When to break the rule(s)

We don’t have many rules in our house and the ones we have are filled loopholes. Still I managed to break my prime directive today. I will save that for last.

We wait until everyone is at the table to start eating.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 9.19.44 AMScreen Shot 2018-10-16 at 9.22.35 AMPretty much.

We are allowed to eat vegetables with our fingers while waiting. Leo had a sad day when he realized peppers were a fruit. Yet we allowed it. This is a loophole to a loophole. Picture Escher and Archimboldo together in a vegetable mobius. Vegetables and peppers with our fingers are fine. It is possible that the bulk of vegetable intake in our family happens while Steve very slowly completes arranging his plate. It takes patience and a love for broccoli to get our meal started. Both of which are in short supply in our house.

We turn off our screens at 9:00pm.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 9.47.24 AMExcept if Flash is new. Or if you are older than 13. Or if you are reading Percy Jackson for the 1,000th time on your chrome book. Or if you are a cat. Other than that it is a veritable black out on Ash St.  Except the house lights, which somehow find a way back on even after we have gone upstairs for the night. Perhaps it has to do with bringing the chrome book downstairs to charge to get ready for the school day. Upstairs hallway light, check, downstairs hallway light, check, bathroom light (just in case), dining room light, and kitchen lights plural which confusingly have to be switched from two opposing walls yet somehow were worth the effort to turn on. Maximum light equals minimum monsters. The upside to the nighttime sun is that when the dog wakes us to pee at 2am none of our six feet trip going down the stairs.

We have rub buggies instead of punch buggies.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 9.45.57 AM“Rub buggy yes rub back” Now get your mind out the gutter. In our family spying a VW results in a back rub. Except for when your brother incorrectly identifies a rub buggy. Where it results in a back karate chop that you call shiatsu. You are full of shiatsu.

We trade off cooking healthy dinners.

If you accept the definition of trade off as 15:2:1:1. Steve:Oliver:Anna:Leo. That sounds like an alternative version of alternation. Right? Another variation? Healthy. Oliver makes turkey tacos with sliced pepper and guacamole and hot sauce with shredded romaine. Assuming you count peppers as a vegetable (ahem) we have a protein, healthy fat and vegetable option. Leo can grill. Also in question: cooking. Its possible that on days that I am not eating the Keto diet the cooking that I do looks a lot like purple hearts blue stars…eat the rainbow. Am I right?

We share.

Often we overshare. There was the time I told Leo about Hitler before he was two and he decided he wasn’t going to be Jewish. There was the time I explained an erection and my boys told perfect strangers that their penises were “practicing.” There was the time I wrote a blog post about…On reflection maybe it isn’t “we” that overshares. Steve shares his work calls. I get to feel his pain during conferences that are 50% made up words. Most of them are acronyms…some though just suck. “Solutioning” We already have a word for that. It is called solving. I would like Steve to be more selfish about his work calls. Then I could be less annoyed about language. Says the woman of the partial sentences. Leo is very good at sharing our colds. He says he would rather be sick than stop kissing us on the lips. So soon he will be sick over kissing us on the lips. Sometimes sharing can be sweet. See below. (This was only partially staged. They did it on their own but I made them pause to take the picture. So I could share this moment.)

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.01.30 AM

We are polite to strangers.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.19.22 AMExcept that Leo’s nickname for Oliver is stranger (just check his iPhone contacts) So there are times when his attitude to this particular stranger is less than polite. Much much less.  My boys know how to say please and thank you and they often are complimented for this most basic skill. It makes me worried about the rest of the world that they can make servers and check out clerks swoon with three syllables. However some strangers are challenging. It is possible that one particular Target worker likes to talk about dreaming about her husbands boobs. While handling my new (heinously uncomfortable whilst somehow not supportive) bra. It is very difficult to stay straight faced in this situation. If this isn’t a loophole I don’t know what is.

No one bails you out if you forget what you need for school.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.26.41 AMExcept this morning when your mother brought your chrome book to school for you. Not sure that this should be a loophole. Seems like this is the very point of the rule. This is a rule for a reason…the less I do the more my kids do. Here is how I am going to forgive myself. This is a first for both of us. I have never bailed him out. He has never been bailed out. When I arrived in the lobby he gave me a kiss on the lips. In front of 200 sixth graders.

It was worth it.

Does your family walk the straight and narrow or color outside the lines?

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.01.45 AM





How a depressed mom talked to her kid about suicide

Opening my eyes at 6:20 this morning I am happy to be able to straighten my legs and stretch. For once the 8 pound dog isn’t taking up a third of the bed. Despite my efforts to unplug I realize my phone is in my hand without even making a choice to pick it up. I decide to start the day at an inbox of zero. I almost didn’t swipe right on the letter from the Denver Schools. For some reason I opened it, expecting to be invited (along with 45,000 of my closest friends) to sit in on a superintendent meeting.

Instead I read about a 9 year hold boy taking his life allegedly because other fourth graders bullied him about being gay. The note also referenced an unnamed teenager who was hospitalized and in critical condition because of a self inflicted gun shot.

