Masters In People Pleasing

No one handed me a textbook (or, rather, a picture book) when I was a baby and told me to study it so I could earn a masters degree in self-doubt and people pleasing. I had to figure out that shit on my own. The level of hesitation and accommodation I operate with every day is also not something one is just born with, either. Like everyone else in the world, my personality was a careful dance where one partner was nature, and the other was nurture.

Nature's most crucial contribution to my identity is empathy. If a stranger walks into a coffee shop after getting fired from their job, I can feel their sadness. And once I take on their depression, since I'm the center of the Universe, I don't walk up and hug them. This would take a level of confidence I'm incapable of. Instead, I take this environmental feedback and get bummed for the rest of the day.

This natural tendency towards empathy, if nurtured in a loving, stable home, can create an adult who takes the pain in her heart that she feels when she sees someone suffering and translates it into decisive action. When she witnesses the number of homeless people in her neighborhood increase, she goes out and starts a coat drive. She takes the anger she feels about the 2016 election and translates that into a leadership position at her local Human Rights organization. Her talent, when nurtured correctly, brings joy and goodness into the world.

My home, the site of my nurturing, wasn't a stable one. While my mom did everything she could to create consistency and warmth, my dad did his best to make our home erratic and volatile; my dad's wrath overshadowed anything good my mom tried to cultivate.

What I understand about punishment, which is minimal, is that, if done correctly, is that it’s just one way a parent can modify a child's behavior. If a child gets a timeout every time she intentionally dumps her milk on the floor, she will eventually connect the dots and come to understand that she's not supposed to throw her milk on the ground. She might even take her conclusion one step further and assume that throwing any drink on the floor is a terrible idea.

This was not the pedagogy my dad, the warden of my childhood home, followed when exacting punishments on his kids. His only requirements for discipline was it needed to be arbitrary, completely hard to follow, and physically or emotionally violent whenever possible. I've been called an asshole for dancing joyously in our backyard but encouraged to dance and sing at Knights of Columbus events. Once, because I allegedly was talking too much, my dad yanked my ear until he almost pulled it right out of my head. At other times, if I sat and stared off into the distance at dinner, he'd suspect me of being high (it didn't matter if I was six-years-old) or just being disrespectful for not listening to he and my mom discuss the Insurance Agency they owned together. He would discipline me accordingly.

I tried to trace the logic of these punishments so I could avoid doing the things that ignited my dad's anger. All attempts at finding patterns led me in circles. When all endeavors to create rules to dodge my dad's wrath failed, the only conclusion I could come to was that I was a terrible, defective person who was always responsible for everyone else's unhappiness. There was nothing else I could infer since I was the only consistent variable in all the punishments.

As a result, I've tried to make myself as unobtrusive as possible and smile a bunch to make everyone happy with me. I push myself against the wall of life as much as I can so I won't get in anyone's way. And when problems arise in my world, I assume all blame. I run into chairs and apologize to them. I one time almost assumed full responsibility for an accident that never happened. I'm an easy mark for a grifter because I've been hard-wired to keep turning the other cheek in the hopes that, at some point, someone will give me a good-natured punch on my chin and say "good job."

It took a long time and a lot of crazy punishments for me to become the way I am. The good (actually terrible) news for my kids is that they can learn about people pleasing from the best. Since I don't punish my kids and do a reward based system (because I'm a superior parent. But not really because I’m kind of the worst), there's not an opportunity for me to show as much as tell. So I give them the Cliffs Notes version, and I tell.

When we go out in public, I emphasize that kindness is paramount. When my kids were toddlers, I even encouraged them to let asshole toddlers on the playground take their toys. I don't know why I did this. Maybe it was sleep deprivation. Perhaps it was me being a new parent. Or it might be because it's the only way I know how to interact with the world. I've consistently insisted that my kids always make the polite option their number one option.

I love that my kids are so kind. I feel proud that they look at other children in pain and want to make them feel better. I'm stoked they don't mind sharing. I know this is a good combo of nature/nurture that Greg and I have worked on. There are times, however, when I see that I have gone overboard with the niceness doctrine.

Darla was given a mini backpack with a giant glittery D and a big, puffy, pink pompom on it for her birthday. It was too small to wear as a regular backpack, so she used it as her lunchbox. After a week, I found her bento box in the lost and found, but no backpack. When I asked her what had happened to the bag, I was surprised by her answer.

"Oh, I saw that some first grader had it," she said. "Julia and Anahit (her friends) went up to the girl and said it was my backpack, but she said it wasn't. She said it was hers."

"Wait, let me see if I've got this straight," I said. "You confronted her, and she denied it, and you still don't have your backpack? Why didn't you tell a teacher."

Darla shrugged.

"Maybe it's not really my backpack," she said.

"You're telling me she just happened to show up with a replica of your backpack on the day you lost yours?" I asked. Given my supreme level of self-doubt, I had to do my own work to fight back the voice in my head that said: "maybe it was just a coincidence."

That night, Greg and I spent a lot of time convincing Darla to confront the girl. We gave her strategies to catch her in her lie ("Ask her where she got it from"), and what her plan would be if she didn't give it back ("Tell a teacher"). I sent her off to school and thought about my friendly kid for the rest of the day.

When I picked her up from school, she proudly showed me her retrieved backpack.

"How did you do it?" I asked

"Well, first I asked her where she got it from," said Darla, babbling with excitement. "And when she said 'Target,' I said 'nope, it's from Justice.' When she didn't give it back to me, I told the lunch monitor who asked her why she had a 'D' on her backpack if her name was Jamie. The girl said 'it's my middle name. No, wait. It's my sister's name. No, wait. It's my sister's middle name.' and then the teacher made her give it back to me."

"Oh my god," I said beaming. "I'm so proud of you."

She stood up for herself, which is something that I've never been able to do. She struggled against her self-doubt and emerged with her backpack.

Later that night, she brought her backpack over to me and showed me the tag inside that read "Jamie."

"What a sneaky little girl," I said hesitantly. "She wrote her name in the backpack so 'you'd think it was hers."

Darla laughed and put the bag away. I tried my best to keep a smile on my face despite being overwhelmed by doubt. Did I just encourage my daughter to gang up on an innocent first grader and steal her backpack with her 'sister's initial of her middle name on it?

Playing Sick

My sister's bakery in New York city had only been open one month before a call came in from someone claiming to be Madonna's assistant. It was about twenty minutes before closing, and I was working by myself.

"Madonna has heard about your little bakery," the breathy rushed man said in a rush as if I were the one who had called him on his way out the door. "And she wants to try out your desserts for an upcoming event. I'm going to need you to send over one thousand bite-size treats for her to try tomorrow. And do you do gold leaf designs? We're going to need those, too."

The "assistant" then went on for another fifteen minutes telling me about how big, talented, and particular Madonna was. I barely spoke. I watched the clock tick ever closer to closing. I knew the other person on the line wasn't Madonna's assistant; I was 99.9% certain it was my brother in California prank calling at 8:00 pm his time, unconcerned that it was 11:00 pm for me. The one time during the call that I alluded to the fact that I was speaking to Bill, the caller became irate. I doubted my instinct by default. I stayed on the line, taking the elaborate, time-consuming order on the .1% chance that I was speaking to Madonna's assistant. How would my sister every forgive me if I told someone so essential to fuck off before I hung up on them because I needed to mop the floor?

As I knew it would, the call ended hastily as soon as I asked for a credit card to secure the order. My brother had taken the prank to the furthest possible conclusion, and I was 30 minutes behind on all my closing duties because I didn't go with my gut.

Darla pulled her version of "Madonna's assistant" this morning. When I woke up, she was curled up on the couch and looked in pain.

"My stomach hurts," she said, giving me puppy dog eyes. "I think I'm going to throw up."

"Do you think you just don't want to do your class presentation today," I replied.

"No, no, I'm really sick," she croaked out. To emphasize her point, she gagged a little.

"You're going to school because you're not sick," I said as I left the room. I was confident I was right. I knew that if Darla were sick, she'd be screaming "help me" at the top of her lungs, which is what she has done every time she's thrown up.

As it got closer to the time we were supposed to leave, Darla continued to lay on the couch curled up in a ball. I decided to throw her a curveball.

"If you could eat any donut right now, what would it be?" I asked.

"No donut," she said with a gag. "Donuts sound terrible.

Despite feeling 99.9% sure that Darla wasn't sick, I fed the .1% doubt. The thought of Darla throwing up while giving her presentation clouded my vision. I caved and let her stay home from school. As with the prank call with my brother and the credit card number, I had one final trick to call her bluff.

