HOUSE RULES
Chapter 3:
PLAY HARD

Mother, I'd really love to collect some treasures
on our afternoon walk
on this crisp, clear spring day.
Oh would you look at that!
A dandelion!
GET IN MY BASKET DANDELION
TELL YA FRIENDS
I'M COMIN TO COLLECT THEM TOO
OH
 IMMA COLLECT THE SHIT OUT OF THOSE TREASURES.
TRUST.

Oh my heavens!
Here at the beach?
And me with my snappy green shovel! I
 think you know what that means...
PUT YOUR SHORT PANTS ON
AND GET READY TO SWEAT
BECAUSE THIS BITCH IS HEADED TO CHINA
FOR SOME GENERAL TSO'S.
FOUR STARS.

Wouldn't it be divine if I colored a picture
on this rainy morning in March?
Hmm... which blue crayon should I begin with?
TRICK QUESTION
BOTH
DOUBLE TIME
TURN UP THE FLO
EVERY DAY I'M COLORIN

You're so right -
mixing some paint colors together
would be both diverting and educational.
SOME? SOME?
I THINK YOU MEAN MIX ALL OF THE PAINT COLORS
INTO A BRAND-NEW CUSTOM COLOR
THAT WE ARE EITHER CALLING
"SEIS DE MAYO"
or
"AIRPORT FISH TACOS WERE A BAD CHOICE."

Goodness gracious!
Chicken finished up his lunch and excused himself
to read The Kite Runner on a sun-drenched windowsill.
I believe I'd like to take a peek at his leftovers! Perhaps a nibble...
MA!
YOU'RE GONNA FIND NOODLES ALL UP IN ME.
ALL
UP
IN
MY
TOE
CRACKS
A sensory activity with crimped paper!
That sound positively edifying!
WHEN YOU SHAKE IT I WANT TO SCREAM
SO I DO
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH
...
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Are these stones indigenous to the Pacific Northwest?
Well, they're striking.
Really.
BUCKLE UP BUTTERCUP.
SUMMIT ATTEMPT IN T-MINUS 5...
I 'M A BABY
I CAN'T COUNT
I'M GOING NOW

Now that you mention it,
I'd love to make a Mother's Day collage for Grandma!
I think she'll really appreciate the value of a gift
made with
love
BUT FIRST I'M GIVING MYSELF
A GLUE TREATMENT
IN MY HAIR
FOR MOISTURE
AND BODY
ELMER'S
IT'S THE BEST
IS WHAT I HEAR
AROUND THE SANDBOX
House Rules
Chapter 2:
PERSONAL SAFETY


No dying

Perhaps I wasn't clear.

No dying on the stairs.
No dying in the shower.
No dying in the car.
No dying because you wanted to hug the cement mixer.
No dying from scarlet fever.
No dying from an infected toenail.
No dying of any kind whatsoever, period.
Any questions?

No murdering

I don't care how many times your brother has tried to eat your favorite truck, YOU MAY NOT MURDER HIM.


No hitting

"Hitting" in this context also includes but is not limited to:

pushing, slapping, punching, back-handed slapping, kicking, kneeing, elbowing, baby-tipping, head-butting, butt-butting, dragging across the carpet by any part of the body but especially the head and neck, throat-pushing, eye-gouging, nut-batting, ear-yanking, fine arm hair-pulling, uvula-groping, vag-smacking, finger-bending, gum-scraping, nose-twisting, or that little maneuver where you sit on your brother's neck with a vacant smile on your face.

Yes, that's hitting.

That too.

I can see you're thinking about it.
And the answer is yes,
hitting with rhythm sticks is still hitting
albeit rhythmically.


The food in the lunch box is Chicken's food and Chicken's food alone

Don't even think about it. Don't even LOOK at it unless you want a trip to urgent care.


No grabbing

Specifically, no grabbing:

eyes
mom's phone
dad's phone
hot things
glasses of wine
knives
and especially
your poopy nuts.

Please please please believe me when I tell you something isn't safe



No closing doors on your little fingers

I'll expand this rule to include the placing of fingers in any kind of machine or pinchy mechanism, including escalators, car trunk latches, paper shredders/electronic staplers/postage machines, teething babies' mouths, and airplane overhead bins.

Some things aren't optional, sorry

Some things are. You don't always have to eat your vegetables. I get it. Sometimes broccoli smells like farts. You don't always have to wash your hair in the bath. I get it. Sometimes you want that gritty lumberjack look. Sometimes your spoon is optional, even when you're eating soup. I'm not an uptight mom.

But some things in life are MANDATORY.

At this moment, I'm thinking specifically of seat belts, fiber in your diet, and sunscreen. But don't worry, there are a lot more not-optional things in life. I'll think of them later.

Oh! Getting booster shots. Flossing. Holding my hand in the parking lot. Signing the back of your credit card as soon as you get it. Going out on your friend's birthday even if you really don't want to.

Also these rules. None of these rules is optional. Not one. Sorry.
This is the first in a series of posts about our House Rules.

House Rules
Chapter 1:
BE NICE

Ask nicely


There's a rumor going around the toddler swingset. 

Some diaper-swagged 2-year-old bastard has been telling everybody that when parents say "ask nicely," what we really mean is, "ask louder and faster. Make sure to drag out the vowels nice and long. Fall to the ground. Go limp. Like old celery. Keep going until you get what you want." 

Somebody better tell me which kid it was who started this. 

For the record, kid, if you want a banana and you're picking a strategy, I'd probably go with a kiss on the cheek and a simple "may I have a banana, please?" over this operatic tragedy:

Banana
I want a banana
Mommy
Mommy
Mommy
Banana
Can I have a banana
Can I have a banana
Can I have a banana
Banana
Banana
MOMMY!
BANANA  
I WANT A BANANAAAAA
NOOOOOOOOOOOW 
BANANANANANANANANANANANANANANANANANA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
WWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH
I JUST WAAAAAANT AAAA BAAAA NAAAAA NAAAAA
I NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED IIIIIIIIT
THE BAAANAAAAAAANAAAAAAAA...


No calling people dumb

There are lots of ways to call somebody dumb. 
One is to say "you're dumb."

Another is to say, "why are you scared of shadows? Shadows aren't scary. Don't be a weenie."
Or, "you have nothing to be sad about. Quit crying."
Or, "that's a picture of a dog? It doesn't look like a dog to me. It just looks like scribbles."
Or "I told you not to touch the hot pan! See? Now your finger is burned."

People are scared of lots of things. They might not make sense to you. You might not think that the things people are scared of are even real things, like people who are scared of dragons or Ted Cruz. But all scared is scared. If you tell people that they're scared of dumb stuff, that they don't have to be scared, all they hear is "not only are you afraid, but you're also dumb."

People get sad about lots of things. They might not make you sad. You might think there are people dying of Ebola out there, and people whose takeout order was wrong need to just suck it up and quit being so sad about nothing. But all sad is sad. If you tell people they're sad about dumb stuff, all they hear is, "not only are you sad, but you're also dumb."