These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community — to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.- Denver Public School letter 8/28/18

Fifteen minutes later our bed was made and Oliver was lying across it on his side, blue fuzzy jacket on. He wears this jacket to cover his stomach. He is worried people notice his weight. Now though he is not worried. He is cooing at a picture of a puppy in a burrito. He is 13.

This summer he sent his father and I a long text which started about screen time and ended somewhere darker. (He has given me permission to share this text.)

Ok so I’m writing you this text because I honestly don’t know if I can just clearly say and explain this in person.
I think my recent increase in screen usage stems from two main things and some other factors that all combined to result in this overuse.
The first thing and probably main culprit is puberty, it affects everyone differently and I believe that for me the hormonal swings are mainly amplifying my already present anxiety and introvertedness this makes it so right now interacting with others not only completely drains me of energy, but actually freaks me out and scares me. Additionally mood swings have generally brought me to darker places then ever before and lowered my general happiness and energy which only gets worse when I spend all day on screens.
Also I believe that summer and it’s extensive freedom and no real purpose has made my lifestyle worse in other ways, my sleep is completely off and I’m eating more unhealthily then ever. But mainly I’m lost, I don’t have school to distract me or focus, on and while I do have Colin here I left a lot of my life in Denver. As much as I love it here right now I’m struggling.
Of course this could just be a negative mood swing, but there is certainly a serious problem and I need to fix my life right now, but I just don’t think I can do it alone. So I want to ask for help, because I’m worried about where this might go. I’m sorry for causing you trouble.
The opening of this text gave me a valuable insight. Oliver is clearly able to think about and analyze his feelings (see above.) But he DOES NOT talk about them.  After I got this text this summer I suggested to a few friends that they invite their kids to text them with problems if that was easier than talking. Guess what? It was. Screentime might have started as his problem, but it was part of his solution as well. The night we got this text Steve and I sat down with Oliver right away. As much as my 20 years of talk therapy made me want to turn this into a difficult conversation about his mother I decided to follow his lead and write instead of talk. I asked him to break down his concerns into different areas and gave him paper and markers to draw and write. He wrote SLEEP, EXERCISE, FREE TIME, MOOD, SOCIAL ANXIETY, and EATING. Then I asked him to list what these things would look like in their very best forms. His mood began to change. Listing them out into small steps made them seem like something he could tackle. We picked two areas to work on that week. Sleep, and social stuff.  He gave himself two challenges. Getting into bed at 10:30 with lights out and laying in his bed waiting for sleep. And texting 3 friends. Within days some of this mangled mess of concern started to clear up.
Of course we also talked about therapy (I am a HUGE proponent) and I have a recommendation lined up for him, but we decided to wait a bit and see how things shake out. We also started a book group reading Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. We only met twice and then we just started drinking wine. I kid. It was ovaltine.
In any case Steve and I responded with lists and plans and Oliver responded to us.
This was not my approach this morning.
I walked over to the bed, rested my arm on his fuzzy blue shoulder and told him the facts of the letter from DPS.
“There are two sides for us to think about.” I told him.
He rolled up to sitting, eyes on mine.
One, of course, is keeping ourselves safe. You know I am depressed. You know I am in treatment. You know I take medicine and have therapy and have faced some real darkness. But despite that I am here with you and even when I am sad I am happy every day that I made it here. Even when I feel loathing or unaccomplished I can still go to sleep glad that I made it here, to you. I want that for you.” I tell him.
He is nodding.
“This summer you told us you were in a dark place.”
He has cast his eyes down. Maybe I should be texting this. But I continue.
“Sometimes you are not kind to yourself. Sometimes you expect to get 100 on an assignment and a 70 feels like a whole piece of your identity has been taken away, instead of just three incorrect bubbles on a computer.”
He is looking at me now. We have spent the past two nights with him in tears, me telling him that he is more than just a grade and him almost believing me.
“There are lots of worries in this world. Some are about problems that we should try to solve, like not getting enough sleep. Some are anxieties that we can notice and try to treat like background noise, like feeling as though being 15 minutes early for school is not early enough.”
Now he has a smile.
“And then there is that dangerous worry. When all of our fears and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life. I know that feeling. I tell him. I will help him. If he ever feels like he wants to be numb and do nothing I will understand. I won’t tell him that he is just 13 and all of this is just temporary.  I will get him treatment. I will slash away the things that feel as if they are closing in on him. I will give him a break from responsibilities.
Because at the worst of times our only responsibility is to stay alive.
He hears me. He is patting my hand on his shoulder.
There is another side too. I tell him. The side where you can save a life other than your own.
I used stats the article I read this morning that said LGBTQIA teens are three times more likely to report attempted suicide and four times more likely to commit suicide. Amongst those who didn’t have an attempt they cited having just one person helped.
He can help. He can tap into his incredible well of kindness. He can recognize people who are fragile and stand by them. Even just physically. He can remember that also people’s pain can be buried into a small ball invisible to everyone but corroding them from the inside out. Smiles, eye contact, greetings. These little things add up. After all, we all want to be seen.
I finished with this second part and he was sitting up straight.  “I can do this.” He tells me. I am scared of talking to people but I can smile. I can sit at a different desk or lunch table. I could make someone a drawing. Maybe once a week.” He likes this.
So once again, despite my emotional speech, we have landed at a behavioral approach. It is not the way I would do it. But it is his way. And I imagine there will be some kids over the next week that feel seen by him and maybe will see him back, and maybe at night when they are lying in the dark there will be something about their day to enjoy instead of nothing. And that is something.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Fear and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life.[/Tweet]

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.


