This is a water glass. 

Becky's water glass, to be precise. 

But is there merely water in it? Oh no, dear friends. OH NO.



That right there is a melange of regurgitated raw carrot, Chicken saliva, and cucumber.

Oh, and for the grown-ups who need a bit of a kick in the pants, Chicken has a little something for you as well!


It's a zippy New Zealand Shiraz.

And a Safeway cucumber.

And Newman's Own Ranch dressing.

Sure, it's an unconventional pairing, red wine and ranch dressing. But just give it a shot. It tastes a little bit like an Arkansas steak joint's version of a $12 anniversary dinner - your salad and your wine in one mind-blowing gulp!

Well, that's what we get for going to dinner at a friend's house... 
5:02 am.

Traditionally the perfect time to think about losing all of your belongings in a catastrophic fire.

I've actually started making a plan of how we would do it- recover, I mean. In the event that we to find ourselves across the street in our pajamas, smelling faintly of campfire, holding onto each other and watching our home burn, wondering if a house fire selfie would be, like, totally boss or completely sick.

On the panicked flight from our crackling nest, what would we grab in the 10 or 15 seconds we have to spare? Which things would we linger to save? They need to be things that help us travel to wherever we would stay, and things that comfort us and would also be difficult or take a long time to replace. Here are my top 5:

1. Buster's car seat
2. Cell phones
3. Wallets
4. Chicken's pillow/Sully doll
5. Ryan's retainers (he grinds his teeth and really sleeps like shit without them)

Oh shit, and car keys. Car keys are, you know, key. Yuk yuk. Chicken's pillow and Sully can be replaced with trips to Target and the Disney store.

If it were, like, a minor league house fire - you know, a slow-burner in the basement or whatnot - and we had 2 minutes or so to "pack," I'd start sniffing around for the sentimental and irreplaceable. Chicken's ceramic handprints and his baby book. Photo albums from pre-cloud-storage yesteryear. Into a bag and out the door. 

Realistically, I would toss in a couple of boxes of contact lenses and the iPad. If I'm being honest. And the Ergo.

But again, if I'm being honest, there's something that feels pointless about pre-planning my loot from the fire evacuation. It also feels a little bit familiar.

I can't help but think about another evacuation, 9 years ago this month.

Hurricane Katrina was all over the local news. The bottled water aisle at the grocery store was nothing but gaping, empty shelves. Lines at the gas station were ten cars deep. The city pulsed with the excited fear that comes when you can watch your natural disaster rolling toward you for a few days before it hits.

I decided I wasn't going to leave this time. Who are we kidding, folks? On the day the storm "hits" it's going to sprinkle in the morning and then it will be 80 degrees and sunny, a perfect day to read and throw a frisbee at the levee. It's happened, like, every other time a hurricane has threatened to hit. We sit in traffic on our way into Texas, spend the night in a shitty motel or at someone's parents' house, and then the next day we sit in traffic on our way back.

But my parents kept calling. And then my aunt who lives in Houston gave me a ring.

Me: Hello?
Her: Katie? It's Aunt Susan.
Me: Hi! What's up?
Her: What's up? What's up? You mean other than the monster storm that's barreling toward you right this second?
Me: Um... yeah?

So we made a compromise. The hurricane was due to hit New Orleans on a Sunday. Friday night, my roommate Meg and I ordered a large pizza. We waited in line for 45 minutes to get gas, went to Blockbuster and rented a few movies. Ryan packed a small overnight bag and came over. We decided that I would set my alarm for 5:00 am. I'd wake up, check the Weather Channel, and if the storm were still on-track and rolling heavy, we'd get out of Dodge early and hopefully beat the traffic.

5:00 am came, and the Weather Channel anchors were tearing their hair out. "GET OUT! GET OUT NOW OR MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOULS!" Okay, okay, sheesh. You guys are going to feel pretty silly when this storm turns or dissipates at the last minute. But their hysteria was catching.

The night before, I'd packed:

One sundress
One pair of yoga pants
One tee shirt
A couple pairs of underwear
My glasses

That early morning, I threw a few photo albums in a duffle bag, unplugged all my electronics to protect them from power surges, and tossed my bag in the car. We made a quick stop at Ryan's apartment, where he threw a few more things into his bag - laptop (whoops, I didn't bring mine, oh well), a few more clothes, checkbook (whoops... oh well.)

We met up with Meg, who was driving herself and her yellow lab, Sammy in her car. Ryan and I rode in my car. We were pumped from the thrill of the situation, but still absolutely in denial about the storm actually, you know, causing a problem of any kind. Case in point? We decided to meet at Starbucks so we could grab a coffee before hitting the road. Because 24 hours before a category 4 hurricane is going to hit, the Starbucks people are still making lattes, right? Yeah, it's part of the employee agreement. Baristas go down with the ship.

Starbucks was closed.

Well shit. Now I have to evacuate sans coffee. So annoying.

Also, we didn't pack any food for the road. Well, we're just going to Houston, which is like a 4-hour drive from New Orleans. We'll find a McDonalds for lunch.

Silly rabbit.

We hit our first heavy traffic getting on the highway. And we never un-hit it. We never got out of that long, slow parade of heavily-packed vehicles. Even though contraflow was in effect, so every single lane of the road was moving out of town. Even when we turned off the major highways so we could keep heading west to Texas because that's where our beds were waiting for us.

We saw two men get into a shoving match at a gas station, over whose turn it was next to gas up. We saw a family of 8 unload from a Suburban at a rest area where Meg was running Sammy, and unpack a lunch of Twinkies and Corn Nuts. Opportunistic young men sold dripping, cold bottles of water for $5 a pop.

We rolled down shabby small-town highways, making brief eye contact with old-timers who'd set out lawn chairs in their front yards to watch the procession. I don't think we ever moved faster than 40 mph, and we spent most of the day closer to 30.

We got on I-5 at 5:45 am.

We arrived at my aunt and uncle's house in Houston at 10:45 pm.

They greeted us with spaghetti, garlic bread, and a bottle of wine. They put us in bed, and I slept badly, the room too hot and the smell of the air unfamiliar, until my uncle popped his head in the next morning. "The first levee broke," he said.

I won't go into the details of how we spent the next week, because there aren't many. We mostly sat on the couch switching back and forth between news channels, raiding my aunt and uncle's pantry. It became immediately clear to us that our hurricane discomfort (having to sit in a car for a really long time, and then camping out on plush couches while stuffing our faces with homemade baked goods) hit pretty fucking low on the human suffering scale.

But this post is about what you bring out of your home when you have to flee. And it's also about how you start over.

Remember, I, in a spectacularly asshat-like fashion, blew town with one sundress and a pair of yoga pants. I brought my cell phone but no charger. Which was fine because my cell phone didn't work anyway. Like all the other cell phones with 504 area codes.

We went to the mall one day to pick up a few things.

Try to make a shopping list when you have nothing. There's a temptation to just replace everything, but you quickly realize that the stash of personal belongings it took you years to accumulate, select carefully or steal accidentally from an old boyfriend, cannot be picked up on one breezy trip through Nordstrom.

So you start over. You ask, "what do I really need?" That list gets long in a hurry.

Jeans
Oh yeah, underwear
And bras
Socks?
It's summer, maybe I can just get a pair of sandals and wait on the socks
Shirts? How many? Like, 4 shirts?
And a sweater or a sweatshirt to go over the shirts?
Pajamas
Exercise clothes? Probably not. Didn't bring running shoes. Maybe I should. OK. A pair of shorts, sports bra, tee shirt.
Running shoes
So that puts socks back on the menu
Deodorant
Hair ties
Face wash...

It went on and on.

At the end of the day I think I left the mall with one good pair of jeans and a couple of shirts. I also bought a bag of cosmetics, randomly, because the Nordstrom cosmetics girls really wanted me to have the stuff and I just kind of nodded and said okay. Everything else on the "list," such as it was, just felt unimportant, shameful even. When faced with the absolute devastation of a city full of souls, I didn't really feel like I could say, "but I might need a sweater."

