Parenting Feels: First Times

It’s always the heaviest rain happens in the minutes during school drop-off, or pick-up. I’m thinking this as rain pours down my back from the tilting off my umbrella, unable to hold it steady while I juggle closing the two others. My 3rd grader and 1st grader are several minutes gone. I don’t even remember if they waved good-bye before being swallowed into the anonymity of hundreds shoes squeaking on the linoleum floors. I walked Elliot to his room the first two days of 1st grade, then he didn’t need me. I walked Zach to his class only on the first day, not because he needed–or wanted–me to, but because those bags of classroom supplies are heavy.

I’m not even thinking about it until I see a red-eyed woman hurry past, and then Oh, It’s the first official day of school for the kinders.

The Feels between Zach’s first day of kindergarten and Elliot’s first day? Different.

The kind of different that twists just the tiniest bit of guilt. It always be harder, I think, navigating those First Feels, which will largely belong to Zach. I hope that doesn’t make Elliot think I am less attached to him. He’ll get his First, many long years from now. Or not so long.

Once they left the baby/toddler stage, it became harder to see time passing in changes to their faces. I’m with them every day, there is more subtlety in the changes to their appearance now: taller, longer hair, shorter hair, missing teeth, new teeth. Dr. Who wasn’t talking about parenting, but it applies here: It’s a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.What I can’t measure in my own kids sneaks in from other sources. From my first nephew starting high school this year; my former boss’s 2-year-old also in high school; a former co-worker’s two-seconds-ago 5-year-old who has somehow skipped all of the years in between to freshman year of college.

The faint, smokey smell of time burning, blown away before it can settle.

I know it will happen in an instant, the moment, that final First, when my last child leaves home. That will be the First time those First Feels will belong to Elliot. Bless his heart, I hope he’s ready for them.


The First Day of School for a SAHM

What does the first day of school look like for a SAHM with no kids at home?

Disclaimer: I can talk about this because, for years, I have said the same to other SAHMs. Hell, I did it THIS year.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Polite, medicated, socially capable me responds like this:

“Enjoy your day off!”  I sure will.

“I can’t wait until all of my kids are in school all day!”  Oh, aware that my kids are actively listening to my response, it IS exciting, but I sure will miss having them home with me.

“Are you going back to work?”  For pay?  Not this year.

“What ARE you going to DO with yourself for an entire day?  All that free time!”  Well,  I have this book that I’ve been trying to write for a year– it’s such a great story, but fiction is hard.  And I volunteer a lot… 

My mouth, both good and bad, often flies solo.  It’s true, I just open my lips and watch the appropriately vapid responses stream out.  After all, these aren’t people stabbing me with a passive-aggressive-interest-knife.  In previous years, I’ve spoken similar words and received similar vapidity in response.

This is what I meant when I said these things to other SAHMs.

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White Privilege

What would my life be like if I wasn’t white?  If I didn’t benefit from white privilege? Certainly being female provides me with a tablespoon’s-worth of inequality perspective, but that’s nothing when it’s measured against a gallon’s-worth of racial inequality.

When I consider how charmed my life has been– not by virtue of a lifetime’s worth of law-abiding, responsible decisions, no– due to the invisibility afforded me thanks to the color of my skin.  No one was paying attention to a middle-class, white, teen-aged girl as a potential law-breaker.  In point of fact, my teen-aged self only caught law enforcement attention when I was with my black friends.  Because then, and only then, was I suspect.

Nevermind the evening I was (illegally) drunk in public (also illegal) at the MacDonald’s of my local mall.  Despite knocking over one (three) of the tables, no one ever called security on me.  That same mall, several weeks later, I shopped, sober, with a black friend. Security followed us the entire time.  Though they weren’t really following us, something blatantly evident when she and I would wander into different sections.  A bizarre choice on their part; after all, of the two of us, I was the only one that had ever been caught shoplifting.

Let’s talk about that for a minute.  At 12, I discovered the adrenaline rush that comes from deliberately leaving a store with a product for which I had not paid;  I was a thief.  I was eventually caught though it was many months after I had begun. Back then I remember thinking I was just that good, but in reality, I was just that White.  I recall the police officer being justifiably disgusted with my actions, but I was not arrested, nor was I taken into custody.  He called my parents and released me to them instead.  He did refer me to juvenile court, and later in the week, those same parents accompanied me to the juvenile court intake officer.  She looked at my grades, at my parents, and listened to my tearful apology.  She determined that I “had made a stupid mistake, but they were going to let this one go.”