It takes guts to make something and then show it to people. You might not think it looks like a dog. But there's a nice way to say that. A way that doesn't sound like, "you're dumb for scribbling and thinking it's a dog."

Holy shit
that's the best fucking dog picture I have ever seen.
Not only does it totally look like a dog
but it can also probably tell a trained psychotherapist
if you're a sociopath
which
is pretty impressive work
for someone who is afraid of the shower.

Sometimes people have to touch the hot pan to believe they'll get burned. You know what people with burned fingers need? Cool water, kisses, band-aids, and maybe a popsicle. You know what people with burned fingers don't need? To be told how dumb they are.


Say sorry

Man, oh man, we all mess up a lot. We lose our tempers, pour full buckets of bath water on the floor, eye-gouge when we know that eye-gouging time is over. We yell. We hurt each other. Then we say we're sorry. 

Chicken doesn't know what that means yet.

So we have a "sorry alternative" for him:

Baby, you just pushed your brother.
Can you please tell your brother that you don't want to hurt him?
"You're my brother, Buster.
And I don't want to hurt you.
Even though I want you to go away
and not bug me
and stop eatin my stuff
and quit grabbin me
and--"
Okay, okay, that's good, Chicken.
Be proud of each other

Hang up the scribbled drawing of a rainstorm in the dining room where all our friends will see it. Amazing! 
Clap and cheer when Buster falls down after lurching three drunken, heaving steps. Yes!
Regale all we meet with the epic tale of Chicken, who used the potty THREE TIMES yesterday!

WITH THE GRACE AND ATHLETICISM OF A TRUE CHAMPION!

Everybody comes first sometimes


Nobody comes first all the time. Sometimes you have to wait for Daddy to finish writing an email before he can read a story. Sometimes you have to wait for Mommy to change Buster's diaper before she can make your breakfast. Sometimes I have to wait for you to finish building your tower before we put on your shoes. 

But everybody comes first sometimes. Sometimes Mommy turn off the stove and come play cake-baking the very second you ask her to. Sometimes Daddy will tell Chicken that he has to wait so that Buster can play hide-and-seek under the blanket as soon as he crawls over and starts waving the blanket in the air. 

#1 most important thing right now


Say dinner was yummy

You don't have to mean it. But say it.

This did not in any way remind me of cafeteria food, mom.
And sometimes it's nice to eat a meal that doesn't have enough salt!
Yum!


My children aren't wild.

They only look that way.

Chicken is the kind of kid who carries chaos in his lunch box. He's got at least nine hands, far too many "great ideas" and the iron will of a POW camp survivor when it comes to seeing those ideas come to fruition. Unless you want to lose a digit, I would not recommend coming between him and his pile of blocks when he wants to build a very tall tower. He does not give a damn how long you worked on dinner.

THIS TOWER WILL STAND OR WE ALL SHALL PERISH

And Buster has now acquired both the taste for human food and the ability to lumber with surprising speed toward unattended platters of appetizers placed too close to the edge of the table.

He's basically a bear at Yellowstone.

If we have plans to hang out soon, consider yourself warned: batten down the china shop and tell the bull he can hang back - I'm rollin heavy with a 'roided up toddler spider monkey and a not-so-little octopus with genetically mutated superintelligence and an obsession with chewing on whatever you hold most dear.

I'm not blind. I see the looks on acquaintances' faces when Chicken realizes for the first time that his purpose in life has always been to empty the bag of brown rice on our friend's kitchen floor so his truck has something crunchy to drive through. (That look, if you're not familiar with it, is a hybrid of delight and embarrassment, discomfort and "I can't wait to post this on Facebook." It's a slightly more polite version of the face you make while watching a really bad American Idol audition.)

I wish I could say that it doesn't bother me to see how strangers, acquaintances, even some friends respond to the level of creative intensity that our children bring to such mundane tasks as "putting on shoes" or "eating a chicken nugget." It does, though.

I see people looking at my children who are just, in my opinion, acting like children.

I see people flipping through the narrow a-or-b characteristics that we apply to children, treating my kid like he's a lens at the optometrist's office. 1... or 2. Smart or dull, kind or selfish, sweet or violent, spunky or fearful, funny or quiet, courageous or shy, mellow or manic, polite or wild. Good or bad.

I am afraid they're assigning all the wrong words to my boys.

We're all scared that our children will be labeled, banished down a predetermined path based on one tiny, superficial sliver of the whole people they are.

OK, fine, he threw ONE tantrum over sharing the damn garbage truck at school - but he's not "AN ANGRY CHILD."

Yes, dammit, yes, she was the only one in his class who was afraid to touch the goat at the petting zoo, but we went back the next month and she touched his leg AND fed him those green goat pellets. She isn't "THAT NERVOUS GIRL."

One of my friends who has a similarly spirited little guy told me about an experience she had at a drop-in music class. The music teacher got frazzled and frustrated with her son's energy and refusal to sit quietly and play a drum to the tune of London Bridge like all the other kids. She complimented every kid in the class on his or her ability to sit quietly and follow instructions. "Oh, my, what well-behaved and polite musicians most of you are... Great job sitting nicely Abigail and Toby and Josie and Rachel. MOST of you are following directions like good boys and girls."

When my friend helped her son sit with his drum and participate in the activity, the teacher didn't say a word about him. It was like she'd already decided who the good kids were and who the bad one was.

By her definition, Chicken is a bad one. So is Buster. My kids don't sit quietly. Ever.

They have holler-offs at the dinner table and practice their front kicks in their car seats.

The same phenomenon dogs parents of quiet kids too. I have friends with shy kids who only get noticed and acknowledged by adults when they're being shy. The moments when they step out of their comfort zones and begin to shine? Somehow we miss those. We only see what confirms our shorthand.  We all choose to see only the behaviors that are consistent with who we've decided that child is, the generality of the child, his broadest self.

I'm extra sensitive to the danger of my kids being labeled "troublemakers" or "acting-outers" because yes, right now Chicken is at his most chaotic. He's almost 3, after all. Full of opinions and more than a little pushy.

But in the last two or three days I've seen some version of this exchange happen over and over again:

1. Chicken is playing with something.

2. Buster, who is mobile, handsy, and butt-crazy in love with everything that Chicken is and does, rolls up into Chicken's grill and grabs Chicken's toy.

3. Chicken growls, "No, THANK YOU," and roughly snatches his toy back from Buster.

4. Buster misses that subtle warning, giggles, and comes back for more.

5. Chicken raises his hand to push Buster down, away from his precious work.

6. Chicken stops.

7. He puts his hand down.

8. He growls, "No, THANK YOU."

People see him growling at his smiling, chubby, drooling baby brother. People see the snatched toy, the raised hand, the impulse of violence.

What you can't see in this picture is the fact that Buster grabbed and is licking the plastic cake that Chicken just spent 15 minutes stirring, shaking spices over, tasting, stirring, shaking more spices over, and stirring some more.
In short, he was asking for it.
I see his hand going down. I see him choosing to speak, however gruffly, rather than hit.

You guys.

Just because this isn't how we'd want an adult to behave doesn't mean it's not a HUGE, HUGE win for my physical toddler.