"If you want to stay home, there will be no screentime, " I said as I helped her back into her pajamas. "You'll need to stay in bed all day. And since you feel like you're going to throw up, you can only have one piece of dry toast all day."

And stay in bed she did, but it only lasted for an hour before she got bored and wandered out of her room. After I spent fifteen minutes convincing her, she admitted that she only didn't want to go to school because she didn't want to give her presentation. (I believe she had also calculated that the time for the presentations had already passed).

I congratulated her on her honesty and told her she had to go to school. She got dressed, and I walked her to school. I didn't bother mentioning that I was 99.9% certain her teacher would make her do her presentation as soon as she got to school.

Helium PSA

I do not like balloons. I have the same opinion about them as I do with fireworks: they're pretty for about 30 seconds, but their uselessness eventually enrages me. Maybe I used to like them when I was a kid although I have a hard time telegraphing the positive emotions I may have felt around them back then, so I'll assume I've felt this way my entire life.


Once I had kids, I realized balloons only introduced chaos and discord into already challenging days, so my dislike turned to hatred. It seems like a sweet and innocent source of joy for kids, so why wouldn't you want to give them a balloon? The first problem is that balloons only tend to stay in the hands of children for a minute max. At that point, it will either float off into the atmosphere until it eventually lands in the ocean or be popped because the kid walked too close to a bush. Then, the kid starts screaming inconsolably for the next hour. This is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that you're stuck with a wrinkled, defeated-looking balloon that will sit in the corner of the living room for weeks. And you can't throw it out because your kid will scream the second you throw it out, so now you have to absorb the sad, misshapen object as part of your home decor.

For some reason, other adults are not convinced that this is enough of a reason to deprive your kids of a balloon every now and again, which is why I was overjoyed when an angel at Party City gave me a bulletproof reason to be a balloon prude. As the employee blew up the ten balloons Greg and I begrudgingly bought last minute for Darla's birthday party, she told us that she might not be able to blow them all up because there was a helium shortage.

"We've been having this problem since October," she replied when I asked her whether there was a missed shipment. "There's a general helium shortage, and usually hospitals get first dibs on it."

"Of course, yes, the hospitals need it a lot," I said and then whispered to Greg, "did you know hospitals need helium?"

He did not. After we left Party City with the ten balloons weighted down by my guilt and shame for depriving someone of the life-saving gas, we researched helium on our phones. We discovered that it is a finite resource produced by the decay of uranium extracted through mining. We had always thought scientists concocted helium in labs. And to make us feel even worse about the balloons bobbing around in our trunk, we found out that hospitals account for 20% of the world's helium use.

"Why?" you might ask. For many reasons! It's used to float oxygen up into the bodies of people on ventilators, and a combo of oxygen/helium is much easier for the patients to breathe that straight oxygen. If that's not enough, it's used to cool down the magnets in MRI machines.

Add to this the fact that NASA uses helium as a pressurizing agent for the space shuttle's ground and flight fluid systems, and Greg and I felt thoroughly suffocated by the guilty balloons. Despite this, we had to keep the balloons because a. we'd already bought them and b. we couldn't let that precious helium go to waste. We agreed right then that we'd never buy another balloon or accept a free one from the grocery store ever again. We, also, have become the local birthday party buzzkills since we've been spreading the word about the evils of balloons to every parent we know. You're welcome, world.

Karma From My Teen Years

My dad was volatile. His open-mouthed, buoyant laughter would, in an instant, evaporate into flared, enraged nostrils as some shift, invisible to anyone outside of my dad's head, occurred in the room. He'd then proceed to yell or break out his belt.

As a young child, I held my breath for years, worried that inhaling too loudly would be the thing that would ignite the flame that would cause my dad to boil over. Would walking into the room at the same time as him throw him off to the point that I'd deserve a spanking? Or would my early morning cries after I fell stepping out of the shower wake him up and cause him to call me an asshole? I didn't exhale for most of my adolescence. It was safer to suffocate than it was to feel the deep shame.

At 12, I was finally able to breathe normally when my mom separated from my dad. Suddenly, I didn't have to worry about being called a dumbass or getting hit for no discernable reason. Not only was the threat of a beating off the table, but I had an overworked, exhausted mother as the only caretaker in my life. I was able to (mostly) get away with everything. And when I exhaled at 12, I breathed out cigarette smoke and immediately downed a beer bong. A year later, I smoked pot. I decided to make 14 a banner year and did even more drugs and had sex. At 15, I decided to do more of the same.

While my mom worked all day, I did bong rips at my older boyfriend's apartment as he played video games. While my mom slept, I snuck out with my friends to ask adults, with dubious morals, to buy us beer. We both knew my flimsy "I forgot my I.D. at home" line held no water since my Strawberry Shortcake cheeks clearly indicated my age. Everything I did from seventh grade until my Sophmore year would make me, as a current parent, barf with anxiety. My mom barely made it through my teen years.

In short, my parental karma is screwed, which is something I'm aware of every day. Add to the fact that my husband Greg did many things to make his parents' lives hell, stuff I won't mention here lest I besmirch his good name, and we're in for some rough teen years with our kids.

I see little glimpses of what this hell will look like in my daily interactions with the kids. I see the future when Darla screams "I hate you. You're the worst mother ever" before she slams the door to her room. Or when Jude runs to his room and slams his door because I said I wasn't going to buy a toy for him just because it was a Tuesday and he ate all his broccoli. Mostly, I see unrestrained door-slams dominating my future.

What I'm most worried about is their unwillingness to listen to me. Ever. This is as clear of a warning sign as there could be because I was the queen of not listening when I was in elementary school. When my mom would say I couldn't do something, I would ask "but can I" repeatedly until she'd acquiesce.

If I was the queen of not listening, Darla is its god. If I ask her to do something, it's never a matter of when she will do it, but if she will do it at all. Most times, when she doesn't listen, it's a total experience. I could ask her 40 times in front of another adult to please please please get off the swing. Darla will not only ignore me, but she will make movements towards complying just to double back and get back on the swing.

One morning, I hit my boiling point when I was about to get in the shower, and both kids asked if they could go outside.

"You can't go outside because I can't watch you," I said, thinking this would be enough of an explanation. I've explained kidnapping enough to my kids. This should've been easy.

"No, no, but," Darla said, her version of "but can I?." "I'm just going to go out front."

"Darla, you cannot go out front," I said, already ready to start yelling because I'm aware of the mountains of explaining that lay ahead of me. "You can't go out front because I can't watch you."

"No, no, but I'll just be out front," she repeated.

"No, Darla," I yelled. "You cannot go outside."

"No, no, but, I'll just be on the steps," she yelled.

"You can't go on the steps because I can't watch you," I yelled. "Someone could walk up and take you."

"No, no, but, I'll just be on the steps," she said.

"Stop it stop it stop it," I yelled. "You cannot go out front."

She then started crying, and I didn't take a shower. This scenario is us every day.

And this is supposed to be the easier part of raising a kid; everyone always likes to remind me that the teen years are the hardest. I worry over raising to two teenagers regularly until my stomach is in knots and I'm short of breath. And then I remember that time I hitchhiked at midnight and got a ride from a middle-aged guy. That's right about when I get dizzy and pass out. I don't think my constitution is strong enough to deal with raising a miniature version of myself. I know how hard I was and I know that I have some penance to pay.

Or, maybe my kids are getting their defiance out of their system now, and we'll be the type of family whose high schoolers are content to play Pictionary with their folks rather than drink Strawberry Hill on the beach. If that's in our future, I'm really looking forward to their teen years.

Lost Voice

I don't love my voice; I've done nothing but talk trash about it since I was a kid because I believed I sounded like a boy. I can only sing offkey, and I speak exclusively from my nasal passages. If I'm not pissed at my tenor, I'm angry that it doesn't make conversations that convey the genius thoughts that are floating around in my head. I get endlessly frustrated at it for stammering and saying the absolute worst things at all times. My voice is the reason I avoid as many social situations as possible.

Yesterday, after a week of a stuffy nose and dry, unyielding coughs, I lost my voice. I wasn't surprised when it happened. I always lose my voice when I'm sick. What I was surprised by was the totality of it. In previous cases, I could make my voice deeper to get out enough words to get my point across. This time, the voice loss was total. When I tried to speak, all that came out was air. Sometimes I could eek out a shrill exclamation if I concentrated enough, but it was mostly just silence. Suddenly, I missed my rotten voice terribly.