We’ve been slimed

Every once in a blue (slime) moon he takes it outside

In a way it is what any parent dreams of. Part science, part art, all passion. When Leo started saving his money to spend on giant bottles of glue I was grateful. Finally a sensory experience beyond the world of Minecraft.

I was so naive.

Shaving cream (stolen from the master bath). Fancy shampoo (stolen from out guest bath). Laundry detergent (stolen from the laundry room). Baking soda (stolen from our pantry). Corn starch (ditto) all combined with the giant glue to create, well, my nightmare.

Leo puts the lime in slime

For months we have been living in our very own episode of “You can’t do that on television.” We feature gloppy measuring cups, glittery fingers, pale blue (or pink, or purple, or white) crud crusted end tables. As much as we have gained in mess we have lost in tupperware. It is not all bad: we have a fresh smelling car, a collaborative activity,  and best of all we have a laughing Leo.

He is standing at the counter now. “Do you hear this?” he asks as he slaps his latest slab onto our dinner plate with a slurping sound. Why yes I do. It is a mess in the making. He thinks I can’t hear it well enough. He brings his creation over to the loveseat where I sit doing the Sunday crossword and sipping room temperature tea. He has me try. It is cool to the touch, it smells like Aveda, it has a subtle glitter, it crackles lightly in my hand. It is, in fact, a full sensory experience. I flop it onto the plate with a satisfying sound. I smile at him and he beams back at me. Perhaps there is something to the slime. And then he is holding it in his hand watching it drip slowly then not so slowly onto our velvet pillow. “I’m sorry Mama.” He reaches across me for my napkin that caught the crumbs of my cookie breakfast. He knocks over the mug that I have balanced on the arm of the loveseat. It covers the dog in tea who jumps off my lap. This quick motion excites the cat who leaps off the counter in pursuit. As Leo picks at the slime with his fingernail and I dab the tea from the rug leaving the dog wet as can be I notice the cat prints.

She is tracking light blue glue on the floor.

This weekend he turned his hand to oobleck which we all remember fondly from kindergarten. “It is a newtonian liquid” He tells me. He is as fuzzy on the definition as oobleck is on its material status but I appreciate the effort.

I have been out for the afternoon at a friend’s movie premiere. Leo has been creating his own masterpiece. His ingredients are neatly packed in their tupperware (the second to last one.) The slime is stretching to fill its dinner plate. The kitchen is covered in corn starch. The floor, the cabinet doors, the inside of the cabinet door, the sink, the faucet.

I call him in.

“Leo, what happened here?” He arrives from the computer room with a crusty cowlick. He raises one eyebrow. We both know what happened here. He looks again. “I cleaned it!” In fact I can see he tried. There are sponge marks streaking the cabinet. After the sixth attempt at cleaning and the seventh time the corn starch has reappeared like the undead he is defeated.

“Maybe oobleck isn’t the best idea.” He tells me, forehead creased with concern.

“Wait…I have it…Slimebeck”. I am thinking of mice, and of men. Leo is less literary. “Oobleck with slime!” What could be better? He asks, fingers sticky with glue, cheek smudged with shaving cream, kitchen corner collecting corn starch.

What indeed, I think looking at Leo, his eyes shining brighter than the glitter in his hair.

Leo’s slime recipe:

  • Select parent’s favorite spatula, best mixing bowl and every measuring cup and spoon in the house.)
  • Start with a whole bunch of glue. (like a WHOLE bunch. Although you are decanting into measuring cup do NOT use the measuring marks.)
  • Spout shaving cream until it is no longer fun (ie, never)
  • Add saline solution to make it too slippery
  • Add baking soda to make it too dry (don’t measure, just shake it out so a third of it ends up in the bowl and 2/3 is on the counter)
  • Add glue to make it too sticky (a fresh measuring cup is necessary here.)
  • Add detergent because it might help (lament addition of detergent. It din’t help)
  • Test stickiness on counter (too sticky)
  • Test stickiness on hands (too sticky but we wont admit it. All we have to do to remove the slime is use more slime to pick up the slime- problem solved)
  • Test stickiness in hair (no comment)
  • Add saline (too slimy)
  • Add glue (be sure to use the remaining clean measuring cup)
  • Add glitter and food coloring (maybe more color- wait too much color- need glue to dilute- which requires saline- then glue- then baking soda)
  • Dig up last tupperware from drawer
  • Declare it the best slime you have ever made
  • Store slime in tupperware
  • Repeat

Doomsday Doctor

Oliver broke both wrists skiing.