I'm so tempted right now to launch into this poetic description of how beautiful, tender, complex and kind my children are, how Chicken kisses Buster even when he thinks nobody is looking, how many books a day Chicken wants me to read to him, how much he loves to play hide and seek with Buster, how Buster bursts into a grin every time he hears Chicken's voice and takes off to find his big brother, how Chicken looks out the window and says "it's a beautiful day!" EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Even this day.

I'll save it, though, because if I've learned anything over the last 3 years of parenting, it's that people don't believe you when you say good things about your own kid. I'm their mother - it's my job to fall to my knees in awe when I see the beautiful embers that glow inside them, and not give a damn about a few soot stains.

I'm just going to say this, on behalf of parents of the wild things, to everyone who isn't a parent of a wild thing.

Boy oh boy, do we know how you feel: Holy shit, this kid is a wild card. We just bought this rug and not from IKEA either.

We remember what it was like when we first met the person our child is still becoming - how can we reign in this chaos, we thought. He's so wild. He scared us and pissed us off and made us feel like the stodgy neighbors, cranky retirees who mistrust the whippersnappers next door with their loud music and raucous barbecues.

We still freak out about the possibility that he may destroy priceless heirlooms or fancy stemware.

If, god forbid, we bring our children to a home where no children live, we will engage in SWAT-style maneuvers, evaluating and clearing each room as we say our hellos and shed our coats.

"Hi, Pam! You look great! How's work?"

Remote control on the coffee table? They'll never see THAT again. On top of the bookshelf it goes. 

Vase with fresh tulips - lovely, by the way - he spotted that the second we walked in. Just put it in the guest bathroom and close the door. 

Shit, they have those lever door handles. 

This is not going to be a relaxing evening.

Seriously, we have gotten texts from friends asking where we hid their Tiffany bowl. It was a wedding present. And the answer is "check your underwear drawer."

But he isn't that way because we've humored him.

He doesn't holler because we ignore him. He doesn't spin and jump to get attention. He doesn't sob because he's manipulative.

It took us awhile to understand that he hollers because he's bursting.
He spins and jumps because he's thrilled.
He sobs because he's heartbroken.

Look at our choices as parents and think, "I'd never."
Look at the way we hold our melting-down toddler and think, "why don't you."
But don't look at our child and think, "he's crazy. Difficult. Stubborn. Defiant. A brat. Disobedient."

We made a conscious choice to let him explore his world within parameters of safety and basic courtesy. If he violates safety and basic courtesy, then we step in. But if he's just being louder or messier than we would be, we let him be. We try to help him identify how he's feeling. We help him understand what's ok to throw (soft stuff) and when it's ok to splash (in the pool if nobody is close.) There's a method to our madness...

... we hope.

All we know is that it feels more right to let him bounce off the walls than to try to force him to sit still and be quiet in his own play room when there's no earthly reason he should have to.

That's not who he is.

And for every moment that he runs and jumps and falls and throws, there is another moment when he gives an unasked-for kiss or asks for one more story, pweese. No person on earth is one thing all the time, and certainly not a person who is still more unfinished than not.

Let's make a deal.

I'll continue to hide your wedding presents among your unmentionables.

In return, you can resist the urge to describe my kid in three words or less. You can remember that, depending on the day, quiet kids are loud and happy kids are sad and shy kids are chatty. And wild things, even the wildest ones, are sweet.
I recently took a tour of an outdoor school. Entirely outdoor, in rain, shine, snow, sleet - when there's a forest fire they build a wet towel fort and continue the puppet show.

The teacher pointed out some of the high points of the "classroom," a forest clearing.

There's the giant bird nest made of interwoven evergreen boughs, a piney bowl large enough to hold six or seven kids.

There's the science center: a microscope screwed into a tree stump.

And there's the fairy village, a teepee of sticks and logs, decorated with withered flowers, pinecones, bits of string, feathers. "The kids like to leave presents for the fairies," she said. "And sometimes one of us will leave a little gift for the kids in there, like a bouquet of wildflowers, like it's from the fairies."

Honestly, I wasn't really paying attention. I checked out as soon as I saw that the "classroom" had no walls or fences. Chicken is a runner. I knew this wasn't for us. So I was kind of half-listening about the fairy village, thinking about other things, nodding and smiling.

So do you do tracking bracelets, or...?
But then another mom raised her hand.

"Can you tell me a little more about the fairy village?"

The teacher stammered a bit. I'm sure she was thinking the same thing I was: um, sure? And then I can expand a little more on the "bathroom," and "lunch table."

The mom went on.

"I'm just curious, you know, how you feel about lying to these children."

Again, the teacher's face matched my heart. Okay. It's gonna be one of these now.

"Because I don't lie to my son. And I am not comfortable putting him into a school environment where he's going to be lied to by his teachers. You know, magic and fairies and Santa and things like that aren't real, and I just want to know a little bit more about how you talk to the children about this 'fairy village' so they know that it's not, like, a real thing."

I understand her. I, too, try very, very hard not to lie to my children.

That's why I always tell them when I farted.

But we all lie to them at some point. Even those of us who really take care in the words we choose with our kids, and I include anti-fairy-village-Mom in this group of thoughtful parents.

If we didn't lie to them sometimes, we'd be scaring the shit out of them all the time. Let's examine a few truly honest exchanges that could benefit from just a dash of lie.

Kid: Mommy, what are you doing?
Mom: I'm eating a salad.
Kid: Why?
Mom: Because I hate my thighs. Because I'm scared that your father will leave me for a woman with slender thighs. Because I know with 100% certainty that later tonight I will eat the entire carton of double chocolate gelato lurking under the bag of peas in the freezer, and then I will hate my stupid face and my stupid belly and my big fat thighs. So I must eat this salad, even though I really want fettucine alfredo. Honestly, I'm choking it down.

Or how about

Kid: Mommy, I had a bad dream
Mom: What happened?
Kid: I dreamed that I was lost and you and Daddy were gone.
Mom: Yeah. That could totally happen. In fact, it definitely will. When we die.

Or maybe

Kid: Mommy, Stefan was sad at school today.
Mom: Oh?
Kid: Some kids were saying he's a dork.
Mom: He is a dork.
Kid: Does that matter?
Mom: Yes. It matters a lot. Life is better when people like you. Stefan's got some rough years ahead.

See what I mean? You could have gone for, "because salads are healthy for our bodies," and "oh man, that must have been a scary dream! But here you are, safe in your room," and "poor Stefan. I understand why he was sad. It feels terrible when people call names." All still true answers, just a little less, you know, a bayonet-of-truth. More like spork-of-truth.

I'm all for honesty, but I also respect the critical role that imagination play in a child's growth and understanding of how the world works.

Which brings us back to the fairy village. I have one question to ask that mom.

How do you know that fairies don't exist?

I am dead serious right now.

You don't know.

You can't prove that something doesn't exist. You can only have an opinion on whether or not an undiscovered creature is super good at hiding, which, duh, fairies totally are.

