11 steps for the lazy parent to crush the first day of school

Missing water bottles, bedhead,  a healthy breakfast that works with a nervous belly, parents popping champagne. The first day of school is a struggle and a celebration. After 11 years of practicing lazy parenting Steve and I have finally tipped the scales from tantrum to terrific (and yes, I am talking about me.)  Even more importantly, so have our boys.

What does the first hour of our day look like?

  1. 1.Waking up. The boys have been managing their morning alarms for five years. For some reason last night Leo asked me to wake him at 6:30. I pictured entering his surprisingly clean bedroom and heading over to his warm cocoon and giving him a kiss. His eyes would open into their almond shape and crinkle instantly into a smile. Instead I forgot him.  It was a horrible feeling, but it had been years since I had the responsibility of waking my boys.Leo calmed me down, his hand patting my shoulder. “I have plenty of time Mama, its really not a problem.” But I was still nervous, he had not yet done his hair, an exercise that can take between 5 seconds and 5 days.
  2. 2.Eating a Healthy Meal. Eating. Cooking. Not eating. These are the demons that haunt me. I am currently on a very low carb diet (for, like, the eleventyth time) and find breakfast almost impossible. I don’t like eggs. But I eat them. And feel very sad. The rest of my family loves eggs. So Oliver came downstairs muttering about protein. “I really want to make something that gives me energy for my day.” “Do you want me to make you eggs?” He asked me. Thats right. He asked me. I believe I might have grimaced. “OK, no eggs” he continued. “What about turkey sausage and oatmeal? You can have the sausage…” So Oliver got things going and I sat at the counter occasionally (or constantly) apologizing to Leo about forgetting to wake him. Leo likes to eat last so he polished off the sausages, had some cheese, peaches and warm orange juice. You read that right.
  3. Grooming.
    Would you seek hair advice from this guy?

    Oliver announced that he was going to brush his teeth for a second time. “I don’t want to have a mouth that smells like sausage” he announces striding from the room. “That’s what she said” I hiss to Steve. Somehow Leo doesn’t hear me. Side note- I met someone new last night and she was talking about vacations. She was giving a mixed review of a cruise (mixed seems generous to me, and David Foster Wallace.) Instead, she declared, “I really prefer things more rough and dirty.” My tongue is still bruised…it was the hardest..that’s what she said. Next Leo left to do his hair. GULP. Not two minutes later he returned. “That is some of the best hair you have ever had.” Oliver declared. I looked at Oliver’s bed-head, wondering how much credence Leo would give his opinion. He didn’t need it though. “I know” Leo said. “I KNOW” It didn’t look much different to me than any other day. Since I make it a policy not to talk about looks (except maybe blackheads (lowers regular head in shame)) I gave no response to his hair.

  4. Tidying. The boys loaded their dishes in the dishwasher. Apollo got to rinse the sausage plate. He didn’t load it in the dishwasher. For the record he doesn’t mind sausage breath.
  5. Gathering stuff. 
    I’m surprised the dog didn’t make it into the backpack..

    Oliver is standing at the counter. “I am going to check my backpack for the fourth time” he tells us. He lifts the flap of his messenger bag. Leo and I are both biting our tongues. Mine is still sore from last night. That’s what she said. Leo wants to tell Oliver that a messenger bag is not a backpack. I want to ask Oliver how inanimate objects might have left his bag in the last three minutes. Oliver is making satisfied sounds. Pencil. Back up pencil. My tech contract. Notebook. I don’t need to ask Leo what he has in his backpack (yes. backpack.) He has given me the tour. He has: hand sanitizer, water bottle, six decks of cards, phone, packs of pencils, rainbow eraser, full sized electric pencil sharpener, three notebooks, 16 highlighters, and “room for more.” Not sure what more might be, but always good to have an abundant mindset. Except maybe with carbs. Mmmm, Carbs




6. Waiting. Now we are waiting. We are 30 minutes ahead of schedule which will get the boys to school 20 minutes early. Time for a backpack check? Or eleven?

Do you see the deck of cards?

7. Leaving. That’s it. They leave to walk across the street to school, one with a backpack and a whole bunch of cards, the other a messenger bag with 2 pencils.

Was this11 steps?

Why no. It was not.

Because we have practiced meals and packing and waking up eleven thousand times. This is finally where the work of being lazy pays off.


What DID I do?

  • Drink tea
  • Flip through a house book
  • Get reassured by my 11 year old.

What DIDN’T I do?

  • Prep any food (including my own.)
  • Handle any school supplies.
  • Wake my kids (whoops.)
  • Help with a hairdo.
  • Match a water bottle top to a water bottle.
  • Dig wrinkled clothes out of the laundry.
  • Push anyone out the door.
  • I also didn’t eat toast. But that is for another post.


Wondering how we got here? It started early.

Over the summer back in the pre school years we had them gather lots of things, almost like a scavenger hunt. Then we had them select the things that went with them to school. Then they laid them out step by step and took pictures of them. We then made the pictures into a visual checklist and they got themselves ready for school. Lazy parenting sometimes takes a lot of work.





Interested in learning even more? Read this blog. Or this book.


Parenting Fails

I’m sitting at the counter eating my impossibly small piece of gluten free toast.

In front of me is my journal bulging with papers that have nothing to do with writing, and my planner, filled with orthodontist appointments and PTSA meetings. I am not particularly upbeat. I take a nibble of toast, a sip of water filled with vitamin C (I will NOT get Steve’s cold), and a gulp of tea. I am trying to make things come out evenly like Frances did in my favorite children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances. The tiny toast is a challenge. I don’t know how to make it keep up with my barrel of tea.

Leo walks into the room clad in his too small red fleece robe. His eyes are starry. “Mama!” “Did you know that they publish the lunch schedule ahead of time? So I can pack a lunch on days when I don’t like the meal and know to eat hot lunch when it is good!” Why yes. I did know that. Last week was tragic. He brought in a dry turkey sandwich, oversized seaweed sheets, and a third favorite yogurt on pizza day and was somehow empty handed on orange chicken stir fry day. That sort of thing can just tank a boy.

I thought of the lunch calendar, which I carefully printed out in pre-school when Leo was a pre-reader and has never graced our fridge since. How many homes across America help kids select a delicious lunch? So good in fact that they might actually eat lunch and not arrive home a shaking shell. Lots probably. Poor Leo. He has been left to forage in the fridge forest without proper information. He might as well be a lord, with some flies.

Oliver has already left for school, crunching through the unusual snow in his sneakers. He has no boots at all. Steve ordered some, proud for stepping up and solving a problem in real time, but he ordered size 5. Oliver is a size 7. “Impossible.” Steve told me. “Possible” I told him. “Fact” Oliver told us.  It didn’t matter though because when the bog boots came they were a size five children’s. The miniature size sevens wouldn’t have fit anyway. Oliver doesn’t mind. He rushes out in his single pair of shoes. They will do.

