and sometimes doing a few minutes of work in a workbook. In Kindergarten, she sat at a desk and cycled through Math and English from the beginning of the day to the end. She sat more than she ran.

When Darla finally came home, she had to sit some more and do homework. Our nights were mired in frustration and anger. Darla would scream for hours. She was like a wild horse, fighting against domestication. She wanted to dance and be free, but we were forcing her to sit, be quiet, and work incessantly. 

If you asked me my thoughts about homework when I was in kindergarten, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. I knew about jump rope, playing tag, getting in fights with my older sister, and kitchen play sets; I knew nothing about school work, so I knew nothing about homework. When I was in first grade, I had barely begun to learn my ABC’s. I was impressed by David Murphy when he read “it” (the word, not the clown horror book by Stephen King) midway through the year. 

“He’s a genius,” I thought. “I’ll never be as smart as he is.”

Much to my surprise, I eventually did learn to read the word “it” by the end of second grade. By third grade, I could read books well. By fifth grade, despite not being given homework in kindergarten, I read Steven King’s It. 

As I fought against her unwillingness to be contained, I felt like a hypocrite. I was frustrated with her for not sitting down and doing what I asked her to do when I was precisely the type of kid who couldn’t sit still when I was five. I was like Darla. I would sing and dance whenever there was enough open space to twirl. I, unlike Darla, was a terrible student for most of my elementary and high school career. 

I got my first D in 7th grade. I got my first F in 9th. Despite getting A’s my senior year and eventually loving school, I was still ranked 238th out of 240 kids in my graduating class. My mom stopped paying attention to whether or not I did my homework sometime around 8th grade. I rarely brought my books to school. When I did hand in homework, I had to root around the bottom of my backpack to find it. I'd eventually put it out to see it covered in grease stains from the lemon muffin I bought from the snack counter during lunch. If my homework assignments were ever done well, chances were high that my mom had carried the weight of the project. My most top priority then was hanging out with my friends and laughing, which I’m happy for because I don’t have time to do any of that now. 

At some point between thirty years ago and now, someone somewhere drew a false correlation between homework and achievement. Kids and parents are now paying the price. Nights, which could otherwise be spent reading, playing games, or talking are now spent arguing. Homework should just be done away with altogether. There’s no proof that it has any benefit, whereas quality time between parents and children in the evening has shown to make kids more well-adjusted and happy. 

These kids are only going to be this young and carefree for a short amount of time. Darla, like all children, wants to hang out with her friends and laugh. For some reason, we adults want to limit this for all kids; indoctrinate them into the workforce and world of discipline only a few years after they learn how to talk. Sometimes I forget that she’s just a child and get increasingly frustrated by her inability to sit still for ten hours a day.  Then I remember how little and sweet Darla is and immediately regret all the times I’ve grown frustrated with her for not being more mature at the age of six. 

Have Yourself a Managed Expectation Christmas

I have established a pattern for myself as a mom. Whenever there’s an opportunity for joy in abundance, I stir up the darkness and create boundary after boundary. Christmas, then, is a wonderful time for me to spread misery and attainable, stale prospects. Every parent, if, she or he follows these guidelines, can do his or her part spread uniformity, realism, and tedium during the holiday season.

1.    The Christmas List- When helping your kids write their letters to Santa, make sure you devote at least 75% of the time to managing your kids’ expectations. When your child brings out an issue of Popular Mechanics to facilitate his wish list, let him pick out one item before telling him how awful you heard the Nintendo Switch is as you throw the magazine in the garbage. Tell your kids the sky’s the limit, but consistently let them know that the sky you’re working with has a very low ceiling; it’s about as tall as the kitchen table, max. When in doubt, tell them that the item they want more than anything in the world won’t fit in Santa’s sleigh. 

At some point, try slipping in a few suggestions for reasonable gifts. If they’re under the age of six, they will think the inexpensive, small gifts were their idea so they won’t be too disappointed when they get a walkie-talkie instead of the $100 Hatchling.

2.    Desserts- Spend most of your time baking sweets with your kids, but only allow them small portions of the dessert you’ve made. Eat most of it yourself that night after they go to bed and throw out the rest before they wake up the next morning. 

3.    Holiday Apparel- In the beginning, you might be tempted to let your kids pick out their special, holiday outfit. When whatever they want to wear is a white t-shirt with brown, circular stains down the front of it and basketball shorts with bleach stains, intervene. Force them to wear the pants that button up and the shirt that feels itchy. Never mind the fact that you never wear any pants that zip or button and you only wear shirts made of muslin or clouds, it’s Christmas, and they need to look like Prince George and Princess Charlotte. God forbid anyone finds out you’re not related to royalty.  

I took this picture as I was telling the kids to leave Santa Claus alone. 

I took this picture as I was telling the kids to leave Santa Claus alone. 

4.    Visit with Santa- Spend more time worrying about the people behind you in line than you do trying to make this experience joyful for your kids. In line, reprimand them for playing and messing up their picture-perfect looks that you forced them to wear. When they finally reach him, give them less than five seconds to tell Santa what gifts you want and then make fun of their choice to Santa Claus because you want the guy in the costume to know that you’re not the kind of parent who buys a preschooler his own iPhone or television.

Every year, I endeavor to loosen up, and every year I get more and more rigid. It’s hard to overlook years’ worth of anxiety just because it’s December 1st. I’m hoping that every other parent spends a lot of time sucking the fun out of the holidays because it will make it a lot easier for me. That way I won’t have to hear about how wonderful and carefree all the other families’ holidays were. 

The Exorcist

I was a terribly afraid child. From illnesses to rejection, I was on guard against danger almost all the time. There was one fear that stood out among the rests, one that almost ate me alive, and that was my phobia of demon possession.

I was Irish Catholic, but the priests and nuns didn’t teach me about how Satan could take over my soul. I suppose I can understand why they did this; it wouldn’t be a smart PR move for the Catholic Church to lead with Satan’s powers. Jesus probably coached his disciples to carry on the legacy of the Holy Trinity, not the Devil, which was a sage decision because three magicians working in tandem is far more dazzling than a seething cauldron of evil and hatred.

I learned of demon possession, instead, at Alexandra’s slumber party in fifth grade. It was here that the birthday girl’s parents, in their infinite wisdom, showed The Exorcist to 15 girls who, despite being on the threshold of puberty, still played with Barbie’s and stuffed animals. We may have felt very mature, but we were all still children.

Right before the movie started, another girl at the party, Tylane, informed me that The Exorcist was a lot like The Terminator. As I crawled into my sleeping bag to watch the cheap Terminator knock-off, I was annoyed I’d have to sit through an action movie I had successfully avoided the past eight years of my life. Ten minutes in, another girl whispered something about how Regan was kissing a boy when she said she was playing with the Ouija board. This development got me more interested, and I began to pay closer attention.

These two other slumber party attendees were gravely misinformed, which I learned about twenties minutes into the movie. I watched Regan flail violently on her bed and speak in demonic tongues. Despite innumerable nightmares depicted over the course of the next two hours, I continued to watch and held out hope that the movie would pivot; that the Terminator would come bursting through the walls like a 'roided out Kool-Aid Man and The Exorcist would end with an awesome make-out session between Regan and a neighboring boy.

