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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


The Quintessential Existential Mom

"You loved me more when I was a baby," said my seven-year-old son Walker as we looked at our family album.

I nuzzled his hair, and said, "I adore you more every day. I loved how cozy you were then, but now you’re able to talk.  You can read to me, and I don't have to change your diapers."

Walker seemed satisfied with my incomplete answer. I turned off his bedroom light and went back to the photos. There he was, newborn, in a penguin pantsuit with matching cap. His skin looked red and blotchy, and his eyes were shut. At six months, he was still bald, but smiling, like a wise Buddha.  At two, he had long wisps of yellow hair and clutched a Thomas the Train.

Now, Walker's head is covered in blond curls, and his two front teeth are missing. He looks like a vampire cherub.

I love all the Walkers. To me, he is an ever-transforming miracle. 

I will always remember all that Walker was. I know that's how many parents get through their children's adolescences. When their teenager has baggy pants hanging off his butt, body odor and a nipple ring, they remember a four-year-old who loved dinosaurs. When fifteen-year-old Walker is embarrassed to have me pick him up at school, I'll remember when he asked me to marry him.

I change, too.

The last time my parents visited, my mother stared at the age furrow on my forehead. It must feel odd to have one's children begin to look old.

I believe in an afterlife, but I wonder how it works. Do we get to pick our age?  

I would prefer the body I had at eighteen, and the mind I had at forty. I want Walker to be a little boy, but I doubt he'd make the same choice.  

Whatever ages we chose, I think we would eventually get bored.  

Human life is spent in motion, and I don't think I could adjust to being static. We exist as trajectory lines, not points, and I suspect that in heaven, we will get to evolve, too.  

By Beth Touchette

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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Everything Has its Place

My stomach was reeling from a mixture of too much Chardonnay and too much pumpkin pie, when I realized there’s no room in my living room for a Christmas tree.

I had to have a tree, my mother was coming for the holiday and she was bringing presents. A tree was the necessary showcase for her beautifully wrapped gifts. And what of my daughter? Miranda couldn’t be the only one in her public school with no tree.

I slowly spun around the room looking for what furniture we might tuck into the garage until the relatives leave. There’s a couch, a chair, a coffee table, a bookshelf, all necessary for social and familial functions.

Then my eyes landed on my daughter’s worktable. It had started innocently enough, with a plastic container full of paper and a bucket of Crayola crayons. Now the worktable has taken over about a third of the living room. Plain paper, stickers, beads, Pokemon cards, glue sticks, paint brushes, glitter pens, small and large markers have spilled off the table and made incursions under the table.

As I gazed at the mess in my living room, I pondered joining a religion that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. My first choice was Buddhism, but I’m lousy at meditation. My second was Hinduism, but it’s hard enough for me to remember my daughter’s and husband’s names much less a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.

So I decided on buying the biggest storage bins I could find. I know I could just throw stuff out, but that would require negotiating with my daughter. I tried that once, asking if we could throw some stuff out. My daughter, who is 5, looked up at me with clear blue eyes, her hands on her hips, and said in an offended tone, “I love everything I make.”

That’s how I found myself in Target on the weekend after Thanksgiving looking at storage bins. I found three that stack and will fit in my garage. So, tonight, after my daughter has gone to bed, I will strategically cull the worktable leaving enough mess so she won’t notice what’s gone. I know someday I’ll have to toss stuff and risk her displeasure. But that’s not until I run out of room in the garage.

I hope she’s off to college by then.

By Georgie Craig

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Friday, May 29, 2009


A Thing of Beauty

Slipping into my warm morning bed, Aubrey wraps herself in the afghan her great-grandmother made and sucks her thumb.

Once settled, she studies my face.

After awhile, she reaches for the bridge of my nose and points: “You have a dot here; it’s brown.” Moving her finger lower, next to my nose, she says, “And a dot here above your lips; that one’s almost the same color as your skin.”

She studies me the way lovers study each other, the way I study her father, tracing the details of his skin -- the marks along the cheekbone, the spine, the shoulder blade, the ankle, forming the Big Dipper that wraps his body.

Aubrey looks at me with such love and familiarity that I recall studying my own mother’s face closely when I was 4. I had pointed to the brown dot in the middle of each of her cheeks -- the perfect symmetry of her marks.

“What are those?” I’d asked.

“They’re moles or freckles," she said. "Some people call them beauty marks.”

I looked hard for a moment and decided, “I’ll call them beauty marks,” caressing her face, drinking her in.

Later, on pink construction paper for her Mother’s Day card, I would draw her dark curly hair, her square jaw, her brown eyes. Her features were stark contrasts to my own straight blonde hair, my oval face, my hazel eyes, but when I drew the sure brown dot on each cheek, with those distinguishing marks, she was, unmistakably, my mother.

Now I look into Aubrey’s face and memorize her little marks: below her eye, next to her nose, above her lip, across her face on the other side of her chin. I think: Little Dipper.

And Dane, my boy, who, at 5, tells me his “mole marks” are actually made by raccoons, I memorize his, too: at the outer tip of an eyebrow, next to his nose -- on the opposite side of his sister’s -- on his cheek, and then up and across his face at the corner of his eye. I think: Orion.

My own little constellations.

At my yearly physical, the doctor checks my skin, the marks on my body. She looks for the mark that might not belong, because our moles grow in families, she says. Wherever there’s one of a certain kind (in color or shape or size) there’ll be another healthy one somewhere.

That’s how we know what belongs.

I think of my mother, my husband, my children. I line up our faces side by side in my mind. I think of these families of moles, passed down or claimed among generations, our raccoon marks to memorize and recall, our own little constellations hailing from the same sky.

By Anjie Reynolds

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Thursday, May 28, 2009


Throw Stuff Out and Feel Great!

It seems that the moment I attempt to throw something away in an attempt to de-clutter my house of past prime toys, I find myself unable to actually do it.

I stand poised over the garbage can and I hesitate. I find myself scared to follow through.

I am plagued by questions such as: Is this really garbage? Can’t I find another use for it? Maybe if I find 25 more just like it I can bring it to my son’s pre-school for an art project!

What if I actually do throw this away and regret it? I have been known to finally purge pieces of a long-forgotten toy only to find the remaining parts the next day.

There have been occasions that I have gathered debris from every corner of my home and filled a bag with every intention of tossing it. As I got sidetracked on my way to the garbage, my sons discovered the bag of “treasures” with glee.

The bag of trash then became the most fun thing they had to play with.

Perhaps I should put their brand new and already forgotten holiday loot in a bag by the curb.

By Cathy Burke

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


When a Mother Runs, Perspective Comes

The morning is cool and cloudy, ideal for running. Getting in a run is usually a highlight of my day. I pop on my iPod, crank up the volume and try to keep pace with the up-temp
beat of rock or old school disco. But not even a head-banging dose of mullet rock, courtesy of Judas Priest, can get my motor running today.

