The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008



One sunny Sunday, my husband, Sean, was outside cleaning the glass, with a Shop- Vac from the interior of our station wagon while I paced the sidewalk behind him.

“Why break into a car filled with baby gear and dirty breast pads?” I asked our daughter, Scarlett, over the noise. There were glass crumbs in her car seat and all over the back. Sean called it the Oakland tax.

Just then I felt something rumble below me and looked at my watch. Eleven a.m. It was “Domino” time. I left Sean, butt waggling out of the back seat, and proceeded into the bathroom. I laid Scarlett whimpering down on the changing table, and draped the hanging stripey towel around her head mosquito net style. I surveyed the magazine library, skipping over entire weeks of relentless “New Yorkers,” grabbed the latest Domino magazine, and took a seat.

For fifteen minutes every day, I daydream about remodeling. Those perfectly decorated rooms are my version of “Playboy.”

Just as I was about launch the first torpedo over “Safari Nest,” Scarlett’s plaints escalated to fever pitch. I put the magazine down and crab-walked to her, jeans and black thong strained around my ankles. Scarlett’s red face emerged from her tent of stripes, tears rolling down the sides of her head. I carried her awkwardly back to the toilet, making throaty sounds of comfort.

Once I sat down again, she began plying my breast. Was this really happening? She began her warning cry. I quickly pulled up my tank, lowered by bra and lugged out a boob. Scarlett made excited noises, opened wide and began earnestly sucking. Soon a blast of oxytocin cascaded down my brain, relaxing all my muscles. Torpedo after torpedo dropped into the bowl, followed by a musical pee.

The relief was sublime.

I closed my eyes and thought about the strange position I was in as a mother.
Before my baby, my body was a continual source of shame, an animal controlled through diet, exercise and fashion. Gross natural functions betrayed me. That pretty women made dirt seem a flagrant flaw in the human design. But by the time I gave birth, I had changed my tune.

That my body produced another body was a beauty so great, I had no choice but to feel powerful. Yes, it was a wild animal of profound intelligence that I was riding around inside of. Finally in my ultimate womanhood, I no longer had to hide behind femininity. Scarlett in my arms meant that I was no longer a girl. I could be real.

I sat daydreaming in my bathroom, without noticing that the Shop-Vac’s huffing had ceased. Suddenly the bathroom door opened and there was Sean standing in a big slice of sunlight, observing me nurse our daughter on the potty as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He said just three things:

“They took the iPod.

"It stinks in here.

"How are you going to wipe?”

By Mary Wang


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Left Behind

It was 1972 in Mobile, Alabama, when a different meaning of war took hold in my second grade world.

On this hot, sticky evening, our neighborhood foursome was in my friend Becky’s bedroom belting out “I Am Woman” and hatching plans for our own rock band. When the song ended, we stepped out of her room to get a drink. Becky’s older sister, Sheila, was home from college. I didn’t know how old that made her, except that she drove a car and she could kiss boys, which is what she was doing on the front porch with the door wide open.

Sheila was sobbing loudly -- the wet, full, uninhibited kind that made me feel bad I was watching. I barely recognized her boyfriend, Jason, standing with her. He’d cut his long, wavy hair to the barest fuzz and replaced his denim look with a formal, tan uniform that looked so straight it would break at the crease. He was stroking Sheila’s long black hair, looking ahead without smiling.

Becky’s grandma caught me staring. “He’s leaving for Vietnam tonight.”

As I watched, Jason unhooked Sheila’s hands from his neck, kissed her cheek and trotted down the front steps without looking back.

Until that moment, war had always been an interruption, an inconvenience, something to fill air time, and adult conversations. An idea for someone to criticize or defend. Here in Becky’s living room, I saw the true story of war: war was about saying goodbye to people you loved and wondering if you’d ever see them again.

Thirty-six years later, I was sitting in the international terminal at SFO, watching six soldiers of unknown service pushing their luggage carts towards security. They walked quietly, solemnly, and I noticed the glint of a wedding band on one man’s hand. That’s when my childhood scene flashed back to me.

We could all debate and argue about the Iraq war, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone has been left behind. Someone who has begged her loved one not to leave and sits in their living room, counting the hours and days until he makes it home safely.

My nine-year old son noticed the soldiers, too. “I guess they’re going to Iraq,” he said.

I wanted to honor the soldiers by not turning away, and quickly donned my sunglasses to hide my tears.

“I know, Mom,” my son said, patting my back. “It’s sad.”

By Kimberley Kwok


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Monday, April 28, 2008



My sister recommended the movie “Once.”

It took my husband and me about three months to see it, meanwhile paying Netflix for the privilege of having it sit atop our television. When we finally took the time to see it, I was struck by the movie’s simplicity.

It’s about an aspiring musician with a broken heart trying to start a music career, and a Czech immigrant making her way in Ireland. What touched me were how these two people, who had so little monetarily, were truly living their lives and pursuing their dreams in a simple, yet profound way.

It made me think about how much I have, and how I should try to live life fully in the now, instead of waiting for more. I often think, mostly unconsciously,

My kids grow up;
We win the lottery;
I have a successful book published;
I appear on Oprah;
We live abroad for a year --

I’ll be happy.

I wait for these things today.

Not so long ago, I wanted to find love, get married, have children, and buy a house. I have all of that now, yet, the credits never rolled along with a moving soundtrack in the background when I got what I thought I wanted most.

I always find new things to covet.

I think it’s part of the human experience to yearn for more. As I start to feel the hunger pains for a future different than my present, I pause.

I try to notice one thing that I’m enjoying now. Today, it was my boys jumping and splashing in the little blow-up pool in our backyard. Yesterday, it was my youngest son “stealing” strawberries off the counter faster than I could cut them up.

I continue to have an insatiable craving for something new, different, more, than what I already have.

Perhaps one day I will find happiness and contentment in the present; aware that everything I have is already a gift.

By Kristy Lund


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Sunday, April 27, 2008



I’m at my computer sending off a morning e-mail to a friend before I leave for work. My son, George, walks over to me and stands near the chair.

“Yes?” I say, still looking at the screen. “Thomas called me a teddy bear dick,’’ my ten-year old son announces. I stop typing. Did I hear him correctly? I try not to laugh. Who would put those two images together? I turn to look at my blond, green-eyed, athletic son, dressed in his school required khaki slacks and navy polo shirt.

I find myself thinking: you don’t look like a soft, round, stuffed animal. I compose myself. Name calling is a serious matter. I sit up straight in my chair.

“Who’s Thomas? Is he in daycare or school?”


“Did you tell the teacher?”

“Yes. She told him to stop, but he kept doing it.”

“I can have Daddy call her today and if Thomas doesn’t stop you need to tell the teacher again.”

“Okay.” George looks down. I can see I haven’t quite comforted him. “I’m sorry Thomas called you names," I say, as he lifts his head and looks into my eyes. “But it’s a really silly thing to say in the first place.”

“Why?” he asks.

“Because teddy bears don’t have penises.” The words escape my mouth before I can evaluate if they are the right ones. But George always makes me feel comfortable, as if I can just be me and say anything -- even things maybe mothers aren’t suppose to say so easily, like penis.

I hope he knows he is safe to be who he is with me, too. He smiles and I picture a furry, round bellied brown bear in my mind, san appendage. I join him as he laughs.

By Patricia Ljutic


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Saturday, April 26, 2008


The Am I Fat Website Tells Me I'm Not

I consult this expert advice to settle the question in the mirror once and for all.

With that encouragement, I decide to test the limits of its cheery “keep it up, great work!” message by plugging in my mid-day weight. It’s not so sure anymore: “Hmmm…on the edge - get more exercise,” it tells me.

I enter my lowest possible goal – my driver’s license weight -- and wait for the verdict, hoping it will tell me to “eat more, you’re way too thin.” Instead it repeats the first “great work” mantra, and I switch out of this section to take the hip/waist ratio section of the quiz. As I struggle to find the minimum point beneath my ribs, I squeeze in my abdominals and grab enough dough from my middle for a two-pound loaf. There is nothing natural about this waist and no way to escape the “it’s time for a change” warning from my virtual expert. I click out of the site, vowing never to return.