So I lie awake, 9 years later, on another hot August night, imagining the absolute devastation of my home. I make a mental list of what I will need. I find that not much has changed - that list gets long in a hurry. It changes from "what do I need" to "what do I need to avoid discomfort or inconvenience."

If we needed to get out of our burning house, what would I take? Myself. My sons. My husband. End of file.

It's a comfort to know that if I were to wake up and need to react, immediately, to the threat to my family, I wouldn't stop for the Ergo or my contact lenses. I wouldn't turn back from the door to grab the iPad, for fuck's sake. If the beating hearts make it out of this house, I'm calling that a win. Everything else is just stuff. 
I just watched a profoundly disturbing video.

A 16-year-old boy used his cell phone to record what happened when he came out to his parents and grandmother. The boy's mother first told him that she loves him, then said that she follows the word of God, and as such would not be able to support her son in any way in his choice of lifestyle. She told him he could not live with her. He said he'd be out soon. The situation escalated to the point that the mother beat her son while screaming and calling him a piece of shit. The father and grandmother can be heard in the background, yelling at the boy.

Now, I don't typically click links I see on Facebook, particularly links to articles or videos that seem to be engineered to break my heart.

When I saw this link, it said something like, "boy comes out to parents, is beaten and kicked out," and I scrolled right past it, thinking, "yeah, and then I'll have an unmedicated root canal." But I came back to it. I don't know why.

Maybe I wondered why on earth this boy recorded this. Maybe I felt it was a little unseemly that a teen would record his coming-out, a private exchange between child and parents. Maybe I thought it was a little unfair to the parents that their knee-jerk, of-another-generation, unpolished reaction would be the one recorded for posterity.

And then maybe I felt like I needed to watch the video to make up for the fact that I was clucking my tongue at the poor taste of a boy who'd recently been hit in the face by his parents and dumped out on what used to be his doorstep.

As much as I hate the idea of clicking a link on Facebook and calling that "bearing witness," maybe that's what I felt I should do. Maybe that was the least I could do, from the chair by the window where I nursed my 11-week-old son, the two of us an over-warm bundle in the afternoon sun.

So I watched it.

Here's what I think:

Hey, Mom? Listen. I know. I can sympathize with what a blow this is to you. I know that this isn't the life you would have picked for your son. I know that you're hurting. I know how easy it is to take that pain personally.

I too have had a small taste of the child's innate, unequaled ability to drive a parent insane. I feel, some days, when both the boys are whining and it's too warm and it's been too long since I've had a glass of water, like I'm walking dangerously close to the edge.

Chicken bit me this morning as I tried to peel his wiry little fingers from my iPhone. I yelled "OUCH!" and then I yanked the phone out of his hand. I yanked it harder than I would have if he hadn't just bitten me, and Chicken, who had been leaning backward, hanging on the phone, stumbled and sat down hard on his bottom. He looked at me, confused, like "what just happened?" I fell to my knees and picked him up. I told him I was sorry, that when Chicken bit Mommy, she got mad and lost her patience. I told him I loved him. He looked at me like he was wondering why Mommy was talking so much, and squirmed to get out of my arms so he could grab my phone again.

If I'm being honest with myself, I understand the self-control blips. I get how mistakes happen, in the blink of an eye, how you can love your child with your whole heart, how you would protect him from any threat, and how you can hate yourself for fearing that you could be that threat. How sometimes you have to close the door on a colicky baby, or take a breath outside the car while the toddler screams and writhes in his seat. I think every parent red-lines. I think all of us have imperfect wiring.

Mom, Dad, I want to believe that it's possible that this was simply the worst moment of your lives. I want to believe that this was an isolated moment of insanity that you will regret forever. I want to believe that you will ask forgiveness, and find it.

But you know what?

You don't get to say "I love you but God says you can't live here anymore."

You don't get to say "I follow the word of God," and then punch your child in the face.

You do not ever, ever, ever get to call your son, who was once a soft bright-eyed infant like the one sleeping on my chest right this fucking second, a piece of shit. NOT EVER.

Do you remember that you were his first home? You were the first place in the world where he felt safe. When he got hurt, he ran through a jungle of strangers' legs to you, his face upturned, seeking the one person in the world who had the ability to kiss it better. When he was scared, he called out in the dark for you to protect him.

Let's take a little quiz. Since you are SO into the word of God. Which of the following passages is NOT found in the Bible?

A) Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck.

B) Beware that you don't despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.

C) Thou shalt shame, abuse, and abandon your child. Thou shalt teach him to hate himself so that he might be more like you want him to be, or if he will not hate himself, teach him that he is not worthy of the love of his parents, and cast him out. Become the voice in his head telling him that he is broken and ugly, for the rest of his life. 

(by the way, the answer is C)

So you're a Christian, right? You follow the word of God, right? Okay, let me just make sure you're understanding what that word means real quick.

I'm no Biblical scholar, but it seems to me that God says, "you know what? Instead of hurting a child, you should probably just go ahead and drown. Yeah, I'm thinking that, you know, in lieu of child-hurting, I'd prefer you experience the sensation of being dragged, flailing uselessly, into the eternal cold emptiness of the ocean. I know, I know. Hurting a child seems like something you should do! But I really have to advise that you just plunge into the depths and breathe the cold, salty water into your lungs until you choke on the burning and suffocate. That would actually be better than hurting a child. IMHO."

How can you call yourself a Christian and a mother and within moments absolutely violate the core values of both Christians and mothers? I am a Christian. I am a mother. I am heartbroken and enraged, and I would start a #notallChristians and #notallmothers trend if it weren't blatantly obvious that you are neither, no matter how many times a week you go to church, or how many hours you were in labor.

In my two years of mothering I've come to believe that I have been profoundly changed by loving my children. Loving them has been coded into my DNA. My love for them ripples through the valves of my heart and lives like a habit in my body. My love for them shades the moments of my day. I love them without thinking, like the things I say reflexively - "hey baby," "no problem," - or the way I always put my right shoe on first.

I love my children automatically, like the first gasp of air you take when coming out of the water. I love them mandatorily. My love for them is not an option. I was built for this purpose. So were you.

But parental love is also a choice. It's a series of actions. Loving your child means putting your money where your mouth is - or, perhaps more accurately, putting your hands where your heart is.

Parental love is packing lunches, learning lullabies, giving kisses and comfort at all hours of the night, taking deep breaths, banging your head against the impenetrable wall of teaching them to say please and thank you, forgiving them for hurting you even if they never say they're sorry.

Loving your child cannot just be an act of intention. You can't just say, "I love you baby; I meant to make you a really good breakfast." And you damn sure can't say, "I love you son, but you're a piece of shit."

I'm going to spend the rest of my day holding my boys close and telling them I love them, and that no matter what, nobody will ever, ever hurt them like that.

I pray that they grow up to be young men who roll their eyes when I make them come back for a kiss good-bye.

I pray that they never stop thinking of me and Ryan as home.

I pray that they choose good partners, and that they become fathers like their father, like my father and Ryan's father, who truly would rather throw themselves into the sea than lay a hand on one of their children, or make them feel ashamed of who they are.

I pray they are the kind of men who ask forgiveness for their mistakes. I pray they apologize for losing their tempers.

And I pray for the parents in the video I saw today, that their hearts be healed from the hate and rage that caused them to lash out at a child.

Actually, maybe I'll pray for them tomorrow. I'm just not that good a person, I guess. Right now the only thing I can wish for them is a pair of matching millstones and a North Atlantic cruise.
Add "riding the bus" to the list of things that toddlers think are awesome and adults think are vile. Also on that list:

- drinking warm bath water
- Barney
- crackers dipped in apple juice
- bees
- skipping naps
- garbage trucks 
- chewing on leather
- eating brown, soft, rotten apples from off the ground in a public park
- drowned insects
- chewing on a hot dog and then deciding not to swallow it, so instead spitting out a chewed-up, juiced-out tube of reddish-gray meat that looks like forensic evidence. 
People who suffer from depression dwell in the past.

People who suffer from anxiety dwell in the future.