I’ve just come from dropping my daughter off at school where her teacher cornered me by the storage cubbies. The look on her face said she didn’t want to have a friendly chat about how nicely my daughter shares or how great her art work is.

As she launched into a description of Phoebe’s out-of-control behavior on picture day earlier that week, I felt sick to my stomach. My daughter brought the already challenging task of trying to get more than 50 pre-schoolers to sit still for a group photo to a grinding halt, she informed me. Refusing to cooperate, Phoebe whirled across the playground like a tiny tornado leaving chaos in her wake.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this kind of story about her. Throughout her pre-school career, Phoebe’s teachers have sent notes or talked to me about her sometimes disruptive antics during circle time or other inappropriate conduct.

But a long complaint-free spell had lulled me into the comfortable delusion that everything was okay. Of course my sweet, bright little girl doesn’t have ADHD or some other behavior disorder, I’d told myself. She was just going through a phase.

Now I wasn’t so sure.

When I get to the Mill Valley bike path, I’m fighting back tears. I don’t want to run—I want to go home and crawl into bed. But I force myself to plant one foot in front of the other. Shuffling like an old lady, I make my way toward Sausalito.

I never find that effortless groove I crave. But I finish my run. And as I look up at Mt. Tam in the distance, I know that whatever my daughter’s problem is, we’ll deal with it. The journey might not be easy, but I will go the distance for her—one step at a time.

By Dorothy O’Donnell

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Which is Scarier? Movies or Real Life?

“Guys, Mom is going to the movies.”

“With scary parts, like monsters?”

“No, a chick movie.”

“What’s a chick movie?”

“It’s where ladies talk a lot about their feelings and everybody else does, and nobody hits anybody, and they kiss boys a lot and sometimes cry.”

“Ew. . . why would anybody watch that?”

“I like movies where there are scary parts and chases, but then sometimes, like tonight, I like to see ladies having lots of big feelings and kissing cute boys and probably crying, too.”

Heavy, serious sigh. “OK. But I want to see the movies where there are scary parts and I won’t even be scared because I’m brave.”

“You know, being brave sometimes is having big feelings and kissing boys. Getting married and having babies is really brave.”

“But now you have no scary parts because I’m here and I will kiss you and you don’t need to be scared.”

God bless the child.

By Avvy Mar

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Monday, May 25, 2009


Not The Kind of Big Ticket Items You Want to Buy During the Holidays

Before you know it the holidays will be here. That doesn't mean buying toys for our kids. This tells us it's nearly time to buy new appliances for our house. They love to stop working at just about the same time that the holidays are breaking our bank accounts. 

Instead of Toys R Us I'm scurrying to Best Buy or Sears to replace some expensive but can’t-live-without-it item, like the dishwasher that just fell apart all over my kitchen floor.

Last year, it was the central heat and air conditioning unit that whirred and buzzed for a few days before shutting down altogether right before Christmas. Temperatures in Sacramento where I live were dipping into the 30s and 40s at night and my kids complained they could see their breath. A contractor spent two days on the roof fiddling with the unit before he could determine how to fix it, which he managed to do the day before my mother arrived from Connecticut and I hosted 13 people for dinner.

The worst example is from our first Thanksgiving in Sacramento. That’s when we were hosting my husband’s family for dinner and our one and only toilet backed up so badly a hole was blown in the pipe that led to the city’s sewer line in the street. The pressure had built up so much that when the pipe burst it sent the, uh, debris that had been flushed down our toilet high into the air creating a geyser of, uh, stuff in my front yard. My husband and I watched in horror from our living room window. Finally, he turned to me and said, “We could laugh about this or we could cry about this.”

We laughed until tears poured down our faces.

Determined to break this expensive albeit memorable tradition, I tried over the last several weeks to ignore the dishwasher’s decline. First, the front cover broke off, revealing a wall of tubes and wires. Then the control panel worked itself loose and dangled precariously above the floor remaining connected only by a slim handful of wires. A friend who visited recently gawked, “What is wrong with your kitchen?” When my husband insisted I face the undeniable fact that this holiday season would not be the one to end the cycle of poorly-timed appliance breakdown, I resisted. The dishwasher still worked, I reminded him, and suggested he duct tape both panels back onto the front of the dishwasher.

The dishwasher has since stopped working. I’ve been scrubbing dishes by hand for a week and somehow have avoided admitting to my husband that I was wrong. Nonetheless he wisely disappeared for a few hours over the weekend and returned with an early Christmas present.

The new dishwasher will be delivered tomorrow.

By Laura-Lynne Powell

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Sunday, May 24, 2009


Depressed But Hopeful

I am scrolling through my mental Rolodex.

Can't call her, I say to myself, she's got troubles of her own. Can't call her, she's worn out with my story. Can't call her, she's as lost as I am.

Alright then, I get to pace around here, hoping the confusion in my head and my frayed nerves will let up.

Depression has been a part of my life since girlhood. It only became clinical after my first child 10 years ago. I got professional help and, to my utter surprise and delight, completely recovered. After many years, my husband and I found a rhythm.

Then we decided to have one more child before I got too old. Our boy is almost two, healthy, gentle, a real love. I did not suffer postpartum depression again right after he was born.

But, folks, it's back.

Not as extreme as before. The onset of this one coincides with my husband's bike crash and subsequent wrist surgery and five month disability leave. We are at each other and both of us are exhausted.

The old demons in the closet have taken the opportunity to come out for a few more bouts. With any luck, he and I can put away some of those demons (his, mine, and ours) for good.

I am not sure how it works for him, why he sticks around. But I know why I grind through each day, sit through another therapy session, walk up steep hills to raise my serotonin levels, and listen attentively to anyone who seems to possess a speck of wisdom.

It's those two beautiful children who occupy this space in time with me. I know they need me. They desperately love me, as I did my parents. If I can just hang in there, things will get better, and we will have some real fun together.

By Vicki Inglis

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Saturday, May 23, 2009


I Should Have Started Her on Thai Food When She Was Two

The 7:30 a.m. dilemma.

What to pack for my daughter’s lunch?

Mimi’s dining palette is limited. There are about five things in the universe that she will actually eat. Costco dinosaur nuggets are at the top.

She can have them every meal, every day, but I worry she’ll get bored or teased by her schoolmates.

A bean and cheese burrito is a possibility. But last week only a bit of burrito was left in its foil; then earlier this week I found an entire burrito un-foiled in her lunchbox.

Another choice is cold pizza, but really it isn’t – because we don’t have any.

Perhaps Ramen noodles? I know scraping the bottom here, but I also have a 13-year old and this is his FAVORITE food in the world, and so Mimi loves it. But there’s not even a piece of chicken floating in it. It’s hard for me to give her a main meal that lacks a remnant of protein.

