This Just In: Michelle Obama accused of Original Sin!


Yesterday, as I attempted to prep and dress five kids for a park trip, I was confronted by what I wrongly interpereted as a chicken-or-the-egg type question:

Mag: “How was the first person born?”

Mommy: “You mean the first person ever?”

Mag: (with trepidation) “Ye-es…”

Mommy: “Well, there are a couple of different theories about that,”

(Insert frantic pause as Mommy seeks reasonable way to outline the plot of “Inherit the Wind” to an eleven-year-old who likely wouldn’t recognize Gene Kelly if he were wearing a name tag. Or Spencer Tracy, for that matter. Or Dick York. Possibly Dick York – Mommy refuses to even imagine a generation so much younger than herself it’s been entirely without “Bewitched.”)

Gene Kelly was my first childhood crush

Gene Kelly was my first childhood crush

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Mag: “It’s just that almost everbody thinks that Michelle Obama was the first lady. But I think she was just the first lady to marry a president and live at the White House.”

Ouch. Suddenly forgetting all about the Scopes Monkey Trial, I’m all “coulda had a V8”

(Our family’s alternate theory, and eventual consesus, as to the origin of man, as posed by Jr: dinosaurs pooped out cavemen – it still makes more sense than the Michelle Obama theory; do we not know anyone older than the First Lady, the mere knowledge of whom’s existence would blow that idea out of the water immediately? )

Then this morning, and I apologize in advance for the stark change of pace here, I had a very different kind of moment. A PTSD kind of moment.

Things were routine; I brushed my teeth, picked out clothes, got dressed. Normal stuff. I stood in the mirror doing the requisite morning Weight And General Appearance Assessment. I rated fairly well, due largely to the fact that we had guests last night, so I had, at some point, been made-up, and in lesser part to my lowered weekend standards. As I turned to walk away, a scar caught my eye. This particular scar, unlike many of mine, is recent. I know its source (cooking), it’s not particularly large or dark, and it will eventually fade. All of these things qualify as departures from the majority of my scars.

I was immediately transported back I time to childhood. A vague memory of my mother teasing me about being so careful. Saying she was a little disappointed that I’d never been hurt. I understood then, but the point has since been driven home with the evolution of technology that has robbed my own children of normal childlike behavior, and the subsequent bruises and scrapes. When I was a kid, books and an avid love of reading kept me from those experiences. Now FruitNinja keeps my little ones from them (at least for an hour a day, weekends only).

And so, this morning, on my linoleum bathroom floor, I quietly cried. My arms are particularly scarred, but I don noticeable marks on my face, legs, hands, and feet. Possibly other places, too, as it seems like all too often I discover another, sources unknown.

My scars, much like the foolishly garish tattoos I got in my foolishly garish youth, have become so a part of what I see that they have become invisible to me. I no longer notice them, even the Frankenstein-like lines up and down  my outer forearms, or the giant valley climbing up the crook of my left elbow, so deep and dark that most folks assume it’s part of a nearby tattoo.

But today, each one inspired terrifying memories of their creation. And while some were acquired all-of-the-sudden, and some required careful and repeated abuse to manifest, each has countless thoughts, fears, regrets, and even out-and-out horrors associated with it. And, oh, what have I done to my mother, who never meant for me to scar myself like this.

And as I gently heaved with the weight of my breath, something popped into my head:


not as innocent as she seems

not as innocent as she seems

And like I tell our youngest, Bear, it’s hard to cry through laughter.

Bear: inspiring laughter since 2008

Bear: inspiring laughter since 2008

Am I the only one?

It’s not a license to twerk!


A few years ago, following a stint in beauty school (or “cosmetology school” as the bourgeois – pronounced “boozhie,” for those of you who have never spent time hanging around on your own local Dr. Martin Luther King jr. Street, Avenue, or Boulevard – institution preferred it called), where free haircuts were plentiful, I found myself in the awkward stage between a very smart Audrey Hepburn pixie cut and a, well, a jewfro.

