It’s Alright to Cry 

A week before we were to leave for a twelve day East Coast whirlwind trip, my younger son got sick. Not scary hospital sick, but he spiked a fever and for six days that fever hung on. His doctor wasn’t concerned, it was a virus. But I was worried. This fever just wouldn’t quit. And, I didn’t want to end up in an ER on our trip (or anywhere for that matter). Since he’d only just turned five, having him home meant I was on 100% of the time. When sick, it was 150%. Any mother will tell you.

My older son was eight and self-sufficient. Together, still today, my boys act like brothers. Sometimes they ignore each other and do their own thing, sometimes they play and giggle and have a blast and sometimes they fight. And that’s just a giant pain-in-the-ass despite being normal. When one is sick, it’s worse. One wants to rest and have mom all to himself; the other is jealous but also bored. One wants popsicles and TV, the other wants to go out and play and have popsicles and TV. There’s conflict, tears, fatigue. It’s a regular laugh riot.

I had planned to use that week to get ready, doing things ranging from trips to Costco, to writing, to meeting with my editor, to laundry, to even spending a moment or two alone. To top it off, three days in, I caught the mystery virus. I pretty much catch everything; I have a weakened immune system due to a chronic illness. That is just my reality. But, I cannot bring myself to stay out of my son’s bed when he’s sick with fever or needs cuddling. I’m his mom. That’s also my reality.

I was feeling lousy one afternoon, exhausted, sick, needing comfort but encouraged that my son seemed to be on the mend. Wanting to capitalize on his energy, I had him sitting at the table, coloring, trying to get some food in him, and take a break from television. My older boy was in his room playacting and doing Star Wars Legos.

I was not faring so well. I felt awful. I kept trying to reach my husband. He was going out that night to a concert. I wasn’t going to ask him to cancel. Had it just been beers with a friend, I might have, but this was a special event for him. But, I needed to just whine a little, talk for a few minutes. I needed to hear him say “I’m sorry sweetie.” And I figured I’d cry a little, let it out, and then get through the rest of my day. When I got him on the line, finally, I burst into tears. I was so tired. And, I was really crying. It just all hit me. My kids had seen me cry before and always reacted with concern and compassion but what happened next was astounding.

My five year old jumped up from his coloring. “Theo, Theo, come quick! We have to cheer up Mom!”

“Here I come Lucas! What’s going on? Mom, Mom, sit down. C’mere, it’s OK.”

Meanwhile, I was on the phone with my husband but was so overwhelmed by this I started crying even harder. I couldn’t speak. They raced to their rooms. One came back with his blankie; the other a pillow.

“Here Mom, it’s OK.” Hugs all around, kisses, murmurs of support.

“It’s OK Mom, you’ll feel better soon.”

“I know, Mom, it’s hard to be sick.”

My husband told me he loved me. “Sounds like you’re in good hands dear,” he said. “Feel better.” We hung up and my eldest guided me to his room.  “Mom,” my wise eight year old said, “I’m going to play ‘It’s Alright To Cry’ for you and let’s just sit on my bed and listen to it. It will help Mom.” And he put in the CD of “Free To Be You And Me.”

And I sat with him on his little twin bed, and cried.

Rosey Grier sang:

It’s alright to cry

Crying gets the sad out of you

It’s alright to cry

It might make you feel better.

And I did. And I felt blessed and loved and, yes I felt better.