Perhaps a cheese sandwich? Sometimes she’ll eat the cheese, sometimes not, but NEVER the bread. Yet, I feel compelled to sandwich the dairy between two slices.

Then there are the snacks.

A GoGurt in Strawberry Splash or Blueberry Blast, some fruit, usually apples thinly sliced. If they’re thick, they’re left uneaten.

And sometimes Trader Joe’s animal crackers. But I have to be careful. If she sees those first, she won’t eat anything else.

There are just too many cuisine options. Breastfeeding was so much easier. All the food you needed for your child was contained in your body. You didn’t have to choose flavors or textures or even colors.

I settle, as usual, on the dinosaur nuggets and stack six atop each other.

I take solace that they’re in a bright purple and yellow container with a matching lid. If nothing else -- it’s a stylish presentation.

When I unpack her Hello Kitty! lunchbox in the evening, I’ll discover if I’ve made a good food choice.

But for now there is no decision. As the clock moves toward 7:45 -- I have to wake her.

By Dawn Yun

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Friday, May 22, 2009


A Mother's Rights

For three years I’ve been petitioning the Department of Homeland Security for the return of my daughter Olivia’s sealed adoption file. First, with forms to Immigration in Los Angeles, then with letters to Immigration in San Francisco, and finally, with appeals to the behemoth keeper-of-all-records in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Access to that file is my right as a United States citizen, guaranteed under the Freedom of Information Act. Which doesn’t mean they make it easy.

Parents like us who adopt children from Guatemala are handed a sealed envelope at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and instructed to surrender it sealed and intact at the first point of entry, which for us was L.A. The temptation is to steam the envelope open and make copies of everything in it: original photographs, birth certificates, foster care facts, birth mother information. But who would dare take that risk? It took almost two years to get our daughter home, and that only happened after I moved there for six months and learned enough Spanish to plead our case myself.

January 5, 2004, the day we touched ground with Olivia in our arms, was the day I started the paperwork to retrieve the file. My next-to-last communication with Homeland Security was dated January 9, 2007. The case had gone on for so long they wanted to know if we were still interested. Yes, I responded via fax, certified-mail, and telephone message left in the director’s office. Still emphatically interested.

Tuesday night I didn’t get out to the mailbox until 10 p.m. The children were finally asleep, and my husband was dozing over the newspaper at the kitchen table. I thought the file when it came would be another envelope. But with technology, everything’s on CD.

I ran downstairs and turned on my computer without even pausing to wake up my husband. They say knowledge is power, but right now it feels like a gift.

By Jessica O’Dwyer

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Thursday, May 21, 2009


I Don't Want Apologies; I Need Understanding

“You owe her a string of apologies,” says the therapist, after listening to my husband in a private session. At least, this is where one fantasy took me this morning.

Our debts are climbing, my husband is sleeping at his friend’s house, the Genie has broken on the garage door, and our son scratched the front of the dishwasher with a pair of scissors.

The signs indicate there is trouble.

Surely, any impartial observer would find fault with my husband attending a bachelor party at a strip joint, and going incognito for four days. Why then do I not change the locks on the doors, and tell him that if he likes his friend so much, he can stay there?

Women out there, you are not going to like this, but I am dependent on him now. I have a 2-year old and and a 10-year old to look after. I promise to write more on this soon, but suffice it to say that I am not ashamed of being financially dependent right now.

The single strongest driving force in resisting divorce is the well being of my kids. There is no affair involved, or addiction, or substantial abuse going on, (although the last two have minor parts in this drama). Therefore, I hang in there.

Frankly, I am amazed at how much pain I will tolerate in order to preserve the chance of a united home.

I am not a wallflower. I don’t just sit back and take his tirades like a whipped dog. I defend myself. I withdraw from conversations that have gone into attack mode. I am getting help and I have gone back to a 12-Step program, both of which help bolster me.

Most likely I will never receive a string of apologies. All I really care about is much greater understanding and cooperation between us. That's what I want my kids to grow up with.

By Vicki Inglis

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Mom is a Coffee Junkie, Her Son Is Addicted to Dinosaurs

Dane, my 5-year-old, is sitting on the couch watching Prehistoric Planet, his favorite DVD about dinosaurs.

Leiopleurodon—an ancient whale-like sea creature whose jagged-tooth jaws have been likened to a giant car-crusher—has eaten, well, a dolphin thing.

Dane’s cozy under his afghan, but his hands are cold. He woke up too early so I sit and watch the video with him. I hold a homemade hot latte in my hands. It feels so good I think Dane will like holding it too.

He holds it and looks so comforted I tell him he can have a sip. He raises an eyebrow and cocks his head at me.

“Go ahead,” I coax with a nod.

He brings the cup to his lips, tips his head back a little and drinks a sip in. He slowly brings it back down to his lap, looks over at me, and smiles the smile of a conspirator. I return a knowing smile.

“Good stuff, huh?” I say.

I feel like a junkie who’s just scored a kid his first hit.

Since he’s able to recall every arcane detail about the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, I’m tempted to tell him that these are Blue Bottle beans, voted by some to be the finest coffee beans roasted in San Francisco and home brewed on our Rancilio espresso machine.

Instead, I let him hold my warm cup as Leiopleurodon makes his way further into the deep.

By Anjie Reynolds

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Mommy - It's Time to Do Something for YOU

Motherhood is not a glamorous job and all too often lacks the recognition and respect it deserves.

Luckily, my mother rarely concerned herself with what others thought of her, but she did get tired. And she did wish she had some time to herself, maybe even time for a self-indulgent manicure.

When it got really bad, she would exclaim, “I’ve had it up to here” pointing almost to the top of her forehead. We never thought she would point to the very top of her head, although I believe it did happen once when she spontaneously left for a weekend in Aspen by herself.

My father had to come home from work early, and we were all a little concerned about her. Apparently she went for bike rides and enjoyed the outdoors, probably ordered room service or dined at an expensive restaurant without children fighting or dishes to do.

‘She’s finally gone crazy,’ we thought. But now as a mother I think -- good for her! It was about the sanest thing she could have done.

I have taken my mother’s advice and have made arrangements so that one day a week, I have a day off. Usually I fill it with chores that I did not have time to do during the week. I can hear my mother on the phone, asking me what I’m doing on my day off and when I give her the list of errands, her silence speaks disapproval.

“Maybe you could get your nails done, or do something for yourself,” she says. ‘If I have time,’ I think.

Whenever I make a trip to visit my parents, my mother always gives me her nail appointment and offers to baby-sit my daughter, Samantha. I tell her I like to get my nails done by her manicurist because she gives the best pedicures, but we both know it isn’t about my nails.

By Rebecca Elegant

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Monday, May 18, 2009


This Mother Has Our Vote

Ours is a household of political junkies, so when my daughter turned 18, I wrapped her birthday presents in voter registration forms.

