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, December 31, 2008


Ode to Apple's Steve Jobs & the iPhone

Dear Steve,

I am writing to profess my love.  No, not in a carnal way, you are nice looking and all, but are not my type.  I am also happily married, or as happily married as any 40-ish mother of two small children can be.  This also isn’t one of those Mac vs. PC things.  I must apologize in advance when I tell you that apart from the fact that my MacBook has no right click and the key to the universe is not CTRL-ALT-DELETE, I do not have the foggiest idea about the difference between the two.  As long as the screen comes on and my documents are where I left them, I am happy.

No, I love you because you invented the iPhone.  And not because I talk on my cell very much, or listen to music, watch videos, or play games (although I do admit that light saber applet is way cool!).  I love you because the iPhone is helping me lose weight, and before you even ask the question, yes, for every 40-ish mother of two it all boils down to the muffin top.

With a few swipes and taps I can track calories, exercise, and chart my progress (oh yes, there has been progress!).  Sure, I am the one lugging my ass out of bed three mornings a week to hit the gym, but until you came along my efforts at tracking food consumption usually ended around 10 am.  I have known all along that journaling is one of the keys to weight loss, but those little pieces of paper were so conveniently easy to loose.   Studies (and I am a doctor, so I read the studies) show dieters consume 1,000 more calories a day when they don’t write everything down; it is easy to eyeball incorrectly (sure, that’s only a half a cup of pasta) and “forget” the handful of chocolate kisses.  However, my iPhone not only demands precision, but entering the data is easy, and trust me, I am not going to loose it.

The iPhone has also helped me in ways your probably did not foresee.  Let me give you a backstage pass to the world of the overweight.  We don’t eat because we are hungry, if we actually got hungry we probably wouldn’t be fat.  No, for most of us eating is an interjection.  A thin person views emotions like this: Happy! Sad! Mad! And those of us with muffin tops see this: Happy (donut). Sad (chips). Mad (chocolate).  Pausing to reflect on why you are actually eating is the Holy Grail of weight loss. And Steve, stay with me here, because this where your iPhone really delivers.  To check my calories I have to get past the little black screen, which doubles as a great mirror.  It forces me to look deep into my soul, or at least at that hint of a double chin, and think just a little about what I am doing and why. 

And then, of course, there is the piece-de-resistance, the nifty little camera.  I took a picture of my muffin top on day one and when I really get the urge to stray I whip that baby out for good measure.  It is hard to believe, but it looks worse on the screen.

You have helped me so much I want to let you in on a little business secret; although I think you do pretty well for yourself (I hear you own, like, half of Disney).  The money we mothers drop to keep the little darlings happy with Disney and Pixar toys is nothing compared to what we will pay to lose weight. 

So please keep those wheels-a-turning.  I will check in with an update from time to time.  Here’s to a long relationship!


Jennifer Gunter

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Preschool Acceptance As Challenging as College Admissions

Today I got the call I have been waiting for; waiting with both excitement and dread. It was the school admissions director. As she introduced herself, I was once again a teenager, speaking to the admissions director at Smith College as she congratulated me on my acceptance.

However, this was preschool, not college, and my son had not gotten in. Despite the fact that I had dutifully listed him on the waiting list a few months after his birth, along with all of the other Marin mothers, it appeared that some moms had gotten on the list while still pregnant.

As ridiculous as it seems, I could not help but feel that I had failed somehow.

When I first told my own mother that I was looking at preschools, she sensibly asked, “Why don’t you just send him to the one near your house, like I did with you?”

Oh, if only it were that easy. It is hard now to think about how much time and energy I spent picking out just the right place for my son, as though I really were choosing a four-year “home away from home” instead of a place he would spend just a few days per week.

Would he be happy and safe? Would he enjoy the reading nook and the art corner? I finally discovered the perfect place, just two blocks from my house. My neighborhood preschool.

The rejection felt like a wound.

I chose this small city to raise my family because it reminded me of the friendly little town in upstate New York where I grew up. However, sometimes it seems to be just a picturesque facade of that little town and its simple way of life.

Here, I must rush to the phone with positive pregnancy test in hand and pay a $50 application fee (same as college) and beg preschools to let my sweet-tempered little boy play in their mock kitchens and join their circle time.

Leaving your child for the first time is hard enough without suffering such indignities.

However, I am certain that my son will have many advantages and opportunities here as well... if he can ever get off the waiting lists.

By Rebecca Jackson

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Monday, December 29, 2008


Calling All Commercial Geniuses -- Get With the Program

My son is flopped on the beanbag tuned to the Discovery Channel on TV. I justify this past time as post-preschool “downtime.” He’s watching The Magic School Bus whose episode today is all about energy expansion. So it’s educational downtime. It’s also cold and cloudy out with a big chance of rain.

Truth be told, I need to get to my work so I’ve turned on the tube.

From the behemoth beanbag I hear my son call, “Can we get that cereal? I want it!” I look up to see the tail end of a sugary cereal commercial. It’s a rare occasion when my kids see such commercials given their general scarcity on cable kiddie channels. But this one had him hook-line-and-sinker.

What amazes me is how eagerly and willingly William wants to try this new cereal. It’s a near extinct event when my son samples a “foreign" food product. Often dinner time at our home is an endurance test of patience and wills.

The only information he’s ingested (pun intended) about this sugary-cereal product is that a colorful character and his bird flock like it. It comes in an array of (artificial) colors and is fruit flavored. Clearly my fruitophobic son, who physically shudders at the site of an apple near his plate, did not hear this last part.

At the table, I recognize that our peer-pressure approach of “Try a little chicken. Your friends Tyler and Cole eat chicken! You can then run as fast as Tyler and Cole!” just isn’t cutting it anymore. Our son now simply responds with a cheery, “I don’t mind if they’re faster than me” before asking for buttered bread as an alternative main course.

My husband invented an ingenious game where he offers our son a high-five hand slap before William attempts a bite of chicken or peas or other good-for-you, non-carb food. Then, after eating that miniscule bite (often to dramatic affect ala a Fear Factor contestant eating live squid) William’s eager high-five takes on “upper hero strength,” which is acted out with bold effect by his Dad.

All of this effort and here with only a glimpse of the cereal my son is begging for on TV.

And then it occurs to me: advertisers could save us from a life of cajoling for “one bite, please” and wasted good food by advertising good food!

What if the same energy and expense of those sugar cereal, snack and fast food commercials were put into commercials for wholesome, good-for-you food? Is it just too good to be true?

So I plead (yes, I’m at the breaking point. Far too many dinner table battles have been had) to the advertising departments of all good-for-you foods: we need you on the kid TV channels! Advertise to the kids and not us moms who are tired of taking the brunt at mealtime. No more images of doting mothers overlooking happy eaters please. I want my kids to try good food for their own benefit, not mine. Build a desire for good food in my child and my pocketbook will follow.

Readily, I can come up with a few ad suggestions, too! I want a dancing bear with an energetic smile to proclaim the power of chicken without a fatty breaded coating! An Olympic athlete with incredible physique and glowing skin to give a thumbs-up to how “cool” steamed vegetables are!

On a fifteen-second commercial, a teen bop queen could show how to make a quick and healthy sandwich to go with organic ingredients -- in the time it takes to show a clown bonding with pre-teens over French fries!

While I’m dreaming, I’d like a popular superhero to pop on the TV at four p.m. announcing, “Time to play outside! Let’s go!” The TV would go blank. And Mom wouldn’t get blamed.

How about an ad for an eight-hundred number to call for a “promise to only eat good food and say please chart” for only $19.99! (And if you call now you can get a second chart plus the insta-tv-off zapper for free!).

Can you imagine the turnaround in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our country if good food was promoted with the same intensity as all of the artificial colors and flavors ingested daily by our weight-challenged population?