My image in the store window the next week is a harsher critic. As I flounce my rarely coiffed hair down Stockton Street, feeling hip and un-Mom like, I turn for a celebratory glimpse and stop flat in my tracks at the reflected version of me: the extra girth, the heft, the jowliness that I swear wasn’t there when I left the house this very morning.

If anorexics see themselves as fat when they look in the mirror, then I wonder what you call women who imagine they are two sizes smaller than their tags reveal. That’s the real me, I like to think, and I’m as shocked to see this larger edition of myself as I was when I went for highlights and came out totally blonde.

Back home, I find an old photo tucked away among the stacks of bills. The picture was taken fourteen years ago during a Backroads trip down the California coast. I remember thinking how pale I looked and how much my thighs bulged in those black Bianchis. I never realized what a privilege it was to be able to tuck in my T-shirt or how muscular my calves were.

What else had I missed?

I uncover the giant Steuben box stuffed with twenty years of memories and pull out a wrinkled green and white photo envelope, curious how my early images look through today’s lens. In one shot, I’m holding a four-week old Mackenzie on my lap and wearing my regular jeans. With a belt. I’m not sure if I am sadder over what I used to be or the fact that, even then, I thought my butt was too big and my arms were too floppy.

The next time I shop for jeans, I realize it’s time to admit who I am now, four kids and eleven years later. Usually, I duck away from my image in the dressing room mirror, not wanting to see the ripples and lines that stomp all over my “you’re as young as you feel” philosophy. But this time, I make myself look. I pirouette in front of the mirror, arching slightly to find a curve in the softer hinterlands that used to be a bony spine. I need to find something about my body to remember, something to celebrate.

In ten years, I’ll wish I had.

By Kimberley Kwok


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Picture-Perfect for Daughter's School Picture Day

Today is picture day at my seven-year-old daughter’s elementary school. Last night she asked me to set her fine, straight, golden streaked hair in pin curls. While I knew she had read about pin curls in her Molly, an American Girl: 1944 book -- 1944 being a golden age for pin curls ­­­-- I was still taken aback.

When I was a girl, every year when picture day rolled around, my mother insisted on setting my slack, black hair. One year it was pin curls, another year rag curls and another pink foam rollers. On the eve of picture day, I slept restlessly with bobby pins or roller holders sticking into my skull while wearing a nylon, floral print roller bonnet or worse, toilet paper wrapped around my head to protect my mother’s handiwork.

In the morning, I would watch in disbelief as she unwound springy curls which made my round face look even rounder. By the time I sat for my picture, the curls would have deflated, losing much of their bounce.

This was the ‘70s and my straight hair was actually in. Both Laurie Partridge and Marcia Brady had shiny, satiny smooth manes hanging from parts down the center of their heads.

Not me.

My mother, who had her hair teased and “put up” weekly at the Golden Strawberry Beauty Salon, forbade me from wearing my hair parted in the middle. She insisted it just wasn’t flattering -- in hindsight she was right. But with my unnatural, picture day curls, I felt like a fraud. I longed for a school picture that actually resembled the girl I looked like every other day of the year.

And now my daughter wants pin curls for her picture day!

I shouldn’t be surprised. She did request a Princess Leia like hairdo for her kindergarten picture. She even supplied me with printed instructions on how to achieve the style from a booklet that had come with one of her dolls. Not one to damper such enthusiasm, I complied. And after a couple of attempts at twisting up her hair into even buns on either side of her head, I had to admit -- she did look darling.

But pin curls are out of the question. I fear she will be startled in the morning by the transformation. We compromise and settle on a curling iron induced flip (parted on the side, of course) that will leave her looking much more like herself.

By Tina Bournazos

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Friday, April 25, 2008



I am a recovering parent volunteer.

I held the position of room mom for grades Pre-K through fourth, organizing class parties and drivers for field trips. I drove to destinations like the zoo, the fire department, the recycling center, and the pumpkin patch.

I served as the secretary, vice-president, and president of the home and school club of my children’s elementary school. I sat on the Enrichment Committee, the Fundraising Committee, the Auction Committee, the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon Committee, and the Literature Committee.

I baked dozens of bare sugar cookies for decorating in the shape of shamrocks in March, butterflies in May, pumpkins in November, and snowmen in December.

I cruised craft stores for chenille stems (a.k.a. pipe cleaners), poster paint, sequins, florist wire, starch, pom-poms, and giggly eyes for craft projects. These projects included, but are not limited to, baby food jar snow globes, cheese cloth ghosts, macaroni necklaces, and rolled bees wax candles.

I cut leaves, insect wings, petals, apples, stars and hearts out of construction paper, tissue paper, foam, and cardboard.

I sorted, collated, corrected, hole-punched, stapled, folded, laced, and stuffed.

I dressed in the costume of a Greek village woman circa 1825 and taught my son’s fourth grade class and my daughter’s first grade class how to Greek circle dance. I dressed as a colonial settler (in a lavender, flannel nightgown, apron and mob cap) circa 1770 and instructed fifth graders how to make rope.

I coached Pee-Wee Soccer. I timed heats at swim meets. I decorated floats for the Little League parades.

I worked in the school computer lab, art room, library, and lunch room.

I sold gift wrap, daffodil bulbs, magazines, and See’s Candies to friends, neighbors, and family members. I sold rice crispy treats, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies and brownies at bake sales.

I have recently learned how to say, "NO."

By Tina Bournazos
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Thursday, April 24, 2008



My son Nick, a fifth grader, had procrastinated completing his history assignment all week. Now, on a warm Saturday afternoon, he was stuck at the dining room table, reading several pages on World War I.

“Mom, why is war legal?” he asked. His face had that scrunched up puzzled look he gets when he thinks adults make up the stupidest rules.

“What do you mean?”

“Why can people kill other people and it’s legal?”

“Great question,” I responded. “The President and Congress declare a war and that makes it legal.”

“Can anyone go kill people then?” he probed. “Like could you go and shoot somebody?”

“No, you have to be in the military. In the Army, the Marines, the Navy or the Air Force,” I explained. His questions were a bit disorienting, and I was intrigued by how foreign the idea of sanctioned killing was to my boy.

“Mom, this is so weird,” he starts. “Get this - President Woodrow Wilson got the United States into the war – he declared war on Germany. But then he received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace to Europe. Does that make sense?

Nope, I could not explain that. Nick’s fresh perspective made me question some of the rules of war that I take as just the way it is. And I loved his critical thinking and questioning. Good job Mom and Dad. Good job school. I’ve got a peacenik in training.

By Marianne Lonsdale


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Q & A

Prom season is here.

Our house is abuzz with questions as my daughter revs up for the occasion with constant phone calls to her friends:

“What are you wearing?”

“Did you hear that he broke up with her right before prom?”

“Who’s going in the limo?”

“When should we get our mani-pedicures?”

My daughter even includes me in the vital discussions:

“How much will you pay for a dress?”

“Why would a guy wear a flower in his jacket?”

“How come you never raised me to know about corsages and that thingy the guy wears in his lapel?”

Rebuked for parental insufficiency, I lash back with a few of my own questions:
“Is this a date date, or are you two just friends?” And, “What will you do if somebody pulls out a flask of alcohol?”

It turns out that the answer to both my inquiries is the same: Eye rolling, accompanied by a heavy sigh.

Then comes the real question: “Will you be mad at me if we go in a stretch Hummer?”

My husband replies, “I wouldn’t be angry. I’d just be really disappointed.”

To children of a certain persuasion, this is far worse than a show of temper.

As usual, I like to be the more helpful parent, so I say, “Not if you slash the tires at the end of the evening.”

I’m about to ask if it would be OK if we pelt them with rotten eggs and tomatoes as they drive by when I remember my own prom career.

As juniors, my friends and I held an anti-prom, our envy masked by the height of anti-convention cool. As seniors, our fear of being left out trumped cool, and we donned organdy and dyed silk shoes along with our ironic detachment.