It has been a tough stretch for no nag parenting. The contributions that we have hammered so deep into their brains that they exist in their brain stems have continued. They wake on their own. Gather their things. Tuck their homework (which may or may not be completed, who knows?) into folders. They eat breakfast that they cook for themselves, unload the dishwasher, feed the cat. Those things work. For the most part. But the rest seems to have slipped away.

Just last week I was doing my biannual wipe down of the dining room table and I found this:

Seven years ago. This was clearly “-not Leo”

I have no idea how long it has been there. Writing on paper instead of furniture and walls is something I stopped training them on roughly 7 years ago. Seems we might need to revisit that.

It is not just Leo that needs that lesson. Oliver too seems to be confused about the word permanent in permanent marker. He drew this for us to celebrate our trip to Florida. In October. We remember it fondly. Probably forever.

We have no basement for the boys to trash so instead we have given over our guest room. (Sorry friends). When we made the transition there was a cubby or drawer or slot for each device. Since then, however, there has been saving and spending. At least two more important video game devices have been added to the arsenal. I imagined they would be less messy than legos. I’m not sure. Here is what the desk area that we built from an IKEA expedit (rest in peace) and a piece of maple plywood looks like this morning.

Mixed in with the nerf and the controllers we have apple cores and desiccated pizza.Don’t tell me they aren’t ready for college. Here. Look a little more closely. Or don’t.

Leo is handling the laundry this week. Finally finally we no more have moldy loads taking up residence in the washer. That is a triumph if there ever was one. But the dryer? It is not given the attention it deserves. And if your brother’s clothes hit the floor for the dog to pee on when you are pulling out your own outfit? Bonus.

Leo watches me take my tour. He gathers 15 cheese stick wrappers in his fist and shuts the door to the Video game hole quickly. It’s like his little kid version of hide and seek. If I can’t see it it isn’t there.

Beneath the counter stool he gathers the band aid bits and presses them into the trash. It is full.

Walking past the dining table back to the kitchen his finger traces the sharpie on its apron. “It wasn’t me.” “It says right here: not Leo.”

He gathers the laundry and shoves it into the dryer.

“I’ll fold after school, I promise.”

His face changes like from contrite to disgusted.

“I have to make my lunch. It’s enchilada day.”


[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]The kids room features desiccated pizza. Don’t tell me they aren’t ready for college.[/Tweet]

Moving on from Miscarriage

At book club last night a friend told the story of calling her husband. “Bring home milk.” She told him. “And cornichons.” “What…are you pregnant?” he asked. We all responded with a hearty laugh. We are old enough now so that is barely a physical option. Most of us have made SURE it is not an option. It sent me back though, to the time when I thought it was a choice.

When I really wanted a third kid.

When I couldn’t have one.

The tiny woman stands in front of me beaming. She has sleek curls, white teeth and an open, friendly expression. Beside her stand two boys, clearly brothers, who look to be about the ages of my boys.

“How old are you?,” I ask the shorter one.

“Nine,” he tells me.

“I have a nine year son old at home.”

He smiles at me. What is he going to do with that information? I put those thoughts into words.

“Why do adults always do that? Tell you about kids who you will never meet and can never play with?”

He shrugs his shoulders kindly and I turn to his brother.

“How old are you?”

I can’t help myself, when he tells me he is just eleven I say, “I have a a ten-almost-11-year-old at home.”

All six eyes are on me. I look back at the mother.

“We have the same lineup.”

“Oh,” she replies brightly, “Do you have a younger daughter as well?” As if on cue a six year old girl shows up at her mother’s hip and slips her arm around her waist leaning in.

“No,” I answer, “Just the two boys.”


The family moves forward, continuing to sell raffle tickets benefiting childhood cancer, and I see that the mom’s hand that isn’t carrying her basket with tickets gently stroke that soft spot where her daughter’s hairline meets her neck. The ribbons on the girl’s pigtails are red and blue to match her shirt. I follow the striped ribbons with my eyes until they are lost in the crowd.

I turn to my husband. “Did you see, she had two boys our age and a younger daughter.”

“This has come up a lot lately,” he responds, looking mildly concerned.

It passes though, as he lays his hand on mine and goes back to inspecting his beer. He is a beer lover and has a bit of a ritual to conduct before he takes his first sip. I have a ritual too, so I return to it as he returns to his beer.

I look around the restaurant. Where would we be seated if we were a family of five? I locate a booth with a curved side where the three kids would sit. The girl would be between Oliver and Leo, keeping them from jostling, maybe getting them to play tic-tac-toe. I feel better now that I have put my imaginary family in its place.


After having two healthy sons who (surprise!) arrived seventeen months apart, Steve and I had a long conversation about whether or not to have a third child. We had already replaced ourselves on the planet, and figured out the rhythm of life with two toddlers. Yet as an only child I had wanted multiple kids, and Steve was one of three himself. Still, a newborn seemed difficult, but if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. It wasn’t a baby we were choosing, but a whole person, a part of our family and an individual.

The first pregnancy test came back positive very quickly. I showed Steve, and we showed the boys together. We counted the due date and their differences in age. They were interested, but not very, and we explained in a straightforward way that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. So there was a better than average chance we would have a baby, but no guarantee. Still, I placed the positive test in the special oak box that held our wedding vows and NFL playoff tickets.

It was only 5 weeks later that we lost this baby.

During those same five weeks another of my friends became pregnant with, and also lost, her third child. She and I both had miscarriages at the same time. It helped to talk about it. It is a personal choice whether to share news of a pregnancy and a pregnancy loss, but there is a societal norm to wait until 12 weeks to talk about it openly. I felt caring and reassurance from the people I told about this loss.


A few months later we were both pregnant again, and then another friend as well.We would meet for pastries and herbal tea, because… baby.

It was a bit further in this time that I stopped feeling sick. When I worried, my husband told me to be glad to escape the nausea, but I knew.

The ultrasound wand was cold with jelly as the MD calmly extended a finger to the screen and explained that I only had an empty sac. My husband said, “See, no baby at all.” The science of it helped him a lot. He found peace in the fact that the only life inside me had been an imagined one, helped along by some trickery to my body. To me, real or imagined, this was a loss of life — the life we would have had as a family of five.


Six months later I was spending less time with my friends and their rounded bellies.

I reminded myself of my relative luck. I had two healthy boys, whereas I had many friends who had lost pregnancies further along, or before they had kids at all. I had friends who had lost infants and even toddlers. This was nothing, NOTHING, compared to that. All I had to do was kiss a little blond head or snuggle close to a sturdy, healthy boy body for comfort.

Despite this I found it difficult to be around pregnant people, which at our age was a tough proposition. I stayed home more with the boys, who in turn were getting a little rowdier. I took pregnancy tests even when I couldn’t have been pregnant.

A few months later I peered at the pregnancy stick, willing the second line into existence. I had the two boys in the bath in front of me and I called in Steve.

“Do you see it?” I asked, “Do you think it’s there?”

He looked at it through squinted eyes and told me it was possible. “Lets wait until morning when it will be stronger,” he advised reasonably.