“Should” is a Four Letter Word

The word “should” should be taken out of the dictionary. Or, at least designated as a four-letter word despite its’ whopping six letters. I find myself often, and unpleasantly, at war with “should” and I am tired of it. It’s my own fault. I know I “shouldn’t” beat myself up so much, I “should” do this,  I “should” do that. It’s hard isn’t it? I’m not the first to call “should” to the carpet and I won’t be the last. But I will try to understand why, at least for me, this word is so hard to get away from. I hold myself to incredibly high standards when it comes to, well, many things. Being a mother, a woman, a wife, a writer, a human being and member of a larger community. It’s a big responsibility. Especially when I keep falling short of my “shoulds.” What are they, you ask? Well, there are a number of familiar ones such as “I should make better and more creative dinners for my family.” Or, “I should write more, with more discipline, with a better schedule, using better words.” Or, “I should be more attentive to my husband, ask less of him, give more to him, somehow be better for him.” Or, “I should recycle more, give more to charity, walk rather than drive, give up my parking spot, flip people off less in traffic.” See, it’s endless. So, this tendency to continually fall short of my own expectations means, quite simply, my expectations are too high. No one is out there measuring me, counting how many words I write daily, checking my meals for percentage of organic ingredients, reporting me to the peanut butter and jelly police because my kids are going to OD. (They love it by the way, what they don’t love is a cranky mommy.) There are two problems with my expectations. One, they are too high, and two, they often don’t correspond to what’s really important. It’s time for a change. I suppose I could do (or not do) all of those “shoulds.” I could also be OK with what I do and realize that I am doing the best I can with what I have in the moment. I’m a good person. I’m a great person, but by what definition? Really, at the end of the day, I have to account only to myself. My family loves me and accepts me, as do my friends. I know if I screw up badly enough in any one area of my life, it’ll come back at me somehow. So, let’s take that out of the equation, because I don’t see myself commiting a crime or adultery or flipping off a guy with a gun and getting shot. Rather, it’s time to I work on being OK with who I am, what I do and when I do it. I really should, don’t you think?



“Mommy, I Can’t Sleep”

It jolts me awake at 1 a.m. and I turn to see my nine year old, holding his blanket, sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. This is an almost nightly occurrence. It has waxed and waned since the concussion in April, but he is suffering from such horrible insomnia, I feel like my heart is breaking.

I’ve learned a lot about concussions over the last six months. Insomnia and headaches are common. They typically go away after the injury has healed. His have not. Well, the headaches are mostly gone, small victory (OK, big victory). But his sleep is inconsistent and it’s, I think I can use this word here appropriately, literally, a nightmare.

At first, because he was having severe headaches too, we tried medication. One worked really well for about three weeks. And then it stopped working. Another one caused such severe side effects, he awoke dizzy and vomited the next morning. He had to miss school. I felt like the worst mother ever;  I’d drugged my child. The neurologist actually apologized, said “It works so much of the time. I was the one who told you to give it to him. Forgive yourself.” He reassured me that his kidneys would process it quickly, and sure enough by noon he was fine.

We had already devised a routine with his doctor: Bed is only for sleeping, have a set bedtime, take a bath, read, do something calm and soothing before bed, no TV or other screen time. Then, try to fall asleep for 20-30 minutes, if he can’t, he’s back in his beanbag chair reading until he’s drowsy and tries again. No getting Mom, no coming out of his room, just keep trying the routine until it works. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, he falls asleep the first try. A lot of the time, nothing works. Lately, nothing has been working. This last week has been awful. Finally, because he’d had a few very tough days in a row, I’ve climbed in with him, usually at anywhere from 10:30 (already two hours past his bedtime) to 1 a.m.(And it’s an actual climb, he has a loft bed. Loft beds are not for the over 40 set). I’ll rub his back, soothe him, and soon, his body will jerk, his breathing will deepen, and he’ll fall asleep.

The doctor said this could take a long time, but to be consistent. And we’ve been solid. Until now. I know my son, and this last week has pushed his limits of being a “big kid,” of just being in the world. This morning, my husband left for a ten day trip to Scotland. I will be exhausted while he’s gone, holding down the logistical, emotional and homework fort. He’s Daddy. We need him. So, I made a decision last night at 1 a.m., and this morning, more sane and rational, still knew it was the right one.

While Daddy is gone, we need to sleep. By whatever means necessary. Both of us. We can be in “survivor” mode with a modified routine. Flexibility. If he’s drifting off while brushing his teeth, I’ll celebrate, but otherwise, I’ll give my son what he needs in the short term, a bit of a Mom cuddling, and we’ll figure out the long term. We always do. If five minutes of me at bedtime saves five hours of insomnia, I’m on it.

I remember potty training and everyone said “Well, he’s not going to go to kindergarten in a diaper.” And sure enough, neither of my kids did, despite training “late” (whatever that means). Every kid is different. I know guidelines can help determine developmental milestones, but why must we create benchmarks that then make us feel like failures if we miss them? “Oh no, he’s wearing a diaper at three, but little Jimmy poops on the potty.” So f*&ing what. I’m not Jimmy’s mom. I am his mom. I know what’s best, if I just stop, listen, and bend as needed. And, if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.





