Monthly Archives: January 2010

Show me that smile again

As a part-time, work-at-home freelance writer, I often find myself in a childcare pickle.  Such as last week, when I unexpectedly landed a pitch with a very short deadline and had to stand on my head and juggle childcare with two hands and a foot in order to get into New York and conduct the necessary interview.  So that I could write and revise the two articles I sold in January, my husband took over all the post-kids’-bedtime chores, I stepped over screaming toddlers to get to my computer, and I once again did not get my lip waxed, although now the hair is so long I can simply tie it back in an elastic and throw it over my shoulder.  Things get complicated around here when I actually sell work.

But it is much harder when I don’t.

Because it hurts when I don’t, given that my self-esteem is held together with two toothpicks and a strip of masking tape.  And, unlike people who are in offices or quiet studios or whathaveyou, I do not have the luxury of hurt feelings.  Because I get the emails with the rejections while I am on the internet looking for a phone number of a karate studio and Lilah is scaling me as though I am a mountain and Benjamin is asking if he can use the large knife to chop onions and Zachary is doing his homework perfectly except that he is writing 31 and 41 for the numbers between 12 and 15 and I am not correcting him even though it takes all my strength to stop myself from doing so.

I can’t tell them that I am sad about a rejection because it is so foreign to their world that it would be meaningless.  I can sit for a moment, once I’ve removed the knife from Benjamin’s hand, and feel it, but I only have a moment because there is most likely an ass out there I need to wipe.

I have an old, old friend I only get to talk to every few months.  He is an academic, which is the profession I was pursuing back in the day when I was all career-minded and shit.  And, when we talk, I often express my envy that he is on this career path, towards all things bright and shiny.  And he tells me, “From where I sit, you have it all.”

He reads my blog.  Maybe I make my life seem more glamorous than it is.

My friend is of course right.  I have a husband who takes over all the evening chores after a long day at work when I have a deadline.  I have some childcare help to allow me to do part of my writing.  I have a more or less financially secure life (she knocks wood).  And I have three lovely children, who, despite driving me three types of batty, are absolutely delectable.

Nonetheless, I take the rejections hard.  Because, the truth is that I have to start selling to bigger name publications if I want to establish myself as a writer.  The competition is fierce, and I am not Faulkner.  I have a certain facility with language, a sharp sense of humor, and a willingness to bare my ass in public, but I am without two things:  I have a hard time coming up with ideas, and I lack the self-confidence to think anyone gives a shit about what I write.

When I ask you all to register your undying affection for my writing at polls like the one over at Babble, I am doing it because without those strokes, I ain’t gettin’ much lovin’.

The rejections and the acceptances roll in more or less equal numbers, but it is deceiving, because I lack the imagination to find new places to submit.  I am not much of a saleswoman because I don’t really believe in the product.

After that moment on the couch, I get up and finish chopping vegetables with Benjamin, who has insisted we will be having stir-fry for dinner.  I have convinced him to go with carrots and broccoli over apples and potatoes, but other than that he has planned the ingredients himself.  Then I take Lilah and him for a little walk.

He babbles on and I go on auto-pilot, inserting the correct answers when I need to.  “Mommy?” he says.


“I love you.”  I stop walking and lean down.  I pull Benjamin into a hug.  As we walk on, he doesn’t know I am crying.  I am crying because I know that there are different kinds of success, and I just need to keep remembering that I am choosing this one.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn the loss of a more traditional form of success or wonder if I am choosing this path because I doubt my ability to make it on the other.


We are sitting together at a birthday party, one to which I am supremely grateful that my son has been invited, given that we’ve been in town for all of two months.  The only thing worse than attending a birthday party with Zachary would be the anguish he would feel if he weren’t invited.  Zachary has not yet spontaneously combusted, which he will undoubtedly do, due to the amorphous activity of the party and the social anxiety that attends trying to ingratiate himself into this group of children.  He is clearly trying to strategize how to insert himself into the little social groups forming within the play space, and I can see the tension rising.  While I wait for him to fall apart, I have a little time to talk with some of the mothers.