I took just one more test that night, which sat evenly in line with the last test telling our future. When I woke up the double line on the tests from the night before showed with more strength and that morning’s test confirmed with even brighter lines what I was hoping for. Unbidden, I thought “Its a girl!” This was the first time I had ever had a strong feeling about the gender of a baby but it was as clear as the lines on the stick, I was pregnant with a daughter.

I began to wear maternity clothes. I felt confident, different from the last two pregnancies. I took all of this as a sign that things were safe this time. I told my kids about my super power — super sniffing — and we battled bad guys using their scent to track them.

One morning Steve took the boys skiing, and while they were away I had some light cramping. When my 5-year-old came back with a broken femur I pushed worries about my pregnancy aside. This child on the outside needed me.

Two days later I was home with my hobbled son. Except he wasn’t hobbled. He tore around the house on crutches, alternatively swinging like a monkey or swinging his crutches like a weapon. The attending had told me they don’t normally give 5-year-olds crutches but my son, feigning poise, had argued his case, and we left the hospital with armaments.

I began to bleed and took to the bed. I didn’t rush into the hospital, though it was bad. On Monday I had the ultra sound that told me what I already knew. They took blood to measure the levels of pregnancy hormone to make sure they went down and as I was too far along to have the miscarriage at home, they scheduled a D & C.

Afterwards I used the pregnancy sticks again. The sound of the foil wrapper offering none of the exciting possibility of the last. Instead I was hoping for lighter lines. They didn’t come. I was scheduled for a second procedure. Then it was done.

So were we.

Steve was ready to be all-in with our boys. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and physical highs and lows of the last two years. From the conception of our first child to the day we made the decision to get a vasectomy I had been pregnant or nursing (or both) 46 of the last 60 months.

Enough was enough.


And, enough WAS enough.

Four years later I still look at families of five and hear myself saying “they got it right” inside my head before I consciously and slowly let that thought go.

I reach towards my boys, now old enough to cook and clean and care for themselves, and I think how lucky we are. In the years between my pregnancy losses and today, I have helped friends through devastation much greater. Still, I remind myself that it is not a relative thing. Our loss was real, and it deserves the grief I gave it.

My husband grieved too, but has filed that sorrow away as a different time of our life. He can remember it, but not feel it.

When I come back to right now, I see his beer is almost all the way gone. I let the haze of loss drain away too. I picture it as his beer, cloudy to the point of being opaque. I concentrate on his glass as he drains away the very last of the sludgy bottom bits and leaves the glass clean. I lean in to my husband, who wonders aloud what the boys are doing right now. I realize that right now I am letting go.

As I pick up that third positive pregnancy test from our family keepsake box and set it gently in the bathroom trash, I think that today, finally, enough IS enough.

Eleven- alone and together

Oliver is red as he sprints to the finish line at his cross country meet. I recognize this red. It was what I felt back in fifth grade when I played soccer. One year they took our team picture after a game and my face was as red as our uniform. At home that evening I took out a red magic marker and colored in the faces of the other girls on my team. I would not be the reddest.

Oliver is the reddest and it doesn’t bother him. He looks up at me and I notice once again that it won’t be much longer that he has to tilt his head to meet my eye. “I came in second on the Hill B team.” He is grinning so widely that his third dimple is showing. “I mean, there are only two kids on the B team but second sounds so much better than last.”

He holds my hand as we walk towards the car. He is pleased with his time. He thinks by the end of the season he will be able to shave 19% off of it. “Then I will be slow, but not so so slow.” He tells me, mouth moving as quickly as his feet were minutes before at the finish line. “We had to pass through the creek three times. The first time I went slowly. I was worried there were going to be slippery rocks but instead it was sand. So the other three times I jumped in full force. It was my favorite part of the course.” He finds his poem funny and repeats it as we cross the street to our car.

At home our second (not last, but, you know, actually last) child is planning for his birthday party. He has chosen not to come to the cross country meet to cheer on his brother. I wonder about this. He used to come to all of the games. Even if he was digging worms out of the dirt rather than watching the field he was there. This was the time when it was just the two of them. It is changing. Leo has friends at the house more often than not. Where once he and Oliver sat together in a single chair it is now another 11 year old draped over the wide arm.

What’s that? Why its dirt covered rice crispie treats with sour gummy worms obviously.

Leo’s is a low impact party that doesn’t require much planning. We will be celebrating at Jumpoline or Tramplace or whatever it is called. As a weird anathema who doesn’t like cake we will have rice crispies treats.  As excited as he is with the party he is disappointed in his new age. This week he will be eleven. He claims that 11 offers no real milestones. He is already double digits. Twelve allows him shotgun in the car. Eleven is just…11. When I tell him it is the number of players on the football field he looks at me with disdain. It was weak. We both know it.

In between reading Steve and I corny jokes (“I have 21 of these and I am not afraid to use them.” Oliver declares with a mixture of threat and humor) Oliver tells me he will be willing to skip Leo’s party. I wonder about the word willing. It is not the same as a cross country meet. It is a birthday party. I would never have expected this. ‘Is there a reason you don’t want to go?” I ask. “Oh I WANT to go”, he insists,” I just want it to be as fun as possible for Leo, and he might not want me there.” My heart breaks a little. A few minutes later I ask Leo what he thinks of my conversation with Oliver. Listening, his almond eyes widen. “What?” “OF COURSE I want him to come.” It seems impossible that there was any doubt.

Piled in the car on the way to the party the five kids are chattering. They are talking about sports cars. Lamborghini Centenario, Le Farrari le ferrari. They are saying words in other languages I don’t know. They love the cars. From the back a lilting voice pipes in. “I love Suburus.” Says the one girl in the car. “I love her” I say to Steve. The boys say nothing at all. After sports cars they take on soccer. Elite teams, relative skill of players in their class. Oliver is quiet. He doesn’t play soccer. His brother has his back though. “Oliver came in second in his cross country meet.” The lone girl congratulates him. He looks at her. “There are only two kids on the team. So really I came in last.” “But” he repeats the truth he spoke earlier this weekend. “Second sounds better than last.” There is a moment of silence and then all the voices murmur their consent. They don’t agree on cars or relative soccer rankings, but second is a lot better than last.

Rice Crispies treats, friends, AND brother

Arriving at Tramplace Steve and I notice all of the things that are out of order. Some of them relieve us (make your own cotton candy) but some are a bit disappointing. The bumper cars and 3D rides are both “down for maintenance.” I wonder if this is the same euphemism they use for pools when they need to drain floating turds. It doesn’t seem impossible. Where I hear ruckus and see disrepair the kids see only thrills. They are jumping and diving and dodging balls. They are sticking together. Two “big kids” (clearly not 11) begin cheating and dodge ball and swearing at them. The group comes together. Where they might have criticized each other instead they are staunch defenders against a common enemy.