Let me put it to you this way - how sure are you that fairies aren't real? 100%? 110%?

Well, that's exactly how sure a child is that fairies ARE real.

When it comes to faith in the unseen, every person on earth - old, young, educated or not - is equal.

And in this matter, a matter of faith in the existence of magic, there is no winner. You don't get to say, "I'm older. I have more experience in the world, so trust me - fairies are fake." Because your child can come right back and say, "I'm younger. I have an open mind and curious eyes, so trust me - fairies are real." Pretty soon it will turn into the world series of "Nuh Uh" versus "Yuh Huh," and then you're really in trouble.

You have a choice. You can acknowledge the draw, take up your spork-of-truth, and say "well gosh, Adam, I don't know... I've never seen a fairy, but there's a lot of wonder in this world. What do you think?"

Or...

"well, Adam, the other children are leaving these items in this pile of sticks because they believe that fairies live here and that the fairies will enjoy these items once everyone has gone home from school. But Adam. Adam? Are you listening to me? These children are fools. There is no such thing as fairies. They're just putting pine cones on sticks. That's it. Do you understand?"

If you decide to "play along," you'll be doing more than just humoring the silly child until he or she grows out of such nonsense - you'll be helping your child to nurture curiosity, open-mindedness, and good-old-fashioned imagination. And more, you'll be teaching your child how to use pretend play to deal with real life.

Children pretend so they can learn how to share with friends. They pretend they're stuck and need to be rescued. They pretend to bake a cake. They pretend to get in a fight, or fall down and rise again. Pretend is their first, best tool for making sense of a big scary world in the safety of their own play rooms.

Take Chicken for example. Whenever I ask him how his day was at school, and he says "good." THAT'S IT. At 2, he's already mastered the parental school-inquiry freeze-out.

But when Chicken sits across the table from his stuffed Sully monster, I perch on the couch a few feet away and ask, in a Sully voice (he sounds kind of like Ted from Bill & Ted)

Mom as Sully: So, how was your day, Buddy?

Sully, I didn't play with my friends today. I just watched them play. I like to be alone sometimes.

Mom as Sully: Oh, man, I understand that. Sometimes I like to play alone too.

Yeah. I don't like to share.

Mom as Sully: Dude, sharing is really really hard! Especially when it's something you really love playing with, like your excavator.

Yeah. And my garbage truck. Tony wanted to play with my garbage truck and I got sad.

Mom as Sully: I bet. Do you think Tony loves trucks like you love trucks?

Yeah. Tony loves trucks and I love trucks.

Mom as Sully: What do you think, tomorrow, do you think you and Tony could each have a truck? Your trucks could race? Or work together to dig a deep, deep hole?

Maybe I'll try tomorrow. Maybe I don't like to play with somebody else. What do you want to do now, Sully? Should I share a snack? I can share my snack, Sully.

What if I told Chicken, "Sully isn't real. He's a ball of cotton stuffed into a blue hair sack, with two googly eyes glued on. He can't talk. He doesn't care about your day. I've been doing a fake voice because I'm so hungry to understand how your brain works. But I don't want to lie to you. So let's just call Sully what he is, which is a blue Chinese-made poofball of deceit, and have an actual conversation about what you did at school today."

It is so, so hard to know when to tell the truth and when to tell the Disney truth, the happiest version of reality. Not all lost dogs get rescued by rosy-cheeked little girls and taken home and given a shiny new collar. And yes, I do wonder if my child is going to have a harder time accepting the incontrovertible truth of roadkill puppies after I've spent days and weeks and months and years doing my damnedest to convince him that the world is a fundamentally good place.

I guess that's the root of my disagreement with this other Mom.

She thinks that it's her job to prepare her son for adult life by making sure he has reasonable expectations, by making sense, by rooting him in the concrete world and finding wonder and joy in what is wondrous and joyous, there, right in front of us.

She wants us to examine the fairy village teepee and learn about the trees that gave these branches, watch the inexplicable miracle of an avocado pit splitting wide open to reveal new life within the dull brown nut.

She's right.
There's a lot of wonder out there. I hear Macchu Picchu is pretty good.

I think it's my job to prepare my kids for adult life by making sure they have a safe place inside their own heads, by rooting them in a place of possibility, where they can they can try on different lives and build a fairy village and populate it with fairies, twittering pink winged fairies or grouchy stout gnome fairies, spunky Peter Pan fairies or scary shadow fairies.

I want my kids to see the avocado pit and feel wonder and joy, and then name the avocado pit "Dado" and play avocado farmer with blocks and rocks and sticks and chalk.

I'm right too.
There's a lot of wonder in there, in those heads.

I can't help but think I'm righter than she is, and I'm sure she thinks she's righter than I. That's how it's supposed to be, right? No matter where you stand on "magic-as-necessary-learning-tool" or "magic-as-intentional-lie," I have to give a shout-out to parents who sweat these thoughtful choices.

So tell me. What do you think about magic?
(From the other room)

MOM!

MOM!!!

(Runs into kitchen)

MOM! I'M GONNA FART!




I farted.

"Oh, Jean-Valjean is in that stage where he's putting everything in his mouth."
"I'm going insane - Halloweena is in the WHY stage."
"Sorry I'm late. Confedericco's in the hating his car seat stage."

There are certain stages you can anticipate as a parent. You hear other people say things like this and you think, ok, noted, there will come a time when my spooky little ghoul asks me why nonstop. There are teething phases and I-hate-cheese phases, nuts for baseball phases and nut and ball phases (for little boys, at least.)

But there are so many more phases you guys.

For example, here are three phases currently happening with my sons. RIGHT NOW.

#1
The "I Know Just Enough About Gender Norms To Be Dangerous At The Park" Phase.

Chicken: Who's that guy?

Me: That's a woman, baby.

Chicken: But where are her boobs?

Me: SPOONS? WHERE ARE HER SPOONS? HER SPOONS, DID YOU SAY? HER SPOONS ARE PROBABLY AT HOME IN HER KITCHEN OH LOOK THE SLIDE IS OPEN LET'S GO RIGHT NOW WE BETTER RUN! RUN CHICKEN.

and then. THEN.

Chicken: Who's that lady?

Me: Um, that's a man, baby.

Chicken: But why's he got boobs then?

Me: TUBES? TUBES? DOES HE HAVE TUBES? DO YOU MEAN HIS SOCKS, HIS TUBE SOCKS? WOW LOOK YOUR FAVORITE SWING! SOMEONE IS SWINGING IN IT! WE SHOULD GO WATCH! NOW!

OK but that one's definitely a guy. Look at that moustache!
Mommy?
Why are we running?

#2
The "Any Time I Have Access To My Ass I WILL Be Scratching It" Phase.

When Buster gets a diaper change, it's like he just rode the Chinatown bus nonstop from Pensacola to Portland Maine, wearing pants made of 100% wool that someone just got a haircut in.

#3
The "Day The Crayons Met Terry Richardson" Phase.

(Chicken sits in the corner with a plastic bucket of crayons. He floats his fingers over the pile, selects the red crayon, holds up its waxy form to the light, and nods.)