Stop Needing Me

Sometimes, I have nothing left. So much nothing that I’m writing this on my phone. Get out of bed? Turn off The Today Show? Deal with the insane “proxy server is not responding” message that has plagued my laptop for a week, the message that only responds to multiple reboots and a lot of cursing? No.

Plus, now, my son, home sick again with a stomach ache, is on my computer doing homework. I couldn’t even talk to him this morning about staying home. My husband and I, already weary from sick days just a month into the school year, both felt he was just exhausted beyond. Beyond the point of anything, and I do believe his stomach felt sick. He gets sick a lot. He’s been having horrible insomnia. I also know, I’m a mom, a crying child who looks so terrible, who is really struggling and did have a virus that is still lingering in the school hallways; I’m going to keep him home.

I brought in the big guns. I normally handle all sick day issues. This morning, I sent my husband in.

“He’s completely exhausted and run down. I’m at a loss. You go.”

He’s harder than I am, but can also stay calmer, be more logical about these things. Let’s face it, about everything. He’s my anchor. My objectivity was gone along with my reserves, and my ability to be neutral and not angry with every movement. He went in.

“Short of shoving him into his clothes while he cries and screams, which I won’t do, he’s not budging. But I told him no TV or movies.”

“Ok,” I said. “I can work with that. “Thanks, honey.”

Sick day update: This post is taking forever. He is complaining of having nothing to do, has already read two chapter books and rested in bed, lights out.

“Daddy says I can’t watch a show and I have to stay in bed all day.”

“Well, he’s right, no shows today. But you can read on the couch or your bean bag chair.”

“I don’t want to read anymore.”

“You can do your Night Writes project. Normally, you should handwrite them, but this one time, you can do it on my computer.”

Writing. Always good practice for a dyslexic kid, and fun for him to play with fonts and inserting clip art. Still looking pale and tired but at least he’s not getting more behind and/or worse. I could take him to school now, but he’d be there two hours. Ok. Let it go. Not everything is a huge deal. In fact, most things aren’t.

As an aside, blogging on my low-end Samsung smart phone is
exponentially more difficult than on my computer, at least for me.  And bloody WordPress keeps defaulting to “bold” type face. Seriously?!

What was the title again? Right. Oh come on. Stop bolding!

The thing is, I love being a mom. Taking care of them is good. But, so is helping them learn self care. Today, insomnia won. So did my mobile WordPress app.

Other days, it’s like this, or, it’s something else.

“Mom, where’s my . . . ?

Sweetie, try looking for five more minutes on your own. Look under things.” That usually does it.

“Mom! I found it!”
“Good for you.”

Speaking of learning self-care. There’s a margarita with my name on it tonight. Good for me.



Are You Sure You Should Eat That?

I can’t remember the first time I was asked that, but I was young. Very young, maybe six? Seven? And, I felt it far before the words were said aloud. The looks. The awareness of every cookie, every second helping. It was another person in the room. It was a bully at the dinner table. It was a perfect reason to begin sneaking food. And sneak I did.

Let me say this now. Internalize it. No one changes because you shame them into changing. Did you get that? No one. Especially a child. And if they do, it doesn’t take. It’s not out of self-love. It doesn’t come from a place of strength. It doesn’t last. It’s bullying. It leads to more pain.

I have been fat-shamed by my mother, my father, my grandmothers, boyfriends, work colleagues, strangers, Weight Watcher’s Group Leaders (I know, totally insane.) All of these people were wrong. At the time, I felt I was wrong. I internalized their words, their looks, their comments. I believed I was bad, ugly, unlovable, fat, gross, disgusting. Are you getting the picture?

I thought about these things a lot. Food, my body, my weight, exercise. I obsessed. I had been doing this since I was eight on a fairly consistent basis. I was never severely overweight, maybe ten pounds, fifteen, or not at all, or I was underweight from restricting. I’d fluctuate a lot. As a young adult, I’d go on international business trips and fear weight gain, starve myself and come home a shell, jeans sagging at my hips. Later in life, after decades of obsession, pregnancies, chronic illness, thyroid disease and medication weight gain, I’ve been up to thirty pounds “overweight.” And by overweight, I mean heavier than the weight at which I feel best. Not my “this is what you should weigh based on your height” weight. At that weight, I’d be skeletal. The heaviest I was, and this is common for a lot of women, was post pregnancy.