Channeling my inner diva, I decided that my best option was to take the clippers to the sides of my head. It was a very Rhianna moment for me – I felt cool, empowered, sexy.

mourning my youth, circa January 2014

mourning my youth, circa January 2014

I loved the feel of the breeze on my head. I loved the immediate confidence I felt. I loved not carrying so much hair that I sweated just standing still (because that’s how thick my hair is). I’ve managed to maintain the cut since, and the resulting “mohawk” has grown and been chopped to various lengths, generally in direct correlation to how damaged my ends become as a result of color processing… I still love the cut today, though I frequently wear my hair down, masking my youthful punk rock sensibilities.

So when our eldest daughter announced that she, too wanted the “Miley Cyrus” (and oh, god, how I wanted to shave the rest of my hair – somehow the “Sinead O’Connor” has a much better ring to it), I wasn’t sure what the appropriate response was.

When in doubt, deflect to Daddy.

It’s not that Daddy has a wealth of childrearing wisdom that I’ve failed to unearth in my epic quest to become the best mommy I can be, or that he could offer a unique perspective, really. It’s just that Daddy is better at saying no, and that I wasn’t prepared to say yes. Not right away, anyway.

I pray everyday that my children will never see Cyrus’s “Wreckingball” video. I cringe (for various reasons) when I see them in a Hannah Montana shirt – these additions to their wardrobe would NEVER have made it past my own scrutiny. And yet, her influence in our home is pervasive.

Admittedly, I mostly disapprove of her for the same reason I have no taste for Justin Beiber, KidzBop records, and apparently some child-rapper named Mattie C. Or Mattie D. Or Benny P. I’m not clear on that yet. Although Miley Cyrus and the Beibs have lifestyle issues that I prefer to leave unbreached at the dinner table, and those issues have made formerly nonthreatening Disney folk into terrifying role models for young people (which I do, in fact, find a little extra offensive, considering the size of their preteen fanbases pre-freakouts). It’s really more about the whitewashing of music and the blandness of the garbage being lapped up indescriminantly by kids who just want a nice melody, a strong beat, and a catchy hook.

Case in point: the younger two in our brood had never been exposed to such Tiger Beat bullshit. For years, Porter’s favorite songs included The Beatles’ “Oh, Darling,” Led Zepplin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier,” and when he was very young, Primus’ “Tommy the Cat” featuring Tom Waits. Bear’s favourites were Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” Sublime’s “Badfish,” and The Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Both loved Slick Rick (and were particularly fond of “Children’s Story,” though I would frequently have to skip tracks like “Treat her like a Prostitute,” and “Lick the Balls”). Porter adored Beastie Boys. I just knew my kids were cool. I trained them to be cool. And they liked being cool.

Unfortunately, it seems that popular culture has its own ways of infiltrating daycares, school systems, and if parent’s aren’t careful, their own TV sets. Damn.

But when my eleven-year-old begs me to shave her head like Miley, the conservative family values I’d denounced vehemently in my youth, and again when my children were born, rear their ugly heads and smirk at me for wanting to be Liberal-Boho-Hipster Mommy forever.

I do love that, at eleven, when preteen thoughts begin to fill girls’ heads (last week she told me she prefers her shirts fitted because they make her “look skinnier”), Mag is totally unafraid of what boys will think. Or hell, what girls will think! I love that she isn’t particularly attached to her hair, which too many women cling to as their badge of femininity. I love that her personality will not be smothered by the smog of conformity. These things inspire me, because while my father, the boho dreamer was my hero as a kid, and my liberal feminist mother was my only model for womanhood, I doubt I would have had that same bravery at her age. I desperately wanted to fit in, at least in SOME way, when I was in grade school. I admire Mag’s moxy.

I also admire that Daddy provided a fairly sheltered environment for the three elder children up to this point.