Aim for the present.
Ryan took a two-week staycation. We are nine days in.

I think if we were higher-functioning adults we would have planned a bunch of fun outings. We're seasoned-enough parents to know that the key to a happy toddler is a full schedule. That, and grapes. So in hindsight, maybe we should have taken this time to visit a petting zoo, have a picnic in the park, hit the aquarium, take Chicken to his first movie in the theater.

Here's what our mornings should have looked like:

7:00 am - Buster wakes up. Ryan and Katie alternate mornings with Buster. The Buster parent gets up, changes the baby, makes the coffee, and bounces Buster back to sleep when he starts yawning 15 minutes after he's woken up.

8:00 am - Chicken wakes up. The parent who got to sleep in wakes up, changes Chicken, brings him into the kitchen for breakfast.

8:30 am - Check the calendar for the day's activities. Oh goodie! We're going to the zoo this morning, and then this afternoon Ryan is off and Katie is breaking out a new puzzle for Chicken!

But no. Instead, we wallowed in our 81-degree house, googling "best way to poison your spouse," a manic Chicken running in circles and falling to the floor like an epileptic when we tried to put his shoes on to finally go outside and do something, for the love of God.

Every night as we climbed into bed, I thought, "we should do something tomorrow." Or rather, I started to think it. I probably got about 2 words into the sentence before I fell into the numb, dreamless sleep of a parent who knows that they're not on duty yet.

So every morning, we stared into the most face-clawingly hideous abyss, every parent's worst nightmare: a day without a plan.

Here's what our mornings actually looked like:

7:00 am - Buster wakes up. Ryan gets up with the baby every morning. Katie lies awake in bed feeling guilty that Ryan keeps getting up with the baby, but she's tired... so tired... she ends up checking Facebook on her phone for the next hour.

8:00 am - Chicken wakes up. Ryan goes into Chicken's room. Katie gets up and goes into the kitchen to make Chicken's breakfast. Sees last night's dishes in the sink, and no fresh coffee. Silently resents Ryan. Thinks, "if I'd gotten up with the baby an hour ago I would already have this kitchen clean and the coffee made." Meanwhile, Ryan is changing Chicken's diaper despite Chicken's athletic and enthusiastic protestations.  He is also silently resenting Katie for getting to sleep in (again) and for not coming in and insisting that she take over the toddler diaper gymnastics.

8:30 am - Katie asks Ryan what he wants to do today. He looks at her with desperate eyes and says, "I just need some time off today at some point." Katie taps a pen on the table and says, "... okay... morning? Afternoon?" Ryan shrugs. Katie feels guilty that her husband is obviously so tired and not having any fun at all while he's at home. She feels like she can't in good conscience ask him to do more. So she says, "I'll take the boys out this morning. You take the morning off." She thinks, "please say that I can have the afternoon off." He doesn't say it.

I don't know why it has taken me 9 days and this blog post to diagnose the creeping unpleasantness that has settled like smog over our little family. Actually, I know exactly why. His name is Buster and he likes to make little grunting noises all night long. But that's neither here nor there. Now that I've written this post, I know exactly what that feeling is. It's resentment. I am just a spicy beef stew of resentment, slow cooking until the meat is about to fall off the bone.

Resentment is sneaky. It's like plaque. It builds up bit by tiny bit, and eats away at you, and sometimes you just need to get in there under some harsh lights and jackhammer that shit out.

How are we clearing the air and setting ourselves up for success for the rest of our staycation?

First, we're scheduling our boys, establishing which parent takes which kid and what time of day. I'm taking point on Chicken because his two-year-oldness is giving Ryan all kinds of hernias and heartburn. Seriously, after an hour with Chicken, Ryan looks like he just witnessed a botched execution.

Second, we're planning fun shit to do. Like our dumb asses should have done to begin with.

Third, I am asking Ryan to help less. I know what you're thinking. "Help less? You want your husband to help less? (slaps my face) You are out of the sisterhood!" I'm not telling him to step out for a pack of cigarettes and burn rubber on his way to the border. I'm asking him to pull just his weight, and to let me pull just mine. If he tries to do everything here's what happens:

1. He doesn't do it right. Sorry, but dem's da facts. If I try to do everything I don't do shit right either. But when Ryan doesn't do it right,  I have to re-do it. And then he watches me re-loading the dishwasher or re-wiping the counters, and he googles "how to poison your obsessive-compulsive-passive-aggressive wife."

2. He tells me to go off and enjoy myself, but I don't enjoy myself because I have freedom guilt. It's like survivor's guilt. Only way sicker. If I go out and read a couple of chapters of a great book while sweating on the elliptical, and get the perfect Americano and - what the hell - a scone to go with it, and get a pedicure and drink my entire coffee while it is still hot, and then I come home to find that the boys were a handful for Ryan, my first thought is, "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have gone out. It's all my fault." See? So sick.

3. When I do go off (but not to enjoy myself. To buy groceries or something.) I know for a fact that I will come home to find the house trashed, Chicken screaming in the corner with Ranch dressing smeared in his hair, Ryan swaying and bouncing back and forth with Buster in the Ergo, and the contents of the vegetable drawer smashed on the kitchen floor. "He wanted to make salad," Ryan will say, his voice coming from a far, far-away place, his face slack with despair. So. Not. Worth. It. It's like coming back from vacation to find 8,000 unread messages in your inbox. Nothing fucks up vacay mojo faster than coming back to work and seeing the overgrown bramble bush that your life has become.

So yes. Ryan my love, do less. You'll like me better, I promise.

Aaaaah... now that we've taken these steps, I have that just-scraped-out feeling.

Wait.

I'm sorry, did I just write that "I have that just-scraped-out feeling"??? That sounds fucking gruesome.

I was trying to bring you back around to the resentment-as-plaque construct, and make a pithy reference to "that fresh, just out of the dentist's chair feeling," but I ended up taking you to William Wallace yelling "freedom," as his guts get ripped from his body, or that scene in Maria Full of Grace when she finally poops out all the drugs. Oh, shit, spoiler alert.

Can we just pretend that I pulled off the return to the plaque metaphor, and that you're feeling hopeful about taking resentment out of your own life as you finish this blog post, because now you have this sharp image that helps you understand why it's important to take some time and clean out your resentment like a dentist cleans plaque off of your--- oh for fuck's sake, I'm just going to stop typing now.

Sorry.
Me: how are you enjoying your staycation?

Ry: I feel like a AA pitcher brought in to finish the last game of the World Series. I'm standing up there on the mound throwing as hard as I can, and they're just teeing off. I mean they're hitting home runs off every pitch. 

Me: This sounds like a stress dream. You're saying that your staycation is an actual nightmare.

Ry: Basically. I'm up there trying not to cry because I'm waaaaay out of my league, just having my ass handed to me, and I'm hanging out there in the wind all alone.

Me: You're not alone, babe. I'm here.

Ry: Yeah. You're the pitcher who I'm relieving. You're sitting on the bench with ice on your arm. And every time I look to you you're like, (shrug) "just keep going!"

Me: Yeah... That's pretty much accurate, actually.

Ry: I know. 

Me: You should go back to work.
I almost never know the date. I've tried to think up a murder mystery plot in which the killer gets away with it because she writes the wrong date on a form. It's pretty much the worst murder mystery ever. But, you know, I'm still working on it.

What in the late summer harvest fuck is a lemon cucumber?!? If I'm against GMOs does that mean I can't have one? Why haven't I ever heard of this? And more importantly, why haven't I ever had one with gin and lots of ice?!?!

Has anyone ever in the history of the world gone to any doctor's appointment without having to fill something out on a clipboard? With one of those pens with a plastic daisy scotch-taped to it?

We keep asking Chicken to stop whining. We say "use your words." We say, "you don't have to whine. Just tell me what you want." But what if all he wants is to whine?

I want all novels to come with a warning label if, in that novel, a child is harmed or killed. Seriously. That shit ruins my day.

