• On Birth Order and the Plight of the Middle Child

    In college I majored in psychology. It was a privileged major. I did not know that at the time, but I know it now. In order to making a living as a psychologist you need a masters degree at a minimum. Preferably you get a PhD, and go on to teach at a university while simultaneously trying to publish studies. All while trying to unbury yourself from all the student debt.

    I had no real concept of what I would do with my degree when I committed to it. I just knew I was interested in studying how the mind works. Read into that what you will. So I spent a few thousand dollars of my parents’ money in pursuit of knowledge that I would essentially do nothing with in a professional capacity. From a practical standpoint it would have been much wiser for me to go into computer science or finance and business, or anything really (besides theater or communication). For heaven’s sake, my only required math class was called “math for the liberal arts student”. I graduated with a lot of knowledge about the human brain, and zero job prospectives.

    I loved my major, and I am proud of my degree. I was the first person in my immediate family to receive a college degree. My parents included. As the third of six kids, I think getting my degree is an accomplishment I should tout to the world.

    Speaking of being the third of six… One of the classes I took as an undergrad was childhood development. I loved this class and I loved my professor. She was a middle aged woman, and a relatively new mom. She was earthy, and maybe even a little homely. Thick set with a short brown bowl cut and glasses. She married and had her two kids later in life. One of the most poignant memories I have of her is the time she told us that if she knew how much she loved having kids, she would have started sooner and had more. She was incredibly open about sex, and the joy of sex. Considering I was at a very religious college at the time, her openness was refreshing.

    During one of her lessons, she divided us into groups according to birth order. This being a college predominantly made up of mormon kids with big families, dividing us up into oldest, middle, and youngest wasn’t going to cut it. We had groups of oldest, second oldest, middle, second to youngest, and youngest. We had a simple assignment. Each group was given a virtual $500,000 budget to plan a party.

    I am the third of six so I was solidly in the middle child category. My group went all out. We rented and entire cruise ship with all the bells and whistles. And we hired a famous band to perform. I don’t remember which band. I want to say Aerosmith, but that might be wishful thinking. Whatever the band, I am sure they would have asked for more than our budget allowed. I remember being very aware that we were going way over budget, but the planning was just so fun!

    When it came time to present, each birth order laid out their plan. After each presentation, my professor read a synopsis of what was typical amongst that group. It was spot on every single time.

    I tried to find any information I could on the $500,000 study, but I came up dry. So I will tell you the two birth orders I remember most clearly.

    My group presented our monstrosity of a party, and when we were done, my professor said something like “the middle child’s party will be flashy and extravagant, and they will most likely go over budget.” Bingo.

    One of the groups that presented planned nothing. I want to say it was the second oldest child group but I don’t remember clearly. The young man presenting said something like “we thought this was stupid, so we didn’t do it.” My professor’s synopsis read something like “this group will either put in minimal effort, or they will refuse to participate altogether.”

    The experience was mind blowing. And I have been a firm believer of the role of birth order ever since.

    I come from a family of six kids, so the whole oldest, middle, youngest child synopsis doesn’t hold totally true for all of us. Summer is the oldest, but by quite a bit. She reads more like an only child in a lot of ways. She is independent, driven, wise, creative. Sarah reads more like an oldest child. Reliable, structured, competitive.

    In being the third born, I am a classic middle child. In my younger years, I may or may not have been neglected the spotlight, but either way I demanded it. I did anything I could to differentiate myself from my older sisters. Sarah was on homecoming court. So I cut my hair short and stopped shaving my legs. Sarah was athletic, so I did theater and learned to play the guitar. I was louder than I needed to be. And I am ashamed to say, I did many many stupid things in my younger years in order to be noticed. At the time, I preferred recognition over anonymity, even if it meant I played the fool. As a teenager, I was raucous, inappropriate, too open. Anything I could be in order not to be anonymous. In order to differentiate myself from my sisters. I still struggle with this to some degree. I like to think I have tempered this tendancy, but I don’t know.

    I also have an incessant need for everyone to get along. Mostly in my family, but really in all aspects of life. This ringing of hands, wanting everyone to just be happy, it’s very middle child of me.

    As the fourth of six kids, Chris was a different middle child. He truly was the one that missed the spotlight. The one who felt neglected. The one who just slipped into the shadows, intentionally allowing the rest of us to shine. I feel sad and sorry I did not recognize this in my younger years. Chris had a lot to offer. And we missed it.