There are a few benefits to losing my voice. I'm able to forego small talk, which usually leads me to careen down an endless shame spiral. With damaged vocal cords, I could avoid saying uncomfortable things like "yes, this rain is amazing. Last time I saw rain like this I was so wasted that my friends left me under a bush outside of a restaurant while they went inside to eat." I, also, have a perfect excuse not to answer the phone, which is something that usually causes my palms to sweat the second it rings. With a missing voice, I can lounge about, reading books, drinking tea, and inhaling steam to hasten its return.

While all this is pretty wonderful, the downsides of it overshadows it all. I'm a mother. As a mother, I'm on the constant lookout for missteps my kids might make that will lead them to be hurt, inconvenience other people, or cause themselves to be in dangerous situations. Most mothers do this, but I seem to do this to more of an extreme than others.

I'm continuously shouting, "be careful! Don't run!" I believe my kids are only kept safe by my constant reminders that they are humans living in the world who need to be mindful of their surroundings and how they interact with it. It's my feeble attempt at controlling the two little hearts I gave birth to who are now running around outside of my body doing reckless shit like standing on the backs of rocking horses to reach the tallest shelves in their rooms. If I don't vocalize some instruction, they're in danger of floating off the face of the earth or crashing down into it so hard that they get a concussion.

Suddenly, without my voice, I was powerless to corral them with my words. I tried to remedy this by downloading an app that would vocalize everything I wanted to say. All I needed to do was type in the words, and the emotionless, robot would do the work for me.

I tried out this app at the playground with Jude. I didn't realize it, but it had rained earlier that morning and the entire structure looked like a death trap. I decided then that we probably shouldn't stay in the park.


"Be a chill mom," I said to talk myself down. "Let him enjoy the freedom of a crazy slippery structure ten feet off the ground. Nothing bad will happen."

That little pep talk only took me so far. I began to panic as Jude attempted to use the monkey bars. I frantically typed, "don't, you'll slip" onto the app. Before I could finish typing, he had fallen to the ground. Every time I tried to make him aware of some imminent danger, I was always two seconds too late. If I did manage to get the words typed out, the disimpassioned voice of Siri didn't convey any sense of urgency, so Jude ignored it. I felt completely powerless, so I was, frankly, pretty relieved when he ignored me when I told the app to say "don't use the slide. It's wet" and got so upset by his wet pants that he demanded we go home.

By the end of the day, I still had no voice, and the app continued to fail me. I was surprised, however, to find that my kids were alive and only had a couple of extra scrapes because I wasn't able to yell at them to "STOP!" I want to say that I came away from this experience with a new found freedom; that I realized I could give my kids more space since they didn't need my words to keep them safe in this world. But that's not the case at all. The only lesson I walked away with was not to lose my voice again until my kids are at least 30 years old because that was a miserable experience.

Nothing's Ever Free

Nothing pisses off my mom more than when someone tries to give her a discount or something for free. She'll even stop shopping at stores owned by close friends or family if they keep giving her substantial price reductions. She wants to pay full price for everything, and there's no arguing with her about it.

"I came to support you," she'll say, " but you're making it very difficult."

I don't think there's a scenario imaginable that would cause my mom to accept something for free. Let's say a waiter dropped a plate of messy spaghetti and a scalding cup of coffee on my mom's white linen pants, covering them in pasta sauce and burning her legs. This same server might comp my mom's meal to make up for the mishap. In this situation, my mom doesn't get upset until she sees that the waiter has given her free food. She finds this completely unacceptable. She mutters quietly to herself as she fills in a tip that equals five times the amount of the free meal, effectively negating whatever savings she might've been able to use towards dry cleaning her pants and getting a skin graft on her burns.

There are many reasons my mom is so adamant about paying for everything. The most obvious reason she does this is that she's exceptionally generous and gives all she has to the people she loves. Do you want her house? Take it. Do you need to borrow her credit to open a Nordstrom card so you can buy that leather jacket and forget to pay down the balance for a year until she gets sent to collections? Have at it! My mom will gladly allow us to desecrate her excellent credit score until it goes down to 300, which she'll then spend the next ten years building back up just so we can knock it down, again. It's like a mother playing high-stakes blocks with a destructive toddler, except in this scenario the mother ends up having to declare bankruptcy.

My mom's other motivation for wanting to pay for everything is that she doesn't want to come across as a mooch. It flies in the face of the self-sufficiency she's been cultivating since her late teens, which is when she started giving birth to children (ultimately doing this twelve times) while single-handedly running a successful insurance agency. If she takes that discounted coffee, you might think she's incapable of taking care of herself.

Ultimately, I believe my mom doesn't want anything for free because, as she says, "nothing's ever free." While one of her friends might offer to help her organize her closet gratis, she's confident she'll be paying for it some other way. Maybe, at a later date, that same friend will ask my mom to Marie Kondo her closet. Or, her friend might build up resentment because she perceives that my mom isn't calling her enough or being present enough for her liking. Nope. My mom is having none of that. She'd much rather pay for it in cash and have a Marie Kondo contractor to do it for her. Or, better yet, my mom will do it herself.

My mom has imparted countless belief systems in my core, but, much to the chagrin of Greg, nothing has been as deeply embedded in my soul as a complete aversion to free stuff. While I'll take free samples at the grocery store or accept free clothes that my sisters are getting rid of anyway, I have a hard time asking loved ones for help with a move or a discount on an item at their shop that I 100% cannot afford but want to purchase to support them. I'd rather buy it and develop an ulcer for a few weeks because I just spent all of my rent money on a vase.

In my mind, everything is tit for tat. If someone does me a favor, I believe that the countdown is set for me to reciprocate it the second I receive the support. And, knowing me, I'll have anxiety for months waiting for the other person to call in the favor. If I do take people up on their offer for free stuff, who knows what will happen to me at a later. So, I get a free dinner, but is that going to be worth it when three weeks later the person who comped my meal asks me to help them transport a dead body across state lines? I really don't think so.

Instead, I'd rather go into debt while I unnecessarily pay full price for everything in life and let my anxiety win. I think my mom would be proud.

Five Year Olds Are Sadistic

I don't want to say my son Jude is a sadist, but he sure derives a lot of joy from destroying my life one micro-aggression at a time. If I'm being honest, this all started when he was born. As a newborn, he would sleep until the second my head hit the pillow for the night; he would then scream every hour on the hour until the morning. I would beg him to stop, fully aware that my plump newborn really couldn't be all that hungry after his feast from the hour before. He never listened to me and continued his war on my insanity through exhaustion.

Jude's tactics have grown more sophisticated as he's aged. As soon as he was able to eat solids, he would deliberately throw them on the floor. The more messy and destructive the better. He loved to throw Cheerios on the ground, which would inevitably get crushed underfoot; crushed cheerios are impossible to pick up without a broom. As a toddler, Jude even learned how to shriek at such a decibel that he took me to the very edge of insanity. He liked to bring out this trick whenever I was just about to relax for the first time in 95 hours.

As a five-year-old, Jude's (almost) sadist tendencies have become even nuanced and calculated. He'll climb into the car slower than I've ever seen him do precisely because I'm standing in the rain without an umbrella. Or, he'll rub his peanut butter-covered face on a shirt that Greg just got back from the dry cleaners, only because he knows it will set his dad off. Or, when we're running late, Jude will dig his heels in and say "I don't want to go anymore" as he throws himself onto the floor. I beg, on the verge of tears, as he scrunches up his little face and crosses his puny arms across his chest. It's almost as if he's holding this family hostage at times. He'll spit his toothpaste on the shiny faucet minutes after I clean it.

During the rain-soaked, LAUSD strike, without school or sunshine to distract him, his destructive tendencies have been turned up to eleven. After a day of intermittent sibling fights and whining, I decided to bring the kids to my local gym that has a daycare so that I could think for a minute. They dragged their feet leaving the house and fought in the backseat on the way over. When we arrived, we found out that no one had shown up to open the daycare. I looked at Darla and Jude, two kids with cabin fever, and sighed a deep, defeated sigh. I grabbed their hands and marched them back out into the rain.

"Nooo," Jude started screaming inching ever closer to the mania-inducing decibel. "I want to go to the gym."

"Believe me," I said. "You couldn't want to be in that daycare more than I want you to be in there. Don't make this worse."

And that's when he dug in his heels and took great pains to walk as slowly as he could while I, wholly exposed to the elements without an umbrella, watched helplessly. When we got in the car, he refused to put on his seatbelt and yelled. I turned around and stared at the rain on the windshield. I was a broken woman.

Eventually, he put his seatbelt on and stopped complaining about the gym. The night carried on with relative ease once he was able to get his (almost) sadistic desires out. But that doesn't mean I relax. I continue to live in constant fear of Jude. What will do next? Intentionally pee in my shoes? Pour my foundation on the carpet? Only time will tell.

