Ignoring the News to Stay Sane

In the months after I had my first child, I was plagued by a variety of gruesome visions. I’d be walking down the stairs, holding my son in a blanket, and picture myself falling and smashing our heads into the wall at the bottom. I’d be driving to Target with him in the backseat and picture a head-on collision at 50mph. I’d see him wide-eyed underwater in the bathtub, struggling to breathe.

mother-watching-daughterI thought I was going crazy. I thought I had become some morbid, fearful person due to lack of sleep. Then I talked to another new mom.

“I do that all the time, too!” she said. We were both relieved. And we came up with a perfectly logical reason for envisioning the horrific deaths of our children on a daily basis:

We were practicing being good moms.

It makes sense. Our brains were warning us of all the dangers that could happen, so we would protect our children. So we would walk down stairs carefully, so we would drive more defensively, so we wouldn’t run to answer the phone with our children in the bathtub. We were good moms.

Fast forward seven years and my visions have become less frequent, but they still occur. Only now I also see a depressed young man walking into my son’s school and shooting the children as they eat lunch. I see sections of sports stadiums blowing up and cars driving through storefront windows into groups of people. Things like that. Things out of my control.

A while ago, my dad said to me, while arguing that too many of my generation are helicopter parents, “You’re all walking around scared. It’s like you’re shell-shocked.” And it hit me—we are. We are shell-shocked. And maybe we aren’t on the front lines, and maybe it’s disrespectful to suggest we suffer the same as the men and women who are. But we parents have suffered from the slow, insidious, creeping terror of the last two decades.


Meet My Mom (AKA: Me)

The other night, I sat watching the Olympics. My legs rested on the coffee table with a blanket draped over them, my arms half crossed and my chin resting in one palm, my hand holding a wadded-up tissue.

Kind of like this, except without the computer:

My son, a budding photographer, took this photo

My son, a budding photographer, took this photo

I turned to my husband to say something and then looked back at the TV. Suddenly, a flash of memory, of hundreds of memories, appeared so clearly in my mind that it was almost like I was inside it: growing up, I had seen my mother make that same gesture–that blanket-draped, chin-cupped, tissue-wadded, TV-viewing gesture–dozens of times.

It’s common to have those moments when you think, “I sound just like my mom.” I’ve had plenty already. But this was the first time I felt like my mom, like I inhabited her body–the her I knew as a child.

I was already sensitive to the I’m-my-mom feeling because of the wadded-tissue thing. I don’t really remember a time my mom wasn’t plagued by allergies, by the need to exit a conversation posthaste to run for a Kleenex. She’s always had a tissue stuffed in her coat pocket. When we go on walks, if it’s too warm for a coat, she stuffs one up her sleeve. She sleeps with one under her pillow.

I never had allergies, so I never had to deal with the suffering of feeling like a little guy with a feather was up inside one nostril, tickling away.

Until recently. Now–you guessed it–I sleep with a tissue under my pillow. I always have Kleenex in my purse or coat pocket. I keep them in the car and various cabinets. I now spend the first fifteen minutes of every day sneezing in the kitchen.

Also, I now say things my mom always said, things like:

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

“Jesus H. Christ.” (A more formal version of the name, for business cards.)

“For Cripes Sake.” (Not sure of the spelling, since I’m not sure what this is.)

“In or out.” (said sternly on summer days when the children exit and enter the house several times per second)

“I can’t keep my eyes open. What time is it? 9:30? Sigh.”

“But you like [insert food]. Just eat it.”

So the other night on the couch was really just the culmination of what I already knew: in many ways, I’m my mom.

How about you? When did you know you were your mother?

Do You Drive Your Kids to School?

The other day I sat chatting with my mom at her kitchen table, in the house I grew up in. The house is half a block from the elementary school, in the middle of a neighborhood with no busy streets. My mom was lamenting the fact that she sees so many neighbors driving their children to school.

I admit, I was also a bit floored. This seemed to me, even though I’m aware that fewer and fewer children walk to school anymore, beyond the pale. Lest I sound like my father, who insists he walked several miles to school in northern Minnesota even in winter…well, I’m going to go ahead and sound like him: I walked or rode my bike everywhere as a child, especially if it was under a mile. I remember as a teenager asking my dad for a ride to work at the local drugstore a mile away one early Sunday morning in January, when it was 15 or 20 degrees. His answer? “Put on a hat.”

It was never a question that I would walk to school. The few times I remember my mom driving me, it was pouring rain. I’m glad they raised me that way. I think it built independence, confidence, and self-reliance. Not to mention the benefit to my physical health, my mental health (the minutes my mind was allowed to wander as I walked and watched the world around me were precious), and the environment.

But if you’ve read much of this blog, you know I value difficult conversations and different points of view. I love gray areas. My friend, Heather, helped me see the gray in this.

A few days after the conversation with my mom, I said to Heather: “Can you believe they drive their children half a block to school?” I mean, obviously everyone saw the issue as I did.