He handled it pretty well. We went from splints to casts and he exclaimed over how strong and supported he felt. He might have been the first child ever to tell his parent that he REALLY couldn’t stick things into his casts to help the itching. I tried to tell him that his FINGER was not the same as a sharpened pencil but he wouldn’t have it. He knocked on the casts to help with itching as the med tech had instructed. Even she knew this was futile as she met my eyes over his downtilted head. She shrugged and rolled her eyes. This was a part of her spiel even if she was not a believer.

Every evening he would knock on his casts and the dog would run to the door barking his little head off and I would feel affection towards one of them.

At the doctor’s office things went pretty smoothly. While we were waiting he had me take a photo of the color swatches and send in to family to see if they could guess the two colors he had in mind. “Yellow and Green, orange and blue (never- he assured me, I would never pick Broncos colors) our favorite answer from uncle Chris: black and blue.”

Finally the orthopedist came in. He was all smiles. And full of stories. The compound fracture that ruined the middle school QBs career (career?) , the multiple surgeries needed for messy breaks. Then he started to stray beyond his expertise.

“You are lucky it was your wrists.” He told Oliver. Oliver did not feel lucky. Skiing in the trees like you did can often lead to impalement. Often? Impalements? “Those are difficult to treat” Particularly for an orthopedist I think, beginning to feel less fondly towards this cheerful man.

“If it had been your head you could be dead. Or have a concussion. Those can be life long problems.” He knew one kid, he told us with a big grin, whose concussion brought so much depression that he committed suicide. He knew another who had gone from a straight A student to failing and it took his parents three years to figure out the relationship between the head injury and his slipping grades. In the mean time he wasn’t able to get into a good college.

Oliver is wide eyed. Somehow the public schools have already scared the shit out of my son about getting into college. I figure this is what he picked up on. But no. He is pointing to his chin which has inches of red scabbing. “I DID hit my head.” “Don’t worry sweetie, the ski patrol and the Breckenridge clinic both cleared you. You don’t have a concussion.”

“Oh no, the doctor told us, concussions can come up ANYTIME.” Anytime? I think. Finally he leaves with a smile turning his head through the crack to tell Oliver. “You might still have a Traumatic brain injury.” Keep a look out.

The woman who rolls in the casting cart has a totally different attitude. Oliver is less chatty than usual and manages only to ask her one question. “Which is your favorite color combination for casts.” I’m not sure he sees her quickly check the bottom shelf where she had arranged to materials for his cast before answering. Orange and Yellow.

At home he decides to write his own messages on his cast in case people didn’t sign them. Every mistake is art he has me write in cursive silver sharpie. He checks my work on paper before allowing it to be committed to the cast.  His favorite:

Roses are Red

Violets are blue

I broke my arm.

Times two.

That night I am woken by Oliver, wrapped in a blanket, whispering at my bedside. “I’m not sure I should sleep. Sometimes people with concussions don’t wake up.” I squint at the clock 12:15. “I am so tired.” He tells me. “I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.”

Three weeks later it is time for the casts to come off.

Too cocky I entered the orthopedist office thinking Oliver would be a disappointing case of break, heal, go on to live…perhaps even have an incredible middle school career of carrying laundry baskets.

No. No. No. Evidently there is no such thing as a simple case.

The orthopedist brings in the x rays BEAMING. “See here- he points at a spot that looks, to our eyes, exactly like the rest of the image, you have broken it so badly that you have indented the bone forever. You will have arthritis at 45 instead of 70.”

“At least its your left hand.”

“But I’m a lefty Oliver tells him with misery on his face. “Too bad” the MD says matching Oliver misery with a maniac grin.

“But 45 is so young” Oliver continues to protest. For a moment I am bathed in the warmth of his statement. I am newly 44. If 45 is young 44 is Quickly though I realize what I am in for. Sitting shotgun on the car ride home his eyes almost disappear under the fringe of his bangs he is frowning so high. “Do we know anyone with arthritis?” He asks. “How do they live with it?” “Is there anything to do to prepare?” My mind flashes to years of trying to wrestle enormous glucosamine chondroitin pills into the dog. Old enough to ride shot gun this boy still can not swallow pills. Months earlier his younger brother tortured him by swallowing one, then two, then three m & ms without even a drop of water to go down. A gallon of water and dozens of melting puddles of candy bodies later Oliver had not manages a single time. He still takes his medicine in applesauce.

There will be no premature arthritis prevention in our house.

Late that night I hear the door to my room slide open and see Oliver, once again wrapped in his blanket. “Does arthritis hurt?” He asks me. I reach for his hand, newly accessible to me. “It is a long, long time before you have to worry about it babe. I actually think that doctor might have been a bit of an alarmist.”  In the darkness Oliver laughs. “Yeah, it did seem like he was a little too interested in impalements.” “And concussions.” I answer. “And compound fractures” he adds. “And arthirtis.” I giggle, our conversation made funny by the 2:00 hours. “No.” “No.” “Arthritis is something to really be worried about.” He tells me, and my laugh fades. 2:00 might be the time to find things unusually funny but it is also a time of swirling worries.