To Wipe, Or Not To Wipe

When I first met my kids, they were utterly incompetent. They couldn't make their lunches, let alone hold up their own heads. I had to do everything for them from feeding them, moving them from one place to the next, and changing their diapers. They offered me very little in the way of support, but their worlds were so small that the assistance I gave was almost manageable.

A few months after we met, their abilities increased. They learned how to hold up their heads, move around, sort of feed themselves (if I laid it out in teeny tiny pieces because their inability to not choke wasn't fully fleshed out). With this came an expanded world, which meant the breadth of my assistance expanded. Suddenly, they demanded specific toys and needed help opening things that their undeveloped fine motor skills couldn't manage. A few months after that, they figured out how to speak so they could start making incessant and endless demands regardless of what Greg and I happen to be doing. They didn't (and still don't) care if we're sleeping or peeing, they need to find the picture they drew two months ago (that we most likely threw out within hours of it being created) NOW.

As my kids develop, it's hard for me to determine whether they still need my help with certain things. It's all a guessing game for me because, in my mind, they're both the tiny neonates who couldn't even see me with their new eyes and middle-aged humans.

When Darla was around two years old, I thought she could get herself dressed. I quickly realized, based on the extreme meltdowns and the pants worn as shirts, that she wasn't ready for such responsibility. I went back to dressing her and, next thing you know, she was a six-year-old whose mother still groomed her. One might argue that I did it for far too long, but I was driving on automatic and forgot to reevaluate my methodology quarterly. She used to be unable to even look at me without going cross-eyed, how was I supposed to know she should be dressing herself before her kindergarten graduation?

Throughout my life, I have gleaned information about developmental milestones and age-appropriate abilities and stored the data in the deep recesses of my brain. When I was ten, my sister was a nanny for two tan, tow-headed boys, one three and one four. One day, while at the beach with them, my sister ushered all of us into the bathroom.

"Wipe my butt," the four-year-old yelled from inside his stall. My sister sighed deeply and went in to fulfill his demand.

Later that evening, at family dinner, my sister recounted how the four-year-old couldn't wipe his own ass. My family laughed, and all agreed that child was a Little Prince. I listened and absorbed the information that four-year-olds should clean their own butts.

When I became a parent of a four-year-old boy myself, I applied that logic and left Jude to his own devices in the bathroom. After skid-mark stains had affected every pair of underwear, I realized that maybe a four-year-old isn't actually that good at wiping his own bottom. I went back to helping him.

So here I am, a mother of a five and seven-year-old. Two children who are growing and evolving every day, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, and I'm left to wonder whether I'm pushing them to be independent in certain areas too rapidly and other regions too slowly. I guess I can only hope that maybe they won't need me to cut up their food into little pieces and help them open drawers by the time they're 18. Or maybe, I should just read the emails that BabyCenter has been sending me for the past seven years and find out precisely of what my children are capable.

Smile, you're on Candid Camera

I've been sure my entire life that someone is always watching me. In the beginning, I thought this because the Catholic Church told me an omniscient God and his two best friends were always taking notes on me. And when those three knuckleheads weren't keeping tabs on me, Santa was. It wasn't until I watched Totally Hidden Video and Candid Camera that I realized that my life had the potential to reach a much broader viewership. These hidden camera shows were an addictive, dystopian nightmare for me as a child, one that inspired me to live my life as if I were always being watched. As a result, everything I did was performative.

Since I never truly felt like I was alone, I tried always to be smiling for the camera. I decided only to do things that I wouldn't mind having broadcast on television. If I saw money on the street, I wouldn't pick it up for fear that I'd hear "smile, you're on Candid Camera" the second I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I've always been a pretty scrupulous person, although I don't credit this character trait as moral superiority. It's my fear of either being monitored by a judgmental god or recorded on a hidden camera show that leads me to be an upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately for me, I was a compulsive booger-picker when I was a kid. I did, however, try to cover this up by hiding behind my hand. I was surprised to learn that covering my nose with one hand and picking my nose with the other wasn't a solid camouflage for my action.

"You're not fooling anyone. I know you're picking your nose behind there," a boy in my first grade class informed me one afternoon.

"If the kid knows," I thought, "Does that mean that the people watching my episode of "Totally Hidden Video" also knows what I'm doing?"

Part of always being camera ready was to, at all times, act like I was on a regional theater production of Annie. Whenever I felt watched, I would bat my eyes sweetly and ask myself "what would a desperate orphan do in this situation?" I wanted a Dickensian life for the cameras. However, If I were given my druthers and was allowed to live my life the way I wanted to without the Totally Hidden Video cameras harassing me, I would've just sat around all day picking my nose and watching tv. While I did this a lot of the time, I did have to take breaks occasionally in case the critical eye of God or the camera labeled me an uninspired, lazy kid. I would go in the kitchen and pretend to worship an orange as if I'd never had anything sweet before or go to my room and pretended to fantasize about world peace.

I thought the desire to live a performative life was something particular to me until I met Darla. She, as well, must believe there's always a camera pointed in her direction. I frequently catch her walking around her room wearing a Renaissance Faire dress, holding an imaginary bouquet to her chest, and singing mournful songs about dead parents and hunger.

This year, her performative life was most evident in her letter to Santa Clause:

"Dear Santa,

Darla speaking. I have a couple wishes and I only want two toys this year.

I want know (sic) one to litter and I want there to be know (sic) such thing as getting sick. You know what I mean? And know (sic) such thing as getting hurt. And I want the same exact thing for insects and animals.

I also want a roller skater American Girl doll and a basketball player American Girl Doll. And one more thing. I want everyone to give you presents. And a neckeles (sic) from Rekcles (sic) Unicorn that has golden glitter inside. My very own refrigerator that goes in my room. A pet goldfish and clownfish and a big fish tank to go with it and matching clothes for me and my mom and a banana. Pink cowgirl boots. A flippy diaper for Roy. Roller skating outfit. A (sic) actual iPad not a kindle. A pop-up book. A Barbie dream house. My own pink car I could drive in."

It's evident in the beginning that, before she wrote this letter, Darla thought, "how do people in movies write their letters to Santa?"

Darla decided that the richest characters ask for something kind that makes the world a better place. So this was the kind of letter she endeavored to write. Halfway through, though, she may have envisioned waking up on Christmas morning to nothing but a note from Santa saying he picked up all the litter off the streets in our neighborhood; she was wasting an opportunity to pie in the sky this letter. She switched gears and threw all altruism out the window.

In the few weeks since she's written this letter, she's tried to walk back her insane demands from the second half of the message and become the environmentally conscious girl from the first half. Whenever anyone asks what she wants for Christmas, she bats her eyes earnestly and says, "For there to be no more litter in the world." The other adults coo, amazed by her cuteness.

"Isn't she the sweetest?" the say to me, their hands clutching their hearts.

"Oh yeah," I say. I debate whether to tell these people about the part of her wish list where she asks for the refrigerator for her room or the car she can drive. Instead, I decide to play the part of the supportive mother of a little girl who only dreams of world peace. "She's absolutely the sweetest."

And I mean it because she doesn't need to give up her Christmas presents to show she's a kind girl. She does this every day when she buys her friends snacks when their parents forget to give them money. Or when she makes sure kids don't feel left out on the playground. Or when she helps me out by getting her brother ready for school in the morning. She's kind even when she doesn't think the cameras are rolling.

Santa's Real Identity

My kids have unwavering faith that Santa Claus exists. This fantasy exists in their minds with little provocation from me. That's the truth as long as you don't count the initial push Greg and I gave their little brains as soon as they were old enough to comprehend the concept of object permanence; when we told them of a magical man who delivered presents to obedient little girls and boys on December 25th. Oh, and you might also want to not take into consideration the occasional pictures with Santa and the whole Christmas list writing Greg, and I instigate. Beyond those points, the Santa Claus thing has been a runaway truck coasting at dangerous speeds down a mountain.

Last year, they didn’t even notice that this wasn’t the same guy as the year before.

Last year, they didn’t even notice that this wasn’t the same guy as the year before.

Whenever Darla and Jude have asked me whether Santa exists, I stare at them blankly, hoping that maybe they'll figure it out on their own so I didn't have to buy two different types of wrapping paper every Christmas to keep the charade going. I, also, would like to avoid future accusations that I've lied to them their entire early childhoods.

"Julia said that Santa Claus is just parents," Darla said incredulously one-night last week. "Can you believe she thinks that?"

'That's very interesting she said that," I responded, pausing to give her the opportunity to make her declaration that Santa doesn't exist. She didn't.