When the credits rolled and I had witnessed nothing but horror, I got out of my sleeping bag, ran to the bathroom, and threw up. I begged Alexandra’s mom to let me go home, but she refused. I went back to the row of sleeping bags and was dismayed to find that, by getting up to barf, I had forfeited my safe spot in the center of the girls and had to sleep at the edge of the group. My sleeping bag was both closest to the door and the Ouija board, which some of the girls had been playing with earlier in the night. I was screwed.

I spent the rest of the night shivering and staring at the door. I was confident Regan would eventually open it to grab her Ouija Board. I stayed awake and prayed for the sun to come up. When it did, the fear remained just as intense as it had been in the dark. This terror remained strong for years after. I was convinced I was the prime candidate for demon possession and slept in my mom’s bed in the hopes that Satan, when he eventually arrived to take over my body, would get confused and take my mom, instead. 

By the time I went to High School, my fear of demon possession was under control, and I was back in my own bed. To this day, though, I still harbor intense anxieties and am in no way any braver than I was in fifth grade. I’m, in fact, just as afraid of ghosts as I was 25 years ago. I don’t even want to hear the word “ghost” too soon before I go to bed because there’s a small chance that doing so would grab the attention of whatever beings might be haunting my house. I like to fade into the background as much as possible when it comes to spirits and netherworld creatures. Even writing this post is a risky.

When Darla was born, I wondered when she would start to become afraid of ghosts. To my surprise, things were easy in this department; Darla wasn’t particularly fearful of ghosts and seemed even to relish being scared. Although she one time lost her mind when she saw the witch on the Snow White ride at Disneyland, she faced her fears and scrolled through picture after picture on my phone until she reached both the inevitable pornographic images bound to pop up on a google search and her conquered fear. I thought that maybe I might not have to ever deal with a terrified child. 

Once Jude came along, I knew I was wrong. He’s my emotional doppelganger in a lot of ways. He’s just as finicky of an eater as I was at four and he hates going out more than I currently do. He is also a terrified child. Every few nights in the past year, he has gotten overwhelmed by terror for disparate reasons. Last night, he refused to go to bed because he was afraid of a bucket in our backyard that Darla told him had a severed hand in it. Despite telling him that it was a litter of newborn kittens, not a disembodied limb, his fears multiplied. I felt ill-equipped to help him navigate his terror.

“I’m afraid someone’s going to come out of my closet,” he said. His fears were spreading everywhere.  

If I were to give him an honest response, it would go like this:

“Oh my god,” I’d say. “Isn’t that the scariest feeling? The feeling that there’s something in the closet just waiting for you to go to bed? Maybe you should stay awake all night and stare at the closet to make sure nothing happens.”

The answer I know I’m supposed to give, which is the one I did give him was this:

“There’s nothing in the closet,” I said, walking over to the door. I took a deep breath and pulled it open. My heart jumped in anticipation, believing I would see a possessed little girl in a white nightgown hovering inside of the closet. All I saw were toys and clothes, so I breathed a sigh of relief. “See. It’s totally safe. There’s nothing in there.”

Incapable of allaying his fears, I felt an urge just to close the door and let him deal with it because he was starting to freak me out, too. I stopped myself because I can remember how profoundly intense fear can feel when you’re a child. It’s overwhelming and all-encompassing. There’s no escaping it. I knew that closing the door would make him feel abandoned and terrified; a little man forced to deal with evil forces all on his own. A solution came to me, and I knew I would emerge from the night a hero.

“Want to sleep in Darla’s room?” I asked.

Jude gleefully jumped from his bed and ran to his sister’s room. When he showed up with his blanket and a grin, Darla screamed and demanded a promise that he would only be in her room for one night. I made that lousy promise, knowing full well it would be weeks before his fear of the scary hand in the backyard dissipated. Since she’s the one who told him there was a severed hand in the yard, his fear shouldn't be my problem. And if anyone in this house can talk a four-year-old boy out of his worries, it’s Darla. 

An hour later, both kids were asleep, and I was free to avoid my own fears in peace. 

Tabula Rasa

With twelve kids to raise, my parents were able to provide clothing, food, a Catholic school education, and a big house. It was a nearly insurmountable task for them to get us these necessities. Other things, like lessons about hygiene, were a low priority. Since we were only allowed one shower or bath a week on Saturday to save on the cost of hot water, we were a foul-smelling group.

Our parents forgot to tell us to change our underwear every day and, since kids need to be taught to do this, we’d wear the same pair the entire week. And on the seventh day, we'd forfeit the stained, skid-marked messes to the laundry pile in the corner of our rooms. They’d land gently on top of the knee-high, blue socks we were required to wear at school. These socks were worn for a week straight, as well. They would reek of beef broth and Doritos and the crunchy fabric at the toes would give our feet callouses. With so little time to cover the basics, we kids were left to try and figure out much of life's lessons on our own. 

I, for instance, had no concept of germs when I was a child. If I drank water from a cup, I would place it back in the cupboard without washing it. In my mind, I was doing the right thing. Above the kitchen sink, my dad had placed a sign that read "less work for mother." By putting the cup back in the cupboard, I was doing my part to follow this command by making less work for my mom since I believed she only cleaned dishes to get the food debris off of the plates. If I was drinking a colorless liquid, then this process was useless; they were as clean as they were before I drank from them. I put one glass back every day of my childhood. I was inadvertently committing germ warfare against everyone else in my house.

It's hard for us parents to grasp the depth of our kids' idiocy fully. We take for granted the lessons that have to be taught to children because we have to teach them EVERYTHING, from how to properly wipe their butts to why they shouldn't lick every doorknob they come across. I wasn't aware that I even had to teach Darla that it wasn't ok to climb on top of a stranger's car and dance. Darla was genuinely surprised when I pulled her off the car and informed her that climbing on car roofs was A. dangerous and B. disrespectful. She hasn't jumped on top of a car since that day. 

Other battles are harder won. Some I have been teaching Darla and Jude since they were two years old; despite this, they always seem like they're hearing these lessons for the first time. Here are some of my kids' top blindspots:

1. Wash your hands: Every time my kids leave the bathroom, I have to ask whether they washed their hand. Most times, they slap their foreheads and go back to do it. Sometimes, Jude will argue that he doesn't have to wash his hands since he washed them before he went into the bathroom.  I try to explain to them how germs work. I remind them of the stomach flu they had and how they may not have experienced that if they washed their hands better. In these moments, they seem to absorb the information. Five minutes later, they're back to picking their butts and sticking their hands in their mouths.

Once I convince them to wash their hands, I struggle to get them to use soap. Once I get them to use soap, I have to remind them to wet their hands first. Once their hands are wet, they're reaching for the paper towels, forgetting entirely about the soap.  

2. Drink water: I feel like I'm spinning plates when it comes to getting my kids to drink water; every time I got it under control, their water drinking falls off. Somedays, I feel like I'm setting a great example. I resolve to get my kids to drink eight glasses of water in a day. I purchase new water bottles to inspire them to drink even when we're away from home. I fill it with cold water and ice cubes. I encourage them every ten minutes to drink. Two hours later, the water is room temperature and the new water bottle is sitting somewhere in the park, which I don't realize until I'm in the car leaving the park. By the end of the day, the kids are dehydrated and guzzling water at bedtime, ensuring that they will pee the bed. 