Steve is in San Diego so I ask Oliver if he wants to sleep in our bed. He hesitates, he is getting older, but after a minute he climbs in and buries his face in Steve’s pillow. We go to sleep holding each other’s non arthritic hands.

Wenis and Wagina

It’s sad times when the mention of the word balls doesn’t make Leo snicker.

Leo is fine with showing his wenis…but not his wagina.

Fret not, we still have plenty of sophomoric humor at the dinner table. This time however, it is the boys that are schooling us. Steve is holding his Exploding Kittens cards close to his chest, the only one in the family that follows card etiquette (or really any etiquette at all.) Leo can’t let this be. He slides closer on the carefully sanded cherry bench and Steve thows a block with his elbow. Leo reaches out and pinches the skin crowing “I’ve got your wenis.” “My what?” Steve asks, looking down at his lap. “Your wenis.” Leo repeats. I stay silent, not wanting to reveal my old age. How can I not know what a wenis is? I know all the weird douchey words. Oliver, the kid who’s great fun in life is fractions, smirks at us with his first trace of teenage-hood. “YOU don’t know what wenis is?” A quick check on the phone confirms it. The skin on the outside of the elbow: wenis, alt wenus. So we count the wenis’ in the room, we talk about sagging wenises. It goes on for a while until Oliver, too excited to keep his seat stands at the head of the table.

“If this is my wenis, he says arm crooked, finger tracing his funny bone. Then this must be my wagina.”

I am both proud and sad that my boys had the best line of the night.

Soon they won’t need me at all.

Here is an old post where I was still able to teach them the important things in life.

I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes. @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-9-41-43-amYesterday Oliver was selecting a banana from the bunch and held up his choice. “I like this one, it is long and hard.” Like any good role model I snickered. Leo looked at me from his kitchen stool. First his eyes were slanted quizzically. Then they opened wide with understanding. “You are laughing because a banana is like a penis.” Why yes I was.

The solid grasp of penis humor (see what I did there) began, as it should have, with geography. I know we weren’t the first family to do so but we deemed Florida America’s penis. I don’t think this can be argued against on any level. When we arrived for our last visit to Anna Maria Island the climate was decidedly different from Denver. As we exited the airport Oliver thrilled me with this gem. “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is so damp.”  Not to be outdone Leo crowed to his brother “You are a Florida.” “That’s right…I’m hot.” Oliver responded.  Pretty sure he nailed that one.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-9-50-54-amBalls too are funny. Obviously. For my food revolution I eat apples and peanut butter every morning. You know what is even better than choking down the same goo every day? (That’s what she said) A little body fluid humor from my younger son. “Have you ever noticed that peanut butter has three bad words in it? Pee, nut and butt.” Well no…I hadn’t but it sure made my breakfast more palatable.

Game night always brings a chance to joke around. Nothing gets us laughing more than Apples to Apples Junior. Over time our sick humor and sharpies have combined to create a custom PG 14 version. Many many many of the cards have been amended to read “Your balls.” One of the highest compliments I was ever paid was by Oliver when he was eight. “Mama,” he said looking at me with love and admiration “you are really funny when it comes to ballsacks.” Sometimes though we cross the line. There was that one tough time when the Green card was “delicious” and one family member played your balls. That might have caused a bit of concern..but I was distracted by another card. Boy scouts. “Oh, mama” Oliver chastised me. “You really have to get over your cannibalist tendencies. Sadly this was one time I missed the sexual innuendo. I was going for the general misfit laugh. Instead with my kids growing more sexually aware I could have really gone too far. For the record I don’t know how Boy scouts taste.

The face of someone who gets it.
He gets it.

A new family pastime offers a new opportunity for testicle jokes. We have all started playing Pokemon go, the app where you encounter Pokemon as you walk around the world and throw Pokeballs at them to build your collection. At the beginning Oliver and I shared the app on my phone. He got frustrated though because my aim was terrible and I kept depleting the reserve of Pokeballs. One time when I apologized for leaving him with no ammunition he told me not to worry. “I always have two balls in reserve.” I guess this kid packs his own ammunition.

Years ago we read about pitching a tent and it went over my kids’ heads.

Tonight we will watch the Patriots game. I will laugh as the commentators somberly intone things like “Penetrating the hole. Going deep. He slipped that one in there.” I particularly enjoy the excitement in the announcer’s voice as he cries “Great snatch.” I will have to explain more than what to do with a Wide Receiver if I want them to be able to fully enjoy the game.

After all, there are vagina jokes too. I don’t want raise kids who don’t respect women’s bodies.

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]

Holiday season flame out

It is the time of year that my inbox is full of emails titled “tax receipts.” There is nothing that brings on holiday cheer more than sifting through dusty boxes of paperwork. I try to set aside the looming taxes and focus on festivities. I am not super successful. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I flip through aspirational magazines peering at magnificent mantles and imagine dry needles in my Turkish rug.