"Hello, red crayon. I'm gonna color wif you. Let's see... I'm going to color... hmmm... strawberries. A yummy strawberry cake. But first..."

(he begins to peel the paper wrapping from the crayon.)

"Don't be sad, red crayon. It's ok. I'm gonna color wif you. But (sigh) you gotta be naked first."

This is gonna be on the cover of French Highlights next month.
Chicken took my phone at Gymboree, ostensibly to "take a picture of you!"

He told me to be sad and cry.

I totally forgot about this impromptu photo sesh until later that night. 

This. Is what he took. 

Untouched. Unedited. The slow-mo business? All him. I don't even know how to do that on my phone.


video


I have but one request. Please play this at my funeral.
I've written before on the idea that our culture is suffering because it rewards mediocrity.

In general, I tend to think that if polyester ribbons are going to take us down, it's probably going to be as a result of the noxious chemical waste spewed forth from the polyester ribbon factory, and not because we recognized a 5-year-old's participation in the tee-ball league.

Because, as I've said before, I don't think there's anything wrong with honoring participation. Showing up is a big deal. A lot of people don't show up. If you show up and try to do your best, I think you deserve a damn ribbon. Or at least the virtual ribbon that I am awarding to you, right now, in this blog post.

You didn't have to do anything newsworthy to get this ribbon.

All you had to do was show up.

Wake up earlier than you wanted to.

Feed yourself.

Dress yourself.

Do your work.

Care for your loved ones. Change diapers. Listen to your husband talk about the traffic and make appreciative noises. Send an email to a friend saying "just thinking of you."

Do the damn dishes, when you know that's the last thing you wanted to do with that 4 minutes.

Smile at your co-workers, whether they're children or adults. Ask them questions. Be kind. Fake interest if you have to.

Make time to have a private bathroom experience. Luxuriate in the secret bathroom on the 8th floor, or turn on Daniel Tiger for a few minutes to paralyze the restless natives.

Continue to work after you clock out. Vacuum. Fold laundry. Write emails. Hit the gym.

Think about next month's Saturdays, whether you can find time for a nice hike. Think about the budget. Think about the menu for dinner tonight. Think about whether you'll fly across the country next Christmas. Think about if it's time to call the dentist about that tender bicuspid. Think about whether or not the word "guido" is offensive (still not sure. Come back to that one tomorrow.) Think about how much you're dreading dealing with that d-bag tomorrow (d-bag could be anyone from your nap-striking toddler to your smarmy regional manager.)

All of these things are just taken for granted - of course they'll get done, every day, forever. But it's still hard work, and it still deserves the occasional hip-hip-hooray. Or if you're me, hip-hip-chardonnay. Or, if you're feeling sultry, hip-hip-Robert-Goulet. Or if you're fabulously wealthy and in need of some sun, a hip-hip-St. Tropez.

Whatever your pleasure, I hope you take a few minutes today and honor yourself.

Yes, just for participating.

Yes, just for showing up.

Yes, just for getting out of bed and giving your time and energy to this day -
this day that was just as hungry for you as yesterday was,
and just as hungry as tomorrow is going to be.

THIS CRAPPY VIRTUAL RIBBON
HONORS
YOU
FOR EXEMPLARY PARTICIPATION
IN
WEDNESDAY

Just because your work is routine does not make it easy. 
You do hard things every day. 
Keep on keepin' on.

holy balls, you actually put your shoes on the shoe shelf by the front door?
I think that deserves a trophy.

Me: We're stopping at Starbucks, Chicken. Do you want anything?

Chicken: Ummmm.... a kid's vanilla steamer with just one pump.

Me: Great. You got it.

Chicken: No, no, no, ummmmm... a... an apple juice box.

Me: You're sure?

Chicken: Yes. Apple juice.

Me: You're sure you don't want a vanilla steamer?

Chicken: Just apple juice.

Me: OK, because you started with the vanilla steamer.

Chicken: No, apple juice.

Me: I just want to make sure, because the last time you started with a vanilla steamer and then changed your mind to apple juice, you had nine kinds of hysterics about wanting a vanilla steamer.

Chicken: That's so funny!

Me: Agree to disagree. Seriously, once I order an apple juice, you can no longer have a vanilla steamer. Just apple juice.

Chicken: OK!

Me: So... ok... an apple juice. That's what you want.

Chicken: Yes. Apple juice!
(he smiles)
(his teeth look a little... too white...)

Me: Okaaaaay...

(I squint at Chicken in rear-view mirror)

(The car in front of us finishes ordering. It's my turn now)

(I roll up to the drive-thru order box)

(Cue the JAWS theme music)

(DA DUM)

Me: Yeah, can I get a tall Americano please? With a splash of soy? And...
(I turn around)
what did you want again, Chicken?
(DA DUM)

Chicken: An apple juice!
(may god have mercy on my soul)

Me: And... an apple juice. Please.
(DA DUM)
(There's no way this ends good...)
(I should've ordered the steamer...)
(I drive to the pick-up window)

(dumdum dumdum dumdum dumdum...)


Did you guys even know how sad the words "vanilla steamer" can be, when wailed from the squared-up mouth of a 2.75-year-old?

But I wanted a vaniwwa steeeeeeeamer!
Would you get it for me?
Pweeeeeeese, Mommy?
Pweese?
I'm soooooo saaaaaad!
WOOK! WOOK AT MY TEAR!
(points to his eye)

(wailing to the heavens)
Vaaaaaniwwaaaaaaaaaa!

(takes breath)
Steeeeeeeeeeeeeamer!

No, no... thank YOU, Tuesday.
I'm a homemaker. And I work really, really hard.

UGH, CUT. Just stop.

It annoys me so much that I feel like I have to assert that I work hard.

Because that statement (YesI'm a stay-at-home mom and it really is the hardest, best job I've ever had) feels like my armor against:

a) disapproval (Is that because you didn't want a real job?)

b) pity (I'm sorry - you must be so bored and frustrated.)

c) eye-rolling boredom (Aaaaand you'll be telling me how hard and rewarding it is, in 3... 2...)

d) patronizing amusement (And you have a blog? And you volunteer! Well, good for you! You're really staying busy, aren't you!)

Any way you slice it, I'm not sure that I can think of another job that inspires so little curiosity at an adult cocktail party. Accountants of the world, I know you feel me.

Honestly, it's fine. It's an easy pre-screening system. If I see disapproval, pity, boredom, or "that's so cute!" cross your face when I tell you what I do for a living, then I know. Alright, thanks, good talk. 

Do I see crab cakes over there? Won't you excuse me for a moment?

I don't get my dander up when acquaintances are disinterested in the saga of Chicken's potty training. Sometimes that shit is just not interesting, and that's totally cool.

But I DO get my knickers in a twist when some armchair pundit whips out the shovel and starts heaping yet another fresh load of manure on that dried-out cow pie: "stay-at-home moms are fine, they're just not feminists."

My knee-jerk response? "Well, your mom obviously wasn't."