3: Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze: I first started teaching this to Darla when she was two. I figured that she'd be a master of elbow coughing within a few months. I was not going to have that kid who walked through a museum, spreading her germs liberally without giving a courteous cough into her sleeve. I'd seen kids who let out wet, barking coughs through wide-opened mouths before I had kids and it would always make me shiver. 

I was delusional. Four years later, Darla, and now Jude, still cough and sneeze into the air without making any movement towards their elbow. The glares from childless people still haunt me. 

4: Blow your nose: My kids' sniffle and I hand them tissues. They either refuse them or wipe their noses without blowing them. They continue to sniffle. There's nothing I can do to fix this.

5: Don't pick your nose or your crotch (especially when in public): I walk down the street with my kids, who are a few feet ahead of me. Everything seems fine until I catch up with them, which is when I see that Darla is knuckle-deep in her nose while Jude is furiously scratching his crotch. I push both their hands to their sides and they immediately put them back where they were. This moment is when I decide I have to take them home since they're not civilized enough to be brought out into the public. 

And for every one of these lessons that I hope will someday sink in, I can understand their struggles against them. I remember being in their shoes when I was learning these rules. There were many times when I was a kid that I distinctly remember not washing my hands after peeing. I drank more soda than water. I picked my nose gratuitously until second grade until, one day, a classmate caught me. I was surprised to learn that covering my nose with one hand and picking it with the other, which was a technique I was proud of, hadn't camouflaged my actions.

As an adult, I sometimes think life would be more comfortable if I hadn't learned these lessons. It would be nice to not have to wash my hands so much. Also, I now just feel guilty that I don't drink enough water until bedtime. Sometimes, sniffling is easier than getting up and finding a tissue. The way my kids live their lives seem so much easier in the short term and it's tempting to follow their example, but my conscience won't let me.

This is true unless I stop paying attention for a minute and forget my own rules. Just as I finished writing this, while I helped Jude clean his room, I kicked up some dust and immediately sneezed. It was a loud, boisterous sneeze, which I failed to cover. Jude quickly jumped on my mistake since pointing out the faults in his parents is more delicious than ice cream for him.

"Mommy," he said with shock. "You didn't cover your mouth. You need to pull up your shirt and sneeze into your shirt or else you're going to get germs everywhere."

"You're right," I said. "I forgot. Thank you for reminding me."

With that, the circle is complete. The student has become the master. 


Chuck E. Cheese Enthusiasts

    Greg and I spent a solid month planning Darla’s first birthday. We wanted to make sure that she knew just how much we loved her by making it a birthday to remember (which she would ultimately not remember). Or maybe we wanted to show the world that we loved her. Regardless, we tried to put some effort into it. I invited everyone we knew. I handmade hot air balloon decorations. Greg designed, and screen printed hot air balloon t-shirts. We spent an exorbitant amount of money on Mexican food catering and beer. 

Despite my best effort, this first birthday party, which took place in our dirty driveway, was no competition for the fancy first birthday planned by another mom from the mom group I was in. Most of her baby friends opted to go to that party because it was sure to be much more exciting. We may have had a blanket spread out with musical instruments, but that was nothing compared to the party with the petting zoo, haystacks, and gingham tablecloths. While I may have conceived of individual decorations, that mom had come up with an entire concept for her party. (Although the fact that my invitations went out a month after the other mom sent out hers might have had more to do with it, I prefer to tell the story in a more bitter way than that). Darla’s party was still a fun event with our closest friends (mostly adults), which is fine because she didn’t even acknowledge the other kids I had invited. 

I was thoroughly exhausted. I could barely stay awake long enough to get into bed that night. I think of that fatigue every time Jude and Darla’s birthdays near. As a result, I have yet to put in as much effort into a birthday party as I did that first one. With each passing year, the birthday parties have gotten less and less personal. My primary goal with the parties, now, is to put as little effort into them, while still making them fun. 


Enter Chuck E. Cheese. I have recently become evangelical for this place. First off, when you walk in, an employee brands the whole family with the same number so a stranger can’t take off with them. (I did notice, however, that the wall leading outside is quite low and I don’t know if the Chuck E. Cheese employee is willing to tackle the kidnapper to the ground, so if someone were intent on stealing your kid, they’d find a way to get them. I try not to think about that too much, though). Second, their pizza is pretty good, and I prefer it to some of the fancier restaurants in Los Angeles. 

As for their birthday parties, they’re a dream. They cover every detail like a well-oiled machine. They give you the tokens, and your kids can run wild while the parents stare dead-eyed into the chaos that they hope their kids are still in. After the kids have spent all their tokens, the employees parade out Chuck E. to terrify the kids. He sings some songs, puts your kid in a ticket hurricane, and everyone eats cake. After two hours, the party is over. It’s effortless.  

We held out on this as an option for years. Rather, Greg resisted it. He said he just remembered it smelling like feet. While I too view Chuck E. Cheese as ground zero for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, I think the risk is worth it. I lobbied hard to throw their birthday parties there. I reasoned that we didn’t save any money planning the parties ourselves and that it’s all the kids would want anyway. 

This year, Greg finally acquiesced. After throwing Darla’s birthday party there in the spring, we’ve become a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party type of family. And you know what? We’re never turning back. We will throw every celebration imaginable at Chuck E. Cheese. We’ll even be throwing their college graduation there.  

Pinewood Derby Bonding

 For decades, pinewood derbies have operated under the guise that they're an opportunity for parents and children to bond. Wooden blocks are purchased and cut into shapes specified by the parents with very little input from their kids. Parents pull sandpaper out of the supply closet, purchase paints, and lay down the paper to prevent messes. The kids are ushered to the table where the magic is about to happen. The parents explain how to build a pinewood derby car to the children. Two sentences in, the kids are in the other room, trying to turn the TV back on. The parents yell for their kids to come back in or else they’ll get a timeout. The children come back begrudgingly and do the most half-assed job anyone could ever muster the strength to do, efficiently destroying the beautiful base the parents had agonized over. After five minutes of sloppy paint application, the kids are kicked out of the kitchen so the parents can finish the pinewood derby right.

The day of the race, parents carefully carry the newly finished cars to check in while the kids run off to hang out with their friends. A few kids, who made their cars, proudly carry them in. Most families realize right then that their grand ambitions for bonding never came to fruition. In fact, they’d missed the last week of their kids’ lives working on the car, and they’ve never felt more distant from their offspring. 

The above was the scenario we encountered our first year as participants in the Pinewood Derby at Darla’s school. Greg put everything he had into that car, hoping to inspire the engineer he knows lurks in Darla’s soul. He researched the best ways to increase the cars’ speed. He chose an aerodynamic design, baked the car, and shaved it down with a surgeon’s precision. Meanwhile, Darla was doing pirouettes and singing “All About That Bass.” He purchased the best spray paint and turned her car into a beautiful bubblegum pink shade over the course of a few hours. He then pulled Darla away from the TV, gave her a paint set, and a paintbrush to make the car hers. She applied a few strokes of purple and a few dots a glitter before she begged to go back to the TV. If you count reprimanding your kid and forcing her to do an activity she has zero interest in as bonding, our family bonded more than any family ever has in the history of time.