    I see the same middle child tendencies in Lilly as I see in myself. Her life goal seems to be that we all get along. That I am happy, that Rachel’s needs are met, that Emmy feels loved, that Carson is recognized. Lilly is the first middle child. Just like I was. Lilly will do anything in her power to make sure everyone in her family circle and her friend circle are happy. Comfortable. At ease.

    Carson is the second middle child. In the same category as my brother Chris. And he also experiences little spotlight. My dad spent two days with Carson this week. He hired him to help my parents move into their new house. They moved furniture, built shelves, created spaces. Today my mom took Lilly to run an errand. The dummy that I am, I called my mom and asked her about her time with Lilly was. My dad was in on the call and interrupted to ask “Do you want to know how my time with Carson was?” He didn’t do it to be rude, or make a point. He was just curious. But it made me think for half a second. I should have asked. I didn’t even think to. Carson is easy. He requires little attention from me. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need the attention. Just ask my brother Chris.

    Rachel as the oldest is truly a trip. When she was around 8, I told her she could do nothing until her room was clean. I left her to her task for a while. When I checked back, she was working hard on her room ORGANIZING HER GARBAGE. She was compiling small scraps of paper in order of importance, completely ignoring the chaos that was her room. I asked her the other day if she thought she fit the oldest child profile.. Organized, list-oriented, outspoken, independent, perfectionist. She said she identified with some of it. She is outspoken and independent. She loves a good list. And she has a black and white view on things. There is right and wrong with Rachel. And very little grey. The rest though… She is not organized. Not at all.

    Every one of the kids will tell you Emmy is my favorite. This is not strictly true. Emmy is always nice to me. Which is great. And she spends time with me. I’m her most important person right now. But that is more age related. In a couple years, I am sure I will hardly see her. The typical traits of a youngest child are attention seeking, manipulative, affectionate and charming, easy-going, and carefree. Emmy loves and needs attention. She is charming and she is affectionate. But manipulative? No. Carefree? Definitely not. She has way more anxiety than an 11-year-old should have. And attention seeking? Yeah, she demands attention where she needs it. But good for her.

    Birth order plays a huge role in who we will be. Of course it does. With Rachel, I had huge expectations about the kind of kid she would be. Expectations I wish I could take back. Expectations that shaped her. Lilly probably felt like she had to fight for the love we gave Rachel. She had to define herself. Make herself different and distinct from her sister. Carson had to fight his way in, being the third child and the only boy. He has held back. Emmy is loved, unequivocally. She is man-handled. She is moved about. But she is loved. Obsessed over. Cherished. It’s probably hard not to embrace that.

    Ultimately we get to decide who we will be. But it would be foolish to believe factors such as birth order, socioeconomic status, race, and a million other factors don’t play a role. All you can do is take what you are given and make the decision to do the best with it. Rachel can choose to let go of some of her black and white. Lilly can decide her own happiness is more important than making sure everyone in her world is comfortable. Carson can decide to demand the spotlight. Emmy can learn to stand up for herself. I don’t know. I am just spitballing here. Middle child that I am, I just want everyone to be happy.

  • On Being Nice (and Tapping into Your Inner Karen)

    If I die before my time, I would guess that my epitaph would read “She was just so nice”… and I am nice. Pretty much always. I go out of my way to be nice. Nice to my employees, nice to my kids, nice to my friends, nice to strangers on the street. There is nothing in the world I would not do to keep from being seen as not nice to anyone. At all cost. I make eye contact with every clerk at every store I ever check out at. I make small talk with the lady scanning my groceries. Eye contact and conversation at the bank, at the gas station, at Walmart. I say so many thank you’s, so many I’m sorries, so many excuse me’s. Always just so nice. I am the anti-Karen.

    On the surface this niceness seems like a good thing, a positive attribute. And most of the time it is. But sometimes my incessant need to be nice is unkind. To the people in my life, and to myself.

    Running a business means that I get approached frequently by companies offering all kinds of products and services. Sometimes these companies have something significant to offer, but more often than not, it is just a time and money waste for what I am trying to accomplish. They all want a meeting, and I nearly always commit to this. To be nice. Many times I cancel. Repeatedly. Until they give up. Sometimes I take the meeting. And then ghost them when they try and follow up. I don’t want to say no. It doesn’t feel nice. But wasting the time of these professionals trying to make a living isn’t kind. It would be kinder to say “no thank you” as soon as I know I am not interested. I am working on it.