Ever since Thanksgiving ended, I have watched no less than four Christmas movies with my kids. The characters in the films always save Christmas from almost certain death. Most often, the potential tragedies are a result of a grand deficit in Christmas spirit that is making it impossible for Kris Kringle to do his damn job. The instigators of the bah humbugism are mostly parents; more specifically, a recently widowed parent. The movie usually villanizes the single parent who is understandably depressed and cynical at Christmas; the weight of the world's holiday hopes rest squarely on her sagging, exhausted shoulders. Eventually, Santa sends a dog, an elf, or even himself down from the North Pole to guilt this emotionally fragile person into believing in him and his powers. And in the end, the innocent child is the greatest hero because they never lost faith.

The apparent plot hole in these movies, one that my kids never notice, is that, if Santa doesn't exist, then where the hell do all the presents come from? Every December 25th, these families wake up to houses full of wrapped gifts that, ostensibly, the parents didn't buy. With such undeniable proof, even the most skeptical parent could admit that some magical creature who can read our minds exists. My kids don't notice that maybe the parents are skeptical that Santa Claus exists because they bought all those damn gifts the kids in the movie found under the Christmas tree. It was the parents, not Santa, who circled the Galleria parking lot for an hour so they could go to Target to buy the Beyblades and LOL dolls that the kids asked for on December 23rd.

It always surprises me that my kids don't dwell on the subject of Santa long enough to come to the undeniable conclusion that he doesn't exist. When Darla mentioned what her best friend told her, didn't she think that I, as a parent, would be in an optimal position to provide her with a definitive answer? I, of course, don't understand her unwillingness to examine the subject. I live in a dull, unmagical world where the curtain was pulled back to show my the inner workings of this world full of taxes, bills, and obligations.

My kids live in a world that's almost 100% mysterious, and I'm 100% jealous. My kids don't want to know the truth. For them to lose this idea would mean that magic doesn't exist. And then what will they find out next? That unicorns aren't real? My kids' minds flit around the topic because, if they look at it too closely, they might see the much duller, much more depressing reality. They might realize that their parents, with the bloodshot eyes and halitosis breath on Christmas mornings, are the only magicians they'll ever meet.

Dear Grocery Stores, Stop It With the Stickers and Balloons

Dear Grocery Store,

First off, I'd like to say thank you for existing. I appreciate all the work you do to source food items from all over the country. I can't thank you enough for always having brownies and cold cuts in stock. You make life worth living.

I have one request: please stop offering my kids balloons and stickers. It's making my life hell.

Despite everything you do to make grocery shopping as painless as possible, I have a hard enough time at grocery stores as it is. The crowds in the aisles make me feel emotional, and I have to disassociate to make it through the parking lot without having a full panic attack. Add to this the fact that I have to make sure Darla doesn't do cartwheels in the aisle and that Jude doesn't wander off to do his own grocery shopping, and I'm in hell.

Then, there's the checkout. I'm not great at chitchat. All small talk is an opportunity for me to say something to a stranger that I will ultimately regret.

"Oh, you're getting the birthday cake popcorn," the checkout person may say.

"Yeah," I'll say. "It's just Saturdays do this to me, you know? I wake up in a pit of despair, and I find myself clawing my way to the end of the day. I want to stick my head in a hole and die. "

Right when I'm crawling my way to the finish line, your cashiers issue one final "fuck you."

"You've done such a great job, today," the cashier will say to my kids, both of who just spent the past 30 minutes bitching, tripping me in the aisles, and dropping full cartons of eggs on the floor. "Would you like some stickers?"

Their faces light up, and they snatch the stickers out of the cashiers' hands. I plaster a big old grin on my face.

"Oh, that's just the nicest," I say through gritted teeth. "Say thank you, kids."

I leave the store muttering more things about how amazing it is that both of my kids now both have stickers in an attempt to suppress my screams of anguish.

Once we're in the car, the kids spend the car ride home pulling stickers off the sheet and will either throw them on the floor or plaster them to the window. If they cashier gave them a balloon, they immediately pop it and cry for a new one for the next fifteen hours.

I get why you give my kids stickers. You think it's a personal touch that will make me feel more connected to your chain. It's your way of harkening back to simpler times where towns had 20 residence, and everyone would hang out at the grocery store and gossip.

I, also, used to be a child who loved stickers and balloons for god knows what reason, so I guess I see why you chose these items to give to my kids. I was so obsessed with stickers that I even turned to a life of crime to get my fix. Unfortunately, this crime took place in a grocery store (so for that, I apologize to you).

I was six, and my mom had taken me with her to do the weekly grocery shopping trip. My mom's shopping cart was overwhelmed by groceries, with multiple loaves of bread, cold cuts, and milk threatening to spill over onto the floor. I watched her load all the food onto the conveyer belt of the checkout. My mom sighed her way through the process of unloading groceries; the cart never seemed to actually empty.

When I grew bored of watching her, I turned my attention to the temptation items that you only find at the checkout. I scanned the candy and magazines; my heart leaped as my sight settled on the packets of collectible She-Rah stickers. I had almost forgotten about my weekly allowance of stickers.

I grabbed a few packets and snuck them onto the conveyer belt while my mom's back was turned. When she turned back around holding the tenth gallon of milk from the cart, she looked from the stickers to me.

"Elizabeth, take those off there," she said. "You're only allowed one."

"I know, but I just think I could use a few more this week," I said.

She stared at me until I took the stickers off the conveyer belt. Instead of putting them back on the shelf, I hid them in my sleeves. Later that afternoon, when my mom saw my impossibly high stack of stickers, she paused for a minute.

"Why do you have so many stickers?" She asked.

"It was just a really full pack this week," I said placing my hands over the stack.

She looked at me. I knew that she knew that was bullshit. She knew that I knew she wasn't going to make me take them back since there was no way she was driving back to the grocery store to pay for the stickers. She pretended to believe me. I pretended she did believe me. My love of stickers was so profound that I was willing to sacrifice my innocence and my relationship with my mom.

So, grocery store, I get it. Kids love stickers. But my kids aren't paying for these damn groceries. I am. And your stickers and balloons are making my life so hard that I might have to take my business elsewhere if you don't stop it.

The Sandlot

It's impossible to predict the landmines of inappropriateness that will explode out from any tv show or movie from my childhood, which spanned from the 1980's to the 1990's. In an attempt to share a piece of my childhood, I'll play shows and movies from my childhood for my kids; I'm hoping they can understand me a little better by watching. Every time I do this, there's inevitably a moment when I realize, always a little too late, that the show or movie is going to normalize homophobia, rape, misogyny, or any other number of things we can all agree are fucked up. I feel the fragile walls of progressive parenting crumble around me fifteen minutes into watching my favorite childhood shows and movies.

In the Little Rascals' movie, it happens when the boys talk about how girls are the worst and say things like "you throw like a girl." In Full House, it's when Uncle Joey makes a gay joke at Uncle Jesse's expense to emphasize their fiercely hetero-identities.

For I don't know what reason, I thought The Sandlot was safe. Halfway through the film, I realized exactly how wrong I was. First, I watched as the red-headed kid, Ham, made seductive faces at a group of girls laying out in their bikinis by the pool. My alarms started going off as soon as Ham did a cannonball that soaked all the girls and forced them to the edge of the pool to scream at him. He sat back and smiled as he stared at their boobs.

"Shit, shit, shit," I thought, as I looked for the remote. I suddenly remembered the scene that was about to take place.

After Ham was done looking at the pissed-off girls' boobs, he joined his friends on the other side of the pool. They then proceeded to objectify and violate another girl at the pool who dared to wear a bathing suit in their presence: the 16-year-old lifeguard, Wendy. The smallest kid, Squints, decided he'd had enough of watching her from a distance; he shook as he became overwhelmed by desire watching her put on lotion. He quickly devised a plan to exploit this teenage girl's heroic inclinations for his sexual pleasure. He planned to jump into the pool, drown, get mouth to mouth from Wendy, and then kiss her without her consent. Don't worry, though, when Squints and Wendy grow up, they get married; much like most white, male predators, he suffered no consequences.

As Squints climbed the ladder to the diving board where he would jump off to drown, I found the remote and fast forwarded through the scene.

"NNNOOOOOO," Jude screamed shrilly. "Put it back. I want to see that scene."

"You can't do that," Darla cried. "We don't want to miss that part."

"I don't want you to see that scene," Greg said. "That boy does something very disrespectful to that girl."

"Put it back on!" Darla demanded.

"No," I said. "Your dad and I don't condone what the boy does in that scene. He tricks that girl into kissing him, and that is something we never do. We always ask before we hug, touch, or kiss anyone. We always need to give and get permission, and that boy didn't get permission."