 On the day of the race, as we looked at all the cars already registered, we questioned, for a number of the vehicles, whether the students had even been allowed to touch the derby cars they had entered. There were paper-thin, professionally-painted, small vehicles. There was also one car that was a detailed replica of a guitar complete with the graininess of the shellacked wood. We understood, then, that this wasn’t a competition between students, but a contest between the student’s parents. Did the quality of the car indicate just how much we loved our kids? If that’s the case, does the fact that Greg was the only one who worked on Darla’s car mean that he loves her more?

Greg hoped that, if Darla rooted for her car and felt the adrenaline rush of the race, she might be inspired to participate more in the construction of the vehicle next year. She’d see the benefit of all the hard work. Darla stood on the sidelines for the first race, which “her” car won. That was when she saw her friend Haylen and left to say hi to her. Greg was absorbed in the race as Darla’s car won heat after heat. In the end, it was down to Darla’s car and a fifth grader’s car competing for second place. Greg and I began rooting for Darla’s car. It was then that we saw the fifth-grader kneeling and praying. We looked over at Darla, who was dancing with her friend four yards away. We looked back at the praying child. At that moment, we decided to pull the positive energy we had been pouring towards Darla’s car. The fifth grader was the one who deserved to win. 

“Where’s my trophy?” Darla asked when the race ended.

 “You didn’t win,” Greg said. 

“Oh well,” Darla said as she ran back to Haylen. In the background, we could see the fifth-grader crying joyous cheers as he held up his second place car.  

This year, we endeavored to only put in as much energy into the kid’s cars as they were willing to put in. If we followed through with that strategy, however, we’d currently have a wooden block with a bit of paint on it, and we’d be out the $25 we spent on those pieces of wood. It's easier for me to be ok with wheels glued to the bottom of a wooden block than it is for Greg, so he worked to at least turn them into nice looking cars. The precision and vigor from the last year, however, disappeared. The memory of Darla's apathetic shrug from the year before still loomed large in his memory. 

This year, we’re not bowing to the pressure of the pinewood derby.  Greg was able to make the cars look really slick without worrying over the science of an aerodynamic derby car like he had last year. To get the cars to that next level, the level we observed on the day of the race last year, we’d have to take a month off of work and ignore Darla and Jude. We already used up all our vacation days for the year, so that's not possible. As a result, Darla, and now Jude, have been a bit more involved this year and their cars look more like them. Most important, Greg and I are not competing with the other parents to see who is the most proficient at bonding with their kids while creating miracles of modern-day engineering.             

Privacy Concerns

Since I grew up the youngest of twelve kids, there was no such thing as privacy when I was growing up. None of us had our own rooms, and we were never alone. There were no locks on any of the doors either, so there was always the possibility that someone was going to barge into any room with no warning. Everything we did behind closed doors was subject to public scrutiny.

Believing they were alone, my older sister when she was six, performed for all of her best friends in the room she shared with two other siblings

“These are my friends,” she sang as she swept her arms in front of her one arm at a time, from left to right. “These are my friends. These are my friends.”

My older brother saw this recital and told every other member of the family that our sister was singing a song to her stuffed animals, calling them her friends. When I heard this legend when I was ten, I empathized with my sister since the same thing had happened to me when I was caught kissing a poster of Macaulay Culkin that I had ripped out of Tiger Beat Magazine.  

One might think we were afforded privacy in the form of a diary with a solid lock on it, but this wasn’t so. All words written down were considered fair game for every member of the house to read. My dad, while drinking his evening tea, would randomly summon us one at a time to bring our diaries to him after supper. He’d sip his tea as he casually flipped through the pages while we stood by anxiously, hoping we didn’t let something offensive slip in there. 

We rarely got in trouble for what we wrote in our diaries. Since reading them was a part of my dad’s parenting technique, we would stick to the following, parent-approved topics: what we ate, how boring school is, and how much we hated the other siblings. We’d never write anything substantial like how we had stolen quarters off our dad’s dresser and used the money to buy candy at the little store. (He always knew when we did this, anyway, because this was a trap he had laid for us every day. He knew how many coins were on the dresser and would count them when he got home. If the same amount weren’t there, we’d be in trouble). Topics such as drugs, sex, and how we wanted to punch our dad weren’t smart things to write in our diaries. 

Through self-editing, our diary entries read something like this:
Dear Diary, Today was boring. We went to school and learned about reading. I drank a coke. Jenny stole my pencil. I told the teacher. Well, gotta go to bed.

My dad was hopeful that we’d let our guards down if he did these diary checks irregularly enough; we’d eventually include the information he wanted to read. He would let months pass without asking for our journals. We knew better than to fall for that and continued to write the most boring shit you could imagine.  

The only domain of privacy was in our dreams, but even this wasn’t 100% as my dad would frequently take pictures of us with a large flash bulb as we slept. We’d be jerked out of a deep sleep only to see our dad walk out of the room. 

What this lack of privacy did was make us extremely sneaky. We’d go to great lengths to break the rules of the house and the country in secret. Unfortunately, I was caught for everything I ever did because I never cover my tracks well.

I’ve inherited the snooping gene from my dad. I’d like to think I’m an unlicensed detective, but I’m just a quidnunc; a boring old gossip who wants to know everything abought everyone always. Every time I have pried by either eavesdropping or reading something not intended for me, I found exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, the thing I was looking for was always the thing that made me feel or look the worst since I was never looking for gifts or fun surprises. Luckily for my kids, I stopped snooping years ago for the sake of my sanity. 

I understand, however, where my dad was coming from when he read our diaries, though. Darla started writing in her journal recently, and it’s torture not to read it. Her spelling skills are rudimentary at best, and she only has enough stamina to write one sentence a day, but I’d really like to read those single sentences all the same. Maybe I could gain a little more insight into what her day is like since she’s infamously tightlipped about everything once she gets home. I one time gave into my baser impulses, and it was a disappointing experience. The sentence read like hieroglyphics, and I couldn’t understand what it said. I felt guilty for breaking her trust but received none of the rewards for my indiscretion. I have made it a firm rule never to look, again.

We’re, also, working on knocking before we enter rooms so everyone can have a little more privacy. This one is harder to deprogram in me. I have 35 years of barging to undo, so I’m going to need a little more time to acclimate to this new concept of privacy. I'm averaging a knock once every four times right now. By 2018, I should be up to a knock 50% of the time. 

It’s my hope that, if I give Darla and Jude some personal space, they’ll be less likely to be sneaky and break the rules when they’re teenagers. Maybe they'll be more likely to come to me when they have a problem. Or, maybe I’m just kidding myself, and I'll have to start summoning them to the kitchen table with their journals once they hit high school. 

Halloween is Here

It’s difficult to determine what came first: my family’s collective depression in the fall or the concept that my family, as a unit, has seasonal affective disorder. We may have had enough conversations about hating Autumn that it has just become our truth. Analyzing where this feeling comes from is irrelevant because it is a fact that our hearts sink, faces get itchy, noses get runny, and the ennui becomes suffocating every year on October 1. Things don’t get better until May 1, when color returns to our cheeks, and we can breathe comfortably, again. 

