Do you like grape gum?

Last week, I bought the kids a pack of grape gum. Anna asked for it, and hoping that she would behave in the line at the grocery store, I said okay. Outside I gave her a piece.

“Don’t you want one?” she asked.

“Nah,” I said. “I hate grape gum.”

“Why?” she asked.

“It reminds me of being a kid,” I told her. I doubt that made any sense to her.

When I was growing up, I lived with my mom in a crummy apartment building. Not the worst type of apartment building – it was in good condition, it had all of its shutters – but nothing fancy. Nearby there was a McCormick spice factory. On certain days when you walked outside that heavy grape smell hung in the air. It would almost choke me.

We were poor. My mom bought our food with food stamps, and my clothes were gifts or from the Salvation Army. I certainly never asked my mom for gum at the grocery store, and if I had she would have said no – and not because she wanted to. I grew up watching my mom add up the price of groceries on a piece of paper, carefully calculating all the costs before getting in line. I remember walking with her to and from the grocery store every week alongside a busy major street without sidewalks. Cookie cutter suburbia towered around us and oblivious people in cars would zoom past. And sometimes that overwhelming, cloying grape scent would make breathing impossible.

I grew up happy. My mom was always there, and she made me feel special. She taught me a lot about the important things, and she showed me how to have a lot of fun with whatever was right in front of us. But I always felt something was missing. I always felt a little bit scared at the grocery store. So now, I’m glad that I can buy Anna gum and have it just be gum. I’m glad it doesn’t dump her on a busy street behind an old lady cart like it does for me.

On guilt and motherhood in an ambulance

Before tragedy struck

I want to preface this post with a bold statement: I rarely, if ever, have felt guilty as a mom. In fact, I hardly ever experience guilt. I have recently wondered if that makes me a sociopath. Hopefully not. But as a mom, I try to give my kids all that I have to give — at least I did until recently. I have always tried not to leave myself any room to feel guilty.

This weekend, while we were camping with the kids, Nate, our youngest, fell into the campfire. He burned his hand badly, and I spent most of the night in two ERs getting him treatment. It was a complete accident. Geoff was starting the fire while the kids played in their fort on the other side of our campsite. Midway through setting up the fire, Nate wandered over to Geoff, who was sawing apart a log. Geoff warned Nate to stay back, and Nate turned and started walking away, looking at Geoff over his shoulder. He took a few steps and tripped directly into the fire, which, thank God, was low, tiny. Geoff saw what happened and immediately pulled him out, but the damage was instantaneous. We all jumped into the car and headed to the nearest hospital.

Where was I while this happened? I was reading a book. In my chair. Watching from afar. I’m embarrassed to admit it. I think of my best friends, the ones who are moms, and I know that each one of them would have been following behind their babies wherever they went around the campsite. There was an open fire and I was reading a book. It’s unforgivable.

The attending doctor at the first ER was concerned that Nate should receive care from a pediatric burn unit. He told me that Nate would need to be put under while his wounded hand was cleaned and the damage accessed. So we transferred to another hospital, closer to home, now at 9 p.m.

Nate fell asleep in the ambulance. It was heartbreaking to see his car seat belted into a stretcher. He looked so tiny and helpless. When the EMT covered him with a white hospital blanket, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. What if the fire had been bigger? What if Geoff hadn’t pulled him out so quickly? All the impossibilities came flooding in at once. If the EMT, sitting across from me in the ambulance, noticed me crying, she didn’t say. How could she have known how much I hate white hospital blankets, how they will always only be shrouds to me ever since my mom died? How could she have known that covering my baby with one to keep him warm in the air-conditioning would put me back in that room with my mom who died so suddenly that I couldn’t even make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye? She couldn’t. She meant well, and truthfully, it all turned out fine.