They were going to let this one go.  How lucky for me.  I don’t remember the dollar amount of my unpaid purchases; more than $100, but less than $500.  My point here being that I had stolen far more than a tube of lipstick.   My privilege had saved me from what could have– what should have– been the start of a relationship with the juvenile court system.

For every example of risk I face as a woman I can counterexample with a time I got away with something I wouldn’t have had I been black.  Of the times I drove through road checkpoints with an open container of alcohol–twice.  Of the time, in college, that a busted taillight resulted in my being pulled over by two police officers that, though they could smell beer in the car,  accepted my (not sober) explanation that I had not been drinking and was, in fact, driving my drunk passenger home.

I’m not proud of these moments and my rather public sharing is causing me no small amount of anxiety.  Will people think differently of me for my admissions of younger-self stupidity?  Theft, drunk driving– what kind of person am I?

The kind of person privileged enough to have my mistakes not count, thus allowing me the chance to grow up and to grow out of the tendency of making bad decisions.

Imagine my life story if any of that teen/young adult stupidity had stuck?  If they had been treated as the criminal acts they actually were.  If both my skin and class privileges hadn’t provided me with seemingly unlimited get-out-of-jail-free cards.

People see what they want to see. Nothing about my average height, average looks, and skin color ever resulted in closer scrutiny.  Even later, when I wasn’t breaking any laws, I enjoyed the oblivion of privilege.  When the TSA agent searched my carry-on and found 10 bottles of Alum, a white powder used for pickling, he joked about my having “lots of spices” and then sent me on through security.  He never opened one of the bottles; he never asked why I had 10 bottles of white-powdered pickling spice in my bag suggesting that it never occurred to him that I had anything else in those jars other than alum.  It was post 9-11, why didn’t he check?

I’ve struggled with how to explain this reality to my children, two middle-class, white males that will never experience a life without that privilege.   What affect will it have on their own lives?   To a lesser degree, I’ve already watched it in action in the classroom; the known/expected behavior problem kids spend the day over-scrutinized with the resulting disciplinary action, while my known/expected well-behaved kid slides through similarly minor infractions without acknowledgment.

Privilege, of a sort, is already happening, and I’d be a fool to think he doesn’t notice.

This issue, of how to explain the full impact of their privilege, has become increasingly more important to me with each passing year.  This past January, I spent a car ride trying to explain the importance of Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy to my first grader.   Trying to reason out with him why adults would behave that way to other adults based on nothing more significant than skin color.

He doesn’t get it.

Similar to the disjointed absurdity that I felt during twitter’s #YesAllWomen movement, that I was a woman that has never been sexually assaulted, I find myself quietly accepting feeling that same gratitude for being mother of white males.  Because while I can certainly worry about their increased likelihood of being murdered (Males, irrespective of race, comprised 76 percent of homicide victims between 1980-2008) I will never experience that fear from the perspective of a black mother.  Or to reverse mirror image the words of Stacia Brown, Their truth is not our truth.” 

I can read the stories; I can weep for the losses of innocent lives; I can rage at the injustice.  But I cannot live in that reality and so I cannot truly understand. That is my privilege.


The Small Moments

Me, presenting the children with a short list of semi-exciting local opportunities for fun-times today.

Them, with faces a mix between wishful hope and doubt, countering my offers with “how about chuck e cheese?”

Me, eyes-rolling, considering, “we do the Chuck for about an hour, and then both of you spend the afternoon engaging in the brain enrichment activity of my choice?”

Them, “please guv’nah… we’ll do anything for the Chuck.”

Me, wondering how much longer I will get to enjoy the ease of trading what is small for me and big for them with something that is big for me and small to them.  These sorts of negotiations being the small moments upon which relationships are built.

Me, remembering similar conversations between my 14 1/2 year old self and my mother– where she would exchange complaint-free room cleaning for getting to back the car out of the garage and up to the top of our driveway.

If you need me, I’ll be the woman pretending that I’m losing at skee-ball to make my kid feel impressive.  When, in truth, I’ve always sucked at that game.