Sometimes it really hurts my feelings if someone doesn't like my kids. Most of the time, eh, fuck em if they can't take a joke (and by joke I mean sippy-cup of chocolate milk poured on the crotch.) But sometimes, especially when Chicken is charming and bright and cooperative, when he's saying please and thank you and flashing those dimples, and generally being objectively, empirically, genetically-coded-human-instinct-level awesome, and someone STILL doesn't give a shit? I get really sad. "Don't you see the gift he's given you?" I want to ask. "He gave you the bright eyes and everything. He said thank you, and he said your name with soft, round, overcooked toddler consonants. He shone for you. Could you please just give a shit?"

I am going to drink a glass of $6 Cabernet. That's $6 a bottle. Sorry, $6 for a 2-liter bottle. Don't tell any of the sommeliers I know. Actually, you know what, invite them over. I've got 1.9 liters of Cleveland's best artisanal red, and those guys know how to party.

Ryan cannot wait to go back to work. More on that later. But suffice it to say if something ever happened to me, Ryan would remarry. Immediately. Anyone. Really just the first available human. Pulse optional. Any random wino on the corner, as quickly as possible, in order to avoid having to do my job.


Sometimes, my two boys require such completely different things from me that it really doesn't seem like a big deal that there are two of them. It's like whistling while knitting - once you know how to do each of those things on its own, doubling them up is no big deal.

Chicken requires constant mental energy. I have to listen very closely to understand what the fuck that kid is saying. He says something that sounds like "wide" and it could be light, white, right, ride, or, yes, wide. Context is key. I have to think about how I'm going to negotiate him into the car, out of the car, into his shoes, out of his diaper. I have to come up with songs about everything (today's masterpiece: "Cactus Song." It goes a little something like this: "This is a song about a cactus, yes, a song about a cactus, ouch ouch ouch! A cactus is sharp!") He's a mental workout. But the boy can sit, stand, walk, and put his own food and drink into his body.

Buster merely requires my constant physical presence. Mostly I don't think about him. That sounds harsh, but it's true. I enjoy his awake time, but the only brain power I need to tend to him is enough RAM to remember where the fuck my phone is so I can take a picture of that funny face he's making. But my body and his body are essentially still one. It's only by the technicality of birth that we are separate creatures now. My body is his bed, his table, his home.

That's a sustainable, if draining, balancing act. I've got a baby on my body and a toddler in my sights at all times. At the end of the day I'm exhausted. But I'm not psychotic.

But when I have to devote mental energy to the baby, or physical energy to the toddler... that's when shit goes off the rails. To return to the "whistling while knitting" analogy, it's like using knitting needles to play "The Flight of the Bumblebee" while using your teeth to knit a sweater.

For example.

We're going to the store. The baby's strapped on my body and I'm talking to the toddler, prepping him for the big fucking staggering shock that he has to sit in a car seat. This happens, by the way, every time we get in the car. We get to the car, and I have to physically pick up and restrain the toddler in the his seat. While I'm still wearing the baby, who starts to fuss because he's being crushed to death and probably kicked a little too because his brother is flailing around. Physical demand: wrestle toddler into seat, keep him restrained long enough to clip the clippys in, while bouncing up and down and patting the baby on the bottom through the carrier. Mental demand: explain for the fourteen thousandth time that no, Chicken cannot drive the car today, while shushing the baby and humming "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

The good news is that I don't really have to worry about strangers approaching me to sign their petitions or whatnot. Because it's pretty clear to all who view this bouncing, humming, wrestling, explaining, insane spectacle that all it would take is one more living thing to ask something of me, and we'd all be on the news tonight.

A local mother of two stabbed a Greenpeace activist in the throat today when he approached her in a Target parking lot to ask if she had a moment to save the wolves of Alaska. She'd been in the process of buckling her children into the car when Jerry Orson, a longtime friend to animals and philanthropist, tapped her on the shoulder. Witnesses say the mother whirled around "like a wounded tiger fighting off a band of rabid chimpanzees," and punctured Mr. Orson's throat with the same ballpoint pen she'd used to cross "baby wipes" and "bubble water" off her list only moments earlier. Mr. Orson remains in critical condition, and the mother, whose name has not been released by the police department, is begging to remain in custody, where, she says, "finally, the screaming has stopped."


I was reading some parenting forum tips for dealing with tantrums and came across this little gem:

"Toddlers can be frustrating! If you feel yourself starting to lose your temper, it's best to just put them in a safe room, close the door, and leave so you can compose yourself. You'll both benefit from the quiet moment to reflect and calm down."

That sounds familiar.

Where have I heard that strategy before?

OH. THAT'S RIGHT.

Fun historical fact! Alexandre Dumas, in addition to being a novelist, was also a pioneer in early childhood development and was considered to be the Dr. Spock of his day. He suggested a similar tactic: troublesome, troublemaking child? Put him in a safe room, close the door, and leave. You'll both benefit!

Heeeeeere Chicken Chicken Chicken...


(Totally obvious but necessary clarification: I do not advocate for the masking and jailing of two-year-olds. I do advocate for the viewing of Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons movies.)
Every text conversation between me and a friend:

Me: hi! How are you?

Friend: hanging in there! Charlie has a cold :/

Me: boo! So no play date this week huh?

Friend: ugh no, we are overdosing on Sesame Street and losing our minds.

Me: you need anything?

Friend: no, we're good. How are you doing?

(Three days pass)

Me: good

___

It's not just that Chicken has a sixth sense for knowing the best possible time to taste matches, and that time is almost always when a friend has texted me to find out how I am. Although yes, when I see Chicken gnawing on flammable sticks, I typically give him my undivided attention. He has uncommonly sharp teeth. Like a wolverine.

But the delay also stems from the fact that "how are you" is a question better answered with gestures and facial expressions than hunt-and-pecked text.

How am I?

I'm... (Shrug) (laugh) (eye roll) (wipe face) (pull hair) (flat exhale with half shrug and raised eyebrows) (so-so hand tilt) (exasperated sweep of arm) (hang head in defeat) (laugh again) 

If I had to text all that, I'd probably say:

I'm amused, at my wit's end, overwhelmed, hungry, bitchy.

I'm doing okay... I guess. I'm surviving. Still laughing. Kind of.

I'm high on the tempo at which I must operate, like how I imagine elite military operatives and wedding planners must feel. 

I'm mentally counting up the number of hours of my life I will spend with someone drinking from my body. Should I laugh or hydrate?

I'm so in love with my family. 

I'm really in the mood for a big glass of wine.

I'm great and terrible. Yes, like Oz. Fuck, no, you're right, he was great and powerful. Okay, I'm not like Oz.

I'm desperate for answers. I'm absolutely desperate for directions. Help?

I'm accepting that my path includes a stupidly long and self-serious answer to what should be a straightforward question like "how are you." 

The truth is that I am EVERYTHING. I am triumphant and obliterated and then, while I'm being both of those things, I have feelings about what it's like to be those things so I'm guilty about being triumphant and resigned about being obliterated, and then the feelings-pond ripples out another ring so I'm mad that I'm guilty about being triumphant, and proud that I'm resigned about being obliterated... 

You know those cartoon faces you show autistic kids so they can start to recognize human emotion? Yeah. I'm those. A whole deck of them. Plus the extension party pack. 

But after all that...

I am happy with my life. 

I'm so happy with it that I'm not even going to list the individual things I am happy with. I'm just going to say this, 3 days later:

I'm good.

When I was pregnant with Chicken, I asked Ryan to make spaghetti, just classic spaghetti with red sauce and lots of parmesan cheese on top. It was hot, spicy, with slippery noodles and thick hunks of tomato. It was perfection. I ate that spaghetti every day for a week. 

And then, on the seventh day, the Lord reminded me that nobody should eat the same thing for a week. I couldn't eat the red sauce anymore. I couldn't even think about it without my gums starting to emit warm pre-vomit mouth juice.

I'm having a similar problem right now. Not with red sauce. I'm back on red sauce. I want to shower in red sauce. I could baptize my baby in red sauce. 