Now eligible to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes, join the Army, and vote (but not drink), she sat down with me at the dining room table piled high with Voter Guides, newspaper clippings, endorsements, and a small forest’s worth of glossy political ads.

Too bad about the drinking age thing, because we both could have used a good stiff one to get through the mountains of spinformation in front of us.

The lesson commenced. “It’s pretty impossible to be well informed about all the issues and candidates,” I instructed. “So one strategy is to follow the recommendations of people you trust. Or compare all the editorial endorsements of various newspapers and average them out.

“Then there are plenty of well-intended but poorly drafted initiatives. You have to decide what message you want to send or whether to vote purely on the merits. It’s perfectly reasonable to vote your ideals, but it’s also a good strategy to vote pragmatically.”

“This is really depressing,” sighed my daughter, staring at hundreds of blank bubbles on her absentee ballot.

Now my daughter has registered in another state where she goes to college, outside our sphere of influence. She is swamped with schoolwork and never has time even to glance at headlines.

I wonder how she’ll vote.

I wonder if she’ll vote.

By Lorrie Goldin

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Sunday, May 17, 2009


The Third Grade Fashion Police

“Today Phoebe asked me why I wear dresses all the time,” said my eight-year old daughter, Lena, one day after school.

In denial that girlie peer pressure, which I remembered from middle school, was starting in the third grade, I gave Lena’s classmate the benefit of the doubt.

“You know, Lena, sometimes kids have trouble making conversation.  Perhaps Phoebe just wants to talk with you, and discussing clothes is a way to start.  May be she likes dresses, too. ”

Lena gave me a puzzled look.  “Last week, when I wore my satin skirt, Phoebe asked if I was going to the prom,” said Lena. “Phoebe hates dresses.” 

Come to think of it, during the two years that Lena and Phoebe were in the same class, I had only seen her wearing jeans and thin, pastel T-shirts.  It didn’t matter if it was too cold for a T-shirt or too hot for jeans; Phoebe’s outfit was the same.   Phoebe’s  T-shirts either had botanically incorrect flowers, Hannah  Montana, or “edgy” slogans like “Boys Drool and Girls Rule. ” Most of the girls at Lena’s elementary school dressed in the same can’t-wait-to-be-a teenager outfit.

“Well, why do you care what Phoebe thinks?” I said, which is probably the most naïve thing a parent can say to a child.”

A couple days later, Lena wore a black skirt, bright green T-shirt, black leggings, and a black small sweater.  I thought the strong colors made her look particularly beautiful. She was upset when I picked her up. 

“Mom, today Phoebe, Michaela, Niki, and Camaron all asked me together why I was dressed all in black, like a witch.”

I patted Lena’s head until she felt better.  As we drove home, my eleven-year old son, Walker, who is soon to be in middle school said, “You know Mom, may be Lena needs to start dressing like the other girls.”

I couldn’t help clicking with disgust.  “Why does she need to follow everybody else?”

“So she can be popular, and fit in,” said Walker

“Aren’t the popular people the ones who think for themselves?”  I said.   I let my kids put in a CD, so I could have the last word. 

The next day, I picked up Elena after going to the gym.  I wore a T-shirt that shrank too much in the wash.  As I sat on the bench while I waited for Elena to load her backpack, I noticed Michaela staring at the bit of my stomach that my T-shirt revealed.  Michaela then looked at her mother, and rolled her eyes. Michaela’s mother rolled her eyes back at Michaela.  I turned crimson and frantically yanked by shirt so it would stretch into my shorts.  I was still shaken as Lena, Walker and I walked back to the car. 

I hoped Lena hadn’t seen anything, but she had noticed the eye roll, and worst of all, my embarrassment. All she said was, “Aren’t Michaela and her mom mean?”

I agreed, and finally understood what Lena had to face every day. 

By Beth Touchette


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Saturday, May 16, 2009


No Time to Write When You Are a Procrastinator

dsIt’s time to write.  To schedule interviews.  To work on my book proposal.  

The kids are in preschool, though I’ll be picking them up early since Lucas is getting over a cold.  Still, I have very two fruitful hours left to work. I check my e-mail. Nothing urgent. No excuse to linger. However, I must check Facebook and become a fan of Seventh Generation and Oprah.  I read others’ status updates.  Then I update my own account about how my son convinced me to buy fluorescent blue-colored Peeps. But even Facebook, which can usually suck hours out of a day, takes just a few minutes.  I call my husband.  I’d spoken with his mom the day before, and I’d forgotten to tell him that they can’t see the Disneyland pictures on their digital picture frame, oh and that LegoLand in Denmark is open every day of the week in May when we’ll be visiting. My husband, ever the efficient engineer who rarely procrastinates, is in serious work mode, so he only utters, “OK.” The entire conversation takes less than a minute.  

This is not going well. 

None of my normally reliable stalling techniques are working today. Damn it! Now I have plenty of time to be the real-life productive writer that I'm forever complaining I never have the time to be. 

I could write a blog!

But where? 

Twitter? Facebook? MySpace? The Writing Mamas? My mothers' club newsletter? 

It's not easy being a mother today, let alone one who writes.

By Kristy Lund

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Friday, May 15, 2009


Seeking Shelter from the Storm

It's raining. Oh shit, it’s raining.

The kids painted croquet set is outside. I should go get it, but it’s dark and I'm tired and don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to do what I should. I feel the panic of one moment at Emily's birthday party today when we sang “Happy Birthday.”

I was fine during the party until we sang and blew out candles. Just for a moment, my voice cracked and I looked at her. She was smiling, unsure of what we were doing looking at the little bits of fire. My body felt like it was melting into the floor, that pit of terror peeking open, remembering how close we were to not having this happen.

And a rush of wanting to hide filled me like stepping on glass. I didn't want to turn and see all those kind people who love us and held us together when she was fighting for her life. I wanted to get away from the permanence of her heart condition. I wanted to be alone and scream. This wanting to hide from a painful truth is a silent part of most days. We moms are good at getting support, letting friends hold us, dealing by bonding.

But I have a darker side in it, too. A childish, rageful side of deep loneliness where I stand on a different side of the river from my friends with healthy kids.

It’s a room without a door in and very little light, no perspective or even compassion. Some of me is unhealed, tied to old places of mute aloneness and uncertain of the value of really agreeing to love another person.

In the black chill of this rainy night, after a raucous, bright party full of delightful people, I choose not to go rescue kids toys from the storm, not to seek comfort for myself, not to talk to my sweet, sweet husband.

I am not the grown up who needs to be here to raise my child in the uncertainty in which we'll reside. I'm not that kind of mother. Is this one of the secret truths of motherhood? Even what we can't do, we do anyway. My heart lives outside of me, tied to little beings who can't promise they will live to adulthood. And I have to stay, dragging the ugly parts of myself along.