The Small Moments

Mothering without a Village in the 21st Century

The first version of this post happened way back in March 2013 and starts down below the line.   

And now The missing Village has returned.  Let me start first by agreeing with the author that the isolation of child-rearing is real; that navigating playground politics/parent dating creates a whole new level of pressure. Walk into any Target at 10am on a weekday… the silent gangs of mothers pushing carts of loneliness and goldfish-bedazzled, unhappy toddlers suggests an unfulfilled need.  Speed dating for moms?  Speed *lunch* dating for moms?

But even with this idea that our society becomes more personally isolated I question the craving for this Village Full of Supportive Adults that comes around.  When did it exist? The  50s decade of June Cleavers?

I am sad for the people that feel isolated and alone in their own neighborhoods. My children have just recently gotten old enough to run around the corner to play– and I admit that, despite my tendency toward hermit crab-ness, I enjoy the back and forth of these kids in my house, too.  Before that, before my oldest started kindergarten, I had a core group of like-minded friends with like-aged children. 

What is it about the alluring call of the village?  The freedom from the minutiae of playing yet another round of sea horse versus alien?   The freedom from the children because they are roaming the ‘hood like feral bees?

I spent years 4-6 roaming the wilds of military base housing in Ft. Dix that way.  Most of it a hazy blur of stolen crab apples, crossing a busy road to go to the park, playing in something called the sand pit.  Of wetting my pants, a lot, because to leave the pack to go inside to the bathroom meant being left behind, packless.

I had my Village– of *kids*.  I don’t recall the moms hanging out together in some sort of pickle-canning giggle fest. Maybe it’s the idea that there were more eyes on the children, so the children were safer to roam? Because, um, we didn’t have eyes on us.  And you can’t have eyes on children now without those eyes calling the cops on you.

I sympathize with the author’s feelings of isolation, but this craving for a mythological village fuels a “glory days” type thinking that does none of us any good. Sometimes you just gotta go stock your own village.   


Last week, I talked about why the current generation of moms has developed Stuart Smalley syndrome. This crushing need for constant validation– in kids, other adults, and myself– makes me twitchy.

But. The thing that sets my eyelids twitching so hard that I can feel the breeze? It’s this concept that all women of my generation are suffering because they are mothering without a village.
This ridiculousness that the average 21st century mother has it SO MUCH HARDER.

1) Mothering now is harder than it was 100 years ago? If I were to TARDIS my family back to 1912 to visit one of those super-lucky, village-having moms? Not the romantic one some folks think about, but the real one. You know her, she shucked oysters all day– for a dollar; had a baby every year (birth control, what?); with a husband that didn’t do NONE OF THAT BABY REARING.

My first thought on her reaction?
Something like…

She Doesn't Agree

After she handed me (and my kids) some oysters she’d slap me in the face for complaining about things I read, since no one wasted time putting no learning on girls.

Then, her eyes narrowed into furious slits, she’d realize that I had time to 1) worry about something other than physical survival, and 2) had a husband that knew how to change a diaper.

I think we can agree she might not see my life as particularly difficult.

This idea of a village? It’s been a long time since humans lived tribally; that village became diluted and isolated by agriculture– those farms weren’t close and no one had smartphones.

Or cars. Or time.

Oh– when the girl-people got themselves hitched, they moved to their husband’s farm. To the village run by their new mother in law’s.

And the industrial worker village? I guess, since the kids were working with their parents, not pottery barn kitchen work– but actual for-survival work…

This gut-emptying craving mothers have for being reassured? What the hell, ladies?

Check it out. Sometimes I do a great job. I rock the parenting thing like it’s my job (snort, snuffle– because it IS) and my family spends the day grinning and cheerful.

Please note, this rocking of the job almost always happens over the simplest of things, like playing tennis in the driveway. It almost never happens when I let them use power tools, deliver unto them prepaid Great Experiences, or cheerfully allow them to destroy my house with their gluttony of toys.

What my Small People see as parenting successes are the Simple Things. Figuring that out saved me (and later them) thousands in therapy bills.