No, I'm having love-it-till-you-hate-it problem with my own writing. I've been trying to carve out time to write every day, and doing it pretty successfully. I feel like my writing antennae is up and picking up signals. Throughout my day I think about how I could write a blog post about whatever is happening. I jot down notes and come back to them later. Blogging regularly is a way to exorcise the frustrations of Momming. But blogging regularly is also a harsh reminder that I can only tell stories one kind of way. I am now thoroughly sick of the sound of my own voice.

And if I'm sick of me, I can't help but wonder if you are, too?

Hang in there, loyal dozen readers and guy in Russia. 

I'm going to spice up my sauce.

Chicken: dinosaur.
Me: does your dinosaur have a name?
Chicken: Scott.
Me: Scott?
Chicken: Dinosaur Scott.

As a companion to this post on books about laboring, I want to give you a quick cheat sheet to some labor pain management techniques that worked well for me.

1. Keep it simple. Be a guided missile, not a shotgun blast.

With Chicken's birth, we took a class that armed us with an arsenal of coping strategies. Aromatherapy. Mandala wheels. Yoga. Acupressure. Visualization. Different positions. Props. When the moment came, I was so panicked and overwhelmed that I remembered nothing.

With Buster's birth, I picked 3 or 4 tools and focused on really investing in them. For me, at least,  the more streamlined, focused approach worked a lot better. 

2. Verbal affirmations.

I picked a handful of verbal affirmations - short, positive, meaningful sentences that I could repeat through contractions. 

"I can do one more."
"How easy can it be?"
"Go to sleep."

3. Physical relaxation aka "go to sleep."

Not really. I dare you to try actually sleeping when you're in active labor. But I've found that when someone tells me to "relax," I only get more tense. I think the insinuation is, "You are tense. You need to relax," which primarily reminds me that I'm tense. 

But when you're getting ready to fall asleep, you naturally relax. Your breathing slows. Your mind slows. Your body releases tension. Ryan reminded me to go to sleep, especially between contractions. There comes a point when it's not really possible to stay relaxed during a contraction, and that makes the release of tension so much more important when you have a short break.

4. Music

I made a playlist of mellow songs that I really like, songs that make me feel good, songs with a positive memory attached to them. No Enya. No Mozart. Just regular music I like.

Holocene - Bon Iver
Get Me Through December - Alison Krauss, Natalie MacMaster
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
Trouble - Ray LaMontagne
Homeless - Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Stick with me Baby - Alison Krauss, Robert Plant
April Come She Will - Simon & Garfunkel
The Scientist - Coldplay
The Long Day is Over - Norah Jones
The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon & Garfunkel
Heartbeats - Jose Gonzalez
Kathy's Song - Paul Simon
Landslide - Fleetwood Mac
These Arms of Mine - Otis Redding
Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell
Runaway - The National
Wagon Wheel -Old Crow Medicine Show
Stubborn Love - The Lumineers
To Love Somebody - Bee Gees
Baby I Love You - The Ronettes
On the Radio - Regina Spektor
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz

5. Change it up/Move around

Change positions every 20-30 minutes. Even if what you're doing is "working," in the sense that it's helping you to manage your pain, change it up. Because here's the kicker. Being in labor is a process, and that process requires forward motion, and that forward motion hurts like a bitch. But there is no way out but through. So change it up. 

My favorite position was definitely sitting in the glider. My back was supported. I was able to "go to sleep" between contractions, and Ryan was right there next to me. We also did a few other positions:

- Lying in bed (THE WORST. Get out of bed if at all possible. I found that trying to "be still" through contractions lying in bed was fucking impossible, and I just clenched and got more and more tense. It feels so much better to be standing and moving through the contractions.)
- Standing, swaying back and forth
- Standing by the bed, bent over the bed, moving hips back and forth
- Standing with Ryan behind me, leaning back against him
- Sitting on the floor (that one was a little involuntary...)

6. Set short-term goals

Can you do one more? Can you do 10 more minutes? Yes. You can.

You know the fairy tale about the ugly duckling who grows into a swan?

I'm writing a new one about the annoying toddler who grows into a fabulous adult.

This is my fantasy.

Because my Chicken? He can be a profound, operatic, wailing, whining pain in the ass.

It's remarkable how so many of the qualities that make for a strong, engaged, and capable adult make for a nightmarish two-year-old.

He's iron-willed. He refuses to walk up the stairs even though it's lunch time, Buster is hungry and banging his face against my boobs, and I already have the stroller in one hand.

So after "inviting his cooperation" and "maintaining my sense of play" with all the textbook strategies ("Chicken, I need your help to climb the stairs! Can you help me? Chicken?" "Chicken, I'm going to count to 5 and then we're going upstairs." "Chicken, it's time for a delicious lunch of macaroni and cheese! YUMMY!" "Chicken, I bet I can get up the stairs faster than you can! Ready? Let's race!") and meeting his quiet, immovable refusal ("Nope. Stay outside.") I have to drag his boneless body up the stairs by one arm, sweating, singing some made-up "time to go upstairs" song, thinking, "seriously, Chicken? Fuck this."

He's tenacious. Once he commits to a project he executes with laser focus. Like a sniper. Or Rain Man. Short of picking him up and carrying him away, you cannot possibly stop him from moving all of the pieces of gravel in the driveway from the house side to the tree side. He will do this for an hour. You will have to drag him away at some point so you can avoid peeing your pants, and the sound of his enraged Forrest-Gump-whine-grunt will make you wish you'd opted for peeing your pants.

He's a creative problem-solver.
Chicken: Mommy wallet?
Me: That's my wallet, yes, but we're not going to play with it.
Chicken: Okay! Mommy read dis book?
Me: I'd love to read this book!
(I turn around to get comfortable in the reading chair. Chicken vanishes into the other room with my wallet. I hear the snickety-snack of cards hitting the floor, followed by coins.)

He's spirited, independent, goal-oriented. He takes no shit.

In short, he's everything I want him to be.

In 20 years.

Once I don't have to toddler-nelson him to get his shitty diaper off. Once I'm no longer responsible for teaching him the appropriate time to touch his penis (when he's alone) spray milk out of his mouth (NEVER) or throw wooden blocks (only at the Save the Children people who stand outside the grocery store and ask for high-fives.)

One day I'll listen to my adult son tell the story of how he landed that client, won his wife's heart, got a great deal on a used car, and I'll tell him that he was always this way - shrewd, inventive, focused, unwavering.

On that day I'll kiss him good-bye at the door and he'll buckle his own damn self into his own car and go home to eat his own dinner and flush his own toilet and decide when he wants to put himself into bed. I will fight with him about none of these things. He will not kick my boob or swat an offered cookie out of my hand.

He'll always be my baby boy, and I'll miss the sweetness of his need, but I'll be grateful, so grateful that I've passed the days of digging in my heels to keep this delightful madman on a taut, fraying leash, against his will, for his own damn good.

And we'll live happily ever after.

The end.
The following is a partial list of things Chicken does not want to do at the airport:

Walk
Run
Sit
Ride in the stroller
Watch airplanes
Watch people
Read a book
Eat cheese crackers
Drink juice
Go with mommy to the newsstand
Stay with daddy at the gate
Go with daddy to the burrito place
Stay with mommy at the gate

The following is a complete list of things Chicken does want to do at the airport:

Suck a binky
Lie on the ground
Cry 

It's called, "STOP STOP STOP That is Not a Toy."

Ready?

"Touch it? Hot? Yeah!"
Sweet Lord STOP STOP STOP! That is not a toy!
"Push buttons? Game?"
(intercom beeps loudly in every room of the house when he pushes a button)
STOP STOP STOP. That is not a toy.
"Dump it?"
STOP STOP STOP! That is not a toy!
"Drink it?"
God, yes. I'd love one. Thanks.
"Take-a bath?"
STOP STOP STOP That is not a--
"Like a drink?"
STOP! STOP STOP STOP!
"Push buttons? Watcha movie?"
STOP STOP STOP! That is not a toy!
But I need you to show me what button you just pushed because "My Cousin Vinny" is speaking Mandarin now.
"Take pitcha! Take a pitcha Baby Buster?"
STOP STOP... well... okay.
Well played, Chicken.
"One... two... three. THROW!"
STOOOOOOOOOOPPPP!!!
"Hello! Bye bye! Wanta call Nana!"
(I hear the phone dial only three numbers.)
STOP STOP STOP! That is not a toy!
Please be 411... please be 411...
"Taste it?"
Go ahead. Taste it.
"Shake it?"
Um, I don't think--
"Shake it face?"
STOP STOP STOP! That is not a toy!
"GET! IN! GET! IN! GET! IN! GET! IN!"
(runs balls-out toward pool)
STOP STOP STOP!
Please stop!
Don't jump in the pool!
Please!
STOP!
(Thank you, though, for giving me something to think about at 2:30 am.)