We made it to the second hospital, and a team of burn doctors assured me that Nate’s hand will heal without surgery. They bandaged his hand, sent us home, and all is well today. He’s learning to be a lefty without much complaint. But I still can’t shake this too-close-for-comfort feeling of near-miss, and I can’t let go of the blame. Maybe I shouldn’t.

elleroy was here


Notes on my one-year old

This morning, he was lying facedown on my bed, his adorable little face lying on the blanket, so I joined him. I put my face right up against his on the blanket, nose to nose. He laughed. We stayed like that for a moment, smiling at each other. Then he jumped up and climbed onto my back, wrapping his arms and legs around me like a baby monkey. He laughed and said, “Mommy!” Then we laid like that for awhile.

I love him like crazy at this age. He’s so open, so full of himself. He has little fear and heaps of curiosity. He doesn’t hold himself back. If only he could permanently remain in the here and now and not reach two, a thief waiting to steal all of his fun.

The little mischief maker:


Breaking the rules

I’ve been thinking a lot about rules lately, and I’ve been breaking more than a few. Sadly, even some of what I write as a blogger breaks some of the rules of my marriage. Last week, I read this article by Molly Crababble on money and success. She contends that to accomplish anything above and beyond the marriage-big-house-two-and-a-half-kids pipe dream, women have to break the rules. I agree.

In her article, Molly Crabapple talks about how artists in particular have to transgress established norms. Artistic success, she says, depends on “doing the ambitious work everyone said you weren’t ready for, then getting mocked and rejected for it, until, slowly, the wall began to crack. You could never do what you were supposed to, never stay quietly in your place.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re new around here, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to return to work. I want to work as a writer, and I want to write creatively. My plan is to start with writing about myself and move on to separate characters. I find myself in a unique position: well-educated, with some decent experience on my resume, and with several years away from the workforce to raise my kids. Not to mention that I have a certain level of financial freedom.

Since I stopped working full-time when my daughter was born, my husband’s opinion has been that it doesn’t pay for me to work. Truthfully, by the time we pay for childcare and our ridiculously high tax bracket, there would be very little money left to make my efforts worthwhile. This is the “official” reason that I stay at home full-time. It doesn’t include my strong desire to be at home with my kids when they are little, to start them off with a strong emotional attachment. It doesn’t begin to cover all the fun that we’ve had together over the past seven years, and it certainly ignores all the skills that I’ve learned as a mom.

Stepping out of the workforce has given me clarity about the pros and cons of paid employment and what I really want out of a job. I want to do what I love. It’s a sacrifice to hand over part of your life to a manager. I’d love to have the freedom to write as I like, indefinitely, without any consideration of pay. But I think that’s impractical. And honestly, I think it will serve my marriage well for me to once again receive a regular paycheck.

So here I am, on the cusp of changing nearly everything about the daily structure of my life, of my kids’ lives, of Geoff’s life. I want to savor this time as I transition from full-time to part-time mom. But I’m constantly reminded how much I have come to expect of myself in this unpaid role. It’s nothing short of perfection. I am used to filling my days with taking care of my family’s needs, with making their lives special and fun. I do love that job, with all my heart. But I just can’t do it all anymore. And to change, I need to break the rules.

To write this blog, which I hope to craft into a portfolio, I need time away from my kids. Rule #1 broken. I need to hire a sitter during the day, which means spending money. Rule #2 broken. I need to make time to do what’s important to me, and I need to do it before I take care of anyone else. Rule #3 broken. This is unfamiliar territory, and I only know that to succeed, I have to make up new rules as I go. Do you think it’s easy to make up new rules? Does it sound like fun? Maybe. But it’s also hard, like running uphill. Sometimes a nice life, with enough money, a loving husband, and three cute kids, can act like a trap.

I’m going for the impossible here: I want to have the family and a job that I love. Do any of you have an axe I can borrow?

Let’s go to the donut shop

“Mom, I’m sweating,” my 5-year old whines. We’re walking through the neighborhood on our weekly trip to the donut shop. It’s about 75 degrees outside.

“It’s hot out,” I tell him, “but there are plenty of shady spots.”

“Noooo!” He screams,”I’m burning! It’s too hot out here. It needs to be air-conditioned!” he demands.

“What, outside?” I laugh.

“Yes!” he screams, puts his hands over his ears, and shrieks at the top of his lungs.

“Listen. If you want to walk all the way to the donut shop, you need to cheer up,” I tell him. “Go ahead, smile.”