Saying yes more than I say no. Not talking shit about them to other parents when they are clearly close enough to overhear me (for real–how often do we all do this?). Following through on my promises– and recognizing that Small People hear each utterance of, “yeah, building a sky scraper does sound cool” as “we’ll build a sky scraper RIGHT NOW. This VERY SECOND!” Remembering the importance of reading a particular book, be it the first, or thousandth time. PUTTING DOWN THE DAMN PHONE. Photographing the big stuff and not every single other minute of their lives.

Those are how we all rock it as a parents.

Then the days (weeks, months) I fail. When I’m overtired and cranky. When my head is pounding with a migraine, and they deliberately screech at me like the sociopaths they often resemble. When they are entitled, demanding, and self-absorbed. When they are whiny and belligerent and…

In other words, when they behave like children.

My personal parenting goal isn’t to make sure that they grow up to be adults that never resent a single parenting choice/mistake I’ve ever made. I’m human, my husband is human (I think), my children are human. Part of a child developing an identity separate from the safety net of their childhood requires a certain measure of young adult discontent. Otherwise you risk raising your own Stuart Smalley, then paying for him to lay in bed all day eating fig newtons.

I make mistakes; sometimes I behave badly. I throw temper tantrums. I lose my patience–with them, with my husband. I huff and I puff.

Later I often apologize and then– say it with me people, I let that shit go.

Because that’s what humans in relationships do– they love, they laugh, they fight, they cry.

Anything else is fake-ity fake fake and serves my children no purpose.

My husband’s family doesn’t argue. No screaming matches. Just quiet anger. My family argued, but my Dad preferred stony silence. Not polite passive anger, but Angry Anger that followed him around like the smell of a bad fart.

Neither method teaches actual conflict resolution.

I do crazy things, like accidentally volunteering to sew 25 seat cushion so that ALL KINDERGARTNERS REST THEIR BUTTS ON A SOFT PLACE. Not because I’m “that” mom, trying to outdo everyone else. Not because I’m an expert seamstress.

My only motivation, as it is with most things, is boredom avoidance. Learning new things like, how to sew a seat cushion assembly-line style, prevents that muscle called my brain from atrophying into a gelatinous mess of carefully removed sandwich crusts and dirty yoga pants.

Of course, you can’t then ever un-know how easy it is to sew these things, forever preventing you from spending $11 on any sort of stuffed seating thingy.

Double-edged sword, people.

For example:

I let my kids use some power tools, because I think it’s fun to use power tools and enlisting them as “helpers” means I have a shot of accomplishing something during their waking hours. And do you know what my children think? Because using power tools exists in their reality, they are NOT IMPRESSED WITH USING POWER TOOLS.

Or, despite having spent a full 6 hours completely engaged with him and activities of his choosing; spearing him with the love laser of my undivided attention, I still got attitude for taking an hour to write this post.

Self-absorbed twits, all of them.

I’m almost certain that the mom up there would shove me under a bus, to steal my TARDIS to come enjoy my luxury life of popping hormone therapy and facebooking my discontent. I’m completely certain that I’d be utterly miserable shucking oysters (a shellfish I adore) all day.

Perspective. It makes the world go ’round.

A Minute is Time

Be in the now! Be present!  The mantra for creating a meaningful (read, better) life.

I see the point of being in the now and I can even agree with the intent.  Sort of.  For other people, maybe.

Here’s my mantra– Be Absent.  Check out.  Allow yourself the distance so that your heart may grow fonder.  Find your inner Alice and follow that rabbit.

My children are in camp this week.  Both of them, gone from morning until late afternoon.  A little peek into what my life will actually look like in a few months when Elliot starts kindergarten.  A full year I am taking, to write my book.  To find myself.  To do… whatever it is that privileged middle class women get to do when they don’t have to immediately go back to work.

In my anticipation of Camp Awesome (that is the name of their– and my–camping experience) I created wish lists for myself.  Eight full hours of freedom– oh, the possibilities for productivity.

I also re-discovered something about myself: more free time often results in giant holes of time wasteland.  Or is it wasted?  I rearranged some shelves– which turned my dining room table into book mountain.  Which made 3 dinners turn into picnics, something that is probably super cool to other kids, but happens far too often to be cool for my kids.

As a book hoarder, culling the herd requires I be in a specific state of mind.  And still most often the herd ends up being relocated into sealed boxes for a day in the hazy future time. I get angry when people (Joel) try to make me get rid of books.