Instead of immersing myself in the gorgeous garland, I picture myself on hands and knees trying to pick the pine bits out of the pile. It is not pretty.

I set a row of pillar candles on the sideboard to bring seasonal warmth into our dining room. As I look at the pillar candles balanced on gilded plates I see the pool of wax gathering beside and beneath them. I remember the time I lit my living room on fire with a similar set up for a holiday party and realize I never learn.

I wrap Hanukkah gifts in environmentally friendly brown paper and tie the burlap bows tight. I personalize each package and line them up under the tree. I know what will happen over the next eight days. Despite my careful labeling the boys will barrel into the bunch and jumble the packages as they tumble over each other.

As they open their gifts I will concentrate on smoothing out the brown paper for future art projects. I know by the end of the evening I will pitch the whole wrinkled ripped wrapping making my efforts moot. It is likely that whatever they unwrap will end up in the bathtub. Even the booklights.

When the festival of lights ends the celebration continues.

It is time move from the menorah to the tree. We turn on the Christmas music and mull cider on the stove. The fire crackles. We tilt the tree left and right, right and left and spin it around in search of its good side. One boy thinks every side is best. The other wonders if a conical prism can have a side. Steve wonders if the tree is a conical prism. I conjure up a conical prison.

As I unfold protective tissue I remember the time the dog knocked over the tree trying to drink from the dish that held half water and half his own pee. That was a particularly un-merry morning, slicing my finger on shards of vintage ornaments. I see their absence in the empty slots in the divided cardboard box. I appreciate that I have a few less pieces to place.

My younger son’s face turns to mine. The lights from the tree cast him in gold. He holds a foam ornament from pre-school, one I always try to get to the back of the tree in one hand. He points with his other hand to the same empty spots that I celebrated moments before. “What happened to these?”

In a wave I remember him as a tiny toddler, crying over a broken crayon as if the world was about to end. I saw his face exactly at the moment that he learned that life was not perfect, that not everything could be repaired. The reality of mortality was clutched in his plump hand. I remember his tear streaked face as he thrust the crayon bits at me with one fisted hand and the tape with another. It was a sad moment for both of us.

I realized there was one thing I could repair…my attitude. This was not a broken crayon moment. The world was not about to end. So I pushed aside the inevitable problems of the prickly pine and focused on my family.

I told my son the story of the dog and the pee tree as we laughed at, rather than lamented our loss. Engulfed in the sound of his enjoyment I realized that things did not have to be perfect to be precious. After we finished the tree with the foam ornament front and center, we took on the rest of the decorating together.

We filled birch buckets with evergreen boughs and he told me tales of holidays past. He remembered the fire at the holiday party and shared his version of the story. He had been the one to discover the fire and alert me. He had gotten guests out of the room safely and opened the french doors to the porch to allow the smoke to exit. I hadn’t realized what a hero he had been.

He talked about the time we had collected pine cones from our lakeside lot and spray painted them gold. He remembered the sticky sap on his fingers that held the color and made him look like he had golden freckles for the entire winter. We giggled over the time our fluffy cat stormed past the menorah and caught his tail on fire. He ran from us as we tried to put him out. After the original scare it was ridiculous to look at his charred hair, which the cat licked and licked with wounded pride probably wishing that damn oil had only lasted one night.

In classic kid fashion there were times when the box was better than the gift inside. He reminded me of the giant box of packing peanuts that fit both boys. I had only remembered the clean up…but looking at his smile I set that aside.

Looking further back at holiday hi jinx he finally admitted to sneaking downstairs and opening every single gift while we slept upstairs the Christmas he was four. For many years he had blamed the dog. He figured this conversation was a good time to come clean. He seemed to know I would enjoy his antics.

His last story was about the January night that we burned our tree in our outdoor fire pit. I remembered the race to undecorate its branches before ornaments were scorched. As the three guys in the family marched the tree to its final glorious blaze I frantically pulled the last golden pine cones from its branches. He remembered the flames leaping as high as the sky, the sound of the popping pine needles, and how he had run to the house to fetch me to see the spectacle. He found me miserably vacuuming up leftover shreds of paper and bits of tree.

He dragged me outside, taking the vacuum hose with us. He tossed his brother one end of the hose and they stood together aiming their imaginary firefighting gear. It had been years since they had pretended to be firefighters, but this epic sight had brought them back to the age of magic.

Not me. I had wondered why so many of our memories included flames and inched back inside to return to the work of undecorating.

This year was different. I could see it as he did. The golden glow of the seasons was reflected in his reflections. Mishaps and ripped gifts, broken ornaments, and the dog in the figurative dog house were the stories that made up our holidays. The work and the play were woven together. The fact that the decorating and undecorating were never done was exactly the point. The mess of it was the best.

There will be time for taxes later. Right now we will put out enjoy the fires


I must have done something terribly wrong.

This year we decided not to have Thanksgiving with family. Although our relatives forgave us the gathering gods did not.