    Back in my younger days, I danced. Not well, but I did it. Year after year, until high school, when I realized it was not a talent I would ever excel at. When I was around middle school age, I was in a dance class with a girl I will call Carolina. At that age, every girl in my dance class was a little awkward, with our budding womanhood and our constant musky smell. But Carolina was a bit more awkward than the rest of us. She was reserved and a little homely. Nobody was mean to her, but not one of us went out of our way to befriend her. She was just so odd. For one of our dance performances, we were supposed to wear jeans over our leotards. This was in a day that hip-huggers and flared jeans were all the rage. I would describe what Carolina was wearing for our performance as “mom jeans”. The waistline was at her belly button and the jeans tapered at the ankles. The exact style my teenage daughters embrace now. But back then, totally not cool. A friend of mine who was in the same class approached me and whispered “look at Carolina’s jeans!” She giggled as I made eye contact with Carolina. It was clear to anyone watching that we were talking about her, and Carolina knew it. I did not participate in making fun of Carolina. But I did smile. And I said nothing to my friend about her unkindness. What a jerk I was. I should have done something. I should have pointed out how unkind my friend’s comments were. I wanted to. I knew what she said was not right. But I also didn’t want my friend to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to avoid the conflict. I didn’t want my friend to be mad at me. So I did nothing. I hate this memory. In fact, I have repressed it pretty successfully until recently. I wish I could go back and make an effort to be kind to Carolina. To befriend her. I wish I had stood up for her. This is a painful memory that I don’t like thinking about. And a perfect example of a time when I could have chosen being kind over being nice.

    It is easy to justify this experience by blaming my youth. But this pattern has continued my entire life. I was no bully in high school. I witnessed bullying. Sometimes I stood up for my classmates. But sometimes I stood by and watched, and did nothing besides shake my head. I wish I could go back. I would do my best to make every one of my classmates feel loved and accepted. I wish I wish I wish.

    And then there is dating… Every so often I decide to crawl out from under my rock and go on a date. So far it has pretty much always ended the same way. With me realizing instantly that I am not interested in whoever I am meeting. Post-date I spend an unreasonable amount of time writing and rewriting text messages to let the guy down easy. I thought I was ready to date but I am not. I have too much going on right now to be involved with someone. You seem like a great guy and you are super good-looking, but I am just not in the right place for a relationship.. Why can’t I say “I’m just not interested”? This is what I would want, were the roles reversed. I can handle it. So can they. People are tougher than I give them credit for.

    I hate to admit this. It hurts my soul to say it. But there is a good chance that my failed marriage would have lasted if I had been less nice. Niceness makes it hard to draw boundaries. To stand your ground. Niceness makes it hard to demand what you need. In order to be nice, you let a lot of things go that you shouldn’t. In a relationship, this can be detrimental. In mine, it most certainly was.

    Growing up, my family was religious. Sundays were church days. No exceptions. We showed up to church early. We sat in the second pew without fail. Nobody sat in the first pew, so essentially we were front row church goers. I don’t practice the religion of my youth anymore, and for what I think are good reasons. No bad feelings. Growing up in this religion provided me a very safe and happy upbringing. I am grateful. But I feel I have gleamed all the good I can from this religion. I have moved on. Much of my family still does practice. And I think that is great. The family members who still practice don’t know why I chose to leave the church. Because they have never asked. And I have never volunteered. I don’t share, because I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I would bet good money that this is the same reason my family doesn’t ask why I left the church. We all want to be nice, to be polite. To not offend. To avoid conflict. So we tip-toe around it. When the topic of religion comes up, I listen and I contribute where I can. In the least offensive way possible. I don’t know that this is the wrong approach. But there are times I wish I felt comfortable with letting it all out, even if it means offending the people in my world that love me the most, unconditionally. If I cannot be open with the people who love me regardless of anything I have done in the world, who can I be open with?

