Even when it’s about you, it’s about us

CAM00318I’m one of those parents.

For gifts, I give people tchochkes

With pictures of my kids on them.

This year for Christmas

It was one of those mugs you can

Put pictures of your kids on and,

In just a few tips and taps of your keyboard,

Be done with your holiday shopping in like

Ten minutes.

Did I stop to think about whether

The recipients

Needed or


Another coffee mug?


I assumed that,

Because these are picture of

The Kids,

You know,

The Kids,

They’d be interested.

The grandparents,

I’m pretty sure,

Actually really like the mugs.

But I felt a little sheepish

Handing over the two

Uniform little boxes to my

Brother and his fiancee,

Who had gotten everyone in our

Family something

Individual they might actually like.

“Even when it’s a gift for you,

It’s about us,”

I joked as they

Very graciously

Admired the mugs after

Prying them out of the unbreakable

Styrofoam packaging.

It’s true.

I don’t have time to think about

Much else besides

Keeping my kids and myself


No small feat.

But I do recognize that

It must get tiring for people to

Ask how things are going,

And have me talk

All about

My kids:

Ear infections,

New sports season starting up,

All the school closings this winter.

What’s worse,

When people tell me

About stuff going on in their lives,

I’m really good at

Co-opting their experience

And providing a corollary about my kids:

“You say you’re recovering from a

Car accident that almost killed you

And left you fighting for your very life?

My son’s favorite movie used to be Cars!

He was really scared of that scene

Where the semi-trucks fall asleep on the road…

I bet you get why!

Ha ha!”


I’m starting to realize

(And this is not to news to

Childless people, I’ll bet)

That most selfless of activities,

Actually makes people


Self-centered, not less.

How can this be,

You bluster,

Imagining scenarios in which you’d






For your child?

Here’s how I see things:

I pretty much think of my kids as

Part of me.

Maybe it’s because they came out of my body.

This is mostly a good thing.

It’s what makes me sure I’d

Jump into oncoming traffic to snatch my child

Out of danger.

Or scrape poop off my 1yo’s butt with the

Edge of his wet diaper

(Because I can’t find the wipes)

Then go finish eating my dinner

Without gagging once.

Same with boogers.

Your kid’s boogers?


My kid’s boogers?

Whatev. I’ll blow my nose in that tissue later

‘Cause they’re practically



See how this works?

So if my kids are

Part of me,

My self-centeredness

Has now expanded to

Include my kids.

Now instead of one

Self-centered person,

You get a three-fer.

I’m not really sure what the

Point of thinking myself into this

Paradox has been

Except to acknowledge the grumblings of the

Childless population who

Complain about how

Oblivious parents can be to

Anyone around them except their

Little precious.

I’m not wishing this parenting time away

Because I know these years and days and minutes are

So dear,

But it will be nice,

Once the daily tornado of child-rearing is over,

To come up from the cellar

And have a nice chat with my neighbors

About anything


My kids.


Happy Mother’s Day! I think I’m done having kids

547751_10151367700569149_189076974_nI think

I’m not having any more children.

We’ve talked,

Joe and I.

I brought it up.

“What do you think about

One more baby?”

“Aw, babe,” he said.

“I just don’t think I can.”

His reasons were sound:

We already have

Four kids.

Let’s just focus on the

Ones we have.

Let’s give them all our attention.

(And all our finite financial resources.)

I tried to wage an argument,

But I wasn’t enthusiastic.

The truth was,

I kind of wanted him to

Talk me

Out of it.

So now,

It’s a matter of

Getting used to the idea

That this is it:

My family.

A couple divorcees with an

Assortment of kids:




We have ’em all.

Somehow I’d thought that




Especially if it was a girl–

Would even everything out.

Make it tidy.

There’d be the two older kids–

Full siblings to each other–

Then two younger full siblings–

Then my son in the middle.

The girls would bookend the assortment.

A fifth child to

Tie it all up

In a neat,



Our family has felt like a

Work in progress for

So long.

It’s hard to imagine

That we’re

Finished adding to it.

But I held a newborn baby in my arms

Last week

And felt none of the


To have my own.