But I'll try to be the bigger person here and unpack why it pisses me off so much that we're raising a generation of girls who believe that a woman has to tick a certain number of boxes that were drawn by other people without her input in order to be considered a success.

WAIT. DO I? Seriously? Do I still have to explain why it bothers me that we're determining the level of a woman's value by whether or not her choices conform to what the rest of the herd thinks is valuable?

What's that? I do?

Okay, after I'm done perhaps you can catch my follow-up lessons - "Squares: They Have Four Sides," and "When it Rains You Might Want an Umbrella, or You Will Get Wet." I'll call it my "Are You Fucking Kidding Me With This Lecture Series in Remedial Humanity."

Here we go.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me With This
Lecture 1: 
(Girls + Math) - (Girls + Baking) = Fake Feminism

There's this huge trend right now in children's media - Girl astronauts! Girl scientists! Girl explorers! Girl engineers! And that is FANTASTIC. I'm not trying to Grinch on Rosie Revere, Engineer (which I actually adore.)

It just seems like girl poets, girl caregivers, girl cupcake bakers, and girl knitters are getting a lot of flak.

Or not flak, exactly... it's not as though we punish girls who develop interests in traditionally female fields. We just... don't talk about them so much. We're damning them with our silence. Doctor girls and scientist girls and hard rock-drummer girls and all the girls pursuing traditionally male interests, they're getting all the glory.

These are our daughters, Suzie and Annabelle. Annabelle wants to be an engineer! Isn't that AWESOME?

Oh, and Suzie writes poems.

I've been thinking a lot about this long-overdue celebration of girls (as long as they're girls who like science) and I am coming down hard.

This is fake feminism.

Even if we're praising girls for being great at math and science, we're still not praising them for being girls - we're praising them for daring to be girls who pursue what we still think of as boy things.

We haven't evolved enough to be able to admire a girl's tenacity or creativity or curiosity, her innate character. We've just become good enough at branding ourselves and each other that we recognize the value of the unexpected combo - she wears pink AND knows how to code? Ka- CHING!

I love a female empowering book or movie as much as the next person, but it seems to me that we're selling ourselves a little too cheap and easy. Make a movie about a girl who invents something and we're SOLD. Write a book about a girl who plays baseball and we will TELL ALL OUR FRIENDS. I still can't shake the feeling that Disney hired a crack team of social media analysts to write Frozen.

Where's the trendy new book celebrating a girl who learned how to weave on a loom or paint with perspective? Where's the movie about a girl who changed the world with her volunteer work? When the stories that glorify "women's work" make millions, that's when we can start being proud of ourselves.

But today, the fact that we are so proud of girls who excel in math shows how much we still value math, not how much we've come to value girls.

But what about girls (OR BOYS, for that matter) who really love "girly" things? Oh, them? They're probably off baking somewhere, making quilts and trying to remember how to count to seven. Don't worry, they're simple folk. Probably raised by stay-at-home mothers, poor dears. Never had a chance for success... 

No! False!

Quilting is precise, detailed work. You know, like surgery.

Coding requires creativity, patience, and sharp problem-solving skills. You know, like parenting.

Still not getting the message? Alright, here it is, math-style:

I. 
GIRLS = BOYS

II. 
GIRLS who like math = BOYS who like math

IIIa. 
GIRLS who are hungry to learn all they can about math 
or coding
or medicine
or racecar driving
GIRLS who are hungry to learn all they can about sewing
or drawing
or non-profit work
or parenting

IIIb.
BOYS who are hungry to learn all they can about math 
or coding
or medicine
or racecar driving
BOYS who are hungry to learn all they can about sewing
or drawing
or non-profit work
or parenting


If we are going to be feminists, we have to tell our children that they can become whatever they want to be. And we have to mean it.

Even if she doesn't want to be an astronaut.

Even if she wants to bake wedding cakes.

Even if she wants to be a secretary at a law office, or a Red Bull promotional model.

Even if she wants to be a stay-at-home mother and spend her days folding onesies and swabbing down her children's poopy bottoms (showing them, at least six times a day, that they deserve love, that they are worth messy, stinky, hard work) and helping them play inventor, truck driver, babysitter, cake-baker (showing them that the world is full of fascinating endeavors, no matter what junk they got by the luck of the chromosomal draw.)

a feminist works here

If you've thought about this yourself and you disagree with me, respect. I'd love to hear what you think.

But if you're just regurgitating some "homemakers aren't feminists" or "math is better than art" bullshit without thinking about whether or not it's a message you want to be putting into the minds of your children...

Oh! Do I see crab cakes? Won't you excuse me for a moment?
When I worked in an office, a case of the Mondays was:

Ugh, the new receptionist laughs like a baboon.

It's hot in here.

DAMMIT TED STOP BRINGING MCMUFFINS FOR BREAKFAST IT MAKES THE OFFICE SMELL LIKE SAUSAGE AND LONELINESS.

Oh wow... look at that... the sun came out...
Who are those people walking around outside in the sunshine on Monday at 11 am?
Can they ALL be bartenders?
They look so free...
Man was not meant to be caged under fluorescent lights.

I just got an email from my boss with the subject line "The Importance of Punctuality." Grand.
(sigh)


Now that I work at home, a case of the Mondays is:

There are two gas burners going at medium-high while I cook lunch.

Chicken wants to help while wearing an equal parts adorable and highly flammable Nemo outfit produced at a Chinese petroleum/Halloween costume factory.

nononononononono NO not the open flames... uuuhh... here kid, scoop some peas.
Buster wants to stand up while holding onto both of my legs and I've already accidentally kicked him twice today.

I just stepped on a banana... oh, no, sorry, that's a piece of buttered toast that... yep, was first eaten and then vomited onto the floor again.

Also I have had to poop for the last hour and a half.
Labor manuals (yes, they exist) tell you, "once your contractions take your breath away, you'll probably be ready to go to the hospital."

A woman who has gone through labor once before will laugh at that particular turn of phrase.

"Take your breath away," she'll snort. "Sure. Right. That's another way of saying 'you can't fucking breathe.' You know what else is 'breathtaking,' by that definition? Choking to death on a mozzarella stick at Red Lobster. Or drowning in a urinal at Yankee Stadium. Was my breath taken away by my 71-hour unmedicated labor? Okay, yes. Technically. But the way this is written, it sounds like it's, you know, breathtaking, when in reality, it just feels like you're getting taken down by room-temp breaded string cheese."

We've heard these stories over and over, for our entire lives.

Labor hurts, it's agony, it's the worst thing ever, please God put me out of my misery and let me die of staph-infected genital warts rather than go through labor again, wah wah wah.

Okay.

LISTEN UP.

What I'm about to say... there are people, powerful people, who don't want me to say it. But I can no longer look myself in the eye when I'm taking selfies after freshly applying my lip gloss. The time has come for the truth.

I'm breaking the code of the sisterhood right now by publishing this post.

The charade has gone on long enough. Plus, I heard that Dan Brown is about to publish a book about a secret so catastrophically devastating that its mere existence threatens the very foundations of human knowledge, and after we found out about Jesus and that Symbol thingy, what else could it be?