One of the women I have taken a liking to.  There’s something about her that runs on the right speed for me.  I’d like to call her to go out for coffee, but I have been spending every spare moment working and haven’t had time to sneeze let alone make plans with people. “There are Alpha families here,” she tells me.  “The parents are all friends, and the kids are all ‘popular.’”

I hear what she is saying.  In fact, I have heard what she is saying many times before, in many places before.  Hell, I’ve been the one saying it before.  Maryland.  Virginia.  North Carolina.  Massachusetts.  London.  Los Angeles.  It’s the same everywhere, even Philadelphia.  Cliques are nothing new to me.  I wince when I see them.  And then I remind myself to relax.  We are not in high school anymore, and I don’t have to worry about whether the popular kids like me.  Some will and some won’t.

We chat some more, and then Zachary has his meltdown, whereupon I do my thing and talk him off the ledge.  He calms down, has some cake, comes back with me to get his coat on.  “I hate birthday parties,” I whisper to her.

She is sympathetic.  One of her children has similar issues getting overstimulated.  She even knows terms like “sensory integration” and “highly sensitive.”  I am grateful to have another adult take a tiny portion of my worry and share it simply by acknowledging its presence.  “I can’t talk about it much, though,” she says.  “I’ve found people don’t want to hear about it.  They don’t want to be my friends if I talk about serious issues with my kids.  Like it’s contagious.”

“I don’t really care if people want to be my friend,” I tell her, clearly astonishing her.  But it’s true.  I try to be nice to people out of respect for their feelings and enjoy getting to know people.  But I am not staying up nights worrying about whether this or that mom at drop-off wants to hang out with me while I darn my socks.  I figure I’ll find people I like who like me.  Some of them may even surprise me and be in the popular clique.  Or they may be thirty years older than I am.  Who the hell knows?

I am as nice as I can be and I reach out to some people and I try to make the playdates my kids want me to make.  Yet I’ve lived too many places and seen too many things to think that social politics amounts to much more than so much rye bread.  It’s just what people do to entertain themselves on long winter evenings.

I didn’t always feel this way.  I once wrung my hands over fitting in and making friends.  It took me thirty-six years to come to realize that friendship needs to be organic, not strategized.  I hope it doesn’t take Zach that long.

Zachary has returned to a semblance of a child, and we prepare to leave.  I squeeze her on the arm and thank her for listening.  I like her.  I resolve to try to find some time for that cup of coffee.

Global positioning

Just a note to let my husband know that, in the future, if I should be driving into Manhattan (along routes I don’t know well because we just moved here to this very far suburb) with both boys to attend a birthday party in that begins at an apartment and ends at the circus, after which I will be leaving with two very tired children, and I ask if we can switch cars, it might – it just might – behoove you to mention to me that you have set your GPS to exclude all highways so that I don’t find myself exploring every tiny little back road of New Jersey.

That is all.


Remember this post?  Well, this week, my friends brought home their baby.  Please — even if you’ve never considered leaving a comment before — leave a comment today, congratulating them on finally, after so, so many years, becoming daddies.


They are wrestling in the next room.  All too often, one child hits the other too hard, his brother retaliates in fury, and the whole shebang turns into something nasty.  Yet, I am loath to stop them, because when they do manage to keep it at the level of play, this is one of the best ways for my boys to interact with one another.  Plus, let’s be honest: kids horse around.  Some of this crap they have to figure out for themselves.

Every few minutes, one sustains a harder hit than he wanted.  He comes running in, crying.  Yet, if I suggest that perhaps the game is not fun anymore, they both protest that they want to continue.  Well, what the hell.  I give the child a kiss and he scampers out to wrestle with his brother again.

Then, inevitably, Benjamin gets hurt.  He outweighs Zachary, but he’s younger and gets his feeling hurt more easily.  He comes in, wearing the dress-up football helmet.  Somewhere along the line, he must have decided that a football helmet is just the thing to protect himself in battle.  But, he needs more.

