Swallow Back the Years

I do not want my kids to grow up. There. I said it. I like them little. I like how they smell. I like how my daughter’s voice still sounds about half her age when we talk on the phone. I like how my son says he’s built a Lego structure by following the “durkstructions.” The backs of their heads and their little buns are cuter than any interspecies bonding pic you can throw my way.

A few nights ago, during bedtime snuggling, my 4-year-old son asked me, “Mom, does it make you happy if I’m not growing up anymore?” I didn’t answer right away. I don’t really want my kids to know that I want them to stay little. I don’t think that’s healthy. My cousin suffers from severe anorexia, and last year I read in some old 1970s book on the subject, written by an eating-disorders specialist, that some anorexics seem to have a deep-rooted fear not so much of getting fat but of getting big, as in not a kid anymore.

I don’t need a medical professional to tell me that it’s not wise to try to keep your kids from growing up, though. Kathy Bates makes the most compelling case of all:


But still. When my son asked me the question, he smelled like Mr. Bubble and was wearing his solar-system pajamas and had his tiny fat palms splayed on either side of my face. His eyes were searching mine for the truth.

“Yes,” I answered. “I suppose so.”

“Good! I’m not growing up anymore.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked, realizing that I should have lied or at least told the other truth. Which is that I do want him to grow up to be a man but to also leave some sort of specter of his 4-year-old self behind, preferrably one that will still come cowlicked and bright-eyed and crunching down the stairs in the morning in his GoodNites protective “underwear” (a.k.a. an XL pull-up, as if we can’t read between the lines, Huggies).

“I don’t do it anymore!” he said. “I stopped growing up! I don’t ever grow up anymore!”

Man, he was really excited about this. Kind of heartbreaking, especially when I think about the comments his 9-year-old sister has made over the past year, about not wanting to turn 10 next year. She’s adamant that all the fun in life is when you’re a little kid, and that the bigger you get, the more schoolwork and life-work you have. Becoming a teenager? Fuggedabowdit. She dreads that. I set a kiss on the bridge of my son’s nose and smiled.

“Well, that’s a neat trick,” I told him. “How are you going to do it?”

“I just swallow it.” He gulped and smiled. “I swallow it down. When it comes up, it goes here [motions to his chest] then here [motions to his clavicles] then here [motions to his throat], and then I swallow it back down, so I don’t grow up anymore!”

“Wait a minute. Are you feeling sick?” I sat up and scrutinized his face. “Do you feel like you need to throw up?”

“Nope.” He shook his head. “Because I swallow it down!”

“Your throw-up? You mean you swallow down your throw-up?” He nodded proudly, giving me his happy-drunk devilish smile with upturned-V eyebrows, a dead-ringer for Jack Nicholson:

A face only a mother could love. And I do, but only on my 4-year-old.

A face only a mother could love. And I do, but only on my 4-year-old.

“When do you do this?” I was feeling sick myself now. “Did this happen today? Have you been feeling sick?”

“Whenever I feel it come up.” God, he was so proud of himself.

“That sounds pretty gross.”

“I like it!” he answered. “It tastes good.”

Ummmm, yeah, kid. You can go ahead and grow up now.

(From the archives, originally published 2012)

Posted in humor, kids say the darndest things, motherhood, preschoolers, sons, vomiting | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Depressing than a Sad Santa

From the Momplex archives:

It would be an understatement to say I’ve been a little blue lately. Blue’s such a pretty color anyway. Why don’t we refer to the doldrums with a color like diarrhea brown, as in “I’ve been feeling a little diarrhea-brown lately.” I have.

My daughter, who will be five this week, crapped on her bedroom floor last night. I have never quite understood the root of the expression “do me a solid,” but I can definitely say she didn’t do me one. She did me a liquid, and a lot of it. I am hoping against all hope that it wasn’t some sort of willful act, the giant heap of diarrhea unleashed in the corner by her hamper. It was about an hour after she went to sleep, and I won’t get into all the details, but it appears she was just disoriented. When a little one wakes in the night from a deep slumber with an urgent need to “unleash the hounds,” it seems safe to assume that she might not have the wherewithal to properly navigate herself.

I can’t tell you how disgusting that room smelled. The windows in her room were frozen shut, too. Oh, and we plugged the toilet with all the toilet paper we used cleaning her up. And when I plunged a while later, the splashing poo water went into my face. For those of you who know me well, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t have my mouth shut at the time. (I almost never have my mouth shut.)

Thank God my husband happened to be home for the day/night from his three-week annual training with the National Guard. I am sure he is thrilled that he opted to make the long drive back home for a booty call. (One could certainly argue that cleaning up a diarrhea-butt IS a booty call of sorts, literally speaking.) In that regard, I am secretly thankful my daughter shat on the floor.