To my surprise, Darla understood and nodded her head. She agreed that was a terrible scene and what that boy did was wrong. I was relieved this had turn into a teaching moment.

Discussions of consent have been a focal point of a lot of our conversations with both our kids lately, especially as Greg and I watched the horror of the Kavanaugh confirmation. It felt very familiar.

I was only nine when Anita Hill testified during the Senate hearing for Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination. Back then, she was just a face that flashed across the screen on 20/20. What I did know, since I heard my older sisters call Clarence Thomas a son of a bitch, was that I was on her side. I just didn't know what her side was.

It would be years before I could comprehend the significance of Anita Hill's testimony. In the meantime, I existed as a girl in a society that undervalued women. I lived in a world where men assumed our bodies were there for their pleasure only and approached us as if we owed them something. From an early age, I understood this objectification and struggled under the weight of it. By eleven, I was getting catcalls, my prepubescent body assigned sexuality that just wasn't there. That was just the beginning of years of repeated instances where I was made to feel small and insignificant under the predatory gaze of old, aggressive, and churlish men.

In my 20's, I was drugged at a bar by a large, baldheaded man who hovered close to me the entire night. Out the corner of my eye, I saw him stare at me, but I ignored him thinking he was just a gross creep. When it came time to go, a few feet from my friends and on my way to the subway, I quickly changed my plan and hopped into a cab. As I sat in the back seat, I wondered why the world was spinning after just two drinks. I got to my apartment, crawled up the stairs to my apartment, and, the next thing I remembered, woke up half on my bed with my shoes and jacket still on the following morning. I still get in a panic thinking about what could've happened if I had stayed the course and gone to the train.

While I'm never in bars anymore, the world continues to feel unsafe. I walk to the car with my keys between my knuckles in case someone comes up to attack me. I'm continually looking over my shoulder because I never know where a predator might decide to attack. And this isn't even covering the aggression I've endured by male "friends" in my younger life.

I made it through the hard times, when all I wanted was for the world to love me, and all they gave me was derision and objectification, by surrounding myself with women who lifted me. In high school, we would blast Bikini Kill and sing the lyrics to White Boy at the top of our lungs. We felt empowered when we'd yell, "I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me." Those friends were an island of safety among all the teenage boys who'd degrade us and repeatedly send us the message that we were insignificant, and disgusting (unless they wanted something from us, but then they'd quickly go back to bullying us when they got what they wanted). And a lot of this was coming from boys who thought of themselves as progressive.

As an adult, I've found friends who can see clearly how this country mistreats women, and who want to try and help the next generation rise above the false limitations placed on women. While I've been stuck in a near constant state of panic since the Kavanaugh hearings, I, also, know that I can try to make this world a more equitable place through my kids.

I know that it takes working with both of my kids to make this world safer and respectful, and that starts with discussions of consent and respect. Both of my kids know they need to ask to touch someone else, and that people need to ask their permission if they want a hug. My kids aren't forced to hug or kiss anyone. If I allowed others to violate my kids' personal space, they would just learn that the other person's comfort level is more important than theirs, and it would negate all the boundary-setting lessons we've worked on. The same applies to TV shows and movies that promote predatorial, homophobic, or misogynistic behaviors, which is why I might have to forever say goodbye to some of my favorite things from my childhood such as Weird Science. (I had a lot of older brothers and sisters who let me watch hyper-sexual or inappropriate content. This is why I saw The Wall when I was six, which is a whole other story).

Icebreaker Parenting

I don't have much in common with my kids. While I spend most of my days contemplating whether everyone hates me, my children are strategizing how to best shake down my husband and I for ice cream. These divergent interests make us highly incompatible, and all of our conversations are stilted. Every day, I feel like I'm on a blind date with my kids and that blind date is going very poorly.

Sometimes, all I have as a life preserver in our interactions are ice breakers. I learned a few techniques at squelching an awkward silence at cotillion in sixth grade, but, unfortunately, none of these topics seem to apply to the relationship I have with my children; I already know how many pets and brothers and sisters they have. Instead, I have to get a bit more creative.

One night, as I made spaghetti and Darla concocted a lonely salad just for me, I attempted to break the ice with her. I could hear the water boiling and air conditioner hum in the other room. Greg and Jude were at soccer practice, so it was just the two of us, and it was utterly silent.

"Think of something to say to her, quick," I thought. "Make it something interesting, so you don't seem as boring as an office building."

"If you could be any animal," I asked Darl, "what animal would you be?"

"Easy," said Darla. "A unicorn."

"Ok," I said, holding back my initial desire to want to remind her that unicorns are mythical and don't count. "Why would you be a unicorn?"

"Why wouldn't I?" she asked as she grabbed a fistful of kale to put in my salad bowl.

"If I were an animal," I said slowly since I forgot I'd have to participate too when I asked the question, "I'd be a house cat because I could lie around all day under a sunbeam and everyone would take care of all my needs."

Darla laughed and then stared at me.

"So, why do you think you want to be a unicorn," I asked, again. "What magic would you do?"

Darla continued to stare at me. I gave up.

I think my kids also feel like our conversations suck, especially since all they do to help drive it forward is to ask me how old I am over and over and over again. It has gotten to the point that my only response to this is "Is that a real question? Can you please ask me something substantial?"

Most parents seem to know how to engage their children. They look at the clouds and build castles in the sky. They imagine wild scenarios together about small children made out of lollipops who fight crime. They have long conversations about their kids' days; these parents even insert funny voices and fantastic ideas into the discussion to keep their kids engaged.

I don't know how to do this. I know how to make my kids dinner, clean the house, get them to doctor's appointments, and read them stories. Keeping them engaged and excited is as foreign a concept to me as relaxation.

In a way, I feel a lot like my mom. She was a quiet woman with twelve kids and a husband, all of whom didn't know how to talk in anything other than a yell. When I look back at my childhood, I remember her as a hushed whisper in the front seat of our station wagon, drowned out by my dad's deep baritone. I would lean forward in my seat and strain to hear the information she was conveying to us in the back, but even the air conditioner could carry her voice away from me. Most of the time, I just watched her cook and clean for hours and hours. There wasn't enough energy in one human to run the house and make chitchat.

The only time I heard her talk was when she would read long novels like "Island of the Blue Dolphin" or "Little Women" to my sister Sarah and I at bedtime. I loved how soft and even her voice was as she recounted the lives of late 19th century women whose greatest joys were to sew and who only wanted oranges for Christmas. My eyes would half close as she talked, and I would snuggle in under my blanket, pretending I was living a life of privation with only one candle to light our book and just enough coal to keep us warm for the night. When our nightly chapter ended, I was sad because I knew it would be almost another 24 hours before I would hear my mom's pretty voice, again.

As a mom, I have inadvertently imitated my mom's style of parenting. Sometimes, I realize that I have been silently working while my kids look up at me expectantly for over an hour. I look back, and I don't know what to say; I feel like an awful mother. All the parenting books say talking to kids is crucial for children's development, but I don't think they'd be interested in anything I have to say unless they want to discuss Sharp Objects' twist ending.

But I guess that wouldn't be an appropriate thing for us to talk about. Tonight, instead, I'm gonna try out the Red Robin storytelling technique where we build off each other's sentences to create a complete story. While I'm confident, it's going to end when someone says, "then he pooped on his head," at least we'll be sort of talking.

Kid Logic

Here are some of the theories I had as a kid: Pink, red, and purple were girl colors, but, in a pinch, orange could be subbed in with only a few complaints. Yellow was a bridge too far. 2 and 5 were girl numbers. Sometimes, zero would suffice, though. (I think it had something to do with the curves, but, if that was the case, what did I have against 9?) If a leotard wasn't readily available, a swimming suit would do.

I'm glad that I've held onto these thought processes since I think it has saved me from many disasters with my kids. When I'm setting the table, and I find out all the blue, green, red, pink, and purple cups are dirty, I have to make quick calculations. If I only have yellow and orange cups, I know to give the orange to Darla and the yellow to Jude. I don't do this because I believe girls should have pink things and boys should have blue things. (These are beliefs my kids developed just by living in this world that genders everything. It was beyond my control). I do this because my kids are going to have an idea of what color cup they want and I know one (or both) of them will have a shit fit if I got it wrong.

There are limitations to my foresight, though. Sometimes I'm only half paying attention, and I allow terrible things to happen.

A few days ago, we bought Jude and Darla styrofoam airplanes to replace the ones they had destroyed a few weeks earlier when they took out the weighted metal balls from the front that helped the planes glide. Jude pulled the piece off the top of his new aircraft, which held the metal ball. He looked at the identical part from the old plane.