A nation of healthy bodies chock full of vitamins and minerals.

Now that’s what I’d call good TV.

By Maija Threlkeld

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Sunday, December 28, 2008


Christmas Shopping Traditions: The Wife's & The Husband's

My Christmas shopping exploded when I met my husband.  I’m the third of eight children and our family gift traditions were simple.

My husband had only his father, his brother and his brother’s girlfriend.  But their tradition was (and remains) to buy each other five or six gifts.  And then there were “gifties” for the close friends that are his extended family. 

And my husband-to-be never started shopping before December 20th.  His routine was going to a big mall, feeling so totally overwhelmed and freaked out that he became paralyzed and went home nearly empty handed.  The real shopping happened between noon and six on Christmas Eve.  I played along the first year and hated it, but somehow felt it was my role to support his holiday routine.  He loved having me with him.  

I introduced the idea of a shopping list during our second year together.  He thought this was terrific.  I’d list the names and pencil in gifts as the shopping progressed.  We even brainstormed a few ideas before we hit the mall.  When we wrapped up the buying on Christmas Eve, he said this was the smoothest year ever. 

I was exhausted.

Once we had a son, I knew things had to change. I was determined not to do all of his shopping and more determined not to be at the mall on the weekend before Christmas.  I scheduled my mother to come for a full day of babysitting in early December.  Although this felt like shopping on Labor Day to my husband, he complied and we did the lion’s share of our shopping and had a nice lunch and dinner out.  Kind of a combined date night/shopping extravaganza.  During our newlywed years, this new holiday tradition was one we embraced.

This routine worked for several years and then evolved into an annoyance.  My husband felt I was taking over by scheduling when he had to shop.  He didn’t feel like he had enough say in what we bought or where we shopped.  He didn’t feel like going on the day my mother appeared.  He’d rather wait until the right mood hit.  He claimed I had not even told him that my mother was coming.  (What I say and what my husband hears and remembers is another story. I absolutely adore him but he is a man.)

I have shopped early and alone the past few years.  I am happy.  I am done well before December 20th.  I am more relaxed and enjoy holiday parties without a shopping list running in my brain.  I don’t shop for my husband’s brother or for myself.  When my husband begins panicking on December 22nd over what he needs to accomplish before December 24th, it’s his problem.  He kinda likes the new me and kinda doesn’t.  

He likes that he does not have to do as much since I  shop for our son, our nieces and nephews and our friends.  He doesn’t like that he has no say in my gift selections.  He recognizes that the train has left the station and he is a passenger, not the conductor.  He finds great and creative gifts for me, bought at trendy, hip neighborhood boutiques where I can never justify shopping but love getting gifts from. 

It’s mostly all good.

Don’t get me started on getting the Christmas lights up on the house.  It’s the one decorating function I refuse to do.  It’s all about compromise, right?

By Marianne Lonsdale

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Saturday, December 27, 2008


Christmas Plus Hannukah Equals Christmakkah!

The holiday season will soon be over.

Then I will finally put away my “Christmakkah” decorations: the unobtrusive fake tree, which resembles more of an ornament holder, the driedel and Hanukkah menorah, the Nutcracker, and the evergreen garland that just had to do for that Christmas smell I love so much.

We ate or gave away all of the Hanukkah cookies my daughter and I made while listening to my favorite Christmas CDs. But now, I put away the conundrum that occurs every year in December and feel secure again in my decision to have a Jewish household.

The only time of year I question my conversion and raising my daughter Jewish is around Christmas, but I think that time of year presents some unrest for many Jewish individuals, even those who grew up in Jewish households simply because Christmas is so embedded in our culture. I have heard the Christmas tree debate and discussion many times and know many Jewish families that put a tree up in December simply because it’s festive, ignoring the true meaning of Christmas.

There are many reasons I wish to be Jewish, but Hanukkah isn’t one of them. It doesn’t compete with Christmas and is really a minor holiday in the Jewish religion. The gift giving for eight nights is done mostly because of Christmas, and, as my husband’s father said, “Hanukkah is really for the children.”

The smell of frying latkes doesn’t have the same nostalgic impact on me as fresh evergreen. Even what is celebrated during Hanukkah, namely a battle won, on the surface does not strike an emotional cord like the birth of a baby in a manger. Fighting, even if for a good cause, is a result of human failure, whereas the birth of a baby, Christ child or not, is truly miraculous and beautiful.

I try opening my mind and looking a little deeper. Perhaps it is good that this time of year encourages me to reflect and question my decision to be Jewish. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I became Jewish was because I was attracted to the freedom to think for myself and the lack of hierarchy found in Reform Judaism.

It is more of a religion of deed and not of creed. It tests my power of individual interpretation, a value greatly cherished in Jewish thinking. And so Hanukkah not only celebrates a military victory against an indomitable force, but also the importance of taking action instead of relying solely on faith or giving up before starting.

The Jews could have decided that King Antiochus was too powerful, but instead Judah Macabee took action and he and his army saved the Jewish lifestyle. Commendable and inspirational. In this light, maybe even miraculous and beautiful, too.

Every December I’ll unpack my few holiday decorations, wish I had a real tree, and sing my favorite Christmas songs. I’ll also light my menorah, eat my jelly doughnuts, and give my daughter Hanukkah gifts. I know I’ll feel the confusion again and wish for that simplicity I felt as a child, sure Santa on his sleigh will bring me a gift.

And, worse, I might even wish my daughter could experience the simplicity of Christmas as I did as a child. Instead, she’ll know both Christmas and Hanukkah and realize at a very young age, that there are many ways to celebrate life and multiple interpretations, too. As messy as it is, reflective questioning and open-mindedness are essential aspects of the “Christmakkah” season for me, and I hope for my family, as well.

By Rebecca Elegant

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Friday, December 26, 2008


A Jewish Mom Adopts Me During Holiday Traffic

She honked while I chatted up a driver in the opposite lane.

"I just spend half an hour getting from Costco to here." The driver was complaining; Costco sign still in vicinity.

"Me, too," I sigh.

"They have a serious problem."

"Seems so. It happens every year around this time," I concur.

"You have a good memory."  I am not sure if the driver is joking.

"I would use it, too, if not for the pet." I am pointing at the white box with red lettering where a little brown critter is sleeping in the corner. "I could have not bought a pet weeks in advance."

She honks again. She has a perfect hairstyle and I am sure well-manicured fingers that are lying on the steering wheel now. We are both stuck in a traffic jam around our local mall. I call her Jewish Mom. She seems to have adopted me. There is a little bit more space in front of me so she makes sure I fill it.

Earlier she honked at me for letting yet another driver in. She looked impatiently while I dissolved the traffic jam on the intersection: "Mam, if you move a little bit forward, the lady over there can go across our lane into that parking spot that she covets."

"Our son has been asking for a hamster for months," I share with another driver in the opposite lane.

I still don't own a hands free-handset for my cell phone so talking to other unfortunate drivers is my only entertainment.

"From my own experience, hamsters make such poor pets! They sleep during the day and they don't like cuddling."

I check my rear-view window.

"I went to the pet store and  there they were: two hamsters hidden out of sight in the their little dome. Sleeping."


"Underneath the hamsters were guinea pigs hopping around.  When a mother with two kids came and pointed at them: "Look! Hamsters! Aren't they c u-u-u-te!"  My idea was cemented – I decided to buy a guinea pig colored like a hamster, call it a hamster and hope no one notices.

I hear laughter roaring around as the drivers turned off their engines and rolled down their windows.

My adopted Jewish Mom behind directs me to follow the left turning lane. It seems like a good idea, so I do. As my own mother has said : "My daughter always has listened to me. She just did what she wanted in the end."

As we linger on the highway for the next couple of minutes, I follow the mantra of penguins from Madagascar and wave and smile to the fellow holiday shoppers. I see their grim face cracking a smile, too.