By the way, you, you who rolled your eyes at medication weight gain. It’s real. Don’t even. I stopped the medication, lost twenty pounds. I also almost lost myself in a depressive relapse while I tried other options. Nothing worked. I went back on the medication. I gained eight pounds in a month. A month. It’s real.

I have lost weight, consciously, with great care because of my history, never, well almost never, restricting any foods but rather practicing moderation, portion control, exercising. But this is not a post about weight loss. See, I got side tracked because. Because, fat-shaming. Because, ingrained there is something wrong with my body. Enough. This has got to stop.

I do remember the first time I found my voice. The first time I stood up to a shamer. I was in my twenties, living in Philly, boyfriend, job, apartment, doing well. I was thin then. I didn’t think so at the time, but I was. See, we, and you know who you are when I say “we,” measure our memories by our body size. I was in good shape, exercised regularly, probably too much, bingeing was mostly under control, laxative use too. I was also happy though. My boyfriend and I played volleyball a lot, doubles tournaments, sixes out at the Belmont Plateau (the same plateau in Will Smith’s “Summertime,” yo). I was active, healthy, pretty stable, but I did only have indulgences that smack of an eating disorder (I didn’t think I’d use those two words, but you gotta own it. Right?). I didn’t allow real down-and-dirty indulgences. I didn’t eat normally, without judgment, without consequences.

My indulgence was almost an obsession. I saved myself for this. Skinny Delights on Spruce Street. It was a pleasant walk from my apartment, about twenty blocks round trip, nice Rittenhouse Square neighborhood blocks past brownstones and places of my youth that had become places of my young adulthood. I felt independent and strong and grown up. Also, it was near my boyfriend’s, so that was convenient. It was near my old high school. It was in my ‘hood. It was mine.

Skinny Delights served sandwiches with sprouts, soups, and other healthfood type items but I only had eyes for those glorious soft ice cream air pump machines. Dispensers of my delicious indulgence. What would the flavor of the day be? Would it be peanut butter so I could swirl with chocolate, or would I just go with my usual, the vanilla/chocolate swirl? I was a regular. And, I’d always order a large. With jimmies. Chocolate jimmies. Calories, I think, total, 250ish, no fat. I’m sure the sugar content was through the roof. Didn’t care. There was a lot of air in that giant swirl, but the bigger the better for an eater like me, especially back then when I was still restricting other foods. Skinny Delights, I loved you. And then, I was fat-shamed. Or portion-shamed. Or some kind of shamed and I spoke up.

We sat at our favorite table by the window. I was about to dig in. And a little man sat at the table next to us with his wife. He was older, he seemed “old” to me then, but I’m sure he was in his forties, fifties at most. And he looked over at me, and he looked at my cone, and as I brought it to my lips he made eye contact with me and said:

“Wow. That is huge. Are you really going to eat all that?”

And everything sunk. I mean through the linoleum, through the concrete, into the Philadelphia sewage system below Spruce Street, into the Schuylkill River.

I wanted to die. I wanted to throw the cone in the trash. I wanted to throw the cone at him. I didn’t think I could eat it. I felt sick. I looked at my boyfriend. He knew. He was a quiet guy, but he knew. He also knew some of my history, my issues. He saw I was upset. I think he said something like “let it go.” I remember thinking, I can’t let this go. This is not let go-able. I tried just eating. I tried ignoring the little man sitting at the table next to me. I sat, I thought, I was humiliated. And then I got enraged. How dare he comment on what I was putting in my mouth?

Finally, finally, I found my voice.

“Excuse me,” I said trying to get his attention. At this point I’m sure at least three minutes had passed maybe more. I don’t know, I was suspended in time.

“Sir, excuse me.” He looked up. “That comment you made before, about my ice cream cone? That was none of your business.”

“Oh, I was just joking, I mean it was really big. Come on, I mean it was so big.”

“Right,” I said, “It doesn’t matter how big it was, we don’t know each other. You are not my friend. You don’t get to comment on what I eat. You have no idea how a comment like that might make me feel. You don’t get to talk to me about my food.”

