Asshole Mom

My son has been “working” on his homework for over an hour. In that time, he’s barely finished one of his two assigned workbook pages. The page is a mess of scratches and scribbled out errors because he used a pen even though I told him to use a pencil. I tell him to use a pencil and to finish the last two problems. I’ll be back in five minutes to check on you, I say, and I take a deep breath to calm myself. The worksheet should have taken him 10 minutes at most.

Five minutes later, I come back in and he looks at me with baleful eyes and tells me he got distracted again. He’s made no progress on his work. I ask him a question about a different assignment. He gives me a vague answer, so I ask him again. He looks at me like I am speaking a foreign language. I bark out the question again, my voice sharp, my teeth clicking together as I spit out each word: Did. You. Do. YOUR. READING. FOR. BOOK. CLUB?

My son, whom I love wildly, shrugs and I lose my mind. I gesture to his homework on his desk, calling his worksheet “a hot mess”. I mock his answer to my question. I feel angry and mean and so frustrated. I finish with a bang, telling him he needs to “get this shit finished”. I’ve never used the word shit at him before. He bursts into tears, eventually climbing into my lap and telling me he thinks there is something wrong with his brain.

The hot prickle of shame I feel is instantaneous, the guilt I feel at being an asshole mom is complete.

You see, my son is struggling with attention and focus right now. We’re working on getting to the root of it, but I know that as frustrated as I am about it taking him two hours to do his homework, it has to be even worse for him. He needs my help and I took his head off instead.

If you ask me on a good day what I’m like as a mom, I’d tell you that I’m loving, I’m affectionate, I’m not a yeller, I’ve got decent to better than average amounts of patience, I’m fun.

On bad days, when I’m asshole mom, I worry about which version of me they’ll remember. I’m the better version of myself more often than not, but when it comes to remembering his childhood, is my son going to remember that I played Dutch Blitz with him for an hour or the time I said shit and lost my temper about his homework?

Parenting feels perilous sometimes. There are so many was in any given day to screw this up, to damage the little people who are hard-wired to love us and need us. I do okay, most of the time, but, damn, it is hard to shake the guilt off when asshole mom emerges instead.

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Mind on My Money, Money on My Mind

I’m at work, looking for plane tickets. I’m speaking at a conference in February and though the conference is paying for my ticket, I need to book it myself. As I look through options, I see a $132 flight and a $400 flight available, both at about the time I need to fly at. The cheaper flight is on an airline with a reputation for crappy service and uncomfortable seats. The more expensive flight is on a better airline in upgraded section, so I’d get more leg room and an extra beverage. The conference asked that we try to keep flight costs below $500, so technically I can choose either option.

There is a part of me that thinks this is an obvious choice — you choose the cheapest option, always. I think of this part of myself as my inner poor kid, the one that is permanently marked by the feeling of there never being enough growing up. My inner poor kid whispers in my ear late at night and tells me that even though things are financially okay now, they can always get worse.

This is the part of me that tells me that three crappy t-shirts on sale at Target are better than one quality shirt for full price. This is the part of me that remembers living in a shit hole studio apartment in a sketchy area because the rent was $300 and crying over a box filled with credit card bills. This part of me feels vaguely guilty because I only have one job right now.

I sat there with multiple tabs open for longer than I should have, knowing that I wanted to get the better flight but worrying about it. I had this whole vision of the conference coordinator getting my invoice and then checking to see if there were cheaper options. In my head, she rolls her eyes and mutters something like “greedy” as she updates my file, circling my name in red ink.

(I suspect the reality is that she gets my invoice, checks that the days are correct and that it is under $500 and doesn’t think about it again. But this reality is so much less shaming than my vision, so why would my brain go there instead?)

Sometimes I think about the fact that my kids are growing up in relative economic security and I wonder how that will shape their relationship to money. Will they absorb any of their father’s inherent cheapness and tendency toward  wondering if there is an expense we can cut? Will they grow up having the same Pavlovian response to an orange clearance sticker at Target that I do? Or will they have their own set of money worries, fears, and anxieties that don’t have anything to do with mine?