Why?  Because book hoarders create delight, that’s why.  When it came time to pack up Joel’s Great Aunt’s house, everyone else was ankle-deep in bedroom suites and blanket chests.  Where was I? Packing dusty books into boxes like they were gold.  Without Great Aunt Ann–and me, Joel didn’t even want them–we wouldn’t own a 1911 edition of The Mothers’ Book, compiled from essays and articles dating all the way back to 1907.

(Click photo to enlarge)

The Mother's Book Collage

Some of these lines beg to bumper stickered.


Y’all.  This book.  Maybe you’re making some assumptions on what’s included in an early 20th century mothering guide.  Maybe you, like me, prepare yourself to eye-roll over examples of out-of-date ideas and principles. Pfft– these 1907 women, what could they possibly know about child development and how best to gently guide their offspring?  They were all about beating some children, which is why all of those previous generations are so much better than right now, amiright?

Think for themselves

So, wait.  We AREN’T beating the children?  We’re teaching free will?  What year is this again– 2007?

Now there are some eye-roll with accompanying deep sighing.  Three words and a number: gender roles in 1907.  But when they discuss just regular children (you know, before they need to be normalized based on genitalia) it reads as very progressive.  I guess it’s progressive– I’m making assumptions about 1907 parenting theory.  And maybe parents were progressing right up until the Depression hit and everything went to crap.

I’ve quoted some of my favorite little nuggets.  And by quoted I mean verbatim, even the one overflowing with semi-colons.

“Remember all the time that you are simply helping the child grow right.  He cannot grow fast.  He cannot grow evenly.”

“The best way to make a child trustworthy is to trust him.”

“Home work is one of the evils a parent has to meet all through a child’s life. It is a pity that a small child should ever have to know its meaning, for after six hours in a school, or even less, the rest of the day should be spent out of doors, or at home, playing.”

“It may be doubted whether the present custom of none month of schooling followed by three months’ idleness is the wisest that could be made; would it not be better to study right through the year, with four short intermissions annually, thus accomplishing in three years what now takes four?”

They hated homework and long summer breaks, too?!

“Obedience should be considered as only a temporary thing, for the attitude of infallibility that parents assume must sooner or later be abandoned; it is merely the training of the children,not blind obedience in itself, that is the aim.”

“The so-called good child may merely be under-vitalized, anemic, and so indifferent to most things. He obeys because it is less trouble to do as he is told than to think for himself; and the child who disputes every command, and shows self-will and is disobedient, may be merely strong, vigorous, pushing in mental as well as physical ways, because he is growing in both.”

“If a father is so harsh as to make his boy afraid of him, then he must expect the child to lie to cover up a wrong, and if he does, it is really the parent who should be punished.”

Wait– so blind obedience wasn’t the goal?  I mean– I agree, but I’m feeling surprised.

“One mother devised a system by preparing little squares of blue and white paper; when a child had been naughty it had to put one of more blue squares in a box; and when it had been good all day it put in white ones at night, at the end of the week if the white squares predominated, there was a reward, and if the blue, none at all. Nothing could have been more simple, but it worked to a charm.”

Hunh.   I think I saw this reward system on pinterest.  I mean, it was ridiculously more complicated than what this mom did, but they weren’t competing with a hundred other reward charts.

“…there appears sometimes a violent, destructive anger, very hard to reckon with.  In these emotional paroxysms the child destroys anything within his reach, screaming meanwhile at the top is his lungs: and Mrs. Washburne rightly regards a child in such tantrum as temporarily insane.  There is certainly no use in arguing with him, and still less use in threatening.”

Temporary Insanity

Yes, yes– a thousand times, yes!

“He is more careful than you think. He has, like other animals, an instinct for self-preservation. Let him climb. He is ordinarily a better judge of his ability than you are.”

They even had helicopter parents back then?  Dude.  Mind. Blown.

“A girl’s dress is a means of education to her, and her good taste in any direction in after life depends largely upon her being dressed appropriately and daintily in her early girlhood.”

Gender issues, of course, because, 1907.

Likes to Work


Okay, if mamma was sewing or actually baking, maybe.  But she likes to work at washing dishes?  I’m calling bullshit, 1907 mamma.