Then we reach a point where the cars speed up. I put my notebook down, step on the gas and wave to the driver behind me goodbye. I turned lemons into a lemonade and an hour of jam into a four-hundred word story.

I hope My Jewish Mom she is proud.

By Dilyara Breyer

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Thursday, December 25, 2008


Extreme Christmas House Lights Up Childhood

Once a year we visit Edmundo Rombeiro’s Christmas house in Novato. The Griswald house doesn’t hold an electric light to this one.  When we drove up to it this year, my son remarked, “Wow, that’s a lot of Christmas lights.  Maybe too much!” 

Out of the mouths of four-year-olds…

Not only is Rombeiro’s house decorated on the outside, but all rooms, save one bedroom, are totally decked out inside as well!  My neighbor is Rombeiro’s cousin and she and her husband are there almost every night in December.  They need helpers to make sure people don’t touch, or in one case, attack, the decorations.

Early in December she said they had six hundred and sixty visitors in one night, and that’s not even the rush time. Tour busses, often with seniors, stop by regularly.  The family keeps track of the amount of people by how many candy canes they give out nightly.

My favorite room is the angel room.  Although there are way too many angels to focus on just one, it has a calm and peaceful feeling.  My neighbor has seen people enter that room and begin to weep.

My son’s favorite room, of course, is the train room which we visited twice.

By the end of the visit we are always on sensory overload, but officially in the Christmas spirit.

By Kristy Lund

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Childhood Memories of a Magical Nutcracker Past

The young girls in holiday finery caught my eye as I stepped off the escalator onto the BART platform at the Civic Center station in San Francisco. 

They sat on one of the round marbled benches, maybe seven and nine-years old, carrying on a lively conversation with their wooden nutcrackers.  Their mother, in a black and silver lace blouse, was standing and looking up at the electronic schedule display.  I smiled and was about to ask how they had enjoyed the ballet when a lump swelled and my throat closed. 

My body had reacted before my memory caught up. 

The memory of standing with my mother on the steps of the War Memorial Opera House.  I was six, my sister, Cathy, was nine and big brother, Jimmy, was ten.  Mom was bent down, holding my coat collar, telling me to obey Jimmy and Cathy.  No squirming around and no talking during the performance.  She would meet us right back on the steps when the ballet was over.

The performance was magical! 

The beauty and glitter of the ballerinas, the enchanting music.  My memories are swirling collages of many colors, silver and gold sparkling, and wishing I were the star in my own ballet slippers, on point. 

The most glamorous event of my young life.

My mother barely scraped together the money for our tickets.  She could not afford to buy one for herself and she had my other two brothers at home to care for.  She was thirty years old with five children, making ends meet on a firefighter’s salary.  But the magic of the Nutcracker was a necessity she would not let her older children miss.

I still have the playbill tucked away with other childhood treasures. 

Thank you, Mom. 

Merry Christmas.

By Marianne Lonsdale

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Giving Every Piece of Ourselves to Our Children

One must be very brave to bear and raise a child.

It is amazing to me how radically our life is changed by a few pounds of bone and flesh and life-giving fluids, a squealing, shrieking, unattractive bit of life that we immediately accept as beautiful, absolutely unique of all who have ever been born and can accommodate our being, our habits, our routines, and our life forever.

It is considered “normal” to react in this positive way.

How much of ourselves we lose is in our control. No, not really, the needs, health, personality of the newborn can be in conflict or in unison with our needs, health and personality. Some newborns are far more demanding, born sick, deformed or just out of sync with Mom’s plan. And so it goes; all are changed due to varying circumstances.

The older I become the more I wonder as I look at a newborn: How could your Mom be so brave?

Of course, when I was young and in the process of bearing and raising five distinct, unique, beautiful human beings -- this thought never occurred. I didn’t feel brave at all! I felt busy, at times harried, challenged, creative, and purposeful. It was a fulfillment to a life’s need, a maiden’s prayer, a dream come true.

It was what my life’s main theme was to be.

Even if a late pregnancy at fourty-two increased the years that I would be the mother with children at home, I was surprised to find that it seemed like a very short time had passed when one by one they were out of the house. They belonged to the world and I rejoiced.

The attachments were still strong, but with their youthful needs for me fulfilled, I was free -- released to pick up pieces of self and go back and pick up pieces of what I had started in times B.C. (Before Children).

I know I gave a piece of myself to every child. We all leave a piece of ourselves with those we encounter or get to know. Our children are just a much bigger part of the equation. We can walk out of their lives and they can walk out of ours, but never completely

Momdom is transforming and forever. 

Being the mother of adult children is not something one can prepare for, and can be the most daunting, as well as the most rewarding, stage of all.

That's why one must be very brave to bear and raise a child!

By Ruth Scott

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Monday, December 22, 2008


When There is a Big Gap in Your Children's Ages

The gap between my children has never seemed as large as it does now. I intended to have them three years apart, but infertility interrupted my plans and my son, George, came along nine years after his sister, Venny. 

Their age difference made family outings and vacations a challenge – where to go and once there, what activities if any would interest both a two-year old and an eleven-year old? 

My husband and I spent our leisure time separated while he rode the roller coasters with our daughter and I spent hours watching our son spin the steering wheel of the blue kiddy car as it circled the oblong track. 

By the time George turned six and Venny fifteen, we enjoyed a few years when their interests merged and we spent more time together surfing on boogie boards, fishing, soaking in hot springs, and riding moderate sized roller coasters decorated with tiger facades.

Now my daughter is nineteen and my son ten. A few months short of completing her second year of community college, Venny took scissors and cut her long hair exposing the nap of her neck and shaping her hair so that it tapers downward toward her chin. She wears her boyfriend’s charcoal gray cargo pants more often than the floral-print blouses and skirts I’ve bought her. As expected, she plans to transfer to art college and hopes to move out of our home, leaving me suffering from empty nest syndrome.

Something’s not right, and the gap between my children is the source of the imbalance. 

I knew I’d suffered the emotional distress of having my children leave home, and I was ready because their exodus brings rewards: walking through my house naked ‘til noon; Friday night dates and maybe we’ll stay in San Francisco; trips to Cancun and Hawaii and Paris; restoring that selflessness that we surrendered when we had children. 

But we have another child who will live with us nine or ten more years. No extravagant spontaneous weekend jaunts for me. And really, that’s OK. My son makes me laugh and I look forward to his sharing his sense of humor with me daily for another decade. Prior to my daughter initiating her independence, I thought his staying would buffer me from some of the loss a mom experiences when her child leaves. 

But the gap in their ages made the experience more bitter than sweet – realizing all the family moments we could not and will not share together. I discovered how different the interests of a young adult are relative to those of a ten-year old. They have about as much in common as a teenager does to a toddler. 

Still, I tell her she is welcomed to join us on our family vacations. 

I'm thankful that she says she will. 

By Patricia Ljutic

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Sunday, December 21, 2008


Mother and Daughter Take Flight

“Mama, get your hand off my arm,” my daughter Phoebe demanded, scowling.

Lifting my head from where it was buried in the soft crook where her shoulder and neck meet, I opened my eyes. No wonder she was upset, I realized sheepishly. I had her arm in a death-grip. Taking a deep breath, I let it go, sat up straight and pretended to focus on my crossword puzzle.

We were on a seven-thirty seven plane bound for Phoenix to visit my mom. To say that I’m a jittery flyer is an understatement. When possible, I’ll gladly opt for a full day’s drive to destinations that are a quick plane jaunt away. And I’ve been known to cancel long-anticipated trips at the last minute because the thought of flying was too scary. After 9-11, I didn’t think I’d ever fly again.

Things have changed, however, since Phoebe’s birth almost five years ago. Events like my mother moving out of state and our move to Marin from our long-time home in San Diego where we still have ties have conspired to make me a frequent flyer.