    A few weeks ago Rachel was hanging out with a new friend. A boy. She texted me from his house and asked me to make up an excuse for her to come home. Apparently he kept trying to touch and tickle her. It was making her uncomfortable and she could not figure out how to exit the situation without hurting his feelings. I called her a minute later and told her she was in big trouble and had to come home… now. Of course I did. That’s what I am here for. My kids know they can use me as an excuse any time they want to get out of anything. I have told them this on many occasions. They can tell whoever they want that I am the worst in the world if it gets them out of a bad situation. But…. I really wish I had provided Rachel with the emotional tools to tell this boy she was uncomfortable. And to walk out the door on her own accord. This compulsion to be nice is clearly something I have passed onto my own kids. It fills me with regret. The situation does however illustrate the limit to my niceness. I don’t have any issue being a huge bitch if it helps my kids. I will be the biggest Karen ever if it benefits the four humans I love most in the entire world.

    Ahh Karen. We all joke about Karens.. the stereotypical woman who throws a fit when things don’t go her way. She stomps her foot. She screams when she doesn’t get what she wants. She sends her meals back. She insists on exact change. She wants the seat at the restaurant she feels she deserves. She demands people behave appropriately. She does not care who she offends. On Instagram, I watch the reel videos of all the Karens. And I laugh and shake my head. Confident that I would never act that way. But in a small way, I respect the Karens of the world. Good for you for fucking politeness (sorry mom). Good for you for standing your ground when the rest of the world calls you crazy. Good for you for being unapologetic. May we all tap into our inner Karen when needed. I will tip my hat to all the Karens, as long as they are ultimately kind. Niceness has its place. But kindness is the key.

  • On The Joy of Family

    Sarah is almost exactly two years older than me. In our youth, she was brutal. She teased and tormented me endlessly. Sometimes I hated her. Mostly I just wanted her to love me. High school was a turning point. All the issues of our childhood became a nothing. And we became good friends. We still are good friends.

    I am just under two years older than Chris. When we were kids I was borderline sadistic towards him. I am sure he has physical scars, and probably some emotional ones thanks to me. There were probably times he hated me. I don’t blame him. I was pretty rotten. High school was a turning point for us as well. We got along. We became friends. We are still friends.

    As adults, I love both Sarah and Chris to the point of dysfunction. If Sarah asked me to kill someone for her, I would do it. I would bet money that Chris would kill someone for me. All the fights, the violence, the mean words, they mean nothing now.

    I didn’t fight with Merry and Andrew. The age difference was too vast. I still tormented them to some degree. When Andrew was around three, I cut his eyelashes off. I don’t even know why. When my mom noticed, she blamed him and told him not to do it again. I witnessed this interaction. I didn’t come clean, and he didn’t rat me out. He should have… I also told him he would turn into a girl at the age of eight. He totally believed me. I was a jerk.

    Summer and I never fought. She was a lot older than me. And she was my hero. I idolized her. She always made me feel important and loved. But as adults we have had some tough moments. Some of these moments are hard to relive. Some of them I would rather forget. They are painful. But we have always come back to a place of love. She is still my hero.

    When I got married 20 years ago, I did not do it with the intention of someday being divorced. I can look back now with my wise old eyes and recognize there were problems from the start. Even before I married my husband, I knew innately that it was not a good decision. I did it anyway. I don’t regret it. We had great times together. We had four beautiful amazing and interesting children. We built a life together. It didn’t last. But my marriage is part of the tapestry of my very good life.

    Even so. Even when things turned ugly. Even when my marriage was bringing me far more pain than joy. Even when it was more painful than simple neutrality.. divorce was not something I wanted. It was something I actively fought against. For too long.

    I grew up in a household where marriage was sacred. It was something to be protected against all trials and pain. Marriage was supposed to be hard. It was supposed to be worth it. But I also grew up witnessing a marriage that was healthy. My parents supported, respected, loved each other. Yes, it was painful and difficult, but they were two people who wanted to make it work. They actively tried to better themselves, and supported each other in the same persuit. In a marriage like that, it is achievable to weather the storms. That was not the kind of marriage I experienced. We were two people who loved each other. But the toxic aspects of the marriage overtook the positive.

    My divorce was hard on me, yes. Of course it was. But it was especially devastating for my kids. When we were married, Shelby would often tell the kids “mom and I will never divorce. Ever. Promise”. Even in our happiest times I would cringe when he said this. I think I knew intrinsically that our relationship was doomed. What a hard reckoning for my kids our divorce was.