A list of words they have asked me to define this month: slut, douche, trampy, promiscuous, and even pregnant (that one was the seven-year-old). Good job, Daddy. And in my defense, these words were not uttered in Mommy-Child conversation, but rather things I mumbled into the phone while conversing with a girlfriend, spoken in low-tones to Daddy about mutual acquaintances, et cetera. Except “pregnant,” which I used to accurately describe a character in movie plot I was attempting to outline to the kids.

And still, images of Miley Cyrus licking a sledgehammer haunt my dreams.

So I was taken a little aback when Daddy told me yesterday that he was okay with letting me give Mag her Miley Mohawk. But he was sure (and though he’s vehemently denied it, I still wonder if it has anything to do with how his mother will feel when she finds out), so I agreed.

Last night, as Mag sat before me on the wooden kitchen chair, draped in a Dora the Explorer beach towel, hair clipped up, I gulped hard. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was when she was so remarkably calm. I asked her probably fifteen times if she was sure, if she was ready, if she was sure AND ready. She remained calm and assured me she was ready. I told her she would hate it. She told me she was ready. I told her she wouldn’t have nearly the amount of hair left that I do. She told me she was ready.

So I did it.

I was pleasantly surprised. She loved it and, although I was worried that she’d look goofy, I loved it, too. She looked terrific.

And today at school, some dumbass kid told her it was ugly. Of course another little girl told her she looked like Emma from The Following, which almost made up for that jackass kid I’m currently hunting down to maim for insulting my baby…

 IMG_20140227_172637               IMG_20140227_172715

But the most important thing is that Mag understands that her haircut is NOT a license to twerk.

If you can’t share, I’ll take the %@#& thing away!


With five kids underfoot so much of the time, you might be surprised by how little Daddy and I have to advocate sharing. In fact, aside from this morning when Mag had to wear Jr’s shoes to school because her gym shoes were still muddy from this weekend (looks like at least one got out of the shoe cleaning time after our park visit), and other such apparel-related issues, I don’t recall ever having had to have the “if you can’t share, I’ll take the damn thing away!” conversation with them. And in truth, the sharing of clothes is a mostly stategic exercise for my own benefit when we’re low on time (or I’m low on patience), whose necessity is only exacerbated by the ridiculous growth rate of five-, six-, seven-, nine-, and eleven-year-olds. (One of my less successful attempts to implement the Strategic Sharing Plan was encouraging Jr to carry his sister’s pink One Direction backpack to school the morning after his own had ripped apart irreparably.)


I guess what I’m saying is that we just aren’t that sharing-and-touchy-feely bunch. That’s not to say that we don’t cuddle, or that I don’t do quite a bit of talking about, and listening to, feelings. We just know our roles and play them out as we know we should. This is actually an interesting aside,  because, to elaborate on my point, I’ll mention that when Daddy and I moved us all in together, we had a serious talk about how our house was not an arena for anything that might be described as “cute” or “darling,” “inspiring,” “touching,” or “sweet.” We are not people who own picture frames emblazoned with words like “family,” “love,” “dream,” or “imagine.” (Sorry, Mag – whose full name is Imagine Destiny – Daddy was too young to responsibly name you when you were born.) We will never have wall decals espousing such nonsense as “live, laugh, love” or “dreams are the sparkly butterfly fairies of the soul” or what have you. We just aren’t cute people.

So I’ve digressed a bit, but I think what I’m getting at is that while we love each other dearly; while we have real values (sharing included); while we want to teach our children to help, support, and to build each other up, we aren’t interested in advertising it so loudly. Yes, we like each other – just don’t tell anyone we said so.

Daddy and I both grew up being encouraged, sometimes loudly and sometimes quietly, to take responsibility for our own issues, that if we want it we needed to find a way to get it ourselves, and that we’d do well to avoid counting on others.