But she said, “Well, yeah. I would.”  Oh.

She amended that to say while she might not drive them half a block every day, she would at least walk them: “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I consider it my job to get them to school. I like that the last thing they see as they enter school is my smiling face, and the last thing they hear are words of encouragement from me.”

And as a former school social worker, she feels a lot of bullying takes place on the journey to school, whether walking or taking the bus. And, she admitted, she was concerned about strangers.

These are worthwhile reasons. I’d still let my children walk by themselves if I lived that close to school, but I like that she put me in my place a bit, and that the issue is more complex than it seemed to me at first. I’d never thought of the positive aspects.

I’d love to know what you think. Would you/do you/did you take your children to school? Why?



BOOK REVIEWERS: An advance copy of my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is now on NetGalley. Click HERE to request an e-book.

How I Know I Love My Children Unconditionally

Before children, I merely loved. It was a selfish love. When my husband reached a hand across the table to snag something off my plate, I slapped it.

I know I love my children unconditionally. For instance, when I’ve just sat down at the kitchen table with a warm breakfast and my daughter crawls onto my lap and starts shoving it into her mouth, I don’t toss her across the room. I let her have some.

When I eat a cookie, I munch around the center until only the soft middle is left, the part I used to save for last and eat with relish, and then I hand it over to my son, who loves it, too.

When I recently came upon my daughter standing in a puddle—yes, a puddle—of diarrhea on the bathroom floor, my thought was, “You poor, sweet, lovely thing.” I would never have thought that about my husband.

When my son asks to play make-believe with his Angry Bird stuffed animals for the eight-thousandth time, I nod over my horror, grab the red bird, and pretend to launch it at a pig.

When my daughter shovels snow off of the lawn and onto the driveway, I smile.

When my children wake me up three times a night, and then enter our bedroom for good at 6am, I say, “Good morning” and pull them up to cuddle. This has been my hardest struggle. Since having children, I’ve learned that I am no good without adequate sleep. I’m touchy and angry. I have to swallow my urge to snap, and then on top of it, I have to smile. I am mostly successful at this.

Looking back over six years of being a mom, I think parenting is hard not because of dirty diapers, missed naps, or whining. Those are the details. What’s hard, for me anyway, is the fundamental transformation I’ve had to make. Henry and Clara have forced me to face my faults, to figure out what I don’t want them to emulate, and to change. Their well-being is important to me. And so I share. I compromise. I slough off the hard edges and I give them the soft center.








The other day at the beach, I lay on a chair in the sand, my skin hot in the sun. My five-year-old son walked out of the water and up to me and, dripping wet, sat on my lap. He lay along me, toes to ankles, head to shoulder. I loved it. And I thought, “There will be a day soon, maybe in three weeks, maybe in three years, when he will no longer do this. And then from that day on he won’t ever do it again.”

My friend, Melanie, (whom you’ve already met) is moving away this week, from the Chicago area to Portland, Oregon. I met Melanie when our sons were just weeks old, sitting on the floor of a community room in a weekly meeting for new mothers. We happened to place our baby blankets on the floor near each other, our sons lying on their backs, their eyes darting to the lights on the ceiling, to the people around us. We were part of a circle of other new mothers, all of us bleary-eyed and happy to be surrounded by those who knew exactly how we felt and why.

Melanie and her son, 2007

Melanie and her son, 2007

I can still picture the moment she first walked into the room—a smile on her face like she already knew everyone in there. That’s how easy it is to become friends with Melanie. She and I and several other new mothers formed friendships that continued outside of the community room meetings–friendships that became about more than just 3AM feedings.

Melanie has a laugh that’ll startle you. (It’s more of a shriek, really, accompanied by several loud hand claps.) Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I love being in public with her; when she laughs, I don’t look at her, I look at the unsuspecting person a few feet away from her who inevitably jumps.

She is hardworking, independent, blunt, flustered, earnest, intelligent, and supportive. She gives hugs. She makes herself at home. She is career-driven and a family woman, protective, a mama bear. She, her husband, and her children disappear most weekends—that is their time. I’m not sure I’ve spent more than three weekend nights with her in six years.

Our sons' first spring, 2008

Our sons’ first spring, 2008

She knows who she is and what she wants most of the time. When she doesn’t, she talks it out until she does. She told me once that sometimes she needed to sit on the front steps and read a book before she entered the house after work. I remember being impressed that she had figured out such a small yet significant detail about herself, and it inspired me to regard myself in the same manner.

Her move is another reminder that a moment has passed. The days of new motherhood, of uncertainly slipping tiny socks onto tiny feet, of crying, exhausted, in a dark nursery in the middle of the night, of falling asleep midday on the couch with a soft pink wrinkled baby cradled in my elbow, are gone. They slipped past as quickly as the future day when my son will no longer sit on my lap.

He goes off to kindergarten next month. And Melanie is off to Portland.

Things change. I hope to continue to get better at letting them.