Truth is never dangerous

There is some talent to a chapter dedicated to convincing parents about the importance of telling children the truth about where babies come from– no stork– without once using the words: sex, reproduction, babies, penis, or vagina.   The truth is never dangerous, but the words?  Oh myyyyy.

A minute is time

In the end, they remind us that the whole mothering thing is hard, but that a minute IS time. That we can do something meaningful with that minute; that it is important to be present in the now:

“…nor her thoughts busy with anything but the children’s talk.  Silly as that may be, they are the keenest of observers; they will know instantly whether it is only mamma’s body that is with them while her mind is far away.”

For me, I cannot choose to be present without viciously guarding my need to be absent. And I’m cool with that.


Adventures with Kids in Politics- EITC delivery

I decided earlier this year to start moving my more political posts over to because the current political climate seems so well-suited with fiction writing.  Most of the time I wish the news reports were actually fiction.


This isn’t a political rant, but rather a snicker moment with Elliot during a momsrising lobbying effort to reinstate NC’s EITC.  Yes, I involve my kids in politics and have since this thing happened in DC.

Zach loves a good rally. He asks really good questions about why we are there, and with the innocence wonder of a child (and, okay, many adults) wonders, “but WHY would they DO such a thing?” Moral Monday Kids


Elliot has two very specific political positions:

  1. Why can’t they just stop so I can stop wasting my Mondays here?”
  2. Will there be candy?

Poor kid, he can be very shy around large groups of adults.  Except for that time in DC when he saw that NEW JERSEY gave out, not tiny peppermints, but FULL SIZE boxes of M&Ms.  With his powerful swagger and rakish good looks he waltzed right in there and asked if he “could, hey, maybe get some of that candy.”

I waved at the dude from the hallway– if someone was going to tell an over-tired 4 year old “no” it wasn’t going to me.

But then? Today?  In NC? Someone trumped NJ’s M&Ms with ice cream.  That’s right, my friends, he spent the first 30 minutes rocking out in the NCGA with his own personal NC State ice cream.

A NC flag lapel pin, which he accepted with the same enthusiasm as a kid at Halloween getting the toothbrush.  His “thanks” was a perfect mimicry of my own sarcastic use of the word.

But it wasn’t until we were a few stops short of my much-anticipated (but not actualized) visit to Representative Tillis’s office that Elliot really just came out of his shell.

Rep. Leo Daughtry, reading the paper, while his assistant makes conversation with Elliot:  “You’re so handsome.  You’re going to grow up and just have your pick of pretty girls to marry.”

Elliot, from around a mouth stuffed full of jolly rancher from the previous office: “Nope.  I’m going to grow up and marry my friend, Landon.  And maybe a cat. Most of the girls like princess stuff and, well, I just don’t much care for wearing a dress.”

I smiled at Elliot and said,  “I hope you can marry Landon someday, if that’s what you want.  Don’t know about the cat.” Then I winked at Daughtry, thanked his assistant for the candy and moved on to the next delivery.
It was a good day at the NCGA.

In Memoriam

Last year I wrote the following post about Memorial Day. Dealing with my own red, white, and blue childhood baggage while parenting small people pops the emotional seal on some long-packaged MREs.  

Regardless of how I feel about war (especially those for oil, cough), my memories of that life aren’t diluted by third party accounts, or made-for-tv movies.   My family lived this holiday, even if 2/3rd of us did so from the (secured) perimeter. 

Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day– all of these armed service holidays end up with my emotions balanced between dock and rickety canoe.

A child of the eighties, I grew up in military towns, with a career Army father and his career Army wife.

Being fully conscious of my emotional response *waves hand in big circle* to All Things Patriotic and Military should– but doesn’t–  make dealing with it easier.

Once a child, it never occurred to me to wonder about various patriotic chanting;  my child questioned saying the Pledge of Allegiance on the first day of school. 

Once a child, I didn’t know anything different from green uniforms and long separations; those few civilian families with dads that came home every night were the oddities.

Once a teenager, I simply didn’t care.  Too busy reminding my parents that  I had not enlisted.    Too busy being the selfish little bitch that still causes a wince when I think of it, twenty-ish odd years later.