    Shortly after Shelby and I split, Lilly asked me what we would do if we had nowhere to live. It was a good question, as I had spent most of my married life at home with my kids. Without a job. Without a resumé. I had my degree, and that was something. But I had no solid income. No good prospects. How was I to provide for these four small beings and myself?

    I asked her what she thought would happen if we lost our home. She said “well Nona and Papa would take care of us.” That got me thinking. Nona and Papa, being my parents, would do anything to ensure we had a place to live. What would happen if they were no longer able to take care of us? Easy answer. I have my sister Sarah. She would never let us be homeless. And my sister Summer too. And then Merry and Chris and Andrew. And if for some reason I cannot count on my siblings, I have my aunts. Gigi would do anything for me if I was in crisis. So would aunt Jamie and aunt Jo. My uncle Charlie would surely step in if I needed him. And if something happened to all of these people, I have dozens of cousins who would step in to help me. I have an unreasonably enormous safety net.

    I was nearing my forties before I realized how rare my vast safety net is. I dated a man for a while who had two small children of his own. He is a good man. He is a good dad. He would do anything for his kids. His mom is older, and lives hours away, and was never very involved in the first place. He has siblings, but for a variety of reasons, he is not close to any of them. When it came time for work and gymnastics and soccer and Girl Scouts and dentist appointments, it was all him. He told me regularly “I have no help”. It was a little heartbreaking.

    If I need help transporting this kid to this or that event, all I have to do is ask and my folks are there. Rachel is dealing with her own mental issues. My parents ask what they can do to help her. Emmy needs to get to gymnastics and I have to work. They rearrange their schedule to help out. Carson wants to do mountain biking. They buy him a bike, and offer to help get him to practices. On Emmy’s final basketball game of her season, she had a dozen family members rooting for her in the bleachers. At 9am. On a Saturday.

    I work with a wonderful woman who has four kids of her own. She is strong and capable and independent. She is in every way, one of the most incredible people I have had the pleasure of knowing. She could climb any mountain. She could overcome any obstacle. And she does. Her four kids are similar in age to my own four kids, so we have a lot to talk about. Our parenting styles are similar. We are chill, we don’t yell, we take care of their needs. We let them be who they are. But my parenting approach is privileged. I have their dad, who despite being someone I don’t want to be married to, is a really good father. I have my parents, who will alter their own lives at the drop of a hat if I need them to be involved. I have five siblings who show up when I need them. My friend has nobody. Her childrens’ father has passed away. Even when he was alive, he wasn’t very involved. Her father has passed away as well. So has her mother. She is utterly alone. She is raising her four children on her own, and doing a damn good job of it. But she is doing it without support. Without the love and help she deserves. She is doing it without family.

    Here is the thing she is doing. And it’s the same thing my old boyfriend is doing. It’s the thing I am trying to do. She is creating what she wanted in her own life. She is doing it through her own children. They might fight now. They might hate each other at times. They will probably end up with emotional and physical scars. But they will be there for each other. If one needs to leave a bad marriage, the others will rally. If their nieces and nephews need them, they will be there. These kids we are raising will never be alone. That’s the goal. That’s the joy and privilege of having a family.

  • Grilled Turkey Sandwiches

    Before I started pushing candy, I spent a lot of years working in the field of nutrition and fitness. Most of my clients were moms who were trying to lose the 15-30 pounds they gained from having kids. A common topic among these women was emotional eating. Many, if not all of them felt like if they could control their emotions, and thus the food they put in their mouths, they would be able to reach their fitness goals.

    This issue with emotional eating isn’t specific to postpartum women. Every adult person I have ever met deals with emotional eating. Moms trying to lose weight is just the demographic I had the pleasure of working with.

    What I have slowly come to realize over the years is that eating for emotional reasons is nothing to be ashamed of. It is unavoidable. It is essentially human. And also, pretty great. I would go so far as to say that eating for emotional reasons should be embraced.

    Eating emotionally is ingrained in us. From the second we are born, we are trained to eat for emotional reasons. The first thing new parents do with crying babies is put something in their mouth. Little humans learn from the beginning of their existence that eating makes them feel better. Are you sad? Here is food. Are you stressed? Eat something. Are you vaguely unhappy and you don’t know why? Have some sweet, fatty, delicious milk. Babies experience this several times a day, every day, for months to years. And they (we) carry this over to other emotions. If eating when I am upset makes me happy, what does eating when I am excited do? Enter birthday parties, celebrations for promotions, baby showers, championship games. Want to catch up with an old friend? No better way than to share a meal together. Food enhances every occasion. Food is emotional. Innately. I say embrace it.