My daughter is less encumbered by irony, but she has an environmental conscience. She tells us how she’s trying to dissuade her friends from the Hummer, but it’s not just up to her. They’re teasing her about how she and her tuxedoed friend will arrive all sweaty after a three-hour bike ride. It’s all in good humor, but I see how conflicted she feels.

“Carbon offsets!” I suggest enthusiastically.

Isn’t that the answer to everything?

By Lorrie Goldin


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Oh, Those Whiz Mommies

Watching a mom with kids in line at Starbucks, I smiled in recognition. She urged her preschooler trying to make a choice, while attempting to keep her toddler from molesting the packaged sandwiches. I knew this mom was hoping that the treats would buy her a few quiet moments to sip her latte in peace.

I’ve been there.

Except that I was wrong. This was no slacker mom. She sat the children down at the table next to me spreading napkins to shelter the scones from germs and puncturing straws perfectly through milk cartons. I generally forget to get extra napkins until the milk spills over someone’s pants and on to the floor because I’ve allowed my child to puncture his own milk carton.

Once the children are comfortable, Clean Mom whips out a book and begins quizzing her children. “What is this letter?” she asks as her preschooler wiggles in her seat and the toddler whines. “This is an S,” she continues hopefully, “It says star. Can you find the star?” She continues on with great excitement, encouraging the girls to recognize letters and find their associated pictures. The girls are more interested in wiggling, whining and tipping their chairs backwards.

I don’t even have my own children with me and already I’m exhausted. I need another latte. That’s when I notice that Whiz Mom doesn’t even HAVE a latte. This woman has come to Starbucks with her children to buy THEM a snack and pack in some academics.

I stare at her in wonder.

“Well, that was an interesting book, wasn’t it?” Whiz Mom enthuses as she stashes it into her designer diaper bag. I can imagine what else is in that bag: organic fruit carefully diced into bite size pieces; three different kinds of sandwiches cut into butterflies and heart shapes; veggies with dipping sauce and an ice pack to keep them cold. Of course, there are also two water-filled sippy cups that have been hand washed and properly sterilized in boiling water just this morning; two changes of clothing per child in case of spills or weather changes; sunblock for reapplication at noon; hats; a portable diaper changing station; and, of course, educational toys and books.

It’s a good day for me if I remember to throw a diaper and a bag of crackers into my milk stained, crumb-filled purse. But, then again anything I forget to bring on outings is likely to be found somewhere in the trunk of my car.

I’m pretty convinced that labeled toy bins, extra-curricular activities and preschool worksheets don’t make a childhood. But, maybe I’ve become a little too lax lately.

A few examples to confirm my slacker mom status: The kids get baths maybe twice a week. Sheets get changed every two weeks. Lunches and snacks consist of easy to prepare options such as yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks and easy to eat fruit like bananas. My sons drink out of the water fountain when I forget to bring along their sippy cups. Except for swimming lessons and preschool, there is no soccer, karate, gym, music or Spanish classes that require money and that I show up somewhere at the same time each week. I didn’t start reading to the baby until he was ten months old.

I make these confessions because my children don’t seem to be suffering so far. When I need to spend more time on lunches or baths, I’ll find another place to shave off minutes of mom prep time. With those minutes I save, I can read a few pages of a novel, take a shower, write, or spend a few more minutes in bed. I like to think those stolen “me” minutes don’t make me selfish: they just make me energy efficient.

“Let’s sing,” Hyper Mom is insisting of her children. “A, B, C, D, E, F, G. . . ”

I consider buying her some herbal tea. But, then again, maybe she has her own energy efficient moments.

I think I’ll go home and wash some sippy cups.

By Maya Creedman


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Monday, April 21, 2008



This morning my five"-year-old son, Aidan, was rolling around in bed next to me singing Hey Jude," vwhen he unexpectedly tooted.

“Hey Mom, that toot made a rhythm. . . toot, toot, toot.” And I had to admit, it did. It was actually a musical toot. Aidan has always found the musical in even the most mundane. He has discovered guitars in the form of forks, sticks and corn dogs. While Michelangelo brought forth great works of art from within the sublime Carrara marble of Italy, Aidan brings forth music from ordinary household objects.

There was a time, when he was about two-years-old, that I was a bit worried about his musical obsession. One day at preschool, over graham crackers and milk, he turned to his teacher and paused before he spoke -- as if he were about to impart great wisdom.“Tracy,” he said, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock-n-roll.”

He is no longer as singularly obsessed with music, but he still hears whispers from a musical muse. He now performs in the backyard on a concrete “stage” and plays golf clubs, or sets up elaborate drum sets of pots and pans, lids, and pillows.

He really does have rhythm -- even if it sometimes comes in the form of a toot.

By Lisa Nave


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Sunday, April 20, 2008


The End of the Affair

Last week was spring break at Paul’s elementary school, but not at Eric’s preschool. We considered taking Eric out and going on a trip, but the plans never went past random speculation.

Meaning, I did not make them so they did not get made.

One reason is I am too cheap. I am not about to miss a week of school, which I have already paid for. Any family trips that do not involve going to visit with my family for free cost too much money. Plus, I do not consider any extended trips with my family to be a “vacation.” It's a conundrum.

So there Paul and I were, every day, just the two of us. Bill, my husband, had a ton of work to do and Eric went on with his regular schedule. We dropped Eric off and shared a smile in the rear-view mirror.

Off we went: the happy couple -- to the library and food shopping. We read and drew and wrote stories. The week flew and Paul and I drifted along together. Even the most boring errands felt like dates. I accomplished so much and was confident and happy not drained and irritated like I usually was at the end of each day.

I swear, it was like having a love affair.

Then on Friday, Eric’s school had a staff development day. Back to my regular life with two boys, too small a lap and too big a temper. My boys are competitive for my attention and jealous of one other. Each is convinced that every gesture I make toward the other is yet more evidence of my favoritism. There is no true level of fairness when you have two children. All is most definitely not equal.

Even the amount of chocolate chips in a cookie is viewed as a measure of my love.

Paul turned into the jilted lover when Eric rejoined us that Friday. The energy shift was immediate and we reverted to rushing and arguing. As soon as I could, I sneaked off by myself. Was it really that much harder with the two of them? The truth is that my week with Paul was exhausting. As much as I enjoyed our time together it was difficult to match his level of intensity. Unlike Eric, who plays hard to get, I need to trick him into kissing me, Paul is more like the boyfriend who likes you more than you like him.

I longed to see other people.

I love my two boys but together, I feel torn between two lovers! The incessant need to balance logistics, mood swings and snacks with constant transitions in and out of car seats was draining. Forget the supermarket. I don't go with them. I won't even go to the library wtih them at the same time. When I have the two with me even an allegedly fun excursion can turn into a disaster. We've been asked to leave the local pet store before.

Things have shifted. Our schedules are back to normal. This time, I am determined to keep a balance. I vow to spend more one-on-one time with both. The theory: when each knows he will get some mommy alone time, it will be easier to share me during full-on family time.

Who knew affairs could be so exhausting?

By Cathy Burke


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Saturday, April 19, 2008


The Changing Earth

My sister, Dr. Kirsten the biologist, has recently published an article in a conservation journal focusing on the impact of the 1935 damming of the Colorado River on a now endangered marine fish, the Totoaba.

The change in their habitat has slowed their growth, delaying maturation and thus spawning. The impact was documented by comparing prehistoric otoliths (ear bones) found in aboriginal shell middens, with modern, post-dam otoliths.

It’s a teensy bit technical, but the bottom line is because of our ever increasing urban need for water, the earth’s natural balance is thrown off and over time the resulting change in habitat can no longer support many species.

Two of my kids had field trips this week so it took me three days to read the seven-page article, but immediately I drew a parenting corollary.

The impact of urban sprawl, big box store malls sprouting like toxic mushrooms in open pastures, huge home theater sized SUVs, soulless stucco McMansions and drive-thru Starbucks, has eliminated our youth habitat.

Because of the dwindling number of places where our kids can safely hang out unsupervised and be kids, there is a delay in human maturation. (Not that I'm encouraging river spawning.)