He stammered a bit, said he didn’t mean anything by it, was just joking, something like that. It didn’t matter because I had found my voice. I had stood up to my shamer. He was embarrassed, and I hope he learned and never did that again. Ever. He did apologize, I think, although he made sure to mutter something like “just joking” to his wife.

My boyfriend smiled. I don’t think he ever quite knew what to make of me, I was a lot to take in, and he was a quiet guy. Amazing guy, but quiet. He definitely smiled. Proud. And I got my appetite back. That was a good cone. Peanut butter swirl.



Hello, Neighbor

I moved a lot when I was a kid. Parents divorced, different neighborhoods, school changes, clumsy custody agreement, instability. When I was in 7th grade, my mom bought a house on a small one-block street. Tree-lined in that majestic, quiet way that many East Coast streets can be. Blanketed by a green ceiling, spectacular in Fall. It was rarely traveled unless it was your destination, and in winter, we’d get snowed in. One year, we were socked in for a week. With snow ploughs overworked across the city, our tiny street was not a blip on their radar. My mom finally Norma Rae’d a group of parents and kids to shovel us out. I’m sure my sister and I were driving her crazy. Schools had been closed for days. And days. It made the papers.

Kids ranged in age from baby to teen. I had twenty instant friends. Year round we’d find a stoop, chat, skateboard, play hopscotch, and build snowmen until way past dark. Crushes and high school and growing up happened. We graduated to dance parties. Our first party with slow dancing was on Valentine’s Day. Earth, Wind & Fire on the turntable, and we were abuzz with adolescence. It was innocent and wonderful and lasting. These people are my friends still, decades later, on Facebook, over email, if we are in town we visit. We built a community for life. We are friends for life.

In 2011, my husband and I moved from Seattle to Austin. Weather was a reason, but cost of living, better public schools, and a better, safer, quieter neighborhood were also high on the list. The first thing we told our realtor was “No busy streets.”

It took nine months of living in a tiny 1,000 square foot apartment, waiting out a sluggish Seattle real estate market and fighting an exploding Austin housing boom. That first year was one of the hardest on our family, our marriage, and each other individually. We knew a cross-country move would be a strain, but, knowing it and living it are two different things.

And then, home we finally found. We moved onto a wide, quiet street filled with children. A single-block destination that isn’t even called a “Street,” it’s a “Hill.” When I talk to customer service people on the phone, they are puzzled, “What’s that, how do you spell it?” “It’s H-I-L-L. Abbreviated HL,” I say. “Oh, that’s a new one.” No, I think it’s an old one. It’s our little slice of small town America. In the city. It’s deer every morning on the way to school, waving to others as you drive by, but with culture galore, music festivals, hiking trails, restaurants, clubs, major university campuses and progressive politics.

Our current home sold within four hours of going on market. We won over other bids because of my children, their love of dogs, and my letter to the owner. When we came to preview, he was home. An August afternoon hovering at the 107 degree mark. He took his dogs out while we looked at the house. My husband and I took in the wall of windows, the glistening pool, the giant great room, the atrium (in which my older son had already positioned himself and declared, “I’ll be in here, reading every day. Maybe we can get a lizard. A lizard would be great in here.”) My younger son Tigger-bounced through the house. “I want this room,” he declared. “Let’s get this house, Mom.” In the letter, I told the owner how much our family felt at home, immediately, that we would create a space filled with love, pool parties, BBQs. I told him about our sons, their new schools, the incredible positive changes we’d had since moving to Austin. The missing puzzle piece was a home. Sold.

Our first day, waiting for an appliance delivery, I saw an open garage across the street and two boys about my sons’ ages. “You guys want to say ‘hi’?” I walked them over. “Mom! They have a gecko.” My older son was immediately glued to the terrarium’s glass. When the delivery truck pulled up, I gathered them up. “Oh, they can stay,” my new neighbor said, “it’s fine.” And my instinct said, yup, it’s fine. They were there for hours.

We have lived here two years and I have never been so happy, never felt such community. The other night, the entire street was full of neighbors ranging from ages three to twelve to fifty. Adults talking, laughing, sharing a beer, easily moving in and out of conversations. Kids playing, older ones with the littles, teaching them to ride their scooters, stick out their tongues at Dad, safe and comfortable with their “brothers and sisters.” Bicycles weaved in and out of the adults. My younger son carefully crossed the street with two of the three year olds, sat on our front swing and rocked. We could hear “Swing, swing, swing,” giggle giggle, “Swing, swing, swing.” Repeat. Every so often we’d look up to make sure they were OK.