    Rachel has been a pretty easy teenager. She was an exceptionally easy baby. But the times between were rough. For years, she regularly had what I like to call her “Incredible Hulk” moments. When she was angry, she was destructive. She would throw things, push her siblings around, scream obscenities. Once she got started, there was nothing to do but wait for the storm to pass. One day when she was about 10, she was on the verge of one of these hulk moments when I had a stroke of genius. An inspiration. Or maybe a lucky moment. I decided what Rachel needed was some emotional healing in the form of food. I made her sit at the kitchen counter while I made her the most buttery, cheesy, grilled turkey and cheese sandwich I could muster up. I set it in front of her and said “eat it”. She did. I asked her if it was good. She nodded. That was it. Nothing else was discussed. We just sat silently while she ate. The crisis was averted.

    She is nearly an adult now. These days she very rarely turns green. She has a job. She drives her own car. She is incredibly independent. She knows where I keep the bread, the cheese, the turkey. But she still regularly asks me to make her grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches (because they taste better when I do it). Usually she asks apologetically, and almost alway at inconvenient times. When I am in bed. When I am reading. After I have already made dinner and finished the dishes. But she asks for the turkey sandwich when she needs it. Emotionally. Sometimes I act like it’s a big deal, but I always do it. I understand that the turkey sandwiches are like a salve for her. They are healing. It brings her right back to that kitchen counter of her youth. I get that. That’s what food does.

    Years ago, I was working at our family business with my sister Merry. I was complaining about not having a lunch. So she gave me her leftovers. Stew made by her husband, with venison he had personally hunted. It is still one of my favorite meals of all time. I cringe a little when I say it, but I could actually taste the love he put into the meal. At that time in my life I needed a bit of love. And that meal healed me to some degree. I have no idea what the calorie content of that stew was,.

    When my kids were young, I was pretty experimental with meals. It wasn’t always successful. I remember one specific meal where I had simmered turkey bones all day. I made a delicious soup with the broth. I added bacon, turkey, broccoli. I served it with grated cheese. Upon learning what we were eating, each child had their own terrible reaction. Carson said “you cook gross food.” Emmy said “I am allergic to soup”. Lilly was out because she didn’t want to eat anything with meat. Rachel threw herself on the floor and had a full on 2-year-old fit (she was 9).

    Around that same time, we took our kids on a 7-day road trip to Arizona and Las Vegas. They got to eat all the hamburgers and pizza a kid could possibly want. Around day five, Rachel told me she just wanted to go home and have me cook her dinner. Emotionally, the pizza and burgers were not cutting it. She just wanted the turkey soup. The meal prepared with love.

    At my house, we eat dinner together. At the dinner table. Every night. No phones, no TV, no distractions. I facilitate this meal time even when I am bone tired. Even when work has taken every bit of my will and my energy. Not every kid is there every time. But whoever is home has to join in. A couple times a week I make a homemade meal. Sometimes it’s cheese quesadillas. Often it’s frozen pizza. Sometimes the conversation amongst us is great. Sometimes the kids argue and insult each other. But we do it. Every night. This is not a brag. It isn’t something I have put a lot of though into. It is how I was raised. A meal is something to be shared. It is an opportunity to talk about our day, to connect. To “break bread” together. It’s… emotional. And emotionally important. We don’t talk about calories. We don’t talk about body weight. We just enjoy our meal together. Food has power.

    Back in the day, when I had the time and energy, when I was not responsible for all of the household things, more than one neighbor or friend would sit at my kitchen counter and tell me about their sorrows, their complaints, their issues. I would offer little in the way of advice. But I would cook for them. With the intention of healing. With food instead of words. These are some of my favorite memories.

    Sharing the joy of food with my kids is a burden I take on alone. Nobody cooks for me. I don’t get to sit at anyone’s kitchen counter and share my grievances. Sharing the joy of food with my kids is up to me. I am not complaining. It’s just a fact. I want my kids to feel that in every quesedilla I serve. Food is love. Food is joy.