“Honey, I just accidentally swallowed some diarrhea” packs a much bigger punch in the frigidity department than “Not now, dear. I have a headache.”

Anyway, I’m feeling diarrhea-brown. I got so desperate today that I even took my daughter to the mall play area just to get out of the house. The mall play area is essentially Hell on Earth: Hyperactive kids with depressed moms spreading germs as holiday Muzak pipes overhead and too-skinny mannequins taunt us from all directions. Also, this time of year there are the Salvation Army bell-ringers dinga-donging ad infinitum next to the acrid-smelling Asian nail salon. As if that’s not diarrhea-brown enough, we took up an invitation to go watch some poor entertainer called the Banana Lady over in the JCPenney children’s section at 11 a.m. She set up shop (which consisted of a karaoke machine) in a four-way intersection of Hannah Montana paraphernalia.

Initially, it was just my daughter and me watching this woman prance around in her banana suit and sing songs about being healthy and doing your own thing. She was horribly, horribly gleeful (seriously, did you click on that link? or how about this one?), and it was horribly, horribly awkward how she was performing to maybe six people total. I felt terrible for her, as people kept walking between us, not realizing she was a show and we were her audience. She’d try to lure them over by trying to ventriloquize the large spidermonkey-puppet that’s sewn to her suit but with her lips totally moving. Few took the bait. When she said, “Come on and dance with me, everyone!” I was the only one who obliged. My daughter and the other sad moms and their kids stared blankly at us.

So, this is my life. Cleaning up diarrhea and dancing with a stranger in a banana suit in JCPenneys in the middle of the Hannah Montana aisle at the mall. Exactly how I hoped things would turn out for me. Exactly.

Posted in daughters, marriage, military life, mood issues, motherhood, poop, preschoolers | 3 Comments

The Latest Post-Partum Depression Fix: Flamboyant Baby Boy Clothes

My baby son is dressed like something out of Brokeback Mountain right now. He’s wearing a plaid flannel get-up that runs from head to toe with mother-of-pearl snap-buttons. My husband almost barfed when he saw it this morning. I purposely dressed the baby in something completely horrid-adorable (there is such a hybrid, you know), because I need a good laugh. There’s one to be had somewhere at this stage, isn’t there? I mean, sure, he can’t fall asleep or stay asleep without gobs of hair-raising crying or being bagged. And sure I basically have to wear him on me 10 or so hours every day. But isn’t there a bright side?

Heck, yeah! It’s the fact that little 12-pound baby boys look downright hilarious in flannel coveralls with mother-of-pearl buttons. They also look pretty funny in fake antennae from Gymboree, particularly when they’re crying. Oh, and a miniaturized huntsman cap with earflaps, like something out of the movie Fargo, is an excellent outfit for babies with colic, too.

He’s crying right now in his swing. He’s been up since 6 a.m. It’s almost 9 a.m., and I’ve been trying to get him to sleep since 7 a.m. His brow, as usual, is all knitted up . (I think the kid’s going to need Botox before he’s four.) His little stiff John McCain arms are shaking, and his mouth is in the shape of a big O, wailing. My nerves are completely frazzled, and I’m so tired and jittery that I’d probably fail a roadside sobriety test. I’ve had the reprise of this song, which I blasted on the radio to lull him to sleep in the car yesterday, running like a broken record through my head for about 18 hours now. I stink like spit-up.

But, man, I still don’t think it’s an emotional breakdown that a size 0-3 fuschia leopard-print unitard with a miniature clip-on bowtie couldn’t remedy. And, after all, it’s not couthe to start pouring martinis this early in the morning…

Is it?

Posted in babies, beauty, humor, mood issues, motherhood, sleep | Leave a comment

Pinterish: Kinda Sorta Making Something You Saw on the Web

I once tried to fix the sole of a saddle shoe using nothing but Superglue. Just eight years old, I figured how hard could it be?  I ended up conjoining two of my fingers and gluing the shoe to the kitchen floor. With a great deal of tugging on my part, the shoe eventually did lift from the floor but so also did the white tile—a couple of quarter-sized pieces at least. My mom arrived home just in time to see me crying hysterically while trying to cover up the bald spots. Out, out, damn spots! I was using white watercolor and a tiny watercolor brush.