I think about how my nine year old sometimes worries aloud about my student loan debt, even though I’ve never expressed any concern to him that we can’t make the payments of that it is a problem. I’ve always been matter of fact about them (yep, I have student loans, yep we are paying them back, yep it is gonna take awhile…) but he still worries that we aren’t doing enough to pay them off. Where does that come from? Is there insecurity imprinted on their DNA, like some sort of Dutch Hunger Winter but for money?

(Side note, my Dutch mother was in utero during this winter, so I’m fascinated by the epigenetic work that has been done in this area. I feel like a very non-scientific read of this means that I can blame the Nazis for size of my pants. Nazis ruin everything.)

But people are adaptable. So maybe they won’t have anxiety. Maybe I’ll lean into the fact that I have enough. Maybe I’ll get used to just having one job. Maybe I’ll do some more thinking about this on my flight to Florida, when I’m not too busy enjoying my extra drink and six more inches of leg room.

Road Trip Rules

We went, as is our tradition, to Kansas for Thanksgiving. I really enjoy spending Thanksgiving with my husband’s family but there is no getting from here to there that doesn’t take all dang day. This year, for very boring reasons, we had to take two cars so I ended up driving the kids and my teenage niece while he drove by himself.

I think we all know who got the better end of that deal.

The drive was actually fine. Uneventful even. No bad traffic, no bad weather, no car barfs — the parenting road trip dream trifecta. Because the drive was nine hours and I was carting children, we did have to stop five times. Each time gave me an opportunity to remember that the rules of normal eating do not apply when you are on a road trip.

Gas station hot dog at 8:45am? SURE!

Multiple cans of Pringles? Why not!

Leftover Halloween candy passed around the car every 75 miles for people who aren’t whining? Well, that’s just good parenting.

A 44 ounce Diet Coke? NO. That is for real life, when there are bathrooms everywhere. Road trips mean dealing with a mild case of dehydration until we get past the Missouri state line, kids.

There are a few things that I basically only read on road trips: those gross but good Hostess fruit pies (cherry, please), Bugles, Red Vines, and… well, the list could go on, but I’m curious about you (yes, you). What is your road trip food?

 

Red Alert

The house was dark and quiet as I started to get ready for bed down in the basement bathroom. I was just about to brush my teeth when I heard the sound of movement upstairs. Ours is an old house and I can tell be the sound of the creaking wood floors who is moving and where they were going.

A child. Headed to the bathroom. I’d been out for the night and didn’t see either of the kids before bed, so I went upstairs to give a quick hug to whichever one was moving. My son stood in the bathroom, looking pale and shaky, the smell of vomit heavy in the air.

My hope that he had made it to the bathroom before we barfed was in vain. His bed (a cursed loft bed, ideal for being a total nightmare in circumstances like this) was a biohazard crime scene. This not being my first time at the all night barf rodeo, I quickly woke up my husband and we went into sick kid triage mode. Get the big bowl, point sickling in the direction of the bathroom to wait for the cleaning crew to finish stage one clean up: strip the bed, assess the assorted stuffed animals and pillows and decide which get the washing machine and which get the trash bag, grab baking soda and paper towels for the mattress.

The work stops as the patient begins to dry heave. Negotiations commence to determine who is saying home from work tomorrow. Rinse the bowl again. Lay a towel splash zone around the makeshift bed for patient zero. We’ve done this before. We’ll do it again.

It isn’t until Miles is settled down that the strand of anxiety I have about child illness starts to unravel. Vomiting illness are the biggest trigger. It only takes a few minutes before I start to imagine that Ev will be sick too and then me and then my husband (even though he has an immune system of steel usually). What if its Norovirus and we sink into an endless cycle of GI distress? What if the grown ups become too sick to take care of the kids? What if I can’t go to work for a day, a week, a month? Oh God. Does my stomach feel weird now? Maybe? Did he share my drink today? Or was that yesterday? If it was yesterday, was he already sick but we just didn’t know it.

It is super fun that I often feel anxiety as a stomach ache with bonus rumble tummy.