So when Daddy found me sitting in my Happy Place last night, perched atop the washing machine wearing my stomach ache face, and asked me if everything was okay, I swallowed the anxiety rising in my throat and said that everything was fine. Of course, everything wasn’t fine, at least not in my head, and so just as soon as the words had left my lips, I began to tear up, and before I could stop myself, the stressors that had been weighing me down began spilling out of my mouth. The kitchen was still a mess, the kids’ rooms are in a state I cannot even describe, I don’t know what I’m making for dinner tomorrow…

And I just sat down with my syllabi for this semester (which is now half completed), so I’m suddenly aware of a paper due and a test to take the day after tomorrow, perhaps another quiz in a class I’m not sure I’m even enrolled in, and I’m suddenly convinced I somehow managed to miss a test last week and I just know I won’t be allowed to make it up.

Daddy put his hand on my cheek and shushed me (which did not produce what I assume was its intended calming effect, but he gets kudos for being understanding). He tells me we are a team, that we look out for each other, we build each other up, and support each other (this is beginning to sound familiar,  not to mention that it’s nearly verbatim the pep talk I give the kids at least once a week over dinner). He promises that tomorrow when I get home from class he will do whatever’s necessary to provide an environment conducive to the studying and paper writing to be done. He promises to make dinner, regulate the shower schedule, help with kid homework,  and clean up after everyone eats.

It was both a little blow to the ego, and a huge relief. I’m supposed to be super human, I can handle this! (The first person to say “powerless” or “unmanageable” gets a knuckle sandwich!)

I’m thinking: Daddy does so much. He works so hard, and such unpleasant hours to keep us clothed and housed. He drives the kids to and from school everyday. He drives me to and from school three days a week. He gets the girls to Girl Scouts. He keeps the boys in line. He puts aside an extra minute each day just to make me feel special.

If Daddy can do all of that, then each day I ought to be able to run the dishwasher twice, cook two to three meals, wash two loads of laundry, clean three bathrooms, pick up in four bedrooms, sweep, mop, vacuum, help with homework, get showers taken and teeth brushed,  finish my own homework, do a little stepwork, and… I think I need a nap after compiling that list before I get started. But Daddy took my hand and told me to relax.

“If you can’t learn to share, I’ll take the damn thing away!”

Apparently being an adult does not exempt me from this. Apparently this is not limited to desirable commodities. Where I come from we say things like “you can only keep it by giving it away,” and “anything you put before your [serenity] you’ll lose.” I like these little bits of wisdom. I am especially fond of them as applied to the lives of OTHERS. Both phrases allude to the value of sharing (sharing feelings, sharing the work load, sharing the stress) and warn of the evils of hoarding those things for my own.

This morning I woke refreshed. I felt strong and confident. When I got to class I found that I’d recieved remarkably high scores on all my assignments,  tests included. I hadn’t missed any tests, either, by the way. I wrote my paper in a few hours, studied for the test I just knew I’d fail. During my break between classes I wandered downstairs to find someplace to get a coffee, only to find that a barista from a nearby coffee shop had set up a cart in the hallway and was giving out free espresso drinks. I sauntered back upstairs, cappuccino in hand feeling terrific.


And tonight I made dinner for the family.  Life can be pretty damn good. If only I could find a decal with that printed on it.

It’s *&/%#$’ muddy – get over it


As an individual, an individual who isn’t a huge fan of Winter, it is my own prerogative to be more than a little resentful toward a fifty degree day in the middle of an Indiana February – it’s a huge tease! One nice day, or in this case two, sandwiched between snow, sleet, and frozen-shut car doors… I don’t even want to leave the house on days like this. Mother Nature is writing checks she can’t cash.


But as a mother? By eleven o’clock this morning, after breakfast has long been baked and served; after one child has spent plenty of time standing in the corner; after two arguments, an admittedly lengthy lecture, and a spray bottle of Mr. Clean have been applied to the evils of using glue stick on bedroom doors, ennui has begun to set in, and I begin to explore our options.