If we lived in the North East, you might be more sympathetic. We, however, live in Southern California, but don’t think fall hurts us any less than someone who has to turn their heater on in the fall. Despite the nearly imperceptible shift in temperature, we still experience a change in the atmosphere once October comes. We won’t even have to look at the calendar, and we know that fall has officially begun. We feel it in our souls that somewhere, far away, there’s a city where leaves are about to die, and people are about to pull on their brown corduroy everything. Locally, scarecrows, hay, and pumpkins will sprout up around the city and people will start reaching for their pumpkin spiced drinks in ninety-degree weather; this is enough to make us want to pull on our sweats and go to bed for six months. Pretty soon, we know we’ll be driving home in the dark, eating dinner in the dark, and crying in the dark. 

My mom, who I believe we inherited our seasonal affective disorder from, insists that we need to embrace the season; That we should pull on our winter coats, go to haunted houses, and then go Halloween caroling through the neighborhood. She says these words with her mouth, but I know she’s fighting off the depression herself.

Darla and Jude do not currently suffer from Seasonal Depression. As my mom would want them to, they embrace the season. They even try to sneak in Halloween activities in September, but I have a strict rule that nothing Halloween can happen before October. The majority of the month is still summer; I would like to keep the month sacred and untainted by orange and brown hues. It’s everything sunshine, brightness, and pastels until midnight on September 30th. 

Since I don’t want them to be burdened by the crushing sadness every fall, I hide my hatred of the season. I pretend I love autumn and that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. (I can’t even say that was true when I was a kid. I remember enjoying the cake walk at my school Halloween carnival, but a haze of sadness clouds every other memory). 
This year, the decorations went up on the first day of October. I hid my disgust with the activity and held back my tears as I spread out the cotton spider webs on the bushes outside our house. 

“Oh my gosh, I love this,” I kept saying over and over hoping to convince myself that I did as little bits of cotton got stuck in my mouth. 

And, despite the knowledge that I knew we were just on the cusp of my two least favorite seasons, I eventually did start to enjoy myself. Not because I decided our decorations looked cool or that I had a big epiphany about why Halloween was super fun, but because my kids were having such a good time. They shouted to every person who passed in front of our house and told them to look at our decorations. Darla picked up a fake bone and a phony pumpkin and walked down the street singing the Halloween Carole, “Happy Halloween Time, Happy Halloween Time, Happy Halloween Time” as she hit the pumpkin like a drum. It was in those moments that Darla and Jude's enthusiasm overshadowed my hatred of fall; I was grateful that I get to hang out with these little Halloween enthusiasts who make Autumn just a tiny bit more tolerable. Behind the scenes, I’m still weeping and counting the days until spring, but I can at least siphon off a bit of their joy for myself to make it a bit better. 

It Seems We've Got Bigger Problems Now

Former President Ronald Reagan revealed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis to the nation in a handwritten letter when I was eleven. His shaky cursive was either an outward manifestation of his imminent deterioration or a sign of a man in a fragile emotional state. (Or, maybe, his penmanship was always terrible, and I had read too much into it). Free from politics, it didn’t read like a letter from a former president, but more like a sad salute from an aging man. He bid farewell to his memory of us and then turned his attention to the confusing, unexpected roadmap, which ultimately led to the end of his life.

After hearing the news, I looked to my family for how to react. Everyone wore her best look of sympathy when the topic came up at the dinner table.

“He was a good president,” Joanne said. “He was so sweet.”

I thought my family was incredibly sad, so I was sad, too. For days I felt distressed for the charismatic Ronald Reagan and his pretty wife, Nancy. I, along with 52.8% of the country, walked around with a stabbing pain in my heart and mourned the snuffing out of Reagan’s jelly-bean-loving wick.

I heard The Dead Kennedy’s for the first time when I was in ninth grade, two years after Ronald Reagan wrote that letter. Feverish and snotty from the flu that lasted two weeks, I listened to my new punk CD’s on repeat in between hallucinations. With chills, I listened to Jello Biafra persecute the seemingly sweet President Reagan in the song We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now.

I am Emperor Ronald Regan

Born again with fascist cravings

Still, you make me president

The lyrics didn’t resonate with what I believed about President Reagan. Jello Biafra likened him to Hitler and sang about how he was a warmonger. At first, I was skeptical of this portrayal, but I thought “If you can’t trust Jello Biafra, who can you trust?” I decided to examine my beliefs.

Once I dug a little deeper, I discovered a man who didn’t seem at all like the baseball-loving “Gipper” I had grown to love. I felt humiliated that I had walked around with a pain in my heart for a man who created policies that left so much of the population homeless and couldn’t even bring himself to discuss HIV/AIDS at the height of the epidemic. When I learned about his trickle-down economics and Star Wars program, I knew that we had a megalomaniac on our hands. Why had my family left out all these details when they talked about Ronald Reagan?

At that time, I had no idea what the rest of my family’s politics were, and I didn’t know if they liked Reagan as a President or just as a former actor. Beyond that afternoon when we all felt sorry for the former president, I don’t remember my family discussing the government. In a household led by two insurance agents, the only acceptable topics of conversation were shit talking and insurance. It seemed an unspoken rule that we didn’t discuss socialized health care or taxes.

When Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, I understood how people who supported progressive policies and human rights in the 1980s must have felt when Reagan was elected. So many of the lyrics in We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now are as relevant today as they were in 1981. We got ourselves a modern-day Reagan.

Since Trump won the election, Greg and I have made an effort to discuss politics in front of our kids and explain key issues to them in the hopes that we raise informed humans. We don’t talk about it in a way that will make them overwhelmed by abject terror like we are, but we do make it very clear how we feel about Donald Trump since the last thing we need is two, little Alex P Keatons (the right wing son of two hippies on Family Ties) in our family.

All the parents we know are, also, attempting to raise their kids’ awareness on social issues by speaking openly about politics and our own bewilderment with it. The day after the election, we struggled to explain why the dirty kitchen rag, who we promised wouldn’t be their president, would, in fact, be their president. We were apologetic for the world they were about to live in, but couldn’t figure out how it happened.

“If more people voted for Hailery Climpton, then why didn’t she win?” Darla asked.


“I’ve been asking that same question,” I said as I shook my head.

At a loss for what else to do, we marched. Greg and I drew signs for the Women’s March the night before and decided to let Darla make her own; we brainstormed ideas with her, but we wanted her to take complete ownership of it. We were excited to have our tiny dissident proudly carry her original slogan in the historic march.

“Mine’s gonna say ‘I love you, Donald Trump,” Darla said smiling.

“Ummmmmm, wait. What?” I asked. “Why do you want it to say that?”

“Cause I don’t want him to come after me,” she said.

Her sign was an attempt at self-preservation, and I was surprised at how adept her reading of Donald Trump was. The thought had crossed my mind that our presence at the march might lead to pain down the road if Donald Trump proved to be a real fascist. Would he use the list of people who marched against him as starting off point for arrests? I empathized with her desire to protect herself from Trump’s ire, but I couldn’t be the only parent there whose child swore fealty to the bigot at the march. Scrapping my original plan to let her do whatever she wanted, I suggested a different route.

“I like how you used the word “love,” I said. “Let’s do something with that part of it.”


In the end, we steered her toward “Love Trumps Hate” and passed it off as her idea. We had her hold her sign up high while Jude shouted “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go” from Greg’s shoulders.