There's too much traffic, too many electronic diversions, too much stress to achieve, accomplish and be a resume kid. The juveniles stay juveniles longer (boomerang kids?). I'll need to do some earbone core samples to support my theory, but I think I'm on to something.

By Mary Allison Tierney


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Friday, April 18, 2008


Anniversary Mama Blog

My husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary today and I find it hard to believe. It has not been a walk in the park and it has also been worth trudging through many storms.

This month is also the anniversary of my father’s death. My parents had a sixty-year marriage that was based on an argumentative communication style. One year ago, my father died and my mother can’t get used to not having anyone to fight with.

Mom jokes that they had their first argument the day they met at a gathering of mutual friends. Wistfully she often murmurs that they never stopped fighting after that.

At the time, my father, who had been an army medic, had recently returned from combat, and my mother was a volunteer nurse. Dad believed that women who volunteered to help returning soldiers were not qualified to do a good enough job. My mother was infuriated, thinking this guy arrogant for not appreciating whatever help was offered.

They immediately started dating.

My husband and I have worked hard to make our marriage less argumentative. He believes that I must be used to fighting because of my parents’ model. I recently had proof to challenge him about his theory when after we attended a controversial lecture on humanity and evil, he seemed really anxious once the speaker ended his presentation.

“What’s wrong? “I asked.

“I need someone to argue with,” he replied as he scoured the audience for a worthy opponent.

The truth of his answer is humorous and it makes me thoughtful about the value of argument. Instead of eliminating what we experience as uncomfortable fighting, if we consciously create different categories for not agreeing, it could make these moments when we find ourselves on different sides of the fence less contentious.

There is a tradition of debate and difference of opinion as healthy and engaging. Why else would we televise the current presidential debates, join high school debating teams, or read pro and con stances on the voting instruction pamphlets?

We need to have differences of opinion to figure things out. The work in a marriage is to have these differences in the midst of a relationship that has the added seasoning of emotion and vulnerability, plus, of course, the unconscious expectation of reworking all of our early relationships that have so completely damaged us!

After twenty years of being married to a loyal and loving man, I know that love can sometimes look like an argument. Although in the heat of the moment I often forget, what I know is most important, is to look at the bigger picture. Spouses are not running for public office and the grand prize at the end of a healthy fight is connection. Being right does not lead anywhere in my opinion.

I wish that my parents had been able to make the transition from arguing to intimacy more often. My husband and I both have strong personalities and opinions. While we have many shared values, we also have differences.

In the next twenty years, I hope our arguments become more thoughtful and conscious. If arguing without intention kept my parents together for sixty years, I think we have a fighting chance to look forward to more connection in the midst of being true to ourselves. Remember, when there is heat there is fire! Here’s to the next twenty!

Happy Anniversary, Hubby!

By Gloria Saltzman


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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Family Time

As the weather warms, thoughts turn to the ultimate daydream: summer. I’m planning a vacation with my sisters and their families for the first week in August.

Being from out of town, they want to go to well-known destinations: Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Water and hiking. We can barely wait.

We’ll have to, though, because the week of Fourth of July, my children and me will fly to New York City to spend ten days in Connecticut. An annual ritual, each child based on age, oldest first, gets to pick out a firecracker, Uncle Bob lights it and then collectively they decide if the choice was “cool” or not. Trips to New York and Boston are also planned during this journey.

My nieces and nephews will be blown away at how tall my children have grown in just a year. Jay, 15, is already shaving and is five feet, seven inches. Mimi, 6, is as high as my chest.

This summer, my family will also fit in a visit with my best friend since childhood, Amy, who is Mimi’s godmother. It is a role she takes very seriously. Jay is crazy about her, too.

While my husband never comes to my sister’s house, he loves where Amy and her husband live, so he will vacation with us. When John doesn’t come with us, like to Connecticut because he says it’s too loud, which it is, he considers that his vacation. I would, too.

It’s akin to when he goes camping with our kids and I won’t. I know this does not make for good childhood mommy memories. As I have explained to John and the children: I hotel. I don’t camp. And we have a camper.

My sisters, Robyne, Heidi, and Amy are the people in my life who have made me laugh the hardest. We’ve had so many adventures, know each other so well, that just a look, a single word, and we each “get it.”

My selfish desire is that they all live here. Not possible. Robyne resides in Chicago, Heidi in Connecticut and Amy in Bellingham, Washington.

We converse by e-mail and phone. Of course, it’s not the same. But it is the structure of our families, as the children know it. It is how our kids are growing up with each other and their aunts and uncles.

Already my nephew, Alex, cries because of the Chicago snow and asks his mother, “Why can’t we live in California?” When you put down roots and have a thriving therapy business as my sister does, it’s hard to move. It’s where her friends, “her family” live.

As for Heidi, her husband will never leave the town in which we grew up. Heidi would move here in a nanosecond. They have been together since the age of 17, when they split from their after-prom dates, found each other at the senior picnic and the rest of their story is Jordan, Hannah and Becca, their children.

Amy loves where she lives and as an ESL consultant, gets to travel the world. She doesn’t have kids, so she considers Mimi her daughter and Jay her stepson.

I love where I live, so I’m not moving either. Therefore, I guess this is how our families will exist, as so many families do. From a distance.

We don’t see each other as often as we would like. In 10 years, we may visit 20 times. Just 20 times.

I tell myself it is not the instances or the length of these vacations that matter; it is that we are together, having fun, and sharing stories from our childhood with our children. They can never hear enough. Childhood stories are so important to kids. They learn more about the adults in their lives and make connections between themselves and us, creating photo albums in their minds.

For us, this is what family is all about.

By Dawn Yun


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Pet Peeve

I find them almost every time I take my two dogs for a walk -- those little blue or brown-knotted bags of poop.

They sit by the side of the twisty roads in my Mill Valley neighborhood like offerings to the God of Dog Doo. They dangle from the branches of trees beside otherwise pristine hiking trails. They lurk in the shrubs along the bike path even though trashcans aren’t hard to find.

I know Marin isn’t the only place where dog owners are lazy about cleaning up after their companions. But it strikes me as particularly ironic in a land where concern for the environment is akin to religion.

I wonder if some of the people who think nothing of discarding their doggie bags are the same ones who whip out reusable totes at Whole Foods, or consider it a crime to toss an old newspaper into anything other than a recycling bin.

Perhaps some pet owners are comfortable with this practice because -- unlike me-- they’re hip to a secret Poop Patrol that collects and disposes of the bags in the middle of the night.

Perhaps the fact that they take the time to wrap their dogs’ business in tidy packages allows them to continue on their way with clear consciences.

I guess I should be grateful that their thoughtfulness at least helps others avoid stepping into a stinky landmine. But they’re still littering. They still seem to expect someone else to pick up after them.

I know it’s not pleasant to lug around a bag of crap when you’re out with your dog on a beautiful spring day. My golden retriever can drop two or more “calling cards” during a twenty-minute stroll, which is why a garland of plastic grocery bags always flutters from his collar.

Have I ever been tempted to leave a full one by the side of the road or in some bushes? You bet. But I suck it up and try to breath through my mouth -- a technique that years of diaper changing helped me perfect -- until I find a public wastebasket or arrive home.

I don’t expect anyone else to pay for my dogs’ food or vet care. Why would I expect someone else to clean up their poop?

By Dorothy O’Donnell


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Hot Girls

“Mommy!” I hear Eric’s low growl from across the house. “Where is Daddy’s magazine?”

We subscribe to many publications. From “”O and “More” to “Vanity Fair” and “Zoo Books.” We can barely get through them all before the next batch appears in the mail. Eric’s favorite is his dad’s “National Geographic.” I get such satisfaction freeing it from the plastic wrapper to expose the latest exotic cover. Eric devours it page by page and my husband often has to fish it out of Eric’s bedroom in order to read it himself.

But this was not the magazine he meant.

He was referring to Daddy’s “Playboy” with “The Girls Next Door” on its cover.

I got my husband a subscription for his birthday. He likes it for the obvious reasons (the articles). I love the jokes and the advice column, and it really does have good interviews and fiction. I find the gravity defying pictures beyond entertaining.