Here it is, you guys.

The Secret.

Not THAT Secret. The Other Secret.

The thing nobody has ever said out loud before except a bunch of times when nobody was around to write about it and publish it on the internet.

THE TRUTH IS...

Labor IS BREATHTAKING.

And I don't mean it the way the labor manual means it, like a euphemism for "gasping at the sheer terror of heretofore unexperienced crippling pain inside your body." I mean it like labor is AWESOME.

That's right.

Everything you think you know about having a baby is a lie.

All those other ladies, weeping and wailing? They were pawns, foot soldiers in an elaborate scheme to score free postpartum casseroles and keep the rates of teen pregnancy at only "Yellow: moderate to severe teen pregnancy; the next generation of Americans WILL be brought up on bedtime stories from Teen Vogue and Three Little Kardashians."

The labor manual was telling the truth, you guys. We just weren't reading it the right way. (And that's why Dan Brown is going to write the shit out of this book y'all.)

Every contraction you see, when you a woman screws her eyes shut and tears leak out from her clenched eyelids? When she howls at the moon, vomits into a bucket, begs for death?

It's because she knows it WILL NEVER GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS! YAHOO BITCHES!

Sure, we have some negative associations with the idea of "not being able to breathe." You might think of:

1. An ice-cold bath
2. A swift kick to the taint
3. Stubbing your toe on a rusty axe
4. The aforementioned Red Lobster scenario

But no. Don't buy into that (QUOTATION FINGERS) PROPOGANDA.

You know what really "takes your breath away"?

1. Costa Rican Ziplines
2. An unexpected marriage proposal
3. FLASH MOBS AT NORDSTROM

And yes.

Yes, the unique and exquisite ecstasy of hours of increasingly intense, involuntary muscle contractions, followed by a literal rending of your flesh to make way for a Christmas ham-sized baby that you will name Orcas or Jester. It takes your breath away. In the good way.

BUT DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT.

Exhibit A.
A real conversation between a nurse and a laboring woman in the Ukraine. I heard it with my own ears and can attest to its absolute truth.

Adelaide: (gasps!)

Nurse: How are your contractions, Adelaide?

Adelaide: Why, they're positively BREATHTAKING, thank you! 

Nurse: Oh, Adelaide, that sounds just divine. Is it like a vista overlooking the Grand Canyon?

Adelaide: I feel like an eagle soaring through the clouds over God's most wondrous creation!

Nurse: That certainly sounds like active and intense labor to me! Would you like me to page the anesthesiologist?

Adelaide: Oh don't let's spoil it, sweet nurse... I'm about to be left breathless by yet another thrilling contraction, and I want to make sure I can savor it! Oh, why can't labor last for always?

(I do not speak Ukrainian but I am 100% sure that this is exactly what these women were screaming about.)

That's EXACTLY how labor is. 

Excuse me, someone is knocking at my door. That's funny. I didn't order a pizza or anything... but I'm sure it's not anything sketc


Taking Chicken out in public has been like unshackling a death-row inmate in the middle of Bonnaroo.

As soon as he's out of the stroller, Chicken takes off toward the nearest bear pit, off-the-books construction site, rickety scaffold, or hole in the fence over a rushing river. I am basically trying to keep him alive, against his will, 24/7/365.

Yesterday was really bad.

After a particularly panicky trip to the zoo during which not one, not two, but four helpful strangers helped me locate and then restrain my free-range fowl, Chicken looked at his options for the naptime hour and opted against Door #1 (sleeping, being happy), and went full-steam ahead with Door #2 (almost falling asleep in the car, keeping self awake with screams of rage and demands for random seasonal treats that cannot be purchased at this time of year even IF I were so inclined.)

I drove around for one hour and twenty minutes, watching him nod off for the count of ten, then snap awake and shriek for WAYNEDEER COOKIES, then start the whole shit show all over from the top.

Whoever talked to this kid about Christmas pastries in April should be shot in the street.
By the time I got home, I was done.
I was done with Wednesday.
I was done parenting.
I was done speaking.
I was done moving my body through space.
I was done with eye contact.
After the day I had, I thought, yeah, I'm done.

And THEN... the worst thing happened.

Chicken grabbed a soft puppy lovey from Buster's basket of toys and started to play peek-a-boo with his little brother. They sat on the floor together, calmly, happily. Buster batted at the lovey. Chicken stroked his brother's hair and cooed, "oh Buster."

Their giggles, as effervescent and intoxicating as for-realsies Champagne, emerged from petal-pink, bowed angel lips and floated on the air like happy wishes from a dandelion.

What went through my head at the sight of this adorable cutefest?

Oh. Oh, I see. You're hugging now? Oh REALLY.
Uh... NO. 

Those darling cupid mouths? TWO SECONDS AGO they were yawning suck holes belching forth the screams of despair and madness that you hear from pigs on their way into the slaughterhouse. 

To my credit, I knew I was having a crazy reaction. Why was I so angry that they were happy?

Because I was still done, you guys.

It was like these two had dragged my pathetic butt through the mud.
And not just any mud.
ZOO mud.
Zoo mud that had been standing for a few days, baking, getting thick and funky like the gelatinous goo in the bottom of the turkey roasting pan, collecting stray hairs and soggy crackers.
That's the mud we're talking about.
So we got home and I sat stinking, crusted-up, wearing the mess of my day like proof of how hard they were, and how much harder I was.

And then they got easy.

All of a sudden, I wasn't this warrior mom anymore, shining and gritty from victorious battle.

I was just a hot mess in wet socks, lying on the floor, nursing her butt-hurt, scowling at two laughing babies.

When I worked at Nordstrom, another salesperson stole a big sale from me. At the last minute, she swept in, tacked on a pair of socks, and rang it all up for herself. I confronted her. She claimed ignorance (she said nobody was helping her, so...) and then precedent (she's my personal customer. She always shops with me. She said she would have shopped with me if you hadn't snapped her up so fast) and then seniority (you're not going anywhere in this company and I've been here for 22 years. It's one sale. Get over it.) At the end of the day, there was nothing more I  could do - as much as I wanted that sale and knew it was rightfully mine, I wouldn't embarrass the company or the customer by calling her and asking her to confirm that I'd been the one to assist her with her shopping that day.

Later that day, the salesperson who stole my sale helped me hang up discarded clothing from a fitting room. "See?" she said, slipping a jacket back on its black plastic hanger, "I'm nice. I'm part of the team. I'm helping you right now."

Suuuuuure... but you still stole my sale.

That's like punching me in the face and then giving me a foot massage.

My feet feel amazing. Seriously. Wow. You've got a gift. I'm walking on sunshine and butterfly wings. 

But I've still got a black eye, asshole.

That's exactly how I felt about peek-a-boo after Shitstorm at the Zoo.

I loved watching them play so sweetly together. They gave me the gift of a brief peace, when it could very easily have been otherwise. But I couldn't let go of my memory of the morning's frustration, the frantic search of the Zoo Family Farm, scanning all of the little brunet heads crowded around the goat pen. Where is he?? Where is he?!? Oh, God...