There is plenty of work to do around the house – I’ve been working to establish a decent chore list – but Daddy’s still sleeping off a long work week on his new third shift schedule, and being that I just conducted a full-scale, prison-style room search and subsequent art supply confiscation (see above reference to this morning’s glue stick follies), I feel that perhaps arts and crafts ought to stay on a probationary basis for the present.


And it is warm today. But last week’s adventure in snow play forced recognition of the cruel realities of five kids doing ANYTHING when my kitchen flooded with melted snow. And when two feet of snow melts in a day and a half, the residual effect is puddles. At the neighborhood park, we’re not talking about your run of the mill puddles, but pure, unadulterated MUD PUDDLES. My brain is suddenly overwhelmed with nightmarish images of mud-smeared walls, foot-printed carpet, a pile of boots and shoes (not to mention LAUNDRY) stacked to the ceiling. My heart races…


Until it occurs to me: it’s muddy – get over it. Yes, all five kids are muddy to the knees, and yes, the mud is creeping up their clothes, even as I write this. And of course they are delighting in their slimy, dirty shoes (Note to Self: NO MORE PINK SHOES). And yes, my stomach is doing somersaults as I dedicate an unnatural amount of conscious thought to plotting how I’ll manage to get them naked and shoeless before they hit the front door, and then how I’ll get the laundry to the washer before it hits the floor.


And honestly, there are some overwhelming benefits to these little premeditated fiascos:


Weekdays might be an exercise in finding enough time, but weekends are irrefutably about filling the time. That is, how to keep the kids busy without getting bored (because as all parents know, boredom is synonymous with loud, irritable, and whiney).


Going to the park involves getting dressed. After at least two renegotiations with each child, complete with explanations of what constitutes play clothes, what we don’t mind getting dirty, etc, we can count on this part of the trip alone taking a good half an hour or so.


Playing without any parental encouragement can last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, but once listlessness begins to creep up we can get a good twenty minutes out of swinging competitions (who can swing the highest?), about ten minutes out of foot races, fifteen out of tag, twenty-five out of conflict resolution, and another thirty out of plain old jumping in the mud.


Add a five minute walk home, fifteen minutes of bringing the kids in one by one to strip down, five minutes per kid for showers, and fifteen minutes to wash shoes… if my addition is correct (and it probably isn’t), we can eat up at least three hours with one simple trip. GENIUS! (And don’t forget the added family time folding all that laundry – DOUBLE GENIUS!)


Exhausting your children may be the greatest effect of the muddy park trip. There is nothing that eases the stress of “my shoe fell off, so I accidentally got mud in my eyebrows!” and “they just called me annoying!” or “look how dirty I am! Yay!” like knowing that when you get home, your little ones may very well fall asleep changing into clean clothes. At the very least you can be confident that they’ll be ready to sleep a half an hour before bedtime!


The truly invaluable aspect of the park trip is getting some ACTUAL MOMMY TIME. I was able to write this post nearly in its entirety while the kids bounced around. Bring a cup of coffee and a notebook, a book, a magazine, your knitting… Just drift off into adultland for a while. And not to worry; if your chosen activity becomes monotonous, know that there will always be an argument to mediate (see conflict resolution, above. Breathe deep and remember that the longer the fight, the fewer activities need be scheduled! It’s a beautiful day!)


Pictures are better than memories! It’s not like anyone ever leaves the house without their phones anymore, anyway. After all, you never know when you’ll need to make that terrifying “he/she-slipped-in-the-mud-and-broke-their-everything” 911 call

(not likely in our case, since all the kids at my house have been warned that we don’t pay for medical bills or funeral expenses until each family member has a job that provides life insurance).


So seek out some smiling faces (Expert Tip: smiling faces are easiest to locate at the beginning of the activity – as the trip goes on they become fewer and further between) and snap away! When you all look back at them, no one will remember who called who what, who couldn’t swing, and who was afraid of the monkey bars.


And an added bonus: you’ll have photographic proof of how idyllic their childhoods were in the future when they blame you for screwing them up!