By Avvy Mar

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Thursday, May 14, 2009


High Expectation May Be Too High

Last Thursday I went to hear Madeline Levine talk about her new book called The Price of Privilege. She writes about an epidemic of depression, anxiety and substance abuse in children in middle to upper class areas, such as Marin.

Since my daughter is only two, I do not have experience raising an adolescent in Marin, but I do have a great deal of experience teaching adolescents.

Looking back on my high school teaching career, a major cause of this burgeoning epidemic is clear: the emphasis on performance rests at the heart of the problem.

With this emphasis on performance, let’s skip right to graduation and forget the process it took everyone, students and teachers alike, to get there.

First of all, the school where I taught in Marin publishes for all to see the colleges and universities the graduating students will attend. While it may be interesting to see all of the different places the students will go, I think this publication sends the wrong message: where you go to college is more important than anything you did to get there, and is the most important aspect of who you are.

Nothing else is published about the students, not a special quote cherished by the student, not the community service the student performed, not any aspect of the student’s personality.

That Timmy is going to Stanford is all we get about him. Teachers are also victims of a performance-based culture at graduation. Students pick a few teachers to walk with them. The rest don’t even have a seat at graduation, let alone a part in the ceremony.

I remember my first graduation experience in Marin, leaning against a tree near the back, barely able to hear what was being said. Even as a confident adult who knew deep down that I was a good teacher and that I should be proud that I put my heart and soul into my job, I felt this overwhelming sense of failure because I was not chosen to walk with them.

This is in stark contrast to a school where I taught in Colorado where even though four-thousand students attended, every single faculty member walked proudly in robes with the students, and we were even reserved front row seating, so that we could see and hear the students we worked so hard to get to this point.

Now if I was feeling this crushed, I can only imagine how insecure adolescents who are struggling to find themselves must feel in a performance heavy culture.

This is not to say that we should protect our kids from all disappointments. They need failures to grow and learn from, but they also need to know that their worth and identity are not dependant on grade point average, college acceptances, and varsity sports teams.

Now I sit here, not as a teacher but as a mother who knows how easy it is to get caught in the tangles of a cultural phenomenon that has the potential to squander creativity, individuality and self worth.

How can I impart to my daughter that achievement is good if coupled with intrinsic motivation? How can I show her that working to our full potential gives us a sense of pride, but that our foibles and eccentricities are what make us human, and therefore able to love and be loved? I do not yet know the answers to my questions and that frightens me a bit. For now, hugs and kisses seem to solve most problems in my two- year old’s life.

By Rebecca Elegant

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Teens Can Accept Green Instead of Greenbacks

A teachable moment arrived recently in the form of an e-mail from the graduation committee of my daughter’s high school. It was a plea for extra donations to keep Safe and Sober Grad Night afloat. The Senior Class ritual is jeopardized because families and community businesses who usually fund the celebration are themselves struggling to stay afloat.

Safe and Sober Grad Night is a wonderful tradition for many Marin high schools. Seniors pile into buses shortly after tossing their mortarboards, and head for an all-night, chaperoned, substance-free party.  No one is excluded. There are no intoxicated senior drivers, no fancy clothes, no panic attacks or tears about who has a date and what to wear. It’s a bunch of kids, many of whom have known each other since kindergarten, celebrating all they have meant to one another before they set off for broader and divergent horizons.

I am glad to write a check to support Safe and Sober Grad night, but can’t we do more? What if we embrace the economic meltdown as an opportunity to scale back on excess and teach our kids the true value of community?

Marin, with its ostentatious consumption and intense pressure to keep up appearances, has always been a tough county. Rich and poor families both contend with the twin epidemics of affluenza and entitlement that commonly infect Marin kids. The financially stressed face even more urgent hardships.

These struggling families are not new, they’ve just been hidden. Long before Wall Street went belly up, there have been kids in Marin who skip prom because they don’t want to burden their parents. Countless parents have lost sleep trying to conjure up enough cash so their kids can keep up in the social competition. The widespread pain from the current economic crisis makes it easier to shed light on a problem that’s been here in the shadows all along.

Happily, there are signs of progress. Teens Turning Green, an organization founded by Marin students, is expanding its original emphasis on cosmetic safety to promote ecologically and economically friendly prom-going. Now that the focus on green includes the shrinking abundance of greenbacks, there’s an even greater opportunity for finding the silver lining in this perfect storm.

Of course, it’s fun to dress up and show off from time to time-- one needn’t be a killjoy. But imagine if everybody downsized in the status competition and contributed the savings to Safe and Sober Grad Night--especially the kids who don’t need to for their wallets, but may need to for their souls.

What if winter formals in far-flung San Francisco morph into winter square dances in the school gym? What if proms no longer feature pricey chocolate fondue fountains that ruin the girls’ finery? What if stretch limos and exorbitant ticket prices become as uncool as tobacco?

Imagine nobody losing sleep about affording either prom or graduation! As Teens Turning Green suggests, kids can lend and borrow clothes. They can do each others’ hair, toes, and make-up. They can drive the family car and donate what they would have spent on a stretch limo and all the accessories to Safe and Sober Grad Night.  Kids can even hold a car wash to get those prom wheels gleaming while raising money for the common good. Parents can do more than write a check—they can encourage their kids to give up excessive spending and instead give of themselves.

Teaching our graduates the value of community and living within their means—now wouldn’t that be a terrific send-off?

By Lorrie Goldin

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Childhood Fears Attack Our Adult DNA

As my father was packing up his car when he left the family, his parting wisdom was this;

“Never become financially dependent on a man. Jus look what it did to your mother."

My mother was residing at the time in a locked ward on seventy-two-hour hold for suicidal threats.

His words still haunt me today, forty years old and financially dependent, with two kids under five.

Today, my husband winced at the pile of Costco party supplies I just came home with.

"We already had plastic cups."

"They’re giant and red,” I say. “They’re too big for punch.”

He looks at me, I look at the floor. We both sigh, all contained hostility.

"We're not making enough to match what we spend... atf all now," he tells me.

I am ashamed and angry. I turned down a job working in the county jail because I realized I just couldn't work there once I felt the despair pour into me while walking among the locked units. Somewhere, after having kids, my past armor has disappeared. But we are both angry at me for not taking that job, despite our verbal assurances to each other that it was the right decision.

We need money, and my private practice is not bringing in enough yet. Financial dependence and wanting my kids to have their mom and a great preschool is right, in my mind. My gut differs. We're going broke and I am panicked and embarrassed. I want to see it differently, that I should be supported for being available to my baby while she is small, but I harbor backlash beliefs that I should be bringing in the money that will take the stone partly off my husband's back and give me the self-esteem that seems to have escaped along with my six-pack abs and taut skin.

I remember my father's words and how I lived by them, aggressively independent and hard-working.

Terrified, really.

There is something to grow up here with, another perfect lesson in losing my position of invulnerability thanks to choosing children. This tight-fisted nausea itself is where I need to stay for today, and hope for a little faith to open.