When I asked Eric what he liked about it, he answered: “I like da hot girls.” He's five! It’s not like I hadn’t anticipated this conversation. I did, but, say, ten years from now.

I have mixed feelings about this developmental development. I see nothing wrong with appreciating the human body. It is healthy and normal. But those airbrushed double D breasts have no semblance to reality. I doubt he understands the cartoons. I know he doesn’t like the magazine for the articles because he can’t read. My son's eyesight, however, is very good.

Since I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of this, I just removed it from his room while he was at school.

I left the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit edition in its place. The articles are not as good, but so far he has not complained.

By Cathy Burke


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Monday, April 14, 2008


Paging Dr. Mom

Memories from my childhood are reinventing themselves and becoming an ever-increasing part of my life. What seems foremost in my mind right now is rubbing and kissing bumps and bruises, a ubiquitous action of motherhood. Wiping dirty faces with a spit-on tissue is right up there as well, but that’s another story.

As my two boys approach the age of five, I find they are increasingly in need of such expert care, and frequently (and proudly) present their war wounds for the prerequisite inspection and kiss.

When I was little I was amazed by the ability of a kiss or a kind touch to take away pain. As adults, we instinctively do the same thing for ourselves by rubbing our own injuries. Is this just a reflex from our childhood? Does the rubbing remind us of comforts of yore? Or is there a deeper reason still?

Yes. There is an explanation and there was a smart old wife behind this one. She was way a head of her time as I am quite certain the rubbing and kissing of boo-boos predates modern medicine by a millennium or so. I know this because in addition to Mom I am also a doctor, specifically one who specializes in Pain Medicine.

Pain, you see, travels along one set of nerve fibers while vibration and light touch, the sensations produced by rubbing or kissing, travel along another set. These different nerves are bundled together, like the lanes on a highway. Vibration gets the carpool lane and travels very fast, while pain plods along in the far right-hand lane. Because our brains are both amazingly complicated and incredibly simple when two signals, like pain and vibration, show up at the same time the faster signal wins and the brain basically shuts a gate blocking the slower pain.

Some skeptics might wonder if this is an emotional response to the nurturing or even a placebo. I only need to think back to my last bikini wax to know there is hard science behind this one. Upon ripping off the wax (and what feels like the top layer of flesh) a good esthetician places her hand directly on your freshly ripped skin, jumpstarting the nerves in the car pool lane. And in case you are wondering -- a painless wax is impossible. I am a pain doctor, not a miracle worker.

I implant nerve stimulators for pain: complex, computer equipment that inevitably draws a comparison with the bionic man or woman. These implants stimulate the nerves that vibrate, like the soothing rub from Mom, allowing the brain to exchange the slower pain signal for the faster vibration. It is a fair trade because vibration can quickly be dismissed into the background of life whereas pain cannot.

As I describe these devices I start with the analogy of a mother rubbing away her child’s pain because all of us, at some point, have had our pain expertly tended to by soothing hands or gently kissed better by caring lips. It is one of those few truly universal experiences. And I love this part of the conversation because I see long-dormant memories of youth jogged and a look of understanding appears. Faces long strained with pain soften ever so slightly because they all know the power of that soothing touch and how well it worked in days gone by.

When I rub and kiss bruised knees and elbows at home I feel like I am Doctor Mom. And when I talk about implants and memories from childhood to my patients I feel like Doctor Mom. I like knowing what mothers have instinctively done for generations is incorporated into state of the art medicine. It is wonderful to see such a simple principle at work in the front yard and the operating room.

Now if I could only figure out a medical reason for spitting on tissues…

By Jennifer Gunter


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Sunday, April 13, 2008


Quick Chat

I have this neighbor friend who I meet on the sidewalk for a quick chat every couple of days or so.

She is petite with a theatrical flair, and a wicked sense of humor. She has two kids younger than mine, but just as demanding—smart, high energy, creative. I love hearing her stories because it makes me happy that my kids have outgrown that phase. She loves hearing mine, because it reassures her to know there is an end—there is life on the other side.

Today we were talking about how our parents were clueless. Most of my generation feels this way. We are, all of us, aggrieved that our parents were not better at it.

“That’s why there are so many parenting books out now,” said Hillary in her striped poncho.

“Because our parents punted?” I asked.

“Well, because we knew that they weren’t doing it right, but we have no idea how to do it differently,” Hillary replied.

I thought it was because our generation and our culture were obsessed with doing it all correctly. Also, because we are reacting to our parent’s obsession with sucking it up.

I mentioned this to Hillary, and she had a brain storm. Standing in the gutter, pulled sideways by her dog on her leash, she started waving her arms.

“Oh, Oh! I had the best moment of parent revenge ever! I thought the day would never come!”

“Do you mean the kind where your parents look at you with an evil smirk when your toddler covers the dishes in Vaseline, and they say; ‘Now you know what we went through?’” I said.

“No, that sucks,” she said brushing her long bangs out of her eyes and giggling. “When I was thirteen, and I still remember this! I dropped my double scoop ice cream cone on the ground. AND MY PARENTS WOULDN’T LET ME EAT IT.”

“I know! That happened to me, too! They wouldn’t buy you another one either would they?” I asked gleefully horrified.

“NO!” she howled. “They told me that I had to DEAL with it. It would build character! I still remember!” She was amused and indignant and still shaking her finger even as her dog was pulling her backwards.

“I know! We had to suck it up! We didn’t get any sympathy!” The sun was setting, and the day was a little chilly, but we were having too much fun, standing in the gutter reviling our parents, to go inside.

“Well, Lucy, my three-year old, had an ice cream fall to the ground the other day,” said Hillary, “and do you know what I did?”


“I let her eat it.”

We stood there for a moment, allowing it -- that act -- to sink in, and thinking about how we would have felt if our parents had been so kind. I wasn’t sure I could have risen above the scripted response, “You can’t eat that! It’s dirty!” and found a gentler solution.

I was inspired.

I was also thinking logistically how to pick up ice cream while holding your own cone, and the baby and the baby’s cone, while the toddler is screaming, and has thrown herself on the floor, in the pathway of pedestrians while you have only one napkin and maybe a plastic spoon—all this without getting germs.

Hillary said, “That was a great moment. I can now let go of my resentment and move on.” She mimed throwing something away and made a whooshing noise.


“So doing that for Lucy was like a Band-Aid. Right? You were healing yourself?” We thought about that for a moment.

“Are you healed?” I asked in my best Southern Baptist voice. I know it because my grandmother was a Southern Baptist.

“I am healed,” she said laughing.

“Did you see God?” I whispered, leaning in conspiratorially.

She beamed at me, “I did. And you know what? She was eating ice cream.”

By Liana McSwain


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Saturday, April 12, 2008


My First Kid

He arrived with great joy fifteen years ago this March. He has absorbed all of my tears, shared my playful joy and loved me unconditionally.

I have, in turn, woke up at night to quiet his screams, cleaned up after his messes, gave him medicine when he was sick, made sure somebody responsible looked after him when I was away, and loved him unconditionally.

Thankfully, he approved of my husband when I got married and my husband willingly accepted the fact that he was part of the package that came with me. My husband gladly adopted him and embraced loving him, holding him and waking up to feed him.

He has even put thought into his gifts at Christmas and embraced the fact that he gives me so much joy.

My first “kid,” Siren, is my Siamese Blue Point cat. Unlike my children, ever since day one Siren has pooped in his “toilet” and ate every last drop of whatever food is put in front of him. However, like my children, he wakes up several times at night, screams as loud as he can for no apparent reason, and wants my attention at his every convenience.

Siren prepared me for experiencing the level of annoyance, joy and unconditional love that children bring to my life.

Unexpectedly, the magnitude of these feelings grew exponentially with the birth of my own boys.

By Jennifer O’Shaughnessy


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Friday, April 11, 2008



Now that we have a high-deductible insurance, I am more than easily chagrined at every act of stupidity and self-destruction that my boys tend to conduct.

Like jumping off the table into the bed. The four-year old knew that when he just held his toe lying on the bed wailing quietly. I was no comfort: jumping off the desk is stupid! I wanted to have a look. He refused to show.