The boxes of maternity clothes in the

Basement that

I was hanging onto

Just in case

I’ve promised to a

Pregnant friend

(Whom I feel no envy toward in the least).

My two sons were

Screaming with laughter in the shower


Last night.

They’re the only ones

I’ll physically bear

It would seem.

My first boy and

My baby boy,

I call them.

It seems a shame to

Retire the ol’ reproductives when they

Still have something in them.

But then again,

It’s nice to think of

Having myself to




Never again the

Intrinsic sharing of

Resources and

Energy of a pregnancy

Or breastfeeding.

And our family?

Definitely untidy.

Three last names

You will spell wrong

If I don’t spell them

Very slowly

For you over the phone.

Pictures reflect our

Mish-mash schedules.

Different combinations of kids

Depending on who is around that weekend.

When we go to bed at night,

I have to think for a minute:

If there was a fire,

How many kids are home

To rescue from the flames?





It could be any of those numbers.

And the different


I do to them all.

I’m a different person to each of them

Depending on their needs.

When I think of being a

Mom and a


The first word I think of is


It really is just a

Hell of a lot of fun.

Not every moment,

But there is much to be amused about.

Much to laugh at.


It’s hard.

But it’s gotten easier over the years.

I’m grateful for my

Four kids.

They are each divine in their

Own ways,

And they each teach me about the

Divine in me.

Step parenting is hard

I broke my own rule the other night:

When Joe is disciplining my son,

And I don’t agree with what he’s saying

Or how he’s saying it,

I support him at the moment in order to provide a

Unified front,

And bring it up with him later,

In private,

In our bedroom,

After the kids are tucked into bed.

That’s the ideal.

But it didn’t work quite that way on Friday.

Me, Joe and my six-year-old Victor

Went to a circus-like burger and malt shop for dinner,

Magenta and azure murals of dancing cartoon figures on the walls,

Us glaze-eyed from a long week of school and work.

My boy wasn’t listening:

“Don’t run,”

And he’d run.

“Don’t put your burger on the table,”

And he’d put his burger on the table.

The more he didn’t listen,

The more Joe fixated on him not listening:

“If I have to talk to you

One more time,

You won’t get a root beer.”

Victor tried to climb into my lap.

“Mom, I get a root beer, right?”

“Not if Joe says you don’t,”

I said wearily.

It went on like this for a few minutes:

My boy lapped at his water like a dog,

And Joe told him not to.

My boy blew bubbles in his milk,

And Joe said, “Stop.”

I tried to restrain myself,

But I finally couldn’t.

My mouth just opened and

Brightly, I said to Joe,

“Let’s talk about what Victor’s done right today.”

Joe’s gaze swung across the formica table top

To me,

And then he and I started going at it:

“You need to lay off.”

“But he needs to listen.

It’s a safety issue.”

“But this isn’t working.”

“He’s doing it on purpose.”

“No he’s not. He’s six.”

“Well, something needs to change.”

“Does it? Is something wrong?”

And on and on.

So here’s the underpinning of this


Joe doesn’t love Victor like he’s his own son.

Victor has a dad,

And Joe has children.

Those roles are filled.

Same with me.

Joe’s kids have a mom;

They don’t need another one.

We both love our step kids;

But not in that

Blindly unconditional way we do our own.

When Victor doesn’t listen,

I assume he’s just a distracted six-year-old

Developmentally incapable of following




He’s given.

Joe sees some insolence,

Some intention in the behavior,

That would


Occur to me.

The thing is,

We’re both right.

And sometimes,

We can both admit that.

Step parents can offer a lot:

They aren’t befogged by unqualified love–

Their objectivity can clarify the most

Confounding parental delusion.

Joe and I can do that for each other–

Not every time,

But enough to be hopeful.


On Friday,

It happened:

We had a productive conversation about

Step parenting

At the moment of disagreement,

In front of one of the kids.

I truly witnessed Joe’s face


With hurt feelings as he described how

Victor ignores his attempts to

Ask what happened at school

Or at wrestling practice.