Though I still get anxious every time I board a plane, flying with Phoebe forces me to try and put on a brave face -- I don’t want to pass my phobia on to her. And to my surprise, I’ve found that when I can take a break from obsessing about the plane crashing or being blown to smithereens by terrorists long enough to see flying through her eyes, soaring high above the earth can be, almost, enjoyable.

As we cruised above a blanket of cotton-ball clouds on our way to Phoenix, for example, Phoebe pressed her face to the window and pointing to them squealed, “Look -- it’s Princess Land!” She was delighted to discover that a place she thought reachable only via the tire swing at her school was also a U.S. Airways destination.

Later, the plane bounced through a tunnel of darker clouds. My heart raced and I clutched my armrests. But Phoebe’s face was full of wonder as she turned to me and asked if she could open the window and squeeze some rain from a cloud. As we made our torturously slow descent toward solid ground, for me, the worst part of a flight -- and every shift in speed, tiny bump or new sound signaled imminent doom -- she marveled at the “toy houses” spread out below us and wished she could live in one.

We’re flying again next month. It would be a stretch to say I’m looking forward to it. But I’m not dreading the idea as much as I used to. And I am looking forward to the adventure that flying with my daughter always proves to be.

By Dorothy O’Donnell

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Saturday, December 20, 2008


Kicks, Screams and Tantrums; Just Another Day For Mom

Picture this: a screaming, kicking two-year old wearing only diapers in thirty-five degree weather. Her frazzled, seven-month pregnant mother is holding her with one arm and with her other arm struggling to push the stroller filled with a diaper bag, shopping bags, and discarded clothes, and coats.

This was me last week as I left the once peaceful Goodnight Moon children’s store in the Town Center in Corte Madera. The fit happened over trying on clothes and I was unable to get her back in her original attire, so I had to take her out in only a diaper.

Upon exiting, I remember seeing an older man cringe irritatingly and put his hands to his ears as the cacophony of screaming child competed with the classical music. Shortly after, on that interminable walk to the car, a woman with whom I take an exercise class spotted me. She said, “You look great.”

I remember thinking: did she really just say that, under these circumstances? I contemplated handing her my stroller, or better yet my flailing child. At this point, just getting to my car was my main focus. With aching arms, I tried to put Samantha in the stroller, but just as I started to walk, she arched her back, dragging her little toes on the ground. I picked her up again, feeling incredibly guilty about her scraped toe. This was starting to get painful, and at the time I thought that I must be the only mother in the world who had ever experienced such a scene.

It was a tantrum to compete with all others, one that could go down in the Guinness Book of World Records under two-year old fits.

As I sat in the car crying with Samantha and feeling the kicks of the baby against my ribs, my first inclination was to blame myself for being a terrible mother. Maybe I hadn’t been strict enough. Maybe I’ve bought her too many things or have tried too hard to please her. Perhaps I wasn’t sensitive enough to her mood or to the fact that she gets overwhelmed by too many choices. The next train of thought was to wonder why my daughter exploded in such an uncontrollable manner and how I could have prevented it. I wondered if I should look into a parenting class since clearly I was failing miserably.

I’ve told this story to other mothers, all of whom identified with similar experiences of their own. One mother even had a scar on her face from where her daughter scratched her when she was throwing a tantrum. When I find the time to share with other mothers, I am always surprised by how much we have in common and how really similar our children are. It doesn’t help that I spend a great deal of time alone with my daughter, totally absorbed in my own world, and therefore have few means of comparison. Slowly I began to realize that Samantha’s fit was rather commonplace, even if humiliating and exhausting.

I have recovered somewhat from the horrible episode at Good Night Moon, but even so it will be a while before I take my daughter clothes shopping again. And as for those parenting classes, I have one marked on my calendar to attend entitled “Controlling Toddler Tantrums.” I better sign up soon, as this promises to be a popular class.

By Rebecca Elegant

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Friday, December 19, 2008


When Kids Discover Who Santa REALLY Is

No separate wrapping paper and tags. Not having to disguise one’s penmanship or remember whether Santa’s cursive slants left or right every year. Not having to remember that the girls can’t yet read cursive. I guess there are a few benefits to Christmas with nonbelievers.

But mostly it makes me sad that we no longer need to dispose of scummed-over cocoa and apples for the reindeer after the kids have finally gone to bed on Christmas Eve. (My brother trained his kids to leave beer for Santa.)

It wasn’t so bad when our eldest daughter grew suspicious about Santa’s largesse. In fact, she seemed more impressed that her notoriously cheap parents were the ones springing for all that loot than by the idea of a fat guy squeezing down millions of chimneys in the space of a few hours.

Plus, she was a good sport about keeping the charade going for the sake of her little sister—and parents.

I remember spending Christmas a long time ago with the same brother who so cleverly customized Santa’s repast. His kids tumbled into the living room where I was trying to sleep, unable to contain their excitement a minute past four a.m. They spied the riot of plastic tunnels and the squeaky rotating wheel under the tree.

“A hamster!! Oh, thank you, Santa, thank you!!” they gushed into the darkness. Nobody had to prompt them into politeness. Theirs was a spontaneous outpouring of reverence.

Now politeness is about all we can expect. The girls are teenagers with exacting and expensive taste. They write out detailed wish lists while making it clear that my judgment is not to be trusted, that I shouldn’t venture off-list.

Then they are disappointed to get everything they want except the element of surprise. But their manners are impeccable as they dutifully thank us.

I miss Santa.

By Lorrie Goldin

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Thursday, December 18, 2008


Losing My Religion, Then Searching, Hoping to Find It

I half expected that having kids would make me lose my mind from time to time, but I never dreamed that it would make me lose my faith. Well, not quite lose yet, but definitely shake it to its inner core.

It started when my oldest son was old enough to understand Christmas. When I began telling him the Nativity story, it felt strange. I found it uncomfortably similar to brain washing. Here was this trusting little mind, willing to believe everything I told him and there I was talking about angels speaking to shepherds.

A “cradle Catholic,” I had stopped going to church regularly in my twenties but always had a strong belief in God. I certainly didn’t hesitate to call on Him in tough circumstances. When my atheist husband and I got married, I absolutely wanted a Catholic ceremony. It was important to me to have God bless our relationship. Ditto with baptism for my two boys. I instituted a nightly prayer with my sons, giving thanks for the day and running through a litany of “God Bless Mommy, God Bless Daddy” and various family members.

It was when I needed to start passing on the teachings of my faith that things got tricky. Why did I believe that Jesus died and then rose again three days later? Did God really make everything? What happened to the gold that the three wise men gave to baby Jesus?

A great book, “Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Traditions To Raise Self-Reliant Children” by Wendy Mogel finally identified the problem. Mogel writes that if you only learned about religion and faith as a child and did not study it as an adult, then you only have a child’s understanding of your faith. It’s no wonder that you find yourself questioning things if you try to pass on the same child-like information as an adult to your own child. We are used to simplifying things for children in other areas of life (“Where do babies come from, Mommy?”) but in this case, I only had the simplified explanation without any of the adult depth.

And so my search began. I started reading religious books. I tried going to a different church. I’ve even accidentally started a faith-sharing group with Catholic mothers where we have frank, sometimes raw, discussions about our faith and motherhood.

But what scares me is that this quest seems to be weakening my faith, not strengthening it. The more I question, the fewer answers I have. My eldest son asked me the other day why some people don’t believe in God. I equivocated. “Well, I guess it’s because He’s invisible so some people think He doesn’t exist.”

“Cool, he must have an invisible machine,” my son said. “I wonder if He’ll let me use it.”