  • Hot Water!

    My home is a relatively modest one. When my kids are home with me it is a tight fit. When they are with their dad, it’s plenty large. It is neither old nor particularly new. It’s not fancy, but it’s nice. It’s… unoffensive. It was definitely not my first choice in location. Or style. I really wanted nothing to do with it at first. From the generic landscaping to the white carpet in the living area, I didn’t think it was my “type” of house. I didn’t even want to look at it based on the neighborhood. I am a Boise girl after all. This house is in Meridian of all places. despite my hesitation to even consider it as an option, the second I walked in, I knew it was my new home. White carpet with 4 kids be damned. This was the house for me.

    It proved to be a good decision, as it became safe haven for me and for my kids. An easy place to be. A safe place for us to recoup and recover after the trauma of the divorce we had all just endured. And as I have made it my own over the past four years, I have really grown to love it. I have done a lot to this home to make it my own. But what may perhaps be one of my favorite aspect of our family home is something I had noting to do with. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until after I bought the house. And once I found out, I truly didn’t even know what it was. My realtor (and cousin) told me it was a great perk, and I just took her word for it.

    I am talking about our tankless water heater. For those of you who don’t know. For those of you who grew up with siblings and had to fight for the first shower in the morning. For those of you who are still dealing with kids and spouses using all the hot water, let me explain in layman’s terms… a tankless water heater means you never run out of hot water. Ever. You can take a two-hour, ultra hot, skin cooking shower and never have to worry about the water going cold. You can bathe all four of your children AND your dog, AND your mother-in-law all in the space of an hour, and you will still have hot water for your two-hour power shower. You can fill a giant bathtub up to the brim at whatever temperature you want. No need to choose between being totally submerged but a little cold, or perfectly hot but not totally submerged. The bath is always warm. Maybe you all have this, and it is nothing new. To me it was revolutionary.

    A regular water heater has its advantages though. Back when my kids were small, I got 20 minutes in the shower (if I was lucky) before the heat ran out. The water running cold was my cue to hop out and start my day. Wishful thinking was a fool’s errand. I knew the water would only get colder. No point in delaying the inevitable. My tankless water heater on the other hand, allows me to live in oblivion. It allows me to stay in for five more minutes. Or ten. It allows me to avoid starting my day.

    Not that my days are terribly hard to face. They are actually usually pretty great. But they are a lot less comfortable than an endless hot shower.

    Long hot showers are not the only way that I avoid discomfort in my life. . I seek distraction. Whether it be difficult confrontations I don’t want to face, difficult memories I would rather forget, or difficult tasks I would rather not deal with, I avoid. Don’t get me wrong. I take care of business. I pay my bills. I go to work every day. My kids are dressed and fed. They get to school on time. But I avoid dealing with uncomfortable things at all costs, until the last possible minute. I love my showers, but I hate hair-washing day. As it means I cannot have my earbuds in.

    There is always something in my ear. While I am working out. While I am cleaning. While I am driving into work. While I am getting ready for the day. Usually it’s a book or podcast. Sometimes music. And before you give me kudos for trying to better myself with these books and podcasts, you need to know… It isn’t always great content. Sometimes it is. Often it is the emotional equivalent of Twinkies.

    I have always viewed myself as an emotionally intelligent person. Someone not afraid of their own feelings, and pretty good about relating to the feelings of those around me. But during the last few years, I have done a pretty good job of burying anything than brings discomfort.

    Let me be clear. My issues, my traumas, my feelings are nothing major. They are not special or unique. They are pretty normal. I am fine. My life is good. I am nothing special for having to deal with the hand life has dealt me. All things considered life has treated me well.

    There are so many things I want to do though. I want to travel. I want to be well-read. I want to master the guitar. I want to learn Spanish. I want to create beauty in the world. I want to sweep up the leaves on my front porch so my kids don’t trek the leaves in every time they walk through the front door. I want to finish painting my baseboards (a project I started over a year ago). I want to clean out my closets. I want to plant a beautiful garden that I can eat from. I want chickens. I want to deal with my demons and become a better person for it.

    But I also want to watch and re-watch episodes of Scrubs and Modern Family. I want to disengage by watching endless Instagram reels. I want to stay in my beautiful bed until the last possible moment every single day. I want zero responsibility. I want to answer to nobody.