"Daddy, will you take the metal ball out?" Jude said. Greg and I exchanged a "wtf?" look.

"I'm not taking that out," Greg said. "The whole reason we bought you the new plane was because you took the metal balls out."

"But I want to put the metal ball in this one," Jude said and immediately started to cry.

"Fine," Greg said as he took both pieces from Jude. He turned his back and pretended to put the ball in the old piece. "There you go."

Jude took the parts from his dad. He looked from one to the other. His head went back and forth as he studied them.

"Daddy," he cried. "You put the ball in the wrong one."

I took the piece from him, confused as to what difference he saw between these two identical pieces. The number "15" was embossed on the old one. When I saw that the new one had a number "1" on it, I got it. While being first is preferable, and is even something that has led to numerous, jealous fights between my kids, higher numbers are always going to trump "1."

"What if I added a few numbers to the "1"?" I asked. "What number do you want."

"001," said Jude through his tears.

I knew he meant 100, so I added that. He looked at my addition, placed the piece back on the plane, and glided it across the room.

Medical Drama

I consistently forget the steep learning curves with which children must contend. I sometimes assume my kids understand language, humor, and medical science at a college level; it should be easy for them to follow our lead at a fast clip. As someone who has gratuitously contemplated my childhood, I should have more empathy on hand for the challenges my children face. I'm hyper-cognizant of how I felt and thought as a kid, but I sometimes forget to extend that same level of awareness to my interactions with my kids. 

When I was six, I became convinced I would become pregnant. I had spent two days at my older sister, Kathy's, house after she had a baby and had stumbled upon a hippy birthing book that probably no one should read, let alone a kid in first grade. I flipped through the book with horror. I saw grainy pictures of actual baby heads coming out of vaginas (which I assumed, at the time, was the same hole that pee came out of, so that was a whole other level of terror), and naked woman with a large belly having her breasts massaged by a naked man in a bathtub. The women didn't look too happy about it. I almost passed out, and then I cried. I knew I'd be in that bathtub sooner than I thought. 

When I confided my fear to another older sister, Mary, her eyes went wide.

"Why would you think you were pregnant?" she hissed. "What happened to you? You gotta tell me."

Completely unaware that something had to happen for a girl to become pregnant, I blinked as a response. 

"Lizzy," she begged. "Why are you saying this?"

"Cause I read a book and I don't want to have a baby in my body," I said. 

"Oh," Mary said, relieved. She was able to breathe, again. "It's gonna be a long, long time before that happens. You have to have sex to become pregnant."

"What's sex?" I asked. 

"Don't worry about all that right now," she said. 

Since I didn't know what sex was, I became deeply paranoid that I might be having it without me even knowing it, like catching a cold. I continued to worry about becoming pregnant well into my 20's, which was when I got pregnant. Then I figured out how it all happens. 

After that pregnancy, Darla was born. And then Jude. When I was younger, I thought the hardest part of having a baby was how you'd eventually have to push it out your urethra. That part is a nightmare and just the worst experience in the world, but having the kids out in the world is the hardest. There are so many opportunities to make mistakes and ruin their lives. Like, for instance, how I sometimes take for granted the information my kids are capable of grasping. 

Darla is pronated with collapsed arches, so I brought her to the podiatrist to find out what we could do to help her. The doctor and I discussed various options for shoe inserts while Darla sat on the brown medical exam table, her bare feet with the long toenails I forgot to cut before the visit resting on a crinkly bit of white paper covered in blue, dancing bears. When the doctor and I landed on the best option for Darla, I asked whether we could get her fitted for them that day. 

"Well," the doctor said. "We can't really do that today. It's such a messy process, and we're not set up for it. We'll schedule that for the next visit."

The doctor left, and I saw that Darla was sitting stiffly on the exam table. 

"Please don't make me do that," she whined, her voice on the verge of hysterics as she climbed off the chair. She was in such a panic that she struggled to put her shoes back on when she sat on the floor of the doctor's office. 

"Why not?" I asked. "It's not a big deal. All they do is put a plaster cast on your foot to make a replica of it, so they know how to make the inserts."

"How do they get it off your foot?" she asked.

"Well, I guess they either leave enough room to slip it off or else cut it off," I said as I helped her off the floor and put my purse over my shoulder. 

"Please don't make me do that," she whispered. I ushered her out of the doctor's office unsure of why she didn't want to fix her gait. 

As we drove home, I called Greg to give him an update on the appointment. Before I could tell him anything, Darla gave her summary.

"The doctor's going to cut off a part of my foot," Darla yelled. I looked at her in the rearview mirror to see if she was laughing, because I thought that was funny. She was as serious as I'd ever seen her. Her brow, partially covered by a mess of blonde hair that had come out of her ponytail while playing on the schoolyard that afternoon, was furrowed and tears welled up in her eyes.

At that moment, Darla's reality was that her mom was super nonchalant, and even a bit flippant, about her forthcoming amputation. Her head must have been swimming as she tried to wrap her head around what lay ahead of her and how to make herself as casual about it as I was. Her reasoning makes sense when you consider that her grandpa had three of his toes amputated when he was three years old, which is a story she had heard only the week before on a trip to San Diego. 

"Oh no," I said. "Darla, have you just been sitting there thinking about how you were going to lose part of your foot?"

"Yeah," she said. "I thought that was what you meant. And the doctor said it would be messy and I thought he was talking about blood being messy."

"I promise you," I said as I looked at her in the rearview mirror. "If ever a doctor's going to do something serious that will hurt, I'll give you a heads up."

As I looked at her expression, I could tell she didn't believe me, and she still thought there was a high likelihood that she would have surprise surgery next time she went to the doctor. I know this because I, also, was still convinced that I'd get pregnant when I was six even after my sister told me I wouldn't. Darla and I both know that adults are all just liars who will tell us what we want to hear so we'd leave them alone and they can never be trusted. 

Child's Play

"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Nightly, I thought this prayer in my head. I believe my parents taught it to me because they felt this prayer created an invisible force field around me that might prevent terrible things from happening to me. And, should terrible things end up happening to me, at least God knew where I wanted to go. I didn't feel protected by this prayer; it was just a constant reminder that horrors lay around every corner and of how utterly helpless I was in bed. 

I, like most kids, had specific sleeping needs when I was a child. I required the blankets to be pulled up to my chin. If someone were going to come in and stab me, the soft cotton would protect me from the deadly blade. My back had to face my sister. If I turned away from her, she could give me a warning holler if an attacker snuck up behind me. This freed me up to watch just my front. My bed, also, needed to be the furthest one from the door, so that if someone walked in, they'd kill my sister Sarah first. While she screamed in agony, I could hop out of the window to escape. I assumed that the murderer would come through the door (as opposed to the easily accessible window with no lock right next to my bed) because the murderer wouldn't be a human. This leads me to my next requirement. All my dolls needed to be outside of my closed doors because they were going to come alive at night and kill me.  

I was a child who wanted to like dolls and stuffed animals. On tv, the cutest kids always walked around with a floppy bunny under her arm or a baby doll in a stroller. I wanted people to perceive me as an adorable kid, but I would only be pretending. I'd carry a stuffed animal around for a good fifteen minutes before freaking out and locking it in the closet or sticking it in the car, far away from me and my soul that it wanted to steal. And this is because I saw Child's Play when I was six, and I knew what dolls were capable of. 

Darla is, also, incredibly afraid of dolls. Although fears aren't passed down through DNA (I don't think), her anxiety is my fault because she watched an episode of Twilight Zone before I remembered to turn on the parental controls on Netflix. The episode she watched was about a doll who comes to life. 

I found out that she had watched the show after I told a story about how I thought the Twilight Zone was the Toilet Zone when I was younger.

"The Twilight Zone is really weird," Darla said. "It starts really scary with space and the eyeball. And I didn't like the story about how the doll came to life."

Ever since she watched it a year ago, she's requested I put her baby dolls and other dolls outside of her room at bedtime every night. I don't question it because I know. I understand how, in the day, these doll's souls lie dormant somewhere else. They naturally can't come to life in the day; if people saw them walking and talking, they sure as hell wouldn't keep buying them. But when we close our eyes, their glass ones open and their reign of terror begins. I won't sleep with a doll in my room and I sure as hell am not going to force Darla to. 

Overnight Shipping

"In my early 20's, I waited six weeks for a bikini I ordered from a catalog to arrive in the mail. I didn't love that I received it in late August right before school started, but I was just grateful I didn't have to go anywhere to get it." 