The rational, logical side of me – listening to people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – says that I have essentially been brainwashed. There is even an evolutionary theory behind it. Children who believed their parents and did what they were told – don’t go running off into the jungle or you’ll get eaten by a tiger – were more likely to survive. Our brains are hardwired to believe what our parents tell us.

Yet, the convent-educated Catholic in me whispers that this is just Satan trying to trick me. I’m reminded that if I make the wrong choice, the consequences will be ever-lasting.

I’ve gradually peeled away the layers of my beliefs and am down to the most basic question. Is there a God? Asking that question seems to have knocked out my communications system with Him. When I used to pray, it was like centering myself around my inner core and reaching out. Now the core is hollow. I’ve even lost the power to pray.

I know what I want. I want certainty. I want to be completely convinced about my belief in God and choice of religion. Then I will know what is the right thing to teach my sons.

Until then, I’m in my own personal limbo, trying to take the leap of faith.

By Suzanne Skyvara

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


An Unconventional Dad; Cool First, Fatherhood Second

My younger sister and I started flying alone after our parents divorced in nineteen-seventy four. At nine-years old, I soon became familiar with the Albuquerque airport. I would descend the rolling staircase onto the tarmac, holding my little sister’s hand as we walked toward the adobe terminal and looked for my father.

He would be inside wearing Ray-Bans, jeans pressed with a crease, a big turquoise belt buckle, and new running shoes. He would pick up my sister, who is seven years younger than I am, and hug me too hard. Soon enough, I would learn that he smelled like pot.

The summer he wasn’t waiting at the gate, arms crossed and Ray-Bans on, I didn’t panic. The gate emptied and we were the only ones left. I searched the faces as we went down the escalator and continued to scan the crowd gathered around the baggage claim. I found a pay phone, expertly dialed “0” before the number, gave the operator my name and it rang forever before she told me to try again later. I repeated this routine countless times for several hours.

I dragged our avocado green Samsonite into the ladies room, helped my sister use the potty and held her up to the sink to wash her hands.

When he finally picked up, I could hear him smiling at the sound of my voice. Then I told him where we were. His voice was curt, insinuating he’d been told the wrong date. The tenuous grasp I had on my father was always in jeopardy. I never told anyone about this until I had my own kids. Only then did I panic.

He rapped his chunky turquoise rings on the Volkswagon’s steering wheel in time with the music and sipped on the cold beer he had wedged between his legs as we drove north. Five years later I would feel a chill of embarrassment during Drivers Ed class when I learned that this was actually illegal. It had never occurred to me that it was a crime.

Summer visits with my father meant backpacking. On the outside of my father’s pack hung a large clear thermos of Jose’ Cuervo silver tequila that I gulped by mistake. I thought I had swallowed the fuel for the propane stove.

My father laughed and told me that the next time we drank tequila together, it would be because I’d turned eighteen and he was free from child support payments. 

He was buying. 

He still owes me.

By Mary Allison Tierney

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


PREGNANT -- and not

In the many years I’ve been struggling to get pregnant (and I succeeded once), I’ve never taken a pregnancy test in hopes that it would be negative.

But that’s what I did last week.

A couple of months earlier I took another pregnancy test. I took that one because I was about to begin a medication for a sports injury and the pharmacist warned that you can’t take it if you’re pregnant. 

I laughed and said, “OK.”

I had been trying for a second child for two and a half years, and after expensive acupuncture treatments and one failed IVF, I gave up. I had exhausted my emotional stamina. It’s not going to happen, I told myself. I’m too old. I’ll have to find some other path to a second child.

So I took the medication.  But then I paused.  Just because I had given up didn’t mean my husband and I had stopped having sex.  And wasn’t my period due around now? 

Just to be responsible, I took the test, treating it like a routine, as  if I were about to brush my teeth.

I was SHOCKED to see the double pink lines. My hands shook when I called my husband to tell him that after all this time we were actually, really pregnant.

That was early October. On Halloween I went in for an ultrasound and it was discovered that the embryo had apparently deceased. 

“No heartbeat.  We’re sorry.”

I felt my trepid hope deflate out of me.

I went to a restaurant and had a long, slow glass of wine. I thought of all the things I did that might have caused this, but most likely nothing I did caused this.  For two days, I embraced the loss, crying and feeling numb, and then I let it go.

At ten weeks I started to miscarry. Although the bleeding has stopped, the double lines on the pregnancy test last week tell me I’m still pregnant, and so it will be a while longer before my body is clear again for another fresh start.

And I believe in a fresh start, despite my just turning 44. My doctor expressed confidence that it could happen again, and there is something to be said, too, about giving up, letting go, and releasing yourself from the pressure.

But I’m wary of hope.

So here’s what I’m thinking: I am not giving up and I am not hoping. I am just going to try to live my life as fully as I can with what I have in the moment.

By Cindy Bailey

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Monday, December 15, 2008


You Need Time Alone, But It's Hard to Leave Your Child With Someone Else

I just dropped my sixteen-month-old off at daycare for the first time ever, and it was tricky. Before today, he’s only had one-on-one care, and I’ve only worked part-time from home. I did this so I could sneak peeks at our son, watch him develop, and take pleasure in the joys of his being.

The week before, weird emotions surfaced. Was this my own separation anxiety? Guilt over planning to spend less time with my child instead of more? Am I thrusting him into an environment he’s not prepared to deal with?

But I knew he was ready, and I needed to take this step. I would still keep him home on Thursdays, I rationalized. I would still see him grow and change. He needs to socialize now, and
I need to work a little more -- we both need to grow.

I admitted my emotions to another mom. She said, “After you drop him off at daycare that first day and get back in your car, just go ahead and let yourself cry. It’s okay.”

That day came this morning. I dropped my son off, explaining all his little quirks to the new caregiver. I watched him play with the new toys and get scooped up by the new caregiver, who showed him around and played with him. I heard him laugh. I knew he would be fine. After a half-hour, I kissed him good-bye and left. I heard him cry, but kept walking. On the way home, I stopped off for a coffee and a scone. Quiet time was mine again.

I entered my house, went into my office and turned on my computer. The house was quiet, empty. I would get a lot done now, without the distraction of my son’s squeals of joy or cries of discomfort. I stepped into the kitchen for a snack and found our au pair there, this being her last week.

She asked how our son is. He’s okay, I told her. She asked how I am. Fine, I said. Really fine. In that moment, I started to ball, tears flooding out from I don’t know where.

Obviously, our hearts know something that our minds do not. The bond with our children runs that deep.

By Cindy Bailey

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Sunday, December 14, 2008


Where the House of a Mother Reflects the Home of Her Daughter

Monica Balius lived a few blocks away. It became our daily habit as two new best friends to stop at her house after school for a snack and play time. At Monica’s house, there was always a red-stained plastic gallon jug filled with Kool-Aid and an assortment of Keebler cookies waiting for us.

On this Saturday, our roller skating marathon had taken us up and down our neighborhood’s hilly streets, and we both needed a break. She needed a bathroom and I needed a drink, and there we were, staring at my brown front yard from the sidewalk edge.

“Can we stop at your house?” Monica asked, innocently. My mother had never subscribed to the southern hospitality thing, that “ya’ll come back” spirit of dropping by for sweet iced tea. Our ten-foot backyard fences went up as soon as the moving vans left. I turned the front-door knob of our house trying to convince myself that there was nothing to worry about.

As I opened the door, I half-heartedly called for my mother. Maybe we could get in and out before she knew we were there. I had just directed Monica down the hall to our bathroom, when Mom roared in from the living room on my right side, making me jump.

“How many times have I told you not to bring friends over without asking!” she said, snapping her words with a tone that scared me. “Now you go find your friend and tell her it’s time to leave!”

I held back the tears of embarrassment and panic that she would scare away the first friend I’d made as the “new kid” in fourth grade. I was experienced enough to know that no amount of explanation would soften her outrage over the intrusion of an uninvited guest, even a nine-year old one.