That evening Leo opens his presents. They are more touching and personal than ever before. There are meaningful notes and framed photos and matching soccer jerseys to ones he has complimented in the past. After years of saving every stick, rock and package he has finally gotten to the point where he has something to really treasure. Amongst the gifts there is a card about the number 11. It has facts about what makes the number special. We have a collective eye roll as the card too cites the number of football players on the field. Eleven may not be the very best number. There is one fact that excites my boys though. Eleven, it turns out, is the smallest double digit that is prime. “Nerds unite!” Oliver celebrates. I see Leo thinking. It is pretty cool to be a prime number. This is the fact he will hold close to him in his eleventh year. He is a prime, if not in his prime. He is surrounded by friends and supported by his brother. Just last night they sat together at the computer working on 9th grade math. Oliver was teaching Leo formulas and telling him he could do it. It was a real life example of nerds uniting. If I blurred my eyes I could almost imagine the locks of their hair falling together like when they were little.

The same brown chair that is filled with friends

Perhaps this is the story of 11. You are a little apart. You are tuned into your friends as much as your family. You stand as someone who is no longer second to your brother. You might not cheer him on but you still defend him, even in front of your friends. You two are not the brothers you once were. You used to spend life with limbs entangled, sharing a blanket, each of you wearing one of a pair of shoes.

It may be different, but different can be better. You are two boys, you are one set of brothers, you are 23 years of life between you. You are ready to be alone and together. First and last and first and second.

Nerds united.

Hand in hand

I am backing slowly down the steep incline of our driveway. It is 8:10 and I am a little later than usual…but just in time for the elementary kids to swarm towards the school, bumper height obstacles from my perch at the peak of our driveway. The car is beeping in protest but a careful check confirms it is just our poorly engineered concrete that is causing concern.

I pause at the point of full reverse feeling thankful that no children died at my hand this morning and allow my eyes to move through the windshield to the dirt pile. It arrived a few days ago heaped richly almost to the edges of the green tarp and I imagined a Sunday vegetable garden. Yet Sunday has come and gone and the dirt remains. Because of this the risk of kid death remains even as I pull forward forced by the dirt to angle to the middle of the street jockeying for position with other Sport Utilities with their doors swung wide to allow children with backpacks bigger than them to tumble out and make the mad dash to beat the bell.

In contrast to the families around them there is a calm as my neighbor and his daughter walk down their driveway. It’s slope is gentle, the curb cut reengineered to meet the new 3 car garage allowing them to stroll rather than slide as they head to school.  For their first few steps they are protected by the dirt pile but then they have reached the midpoint of the street. As he greets me with a friendly nod his daughter reaches up for his hand and they cross the road together. They were walking as individuals and now they are a unit hands the perfect height to meet each other exactly where they are.

Later that day I met Oliver in the middle school hallway after I volunteered with a particularly talented sixth grade writer. I was distracted when Oliver approached me. Despite my lack of sentence structure and grammar I had spent our session helping the boy extend the staccato of his written voice into something a school might recognize as a sentence. And somehow it felt like a sentence. My thoughts were not on my son as we started down the wide Western steps toward the field that stretched in front of our house.  He had laced his twelve year old fingers through mine. I became aware of him in step next to me and felt the spread of my fingers. He was no longer little. I used to be able to feel each of the 27 bones in his hand when I held it in mine. They felt like a baby bird’s wing and I was worried about crushing them before he could ever take flight. Now he is holding onto me and I feel muscles in his fingers made stronger through drawing and writing and shuffling cards. I am not thinking of his vulnerability but the slight discomfort of the way we are laced together.

OK. I might not shave my legs but that is obviously Steve. I figure the reason I don’t have pictures of Oliver and I holding hands is because my hand is too busy for a camera.

The path home grows a little narrow and he takes a step in front of me, leading me forward. He is laughing as at first he walks directly into a leafy branch and then corrects and hip checks me sending me off of the sidewalk onto the baseball field. He loves it. “I guess it is not the biggest problem in the world having trouble walking in a straight line” he tells me. “There are so many other troubles, ones that are risky or painful or sad. This is mostly funny.” I have tried to pull my hand away at this point. He is swinging them together as he talks and walks and it is clearly too much for him to do with grace. I am getting jerked around and have not yet found firm footing. As soon as I get free he grabs onto me again. We are crossing the street now. Blazing the exact same trail that the girl did with her father 7 hours earlier. He guides us right to the dirt and laughs again. “Really the only risk is when I start to drive.” We both pause at this. We are in the middle of the street. It is still quiet, not yet elementary school pick up time so his poor aim isn’t really causing a problem. In three years though I can imagine him behind the wheel the car scraping garbage cans and crossing over yellow lines without his knowledge.  He his leading me again. We are stepping over dirt, we are approaching the driveway at an angle. He narrowly misses the fence and then trips over the uneven edge. “I almost took you down.” He tells me without a trace of sorrow. “But you held me up.”

Now he is the one to pull away.

He has passed through the gate into the side yard and I hear him cooing at our cat. “I missed you all day. You are the sweetest thing. I love you so much.”

I stand on the uneven driveway I am wondering how much longer my hand will tingle from our joined walk. I will it to stay a little longer as I hear the slam of the side door. The parents are beginning to arrive to pick up their little ones, the cars gathering. I do not need to navigate.

Twelve years of this boy.


I might not have started with this one if you hadn’t (gleefully) pronounced that you have vomited more than anyone else in the family. Sadly (or happily depending on your attitude which is almost always good) this is true. You were born with reflux. It was so ridiculous that I lay awake at night designing a new kind of baby sleeper which kept you strapped in and upright. Then we discovered that the swing did the trick and for several months you slept in a swing. Granny worried we would have to find an adult size to send to college with you. The puking continued as we force fed you a chocolate cupcake for your first birthday and to this day you take road trips clutching a trash bag and old towel. The fact that you do this all without expressing misery is as remarkable as the volume of vomit. Which is obviously remarkable as well.


This was the year you became a brother. It hasn’t always been easy.  He lists you as “stranger” in his cell phone and after the cat and dog in terms of his love for family members. Yet you know this isn’t true. Your sword fights and giggles and all the times you hear his voice calling out “Ollie” blend together into a relationship that is more fun than friction. You have always known the importance of having and being a brother. “I believe in you” you tell him as he struggles with math. You do. You believe in him and you brother him even as he bothers you. In this picture you are signing “more.” The shot before this one had you kissing him. Yet this shows your open eyes and face of glee. The only thing about this shot that isn’t true to our life is that Leo is the one sleeping.


Ah cooking. Around this time you were a master imaginary chef. You loved to play “fast cooking” inspired by Koto where the hibachi table performance featured clanking knives and “big fire”. Today you are working on cooking a minimum of seven meals so you will be ready to take care of yourself. You are a master of breakfast for breakfast, brunch and dinner. Your waffles are from scratch and your patter as you mix the batter is endless and endlessly charming. You make turkey tacos and boil some things. There are other dishes I am sure, but you are still best at opening a box of crackers and enjoying until the end. You are no quitter. You eat to the last crumb and almost always remember to recycle the box.