Beyond that initial hiccup before the march, Darla has done an outstanding job of mirroring our attitudes towards Trump. Eventually, I molded her to such a degree that she began writing more disparaging comments about him in her free time. Her notes contain such gems as “Donlo Trup No Wun Cers” (Donald Trump, No One Cares). I was incredibly proud of her the day I read that.

All of her friends even mimic us parents in their daily interactions. During a playdate, the group of kids decided to play house. The two children who played the mom and dad got into a very heated discussion about Donald Trump as part of the imaginary play.

As I watch these kids imitate us parents and rail against Trump, I’ve come to realize that there is no difference between how my family discussed Reagan when I was a child and how we currently talk about Trump with our kids. Children don’t understand domestic and foreign policy; they know simple categorizations such as “nice person” and “mean person.” When I was a kid, I just wanted to know that the person taking care of all of us was a nice person.

My family might have discussed politics in front of me, but I didn’t understand it. The only thing I can remember was everyone feeling sad for the jelly bean president, which led me to put him in the “nice person” category. Darla and Jude aren’t cognizant of Trump’s Muslim Ban, border wall, the war on healthcare, tax policy that only benefits the wealthiest people, and blatant racism. Ask these kids why they don’t like Donald Trump, and you’ll probably get the response, “because he’s mean.” My kids have about as much of an understanding of politics as I did as a kid.

 Eventually, the luster of our influence over Darla and Jude will grow dull, and it will be time for them to think for themselves. When they free fall into a political identity, I hope that it’s Jello Biafra and not Kid Rock who catches them. If they choose the latter, we might find ourselves at odds with one another. Maybe, in an attempt to rebel in high school, they will even assume the Republican mantle and say “I love Donald Trump” with conviction this time. I can accept a lot of choices a high schooler could make, but that isn’t one of them especially since it will be too late for me to convince them that “Love Trumps Hate.”

Not the Class Clown

When I was five, my sister Sarah could undo me by saying the word "poop." There was no need for her to set up the joke or give me any context; I understood everything I needed to know with that one syllable. My stomach would hurt as I fell on the floor, laughing from a place deep in my soul that no other joke could touch. Just as the giggles would subside and I wiped the tears from my eyes, my sister would repeat the "joke, " and I'd start from the beginning. 

I no longer think the fart/poop jokes are funny. I feel like I may have lost a part of myself the day I stopped laughing at them. Things have gotten so much more complicated now that I expect a joke to have impeccable timing, social relevance, and a solid premise for me to belly laugh.

For kids and some adults, fart and poop jokes are eternally hilarious. A well-timed fart can make or break a comedy. There are some limits to this kind of humor, however. One can't just pass gas on camera and expect that to do the work for them. I've seen many kid's TV shows and Movies miss the mark on this point despite it being such a comedic softball.

Last night Darla and Jude watched a movie called Captain Underpants in which there was an actual fart orchestra. I looked at them, expecting to see two kids on the verge of uncontrollable laughter. Instead, I saw them sitting slack-jawed and vacant. The joke barely registered for them. They saw it as another plot point when it was a non-sequitur. It had no bearing on the previous or following action, so I wonder whether they thought the fartchestra was of any value. 

My kids are huge fans of bathroom humor, so the lack of laughter was as bad of a review as A.O. Scott gave The Mummy. I suspect I could do better than Captain Underpants did if I said "fart" as I poured Jude and Darla's milk at dinner. They'd dub me a hero and try to carry me on their tiny shoulders. Every time I think about this, however, I reject the idea. Once I say it, they're going to make me say fart all day every day for the rest of their lives. I like to keep their expectations of me in the gutter.  

I know they'll do this because I see this happen over and over again to Greg. He "gets down" with preschoolers and kindergarteners. He'll say the jokes that they want to hear. He'll ruthlessly tease them when they fart or make farting noises when they sit down. It, also, means they demand he make those jokes regularly and, at some point, it just stops being funny (for me. It's never not funny for the kids). 

Sometimes, my jealousy of his comedic status in our family clouds my vision, and I try to join in. 

"Who farted?" I ask mirthfully.

"Mommy," Darla says as she starts to cry, "You're making me embarrassed."

For some reason, my tone comes across as critical, and I have to spend the rest of the night talking about how it's okay to fart. I know this is a pointless lecture since Darla has a very healthy relationship with her flatulence. For Darla, having a zany mom might not feel right and maybe that's why she cries. Having a mom who gives boring lectures is a much more comfortable thing for her. 

Knowing full well that I shouldn't tread on Greg's "fart" territory, I try other ways to get them to laugh. I've tried to be sarcastic with them, but, since kids are as literal as Amelia Bedelia, they think I'm just having a direct interaction with them. 

"Oh Jude," I say to him. "I love how you've thrown your toys all around the room. I'm so happy you pulled out every single lego and put them on the floor so I could step on them. Please do that more often."

Next thing I know, Jude's refusing to pick up his toys because he thinks the mess makes me happy. He thinks I really do enjoy picking up all his toys because the words that came out of my mouth said so. He doesn't know how to read inflections or tone. To be fair, my jokes are more a veiled criticism than anything else, so the onus is on me for not being more direct of a communicator. 

Lost without sarcasm and lacking the comedic timing for bathroom humor, I make weak grasps at getting my kids to laugh. Jude seems to be slightly amused when I pretend I don't know who he is. Even that amusement morphs into bemusement the longer I ask him and I think he really believes that I forgot who he was, which might be a little scary for a three-year-old to process. 

I've concluded that I'm not the funny one in my family. When I scan my days to see what I did to make my kids laugh, I find, more often than not, it's because I did something like accidentally put their laundry in the wrong drawers. They laugh and roll their eyes at their bumbling mom. 


I have no illusions about where I stand in my family. I'm the straight woman; the person who's the starting off point for all other jokes. It's a position I have grown to love. I don't have to do cartwheels and full comedy sets because my kids don't expect that from me. Instead, I'm in the position to be entertained. And I'm the one who gets to laugh hard at the jokes made at my expense. So, when Darla sees this yak (picture above) and thinks it looks like me, I can laugh from a place deep in my soul that no other joke could touch. And, at the right angle, I tend to agree. I do kind of look like that yak.  


Egg Shells in the Batter

My sister Kathy says to let kids crack an egg into the dough even though they'll get eggshells in it. It's a simple bit of advice that encompasses all I want to be as a parent: carefree, adventurous, present, and supportive. In pursuit of making them better people, I want to allow kids to take ownership of a process and any mistakes that might arise. I aspire to be the mom who lets her kids crack eggs directly into the batter.

Every time we get to that part of the recipe, I shrink away from the moment.  The thought of watching the eggshells get into the perfectly measured ingredients feels dangerous. I compromise and allow the oldest, Darla, to crack the eggs in a separate, empty bowl. I graciously let the youngest, Jude, watch. The only condition to this is that we need to have more than enough eggs to waste because I'm rinsing out that bowl if she gets a bunch of eggshells in it. We'll just have to start over until only the egg yolk and white emerges.