Fast forward 30 years, and I am still not a quality do-it-yourselfer. I wish I were, but I don’t have the patience. This is an actual board I keep on Pinterest:


See that teepee to the right? See that bleeping teepee? Well, I don’t know who the hell I think I am, but I tried to make that thing today. I can’t explain why, but something came over me in bed this morning when realized I had a whole day with my 5-year-old to myself. (Normally my mom has him for a few hours on Mondays.) It was windy outside, and I thought, “We should have a kite.” My next thought was, “I could totally make a kite.” But once I got onto Pinterest, my ambition somehow morphed from cutting out a paper-bag square to building a mother-loving TEEPEE.

The crafter who designed this project had me convinced that she made it out of random fabric remnants already somewhere in her house, and that she just had to buy six 1x2x8 planks, tie them together with some jute, and glue-gun a bunch of fabric pieces to the frame. She didn’t spend even $10 on the whole thing! Someone else on Pinterest actually had the gall to refer to this nightmare as a “fun DIY gift idea!”

Let me tell you, I worked my ass off making this ridiculous teepee today. Do you know what happens when a dwelling is designed by a crafter rather than an engineer? It looks great on Pinterest but has the stability of a drunk snow crab. Also, I don’t know how the hell this crafty person defines collapsible and easy to store, but I think she was smoking something. Well, actually the teepee was extremely collapsible until I went rogue with her design, yelled GODDAMNIT in front of my kids, and tied the thing my own way.

While I was trying to put together this hot mess of a teepee, the only way the kids could really help was by cutting some strips of fabric. Once that was done, I was on my own. It took me three freaking hours and so many hot-glue gun burns to my fingertips and wrists to make this unholy mess:


It looks fine. I realize that. But if I had seen a picture of MY teepee on Pinterest this morning, coupled with an honest description, I never would have done it. I’d have made a paper-bag kite. “This overwrought reading nook will cost you only $60, too many hours, and much of the respect your kids had for you before you started it!”

I yelled a lot today, for example when my 5-year-old randomly peed his pants for the first time in probably two years while honoring my request that he find something to do other than beg to reload my hot-glue gun. He did find something to do, in the upstairs bathroom:


Not sure what you’re looking at? I’ll zoom in:


Still not sure? Me neither. Whatever it was, he couldn’t bring himself to leave it for long enough to sit on the toilet RIGHT NEXT TO IT when he needed to pee. And was he ever pissed off when he later discovered I’d drained that sink. He said I’d killed his “little glue man.” What? I don’t even know what. All I could think to say was, “OH. MY. GOD. DID YOU USE MY LAST HOT GLUE STICK!?” I said this as if he’d eaten the last tin of smoked fish on an Arctic expedition, leaving me no other option for my next meal but human flesh.

The sad part is that I was just trying to do something fun with the kids today and had it backfire in the worst way. Instead of making memories, I made a scene. Instead of making dinner or making time to read or making my son put on actual pants instead of his pajama pants with the hole in the crotch, or just anything normal like that, I made a mess. My son and I actually had Home Depot hot dogs for lunch because I was more concerned with building this teepee than making something to eat. Which wouldn’t have seemed stupid at all if this teepee had been as awesome as advertised–not just to look at but to make. As it was, I worked on it all the way until my husband walked in the door from work, late, at which point I said, “Go look in the basement, then in the bathroom. Don’t ask me questions until after bedtime. I haven’t showered. The kids are having frozen pizza. We’re ordering Thai.”

When he came up from seeing the teepee, he couldn’t resist asking just one question, with the slightest hint of annoyance in his tone:

“Is that thing collapsible?”

No, honey. No, it isn’t. But I sure as hell am.

Posted in crafts, humor, motherhood, speed-posts | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Answering Life’s Big Questions

(The following was originally published in 2009.)

My daughter is getting to that stage where she’s starting to ask the Big Questions. Actually, she hit the stage some months ago, around the time I became pregnant again. I’m a fan of Dr. Spock’s advice on these matters, which is to offer no more information than a child is requesting.

At first, the questions about how babies are made were answered with things like, “From a mom and dad’s love.” Oddly enough, she seemed satisfied with that type of Helen Steiner Rice drivel. I might as well have told her that babies are three parts magic, two parts wonder, and just a pinch of heaven.

When the questions got more specific, my answers got more concrete. “Babies are made from an egg that lives in the mom’s body,” I’d explain, “and a teeny little seed that the daddy gives to her.” (She probably imagined my husband handing over a little Burpee’s seed packet to me.)

This explanation only lasted so long. She eventually became concerned about how a baby in my tummy could already have an egg in its tummy, which would in turn also have an egg in its tummy, and on and on down the line. This notion of some sort of infinite set of Russian nesting dolls was torturing her sense of logic, so I finally got down to brass tacks.

Well, hello there, great-great granddaughter!