Our doorbell will ring and it will be someone to swim or a little friend with her mom “I want to play animals. Can we come over?” And my nine year old will play with his three year old “sister” while I get to talk to her mom, my friend. I love that she’s three and walks around our house as if it were her own. “Hi, Miss Jenny,” she’ll say to me. “Where are kitty cats?” “Oh they’re sleeping.” “Kitty cats sleeping. I see them tomorrow. I come back tomorrow.” “OK”, I say, and I mean it. You come back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

It’s like that. All the time. And, we love it; we hit the jackpot. We all know how lucky we are. We have a community of our own, a village of neighbors. Friends for life. And a lizard. He lives in the atrium.




Ah, the dreaded “my stomach hurts.” Monday morning, third week of school, everybody’s tired. It’s 6:30 a.m. I had already picked up my older son at school on Friday mid-day for the same reason. Stomach cramps. He rested all afternoon, then was fine over the weekend.

Let me first say, I am not one of those “You’re only sick if you’re vomiting or have a fever” moms. I get that my kids, whom I think I know pretty well by now, can be sick enough to stay home without puking or chills. I can tell by looking at their eyes, by the intensity of their protest, by just talking to them. Neither is the type of kid to fake (even subconsciously) sickness to get out of school. No Ferris Buellers here. They’ll rally after a shower, a little private time in the bathroom, or breakfast.

I also work from home, and very part-time. I’m a writer. My husband and I are fortunate that a sick kid doesn’t involve a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who misses work. I often have to cancel appointments, but I don’t answer to a paycheck.

“Is there anything going on at school that you’re worried about, like a test or another kid? I know 7th grade is a lot harder, especially in the beginning.”

“No, Mom, it’s not anything like that, my stomach really hurts.”

“Can you take a shower and see how you feel after that?”

“OK, I’ll try.” He’s a good sport that way.

The other one starts moaning. “My stomach hurts too.”

“Buddy, I think you’re OK, maybe just some breakfast.”

“No Mom, I feel really sick.”

My mind needs quiet. This was not my plan for today. I like things to go according to plan. Breathe. Jenny, what does your Mom radar say? Your MomDar. It says they’re sick. You’re not wrong about these things. You are lousy at remembering phone numbers, never file that pile of papers on your desk, and you’re not much of a cook, but if you have anything nailed, it’s your instinct.

But seriously? Both of them? No. Somebody throw up so I can make a decision. I had stuff to do today. OK, I take a walk around the house. Kind of a reboot. We have a single story ranch so I can do a lap and still hear the moaning.

The younger one crawls onto the couch with the coveted purple blanket. The soft, fleecy, most comfortable blanket we have. He means business. I go sit by him (careful not to touch any body parts that might have germs, hey, I’m not an idiot).

“Buddy, what’s going on?”

“It really hurts, Mom.”

“Like how, like throw-up hurt or cramps or what?”

“I don’t know just cramps. I don’t think I’m going to throw up but Mom, I don’t feel good.”

I look at him. He looks like crap. He’s pale and looks exhausted. This is a kid with so much energy he uses a small indoor exercise trampoline just to chill out. OK, he’s sick, I think. And his brother was sick on Friday and is still sick and now they both have it.

My husband is worried. “He’s already missed one day.”

“I know dear, but I’ll send him and get a call from the nurse before 10 a.m. If he’s sick he’s sick.”

To my husband’s credit, he lets me make the call on these issues. He rarely gets sick and unless he’s completely bedridden, never takes a sick day.

“It’s your call, dear.”

The older one gets out of the shower.

“Mom, it’s worse. I really feel sick.”

“OK boys, everybody back to bed.”

Within a half hour, my older son starts with symptoms. And it’s coming from both ends. He’s doubled over in pain.

Trust your MomDar. It’s radar, for Moms. We all have it. If we listen. If we are still. If we forget the “Oh, he’s missed a day already,” “Oh, so-and-so thinks he’s fine,” “Oh, he’ll have so much work to catch up on.” No. If, your kids are sick they’re sick. You know what’s best. You’re Mom.