When I ordered a coffee at Starbucks the cashier gestured to my top. I still had the sticker blaring out LARGE LARGE LARGE LARGE running down my left tit. I said "whoops! Thank you!" Then when I exhaled in kind of a self-deprecating laugh, a booger shot out of my nose and landed on the counter.
Chicken: (eating a Popsicle) Mmm! Chicken treat!
Me: is it yummy?
Chicken: (holds it out to me) Mommy like-a some?
Me: oh no thank you baby, that treat is just for Chicken.
Chicken: (points to freezer) Mommy need one?
Me: Mommy doesn't need a treat right now, baby. Mommy is trying to be skinny. 

That is something I would never in a million years say to a daughter. Trying to be skinny? Who even says that out loud? I could have had the same thought but sent the implication soaring over his head by saying, "Mommy is trying to be healthy." But I didn't.

I said it automatically, without thinking, without choosing my words. Which means that, in addition to being horrible, it's also true. Mommy is trying to be skinny. 

I gained about 45 pounds with each of my pregnancies. I didn't worry about the weight gain because I ate well, if generously, and stayed very active, exercising 3 or 4 days a week up until both birth days. I still think I gained a perfectly healthy amount of weight.

After Chicken was born I started going to hot yoga three times a week. I taught my young baby how to nap in his crib, and luckily he took to it so I could ride our stationary bike during non-yoga days. I got back in shape very quickly.

The difference this time around?

First, I looked pregnant at about day 6. My body lived longer in a stretched-out state, and it's taking longer to recoil. I'm spending longer in stretchy pants. My belly is kind of... Floppy. Flappy. Just imagine a melty snowman. Used to be round and jolly. Now kind of wilted and scary.

And exercise is harder. Yoga is just so depressing right now. It's hard to breathe victoriously in side-angle pose when you can feel your soft belly rolls bunching up against your thigh.

I can't steal bike workouts during the day because I can't just teach my Buster how to nap in a crib in his cool, dark, quiet room. I have a Chicken. No such room exists in my house.

I don't have 45 minutes a day 4 times a day every day to swaddle him, nurse him, and cuddle him down so he gets used to his crib. I have 45 seconds to strap him in the baby carrier and walk briskly around the house until he's snoring. 

I remember feeling such a sense of reverent wonder for my body after Chicken's birth- who gave a shit about a little extra padding around my hips? I made and nourished a perfect tiny human being, toenails to eyelashes, out of thin fucking air. I was practically a wizard. I walked tall and truly did not give a shit how quickly I lost weight and got back in jeans with a button waist.

I don't feel quite so magical this time. Mostly I just feel paunchy and sweaty. 

Because I am a mother to two young sons, I've devoted most of my parenting energies to teaching emotional intelligence and empathy, something young boys often struggle to develop. I've spent exactly zero mom hours thinking about how to talk body image, health, and beauty with my boys.

I thought I was exempt from the headache of teaching healthy body image. Then I said my stupid thing, and I imagined what my son could learn from that simple statement, "mommy is trying to be skinny."

1. Mommy isn't skinny.
2. It's bad that Mommy isn't skinny.
3. Skinny is better than not skinny.
4. Skinny means no treats.
5. Mommy shouldn't have treats.

I don't want to be responsible for teaching my boys any of that nonsense. Because boys can feel bad about their bodies too. And because I want my boys to grow into men who will pick partners, male or female, who are more interested in what a body can do than in what it looks like.

I don't want my boys to think that the right way for a woman to be is pinched and hungry, always bragging about how she's only eaten a yogurt today.

I want them to want to enjoy a good meal with their dates.

I want them to adopt Ryan's loving way of feeding his family good food.

I want them to pick partners who will talk about their lives while they run or bike together. I want them to pick partners who will remind them to go to the dentist, who will encourage them to exercise, eat well, give to charity, and be kind because it makes them FEEL better.

I want them to strive for true health, not superficial appeal born of asceticism and shame.

And hey, quick reminder: our children love us for our softness. They want space on our laps. The pillow of a mother's shoulder is the safest place in the world. 

Tonight I'm just thankful that Chicken is 2 and I've still got some time to rehearse before the cameras get hot and shit gets real. I'm going to eat a Popsicle and read about body image verbiage.
It's 3:52 am.

Buster is sleeping, wrapped up in his baby cocoon. He breathes with texture, as if he's in yoga class.

Chicken is sleeping, limbs akimbo at unnatural angles that cannot be safe for human skeletal structure. He looks like a squashed spider. He is snoring a little and sucking on a binky, making the occasional wet clicking sound that babies make when sucking on binkies.

I am wide awake. 

The room is neither hot nor cold. The bed is comfortable, the pillows fluffed, the sheets fresh.

I had a gin and tonic with dinner. 

I haven't had a full night's sleep in 2 months. 

There is no earthly reason I should be awake right now.

I'm just not sleepy.

It's 3:59 am.

Why do all my white tank tops age at quadruple speed? From the moment I bring a crisp new tank home from the store I have approximately 45 seconds until it looks like I wore it to swim out of New Orleans when the levees broke. White tank tops are like those meth billboards that show the gruesome before and after shots of cheerleaders-turned-zombie hags. 

It's 4:05 am.

I should go get a book to read. 

It's 4:06 am.

Sherry baby (sherry baby) sherry baby won't you come out tonight (come come, come out tonight) why don't you come on (come on) to my twist par-tay...

It's 4:07 am.

I should try counting sheep.

It's 4:11 am.

The bullshit thing about being awake while your kids are sleeping is the fact that you know that you're losing ground with every moment that passes. They are now 60 seconds stronger, more rested, and more ready to break expensive shit, and you are now 60 seconds slower, duller, more haggard, more irritable, more incapable of multitasking. The sleepers keep getting sleepier and the wakeful keep staying awake. It's a vicious cycle. Occupy this.

It's 4:16 am.

The other problem with being awake when you know you should be sleeping is the guilt/terror element. I have some version of this monologue on repeat: 

"holy shit, what is wrong with you. You know you are so fucked for tomorrow, right? You know you get anxious when you don't get enough sleep. If you don't fall asleep right now you are probably going to have a panic attack tomorrow. At the very least you will spend the whole day in a state of mild terror and anxiety, knots in your stomach, wondering if dragons really exist, watching the sky-- Oh my god, GO TO SLEEP YOU CRAZY BITCH! NOW! SLEEP! DRAGONS AREN'T A THING, SO JUST FUCKING RELAX AND GO TO SLEEP!" 

Surprisingly, this does not help me sleep.

It's 4:27 am.

I'm going to take a crack at this sheep counting thing.

Or, you know what worked for me a couple of nights ago was going through recipes in my mind, visualizing preparing roasted Brussels sprouts or minestrone. 

It's banal and routine, comforting, satisfying, and dull. I have a bag of Brussels sprouts that need halving. I know exactly what to expect out if the next 8 minutes of my life: cool, tightly coiled buds of leaves, the familiar grip of the good knife, the crunching-smack sound when I chop the sprout in half, the shower of pale green petals that I sweep across the smooth, stained wood chopping block with the blade of my hand. Repeat, 20 times. 

I have a sunny kitchen and a family that likes to cook. These are happy thoughts for me. 

It's 4:36 am.

Here's hoping you're reading this at a civilized hour. Here's hoping that as I write this you are absent from this conversation and dreaming odd dreams. Here's to a good start to the week for you, my friend. 