I've always been afraid of letting my kids fail. When Darla was a baby, I would stack all her blocks for her. At first, I did it because I wanted to show her how to do it. Then, when she struggled to accomplish it, I guided her hand to the right spot. Eventually, it just turned into a game where I stacked the blocks, and she knocked them over. This routine lasted well past her first birthday. This process has evolved as she's grown older. Now we're at the point where I cut, paste, write, and decorate Darla's class projects for her after I have to watch her struggle through it for a minute. I'm keeping this legacy alive with Jude by putting on his shoes the minute he expresses frustration with the process. In my attempt to make everything copacetic, I inadvertently conveyed the message that they're incapable. 

I'm cognizant of the benefits of failing. On the surface, in conversations with other parents, I present myself as a mom who holds her kids accountable and encourages them to be self-sufficient. In practice, though, something happens to me when I see my children struggle. My hands start moving toward the problem without me willing them to. I pull the project a little closer to me and, under the guise of "helping," finish writing out the sentence or drawing the fish that they struggled with. 

My intention in doing this isn't evil. I want my kids to find enough joy in the process that they seek out these challenging projects or experiences on their own. My subconscious tells me that if I let them see the beauty in a finished product, then they'll work towards that completed piece of art or family tree on their own. If they get too frustrated with the process, then they will forever give up. Unfortunately, the outcome is less than desirable. Because I fear their frustration, I deprive them of learning about everything in between in pursuit of a perfect finished product. 

Since my kids come from a long line of "Great Giver Uppers" ( my mom's category for my siblings and me), this is a real fear. In ninth grade, my English teacher assigned a 500-word research project. I chose Stephen King as my subject because I forgot to pick out a subject and I happened to be holding his book when my teacher asked. After about five minutes of research, I determined that there were no biographies written about him. I managed to stretch out the bio from the back of Skeleton Crew to meet the minimum word count. 15 years later, Greg informed me that there were at least four biographies written about him by the mid 90's when I was in high school. I can't confirm this after my two-minute internet search, so I can't say whether this is true or not. As you can see, my kids are at risk of being labeled "Great Giver Uppers" without me doing everything for them.

When I witness helicopter parenting, I get very annoyed. Others act as a mirror; we hate when we recognize our worst qualities in other people. When I feel angry with helicopter parents, I have to admit that I also may have a slight case of helicopter parenting. My helicoptering is to my kids' detriment. I let my fears of their frustration and aggravation make my parenting myopic. In my helicoptering, the future is inconsequential; what matters is that none of us feel discomfort at the moment. 

I take baby steps to get there. Sometimes, I have to wash dishes while I'm helping Darla with her homework, so I don't feel the urge to be "helpful." Or, maybe I need to cheerlead Jude through the process of putting away his toys while I focus intently on tying my own. All I need to do is step back and watch the process unfold.

This morning, as Jude and I walked Darla to the school, they ran ahead of me. I watched in a panic as they got closer and closer to the corner.

"Don't yell at them to stop," I told myself. "My kids know they have to stop. Don't say anything. Just watch."

Right when I felt like I wanted to let out a blood-curdling scream, imagining them running straight into traffic, they stopped. My kids may have gone to the very edge of the curb, but they didn't go into the street. I walked over to them, looked both ways, and we crossed the street together. They were unaware of the minor victory I'd had that morning. Maybe in the next few months, I'll let Darla crack the eggs directly into the dough next time we make a cake.  

Public Restrooms

Art day in fifth grade was the only time when Catholic school didn't feel suffocating. The atmosphere in the classroom relaxed since we were allowed to bring in our music to play while we drew. LL Cool J, C & C Music Factory, Snoop Dogg, and Soundgarden all had the rare opportunity to be played at St Rose of Lima due to a liberal teacher who either overlooked the double entendres or was oblivious to them. 

I looked forward to class every week, and I even had the opportunity to pick the music once. (I was responsible for C & C Music Factory). One day that stands out in my mind is the day Richard brought in Metallica. I hadn't heard it before, but I knew I would love it because I loved Richard. 

As Enter Sandman played, I got up to sharpen my pencil. I passed Richard on my way to the sharpener and complimented his music choice. He said something about how it was his favorite band. I giggled because everything he said was hilarious even when it wasn't and a bombastic fart came out as well. My face grew red. I covered my mouth in shock. 

"My sister told me girls don't fart," said Richard before he turned back to his drawing. The magic of the moment was gone.

"I fart all the time," I thought. I was so adept at farting that I could do it on command. My sister Mary would often use my farting as a form of chemical warfare against our sister Joanne. 

After that, I felt so ashamed that I ever farted. I retired my ability to fart on command. What followed was a twenty-five-year struggle to suppress a natural bodily function in service of a childhood fiction. Any indication that I have a gastrointestinal tract beyond nutritional consumption needed to be suppressed and hidden from the public consciousness. Food went in my mouth, but I didn't want anyone to know that it ever came out. Using public restrooms for anything but peeing, hand washing, and hiding was strictly forbidden.

My kids didn't get the memo that they're supposed to be ashamed of their bowels. In fact, they refuse to go to the restroom until we're in a public place. We'll be at home all day where they had ample opportunities to poop, but they decide they need to urgently go when we're at a public park and the only available bathroom is an overflowing hole in the ground in a room with shit stains covering every surface. Or, they will wait until we're stuck in traffic on a road trip to take the poo that they've been unable to take for days. Something about gas station bathrooms work like laxatives for them. 

They prefer the bathroom, as well, if it's a single occupancy with an enormous line outside of it. I beg and plead with my kids to wait until we get home, but they have none of it. An eternal people pleaser, I sweat as the aroma of their poop fills the room thinking about the five people outside who are currently cursing my name. 

They see that there's nothing to be ashamed about. Sure, it might smell terrible, but my kids can't help it. When they have to go, they listen to their bodies. I know this is healthy and that they're modeling good behavior. I know that I could learn a thing or two from them. I'd like to say I am receptive to these lessons. Unfortunately, nothing trumps the hand of a fifth grade Richard. His words will always prevail. I will continue to deny that I fart until the day I die. 


Donut Days with my Mom

Sometimes, it’s the small gestures that helped me loved and cared for as a child. As the youngest of twelve, the gestures were, at times, more noticeable than those received by my siblings. I wasn’t aware of this subtle favoritism until I was in my mid-twenties when my older sister, Erin, told me that she was always jealous of me when we were younger.

As adults, we worked together at the bakery she started in New York.  One morning, we were frosting cupcakes in cute, pink uniforms when she broke it down to me.

"Ugh, I was constantly mad at you when we were little,” she said. “Mom would ALWAYS call you by your name and, sometimes, she'd call you sweetie."

"Oh my god, I had no idea.  I'm so sorry!" I felt terrible. 

"And don't even get me started about the donuts," she said as she laughed.

The donuts, indeed!  I had completely forgotten about them.  This was my favorite time of the week when I was four.  It was the day that my mom would go to work late so she could bring me to the donut shop before taking me to nursery school. 

The bakery was called Harvey's doughnuts and it was everything you'd want in a donut shop.  My mom, dressed in her business attire (always ankle-lengthed floral skirts, silk secretary blouses and a crunchy perm that she regretted the instant she got it) would pull open the glass door and I would run past her to the case.  At that time of day, the case was packed with bear claws, circle glazed, maple bars, boston creams, cinnamon rolls and sprinkle donuts.  It was row after row of perfect pastries and a sweet vanilla scent danced in the air. 