My anxiety over kids getting sick started when I was in grad school and only had class a few times a month (they would go all day) and missing even one or two classes would result in having to drop the class and start over next semester. As each class session drew closer, I’d become hyper sensitive to every cough or sniffle from the kids. A kid who didn’t finish their snack or said they had a tummy ache would make me feel sweaty and want to run for the nearest motel.

I made it through grad school and I have enough sick time at work that I could handle missing some days so there’s no reason for me to feel the swell of panic when I think about a kid with a stomach bug. I’m a reasonable person. I know that kids are gonna get sick. This is not a big deal.

It is super fun that anxiety doesn’t listen to reason.

I’m keeping him company now, taking the first shift so my husband can sleep a bit. I’m doing the thing mothers have done since time began — keeping the night watch over a sick one. If centuries of mothers have done it without a Xanax, I suppose I can too.

It’s gonna be a long night.

 

Shake it Off

My daughter and I are having a dance party in the kitchen. She pumps her little arms and wiggles her bottom, braids flying. I shimmy next to her, my socks slipping on the tile floor. My son covers his eyes as he finds the sight of our dancing to be deeply, profoundly embarrassing.

“I like this song, Mama! What is this song?”

The song was a new one from Taylor Swift and it’s catchy as hell. I like it too.

For Ev, liking the song is happily uncomplicated. Does it make her want to move her booty? Are the lyrics easy to learn the words to so she can sing along? Can she hear it on the radio in the car while we drive to Target? Yes? DONE. It’s her new favorite.

But what about me? I think Taylor Swift is talented and smart but I also think she’s pretty problematic. I wish she’d stop playing the perpetual victim. I wish she didn’t have moments of tone deaf cultural appropriation. I wish her feminism was more nuanced. I wish she’d leave Kanye West alone.

I also kind of want to get her new CD.

I suppose I could order the CD from Amazon, which is also on my list of problematic faves. My husband has requested that I not buy him anything from Amazon because he feels like they are bad for writers. I suspect he’s probably right. They’re also probably bad for the environment and bad for small businesses, and hard on their employees. But, I’ve got that Prime membership and the two-day shipping is so handy and I can’t find that one brand of notebooks I like anywhere in town, so…

I won’t order pizza from Papa John’s but my kids like Domino’s better.

I avoid Wal-Mart, but I also think Target is just a more pleasant shopping experience.

I won’t shop at Hobby Lobby, but I’ve never shopped there anyways.

I don’t listen to Chris Brown but I listen to plenty of other hip-hop artists who aren’t afraid to call a woman a bitch or a ho. I won’t watch a Woody Allen movie but I’m afraid to consider how many TV shows or movies I like that are connected to Harvey Weinstein (or Kevin Spacey, or Louis C.K., or an Affleck, or whomever is the most recent sleazebag to get unmasked).

For the last few years, I’ve felt like I’m at a constant low simmer of anger at the State of Things. I’m mad about the President. I’m mad about how frustratingly common stories of sexual harassment and violence are among women I know. I’m mad police keep killing people of color and are never held accountable. Sometimes the anger turns to a boil and I wonder if my family won’t be better off just living on an island somewhere. Sometimes the anger feels exhausting.

I try to channel the anger into action. I vote. I send a donation to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. I get into fights on Facebook with strangers and family members who say racist or offensive things (I’m not sure if this more a form of activism or insanity). I’m trying to be a good ally. I’m trying to know more and do better. I’m trying to acknowledge my privilege, and to listen to the voices of people of color and people who are disabled and people who are in the LGBTQ community. I’m trying to be more mindful of all the ways I’ve been complicit in a culture that feels increasingly toxic and broken.

But sometimes I just want to eat some chicken nuggets and listen to songs about ex-boyfriends.

So I’ve been wrestling today with some questions I just don’t know how to answer.

Can you separate the art from the artist?

Do boycotts of products and companies actually work?

Is it possible to be a consumer in a capitalist country and not end up giving money to companies or people who hate things you love or support things you hate?

I’m not a very mindful consumer. I don’t like Papa John’s because people were talking about it on Twitter and it reminded me that I think the owner is an asshole. Have I done any research to make sure that the people who own Domino’s aren’t also assholes? Nope. Did I vaguely remember that Denny’s has had a pretty racist past? Yes. Did I still take my niece there when she was craving pancakes? Well, I think you know the answer to that question.