I started calculating the likelihood that the injury is serious and we have to go to the doctor. Or even worse, the Emergency Room. For today is Friday. And if we will not resolve it by the afternoon, we will have very few choices.

Two hours later, he still holds that toe. Unless he walks, I think, he will be alright. Unless he won’t, and then I will not forgive myself ‘till the end of my life.

He still refuses to show it. I just sit quietly next to him. At last, he volunteers.

“I have a problem.”

I nod. “Is it your toe?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Did you hurt it when you jumped off the bed?”

“Yes,” he says.

“May I have a look?”


“Do you think we should go to the doctor?” I am trying to involve him into the decision making.


“Do you think it will go away by itself?”


I am running out of options here. I try another one: “Do you think a Band-Aid will help?”


“So what do you think will help?” I ask calmly and sweetly, hiding the hurricane of emotions ravaging on the inside. I know this is an almost useless question for this son loves when we come up with solutions to his problems that mostly validate the solutions in his head. He answers to my relief:

“Two Band-Aids.”

By Dilyara Breyer


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Thursday, April 10, 2008


Old Ladies

A friend recently mentioned how grateful she was her husband enjoys the company of old women.

That pleases my friend because her own aging mother depends upon their company for her well being.

My friend is an only child and her mother's sole link to the greater world. My friend and her husband include her mother on outings and have her over for dinner often.

I wondered how her husband came to be that way. We both know men who don't enjoy the company of their mothers-in-law, or aging women in general including, in some cases, their own mothers.

She congratulates her husband's mother and grandmother for his unique trait. She said they had taught him to play bridge and included him in games with their "old lady" friends.

Friendships developed across the card table and my friend's husband became accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of aging -- stooped shoulders, thin voices, and the wobbly red line where lipstick should be. He's not discomforted either when discussions turn from politics to dead husbands, ailing hearts or children and grandchildren who don't stay in touch. He understands older women and they appreciate him for that. He still plays bridge with his mother.

I wonder if my two sons will grow up enjoying the company of old ladies. It would be sad if they didn't. I'd be sorry if they missed knowing up-close the wisdom and gentleness that resides in a matriarch's heart.

What am I doing then to encourage relationships beyond the obligatory kiss when Grandma arrives for a visit? My mother lives on the other side of the country so her visits are rare. And when she does visit I use up most of her time. I miss her and want to catch up. But I also deliberately stand as a barrier between my mother and my sons.

I do that partly to protect her from their rambunctiousness -- my mother is easily stressed these days. But I'm also protecting them from my mother's increasing physical and mental frailties, changes brought on by aging and ill health.

Maybe I shouldn't protect them. Maybe I should allow them near even though on occasion she sees things that aren't there. Maybe I should let them learn, as I have learned, to soothe her when her voice rises in panic over some imagined threat. Moments like these don't prevent my enjoying other times with my mother -- attending a movie up for best picture or sharing dinner at a great new restaurant.

They don't have to prevent my sons from enjoying their grandmother, as well.
My own grandmother had grown quite frail the last time we saw her. At 91, her appearance frightened my seven-year-old son so I kept them apart. I think now I shouldn't have done that. I should have let her approach him and allow him to see up close what an old lady looks like.

Maybe he would have gotten used to the look of her bony fingers and hands. Maybe then he would have noticed instead the smile that always lit her face whenever her grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered around.

Maybe he would have missed her more when she died a few weeks later.

By Laura-Lynne Powell


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Brevity is the Soul of Wit

For the last couple of years, every question I pose to my now eight-year-old daughter no matter what, elicits the same answer: “because…”

Just that one word, “because,” in a tone that ranges from bored to sarcastic, and it’s gradually become the most irritating word in the English language.

“Why aren’t you wearing a jacket?”


“Why are there dried noodles hanging off my bedroom ceiling?”


“Why is the dog wearing your glasses?”


“Look,” I say finally, “you’ve had every advantage in life we could give you. We send you to a good school; make sure you get a good education. From the time you were in my womb I’ve read to you, and since then we’ve spent hundreds of dollars on books every year from the “ABC” books when you were a toddler to "Harry Potter" now.

"I have exposed you to art and culture, museums and classical music (stuff that makes even me yawn). You saw your first Broadway show at four years old, for God’s sake. I’ve paid for dance classes and piano lessons and art classes and craft classes of every kind.

“All this and more to fill your mind with creative thoughts and ideas, so you could grow up to be a well-articulated person, so that you could better express yourself. So, young lady, I think I deserve a better answer than because.”

“Why?” she asks blankly.

“Why?” I say incredulous. “Well… because…”

Aargh! Thwarted once again by the diabolical mind of a four-foot tall Wikipedia aficionado, who doesn’t know of a time before cell phones, and still believes in flying reindeer and the tooth fairy.

By Tania Malik


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Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Babysitter Woes

I always knew parenting would be a challenge.

What I didn’t expect was that finding good babysitters would sometimes seem almost as difficult.

Take my first babysitter, who I’ll call Lana. I hired her when my daughter was six-weeks old after my mother—the only relative who lived near me that I trusted enough to leave her with— announced she was moving to Colorado. I was desperate for an hour or two reprieve from breastfeeding and diaper changing a couple of afternoons during the week. Lana, who responded to an ad I placed in the paper, seemed ideal. She had tons of experience, great references, CPR training, and a smile as warm as her native Hawaii. I soon discovered that child care wasn’t Lana’s true calling. A self-described multi-talented artist, her passions included painting, writing, and soap and candle making, to name a few.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all in favor of creative expression. The problem was that Lana was constantly trying to sell her creations to me. Occasionally, I caved in and bought a bar of soap or a candle. But I knew the situation was out of control when Lana breezed through my front door one afternoon with an armload of paintings, all with clearly visible—and rather hefty— price tags.

“Hey girlfriend!” she chirped as she proceeded to spread them out on my dining table. “Brought you some paintings to check out!”

Great, I thought. I don’t recall asking to SEE any paintings. Lana’s masterpieces weren’t quite what I had in mind for my living room walls. Even if they were, there was no money for “art” in my budget at the time. Hiring her to baby sit for a few hours a week was a luxury I could barely justify given my husband’s tenuous job situation. Even more annoying, her uninvited sales pitch took place as the clock in my dining room ticked away the precious moments of freedom I was paying her to provide me.

If I didn’t escape now, I realized, I’d barely have time for my swim. And I could forget about stopping at Starbucks on the way home for the mocha I was counting on to get me through the rest of the afternoon.

“They’re nice, Lana,” I said, through clenched teeth. “But I’ve got to go, and I really can’t afford to buy any art work right now.”

Though I was tempted, I didn’t fire her that day. When my husband was laid-off a few weeks later, however, I had no problem saying “Aloha” to Lana.

By Dorothy O’Donnell


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Monday, April 07, 2008


Slippery Soapbox

We’ve just stepped out of the movie “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” the high-pitched Christmas song ringing in our ears and still giggling about their various pratfalls, my daughter asks, “What was your favorite part, Mom?”

Without a beat I say, “When they realized that even though home has rules and it’s not fun all the time and though you can’t eat all the candy you want and buy any toy you want, it’s still the place they want to be because that is where they are most loved.”

Yup, I really said all that.

I was still droning on by the time we reached our car. She, of course, had stopped paying attention to me back at the mall.

I had lost her at hello.

Why do I always do that? All she asked was a simple question and I had sucked all the fun out of it. Why couldn’t I have just picked some random moment of inappropriate bodily function sounds, of which there were plenty, and gone with that?

Lately, it seems that I’m using every chance I get to ram some high moral issue/significant life lesson/meaningful sermon about our values, down her throat. I get on my soapbox and begin to churn out some momentous edict and she then tunes me out.

My lecturing may be because she’s at an age where more and more she has to weigh the right and wrong of things and make her own decisions, independent of me. She is older and consequently spends more hours of the day out of the house than in, more time away from me hovering over her shoulder than before. She hasn’t given me reason to worry, but she’s out there… what if?