And I danced in front of the case, carefully scanning my options.  More often than not, I would be wearing my denim dress with the skirt that flared out perfectly when I spun. The red, shiny belt that came with it was firmly cinched around my little waist. White socks with Keds was the only appropriate footwear for the outfit.  My straight, bobbed hair was usually pinned back at the temple. I wore that dress for days on end until my mom would finally convince me to wear something else by bribing me with stickers.

After much deliberation in front of the donut case, I would decide on my usual: a pink, sprinkled doughnut. We ate these little pieces of heaven in one of the orange booth that lined the bakery’s walls. I was so proud to be seen with my mom, so I swung my legs, sipped my orange juice, and looked around to see if anyone noticed how wonderful I was. 

I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was actually being cruel and rubbing my status as "mom's favorite" in my siblings' faces during these donut excursions.  And I won't even get into the fact that I had a birthday party every year while all my older siblings only got one for their entire life in the house we grew up in. I was, obviously, the most beloved child.

Too Good of a Parenting Day

When you fly too close to the sun, you're bound to, like Icarus, grandly plummet to the earth. I have found this to be true with parenting. When you approach parenting with complete equanimity and do everything in service of raising a properly esteemed child, there's gonna be that moment when you're brought back to reality with a healthy dose of humility.

I experienced one of these stellar days earlier this week. I spent the first part of the morning yelling at Darla to get ready for school. Every step of the way, I road and micromanaged her. After telling her eight times to get dressed, I was pleasantly surprised to find her playing with her dolls in her underwear ten minutes before we were supposed to be at school. I yelled at her to hurry up. I threatened to not excuse her absence if she didn't hurry up and put her shoes on. 

Once I got her off to school, I felt really happy with how I handled the morning. I thought about it for a moment, then decided that I wouldn't trade in a second of that experience for anything. I then moved onto the next part of my day, which is keeping Jude, who is on vacation, occupied. This required carefully selecting a wide array of TV shows guaranteed to keep him glued to the couch for the better part of the afternoon. Every time he begged to play trains, I'd just pick an even more interesting show. Eventually, the need to play with me passed.

When I felt like he had watched a healthy amount of TV, I rewarded him with my undivided attention for an hour. My eyes glazed over after 20 minutes of watching him push a train around the track. An hour in and I was barely mentally in the room. 

I needed to get him out of the house, so I decided to go to the gym (free childcare) and compelled he and his sister to go by promising to let them swim time after. After I worked out, I realized I mismanaged our time and swimming was going to be a bogus affair. We only had 20 minutes left to swim.

The co-ed locker room was packed with men, women, and children who had just finished their swim classes and were getting dressed. I piled us into a dressing room that was only meant to accommodate one person. We wriggled and bumped into the walls trying to quickly get into our swimsuits. I pulled off my bottoms and put on my one piece bathing suit. I left the bathing suit around my ankles. Then, I decided to pull off my sweaty sports bra before I even bothered to pull it up. 

"Um mommy," said Darla. "Why don't you pull your bathing suit up?"

I didn't respond, my head still caught in my sport bra. Instead I thought, "I know. I get it. This body isn't a prize to behold, but you're going to deal with it for a minute." As I finally managed to squeeze my head free, I looked over and saw the door to the dressing room had swung open. How long it was opened, I can't say, but I assume that Darla told me to put on my bathing suit because I was on display. It might have been more helpful for her to say, "Mommy, the door's open." All I saw was a sea of small sized and medium sized people before I closed the door. I tried to tell myself it was only women and infants out there, but I'm pretty sure preteens and adult men were in the audience, as well. 

I was, obviously, having too good of a parenting day and needed that public humiliation to really ground me. I was getting too confident and self-congratulatory. As I closed the door, I analyzed every part of my body that I can't handle and wondered whether the people outside the door had a good enough opportunity to really see the granular realities of my physique. 

Because the kids were promised a pool trip, crying in the corner of that two foot by two foot dressing room wasn't a possible plan I could make for myself. I had to pull on my bathing suit, take a deep breath, and go out of the room to face my adoring crowd. I held back the tears as I averted my eyes from every stranger in the room, noting that there were at least a few dads in the mix. I got in the pool and floated around, pretending I wasn't the mom who exposed herself to a room full of strangers. 

The Punk Show I Would've Wanted to See When I was Six

With each gust of wind, more pot smoke (or vapor) floated around our heads. This was to be expected at a show, but it was a concert reality I completely overlooked when I decided to bring Darla with Greg and I to see X.

When planning the night, I was more excited by the prospect that my six year old would get to see one of my favorite punk bands. In high school, I begged my mom to let me see them in Orange County, over an hour away from our house. When she said no, I broke down in tears and told her that I would never have a chance to see them, again. I had to go to this show or I would forever have to live with the regret of never seeing them. She, exhausted from raising eleven other kids and fully aware that I would wear her down if she continued to say no, allowed me to go with little resistance. I went, danced, and even met X backstage. It was the best day of my life, but definitely not the last time I would see them.

Twenty years later, I brought Darla to see X. She didn't have to beg me. I did it of my own volition because I knew it was important for her to see strong, female singers. I was a cool mom who let her six year old daughter to go to concerts and stay up until eleven. 

Like I expected, the show was great, but I definitely wasn't the cool, footloose mom I had envisioned myself to be. The minute I smelled the pot, I panicked. I waved my hand in front of her face. I blew the air around her head to keep her from inhaling any of it. I wondered whether I had made a huge mistake by bringing her to such an adult event. I started falling down the same mom shame spiral that I always do. As I did my best to not freak out and keep the air around her clear, I was reminded of a mom I met when I was eighteen when my new college friend brought me to a party. The mom was the same age as I was at the time. 

The group of people at the party were living their punk truths and my presence soured the atmosphere. I started taking showers when I was sixteen, so I didn't fit in anymore. My friend was my ride, though, so I was stuck.

As we drank beer and smoked on the porch, the young mom came out with the baby. She sat on the porch a few feet from me. She had dreaded brown hair that she tied up with a bandana and a septum piercing on her button nose. She wore a black dress with a brown vest and ripped, black stockings. The baby was small and pink and wore yellow footie pajamas. 

The mom reached out to the crust punk sitting next for and gestured for his cigarette. He passed it to her. She brought it to her lips, inhaled deeply, tilted her head upward, and blew smoke up into the air. 

"Man," the crust punk said as she handed the cigarette back to her. "It's so nice to see how much you care about that baby to blow smoke away from her. That's really awesome."

The mom shrugged her shoulders. It was the least she could do for her baby's health.

As I sat next to her, I judged away. 

"If she really wants to be a good mom, she could quite smoking," I thought, not realizing that this mom was doing the best she could with what she had. After a minute, the mom went back inside to put the baby to bed since the party was getting too rowdy. 

Remembering this as I struggled to keep the pot smoke away from Darla, I couldn't tell at first if It made me feed better or worse about my decision to bring her. A few seconds later, the air no longer smelled like pot. I stopped waving my hands in front of her face. I looked down at Darla who joyfully danced to "The World's a Mess," oblivious to the lyric's meaning, and I decided that this was a good opportunity for her. I wasn't going to bring her to shows every week, but every once in awhile she can stay up past her bedtime and see how fun life can be after 8:00 at night.