He does, grudgingly.

We continue walking in silence for a few minutes. I’m struck by the thought that in a few weeks he will be at school all day, and I won’t have these chances to help him cheer up, to spend time with him, and to teach him how to handle life in the moment. In these last few weeks I want to help him learn to cope with discomfort. It’s super challenging for a five-year old. I mean, it’s hard for me. But this will be an exercise for both of us.

Back before I had kids, when I was pregnant with my daughter, Geoff and I took Bradley method birthing classes. They were a little crunchy granola, but I’m telling you, this works. The Bradley method teaches you how to cope with pain. It teaches you relaxation. It shows you how to stop fighting against the pain and instead let the pain come and go. You learn to focus your attention elsewhere – on a photograph, or a part of your body that is not in pain.

It takes practice. You build up your tolerance to pain months ahead of time, training your mind by squeezing your partner’s hand, then by holding an ice cube, then finally by focusing through your early contractions. Then when you must, you lie down. You relax. You breathe. You feel the pain come and go. You think of your photograph, or of your feet, or whatever you choose, and you remind yourself that you will soon be free of the pain. The discomfort never becomes part of you, it is always separate.

And fighting it? Does that work? No more than my son’s shrieking made him feel better. Relaxing and succumbing to the pain was the only way that I found to get through it. Pain has its own rhythm and pain has its own language. Coping with it demands all of your attention and all of your submission. It doesn’t appreciate snark. It wants to own you; it demands your compliance.

And if you comply? If you ride out the pain? I found that after giving birth, after the pain had passed, I experienced the most profound feeling of happiness that I’ve ever experienced. It is truly spiritual. It’s a time not only for being with your new baby, but for experiencing your body, and the world, anew.

My son and I made it to the donut shop. Along the way we discussed Iron Man and Scooby Doo. We bought donuts and sat outside in the sun to eat them. He took a long time eating his, finally oblivious to the heat and just happy.

I think that we will keep up this weekly trip, even in July and August.


She made her way ahead of me on the path, leading the dog on her leash, in her quiet way. Earlier in the day she had been angry and still tired from a bad night’s rest. Now, settled, she wandered among the scrub and flowers pulling the lazy dog down the grassy path. She stops to watch the hawks circling overhead. She, like me, was being herself, a beautiful, messy-haired seven-year old.

Before I became a mom, I thought that I would want to teach my daughter everything that I know. I mistakenly believed that I needed to learn a certain amount before I would be able to raise her the right way, as if there is even a right way to be a mom. Now that motherhood is my reality, I find myself wanting more to just stand back and watch to see what she becomes.

How to be a sexy mom

I know that I just gave you a confession, but I have something else to admit. I like to let a little bit of my bra show. Sometimes I choose a shade darker than my shirt, or a pattern that peeks through the fabric. Sometimes the lacy edge peeks out from my neckline. It just makes me feel a little bit racy, a little bad, if you know what I mean. Now, you know I’m a mom. Most of the time I am dragging three kids around, from here to there, to school, to piano lessons, to swimming. I often have my one-year old on my arm. More often than not, my hands are sticky from someone’s snack. And that feeling can be annihilating.

But when I know that I caught Geoff’s eye on his way out the door to work, or I feel a guy’s eyes on me (I know, I should be ashamed, I’m married!) I feel a little more alive, a little more me. It helps me get through these mommy years in one piece. It reminds me that being a sexy girl was what got me into this mess in the first place, and that I will one day return to what I was—more or less—a sexy woman with nice clean hands.

Do other moms do this? I definitely haven’t noticed any bits of lace peeking out. But I say go for it! Moms, do your hair and wear your date night shoes on regular days too. Go shopping, alone, for yourself. It feels great.

I do have one friend who tried my advice. She religiously wears sweats. Recently she confided that she did some lingerie shopping, and that she’s been wearing her sexy bras and panties under her sweats. Her husband loves it, and I hear she’s been reaping the benefits.

So, guys, when you see us moms, in our sweats, hair in ponytails, tugging flocks of kids along by the arms, well, you ought to look more closely. Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes, they are a lot more interesting.