I’m nostalgic for those simple lessons of just a few years ago like, “share with your friends” or “remember, everyone gets a turn.”

Now everything seems weightier.

“Have a little faith,” says my Dad. And I know by ‘faith’ he means in the upbringing you’re giving her, the examples you’ve set… have faith in your child.

So this is my new year’s resolution. I am going to step off my soap box for now. I’m going to close my eyes, take a leap of faith and hope to God to land on solid ground.

Next time when she asks my answer will be, “When he farted” or “When Simon ate Theodore’s poop.”

Yup, he really did that.

By Tania Malik


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Sunday, April 06, 2008



My husband, our eleven-year old son, Nick, and I sit in straight-backed chairs, around a rectangular table. The funeral director sits at the head, explaining the decisions we need to make to take care of the remains of my husband’s father.

My son’s beloved Grandpa.

Nick sits across from me. His eyes downcast. His hands are on the table, moving from closed fists to open palms, over and over again. His hands pop into five- point stars and then ball up. I’ve never seen him do this before. A kind of restless meditation.

I want to hug Nick. I want to walk around the table and put my arms around him. I restrain myself from lifting my arms up and offering them to my son. I wait for him to raise his eyes, to look to me for comfort.

He does not.

Nick sobbed last night when his father told him of his grandfather’s death. He tried to do homework, but his tears would not stop flowing. He clung to me at bedtime.

Today, he’s reentered the stoic world of the boy code. I know he’ll need me. I push my chair back a few feet, making sure I have room for him to sit on my lap.

My boy is only two inches shorter than me and weighs nearly 100 pounds. I wait for him to cuddle on my lap. I want to motion to him, but wait. Finally, he looks at me. I point to my lap, touching my thigh twice, nodding my head, signaling to him that it’s OK to do this. He shakes his head, returning his eyes to the table.

We are together, and we are separate in our grief.

By Marianne Lonsdale


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Saturday, April 05, 2008


Salt Point

I watched a beautiful sunset jiggle and dip through the redwood trees that lined a winding two-lane road out the small back windows of an ambulance.

I was strapped down and every few miles the driver would pull over and he and my attending EMT would switch roles, take my vitals. Finally, I asked, “Is there some regulation that you have to switch drivers after so many miles?”

The older of the two, the one who looked like he was maybe 23, seemed embarrassed. “No, it’s just, we both get car sick.” This cracked me up.

I focused on the sunset. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t in pain. I was uncomfortable and sad. My husband was following the ambulance with our two young boys. We had planned this camping trip on the last day of school and they were so excited. My achy back I attributed to the packing and the drive. I had taken the boys for a walk while my husband set up the tent and started a fire for dinner. I lay down in the tent for a while and when our four- year old came in for a shoe tie, I sat up and pop!

A warm water balloon leaked into my lap and I just knew. I felt responsible for holding this crew together while I told my husband that we were not having this baby and telling our boys that they were not going to sleep in tents outdoors with s’mores, but that we were now going to pack the truck after forty-five minutes of camping and drive for a few hours.

We drove to the ranger kiosk and my husband said to the female ranger, “We need a doctor. M y wife’s not feeling well.” Just as she was asking what was wrong, I pushed my husband back and leaned forward meeting her eyes.

“I’m having a miscarriage.”

She told us to pull over. The ranger had two teenage sons who took my boys for some marshmallow and fire fun as the local EMTs arrived.

The Salt Point EMT crew included a young outdoorsy woman in her mid thirties and her partner, who was scrappy with a white beard and a clone of the Burt’s Bees dude in that little postage-size ad in the “New Yorker.” He is very gentle and kind and as he took my pulse, told me about his wife’s miscarriage years ago and how it was sad but that they went on to have several children. There had been some talk about Medevacing me out, but I nixed the helicopter idea. As Burt and the young EMTs loaded me into the ambulance, I worried that I might be too heavy.

After two and a half hours of a winding road in an ambulance, I welcomed the cool night air as I was unloaded. When I saw the entrance to the Emergency Room of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, I was immediately panicked about what we would do with our boys. My husband found me just as I was being wheeled inside. He had already called our friend, Saskia, and she was on her way from Mill Valley to rouse our sleeping boys and take them home. They would wake up in their own beds and tomorrow this would all be over.

Inside the ER, I was transferred from the downy comfort of an ambulance gurney to a steel table with a disposable paper mattress and met the least charming nurse in North America.

The queasy ambulance boys said goodbye and wished me well. It was almost midnight on a Friday and the room was chaos. A curtain was drawn around my table. To my right I heard the wheezing of an old man and his wife crying. He was dying. Through the gaps in the curtain I could see a young woman across from me who was writhing, screaming, gagging, and had my vote for the best string of expletives growled in a single breath. She was having a really bad night.

I later learned from a nicer nurse that she was ODing on ecstasy.

Somewhere there was a burst of yelling in Spanish and two Hispanic men were being tackled and pulled off each other. They had been brought in with knife wounds and were still going at it with their fists. Their loss of blood and the alcohol content of what remained were throwing off their aim and they were losing steam.

So was I.

My drama was not even a blip on the radar in this circus. I was happy to be low priority. All around me was death and agony. I kept my jiggly sunset in my mind as the nurse came by to bully me and I cried as the final bits of our former baby made its exit. I was sad and tired and lucky to only have those complaints. I kept bleeding though and that got their attention. Bully nurse took one more swipe at me when she asked my blood type and I couldn’t remember.

Hers was no match for Ms. Ecstasy’s mouth. I was eased into a wheelchair and taken upstairs to a dark and very quiet sonogram room. I bled on everything and nobody seemed to notice. I kept apologizing. The sonogram revealed a quarter-sized bit of placenta attached to the very top of my empty uterus and that was what was causing the blood loss.

I was prepped for a D & C. It was two a.m. and I was wrung-out and had to be helped to take out my earrings and remove my watch and wedding band. Then I remembered the navel ring. We couldn’t get it open and the anesthesiologist and surgeon found that amusing so they let it slide. I asked the surgeon if I could have a pair of scrubs to wear home, since my clothes were trashed, and then I told the anesthesiologist I didn’t want to remember anything. They both smiled and assured me not to worry. I woke up coughing and a nurse reading a magazine next to my bed gave me ginger ale and wheeled me to a recovery room where I tried to sleep, but heard babies crying, and realized I was in the maternity ward.

We have a third child now, and the five of us drive through Salt Point every year when we vacation at Sea Ranch and I get a shade less sad each time. I don’t tear up immediately, like the first few times we drove through. I just get quiet. I don’t feel like we lost an actual baby, or a person, but rather a hope was lost or a promise was broken.

Less a death than a wish that didn’t come true.

By Mary Allison Tierney


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Friday, April 04, 2008



After making my daughter breakfast, Fruity Pebbles and soy milk, I laid on the couch in the fetal position wracked with ulcer pain.

This was not at all noticed by Mimi. She asked if I could play her “High School Musical” CD.

“You want me. . . to get up?”

I put on the CD.

We listened to a couple of songs when Mimi turned to me and with the most serious look on her face and announced, “Mom, this song is about – being fabulous.”

I went from writing in pain to rolling with laughter.

“No, Mom,” Mimi said, her face deeply serious. “I speak the truth. This song is about being fabulous.”

I tried not to laugh. Laughing at her “serious” statements really sets her off. Then -- brainstorm!

“Hey, Mom, can I use your yoga mat as a runway and walk up and down it like a rock star?

I knew I would NOT be a good mother if I did not allow her to pursue this "important" pursuit.

From behind the couch I pulled out my mat and unfurled it.

Inspired, Mimi ran into her room and came back with her recently won yellow tae-kwon-do belt wrapped around her neck like a boa constrictor. She sang, posed, and danced up and down the mat until the song ended.

Mimi then informed me that she wanted to be a rock star like her idols, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.

“But I thought you wanted to play the drums?”

She put her hand on her hip and stared at me, like I didn’t get it. “How can I dance and sing on stage if I’m sitting behind drums? I need to play the guitar so I can run around the stage like Miley.”

“O-kay, if that’s what you want to play, we’ll get you guitar lessons.”