“Mommy,” he sobs.  “I want a baseball suit.  I want a suit to keep me from getting hurt.”

I hug him and give him a kiss.  “Do you think maybe it’s time to stop wrestling?”

“No,” he replies, wiping his nose from under his helmet and heading back out into the living room.

I turn back to the broccoli I was chopping.  “Baby,” I say, only to myself.  “If there were a suit that could keep you guys from getting hurt, I would buy it.  Trust me, I would buy it.”

Take my hand come along

Benjamin’s preschool has something called “enrichments,” which is three kinds of awesome because it’s all these extra little classes that we might want to enroll him in, except the instructors come to the preschool and teach the class right there, thereby freeing us from having to haul their little tushies all over tarnation so that they can be enriched.  The instructors are independent contractors, but the preschool director collects the forms and checks and hands them over to the teachers.  The classes take place between the morning and afternoon sessions, so both groups of kids can partake.

We signed Benjamin up for music.  He gets to stay later on Wednesdays and play instruments and most probably drive the poor music teacher to distraction with twenty-seven-million questions about the timpani.  Whatever.  That’s what she gets for deciding to teach music to preschoolers.

After a trip to the local children’s museum, it became clear that there was one more class we should sign him up for.  You see, he spent a half an hour in the dance area, wearing a tutu and a pair of tap shoes, trying to imitate the actions being shown on a video.  Clearly, he is interested in taking dance. Which is all for the best, because it might help him a little with his coordination.  Or paying attention to his body.  Or whatever it takes to stop him from walking into walls.

Last Monday, I went into the preschool office to sign hand in the form for the class starting on Tuesday.  She paused when she saw what I was giving her.

“You might want to call the teacher,” she said.  “They haven’t had a boy in a long time.  They may have to change things.”  In other words, they may not want a boy in the class.

I smiled agreeably and began to get up.  Then, I thought the better of it.  Why the hell should I call them before registering my three-year-old for dance class?  It’s not like this is 1952.  We’ve been through all that bra-burning and marching and whatnot precisely to earn boys the right to take dance.  And for equal pay and quality childcare and the right to choose, of course.  But mostly so that boys could take dance class.

“You know what,” I told her.  “I think I’ll just register him.  If they have a problem with it, they can come talk to me.”  I did, however, think it wise to mention to Benjamin that it would be mostly girls in the class.  By mostly, I meant everyone except for him, of course.

On Tuesdays, he is in the afternoon class, so the dance class is before his preschool day.  As we drove to school, we were discussing the fact that in a few minutes, it would be his first day of dance class.  “But, Mommy,” he queried.  “Why do girls dance, too?”

“Because, babe, sometimes girls also like to dance.”  Clearly, he thinks that most preschool ballet classes are completely overrun with little boys, but every now and then they decide to let a girl or two in.

When we walked into the room, there was a young woman laying down tape.  “This dude is starting dance today,” I told her.

She looked up, saw who was standing with me, and panicked.  “I’m just the assistant.  Let me get you the teacher.  She can answer your questions.”

“Oh, I don’t have any questions.  Except about what shoes he should be wearing.”  She nodded and scurried off in search of her boss, who returned post haste with a large smile.

“Ben here is starting dance today,” I told her.  “Does he need special shoes?”

“Well, the girls all wear ballet shoes.  But you could probably get him some jazz shoes.”  I wasn’t sure what jazz shoes were, and Benjamin had no idea. I’m pretty sure what he really wanted were tap shoes.  But there is no way I am outfitting that child with a pair of shoes that allows him to make a great deal of noise.

She turned to leave, but she couldn’t stop herself.  She had to turn back.  “Just so you know, he’s the only boy.”

I smiled sweetly.  OK, maybe not sweetly, because I’m just basically not sweet.  But nicely.  I was definitely smiling nicely.  “He doesn’t care.  And I sure don’t, either.”

I left him, peeking back in a few minutes later to see him – a husky little Mack truck of a boy between a whole lot of pink-clad children – standing on the tape, waiting for his name to be called.  When I picked him up at the end of the preschool afternoon, I asked him how dance had gone.