Well, hello there, great-great granddaughter!

“You know whenever we see grasshoppers on top of each other, or frogs or ducks or any animal, and I tell you they’re making a baby?” I explained. “Well, that’s how it is with pretty much all living creatures, people included.”

I waited for her to process this new information. That took exactly three seconds, judging by the way her expression changed from curious to horrified. I had no idea that I, personally, could disgust her so much.

“Nooooo,” she said with a question mark in her eyes. “You and Daddy don’t get on top of each other, do you?”

Technically, no. No, we don’t. I mean, two people can’t be on top of each other at the same time, right? I’ve been getting by on such technicalities in my explanations for a long time now. And I could have dodged the truth just this one more time. Instead, it finally occurred to me that I don’t have to answer every single question she asks exactly when she asks it. So, this time? This time I said, “Who wants to play My Little Pony!?” And to my surprise, it worked.

Posted in daughters, death, mood issues, motherhood, preschoolers, sexuality | 1 Comment

A Mother’s Day Even Anne Lamott Could Love

Every year my Facebook feed is fed with a piece of writing from Anne Lamott about Mother’s Day and why she hates it. The essay, uncharacteristically bitter, was  originally published in Salon in 2010. I’m a fan of Lamott and always read the piece when it turns up, even though she sounds like Lewis Black instead of herself. In truth, I agree with most of the essay, but her vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies. It almost makes me want to throw out my dog-eared copy of her wonderful book Bird by Bird. 

How can I explain? Let me try an anecdote. When I was in high school, I was nominated to be homecoming queen. (Please don’t hold this against me. That was nearly 25 years ago, and this will be the first and last you hear of it.) Anyway, when I ended up “winning,” for lack of a better word, I didn’t think I was better than everyone, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. The first thing my boyfriend at the time said to me when I walked off the football field was, “You can take that crown off your head now.” He looked disgusted.

That boyfriend made me feel foolish. I’m sure that was precisely the intent, to knock me off my high horse even though I wasn’t trying to ride one. Anne Lamott’s essay has that same feel. Don’t get me wrong: That’s not the only thing that bugs me about it. There’s something very modern-age playground about her message that rubs me wrong, too. I see an aspiration of equality that borders on dystopia.

And yet…

I can’t NOT read the piece every year when I see it. I love giant chunks of it, enough that I want to overlook the rest. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater? Here is the part that reads like gospel to me:

“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.”

Sing it, sister. Amen.

The thing is, I don’t believe that the answer is to lay waste to Mother’s Day. Trust me, I’m not just saying this because I can’t let go of a designated day to be woken up extra early by elated kids stomping on my full bladder, bearing undercooked scrambled eggs and wildly inflated expectations for all the fun I’m going to have with them from dawn to dusk. Nor is it because I enjoy figuring out the logistics of both having and being a mother that day. It’s because of precisely what Lamott says: It CAN be done a better way. Why not try?

Motherhood is big, complex, and many-tentacled. It comes in many shapes. It does have dark sides. It can cause grief. But in honoring those who have experienced that darkness and grief, I don’t think we need to diminish anyone else’s light and joy.

This all leads me to the show I’ll be participating in this Mother’s Day. The Listen to Your Mother Show bills itself as “giving motherhood a microphone.” Reading Lamott’s piece, I wonder what preconceived notions people might have about this show. Will they be surprised that at least two of the thirteen cast members don’t have kids? How could they anticipate the anything-but-sappy piece about one cast member’s complex and disconnected relationship with her mother? Lord knows I never anticipated so much of what I heard when I sat in the audience in the past, stories of miscarriage, infidelity, sexuality, faith, travel, hilarity, and all sorts of things that don’t neatly fit into any category or onto a Hallmark greeting card.

I’m happy to be part of such an inclusive Mother’s Day experience. I think it at least begins to answer Lamott’s call for a different way to do this thing (in ways that I agree have merit): It does not pretend motherhood is all one way or another. It does not pretend that those with kids are more important than those without. It shines light on the great mess of paths leading into and out of this THING that is so tangled up in our identities. I don’t know how anyone could feel left out. And that’s the kind of Mother’s Day I can be proud to celebrate.

Posted in motherhood | 3 Comments

Nothing a Little Lube Can’t Fix!