By Avvy Mar

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Monday, May 11, 2009


A Man Will Always Be Your Son

"Your turn to tell the story, Mom.”

"No, it's your turn,” I replied, and so he began.

No connected thoughts. Lots of giggles and silliness in his 4-year old delight until he settled into his pillow.

It is easy to tell a story when the listener believes in you and hangs on every word. The plot thickens or wanes as his breathing softens or excels as your story is interrupted with listener input.

I remember one story that began with giggles and joy and ended with tears of release and hopefulness. I could tell you that story now, but more than the story what I remember from that nighttime reverie of Mom and child is a special lasting reward and joy.

That night my son looked up at me and asked, "Mom, what is the biggest number of all?"

I answered, "Nathaniel, there is none because numbers go on and on to infinity."

I know he understood for his immediate response was, "Then I love you until it never comes to an end and infinity and more.”

That was 30 years ago but never forgotten for though he is now a young father with a child of his own, when we correspond we always sign with our secret code:


By Ruth Scott

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Sunday, May 10, 2009


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Anniversaries usually represent happy times. But the latest anniversary in my life was not a celebration. It was a remembrance of my mother’s passing.

I had sought a sign from her last year. Something that indicated to me that she was somehow still around.

It was night and nothing.

I was putting my then 4-year old daughter to bed when she suddenly turned, stared at the ceiling and said, “Whose face is that?”

I didn’t see anything, except maybe lint.

“I don’t know, Mimi, whose face is it?”

“Grandma Rae,” she said. Rae is my mother.

I smiled. I had my sign.

This year I was so busy that though I was aware of the date and sad, I didn’t really think about receiving a sign.

I had a meeting that day with my daughter’s teachers to discuss her progress and to ask for advice on how to get her to do her homework.

Since she loves art, they suggested that she draw a picture and then write a sentence describing it.

In the evening Mimi drew a picture. It was a unicorn with a rainbow below it.

“We need to write a sentence and sound it out,” I explained.

“The unicorn flies over the rainbow,” she said.

My mother’s favorite song was Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

I smiled. I had my sign.

Though my mother and daughter have never met, I somehow get the feeling that somewhere, some place, they have.

By Dawn Yun

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Saturday, May 09, 2009


From One Generation to the Next and the Next

My father-in-law will move from a skilled nursing facility to an assisted living apartment this week.

My husband and I are a bit frantic about figuring out what furniture and belongings from his large three-bedroom home will fit best in the new, tiny apartment, and about getting his nicotine stained and smelly condominium ready to rent out.

And we try not to panic over where the money to pay for all of this will come from.

My 10-year old son, Nick, spent Sunday afternoon with us at Grandpa’s home, helping us sort through a lifetime of possessions. Nick found treasures – a digital camera, an electronic keyboard, a bag of rolled pennies too heavy to carry, a telescope, and a tape recorder.

He hauled trash with us to the dumpster, hiking up and down the stairs about 40 times. He saw tears roll down both his parents’ faces when we stumbled into the past. Photo albums, of course. But how to explain my tears when I found the Neiman Marcus box with the chiffon head scarves of the grandmother who was dead before Nick was born?

Much went unsaid.

The thought crossed my mind many times that Nick might be doing this for us one day. I didn’t voice the thought. Too much of a burden for a 10-year old. But I hope the day stands out in his mind. I hope Nick takes in what good care his father is giving to his grandfather. That is a lesson to be learned.

We take care of each other. Always, forever, no matter what.

By Marianne Lonsdale

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Friday, May 08, 2009


A Special Bicycle

Someone stole my boy’s bike.

Fortunately, a friend has loaned us one until we buy another, but that bike! I bought it when Dane was 2 – the future rider he’d become, just a pedaling speck in my mind.

That bike inspired a 5-year-old’s self-reliance that would’ve made Emerson proud.

All summer long, we rode, first in circles around the playground; then, into Sausalito or along the Bay Trail between Marin City and Mill Valley.

We put in about 15 miles a week on that bike –– Dane zigzagging along the Bay Trail and me easing my own bike behind him, his 4-year-old sister attached to me on her trail-a-bike.

At first, Dane’s zigzags made my hair stand on end as serious cyclists zoomed by. Eventually, though, he learned to use the right side of the trail, and I watched him more calmly from behind.

Soon he was off-road, standing up to test his tires in the mud, raising a daring hand to point out the great white heron or snowy egret at water’s edge.

Come August, he even advanced to the hilly 5-mile perimeter of Angel Island, working in 100-degree weather with the determination of a yellow jersey rider on the Tour de France.

Now we ride to school. Not many students do this regularly, so, when he pulls his helmet off, his hair sweaty and sticking up, his fellow kindergarteners are incredulous, “You rode again, Dane?” And he smiles shyly with a proud sense of himself.

But riding isn’t about attention; Dane loves what riding feels like. When his sister says, “Let’s go feel the wind on our arms,” we all know what she means.

Let’s just get out and move ourselves along. Let’s pick warm blackberries in September and brush rain off our faces in January. Let’s pedal up steep hills, gasping for air, or speed through puddles, soaking our socks. Let’s have an adventure.

That’s what that bike represented: a boy gaining a sense of himself and a sense of adventure, powered by his own two legs.

I knew that bike wouldn’t last forever, and that Dane would eventually need a bigger one, and that someday he’d ride without me. But that bike marked the beginning of a way of life that extends beyond cars and exhaust, into adventure and self-reliance, and it served as the vehicle for me to witness it.

Boy, I’ll miss that bike.

But, Bike, thanks for that boy.

By Anjie Reynolds

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Thursday, May 07, 2009


What Happened to Her?

When I went to Yahoo!’s home page a few weeks ago, something startled me. It was a picture of astronaut Lisa Nowak next to a bizarre headline about her attempting to kidnap the rival for her love.

I almost jumped out of my chair. I know Lisa! I went to high school with her in Rockville, Maryland. We ran on the track team together. I remember her as smart, ambitious, and very competitive. In her senior year, Lisa won the prestigious student-athlete award and told us that all she wanted to do was fly.

Her dreams came true this past summer when she flew on the space shuttle. I watched her on TV and cheered her on. I hadn’t been in contact with her since high school, but I was proud of her. Look at what she’s accomplished! Particularly as a woman, and especially as a mom!
I could only imagine how incredibly hard it must have been for her to win that principal dream. So it was with utter shock that I followed the news of her drive across half the country to confront/attack someone in the manner that she did (in wig and trench coat, wearing diapers for the long drive, with pepper spray at the ready).

I thought, how could she have thrown away all that she worked so hard for with this one foolish act? How could she have allowed her emotions to overwhelm her reason?