If I’m being honest, I don’t want to think critically about where all my money goes. I don’t feel like I’ve got the bandwidth to check out the social, economic, political, and environmental impact buying this brand of toilet paper or than bag of cheese. I’ve got outrage fatigue and I don’t see that getting better anytime soon. If I think about it too much, I get annoyed with myself and the State of Things again and it makes me just want to eat some Ben & Jerry’s (they’re still cool, right? We haven’t found out that Ben has been trying to force Jerry to touch his Chunky Monkey, right?).

I’m not sure how to shake this off.

Election Night

In 2008, I went to an election night party at a friend’s house. My son was a baby and spent the night alternately being passed around for snuggles and laying on the rug, eating his fat feet. When Obama won, I looked at my son and sobbed. I thought about my late father-in-law, who entered the military when it was still segregated. I thought about how interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states when my husband was born. And now, here was my beautiful boy, about to grow up with a president who looked like him.

I think it goes without saying that I miss having Obama as president every day.

In 2016, I went to an election night party a friend’s house. My daughter was already tucked into bed for the night but I was already looking forward to waking up the next day and telling her that we had a woman president. Instead I went to bed with an anxious heart and then woke up the next day feeling heartbroken and angry. I got into a fight with my Trump supporter father on Facebook and I still haven’t spoken to him since.

It’s discouraging to think that Trump has, in fact, ended up being EXACTLY as bad as I feared he would that first day.

We had a mayoral election yesterday and, oh, there was a candidate I wanted so badly to win. He’s smart and progressive and when we met him over the summer he was incredibly engaged and friendly to Miles, who of course wanted to ask him a million questions. His name is Melvin Carter and he happens to be African American.

Would you be stunned to learn that toward the end of the campaign he became the target of some racist ass bullshit? In our particular election, the racist ass bullshit came from the police union, who were endorsing another candidate and attempting to blame Mr. Carter for the increase in gun violence in our city… because his house got burgled and two handguns belonging to his father (a former police officer) were stolen.

Anyways, it was a whole ugly thing and I tried to have faith that people in my city would see through it but I was so nervous. Melvin was clearly the best candidate in the field but 2016 happened. Being the best candidate in the field feels like it doesn’t matter when there are rich white guys in the race.

But then last night, he won.

HE WON.

The best candidate in the field, a 38 year old African American guy, won. And all over the country other really interesting and exciting candidates won too. And I got to go to bed feeling a little, tiny, maybe a bit hopeful again for the first time in 364 days.

(Don’t get me wrong — the world is still a trash can fire and this isn’t evidence that things are getting magically better. But there at least there is this one small good thing)

I’m not sure how long this feeling will last — probably just until Trump tweets again. But it felt good.

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Things I Think on Sunday Nights

I should get ready for bed. It’s getting late. I should definitely get ready for bed now.

15 minutes later…

Okay, one more crack at the geography quiz and then I’m really going to get ready for bed.

15 minutes later…

I have to be at work in about eight hours. Bed would be a smart place to go.

15 minutes and one fruitless search for this Korean dish I made once and can’t remember A) what it was called and B) what exactly was in it later…

I’m NOT going to have any Halloween candy. I should brush my teeth and go to bed.

10 minutes and a Kit Kat later….

Okay, if I got to bed now, I can still get a solid six hours of sleep and I am very tired. But maybe I’ll write a quick blog post first..

(EVERY. DAMN. SUNDAY. NIGHT)

 

Winging It

My children were in the dining room, taking a small break from annoying each other to eat their respective dinners. My son was eating some baby carrots. My daughter was eating some Greek yogurt with almonds and dark chocolate mixed in. I was in the kitchen trying to figure out what I wanted for dinner when I heard Miles, his voice dripping with distain, say to Ev, “You know that chocolate has lots of calories, sugar, and carbs, right?”

He’s only 9 but the mansplaining is strong with this one. #Blessed

I popped my head out of the kitchen and cheerfully chirped “Yep, and remember our bodies need carbs, calories, and even some sugar.”