My own daughter, Mackenzie, is in fourth grade now. She called me into her room one Sunday afternoon, turning down her Radio Disney to explain the stack of folded papers in front of her.

“Mom, I’m having a tea party next Sunday for my friends. They’ll bring their favorite dolls and we’ll have a contest, just like in my book.” She held up her tattered “Best-Loved Doll” paperback. “This will be just girls. I finished the invitations. Can you help me find the addresses?”

I marveled at my budding party planner, patting myself on the back for giving her the “host” propensity that was such an important part of our growing family’s style. As I addressed the last envelope later that afternoon, I pulled out the invitation, just to make sure I knew the details. It was only after I’d put on the last stamp that it dawned on me that Mackenzie had never asked for my permission to have this party.

She knew I’d say yes.

By Kimberley Kwok

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Saturday, December 13, 2008


A Winter Ritual's Location Is Changed So ALL Are Included

My son’s school has used the auditorium at the Oakland Mormon Temple for many years for our annual winter concert. 

The auditorium can accommodate the crowd of several hundred students, parents, grandparents and friends who flock to this holiday highlight.  The huge outdoor light and nativity display add to our anticipation as we walk through the crisp night air into the warm theatre.

We relish the familiarity of this winter ritual.  The opening act is the kindergarteners (don’t they absolutely get more adorable each year?) marching down the aisles in angel garb. 

Classes rotate on and off the stage for their turn to shine.  By the time the middle school rock band lets loose, we’re all ready to rise from our seats and boogie around the auditorium.  The closing act is a corny carol sung by faculty and staff.  The winter concert is a well-oiled machine and we would not change a thing.

Or would we? 

Didn’t the Mormon Church support Proposition 8?  Doesn’t the Mormon Church oppose gay marriage?  Our school mission statement includes the standard language regarding diversity.  So should we continue to hold our concert at an institution that is not welcoming to many of our families?

Hell no. 

We pulled the plug. 

The concert will go on next week.  We’re still grappling with logistics.  The theatre will be our school gymnasium.  The sound system sucks and there is no stage.  We cannot all fit so there will be two concerts.  One for kindergarten through fourth grades and a second for fifth through eighth grades. 

I’ll boogie to the rock band but miss the precious angels.  The younger parents will miss the rowdy middle school performances as well as a glimpse of their kids in a few years.

Our children will hear honesty and commitment to the values of our secular community.  Our mission, our beliefs and what we hold important are not bullets on posters tacked up around school. 

We practice what we preach. 

I am proud.

By Marianne Lonsdale

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Friday, December 12, 2008


I Can Think of A Lot of Words that Begin with P to Describe THIS Situation

I’m happy to share that my article, "Good Day Sunshine" is in this month’s Common Ground magazine. It's about celebrating the Winter Solstice and was a fun topic to research and write about.

When I was working on it though, the fates seemed to be playing with me.

I summarize with the following “P” words: 

Procrastination- I was determined to not do this. I wanted to get it done early. My plan, another “P” word, was to submit it to the editor an impressive week ahead of the due date since I already had some of the interviews completed. Thankfully, I started early because:

Pinkeye -- took hold of our family two weeks before the article was due. That meant laundry, laundry and more laundry to try to avoid its spread, though spread it did. It also meant both boys were home from school, but on different days as my eldest got it first, then my youngest. So the precious time I had planned to write was suddenly lost. Then of course, I caught it as well!

Potty Training -- my youngest decided he was suddenly ready to enter the world of big boy underwear. No more diapers, only colorful briefs with fire trucks or comic heroes would do. We praised him, of course, and it worked out since he was home sick and we could run to the potty at any time. But did I mention laundry? I think we’re up to twelve loads (no joke) by this time.  Other "P" words apply under this topic as well, but I won’t go there.

Panic -- After being home with at least one sick child for a seemingly endless stretch of days, I sat down at the computer one night at ten-thirty, my official muse time. No sooner had my fingers hit the keyboard to put the finishing touches on the article, when my youngest cried out in pain, “Mama, my ear hurts!” Of course he wanted me to be with him, and I wanted to be there. So there I lay with him in bed, and ultimately slept, asking the gods to help me get my article done the next day.

Publication -- in the end I did get it done. Not a week early as I’d planned, but on the contracted date nonetheless. Having a plan to finish early was probably the best thing I could have done. 

It was certainly humbling to not have time I could count on, and I’m grateful for my husband who helped during evenings and weekends so I could escape. But having a challenging time to create the piece makes the final product that much more dear. 

Analogy to parenting and childbirth anyone?

By Kristy Lund

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


When Two Moms Come Together Over a Beloved Child

I arrived just as the dance recital was beginning. I looked around for a friend whose daughter goes to middle school with my stepson, Jay.

I took a seat and saw somebody waving at me from the front row. It wasn’t my friend. It was my stepson’s mother, Nancy.

I slowly waved back. We’ve had an uneasy alliance over the years so I was uncertain how to react.

I mouthed, “Is there a seat there?”

She shook her head, no. I pointed to the empty chair next to me and waved her over. When she sat next to me, I thought, now what?

What followed is what usually does in uncomfortable situations – dreadful silence, punctuated by a few long, and some short, smiles in between.

Slowly, words explained what remained unspoken. We talked about Jay’s improving school grades. I told her what a wonderful brother he is to my daughter, Mimi. Nancy told me she had quit her job and was trying to figure out what to do with her life. I told her I was still doing my writing.

Then the music started as the sixth, seventh and eight-grade classes each took turns dancing to big band, salsa and disco music. Jay channeled his outer John Travolta circa 1970-something.

I mentioned to Nancy that I was signing Jay up for Hawaiian paddling this summer, which would help him get into shape for high school.

“And the meets are every Saturday so we would love if you and your boyfriend would come, too. I think it would make Jay really happy if we were all there together for him, kinda as a family.”

Nancy said they would like to, as Turn the Beat Around blared from the speakers.

In many ways, I think we did.

I had to phone my husband as I walked to the car.

“Honey, guess what? Your current wife just sat next to your ex-wife as we watched your son dance.”

It was a Marin Moment.

By Dawn Yun

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


'Tis the Season to Shop Now and Worry About Bills Later

I forgot how good it feels to go shopping.

And to get things on sale.

As a former bargain shopping expert – I have to confess that I’ve spent the last five years paying full price.

It’s killed me. But it was always just easier to do so.

Before children I would take firm stands about saving money. I had principles. It was the rare item for which I paid full price.

But when you have children, easy often trumps savings.

This can get expensive.

But I think I am starting to see clearly. After age five children seem to be more self directed. They require less. And can spend more time on their own.

This means more shopping time for mom.

Last Saturday was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. It was akin to a great glass of wine.

I think I bought two pairs of shoes, including a pair of Merrells, a couple of pairs of pants, two sweaters and a shirt for under $200.

Under $200!!!

I love the sound of ka-ching – when it goes back in my pocket.

I think it’s why I like shopping at Safeway. I love seeing the numbers add up to a total price, then I punch in my telephone number and – like instant karma, instant savings. Last time I saved $19.86, plus I had a holiday $10 off coupon. That meant I saved $29.86!

It was joyous.

Of course, I have no idea how much the prices are normally inflated – but still!

The truth is, while I’m back to my bargaining ways, this being the Christmas season, there is still so much more money to be spent.

And sales to take advantage of. With some of the fifty-percent off, plus store-wide, take an extra eight-percent off sales, stores are practically giving us money back.

During the holidays it just feels more acceptable to spend with a sort of abandon. Add a glass of wine to your power shopping and you add another element – euphoria.

It's the holiday season. The one time of the year when one can shop now, get an amazing sale, and worry about bills  later.