Once a barely-adult, finally old enough to be told, and I cared, but only in the romantic my-dad-got-shot-in-war-once-and-could-have-died-and-then-I-wouldn’t-be-here way.

Self absorbed are the young.

Once a young adult, I Cared.  With a focused riotous anger that smoldered during my mom and I’s battle with the Veteran’s Administration.  Idealistic and unprepared,  I waded  directly into the jungles of my father’s memories thanks to the internet and stories of other combat veterans.   To see these men, their wives, and their children rip open those scars in search of healing altered my reality in a way that nothing would again until the birth of my first child.

Learning that many scars become a symbol of pride, a (insert expletive) at fate’s attempt to take you out.   Realizing that the scar on my father’s shoulder went far deeper than skin and muscle.

Understanding that even the scars worn with pride are often tainted with grief and guilt.

Now a parent, a full-on adult, I can appreciate how arduous full disclosure can be with children not emotionally capable of understanding that right and wrong occur on a sliding scale.  How carefully stepping around blades of sharp reality leaves a parent with bloody feet and confused kids.

As a mother,  it’s my fervent hope that neither of my children ever wear a military uniform.

Not because of a lacking pride, but rather because I know exactly how much that pride costs and I’m too selfish to pay up.

A Reflection in the Vietnam Wall

Some of the men KIA during the July 1970 attack on Firebase Ripcord.

But for those of you left with a tattered receipt and rough memories– I spend this weekend with you in memoriam.










A debate with my husband Sunday morning:

JB: I don’t like this new system of folding laundry on the living room couch.


JB: Now we just have clean laundry all over the living room.  I’m putting it back on the bed.

Me:  You agreed! Four times you’ve expressed your dislike for my new system; four times I’ve offered counter-arguments; four times you’ve ended the discussion with the word “okay”. That’s a contract, baby!

JB:  I always thought it was sort of silly, but I didn’t want to argue about it those times.

Me: What you are saying right now it that you were NEVER okay with it, you lying-liar-pants!  If you agree to something then you have to agree IN YOUR HEART.  When a person feels strongly about the way something should be, they shouldn’t just cave to somebody else’s opinion because you don’t “feel like dealing”. 

Note: both of our children hovered nearby**, their little sonar ears listening intently.

JB: I don’t think you are listening to me at all…

Me: Oh, I HEAR you.  What I’m trying to explain is that THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT THE DAMN LAUNDRY.  To be so attached to where a laundry basket rests is borderline insane.  Everything about laundry, the piles of dirty clothes, the sorting, the washing/drying, the hauling up and down the basement stairs, the folding and sorting AGAIN.  The dumping of it onto the bed, and then putting it back into the basket because no one feels like putting it away at midnight.

It’s a FEMINIST METAPHOR, dammit, for my lost identity.  For the mundane, repetitive thankless tasks that WASTE minutes/hours/days/years of what remains of MY LIFE.

JB:  Hey, I do laundry sometimes, too…

Me:  THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!  THIS IS NOT even about LAUNDRY!  A METAPHOR.    It’s A SYMBOLIC reminder of the slow LEACHING OF MY VERY SOUL from the over-large pores in my almost middle-aged skin.  Each sock represents a lost dream, a forgotten goal, a missed opportunity.

JB:  I’m just saying that I don’t like the laundry in the living room…


In the end, I agreed to move the laundry folding station back to our bed.  I warned him that placing this symbolic representation of the death of my Self on our marriage bed might have consequences he hadn’t considered.  That I wouldn’t be “getting back at him” for losing the basket placement argument, because I agree IN MY HEART for it to be there. But that I wanted to be certain he understood that a very unhealthy relationship had formed between the the laundry and my grip on sanity.

I’m just saying– warned.

The Importance of Symbols

Symbolic interactions create, and separate, our cultural identities. Symbols–not the ability to accessorize– separate human from beast. Consider the reactive moral outrage arising from the flames of burnt flags/bras/books/religious texts.  Consider the passionate feeling that would prompt someone to that degree of vehement symbolic death.  For example, I understand that the fabric of the American flag is only that, but I’d never set fire to one in protest, no matter how disgusted I am with my country. Why? Because I spent most of my formative years living on, or near, a military base.


Comprehending an individual’s culture attachment to, or rejection of, an object or idea does not require that I attribute the same degree of meaning. It only requires that I choose to accept another person’s perspective.