Mini Steve. Many many many people compare you to your dada. It’s easy to see why in this picture. It is more than skin deep however, you both have engineering minds and love logic. Your outlooks range from matter of fact to fantastic. You both love breakfast. Despite these things there is some me in you as well. We are always early, including when we wake up in the morning. I’m sure there are other things. So I issue this challenge…find bits of me in you. I am so proud to be half of your DNA, however the mad mix is made up. Which is something we ponder together while talking about cross pollination of beans. So that’s one more thing I gave you. An interest in purple peas. 


Admittedly this is not the best picture. I had to include it though because it combines so many of the things that made up Oliver at that age. And make you up now. You are outside. You love the outdoors, hiking, walking, swimming. They are all great. You are by the lake at our old house. You have built a fire. You love fires. Shelbure farms camp had a big bonfire and the counselors said you stayed by to tend it most of the day. You are not as much of a fire starter as a fire tender. Perhaps because you are tender. Also, if you look closely into the blur of this photo you see your signature pose. You used to cup your face with both hands for every picture. Here it is important that you hold your stick so you only have one hand free to look cute. You managed it though. Just as you manage the fire.


Chess. Your love of chess started in a big way. Our trip to Mexico when you were five had lots of milestones. You learned to swim. You became an international traveller. You tried tropical fruit. I said you TRIED tropical fruit.  As we walked from our Linda 2 casita with plunge pool that only penguins could tolerate you always had us stop at the giant chess board. You walked the squares putting yourself in the game. You still play…on a smaller physical scale and a larger mental one. Its funny as you get bigger the concrete world gets smaller and your inner world gets bigger. It is amazing to watch you grow. When you were around this age you would have us watch you grow in real time. You would scrunch your fists and your face and scream out like the hulk. You believed that you were making yourself larger with your effort. As it turns out it happens effortlessly.

2011. Your life has not been without sadness. 2011 was the year that your grandpa died. One year you picked out a t shirt that said “grandpas are for loving and fixing.” This was literally true for your grandpa. He built decks and gave cuddles. Most of all he loved you boys. I had to choose two picture for this year though. Because with the sadness came the strength to get through it. Just a week after you sat by your grandfather’s side in his last days you and your brother sat on our lawn looking at the sunset. I think Leo started it (in this case in a good way) but you joined in. As the sun slipped behind the mountains and the lake reflected pink on your faces you closed your eyes and offered yourselves a moment of peace. The same peace you wish for everyone.



This is how you feel about getting dressed up. Here are the clothes you like: Sweat pants (which we used to call play pants because little kids don’t sweat), t shirts, socks, or best of all a fizzy blanket. Occasionally you will wear a button down. (Which really should be called a button up) but it usually results in this face. Where we can’t see your cheek dimples let alone my favorite third chin dimple. After a while your smile comes back though as you grin and bear it. 


Napping. There really doesn’t need to be a particular year to highligt this. You are a world class napper. As you know I have an entire folder of photos of Oliver sleeping. It is the largest folder on my phone. That said this shot one is a great because it captures your ability to sleep in crazy situations (in the freezing cold on a pokey plastic chair) whilst accurately documenting your interest in live sports. Low. There is another side to the story though. It is the enthusiasm you showed before and after the outdoor hockey game to support your dad. It was disproportionately high given your level of interest. Which was clearly low.


This is the year we moved to Colorado. This was probably the biggest disappointment of your life. This is what you say about Vermont. “On a scale of 1 to 10 Vermont is a 12 because its as good as heaven but I’m not dead.” Despite holding onto your love of Vermont you have settled into a life of happiness in Colorado. The month we moved you made up a song which went like this: “Life is a song and inside is a chorus. The chorus is this: there is no happiness without sadness. There are problems and there are solutions. Life is an oyster and inside is a pearl. You can’t open it with force. Only with kindness.” In your own words you explain how you manage the disappointment of our move. There is happiness and sadness and together they make life. Plus there is beauty everywhere. See?


Things I see here. Your love of animals. Birds, cats, dogs, flamingoes. Your endless enjoyment of the jungle garden. You loved our little house in Sarasota and our walks to the weird 4 acre park. I see your DI shirt and remember how you worked with your friends. I also see your goofy grin. This post has so much of your reasonableness. There is so much more Oliver than that though. There is the Oliver who says with a smirk “I just stepped on my own leg after I tripped.” The Oliver who dances the robot and chicken dance. The Oliver who can’t eat chocolate ice cream without it ending up all over his face. The Oliver who delights in his bed head. The Oliver who challenges drunk adults to a badminton game versus hyper kids. The one who speaks the truth: “you know whats hard to wrap? Bacon.”


Just out of the frame of this picture is the totem you, Leo and Granny built at the beach. You are a boy who enjoys rituals. You inspired Wednesday game night and Tuesday taco night.  There are traditions to your visits to the cape. At low tide you collect critters, in the afternoon you swing in the hammock where you have played coast guard since you were a little boy, you get the ice cream most evenings. You love to swim in the pond with Toby and Alex and Mike and Hes. You love to host Dmitri and Colin and other friends. You read the Declaration of Independence on Forth of July and crack open lobsters on the deck. The only part you don’t like is the drive there…for more information on that please reference 2005…the year of your birth.


We started with vomit…we might as well end with tech. Here you are my dear. You neck is cranked into an uncomfortable position but you won’t fix it because you don’t want to disturb the dog. Speaking of the dog I will remind you of one of the most Oliver stories ever. Driving home from Leo’s soccer game I offered the family a choice. “shall we go to an open house or the rescue pet center.” Guess where we ended up? Sitting in the small room with the shivering 7 pound piglet dog you were the only one who saw reason. “There will always be dogs that need us. Now is not the best time for us to get a dog with our travel schedule. Let’s wait a few months and come back when we are really ready to take care of a dog.” Fast forward eight minutes and you are the one lugging the dog food to the car. Like always you make the most of a questionable situation. You have taken on the role of “primary person” to the cat who was abandoned. You snuggle the dog and love him even though you still think he wasn’t the best choice. You clean his pee without saying I told you so. So here you are…snuggled in a blanket, a three quarters eaten loaf of challah beside you, a dog and blanket on top of you. You are watching something. Probably youtube. You are taking time for yourself, but if we called to you, if Leo called out Ollie or if Dada and I asked you to come see us you would jump up right away. (After gently placing the dog on the floor of course.) You are here for us. And I hope you feel how much we are here for you as well.

Love love love. Your mama.

Eleven Signs You have Nailed this Parenting Thing

We worry about teaching our kids resiliency, kindness and how to eat a balanced meal. We are focused on the wrong things. If your kid can’t make a penis joke you have more parenting to do.
1. You kids understand penis humor

Me: “I like a firm banana.”

11 year old: giggle.

9 year old: “what’s funny? Wait…are you talking about penises?”

11 year old: “Why yes, yes she is”

9 year old: “Thought so.”

2. Your kids express a feeling of cosmic emptiness.  

11 yo: “You know what’s depressing? ”

Me: “That supergirl is a re-run?”

11 yo: (ignoring my guess) “Most of an atom is made up of wasted space. And we are made up of atoms. So we are mostly wasted space. ”

3. Your kids are mature beyond their years.

Setting:  Jungle Garden feeding flamingos some years back

Me: “I wonder what age you will be when you don’t want to come here.”