The tale of the delayed bathing suit shipment is the story I will tell to my children next time they complain about it taking too long for something I ordered online to arrive. And by too long, I mean about three hours. This story is the modern version of "I had to walk barefoot in the snow two miles to get to school when I was your age. And, it was uphill both coming and going. "

My children have only known a world where items ordered online arrive anywhere from five hours to 24 hours after purchase. When Darla was a baby, we were on the precipice of this being the norm. I had ordered a new car seat for Darla, decided against it an hour later, and, when I tried to cancel it, was told it had already shipped. I called them liars in my head until, the next morning, twelve hours after purchasing it, the car seat sat on my front porch. I was dazzled by this (even though it meant I had to lug the damn thing down to the post office to return it) and told everyone I saw over the course of the next few days about it. 

Slowly, this has become the norm, and it has brought out the worst in me. I make impulsive purchases and then get annoyed when the non-essential items aren't delivered first thing on a Sunday morning. The one thing that keeps me going over the deep end is the experiences from my childhood, such as the bikini delivery. Also, if I needed clothes when I was a kid, I had to either wait for siblings to outgrow theirs or a few months for my mom to piece together a few spare hours to make a trip to the mall. 

Last week, I ordered a pair of roller skates for Darla online. Within an hour, she was asking me when they would arrive. She didn't stop asking until they came one day later on a Sunday.

"That took forever," Darla cried as I brought in the package from outside. 

I wondered as I saw her lace up the pink and white skates for the first time,  whether I was doing her a disservice. We as humans are already impatient, especially when we're kids. The only thing that seems to temper this impatience is the reality that sometimes life operates on its own clock, and we can't expect to get everything we want now. 

But what will become of children who have only had their expectations met by speedy delivery? Will they grow up to be delighted adults because they have all needs met expediently? Or will they continue to push the time-space continuum into its furthest reaches, eventually creating a system where everything we want is available the second we decide to purchase? Maybe, next time I buy something, I'll choose the "take your time" option on Amazon. This way, they'll get a little taste of what it's like to wait six weeks for a bikini. 

The End of Summer

I always hated school. Before I even went into first grade, I was depressed. Then, when I started, I cried for two weeks straight. I didn't just cry when my mom dropped me off. I silently wept from drop off to pick up. On my second day of school, my dad asked me if I liked it. 

"It's the worst," I said. "And I hate homework."

I hadn't yet gotten any homework at that point. I was echoing what my siblings said. I felt that hating school and homework was one of those edgy, off-beat things my family did like shopping at Nordstrom or listening to hip-hop. If they thought the school was the worst, then so would I. It would make me a unique first grader. 

I didn't realize at that point that pretty much everyone hates school. I might not have even realized this until I had kids of my own. Darla, the day before school started this year, became very sad right at bedtime. 

"I don't want summer to be over," Darla cried. I knew exactly how she felt. 

For years I was under the impression that my older siblings shaped my attitude. It never occurred to me that maybe most people don't enjoy having summers of swimming and ice cream cut short by the demand that they sit in a desk and listen to someone talk for five hours. No one loves the freedom of unhindered bathroom breaks being interrupted by having to raise your hand for a hall pass. 

The day-before-school-sadness hasn't left me just because I no longer have to go to school. Adult life is just one consecutive school year with two-week breaks in between, but I still felt desperately sad the last day of summer this year. Since both of my kids were either at summer camp or preschool, I found this baffling. Nothing about my life was changing. I'd still drop them off somewhere in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon.

Then it occurred to me the symbolism of it all. The first day of school means shorter days, colder weather, fewer opportunities to eat ice cream, and nine months until summer begins, again. It means we don't have any more vacations planned or spontaneous days off to look forward to. 

I found myself wandering around with an ache in my heart. I tried to make the last day of summer not so sad with a swimming playdate, but nothing was going to change the fact that the next day all hope would be lost. We'll have to wait until June for that wide-open, hopefulness of the first, long days of the year. In the meantime, we're just going to be sad for a little bit. 

Messages from An Early 90's Episode of 20/20

There are times when I don't want to pick my kids up from school. I'll sit outside of whatever building they're in and finish the podcast I'm listening to or check my email for the 800th time. I know that what lay ahead of me is sibling rivalry, tantrums, and an incessant refusal to go to bed. For months at a time, it pans out the same way. Sometimes, I feel like Sisyphus. As I pick up the same towel off the bathroom floor for the twentieth time that day while my kids get in a fight over who gets to play with the cardboard part of the toilet paper roll, I fear I'll never make it to the top of the mountain.  

I was recently in one of those places where evening routines and rituals with my kids were wearing me down. I was, also, working on a piece that included a reference to the TV show 20/20 from the late 80's/early 90's. To make sure I remembered the apocalyptic feeling of the show accurately, I watched an episode from 1991. 

According to 20/20 in 1991, kids fit into one of these three categories.   

According to 20/20 in 1991, kids fit into one of these three categories.   

20/20 episodes would always start the same. They'd hit us with some mildly disturbing, yet straightforward, facts about life. This was their way of warming up the crowd, which they would then expose to increasing horrors as the episode wore on. In the episode I watched recently, there was a segment towards the end about difficult kids. 

Every person on the panel was a mother, and every woman discussed how horrible their children were. 

"I had wanted a baby so badly," a woman says, a voiceover to an image of her two-year-old daughter screaming and flailing on her bed. "And then here she was, and she was giving me such a hard time, and I was saying 'why is this happening to me' you know? This isn't the way it was supposed to be."

Her monologue ends with a shot of her daughter laying on the kitchen floor, wearing nothing but a diaper, and screaming. After noting that the woman must've been an actress because her voiceover work was amazing, I realized that her kid wasn't very different than my kids. They've been known to scream on the floor in just their underwear on more than one occasion. 

The segment continued as other mothers talked about what little shits their kids were. Every single one of those mother's said, "I can't take this anymore." 

Something about watching these woman, with their bowl cuts and blazers, discuss how their kids were driving them to the brink of insanity, comforted me. I saw myself in these early 90's moms even though I would've been 9 when they declared how frustrated they were with their kids. It made me feel a lot less alone; I'm not the only mother in history who is wholly depleted by tantrums and obstinant children who tear apart their house every day. It's as if these women were sending a message across the decades saying, "your frustration is justified. You take all the time you need staring out the window before you walk into that school to pick up your kids. They're not gonna make this night easy for you."

I assume that all these women lived to see their children become adults. And I, also, assume that their kids are starting to have children of their own now. I'm sure they're all feeling the same way their parents felt 27 years ago because, as we all know, karma is very real and can destroy lives. I'm sure the mantra of these former terrible kids is also, "I can't take this anymore."

First Aid Kit (In the style of Carrie Bradshaw)

Keeping an adequately stocked first aid kit and medicine cabinet is the least I can do as a mother. With one kid, Jude, who has fallen so much that he has scarred knees and two loose front teeth, keeping band-aids, antiseptics, antibiotics, and painkillers on hand is crucial. He insists on having band-aids even when his tumbles don't draw blood. Sometimes, for fun, he and Darla also use the bandaids as stickers. 

I have periods, as a mother, where I have felt in complete control of the medicine cabinet. I knew how much was left in every Tylenol and Ibuprofen bottle, whether the thermometer was charged correctly, and if I had enough bandages to deal with a life-altering wound. These were the moments when I felt like the best mother. I knew I was ready for any and every disaster that didn't involve emotional meltdowns. 

Other times, my medicine cabinet feels a bit out of control, and it's almost like a metaphor for my esteem as a mom. This is where I'm currently at. Recently, after my daughter complained of a headache, I realized that every analgesic, homeopathic or otherwise, was well beyond its expiration date. I tore through the cabinet and couldn't find anything to help me, so I gave her some water and left it at that. 

A few days later, Jude had one of his traditional accidents on his scooter. Medical attention was immediately required for the tiny cut that couldn't even be seen after the blood was wiped away. As he hyperventilated his way through the trauma, he hiccupped out, "can I have the bubbly stuff for my cut." He wanted hydrogen peroxide. 

"Sure," I said as I dug through the medicine cabinet. I then remembered I'd used the last of it a few weeks earlier. As I looked at Jude's tear-streaked cheeks, I braced myself for the emotional wreck he'd become once I broke the news to him. "Actually, I don't think we have any. I'll make sure it's clean though."

He didn't throw a tantrum. His shoulders slumped as if he were resigned to a life overwhelmed by disappointment in an inadequate mother. As I watched my son accept his fate, I couldn't help but wonder: "does my empty medicine cabinet foretell a life of maternal failings?"