After a lovely time on Anna Maria Island we headed to Universal and Harry Potter World on turkey day. Leo celebrated appropriately with a giant turkey leg but the rest of us clearly did not give the holiday its proper due because things quickly went downhill from there.

See the enthusiasm?

In an effort to sound like less of an asshole I will just say that Harry Potter world and the Palmers are not the best partners. My claustrophobia kicked into high gear. Our dog kept us from family dinners. Oliver’s motion sickness kept him from rides. Leo made it to the top of several rides only to walk back down disappointed in his lack of bravery. Steve was once again reminded that his family members are decidedly less fun than he is. Instead of enjoying Universal we trudged through crowds spending money on strange bouncy balls and expensive wands. The one ride all four of us completed was the Suess “roller coaster” which I rode with my eyes closed. It was not a triumphant moment.

See my smile?

The next day we went to the water park…ignoring the fact that it was 62 degrees and raining. My boys were troopers, I managed to grin and bear it, but the life guards were total wimps. After climbing up and backing down from several slides Oliver and Leo found one that they liked. Splashing down with grins and giggles I sent them right back up to the top trying to squeeze in some fun before we had to squeegee off. Right before they were going to slide I caught Leo’s laugh and thumbs up at the top of the tower and felt a bit of Universal redemption. I celebrated too soon. The woman in front of them splashed into the 3 foot pool screaming “I can’t swim.” The life guard heaved a sigh and begrudgingly jumped into the water in his bathing suit and sweatshirt. After his fearless rescue he stayed in the heated water. My boys stayed in their wet suits atop the windy tower. We waited. They waited. He shivered. “What’s up?” I asked him after ten minutes. “I am NOT going to lifeguard while wet in this weather.” I looked down at my soaked suit, over at Steve’s wet hair and up at Leo who was still offering me the thumbs up sign. Ten more minutes went by and the head lifeguard arrived and wrapped our hero in a tiny towel. The lifeguard shook more than our dog. He was probably a soccer player. At least when he was dry.

On the flight home we sat in front of a cougher. This tin can full of farts was doing double duty as a petri dish. Arriving at the airport at 1am (3 am EST) we hailed an Uber. While shredding my fingers trying to dig the seatbelt out from under the seats our 8 lb scardey dog BIT (we think) the Uber driver. As Oliver and I struggled the Uber driver reached into the back seat to help. There was a yelp and he quickly pulled his hand away. I asked if the dog had bitten him. I asked to see his hand and he snapped off the overhead light. He didn’t say a word the rest of the ride. The next day we got an email that Steve’s Uber account was suspended. Hopefully this is not the beginning of a horrible law suit. Oliver and Steve both assure me that there was no mark at all on the driver’s hand, but with the way the rest of the week went I am not convinced that all would be well.

The picture does not do it dustice.

Returning home a bit shaken by the possible bite we arrived in modern day Pompeii. While we were away we had arranged to have a crew trowel plaster over a wall in our living room. Before we had departed we moved every single thing out of the room and both adjoining rooms. Halfway through our trip we saw through our Ring video camera wheelbarrows full of lumber being rolled out of our house. I didn’t quite understand why there was so much STUFF leaving our house so I texted the contractor. It turns out they had torn out the entire wall, reframed, and sheetrocked. Without asking us. Without putting plastic up. Without covering the heat ducts.

So there it was. 1:45 in the morning. Dog shaking, us shaken, house covered in sheetrock shake. Toothbrushes, computers, bedding, food inside cabinets this dust had no boundaries. That night I coughed as much as the airplane lady. In the morning we trudged through the house taking pictures and leaving footprints. What is a great credo for camping is a crappy way to finish a vacation.

I hit the phones. Which is not my favorite thing. Locksmiths, window cleaners, duct cleaners, house cleaners, furniture cleaners. We needed everything. Quickly.

In addition to the dust the actual work on the wall was garbage. The trim was the wrong size. The corner bead was cracked. The paint spray went onto furniture and beams. The paint color didn’t match necessitating a full ceiling and two adjacent walls to be re-done. That was a problem for later. Now we needed to get the dust out of our ducts before the heat blew another layer onto our life.

Sergei came to clean one of our furnaces (our heating system is half from 1913 and half from 1977- neither banner years for duct work) and full system. Because of Sergei’s giant hose (absolutely no pun intended)  Steve and I decided to bring the dog with us as we went food shopping and to Home Depot for furnace filters (x1000). Steve and I split up. He returned to the car first and texted me. “The dog shit in the car. Take your time. I am headed back for cleaning supplies.” Sadly I didn’t take his warning seriously. I opened the back hatch of the car manually because it has been having electrical problems. As I did I staggered backwards from the stench. The dog leapt over the back, poop covered paws scrabbling at my sweater. Walking around to the side door I realized that imaging a small turd was not realistic.

It was so much shittier than this looks

This was a shit show. Apollo had clearly had stomach issues (maybe from the bag of treats he ate through that morning.) The poop was everywhere. On the radio knobs, the floor mats, the seats, the console, the steering wheel, the windows. I could continue but you might as well just imagine every part of the car and then imagine it smeared with shit.