10yo: “No age, there will never be an age where I am not happy here.”

Me: “I’m glad you feel that way, but I have to imagine that at 16 you won’t really want to do much of anything.”

9 yo chimes in: “Are you saying I am 16?”


4. Your kids know how to handle bad hair days.

Me: “Do kids ever mention your hair when you go to school like this?”

11yo: “Sure, I just tell them it is bed head. Then if they ask again I tell them I already gave them an explanation and its not going to change.”

Somehow my 11 year old has gone to the Bill Belichick school of interviewing.

5. Your kids believe in justice for all.

9 yo (a little bit gleeful): “What would happen if there was no law against stealing?”

me: “What do you think? How would you stop people from stealing your things?”

10 yo: “Civil agreement.”

9yo: (even more gleeful) “Guns and knives!”

6. Your kids can manage screentime.

Me: “The average boy spends 12 hours a week on screentime.”

10yo: “I am no average boy.”

The fact that he says this while using the computer as a mirror to fix his hair is not lost on me.



7. Your kids’ jokes are actually funny.

Me: “Have we ever watched the movie Groundhog Day together?

10 yo: “Yeah…like every day.”

8. Your kids take an interest in sports.

While watching my beloved Patriots play there is an impressive tackle.

9yo: “Why are they trying to kill that person?”

Me: “They aren’t they are just trying to stop him.”

9yo: “Stop him from breathing?”


9. Your kids teach you not to interrupt.

9yo: “You will never be your best.

Me: “That isn’t very uplifting.

9yo: (rolling his eyes at me as he continues to make his point) “Because once you reach your best there is immediately a new best that you can be.”

10. Your kids understand nutrition.

9 yo: “The french fries are the protagonist in my meal. The ketchup is the antagonist.”

I didn’t document that particular meal because it was in fact comprised of only french fries and ketchup (a vegetable.)

This picture features another wholesome combination..and the appreciation my son felt for his supper.




11.Your kids can make penis jokes.

10 yo: “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is always so damp.”

9yo: “You are Florida.”

10yo: “You are right. I am hot.”


Because I have nailed this parenting thing I knew not to include an actual picture of a penis in this post.

Wondering how I managed to remember all of these quotes? Using Notabli. Check it out.

Also…my top two parenting books.

How to grow a grown up

How to talk so your kids will listen…and listen so your kids will talk.


Parenting middle aged boys, stinky sneakers and wacky weed

The eyes I know. They are the same royal blue with dark grey flecks that I have admired for 11 years. Beneath them the cheekbones seem new.  The smattering of freckles that made him seem young and cute now make the strength of his face look open and friendly. It is not just his face that is made of more sturdy stuff. I grab onto his shoulders for emphasis and they are more mountain than bird wing. As a new mother I always felt it was possible he would fly off and leave but now I see that he his attached to this earth.

Logical and level Oliver is a rock mentally as well as physically.  Right now that rock seems rather dense. “No” he answers when I ask if he took a survey on drugs at school yesterday. He is sitting in the blue chair in the corner of my bedroom holding a bowl of oatmeal. It is 6:30 am and he has none of the early morning fog around him. Even though his answer is not truthful it doesn’t occur to me that he is lying. He looks at me. I look back. “You didn’t take a survey during a drug presentation?” I ask. “No.” He repeats. Now I am confused. “Did you have a presentation?” “Well we had a marijuana presentation.” He answers. “And there was a survey.” “Did you take it?” “Yes. I took it.” I am confused now. “Why did you tell me you hadn’t taken a survey the first two times I asked?” “Well Marijuana is not a drug.” He states. I wonder about the efficacy of the presentation, and whether in Colorado we have a new designation for legal weed. It is probably worth following up on but I am not too interested now.

Yesterday he chose not to take the trip to buy new sneakers. “Why get new sneakers when these are just fine?” Part of me wants him to understand the joy of choosing something new, something unnecessary but I know that it is a thin line between that pleasure and the pain of believing that particular material goods can make a good life. He stays home. Leo of course wants to come, in fact needs to come as the soles of his shoes are pulling away and the traction is totally gone. It isn’t their lack of function that has him excited to shop, it is that he wants the shoes his friends have. “This is going to be a great outing” he trills from the back seat. “I think we should bring Ollie home a chocolate milkshake” he suggests from no where. His voice is high and lilting. When he finds the shoes he wants and we select the mixed sports pack of (probably chemical laden) shoe de-oderizers we check out. He is excited to point out the Patriots fan in line behind us. He is joyfully giving me a backrub with the ribbit battery operated back massager. He is noticing that his socks are going to look great with his new kicks. He wants to share the shoe balls with his friends. It isn’t until we leave the store that the reality of new shoes hits him. “Do you want to throw them out?” I ask, gesturing at the garbage can at the exit. “But these have been with me through so many great times” Leo replies, brow furrowed. He doesn’t want to let them go. “The soles are pretty shot” I remind him. “I want to keep them to look at.” He tells me. His head his uplifted. I have my hand on his shoulder and can feel the knob and collar bone gently curving away from me. “I want to look at them and remember how happy they made me.” “It’s your choice babe.” I say, thinking of his long blue dresser crowded with rocks and sticks and baseball cards. The surface where a giant card stock pelican squeezes out a collection of spy gear and cheap plastic soldiers. I imagine these filthy sneakers in the mix. “We have lots of pictures of them.” I remind him.

He looks down at the shoes in his hand. “One last picture.” He asks. He sets it up with the sun shining in the right directions and poses as he throws his shoes into the bin. His face is sad, but it is easy to see it is put on for the photo op. He is already excited about the chocolate milk shakes.

This morning Oliver is looking at me to see if we are finished talking about drugs. Or marijuana. Or whichever. He wants to be helpful. Just yesterday he spent an hour giving a tour of his school to a potential corporate sponsor. He talked about building windmills in STEM class and how it connected with their electricity unit in science. He likes these connections. But somehow the mislabel of marijuana as drug has kept him from making the connection between my question and probably the only survey they have had all month.

It used to be like this. He used to require the exact input to offer the output I was looking for. Between that and having to teach him that a kiss wasn’t just a dry pressure of lips to another person I wondered about whether I should evaluate him for being on the autism spectrum. As he grew I realized that this was a style. He was a toddler version of the absent minded professor who had temporary blindness for his sneakers in front of him while being able to see his way through algebra before the topic was introduced. It was clear though that he was able to form attachments and understand emotion. He was passionate about Pokemon and breakfast  and socks. He loved and expressed emotion to his family, friends and pets. He sang songs about kindness and love being the key to unlock the best person within each of us.

After confirming that the survey was anonymous I explain that I had gotten a question about it from another parent and wanted to know more before I answered. He did not take this as a cue to offer more. So I left it there and he left the room with a kiss (complete with sound) and a cheerful wave as he passed through the glass barn door.