Even the happiest and best-paired of husbands and wives sometimes have drastic disconnects. My husband and I are generally two peas in a pod. We’re a nice mix of similarity and complement, and this generally keeps our boat floating, even in the worst of circumstances — like when he was deployed to the Middle East while our daughter was a toddler. Sometimes, though, like with any other marriage, we can have the most ridiculous disconnects. Case in point:

Our daughter is set to be the Child of the Week this week at her preschool. This dubious honor roughly translates into Make More Work for Mom Week. While our daughter gets to revel in such rapturous treats as being at the front of the line all week, having control over the classroom light switch during recess, and sitting up front with the teachers during circle time, for me, it means making a “special snack” for the whole class, orchestrating a surprise drop-in from a “special visitor” for her before the week’s end, and helping her create a “special poster” to share with the class that tells them more about her life. Aside from their obvious abuse of the word “special,” the preschool really can’t be held responsible for the grief this event is causing my family. How were they to know that it would coincide with our 11-week-old getting a ruptured eardrum?

After many days of crying, difficult bedtimes, fussy daytimes, and bobbing on and off the breast, my son managed to get through to the mother intuition that I didn’t even think I possessed. (Who can blame me? Our firstborn was an equal-opportunity crybaby, with a scream as shrill for I Don’t Like the View from this Carseat as it was for I Just Rolled Off the Bed and Onto My Face on the Wood Floor.) At any rate, I just got to thinking yesterday that the baby might be coming down with something. My husband confirmed my hunch with his otoscope, glimpsing blood and what appeared to be a rupture in my son’s right eardrum. Probably from our airplane descent last week.

As I was trying to deal with the fussy baby yesterday, I was also trying to help our four-year-old create her “special poster” for school. Being the Child of the Week is an event that comes only once a year for each student, so it’s a big deal. But I had no intention of trying to best any of the other mom’s gratuitious attempts to make their children look like professional archivers with an uncanny mastery of calligraphy. Seriously, I had the notion to just plop our daughter down with some paper, glue, pictures, and crayons, and let her have at it. But I knew it was important to her that I help, and the kid can’t exactly choose pictures off our computer to print, so she and I sat down together for an hour yesterday and carefully went through our digital photos. She meticulously picked which ones she wanted to include — a photo of her first day holding her brother, one of her cat that died this past summer, one of her climbing a tree with her Grandma, etc. Every picture had a “special” story to tell. When all was said and done, she had about 35 pictures selected. I hit print, and then learned that our printer was out of red ink.

At this point, the baby was crying for the umpteenth time, and because I’d been up much of the prior night nursing and comforting him, my energy was wearing out. But my husband had done all the holding that could help, so I had to take back the baby while my husband ran out to Walgreen’s to buy an ink cartridge. He took our memory stick with him, loading onto it the pictures we needed, just in case the store didn’t have the cartridge.

While he was out, my daughter went to a cookie-decorating party next door. She returned from the party high — absolutely HIGH — on sugar cookies with icing and M&Ms and candy corn. She was the epitome of a whirling dervish. I tried to settle her into working on her poster as her dad began whipping together dinner for us all. The baby was crying again, and I tried to nurse him in a sling as I pulled together the art supplies. “Just have to make it to the end of the day,” I told my heavy eyelids and tired arms, as I opened the Walgreen’s bag and discovered that my husband had printed only about 10 photos.

“Where are the rest of the pictures?” I asked.

“It seemed like too many,” he said, “So, I just printed some of them.”

I think fire shot out of my eyes. It was not that big of a deal, but it was, for some reason, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“You mean we spent ALL that time this afternoon going through those photos for no reason!?” I snarled. “I could kill you!”

Yes, I am that ridiculous right now.

I stomped upstairs and downstairs and through hallways, collecting up the goods for the poster and then remembering that he’d also stopped to buy an ink cartridge somewhere else after all. I went to the bag where I thought the ink cartridge would be, and found instead a shiny new bottle of AstroGlide. Um, yeah. Snowball’s chance in hell.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I said. “You’re out of your mind.”

My husband looked up and saw me holding the bottle, that precious little bottle of hope, and said with a smirk, “What?”

“Do you know what I’m thinking when I see this?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said. “You want to tell me I can go f— myself with it?”

I laughed. That wasn’t what I was thinking at all. I was thinking how much that bottle shouted about the disconnect men and women often experience when a new baby arrives. No, I think it says a lot about the disconnect between men and women, period. Her very sanity is hanging by a thread, and he’s stopping off to buy lube? Did he really think that whole business about breastfeeding drying up cervical mucous was all that stood between us and a night of great sex?

When all was said and done, we had a good laugh about it. My daughter’s poster got finished and had her beaming with pride. My son eventually went to sleep. And my husband and I ended up with a little extra oil to burn. I intend to put it right in the kitchen next to our olive and canola oils, where it has a better chance of being put to some use.

Posted in babies, daughters, education, marriage, motherhood, preschoolers, sexuality | 2 Comments