“Good,” he told me.

“What did you do?”

“Arabesques.”  Right.  Of course.  Arabesques.

Can anyone tell me what the hell an arabesque is?

Culinary Minefield

Zachary rang out 2009 much the same way he rang it in: complaining about dinner and eating nothing.  Come to think of it, that’s how he spent the last half a decade.

We went around the table, performing our nightly ritual of asking each person what the worst and best parts of the day had been.  Zachary’s worst?  “You making food I don’t like for dinner.”

Hmmm.  “Well, babe, that’s a mighty short list: foods you don’t like.”

“No it’s not.  It’s a very long list,” he spat back.  Five-year-olds lack a capacity for sarcasm.  He went on: “You can’t just make food for one person.  You have to think about everyone.”

“Dude.  I made pizza. I am pretty sure I was thinking about you.  Do you think Daddy and I want to eat pizza?”  My husband, mid-bite, shook his head.  The pizza was unbelievably bland by the time I left out the garlic and olive oil to which Lilah is allergic and the various herbs to which Zachary would no doubt have vociferous objections.  Benjamin was far too engaged in his third piece of pizza to bother telling us the best part of his day.

No one knows why Zach elects not to eat.  All we know is that food is enormously stressful for him.  We’ve tried hard to make our house a stress-free zone.  I bake muffins with all the fruits and veggies pureed in.  We buy the fruits he likes.  We try to make sure there is one healthful item at each dinner that he will enjoy, even if it is just fresh, whole wheat bread.  Going out to eat is another story.  It is an experience fraught with potential disasters.  Butter!  Sauce!  Green things!

How is a small boy to know what could show up on his plate in a place as wildly out of control as a restaurant?

I feel sad for him.  While the rest of the world is out, gorging on flavors of all sorts, Zachary is hiding in the corner, terrified that someone might try to slip some butter onto his popcorn.

Life, I am quite certain, is not meant to be lived this way.


I want to thank all of you who have gone over to and clicked “like” for Wheels on the Bus.  It means a great deal to me.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, please do consider registering your fondness for my blog, which you’ll have to scroll down to find somewhere in the 50s.  It takes only a few seconds and allows me to feel like perhaps I am not howling into the wilderness here…

In response to my lament about having to use canned pumpkin, Magpie ever-so-innocently asked why I can’t use fresh squash, instead.

Because, when I bake fresh squash, I invite Benjamin in to stand on our kitchen step-ladder and participate in the skinning and pureeing of said vegetable.   He decides he needs to eat some of the squash.  He proceeds to eat all but about three tablespoons of the puree, which is more or less useless in baking terms.  So, I offer the rest of the squash to Lilah, who stands on a dining room chair eating it with a spoon from a ramekin.  It is my chair, which gets squash on approximately three-quarters of its surface.   When Lilah indicates that she is finished, I wipe her down and she heads into the kitchen, where she cackles with delight as she climbs up and down the step-ladder in the middle of the kitchen.  I go to remove the ramekin and notice there are about two teaspoonfuls left, which at this point I may as well eat.  I walk past Lilah as I take the first of two bites, whereupon she screams at me.  I sigh and put the last spoonful into her mouth as she stands on the step-ladder, wash out the Cuisinart, put away the step-ladder when she gets down to go pull all the little cards out of Candyland, and start to scrub down my dinner chair.

I give up and decide to make garbanzo muffins, instead.

The recipe has been removed.  Please let me know if you need a copy.

No words

I was going to go silent here for a day.  Because it is hard to find words right now.  The pictures are so horrific, I don’t know how to make sense of it all.

Yet, silence feels wrong.

I have nothing to offer, other than a donation to Doctors Without Borders.  But I have nothing real to offer.  I am not a doctor.  I am not a medic.  I am not there.

All I have to offer is all most of us have to offer.  Sympathy.  Funds.  And a promise to appreciate that my children – tonight – are in warm beds with full bellies.