In addition to heated seats our car had what I had always considered the best feature of all…cooled seats. Cool air flowed through perforations in the seat back. At least it would have if the tiny holes weren’t each clogged with excrement.

That night I woke at 3am with the worst headache of my life. Whether it was dust or stress barely mattered. It even trumped that time sex made my head explode. In a bad way. The next morning I headed to the chiropractor. I had left the car windows open to air out the poop stink and it had rained overnight for the first time in 65 weeks. I was patting myself on the back for remembering to bring towels to the car BEFORE I sat in water when I pulled the towel hook out of the wall. It fell down with a crumble of plaster adding a small pile of dust to the freshly mopped floor. I stepped over it.

That time I thought I pulled the mini van halen all the way into its spot.

In the parking lot of the chiropractor my normal spot was taken so I pulled into a different row. Halfway in I realized that the row was marked “for compact cars only”. As my parking is not stellar and my car is not compact I decided to reverse and try somewhere else. During that thought process the car seemed to have moved into a terrible angle and I heard myself scrape against the car next to me. Returning to the scene of the crime I couldn’t quite tell if the chip on the driver door of the victim car was from me or not. I left a note anyways. If Uber was going to sue us I might as well bring on an insurance claim for damage that I might not have done.

Perhaps taking responsibility for something that was probably not my fault would start to balance my karmic bank account. It seemed worth a try.

Safer than my computer in these times of trouble. And marginally less dusty.

Returning home I told Steve the story of the side swipe and he, along with Oliver the moral compass of the family, asked me why I left a note.

“It seemed like the right thing to do.” I told him hanging up my coat. Stepping away I realized the hook was still secure in the wall, my feet weren’t leaving footprints in the dust, and I hadn’t coughed in almost 2 hours.

Even still, as I type this post, I made sure to keep my tea far far away from my computer.


Since I don’t seem to trust myself with much these days I’ll leave it to you. Should I title this post:

  1. Greetings from Pompeii
  2. Shitty carma
  3. I had another idea but the health office just called to tell me that Leo vomited at school so I need to go. Right now. And clean up my puke-y kid.

Is the such a thing as a Halloween grinch?

In case you can’t read it: Google search for “last minute costume ideas” How about this…

He is standing in front of me in his cardboard box, arms pinned to his sides.

I am picking bits of duct (duck?) tape residue off of my fingers and wondering if my bathrobe will be able to be de-wizarded.

“Does everyone like Halloween?” He asks me.

I pause for just a bit too long.

“Do YOU like Halloween Mama?” Images flash before me.

Trick or Treating with just my parents. Getting egged in Seventh Grade after being invited to walk the neighborhood with the cool kids. Feeling fat in my slutty cat costume in my early 20s.  Sending servers home for showing too much skin at my restaurant.  Oliver puking.  Tears over stuffing plump arms into small bumble bee costumes.  Annoyance as all of our candy is stolen. Rotting pumpkins on the walkway. My changing awareness of costumes that cause offense to wide swaths of people.

Today my gripe with Halloween is the elementary school parade. We received an email a few weeks ago with these delightful details:

Parents will wait for the costume parade to start outside after drop-off.  Parents will stay on the outside of the cones set out.

The parade will be outside starting on the west blacktop.  The parade will circle the building traveling in a counterclockwise circle.  Students will exit the building through the doors by the auditorium and walk around the school on the blacktop and sidewalk, ending on the east side of the building.  Students will walk through the building and exit near their party table to celebrate.  Classroom parties will take place following the parade outside near their designated tables on the blacktop.

But for now my eleven year old is standing there in his box, on the edge of turning cynical. He is too young to catch my Halloween grinchiness. So I focus on the positives.


Toddlers thrilled to ring doorbells. Oliver, now in seventh grade, getting invited to Trick or Treat with friends. My cat’s love for my colored wig. Not having to monitor anyone else’s costume. My sons’ lining up instead of throwing up their candy. My boys making their own costumes and donning them with ease. Delight in Reese’s. Creative pumpkins lighting our counter.

Steve and I decide to attend the “celebration.” We are surprised to arrive at school to find NO CONES. Where will the parents stand? Despite the email using the word “outside” three times it turns out the parade will be inside due to cold. When we make it to the auditorium it emerges that parents are supposed to be inside the cones. Everything is backwards. So we squeeze in like sardines and I complain about the heat.

Crammed in between the cones waiting for my big fifth grader to take the stage for his photo op I look at the gap toothed smiles of the smaller kids. They are Dorothy, Hermione, dipping dots. There is only one ninja. Their faces light up behind their make up as they catch the eyes of their squished parents.

I lean into Steve and whisper. “Let’s be prepared for Leo to be stoic on stage.” Between his stage fright and his Halloween questioning I am ready for a silent protest. I am wrong however. He bumps forward in his box with an enormous smile on his face. As his class, the last one, gathers on the stage to pose for the iPhone photos his almond eyes are crinkling with pleasure.

He likes Halloween.

That is enough for me.