So I lay there on the floor, just stewing about everything I'd done for them that day, the snacks I packed, the energy I spent chasing Chicken and holding his hand gently when my red-lining body would have had me grabbing him with my trademark claw hands. I stewed because it's lonely, feeling exhausted and angry in a room with happy babies. I stewed, tallying up all of the patience that I'd never get credit for, all the bombs I'd disarmed with 0:01 left on the clock.

Chicken looked up at me and asked for "milk, pweese, Mommy?" For an instant, I wanted to say no.

NO, you can't have MILK. You scared the shit out of me today. I would rather have my ear canals drilled with dental equipment than give you something that will make you happy right now.  You hid from me. At the zoo. During SPRING BREAK. NO. NO MILK. You know what I did today? Not drink water, that's for sure. That's right. Be THIRSTY. 

And then I took off my wet socks, filled a sippy cup with milk, and sat down to play peek-a-boo.

Ain't nobody got time for holding a grudge against a baby.

I'm pretty sure it's part of my job description to saddle up and be the bigger person. And I'm pretty sure it's part of his to give me black eyes and foot massages until the day I die.

Momlife. Can I get a hell yeah?
Unsurprisingly, Chicken would like to trade.


In fact, he insists on it.
When you think about toddler food, chances are you're envisioning some kind of heated-up-and-then-cooled-down-again bread/cheese combo with sides of seasonal fruit and what Chicken calls "sumpin kwunchy." Chips, French fries, perhaps a carrot.

And you know what?

It's mostly true. Toddlers are famously picky, narrow-minded foodies. Some people get lucky and raise Osh-Kosh-wearing asparagus and chard fans. But most of us pop the cap off the pouch that smuggles pureed spinach in behind pureed pear, and we call that good.

That being said...

My toddler eats way, way, WAY better than his mom does.

I WISH I could eat like my toddler. And not just because he gets cheese whenever he wants it, either. Someone (me) buys organic fruit, washes it, and slices it up for him. Someone (me) grills warm sandwiches for lunch. Someone (it's me) sprinkles a bit of sea salt and drizzles olive oil on his tomato and corn salad, just, you know, because. Someone (still me) considers Chicken's nutrition to be of critical importance and is happy to be inconvenienced by piles of dishes and high grocery bills to make sure he eats a variety of nutritious foods.

But, in yet another example of moms needing moms, ain't nobody doing that shit for me.

After I'm done composing Chicken's plate, serving it with his favorite blue fork and a cup of cold, whole, organic milk, I cast wildly about the kitchen, throwing open cupboards, yanking open the cheese drawer in the fridge, looking for something, ANYTHING to eat that satisfies the following conditions:

1. Is ready right now.
2. Does not require a plate or utensils to eat.
3. Is not "Chicken's food."

If we don't have leftover tortellini, I'm pretty much up shit creek.

Let's take a peek at today's meals so far, shall we?

Chicken's Breakfast:



Those are buttermilk pancakes, you guys. From SCRATCH.
And that yogurt? 8 bucks an ounce, no exaggeration.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA GOOD ONE MARCY! You're such a card. Of course the blueberries are organic! What am I, a monster?

Katie's Breakfast:



That is a cold bagel. A cold Safeway bagel that I tore apart with my teeth without a plate or even a napkin, grunting and panting like a wild pig that snouted out a pigeon carcass in the dry riverbed.

Chicken's Snack:



Just a clementine and some mixed nuts. NBD, just healthy fats, essential vitamins, a good dose of fiber, and sheer delight on your tastebuds. PS that clementine is fresh from the refrigerator. Chicken likes his fruit cold.

Katie's Snack:


Not a snack so much as a fix.

Chicken's Lunch:


Corn tortilla with cheese, turkey, and greens. Cold, firm grapes as crisp as tiny apples, organic cherry tomatoes.

Katie's Lunch:


Are we calling this "lunch?"


Oh. Yeah. Much better.

Chicken's Second Snack:


Cheese stick, freeze-dried snap peas, melon.

Katie's Second Snack:



Just kidding. That's Chicken's third snack. Someone (me! It's ME!!! Hello?!?! I'm here! I EXIST!!!) heated oil in a pan and popped that popcorn on the stove so it would be hot and fresh for Chicken's special afternoon matinee of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The apples? Cold honeycrisps, of course. Mama knows what her baby likes.

This is actually my second snack:


Why yes, that IS same one as before. Here's a little bit of parent wisdom: if you wait long enough, a hot coffee and an iced coffee will taste exactly the same. That's got to be a metaphor for something.

Before you say it, yes. Yes, I know I have no one to blame but myself. Yes, I know that my happiness and health are worth the time and money it takes to prepare fresh, nutritious meals for myself.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I set an example for my children, that Chicken watches me and does what I do. I am aware that the best way for me to teach him the value of taking care of himself is to take care of myself. I know.

So what's the deal? Why do I try to run my whole life on a cold bagel, a couple of pita chips, and coffee? I can make a lot of excuses for not taking care of myself, and a lot of them are legit obstacles - not enough time, I'm tired, I choose to spend my scant, precious free time writing and doing things I actually enjoy, rather than meeting my basic needs - but at the end of the day it boils down to this:

Food is the absolute bottom of my priority list.

If there is anything else that needs to be done, I do not believe that I deserve to sit down and eat a meal, much less take the time to cook a meal and then luxuriate in the ecstasy of consuming that meal from start to finish. And there is always something else that needs to be done.

My food can be multitasked. It can be juggled. Left out and picked at, bite by bite, over the course of 6 hours. Eaten one-handed. Scarfed in one go while driving. I don't eat nutritious food when I'm hungry; I gobble something that contains calories when I feel like I'm about to go full Hangry Hulk.

Every night when we sit down to dinner, I acknowledge that it is my first hot meal of the day. I realize it's the first time I've used a fork for something other than cutting Chicken's vegetable and chicken tamale, or stirring something hot and nutritious on the stove that was, of course, on its way to a melamine plate, not a glass one.

So I'm trying something out this week.

When I cook something for Chicken, I'm making some for me, too. That's right - I'll be making extra scrambled eggs, a second black bean quesadilla, peeling two clementines at snack time. All week long.

Now, I hope that you've been reading this thinking, "this girl cray." But if you've been crying silent tears because you too know the sad life of crackers and drive-thru and you thought you were the only one, I challenge you to eat like your toddler this week as well. 

I hereby give you permission, if you were waiting for someone to do so. YES. You paid nine dollars for those organic strawberries and you need to actually taste them. EAT the FACES off those Cheddar Bunnies, girl, and do not feel guilty about it. When your kid asks for a cup of water, DRINK A CUP OF WATER TOO.

(I started this glass of water 18 hours ago.)

Your health is worth the cost of a $3.99 clamshell of berries. Your satisfaction and happiness are more valuable than the expensive crackers, the organic turkey, the "good food."

Let's do this little experiment together.

Let's eat like someone else cooked for us.

A someone (me) who cares, deeply, about the health of our bodies and the happiness of our days.

Let's eat like toddlers.