I'm off to cook in my dreams.

When traveling with a baby and a toddler, there IS a magic word. 

It's not please.

It's yes.
___

Want to swipe through all the pictures on Mommy's iPhone while eating yogurt raisins and leaving a white crusty smear with every swipe? Yes! 

Want a binky for no reason except that you saw another kid in the airport with a binky, even though we have a long-standing, ironclad "binkies are for bedtime" rule? Sounds like a great idea to me! How about 2?

You'd like another cup of juice? Abso-fucking-lutely! How many is that today, 5? 6? That's a new record buddy! Way to go!

You'd like some pretzels? Wait... didn't you just eat a whole quart-sized Baggie of Cheerios and Goldfish? You did? Well then I think it's pretzel time, bitches! Woop woop!

You want to see what happens when you peel apart a page of your brand-new airport board book? Holy shit, I bet there's something AWESOME in there! Peel it! Peel it! Peel it!

You smell like a Major League Baseball stadium urinal, pal. And you look like you're smuggling a queen-sized duvet and matching shams into the country by stashing them in your pants. I think it's time for a diaper change. What's that? You'd rather have another cup of juice? Why didn't I think of that! Great idea! We can wash these pants later, right? Twice, probably.

Two and a half straight hours on the iPad? Sounds like culture and education to me! I think you should just open every single app and then say "all done this" and demand a movie. Would you prefer Nemo or Monsters Inc? And can I get you another cup of juice with that? Some more pretzels?

Oh, no, I totally agree. Opening and closing the airplane window shade is fucking amazing. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Can you make it snap a little more when you close it though? YES! Just like that!

You are so right. When  we get off the plane we should walk in the opposite direction of baggage claim. No, you know what? We should run. That's just good thinkin right there. 

Wait wait wait wait wait you want to ride the escalator up... And then down... Then up... Then down... Then up again... Then down one more time... You know what? I say thee YEA, Chicken. I say thee YEA.

___

I knew I was taking a risk with this plan of near-unconditional acquiescence. It could have all gone horribly wrong.

I was afraid that if I said yes to binkies all day on Friday, I'd spend all day on Saturday prying open Chicken's jaws and then going to my happy place during his meltdowns. I was afraid that, like a house cat, Chicken would accept the most pleasurable experiences of his life as what should be the norm, and I'd have to bushwhack my way back to everyday life where I have to try to teach him respect and nutrition and hygiene and how to deal with the disappointment of having to hear Mommy say no sometimes. I was afraid that if I bent or even broke the rules on this one day, we would pay for it for weeks to come. 

But as much as I feared turning my toddler into a brat, I was more afraid of what would happen when Chicken went boneless on the jetway, and I'd be standing there with a baby strapped to my chest, a backpack on my back, a diaper bag across my body, an umbrella stroller on my shoulder, and no fucking idea what to do.

As far as I am concerned, airports and airplanes are like Amsterdam or Vegas.  Unless you murder a vagrant, lick a door handle, or start pulling red levers, the only other way you can go wrong in places like these is by being uptight. Roll with it, and find ways to use that magic word as often as you can.

I discovered that most of what Chicken wanted was acceptable to me in the context of a day in Amsterdam, even though they were habits that I wouldn't encourage when looking at long-range parenting tactics. Do I want him to spend his life eating salty processed food and drinking sugar water? Sure don't! Do I think it's worth it to make my life easier today and give Chicken a rush of joy and something to do for the next 30 minutes? Sure do!

The day after flying we were back on our routine: binkies stay in bed, one snack a day, juice is for special occasions, and diaper changes happen when needed. Chicken accepted the return to normal life with barely a blink. I didn't burn down my toddler's schedule by being agreeable and bending the rules. Instead, I gave him a day of vacation, a day when he could do whatever he wanted (within the boundaries of personal safety and respecting other travelers.) It worked because we weren't home, and he accepted that the rules were different in this stale-air-smelling building. It's probably his favorite place on Earth now. He had a blast. Unexpectedly, I did too.

Chicken had a nightmare. He woke up at 1:00 am screaming "no monsters! No monsters!"

The first thing I thought: oh my god, is there a monster in his room?!

The first thing I did: go into his room, pick him up, hold and rock him, tell him he is safe and there are definitely no monsters.

So I'm old enough now to know there are no monsters, but still young enough to have a knee-jerk hide-under-the-bed-go-get-mommy impulse.

I was an imaginative child, which is a euphemism for "pain in the ass."

I imagined all kinds of bizarre nightmare scenarios. I wasn't doing it for attention. I deeply feared whatever monster or demon my mind had invented as I lay in bed, alone and small in a big, dark room. I filled up that dark space with fire ants and phantoms, and I'd lie paralyzed under my blankets, afraid to move and draw their gazes.

When I heard Chicken crying last night I got knots in my stomach thinking about that small, sweet boy, scared, all alone in a big dark room. I couldn't help but wonder if all the kids in the world who fear monsters know something that their parents do not. 

I admit it. I got scared too. And chasing on my fear's heels came shame and helplessness - how can I help my son feel peaceful and safe in the dark if I don't feel that way myself?

I thought about what I should say to him. "There are no monsters" rolls right off the tongue, and addresses the "dreams aren't real" concept head-on. But it also seems like what the parents in Peter Pan would say to Wendy about pirates and tiny Tinks. It's a statement that reveals a profound misunderstanding of the magic space inside a toddler's head.

Of course there are no monsters in my parents' craft room where Chicken's crib, newly adorned in zoo animal decals, sits against the wall. Of course there are no scary ghosts hiding under fabric swatches. And the sooner he realizes that really in reality he is safe and monster-free, the sooner he will feel truly safe again.

But he believes there are. If I tell him. "what's real to you is not real," aren't I just adding another layer of anxiety to a middle-of-the-night fear parfait? Now he's scared of monsters AND he can't trust his own senses? Is he even old enough to have a conversation about "bad dreams" and "pretend monsters" and "you're awake and safe now"? I don't know.

Asking him to talk about what he's afraid of seems to be the more positive, solution-oriented, validating parenting tactic. But If he starts to tell me about a nightmarish ghoul hiding under Nana's quilting patterns, then I'm most likely to want to say shit man that's scary as fuck I'd want my mommy too. So that's not that helpful either right? Or is it helpful for me to honor his fears as valid and legitimate? Or by honoring his fears as valid, am I telling him that he does have something to be afraid of when, in reality, he does not? And by encouraging his fears of pretend monsters am I just adding to the number of nights I'll have to bolt into his room, heart pounding, and feel his tiny body shaking when I pick him up?

What would I want to hear? I'm 30 years old and I still haven't found the magic incantation to send the nighttime monsters back to bed.

What's the goal when a kid wakes up scared? Is it to help him understand that dreams are scary but not real? Is it to say I understand why you're scared and I'm scared too? I do not have an answer.

Tonight, my goal is to pick him up and hold him close until he stops shaking. There will be time down the road for empowering him and explaining the difference between what is real and what is not. That time is not now. Now is the time for teaching a much simpler lesson: when he's scared at night, he is not alone. When he needs Mommy, she is there. And there is no monster on earth, real or imagined, who can take down Mommy. She is one bad bitch.
Who: me. Chicken. Buster. My mom.
What: getting on a plane to fly to Colorado.
When: tomorrow morning
Where: I just said that. Colorado.
Why: WHY INDEED.

This will be my first time flying with 2 kiddos. All I can say is thank God for the iPad because that should transform Chicken from Tony Hawk into Stephen Hawking. 

One of the first major psychological adjustments you have to make as a parent is the acceptance of the new labyrinth of logistics that your life has become. Every trip to the park has the precision timing and gear prep of a HALO jump into the rebel stronghold in the hills. 

You don't just go to the park. Bitch please. You got the sun hat? Your band aids? You got a fresh water bottle and snacks? Is the car bag up to date with spare clothes and diapers that will actually fit your children? Yeah, Chicken isn't wearing size threes anymore. Oh wait, we missed the window. It's going to be lunch time in 45 minutes and by the time we get there... We are pulling the plug. I say again, abort. Operation THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN OKAY is NOT a go.