She looked sad.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“But how am I going to be a rock star if I don’t have a songwriter?”

She did have a dilemma.

“Hon, I’ve written a lot of song lyrics. They’re about feelings. If you sit and write what you feel, you’ll have a song.”

Inspired, she sat down and wrote two lines. The first was about hating school. The second was about loving her cat.

She had her song. I have no idea where her rock star fantasies will take her. I do know I took the song lyrics and put them in my keepsake drawer containing all the things I love most that she has painted and made since she was a baby.

When I next saw her she was wearing “rock star” glasses and had attitude aplenty.

As she danced, a combination of ballet, tae-kwon-do, High School Musical, and Mimi, all I could think was -- this girl is fabulous.

I can’t wait to see what becomes her when she turns 7.

By Dawn Yun


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Thursday, April 03, 2008


Chocolate Sauce

It all started with some chocolate cake. Crumbs, actually.

My eight-year-old daughter wanted to lick them off the plate, and said, “You’re just like that mom in that book: You’re Driving Me Crazy: Children’s Comments About Their Parents, who said, ‘my mom never lets me lick my plate, even if it’s chocolate sauce!’”

I started to think about chocolate sauce on a plate, and how much I used to love the thick, gooey texture of it. I decided that it would be OK for the kids to use their fingers to scoop up the chocolate frosting and crumbs with their spatula-like digits and lick them clean, but not from the plate. I chose this despite the alarm bells ringing in my head that my mother would definitely NOT approve. I watched them gleefully scraping, and licking and I recalled that this was one of life’s great pleasures.

I also remembered that my mother would be coming to visit soon. So I said to my daughter, “One day, and I will tell you when, you will be too old to lick the chocolate crumbs from your fingers.”

She groaned in complaint. I said, “One day. Not today.” Then I pulled the authority card. “You know, I am the mom.”

She said, “So?!?” She has reached the stage where she thinks a lot about how things get decided. She is not so keen on the authority model of decision making, but this doesn’t bother me, as I was the same way.

I went on. “And since I am the mom, I can decide when you are too old to lick your fingers.”

She groaned again, and then I said, smirking, “You know, I could make that day tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?!” she yelped.

“Tomorrow?!” chimed in her little brother, our five-year-old negotiator. “No you can’t,” he said sticking his chin out.

Well boundary testing is normal, and healthy, and necessary, I think, for people to grow up and respect rules with an understanding of why they are following them. This conversation was in good fun, until I bragged about my authority. Even though I was joking, and smiling, they still understood that I was throwing my weight around unnecessarily. They understood that I had crossed a line.

My son is at the age and of the temperament that he will go the distance for something he believes in, and chocolate frosting was a worthy cause. I cocked my head and looked at him. He looked back. We were gauging each other’s intent.

Was this going to be a fight?

I thought about what I was trying to do here. I was attempting to help them understand that rules are not always black and white: that some privileges have expiration dates. I was also trying to establish that as the mom, I would be the best judge of when something was no longer appropriate -- but I made a mistake in implying that I could do it because I had authority, as opposed to good judgment.

My son took my attitude of, “I can make you” and threw it right back at me. He does this with almost every stance I take with him.

We call him the boomerang.

I knew I didn’t want to press the authoritarian, and I did not want to back down. So I employed that famously useful parenting tool.

I changed the subject.

As I was staring at him, and he at me, I said, holding back a laugh, “You know, I can sit on you.”

He cracked up and said, “I can sit on you, too.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

Then I thought -- technically he was capable of sitting on me. So I said, “You’re right. You’re actually right. You could sit on me.”

He beamed, and that was that. No more fighting because I had given him something to be right about.

Oh, this parenting thing, it is a daredevil’s sport.

By Lianna McSwain


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


The Race

I crave youth. The freedom, abandon and wanton selfishness.

I was reckless once. Fearless really. I was the girl that would do or say anything. I never backed down from a dare. Gutsy and ballsy were the adjectives used when I strode though the door.

I miss those days. The time before I was Mom, before I was Wife, before I was Doctor. I still harbor the inner wildcat only now she is chained by an overstuffed diaper bag, a job, and twenty pounds of muffin top.

As soon as I hit the Golden Gate Bridge on my way home from work I dream about the former me. I am not sure if it is brought on by the strength of the wind, the power of the Pacific, or just the joy that the day is over.

There is something about that short stretch of road that brings my youth front and center into my consciousness. The radio is turned up and the speakers are vibrating with bass power, the windows are rolled down, my hair whipping in the wind, and I am singing an eighties song at the top of my lungs for all to hear.

Recently, I was caught in this reverie, singing boldly to myself when two young men, barely twenty pulled up beside me in a Lotus and gave me the look.

A look I had perfected so well back in the day. Daring, abandon, and desire all rolled into one. The intent was clear. Since physical contact was out of the question a race would suffice.

I thought of my car. Fine German engineering and plenty of horsepower, but like myself she had also seen better days. Did both of us still have the speed and the moxie?

I winked and floored the gas pedal. It was exhilarating. We sped across the bridge racing at a furious pace, but youth and the Lotus clearly had the advantage. And so I ceded pulling back, letting them fly with all their glory into the first tunnel on the Mommy side of the bridge.

Had I lost my moxie? My guts? My balls? I didn’t even have the diaper bag with me!

As I exited the tunnel at a respectable fifty five miles per hour, I waved at the two boys desperately trying to explain their speed to the uninterested highway patrol man.

A smile crept across my face. I was, and still am, ballsy but never stupid. There is always a cop on the other side of the bridge.

And then one of the chains loosened, just a bit.

By Jennifer Gunter


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008


The Macrame P. . . .

Ah, spring is budding and the thoughts of eleven- year old boys turn to. . . well, to their dicks.

“How was school today?” I ask my son.

“Good,” Nick says.

“Did you have art class today?” I probe, trying to get a few more words out of him.


Another one word answer. Okay, I’m forgetting to ask open-ended questions that require more than yes, no and yeah.

“We learned how to do macramé,” Nick offers.

“Cool,” I respond, knowing I sound anything but. “Everybody used to do macramé. Plant holders, wall hangings, all kinds of stuff. Did you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s easy.“ His eyes are on his dinner plate. He pushes broccoli around with his fork. “Gabe made a penis.” His eyes do not rise to mine.

“A penis?” I’m surprised, as much by Gabe’s boldness as his choice. “Was it obvious? Could you tell?”

“Totally,” Nick says. “All the kids were talking about it.”

“Could the teacher tell?” I ask. I’m cracking up. I can’t hide my humor.

“I don’t know. She didn’t say anything.”

We’re both laughing. I’m pretty astonished by Gabe’s ingenuity and by my son’s willingness to tell me.

I have dinner at Gabe’s house a few weeks later. His mother is one of my closest friends. She and I are sipping wine and planning a summer vacation together.

“Did you hear about Gabe’s macramé project?” I ask.

“Yes,” Peggy says. “He loved that project. You know how he usually hates art. Every year I get calls from the teacher saying he just sits there. Won’t participate.”

She rises from her chair and steps toward the adjacent family room. “I hung his project on the wall,” she says. “Let me show you.”

Peggy slides the pocket door back and reaches up to the wall. “Gabe, I’m going to show Nick’s mom your macramé project.”

“Okay Mom.” Do I hear hesitancy in Gabe’s voice?

Peggy carries the twine piece into the dining room and holds it with pride.

Sure enough, it’s a penis. Two orange balls on either side of a wide column at the top. Fringe across the top – could it be -- pubic hair? The column narrows to a tip adorned with three colorful beads.

“Peggy,” I say, unable to hold back any longer. “It’s a penis.”

She steps back, takes a fresh look. Her eyes widen, her mouth opens. “Oh my God, you’re right.”

We are filled with silent laughter, not wanting to embarrass Gabe in the next room. We double over, covering our mouths with our hands to keep the guffaws inside.

It strikes me that our funniest moments as parents, our most touching ones, are those that we can’t plan for or predict.

Ah, I love the story of the macramé penis. It’s a keeper.

By Marianne Lonsdale


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