By Dawn Yun

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Tree Shopping Should be Taken VERY Seriously

When it comes to the holidays, I tend to suffer from a kind of temporary split personality disorder.

There is the rational, sane part of me that knows that holidays are really about enjoying time with family and who cares if your cards don’t get mailed ‘till after the New Year and if those pine tree and candy cane shaped cookie cutters you bought with the intention of baking only wind up in your daughter’s Play-Doh bucket.

Then there is the other side that goes a bit mental even though she should know better -- the side that gets brainwashed by all the perfect holiday tableaux in the Pottery Barn Kids catalogs, and who secretly sneaks a peek inside Martha Stewart Living in the grocery line and comes away convinced that she should be carving out some time to make heartfelt homemade presents like mason jar snow globes or tea cup votive candles. . .

I had designated Saturday as our “find a tree” day and was kind of bummed out when my husband suggested that we go to Home Depot.

“Home Depot??”

I’d had visions of a cute photo of our little one cavorting in a twinkling Christmas tree lot that we could use for our holiday card this year and somehow the big box hardware store didn’t strike me as the kind of place that would have the right ambiance.

“Shan, those other places are such a rip-off,” my husband insisted. He’d had his heart set on Home Depot ever since our next-door neighbor told him that you could get a tree for $30 bucks. I reluctantly acquiesced, and as we pulled into the parking lot it began to rain. The ambiance was as I expected -- a bunch of tied up trees were piled on top of each other in a fenced in area of the parking lot, lying on their sides on the wet asphalt.

So much for getting that holiday photo, I thought. My daughter, Emi, on the other hand, seemed to have an entirely different opinion of the place. We’d just last week bought her a pair of rubber rain boots and this was her first foray into the wonderful world of puddles. Watching her jump and twirl and giggle, I pulled out the camera. As my husband waited in line with what turned out to be a near perfect seven-foot Noble Fir -- only thirty bucks! -- Emi and I ran around the adjacent plant nursery. I got a great shot of her leaping into a puddle in front a cascade of red and white flowers.

Next weekend, instead of baking cookies, maybe we will be making some cool Play-Doh candy canes and Christmas trees.

By Shannon Matus-Takaoka

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Monday, December 08, 2008


Acting Silly is a Perk of Parenting

Gawd, parenting is fun sometimes.

My son tells me he does not like school. Since for ninety-five percent of children under the age of twelve, recess is the only good thing about education, I urge him to consider the merits of the playground at school.

“Is there a slide outside at your school?”


“Is there a sandbox?”


“A tricycle?”




Then a typical conversation between my ten-year old daughter and me:

“I have a bodyguard at school.”



I snicker, imagining the negotiation on the schoolyard. I ask, “What makes you need a bodyguard? What sort of important person are you?”

“Uh, I am special.”

“Unspecified special?”

“Yep, unspecified special.”


The little one is cranky. He does not want to walk through the grass to the car. He does not want a snack. He only wants to be held. My lower back has become sore by holding this thirty-five pound lamb chop, so I am not willing to carry him the distance to the car.

I pretend I have received a call on the cell phone. “Luis,” I say, “it’s the elephant on the playground. She wants to talk to you.”

He reaches for the phone. Just as I begin to worry that he will quickly bore of listening to a silent cell phone, my daughter offers to call him and pretend she’s the elephant.

Ten minutes later, he’s lifting his leg into the car, while carrying on an intense conversation with Miss Elephant.

By Vicki Inglis

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Sunday, December 07, 2008


Will the Bubble Soon Burst?

I stagger out of the movie theater with the newfound certainty that my life is pointless.

Why write blogs about my kids’ aggravating but endearing traits when African children are being snatched from their mothers’ arms and forced to commit unimaginable atrocities just to stay alive?

It seems indecent to obsess about SAT scores or worry about underage drinking in light of such horrors.

Yet, I and everyone else I know persist in the delusion of how stressful our pampered lives are.
We have no idea what goes on in the rest of the world.

Nor do we want to.

I wish I could channel my shock and grief into the righteous indignation of action. Petitions, rallies, boycotts, bake sales -- anything to stave off paralysis and guilt.

In my tireless fight for justice, I could inspire my daughters to trade People magazine for a life dedicated to helping real people.

I could instill in them fervor to save the world rather than regret being born into it.

Instead, I just want to retreat.

I want the bubble to descend over the soft green hills of Marin, over our soft neuroses about trivial injuries, over the easy lives of my precious girls.

Maybe then I’ll feel safe from the wolf at the door.

By Lorrie Goldin

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Saturday, December 06, 2008


Are We Teaching Our Children or Are They Teaching Us?

“Can we go to Baskin-Robbins?” This is by now the all-too familiar rallying cry of the afternoon pick-up. Neither rain, snow, sleet, nor hail can keep my two children from their appointed rounds.

Baskin-Robbins it is.

“The usual?” Ben (we’re on a first name basis) inquires, his smile as bright as the fluorescent lights.

“You know us so well,” I reply, returning the grin, and handing the goodies to my children. Music crescendos, zoom to happy faces. A Norman Rockwell moment.

And, then, my daughter speaks: “Mom, I don’t think I should eat this. It might make me fat.”

My stomach drops, the blood rushes to my head. Are we here already? She’s 9-years old and weighs less than my right thigh, for God’s sake. And so it goes.

Pardon the pun, but children today are fed -- both directly and indirectly -- a steady diet of information that they are frankly just not prepared to process. Yes, they are well traveled, well spoken, well behaved. . . but at what price?

In encouraging “adult” behavior (whatever that means) aren’t we in fact denying our children the right to be kids? Isn’t it supposed to be a natural progression, learning how to be “big?”

Almost every single thing a child does these days is observed and evaluated by the very people they are most eager to please: us. Playdates, sporting events, recitals, religious ceremonies. . . everything is played out under the watchful eye of ol’ Mom and Dad. . . and then, of course, videotaped so that each detail can be deconstructed at will.

Adding insult to injury is the adult obsession with staying youthful. Perfection has become the standard. In essence, the message is that both fifty and fifteen are the new thirty.

How can we teach them to respect their elders when we clearly don’t respect ourselves? Where is the grace in collagen-inflated lips?

The dignity in a canvas-tight face?

We can turn off the TV and the stereo; put away the newspapers and magazines; disconnect the wireless but still. . . a child’s kryptonite-proof superpower of quiet observation will confound us all.

Clearly, this is overly simplistic and naïve, but perhaps by being honest with our children and exhibiting the behavior that we are so quick to demand, they might have a fighting chance of making it through the years ahead without drugs or tattoos or branding or whatever the outré statement of the moment may be.

“Excuse me, Ben, would you please throw in a pralines and cream ice cream cone for me?”

I’m nothing if not a role model.

By Leissa Jackmauh

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Friday, December 05, 2008


Can't They Sleep Just a Little Bit Longer?

A lot of things in my life are riding on naps these days ― writing time just being one item on a long list that includes eating, showering, paying bills, returning phone calls, catching up on stuff that I didn’t finish at work, and organizing the morass that is my office.

When she is awake, my two-year old daughter, Emi, is like a jackrabbit on speed, which makes it next to impossible to get much done beyond folding half a load of laundry (this accomplishment is often canceled out by my failure to move whatever I’ve managed to fold out of reach) and maybe grocery shopping, if the list is short and the shopping cart strap heavy duty enough to keep a twenty-three pound Houdini safely in her seat.

The fact that this two-hour oasis of free* time has become so essential to my sense of having even the slightest bit of control over my life has made her recent nap strike all the more horrifying.

Last Sunday, after setting her loose in the park all morning with my friend’s two active young boys, I was certain that I could look forward to a nice, quiet afternoon while Emi rested and rejuvenated.