Ev, who is only 5, nodded vigorously and added “Yeah, and we need fat too!”

I assured her that she was right and went back to the kitchen. When I came out with their drinks, Miles was standing so he could show Ev that his belly was flatter than hers, that he was skinnier. My girl, my strong and solid girl, pulled up her shirt and tried to suck in her belly, tried to shrink her self. I told him to sit down. I told her that she was healthy and strong and had a great belly.

They went back to eating and I went back to the kitchen and tried not to freak out. I tried not to think about how much I hated being bigger than my skinny sibling. I tried not to think about all the times I’ve been self-conscious about what I eat and who I ate it in front of. I tried not to think about making myself throw up chocolate ice cream when I was 10 because I didn’t know how to not eat it in the first place. I threw it up because I wanted, even then, to be thin more than anything… but I still wanted that ice cream. I tried not to remember sneaking forbidden foods and eating in secret.

Good god, I have wasted so much time thinking about my weight.

The carb and calories talk comes from school. We don’t talk about food that way in our house. I’ve worked hard not to assign morality to food. We’re not “being bad” when we have dessert. We aren’t “being good” when we have a salad. We don’t have rules about having to clear our plates. There aren’t really foods that are off limits. I’m pro snacks, pro vegetables, pro pizza and popcorn for dinner on Friday nights. Mostly, I think our approach to food is working. The kids are both healthy and they both still have Halloween candy left over from last year in the cupboard. They don’t binge. They seem to be able to self-regulate and to stop eating when they get full. They like treats but don’t go crazy about it.

I’m not quite there myself, but I’m better than I used to be.

I’ve never said anything negative about my (fat, round, strong, sometimes frustrating) body in front of Ev. I want to save her from the years I’ve spent hating myself. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing the right stuff in this respect. A lot of time it feels like I’m just winging it. I’m nervous about her being in school, where apparently calories and carbs are a part of the curriculum. I wonder when kids start using fat as an insult? I wonder when she’ll hear it used against her? I’m damn sure that I don’t want it ever used against her in this house, especially not by the brother that she worships.

After dinner, I put Ev in the tub and sat Miles down for what I suspect is the first of many conversations we’ll have about stuff like this. I told him to stop talking about what Ev eats, to not make being skinnier a subject for competition, and to make sure that he wasn’t ever commenting on anyone’s size or shape. I told him that I used to cry almost every day because I was worried I wasn’t skinny enough. He patted me on the arm but didn’t say anything. I don’t know if it sunk in or if he understands. I think he both believes that being skinny is better than being fat and that he loves to snuggle with his fat mom and doesn’t want me to be sad about my weight.

I let him get off the couch and he disappeared into the kitchen, saying “I’m going to bring you something special!”

He came back with a box of Junior Mints. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I really, really hope I don’t screw this part up.

 

 

Celine and Poutine

Last week I ditched my beloved children and husband and spent in six days in Montreal, Canada with one of my dearest friends, E. We’ve been friends for 17 years and have taken many trips together, all of which were fun and marked by our truly impressive ability to get hopelessly lost. Spoiler alert: we got lost on this trip too, so some traditions were built to last.

A lot of our time in Montreal was spent walking around and looking at cool buildings, including the Notre-Dame Basilica. This is the inside of this obviously hideous building:

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We walked in and I reverently whispered “I bet money this is where Celine Dion got married” and, yep, it totally was.

I’m kind of in love with these houses

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We spotted those beauties on our three hour bike tour of Plateau area of Montreal. I highly recommend the tour, especially if your vacation has involved multiple trips to a cheap but tasty bakery in Chinatown.

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On our last night in Montreal, post bike ride, E and I went on a hunt for smoked meat and poutine for dinner as we’d been told that it was a must do. We ended up at a 24 hour poutine place (a concept that I’m sure has made many a drunk person happy, I’m sure) and as we waited for our order, a Celine song started to play on the radio. I felt like had really hit peak Canadian at that moment.

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Pictured: Brisket BLT and poutine with onions, bacon, cheese curds, swiss cheese, and sour cream. Not pictured: my quiet gratitude that I had chosen to wear stretchy pants that day.