A few minutes later I make it downstairs where his brother is writing out his spelling words three times each. I watch him pause to shake out his cramped fingers. He is gripping the pencil tightly and rushing to finish. “These are long words” he tells me. “It is so annoying to write them all out three times.” “Every once in a while I just write the word twice and try to space it out.” I look at his page and see that he has done that on one of the 30 words. “Maybe pick another word” I suggest pointing at his paper. The word that is stretched out to fill the space is “truthful.” He laughs. “Ironic” he says. As I step away to fill my mug I see him stretching out his leg at the same time he rubs his fingers. He looks down at his new shoes and a small smile plays at the corner of his lips. “I love these.” He says. “I love these even more than my old ones.”

I bought them matching blue years ago so large that they went almost to their 20 toes. Now they almost fit. Oliver snuggles in his so much that they both live in his room and at two different times he has brought them downstairs. Leo is pretty much done with his. His friends don’t wear things with pom-poms but he has it on probably just because it was convenient. I haven’t bought them the same clothes in years, images of them in matching yellow slickers and striped terry cloth hoodies are for slideshows and memories. But today they sit in front of me in their baby blue shirts eating bacon.  It is this feeling loving what was last while nearing what is next that makes me take the picture of the boys. Like Leo and his sneakers I want to hold them here.

And I don’t.




Family Meeting- 20 minutes a week can save your sanity

Every Monday evening we clear our dishes and sit around our rough barn wood table to dish with each other. The four of us have been having family meetings (almost) weekly for 9 years. We have stuck with the schedule Danny Devito style on trains, planes and automobiles. We have skyped and face-timed. We have cried tears of joy and frustration. Despite wriggling and whining (mine), somber promises (Oliver), threats of incarceration (Steve), and a monotone mutter (Leo) we make it to the table. And everyone benefits.

Like so many of our family rituals this one has strong roots in the classes we took with Vicki Hoefle. Like all of them we have put our own spin on it. Before we begin we clear the table to eliminate distractions. We keep the meeting to 20 minutes or less. We have a notebook and pen for brainstorming solutions for problems. We lay out the money the boys will receive ($1 per year of life as a reminder of the privilege they will unlock if they fulfill their responsibility of participating in the meeting.

Then we follow 4 (almost) easy steps.

  1. Family meeting appreciation
    They DO appreciate me

    Appreciations– We each appreciate every other family members, and ourselves. These often take the form of memories from the week. “Dada, I appreciated when you played kickball with me, I love it when we spend time outside together.” “Oliver, I appreciate the creativity you used making the guest bed with every pillow in the house.” “Mama, I appreciate how you snuggled me even when you are tired.” “Steve, I appreciate how you recognized that I was feeling down even before I did and helped me talk through my stress.”

    Leo offered an appreciation to the lobsters right before he cooked them.
    Leo offered an appreciation to the lobsters right before he cooked them.

    ChallengesThe hardest appreciations are the ones we offer ourselves. After chirping out compliments for family members there is a lot of muttering…the boys chime in to help…but this is something we all need to practice.

    Benefits: The ease with which we all express gratitude grows with practice. I hear the boys appreciating each other, the cat, and the way a stranger smiles at them at many times throughout the week. As someone who spent most of my life with my vodka more than half empty I have found myself noticing and remarking on the positives all around me.

  2. Problem solving out at a restaurant. This photo is not posed.
    Problem solving out at a restaurant. This photo is not posed.

    Problem Solving– For many years we had a white board where family members could write their problems. In all but the most critical situation this allowed us to move on from small transgressions without the “wronged” party feeling ignored. All problems matter…they just don’t all matter RIGHT NOW. When it is time for problem solving we select one from the list. We present our problems with no name and no blame. A common problem sounds like: “I have a problem when our time at the computer isn’t divided fairly.”  It seems that between the time the grievance was aired and our meeting Monday evening many things have solved themselves. That in itself is a valuable lesson, and a major time saver. Next we brainstorm solutions. If parents participate they are restricted to ridiculous ideas. “I think it would solve the problem if we cut each boy in half, stitched you together and sat you in front of the computer. We might need to prop you up but you will have the EXACT number of minutes.” Generally the boys laugh, roll their eyes or tell us that we are slowing things down and get on with their own iterations. If we can’t get through the meeting in 20 minutes no one gets paid…this is incentive enough for them to both get on board for a solution. In the case of the computer cluster bleep the boys discovered that it wasn’t total time that mattered…instead they really just wanted a more accurate idea of when they would get a turn. So now they answer each other in exact terms. “It will be your turn in 12 minutes when this video is over.”

    Able to wait patiently...For at LEAST 7 minutes.
    Able to wait patiently…For at LEAST 7 minutes.

    Challenges: It is INCREDIBLY difficult as a parent not to offer reasonable solutions. A timer for the computer perhaps? Its important to remember that the goal isn’t simply to solve the problem…but to encourage their skill at thinking of solutions and compromising with one another. I always fall back on the same reminder. I would kick ass at third grade…but the homework is not mine to do. I have a lifetime of practice at practical solutions. It’s not me that needs to learn how to generate and test these theories. At least most of the time. BenefitsWe get to ignore lots of little squabbles at the time that they arise. Sometimes the kids work things out on their own because they’d rather not involve us and our wacky ways at all.

  3. Contributions
    Helping cook is expected. Not an official contribution
    Helping cook is expected. Not an official contribution

    It is expected that every family member contribute to the way the household runs. You might call these chores but as a writer I value the power of words so this C is more pleasing. Plus its what I learned from Vicki. You can divide this however you want. After many different version we have it down to two people on Laundry and two people on Kitchen. When the boys were little we had other contributions, garbage, bathroom, floors. We would go through training where we each cleaned a toilet with someone watching. Little kids love scrubbing toilets and counters. They like folding towels. They even like sweeping. As our boys got older we chained together tasks until they could manage an entire room.

    Turns out I don't take many pictures of laundry. Here is Leo fruit shopping.
    Turns out I don’t take many pictures of laundry. Here is Leo fruit shopping.

    Challenges: Sometimes the laundry sits in the washer and gets moldy. This happens infrequently because no one likes that smell…not even smelly little boys. Also, I am better than them at this. It would be quicker and shinier for me to clean. But but but. They need to learn, they can learn, they have learned…and now it is easier for me to be lazy. Benefits:  This is a great party trick. Once we were hosting a large gather on a Saturday night. Leo passed by 20 or so of our friends heading with basket of laundry. A chorus followed him “What are you doing?” He furrowed his brow. The answer was obvious. “Laundry” Duh.

  4. Tuesdays are tennis
    Tuesdays are tennis

    Calendar. We read over the schedule for the week. Sometimes the kids ask to add things. Mostly they ask to erase things. We have a policy that for a kids to engage in an enrichment activity they have to do the research, present it to us, and get as far into the enrollment process as they can. I figure if they can search the internet on how to use a credit card to open a locked door they sure as hell can find a rec soccer league. If they don’t have enough interest to find the fun there is no reason I should pay and schlep. That said each boy has only motivated for one activity each. Out calendar is relatively empty. Monday is family meeting, Tuesday tennis, Wednesday game night, Thursday Destination Imagination, Friday free day. (Our family’s current favorite game if you want to give it a try.)