Many theories were bandied about. None of us can say for sure what happened, but personally, I think she cracked, under tremendous pressure. And I’m deeply sad for her.
Being a modern day mom is a tough job. Just being responsible for other human beings is pressure. Raising them, more stress. Maintaining stability and love in your family, additional worries. Working full-time while meeting hundreds of obligations, incredible anxiety. Having a high-visibility career in a traditionally male industry, explosive demands.

Sometimes we moms are so busy we forget: We need to give ourselves breaks, take care of ourselves and each other. Release the pressure. Because we know what’s most important in the end, and it’s not having the moon and the stars, per se. It’s being able to share them with those we love.

By Cindy Bailey

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Listen to a Child?

Children ask very complicated questions, expecting an easy answer from that great source of all information, the one who “knows it all,” Mom.

Flattering as this may be, I’ve come up against some whopper questions in my rearing of five children. Most of the time I end up being the learner and they my teachers.

Some attempts at answering a 4-year old inquiry stand out in my memory. One occurred the day Alison, then four, watched the space shuttle. As the men walked in space she asked, “Mom, what is space?” I spent time and thought and many words showing her space and telling her what space was, such as the space in a glass, the space in the drawer, the space between where she stood, and where I stood.

Perplexed and dissatisfied, she left the room, only to return five minutes later radiant and beaming. “Mom, I know what you mean,” she exclaimed. “Space is where you don’t bump into anything!”

Now why hadn’t I thought of that?

Then there was the time when Heidi, about the same age, crawled out of the bathtub and perfectly defined “nudity,” by declaring, “Mom, I’m barefoot all over.”

And so it began, when questions and definitions got too difficult for me to explain in the vocabulary and reasoning of an adult, I could listen carefully to how they were thinking and lead them through their own words to their own truthful understanding.

Often, while learning new facts, they introduced me to things I had overlooked. This was true the day I was wandering around the yard with my own children and a neighbor’s little boy. We were hunting and collecting insects and grubs for a game I had created to teach about the environment, “Nature’s Treasure Chest,” when Gavin asked me, “Is a honey bee the only insect that makes food for people?”

I paused, I knew of insect that was eaten in different cultures, insects that produced silk and other product, but I concluded that the honey bee, indeed, was the one insect that produced a product that could be harvested for human consumption.

It was my daughter, Ann, who first showed me that the sow bug, and the pill bug carried eggs on their ventral side and that these little creatures were not insects but relatives of the crab and lobster.

Listen and you hear logical names created by children. My son was the first person I heard call a “butterfly” a “flutter by.” It seemed a better name to me, and since then I have heard others use this term.

I remember going on a hike with him and there was a dandelion seed along the trail. . . We had often picked them and made a wish as we blew the seeds to the wind. He looked at the dandelion seed and said to me, “Mom, I see a wish growing.” I was charmed and learned to listen better and I began to write the enchantment down and keep a list that I could recite to his adult ears.

It’s special to both of us, and I think he thinks I’m special for remembering and sharing.

By Ruth W. Scott

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Mornings are a Mother's Time

I pop out of bed at 5:45 am and push the alarm button to off.

I pad down the hall and get the coffee started, careful not to wake my husband or son. My workout clothes, laid out the night before, await me on the sofa. I dress, walk up the driveway to pick up the newspaper. The moon still shines and the air is crisp and cold.

Twenty-five minutes for sipping coffee and reading the paper before I head to my 6:30 a.m. exercise class. An hour of hard sweating. Back home for a quick shower, an even quicker bowl of cereal and I’m out the door by 8 a.m.

Three more stops before I get to work – gas station, ATM and dry cleaners. I slide into my desk chair a few minutes before 9 a.m.

I’ve already had a full morning. This amazes me. In the years before motherhood, I never in my wildest dreams thought I could accomplish anything in the morning. I was lucky to get showered, dressed and out the door. Even coffee and breakfast was at my desk.

Now morning is MY TIME.

I relish my early hours. My time to myself to exercise, to squeeze in a few errands. To do it all early so I have more time with my husband and son later in the day when they need and want me.

By Marianne Lonsdale

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Monday, May 04, 2009


When Should You Send Your Child to Kindergarten?

I am sending my younger son off to kindergarten in the fall. Depending on the time of day, I believe it is the best idea I ever had or just one more way I'm screwing him up.

I am afraid if I send him before he is “ready,” I risk launching a tragic school career. It will be fraught with failures and missed opportunities sprinkled with serious judgement errors. 

Everything will be traced back to kindergarten. 

“If only I had one more year to work on my social skills,” he’ll say, as he cries from the window he has shot out as a teenage serial shooter. “It only I had learned my ABCs.”

Of course, the truth is -- I feel guilty for actually thinking about my needs first when considering when to send him. My son, Paul, has a late birthday, missing the cut off by one week, which was just as well because he was not ready.

But with Eric, it is up to me. His birthday is August 1st. This will put him pretty much in the middle. He will not be the youngest and he will not be the smallest. He turns five-years old, four months before the cut-off date, so he is officially old enough. 

Is he “prepared” enough?

Socially, he is up for anything. Whatever he sees, he wants to try. He is always determined to succeed. He gets frustrated easily but this involves him clenching his jaw and his fists and stating loudly: “I am so frustrated!”

Paul’s reaction to just about everything has always been tears and hysteria. But Paul was writing his name by four-years old. When I ask Eric to spell, he smiles and says “S!” He is obsessed with Scotch Tape and opens Zip-Lock Bags by ripping a whole in the bottom.

He takes his pants off in order to pee. No matter what the weather, he will be wearing shorts (“little pants”), a T-shirt with a dinosaur on it, and bare feet. Oh, and no underwear. I finally figured out the shoes and underwear slow him down when he takes his pants off to go.

And so he is registered. 

He is excited about the prospect: announcing daily that when he is “bigger” he will go to Paul’s school. Every day I am encouraged by his positive attitude and determination. While Paul always needed to be “first,” Eric prefers a challenge. I am confident he will rise to the test and have a great year at kindergarten.

I look forward to to athose extra “child free” hours, too.

By Cathy Burke

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Sunday, May 03, 2009


Girlfriend, It's Time to Move On

The baby and toddler years will always be amongst my most memorable memories. It wasn’t easy finding a group of women who felt the same exact way I did about mommying.

We shared insecurities, secrets, tips, and truly gave each other what was left of us that we didn’t give to our children.

Then -- something changed.

Maybe when my youngest went to kindergarten. When I began to work again. When I got diagnosed with an unexpected illness.

Suddenly, I could see clearly what I could not observe, or did not want to notice:true friendship.

And one person, who I thought was the most giving of people, upon closer inspection, really was not. Oh, there was the giving. Groceries in particular. She always came laden with them. And liked to give me gifts that I neither needed, sought nor could use.

What she had trouble giving -- was herself. I noticed when I talked, she rarely listened. I babysat for her child way out of proportion to her watching mine. Then there were the unkind words that sometimes found their way out of her mouth. They were always so shocking that I pretended they were unsaid.