Instead, she spent 45 minutes using her crib mattress as a trampoline and then took off her diaper and peed on the sheets. I came in to find her completely naked, holding a sodden Pull-Up in her hands while commenting,” Holy crap, this is wet!”

So much for that shower.

After this scenario was repeated several times in the ensuing days, I called my mom for help. Which really wasn’t very helpful. She tells me, “Well, you stopped napping before you were 2.” I don’t know whether to believe this or not because, according to her, I was also fully potty trained and probably reading by this age as well.

“Maybe you should put her to bed later.” 

Is she high? 

Emi’s current bedtime already only gives my husband and me just about two hours to make dinner, clean up, watch The Daily Show, and fall asleep on the couch.

Have I become too dependent on naps? Yes, I have. What will I do without them? All I can say is, thank God for Sesame Street.

*i.e., time where you can’t actually leave the house, but can do laundry, pick up toys and clean moldy items out of the refrigerator without being interrupted.

By Shannon Matus-Takaoka

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Thursday, December 04, 2008


Just Who is Nursing Who?

The first time I held a baby to my breast to nurse, I felt a wet tugging at my nipple. My body was exhausted from the labor, but when collostrum flowed out into his ready little mouth, I sat there amazed.

Perhaps because I’d just endured a day and a half of labor, and perhaps because I was still reeling with thoughts of I have a baby boy—sweet mother of God! I have a baby boy! I looked down on his pink face too stunned to cry.

Looking down into his moist eyes as they took all of this new world in -- the lights, the shapes, the sounds no longer filtered through what I imagined to be the red canopy of his life for nine and a half months.

I cradled his hot body against mine, and skin-to-skin, thought nothing could be as simultaneously bizarre and natural as this.

When I nursed my babies during their first year, although it often occurred as a responsibility -- something to do in the middle of errands, dinner, phone calls -- I have to admit it was also a break. In fact, if I could arrange it, I usually took my baby, first, my boy, and a year later, my newborn girl, to my room, shut the door, dimmed the lights, and leaned back, cradling them against my bare skin.

Sometimes their hands were chilly, gripping my warm skin a few inches below my armpits, sending tingles into that hollow area; sometimes their nails were too long, scratching the ridged texture of my hardened areola; sometimes their hands were searching, finding my necklace, my chin, my lips, and resting on my cheek; but mostly I heard their sighs and their gulps and closed my eyes with the strange realization that I wasn’t exactly sure just who was nursing who.

By Anjie Reynolds

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008


When You Wish A Mullet was a Fish and Not a Hairstyle

I had spent a good part of my day doing the thing I enjoy least – cleaning. This meant I was not spending time with my daughter.

She noticed.

“Mommy come see what I drew.’

“In a minute,” I said repeatedly.

Mimi came into my bedroom. I heard her words before I saw what she had done.

“Do you like it?”

I don’t think I’ve screamed that much since, well, I was giving birth to her. Mimi had cut her hair so the sides were now above her ears, while the back remained well past her shoulders.

She started crying, we hugged and I told her we would make her hair work.

I sat Mimi on the toilet and stared. Mothers routinely pull out miracles, but I was thinking salons are closed, it’s late Sunday and she has school early in the morning.

How does one correct an unintentional mullet haircut?

I had to think. Bangs or no bangs? I didn’t know. Then I noticed something. There was a long strand of hair that she had somehow missed in front. Hmm. And Mimi has those Angelina Jolie-esque pouty lips.

I thought, if I cut her back hair short, so it curled, and with some gel, maybe? perhaps? something stylish could emerge???

I cut the back as straight as I could. Then I tried to angle her already too-short sides and gave the front a side part. That long strand framed her face, revealing it in a way that her formerly long hair had not.

To my complete surprise, it worked! She looked kinda Asiany-French.

After the incident had passed, I asked Mimi why she had cut her hair. My five-year old said to get attention. She used those words.

It was an extreme act. And she won’t do it again. But I must admit that I do admire that at such a young age she does know how to get her needs met. By being able to do that now, she will save a fortune in therapy later.

And I did stop my cleaning. Which made her very happy – and me, too.

By Dawn Yun

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Mama's Got Her Music -- and Groove Going On

I’ve just discovered iTunes.

I’ve also rediscovered the joy of closing my bedroom door and listening to music. Actually, not just listening to music, but singing and dancing around my room to music. I’m temporarily a teenager or a college student again. I’m oblivious to the cares of the world, enveloped in a lovely world of my own making.

As I play various songs, songs that I used to love or that have struck me over the years at one time or another, I open up a lost part of myself. Each part plays to the theme or the mood of the song; I reinvent myself approximately every three minutes when a new song begins. I am bursting with energy -- energy I forgot was within me, and my bedroom becomes a spot of heaven.

It truly does.

The Pretenders are playing, and I’m wearing cowboy boots, driving a rusty pick up truck with a roaring engine through the towns of Ohio. I’m an independent woman; I’ve seen a few things. I don’t take shit from anyone. I drink beer when I feel like it and I live my life as I chose to.

Joni Mitchell is playing now. I change into a long skirt and sit on my bed with poetry books strewn about. I indulge in my moodiness. I reflect on the men in my life, on the meaning of relationships. I am creative and inspired, and know that life is waiting for me to write, to be open, to let my emotions run.

Abba comes on (I know. . . but I secretly love Abba). I am transformed again. I am blissfully clad in a tight jumpsuit and gold platform shoes. I turn up the drama. I spin around, sashay across the floor to catch the waiting eye of my lover (some of this is just in my head, of course).

Do I dare open my bedroom door again to greet my children who have just awoken from their naps, to reenter the world of my daily existence? I do, because I am still glowing from the musical world I just left, knowing it will always be there, and that it in fact never left.

By Lisa Nave

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Monday, December 01, 2008


A Foreign Visitor Teaches Us About the Language of Families

When we got a puppy a few years ago, my friend, Mary, scolded me.

“Just what you need. Another thing to take care of,” she said shaking her head.

Mary had heard too many complaints about my frantic life as a busy mother – caring for two active boys, keeping house, maintaining a job outside the home, volunteering for various charities.

She was right, of course. As soon as the puppy passed through the doorway it was as if another toddler had been set loose and my workload increased exponentially.

So what was I thinking a few months back when I agreed to allow a Japanese foreign exchange student to live with us? I wasn’t thinking is the short answer.

I hadn’t considered that I’d be traveling back and forth to three schools instead of two. I wasn’t thinking the teenage girl would need shoes, underwear, a coat, and gloves, and that I’d have to guide her through the mystifying process of shopping in an American mall as she hunted for a dress for her first formal dance.

I was unprepared for the challenge her spotty English and my non-existent Japanese posed forcing us to struggle through conversations until I understood that she suffered period cramps and needed a couple of ibuprofen.

I was unprepared for dealing with the sorrows of another mother’s child, yet, when homesickness drew tears -- I instinctively pulled her toward me and held her until the weeping subsided.

I was even more surprised by the extent to which cultural barriers prevented us from understanding even the most simple of requests. She had been living with us for more than a month before we understood why she declined our offers for a ride to the mall or to the movies.

It wasn’t until a neighbor with family in Japan told us that eagerness was considered impolite there and our student had probably been trained to decline three times before accepting. I shook my head in sorrow at all the times we left her behind while we shopped.

After five months, Emi will soon be leaving us. She’ll be spending the second half of her ten-month American visit with another Sacramento family. As she prepares to go, I remind myself that my life will get easier. But that reminder doesn’t begin to fill the empty place I know will be there when she goes.

All I really think about is how much I’m going to miss her – her accented English, her laughter at our attempts to run a rice cooker, even her tears.

I can’t stop her from leaving. She doesn’t belong to me. Yet, I can take from her time with us the lesson that sometimes the hardest additions to life end up being the most rewarding.

I do, after all, love that damn dog.

By Laura-Lynne Powell

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