So, fix it

Last weekend was pretty a continuation of the week that had preceded it.  Whining children, flying laptops, angry kindergartener.  By the end of the weekend, I was spent and J was looking forward to getting back to work, where no one snaps his teeth at him and people rarely threaten to poop on the floor.

J was upstairs, bathing the younger two.  Zachary was on the kitchen floor, doing something completely unlovable, I am sure.  If we had a cat, I suspect he would have been pulling out its hair or setting its tail on fire.  As it was, he was probably whining and throwing things.

I sat down and pulled him into my lap.  “Are you angry at us for moving here?” I asked him.  Usually, I don’t like to put words into his mouth, but every now and then I think kids have a hard time figuring out why they are feeling the way that they are.

“Yes.  I don’t like it here.  No one pays any attention to me.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.  “It seems like the other children are always talking to you.”

“No.  They never pay any attention to me.”  Now, I know Zachary well enough to know there is a grain of truth in everything he says.  Usually, he completely misinterprets a situation to make himself into the hero in some sort of a three-act tragedy, but there is always an actual event that prompts his misery and despair.  I needed to dig further.

When exactly don’t they pay attention to you?”

“After snack.  During the free time.”

Fuck.  The damned free time.  While parents the nation over bemoan the loss of free time for their children, I think there is still entirely too much of it.  Recess is getting shorter?  Fantastic.  Free play in the classroom is being replaced by worksheets?  Excellent.  I won’t feel this way when Benjamin gets to kindergarten, but free time is the fucking viper that bites Zach in the ass.  It is so nebulous, so unrestricted, so… free.  He spends the whole time anxiously watching the other kids for cues on what he’s supposed to be doing, then kicking himself for doing it all wrong.  Damned free time.  It’s been screwing with my kid’s head since he was two.  All the poor child wants is a row of desks and a clear-cut assignment.

“I thought you were joining the other boys in the marble play during free time.”

“They don’t do that anymore,” he replied miserably.  “Now they play cards.”  He emphasized the last word, as though it clarified everything.  Cards.  Cards…  I wracked my brain, trying to come up with all the ways card-playing could be interpreted as complete and utter social ruin.  “They play cards and I just watch.”

“Do you want to play?”

“Yes.  But I don’t know the rules.”  Well, that sure explains it.  Nothing wraps this kid up in knots more than knowing there are rules and he doesn’t know them.

“What game are they playing?  Is it Go Fish?”

“No, it’s grown-up cards.  Like with a Queen and a Joker.  Like in Alice and Wonderland.”  Great.  That clears it right up.

“Well, maybe you could ask someone the rules.”

Now his despair was deepening, because not only were the kids playing a card game that made no sense to him, but his mother was clearly a complete and utter moron.  “No, because no one pays attention to me.”

And there’s a hole in the bucket.

“OK, kiddo.  I’ll tell you what I am going to do.  I am going to send an email to Mrs. T.  I am going to ask her to help you learn the rules of the game so that you can join into the card game.  Does that make sense?”

He smiled.  “Yes.”

“Maybe next time you could tell me sooner when you are having a problem like this, OK?  That way, we can find a solution a little faster.”

Once the kids were in bed, I was as good as my word.  I emailed his teacher, explaining The Great Card Crisis.

Monday, Zach came home, all smiles.  One of the boys had shown him the game.  He had been included; he was part of the pack.  After a week of acting out his abject misery, all it took was a little email to fix the problem.  But, I worry, because he is getting older.  Miniscule though he is, he simply is not a baby anymore.  We have one, maybe two years – tops – left during which I can still email his teacher about this kind of thing.  And, yes, he is slowly learning to handle things himself, but tiny social slights feel like colossal failures to him.   Sooner or later, he’s going to feel like the pariah in the classroom because the kids are not including him exactly as he would like to be included, and there will be little I can do to fix it.

By Tuesday, he was miserable again.  “All the best friends are tooken up,” he told me.  “I don’t have a best friend.”

“You have to give it some time, sweetheart.  Just play with lots of kids and see who you like.”

“I can’t,” he replied.  “No one pays any attention to me.”