What's amazing is that you actually get used to packing for the park like you're fleeing across the border.

So tonight, prepping for the airport and planning out the day, I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on it all. 

This is how we are gonna roll:

Katie: 

Buster in Ergo on chest. 

Backpack on back containing binkies, antibacterial wipes, burp cloth, swaddle blanket, snacks, books, iPad, headphones for Chicken and me, headphone splitter, book for me (because I'm definitely going to have so much time to enjoy my book on this flight.)

Large tote on shoulder, contents include diapers and wipes for both boys, small trash bags for shitty diapers, three ziploc bags with changes of clothes for me and each of the boys, disposable changing table covers, handi-wipes (which my autocorrect tried to change to Gandhi wipes) and a Boppy pillow.

Small cross-body bag with wallet, phone, keys, sunglasses, luna bar.

Katie's Mom:

Her overnight bag.

Chicken in umbrella stroller.

Chicken:

Monkey backpack/leash that contains a couple of favorite board books, a notebook and pen, a small Baggie (why is that capitalized, autocorrect?) of crackers, his Lightning McQueen car, and a supremely annoying toddler smartphone that lights up and talks and makes beep-bloop noises. 

Here's the plan.

- Arrive at gate, send mom to duty free for large bottle of gin.

- gate check umbrella stroller.

- run Chicken up and down the hall. I plan to simply hurl apple slices as far as I can so he has to chase then down and then, you know, eat them and presumably contract Bottom of Stranger's Shoe Disease. 

- board plane as early as possible. Mom, then Chicken, then me and Buster.

- when we get to our seats, Chicken climbs in first and mom buckles him in just tight enough to make his toes tingle.

- mom takes middle seat, stows her bag.

- hand Buster to mom, take off Ergo. Swap Ergo for Boppy pillow, stash the tote bag with diapers/clothes in the overhead bin.

- place iPad, headphones, a few books/snacks in seat back pocket. Stow backpack under seat.

- sit in aisle seat with Buster on Boppy pillow.

- whip tit out to feed Buster and greet rest of passengers with the sight of my nipple. Pray that someone says something so I can become a breast feeding crusader on HuffPo or Jezebel.

- whip out that gin real quick for a pre-game shot. Pray that someone says something so I can post about it on Facebook. LOL.

- realize I forgot to wipe down the seats. Wonder whether it's too late and at what point it became too late. Was it when we sat down? Was it when Chicken touched the seat with his actual fingers, and then rubbed his eyes? Is this how it all ends? With some leather airplane seat disease?

- decide to live dangerously and forego the seat wipe down. At this point I have to hyperextended my spine to get anything else out if my backpack.

- pray.

I'll let you know how it goes. 

Mother Bird signing off.

The following is a smattering of Facebook posts written by my friends.

"You know things are getting out of hand with the laundry when your 1 year old outgrows 2 pairs of pants before you get around to folding them..."

"Jack: I have a nick name.
Me: Yeah? what is it?
Jack: Jack. 
Me: Oh yeah. So what's your real name? 
Jack: Spiderman."

"I do not recommend explaining tennis scoring to a four-year-old."

"Women who get cheated often started using the toilet, farting, and waxing their upper lip in front of him." Done, done, and done. Am I in trouble?"

"It's happened, I'm on that other side in McDonalds."


I always think I'd hold up pretty well under interrogation. I mean, sure, I'd break eventually because everybody breaks. But I think of myself as the kind of girl who could lose a few toenails and molars with stoic silence.

And then I get stuck in a shirt inside a fitting room.


Maybe it was the fact that I had to make coffee this morning.

Maybe it was Ryan asking me if I could please vacuum downstairs. Like it was just no big deal. It doesn't sound like a big deal. It's only 3 words: "please vacuum downstairs." You know what else is 3 words? "Please cure cancer." Also, "do the splits," and "break sound barrier," and "only eat salads." Are these things possible? Absolutely! Are they currently accessible to me? Mmmmmmmm.... notsomuch.

For me to accomplish vacuuming downstairs I have to go through at least 8 or 9 steps, with very specific timing to Chicken's naps and Buster's naps, because the vacuum cleaner lives in Chicken's closet, so I have to go in and get it while Chicken is awake, but is sufficiently engaged in an activity for long enough for me to leave him unattended. I then have to hide the vacuum until he goes to sleep because once he sees the vacuum he will start howling "HELPIN HELPIN HELPIN HELPIN" until I find some way for him to help. It's incredibly sweet but also makes everything longer and harder. Then I have to actually take the vacuum downstairs and vacuum, then I have to do the hide-vacuum-until-I-can-return-it-to-Chicken's-closet-after-he's-awake limbo.

Maybe it was the fact that the landlady is coming over today to trim the verge and sweep out the dead leaves from the walk and driveway, so again, Ryan mentioned to me, hey no big deal, can you just move the car out of the driveway by 12:15? To do that, I have to figure out where I can safely leave two unattended children inside my house for up to two minutes, which is an eternity in toddler time. Or I have to put them in their car seats for a 14 second drive out onto the street. In hindsight I should have asked Ryan to move the car before he left.

Maybe it was the sound of Chicken laughing maniacally in the backseat after I decided to make our 14-second drive a 20-minute drive and got him a juice box at the drive-thru Starbucks. I turned around to see that he'd squeezed, oh, about half of the juice box into his lap, and splashed apple juice spatter onto the floor, car windows, and the car books on the middle seat.



Maybe it was when I opened the glove box and discovered that I was out of napkins.

Maybe it's the twinges in my wrists from lifting a hefty baby. Maybe it's the nagging sharp ache in my back from wrestling Chicken into his car seat. He says he wants climb into his car seat himself but he's just trying to buy enough time to scramble into the driver's seat and pretend to drive the car.

Maybe it was breaking the mother fucking lightbulb as I tried to screw it into the base.

Whatever it was, it did the trick. I'm officially red-lining today.

I'm trying to remind myself of all that is good and right and beautiful in the world. I'm trying to maintain some perspective that all of these annoyances will be dust in the wind in a matter of days, gone from my memory forever. I should be grateful for my health and the health of my family, for the food on the table and the clean water in the tap. For a loving marriage and friends who don't need me to explain why, despite all these blessings, my world is a stressful, irritating place.

I am just having one of those mornings. I don't care about the bombings in Gaza. I don't care about how low I rank on the global scale of suffering. Today I'm selfish and impatient. I'm in a terrible fucking mood. All I want to do is get away from my children and eat my weight in lasagna, followed by all of the cake in the state of Washington.

I made a pact with myself when I took my blog public that I would only ever post when I had something to say that would mean something to people who read it. Blogging can so easily turn into wildly dull "me-me-me" indulgence, and I have no interest in wasting anyone else's time with my navel-gazing.

So why, you might be asking yourself, did I publish this post? For the same reason I always dance at weddings. Because I am not a great dancer. And if I get out on the floor and dance badly with great enthusiasm, that gives other people permission to do the same.

I don't ever want to give the impression from this blog or from my life that I have my shit together. I am a sloppy, cranky, underslept, flailing mess just as often as I am a patient, creative, community-minded passionate Aaron Sorkin enthusiast and mother of two.

I am not my best self today. And I'm writing this for the people who are reading this, feeling like they're not their best selves today either.

I'm not going to tell you to feel better. I think you have to feel like shit for a little while. Just sit with it. When you're ready, you'll come back. You always do.

This is what I'm going to do to find my way back:

1. Bake a frozen lasagna for lunch.
2. Write this blog post while Chicken watches the Dora Purple Planet episode three times in a row.
3. Do something kind for someone (this is not philanthropy. I need to feel like a good person again. I'm doing something kind purely to feel good about myself. I'm basically doing it so I can be like "hey everyone! Come and see how good and kind I am!" Anchorman-style.)
4. After Chicken goes down, I'm going to watch an episode of Veep and eat oh so much lasagna.

Godspeed. Catch you on the flip side.