I accept that JB considers my rabid attitude about things like laundry to be tangible examples of my batshit crazy.  Maybe it’s my too-many years of being surrounded by small people and their irrational attachments to objects and ideas.  Maybe it’s a piece of my soul, trying to escape the lost sock drawer. I don’t know.

I’m not alone on this island where laundry, dirty dishes, and full trashcans become the desperate bat-symbol of a marriage overwhelmed by the tedium of living, of the repetitive arguments that never address the true problem.

One spouse screams as the chain of unmatched socks slowly chokes them to death, while the other one rolls eyes at another night of melodramatic nagging.

The malcontent has very little to do with the laundry/trash/dishes/toilet seat.  It’s a METAPHOR, dammit.

Definition of Metaphor

**On children and hearing parents argue.  I feel very strongly that my children should hear us argue (about things like laundry, use common sense, friends), and that we have an unmatched opportunity to demonstrate the appropriate methods of expressing anger and frustration.

My use of caps in this post is for effect– I wasn’t yelling. my voice sounds exactly like the squeaky teen that works at Krusty Burgers.  We get angry, we argue. We don’t throw things, or curse each other (dammit does not count as cursing in my little world). No one is hitting, or threatening bodily harm.

That we are expressing intense frustration with each other without becoming violent is a very important life skill in America these days.  Something the country certainly does not model very effectively.

Anger is a normal, human emotion.  It happens occasionally, even between those that love each other very much.  Pretending to never BE angry feels like something we do to “protect the children”.  They aren’t fooled by stony silence, and all it teaches them is how to be passive aggressive.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

In fact, I hypothesize that when adults pretend to never get angry that it teaches the little preciouses how to swallow small bites of anger chunks until their tiny bellies are just over-stuffed, resulting, naturally, in you being sprayed in a surprise rage vomit.

No one enjoys a surprise rage vomit.  No one.





Fear, Knowledge, Perception

I don’t know how much time most of you spend thinking about fear, but the topic pokes around my brain enough to warrant a conversation.

I used to fear snakes– all snakes, pretty equally distributed across the entire reptilian species.  Then I gave birth to a boy whose love of the reptile would eventual make him lizard king.

While the other children read The Kissing Hand, Elliot read Field Guides.  When the other children went to Marbles to play, Elliot went to catch anoles. Boy holding a reptile field guide bookAnole on a boy's elbow









When the other moms complained about reading the same 20 page book every night, I was trying to hide the 400 page Guide to All Dinosaurs in Existence.

I mention all of this not to impress you all with my child’s lizard savantry– but rather as the back story for how this new person rose from the ashes of a woman who used to kill first, question later.

See, I needed to mow our naturalized urban landscape (why shouldn’t weeds get a fancy new name?), and since I’ve planted my foot firmly in hippie-dom, I was out there with the manual mower, casually answering Elliot’s 345,678 questions.

I moved a landscape timber and there it was, a baby snake.  No yellow tip tail– so not a copperhead.  Nice round head, so not venomous.  

And sort of before I could really think about when my life changed so abruptly, I was standing there with a snake on a stick waiting for Elliot to get back with a small trash can.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

There he (she?) was, a perfectly harmless brown snake, now named “Scales”.   Soon thereafter I answered “no” to the 34th iteration of “can we keep her as a pet” and off to the leaf pile she went.

For the next 10-15 minutes, there the child sat, watching a snake watch him back.  Elliot and Scales Share a moment

Fear is an interesting, tangled up thing.  It’s important, being afraid– just ask Mr Bunny Rabbit how “zenlike calm” works out in the face of a descending hawk.  Fear drives flight from danger.

But when the danger isn’t really dangerous?  What then, is fear?

By definition, fear:

is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; 

How do people stop being afraid?  Assuming the fears aren’t clinical, then moving past fear has to involve hours, days, years, of telling yourself you aren’t afraid.   Which then led me to…

We Find Our Courage Through Practiced Self Delusion

There you have it.  Go forth and self-delude and you’ll eventually find yourself holding your fear on the end of a stick for a close examination before shrugging and releasing it out into the wild.

Except for the palmetto bugs– they don’t count, because, really, snakes don’t FLY.