    Light schedule=more play
    Light schedule=more play

    Challenges: Despite its relative lightness the kids often whine about the activities they themselves set up. To Steve’s mixed response I encourage them to quit. They need to fulfill whatever 6 week session is current and after that they can let it lapse. Again, it is their time and interest that matters. That said we worry that our kids won’t be bi-lingual, play an instrument, or learn to back flip. Benefits: Our weekends are free of sporting events. The boys spend time entertaining themselves…and each other. I only heard the phrase “I’m bored” once in my entire parenting tenure. They are used to making their own fun…and when they asked for an entertainment idea I brought out the mop. That cleaned the problem up quickly.

  5. Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.09.33 AM
    An example of how they can spend money on things other than Pokemon cards.

    Money- This one is quick. Almost as quick as their spending. The cash the boys receive ($1/ year of life) is not tied to contributions. Those are expected. The money is for the meeting. Not a bad hourly rate…that said it is important to give kids enough money so they actually learn to manage their cash. Spending, saving, and donating are all things we model. So far the kids seem to have the spending nailed…the rest is a little slower, but there are signs that that is a skill that is growing as well.

    This boy wants a milkshake. He didn't bring his own money.
    This boy wants a milkshake. He didn’t bring his own money.

    Challenges: Leaving it up to the kids to pay for things. Particularly birthday presents. We match what they contribute…so if they have no money that have to make a gift or skip the party. It is so tempting to bail them out with a loan…but then we are undoing all the learning. Benefits: “cani get a candy, I wanna lego, getme these chips!” You have a ready response. “Of course you can have that candy…did you bring your money?” When Leo was two years old we stopped at a gas station. I went inside for an iced tea and he asked for candy. I used my line for the first time and he immediately stopped whining and shook his head somberly. His 2 dollars was long gone. The gas station attendant almost passed out. “I have never seen anything like that.” Now he is 9 and he puts up a bit of a fight. “Wait,” he tells me “I know what you are going to say….and I don’t have my money and I am sick of you trying to teach me to save it.” It isn’t ever easy to learn.

Do you have a family meeting? Are you interested in giving it a try? Vicki’s book is a good starting point.







Choking…up. The highs and lows of parenting

Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don't know what I am talking about...oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.
Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don’t know what I am talking about…oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.

It is once again game night. Steve is back in Baltimore visiting his second family working so I have called in reinforcements. Our neighbors gather around the table with us to play Apples to Apples Junior. After several years of using Sharpies to customize cards the game has a decidedly less “junior” feel. There are about 5 cards that read “my balls” but lately the ante has been upped and there are “hairy balls” “big bald balls” and “your neighbor’s balls.” This one was particularly awkward with my neighbor at the table. It was all fun and game until the choking.

Oliver did something “unforgivable”. Something along the lines of winning a single card and Leo was out of his seat at Oliver’s side. There was a light tussle and Oliver’s face began to redden. At first I thought he was choking back laughter…lots of times their physical scuffles crack him up. Then I realized he was simply choking. Leo had his hands around his neck. I had been solo parenting on little sleep. I had even chaperoned a field trip that day…which is meant to imply that my reserves of creative and kind parenting were depleted. Add to this an audience and possible death and you can see the swirl of the shit storm that was rising up within me.

“Leo.” I barked. His hands dropped to his sides so I knew that I could eliminate death of my first born from the problem list. “You can leave the game or tell me you are going to keep your hands to yourself.” His fists balled, his eyes squeezed to slits.

“You don’t want me here.”

“I do.” I told him, although at that moment I did not. In theory I was speaking the truth, I wanted us all to enjoy the game and live to see another day.

“I love it when we all play together, but we can’t worry about someone not SURVIVING the game. Can you tell me you won’t harm Oliver?”


“Leo, he is in pain…you really hurt him…take a look at his face…can you tell me you will keep him safe?”


The neighbor’s kids were frozen with interest. This was obviously more entertaining than any Apples to Apples game, no matter how many spiky ball cards there were to play. I have spent a lot of time and effort not parenting myself into a corner. I try never to pit Leo and I against each other by issuing an ultimatum. I know from being raised by my father, and living with myself that that simply puts us on tilt. We are a line of angry spitters and we need a way out with grace or we will dig in our heels until the bitter bitter end. And that end can be quite bitter indeed.

There was a beat. Oliver’s face lost its beet like color, I took a deep breath. Leo stayed frozen…stuck. I needed to carve a way out. I needed to let him choose us.

“We all really want you to play Leo.”

The other mom chimed in. “We do…we want you to play.”

He walked back to his spot and picked up his cards. Looking at Oliver whose fingertips were gently rubbing his neck I knew I couldn’t quite leave it there.

“Leo. Please tell me you will keep your hands to yourself.”

In a little voice tinged with malice he muttered “I’ll keep my hands to myself.”

So we played on.

This is one of those moments in mothering that I will always second guess. Should I have reacted more strongly? Protected Oliver more fiercely? How do we encourage rather than demand kindness? How do I elevate my son who plays the victim without challenging his gentle nature, and how do I subdue my son the aggressor without leaving him feeling judged and tamped down?

Later, lying in bed with a boy on each arm I am thinking that it is hard work raising people. Even when I am a lazy mom there are still tears to dry…and sometimes they are not my own.

That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.
That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.

And sometimes they are happy tears. That morning I trudged along Dinosaur Ridge with 62 third graders. It was the site of the first reported Stegosaurus discoveries. There are bones and tracks and fossils. That said my mind was flipping between counting my little charges and wondering how the hell these tour guides could make dinosaur bones boring. It was quite a feat. I shifted from foot to foot and wondered when lunch was. I would be a crummy third grader. Or maybe just a typical third grader. Leo was loving the field trip so when he asked me what was wrong I told him I was jealous of his water bottle with a strap…mine was getting difficult to hold. It was some quick thinking not to bring him into my pit of immaturity at the edge of the excavation.

“Lets’ trade” he told me holding out his beloved black Rockies bottle and reaching for my bright blue one.

“No thanks babe, I got it.”

“Let me help you…let me hold yours.” His eyes were looking up at me, wide open, he wanted to help. So I handed over the bottle. He whispered “I love you.”

Choking up with sadnessFrom behind another mom, who may or may not have been enjoying the field trip nudged me. I looked back and she made the saddest face, holding up the two water bottles in her hands. My son bore the burden of both bottles, and her daughter’s arms swung free at her sides. Her expression was perfect and I had her pose for a follow up picture. She pointed at Leo. “Get one of him with both bottles too.” So I did. It turns out I might not remember the igneous rock or dinosaur bulges but I will remember this moment. I didn’t know how soon I would need to call it to mind. So here I am in bed with the boys, three hours past choking, 12 hours past my son tending to my needs, and 300 million years past that first fossil choking up myself. I hold each boy a little tighter and then push them away. I need a little breathing room, and some time to fill the reserves so I can be mom tomorrow.