One day, after a particularly virulent spiel -- I could no longer ignore my internal voice. It yelled: MOVE ON!

The problem: her daughter and my daughter are great friends and I don’t want that ruined. We also run in similar circles.

This is where being a mother and the wisdom I’ve hopefully gained must come into play. This is not about me. This is not about her. This is about our children.

Still, there is sadness for what once and for what will no longer be.

I’ve always tried to create family from friends. My best friend at 11 is still my best friend today. I laugh as hard now with my college friends as I did with them back when we were in our 20s (a-hem, that being just a year or two ago).

I’ve been fortunate to have lived around the country and have friends in each place where I have resided. And I have incredible mommy friends who will be my sister-friends forever.

I am happy that by putting an end to something that once was beautiful but is now toxic, I am taking care of myself and I will be watchful for my daughter.

I will also be something else – mature, graceful and kind. The qualities I want my children to have.

There is legacy and lesson in that.

By Dawn Yun

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Saturday, May 02, 2009


Sing It, Pre-School Sister

My daughter has started singing with vibrato. She’s four. So, it’s not a quick and snappy “Mary had a little lamb,” it’s slow and pensive: “Ma-a-ary ha-a-a-ad uh-uh-uh li-i-i-it-uh-uh-uhl la-a-a-amb”

It’s pre-schooler sings the blues.

I’m not sure where she picked this up, but I will say it seemed to start after a two-week visit from her Grammy, who, if I may be so bold, utilizes a wee bit of the vibrato herself.

But, then again, maybe she picked it up from me. While I try to stay away from excesses of vocal warble, perhaps my voice occasionally makes those dips and dives, too.

I’ll admit that sometimes in the dark when I sit on the floor of my kids’ bedroom and sing up to them in their lofts, I let my voice take off. I belt out the lyrics to their (my) favorite song, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.”

In some parts, I sing fast and raspy, going somewhere edgy and rebellious. In other parts, I let my voice go slow and bluesy, somewhere unchecked and from the heart. And, so far, since they don’t ask what it means to work in a “topless bar” or why you’d light “a burner on the stove to offer me a pipe,” sometimes I let myself feel the poetry and music so deeply I could cry.

So when I hear, “You are my sunshine” coming from my daughter’s mouth like she’s channeling Ethel Merman, I admire the risks she’s taking with her sounds -- and, maybe, even her feelings.

I try to catch her eye with a nod and a smile as if to say to my girl, “That’s right -- sing it, sister.”

By Anjie Reynolds

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Friday, May 01, 2009


What Are We Fighting For?

My seven-years old son asked me recently, “Mom, is war ever good?” We were driving in beautiful Marin, past the emerald green hills and the sparkling blue water of San Francisco Bay.

I paused, and my thoughts raced through my head, searching for just the right words and just the right message. I thought of all the articles and books I ever read as a teacher and as a mother on explaining complicated issues to young children. My brain quickly turned up the information it retained on the warfare philosophy and latest war-related news, complete with visual images seen on TV and computer screens, as well as latest war casualties’ statistics. What could I answer to a seven-year old?

Suddenly, I recalled the familiar voice of my mother telling me stories of her growing up in Russia during and after WWII. It was her voice that made my throat tighten, my heart beating rapidly, my mind still desperately searching for words. I sensed that my answer was not instantly coming, and I said, “Let me think about it, okay?”

A few months ago, when Alex’s questions were getting increasingly complicated, I often found myself short of factual knowledge. Exactly how many miles are there from our planet to the moon? What does an artificial heart look like? For cases like these, I explained to Alex’s dismay that “sometimes Mom does not know everything, and she needs more time to look it up and think about it.”

Soon Alex grew to like that answer, because it often meant that we’d look stuff up together online or in the library. I also learned that it meant that I will definitely be reminded to account for my “thinking time.” As I invoked my “let me think about it” answer deferment, I knew that a few hours later I will be asked that very same question again.

My mother’s voice came to me from my childhood, when my bedtime stories were not about Goldilocks or dinosaurs, like the ones my son hears from me these days. They were my mother’s childhood memories, told in a quiet half-whisper in the darkness of my room in our apartment in the center of Moscow.

She told me of being called the “German bastard” by other children, because her birthday fell on the first day of war for Russia. She also told me about her family living in the church basement for several cold winter months, while their village in the outskirts of Moscow was bombed flat. Speaking slowly and calmly, she’d tell me, “Everyone bombed us, both our planes and the Germans. Bombs and bullets are too stupid to know who to kill and who to spare, they do not pick sides. Everyone who was out of the basement was dead.”

My mom also told me that the reason we didn’t have any family jewelry was because my grandmother exchanged all of her gold rings and earrings for two loafs of crudely baked brown bread to feed her five children, including my then four-year old mom. Even with that, her two seven-years old siblings died of starvation, their emaciated bodies forever etched in my mother’s memories. They were my uncle and aunt I never got to meet.

She told me about my grandfather coming back from war triumphant, angry, addicted to alcohol, and missing a leg. My mother’s stories left me sleeping fitfully, dreaming of black smoke of my mother’s burning village, of planes dropping bombs on women and children, and of the scarred stump of my grandpa’s leg.

Growing up during the Cold War, I was plagued with the anxiety of a seemingly imminent war threat from the United States. After learning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in school, I grilled my much older brother with questions: “What exactly happens when a nuclear bomb explodes? Why do Americans want to start a nuclear war with us? How long will it take me to die if the bomb hits my school?”

An aspiring young scientist, he was all too happy to provide me with gruesome details. For my third grade art contest, I drew a picture of a big, black bomb with two thick red lines crossing it off and a white dove with an olive branch flying in the background. I did not win any prize.

As I got older, things gradually changed. The Cold War ended when I was a teenager, and America became our far away capitalist model to emulate. I moved to California to go to college, and my son was born here, in a comfortable hospital room overlooking the mountains of Marin County. In the beauty of emerald green hills and in our peaceful if hectic everyday life, my mother’s bedtime stories, my nightmares and my brother’s graphic modern warfare explanations began to slowly fade away. Only occasional glimpses of TV news about the war in Iraq kept them from completely disappearing from the back of my mind. My son’s question brought it all flooding back.

Sometimes, your mind does strange things, and it does not recall memories in the exact way it recorded them. A mother now, I suddenly see my son in the black smoke of a burning village. I see him in the dying, starving child in the basement and in burned bodies of nuclear bomb survivors. I imagine his face in place of a uniformed picture of a fallen American soldier in Iraq.

Is war ever good? It was such a short question. I could have given him a long, complicated, well-researched answer complete with statistics and examples. As a teacher, I could have possibly found the way to word it in a child-appropriate way. Instead, when we got home that day and he surely remembered to ask me again, I quietly sat him on my lap, hugged him tight, and simply said, “No.”

By Svetlana Nikitina

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