And he listened


To my points about

Developmentally normal behaviors

That don’t always need to be



It was Joe who was the lightest of all

Walking out of the restaurant,

Jokey with Victor, and flashing

Grateful looks in my direction.

So it worked

This time,

And for today.

Maybe it was the malts.

Got my son back

People asked in the days before I left

To bring my boy home,

“Are you excited?”

“Yes,” I would say


“Of course.”

But the truth is,

It’s not excitement I feel.

It’s relief.

Relief because this


Is nearly at an end.

Relief because I’m nearly whole again,

Whereas when my boy is gone,

There’s a bit missing.

So excitement?

I don’t get excited about much these days.

I’m a tough sell.

Steadiness and


My watchwords,

Preclude excitement

For good or bad.

Relief is the right word

Relief to squeeze the small body to me.

(It is painfully unnatural to


Touch your child for

Months on end.


My separation time is over for now,

Which means his father’s is just beginning.

At the airport

His father watches us go through security.

I hoist the boy up three or four times to wave.

His dad stays until he can’t see us anymore.

The hours before my boy leaves for the summer

Six hours before my

Small boy’s

Plane leaves,

And he and I are at the zoo.

I’m always the one who wants to come here

Before he leaves for the summer with his dad.

“I don’t want to go to the zoo,” he says as we’re leaving the house,

But I don’t give him a choice.

The impervious rhythms of the animals

Are a comfort to me.

And anyway,

He likes the sharks and

The giraffes and

Buying lunch in the cafeteria and

Cotton candy from a cart,

And a small toy from the gift shop.

Today we were watching the snow monkeys when my

Chest tightened up like a drawstring.

Nine weeks, he’ll be gone.

The gestation period of a dog.

Today driving here, I thought

There must be other mothers who put their

Kids on airplanes for the summer,

Who dread the last days of the school year

(“Any fun plans for summer?” people ask.)

Who take extra pictures and videos,

Who think melodramatically:

“What if he dies while he’s gone?”

Before remembering:

“I suppose he could die here with me, too.”

I say cheerily,

“You’re going to have so much fun this summer!”


As a tear tracks down my face.

And he will.

He’s got his life over there, too.

I don’t share much in it,

And that’s okay.

He’s not mine, really, anyway.

It soothes me to think that

He’s a child of God out in the world,

And I’m one of his guides.

Among my many duties,

I take him places like the zoo,

And let other people take him places

Without me.

On airplanes even.

Training children like the animals they are

Kingdom: Animalia

I was reading this book on

Disciplining children,

And it offered this strategy:

Don’t think of your children as



Reason and

Logic to

Help them



They should

Behave in certain ways.


Think of them as

Wild animals

To be


Huh, I thought.

We are animals after all.

Kingdom: Animalia

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Genus: Homo

Species: Homo sapiens

When my son was born,

I remember studying the

Whorls of the hairs between the small shoulder blades,

And running a finger down the

Knobs of his spine.

“He’s a little animal,

A small creature,” I marveled.

Five years later,

The whorls have faded to blond and the

Spine knobs are usually covered by a t-shirt.

He is starting to be


Which I guess is my job as his


It’s difficult to not rely on

Reason and logic to

Make a case to him.

But it’s true.

When I ask him


He did a certain unacceptable thing,

He shrugs and says,

“I don’t know.”

And I believe him.

I think he really doesn’t yet have the

Self-awareness to

Know why.

Or when I try to create

Golden Rule parallels for him:

“How would you feel if someone

Did [something inconsiderate] to you?”

He just looks blank.

Or when I try to explain the layers of

Reasoning behind why I tell him not to do things:

“Do you see how sharp this knife is

That you just tried to grab?

It could slice into your finger,

We’d have to go to the hospital,

You could get nerve damage,

Maybe lose the use of your finger!”

I’ve lost him after “sharp knife,”

Which is more of a fascination than a

Deterrent anyway.

Best, the book says,

To just say “No,”

Offering no explanation or reason,

And follow with immediate–




Wow, it’s hard.

I have to pretty much

Train myself to shut up

Before I even start to train him.

It’s probably good for both of us.

Airport good-byes

About to leave for the airport

You would think that the


Would be a devastating place for us:

For me, and my small boy,

And his dad.