My only sadness about this trip is that I failed to meet Justin Trudeau and convince him to annex Minnesota into Canada. That would really have been a terrific souvenir. Alas, my kids had to settle for some Kinder Surprise eggs instead of universal healthcare. Maybe next time.

Books: Delightful and Not So Much

One of the best things about finishing grad school a year and a half ago is that I’ve become a reader again. Don’t get me wrong, I read a ton during grad school — journal articles, books on research methods, other people’s dissertations — but I barely read for fun. Reading for pleasure just made me feel guilty for not working on my dissertation. But now I’m back to my old self, which means I have a book in my purse at all times and a giant stack of next books lined up.

When it comes to books, I tend to think of myself as a pretty generous reader. I don’t expect every book to be the next great American novel. I’ll give a book at least 50-75 pages to suck me in and I’m much more likely to finish a so-so book than set aside. This is partially because I’m a pretty fast reader so even a bad book is only a commitment of a day or so and partially because my heart’s biggest hope is to someday finish writing a novel of my own.

(Have I ever admitted that here? I can’t remember. I’m fairly bashful about this dream, like I’m wishing to become the world’s first plus size 39-year-old Olympic gymnast. I fear being given gently concerned looks in response to sharing this tenderest hope.)

The hopeful novelist in me feels like every book, good or bad, can tell me a little about how to be a writer — how to write dialouge that actually sounds like how people talk, the merits of writing in first versus third person, how to give your characters a sense of place, and so on. So I don’t usually give up too easily, which is how you know that Best Supporting Role by Sue Margolis is TERRIBLE

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The story is supposed to be about a woman whose husband, a gambling addict, dies. She is penniless and ends up running a lingrie store and trying to rebuild her life. I am on board with this premise as a light weight, easy read, romantic comedy kind of story. Here’s what happens in the first 10 pages:

  • We get the entire story of how the main character and her husband met to the day he died.
  • We find out that the husband loved her because she “looked like a Jewish princess” but, not as the author points out, a “JAP” with a fake nose and plastic boobs.
  • A major plot point happens when the main character, the one who looks like a Jewish princess, is out Christmas shopping. For Christmas presents. So, is she Jewish but celebrates Christmas for a reason not mentioned? Or is the author kind of anti- Semitic? These are not questions I want to have to consider on page 7 of a book that should be light and airy.
  • The reader discovers that the author doesn’t know how to write dialogue that sounds like how human people who are married to each other talk.
  • The husband character is found out to have massive gambling debts. The wife confronts him, he promises to do something about it. He is panicked and distraught. They fight. The police show up (on Christmas Eve) and inform her that a suicidal person has jumped from the 30th floor of a building. The reader already knows he is gonna die, so suicide seems like a believable possibility. Only, that isn’t how he died. The jumper LANDED ON HIM. Yes. The jumper, who survives falling 30 stories and landing on a plot device, squashes him flat and he dies instantly. In his pockets are gambling notes (whatever those are) and several hundred dollars — for Christmas presents. Oh c’mon now.

This book is terrible. It made me actively angry with myself for spending $4.98 to buy it on the clearance shelf. The only upside is that if more than one person thought this was worth publishing (and IT ISN’T) then maybe there is hope for my as yet unwritten novel.

On the total other end of the spectrum was a book that I just found delightful, filled with characters I was rooting for. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell will be your jam if you are the kind of person who enjoys watching the movie You’ve Got Mail on a rainy day while you are sick.

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I really enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s books generally and one of the things I think she does really well is write ordinary characters who are living unexceptional lives. Nobody in this book is going to change the world or do something that makes them famous or special. Their story is simple — how do two people find their ways to each other — but I just liked the characters so much. The ending was also wholly satisfying.

I also just finished Landline by the same author and it was fine. But I read it after Attachments, so it was a bit of a let down because I liked that one so much.

Have you read any books you’d recommend lately? We’re entering peak reading season for me. I have some upcoming travel, sans children, and I plan to bring far too many books with me but I can always add one more to my suitcase if there is something you’d suggest!