The good-byes we say just outside security,

His dad or I knowing we won’t

Squeeze the small body

For months.


If you thought the airport was,

For us,

A scene of tears and


You would be wrong.

We made an unspoken


His father and I,

To have fun at the airport.

We send him off

With fart-kisses on his stomach

And tickles around his neck

And swooping hugs.

And laughter.

On Sunday, it was his dad’s turn to say,

“See you soon,”

And go through security


In three months,

It will be my turn to say

“See you soon,

When school starts again,


And watch them go through security


I know from experience

That for me,

The tears come at the moment they disappear from view

Behind security,

Looking not back at me,

But forward toward their


It wasn’t my turn to

Say good-bye today.

But when it is,

On the ride home

I will turn off the radio

And let the tears run.

Thaw Day

photo: bikexprt.com


I decided that

My small boy and I should

Emerge from our dusty house.

It was a February thaw,

Not to be missed.

Standing in the back hallway,

Underneath all the

Swishy, clompy gear,

My small boy was dismayed at the prospect of

Going outside.

“It’s cold out,” he pleaded,

His dad-shaped gray eyes bright between the

Woolen ear flaps of his stocking cap.

“You’re going to be surprised at how

Warm it is,” I said,

Literally pushing him

Out the door.

And so we ventured out into a

Sunny, drippy, melty day.

We drove to a small city lake

Got the last spot in the parking lot

And set off on a

Thaw Day walk,

Our gloves in our pockets,

Our rubber-soled boots withstanding the

Deep, cold, brackish puddles.

The questions the started coming at a regular clip:

“What are dogs made of?”

“Skin, bones, muscles, blood, organs.”

“What are organs?”

“What are organs …

It’s like your heart, your stomach, your brain.

Parts of your body that have a specific job to do.”

“We have organs?”

“Yep, we have all the same organs as dogs,

I think.”

“Is that dog cute?”

“I think so. What do you think?”

“I think so, too.

Why is that man singing?”

“He’s just happy to be outside.

He likes to sing.”

“He looks like Marvin [his school bus driver].”

“Yeah, he does look like Marvin.”

“But he’s not Marvin?”

“No, he’s not.”

And so on.

The small warm hand was

Tucked into my palm,

And I gave it a small squeeze

With my fingers.

“Remember this moment,”

I said to myself as I

Drew the warming thaw breeze

Into my lungs-organ.

Earplugs: Can’t live without ’em, can’t live without ’em.

I like to think of myself as rather an

Earplug connoisseur.

As a mom,

I’m not going for

Utter silence

But rather a

Generalized muffling

Through which

Crying, screaming, etc., can be


But perhaps ignored.

The best kind

Are these

Clear chunks of wax

You press into the

Cup of your ear.

You know you have an air-tight seal when

You start to




It’s weird,

I know.

Baffling to those who are

Not afflicted.

But once you start talking to people,

You find others.

“Earplug addicts,” we call ourselves,

Although it’s not really true,

Because people who call themselves “addicts” are

Usually trying to recover,

And we’re

Definitely not.

We are the ones who

Know all of the 24-hour pharmacies in our neighborhood,

For making bedtime trips down the

Fluorescent-lit aisles

Straight to the earplug rack

We know exactly where it is

Because we





All the little noises in the house:

The furnace turning on and off;

The snoring;

The thumps of the cat jumping,

(Except we don’t have a cat);

How could anyone sleep

Without earplugs?


It is lovely at the end of the day,

The children settled,

The husband otherwise occupied,

To lie back against a pile of pillows in bed,

A book on my lap,

And press the wax chunks into my ears,

And turn



And in the morning

(If my family allows it)

I leave the plugs in for a little while

So I can flicker silently into the day,

Like a just-lit candle.

But then,

The muffled thumping of

Small feet on stairs:

I turn,

And am rewarded with the best


Vision of all:

A small boy with sleep-rumpled hair

Trailing a blanket and clutching a stuffed kitten,

One leg of his pajamas hitched up to the knee,

The other booted over the sweet foot.

One more silent breath,

And then the earplugs