    And I know that if this were my life, I would be miserable.

    Years ago, my sister Summer recommended I read a book called “The Upside of Stress”. It was a great recommendation and a great read. The take-home for me was this. The most stressful and difficult parts of your world are also the things that bring you the most joy and satisfaction. For me, the hardest and most stressful thing is my children. Followed closely by my job. Both of these things are immensely difficult. And immensely joyful.

    As a person, I would say my underlying current, my underlying personality is joy. Even during the most traumatic and unhappy times of my life, I have been joyful. Sad, yes. But joyful. Last year I forgot that. I forgot to feel joy. Life was stressful. My job was stressful. My relationships were stressful. I spent 2022 absent of joy. I forgot to feel it. It was miserable. I never want to do that again.

    I want to be how my kids were when they were little. How I was a child back in the day. Kids feel joy intrinsically. The world is truly their playground. It is our playground as well if we allow it to be. I want to play. I want to feel the wonder of being a child.

    Life is what it is. Much of it, at least for me, cannot be changed. But I can choose how I manage it. I can choose joy. I can be like a child experiencing all of it for the first time. Life is too short not to feel this joy. Not perfect. Not without stress. But happy all the same.

    I still have my tankless water heater, so I am going to enjoy the hot shower every single second I can. Then I am going to go to work on my life. I am going to feel all the joy this life has to give me. There is so much to be had.

  • This One is for the Ladies (but for Some of the Guys too)

    From the time of adolescence to now, there has never been a point in my life that I have not wanted to change my physical appearance in some way. From the age of 12 to forty, it mostly has been my body fat percentage. Although I didn’t think of it in those terms in the early years. I was a normal sized adolescent. Of course like so many of us young ladies, as a 12-17-year-old I identified as fat. I saw my thin sisters, the models and actresses my schoolmates loved, the magazine covers at the grocery stores. I wanted to be that. Thinness was what would make me valuable as a human. I went to bed many nights visualizing myself as a little bitty thing with a 6-pack. In my dreams, there was a procedure that could suck out all the extra fat that was making me unlovable and unattractive (I had no idea liposuction was a real thing). It was going to happen. Someday I was going to be “heroin chic”. I wanted it desperately. Thinness was my destiny.

    To achieve this, I went on a myriad of diet and exercise programs over the first years of my adolescent to adult life. In junior high and high school, it was all about the low-fat. Low-fat cookies, pudding, granola bars, yogurt (all of which just made my waistline thicker). I was a senior in high school the first time I heard of Keto. The Keto diet had been around for years as a method of keeping epileptic children from having chronic seizures. But it was brand new as a weight-loss diet. I tried it for two weeks. I lost a few pounds but I was so miserable I gave up. I gained everything back and then some.

    As a young adult I did find a program that kept the pounds off. And it was a relatively healthy one as far as diet programs go. The deal was to eat six small meals a day, each one with a protein and a carbohydrate. No sugar. No junk food. Once a week you got a whole day to eat whatever you wanted. Physically It worked. It seemed like a dream. I was everything I had dreamt to be. Nearly heroin chic! The problem was, the psychology of it made me think about food ALL THE TIME. Because the meals were small, I never actually felt full until meal four or five. In my college lectures, I would count down the minutes to my next Luna bar. Or I’d spend my lecture time planning out what I would eat on my next “cheat day”. The cheat days themselves were a nightmare. I ate so compulsively all day that by the time I went to bed I was sick. Inevitably, the next day I was so “food hungover” that I couldn’t face putting a bite of anything in my body for hours. Sure, I didn’t touch dessert all week, but on my cheat day, I ate seven. It was a little miserable. And not entirely healthy.

    This is only a small snapshot of the myriad of exercise and diet “philosophies” I have tried over the years.

    Over the past few months, I have come to the realization that I have been dealing with a low-key eating disorder most of my life. If we are being honest, I think many of us women (and some men) have dealt with eating disorders on some scale. I won’t go into details on mine. I am not proud of this part of my life, and I still have a small amount of dignity to protect. Suffice it to say, I have had many many ugly food moments in my life.

    I care less about my body fat percentage at this point in my life. Maybe it’s because I am tired. Maybe it’s because I have bigger things to worry about. Maybe it’s because my body is doing a good job of maintaining. Maybe it’s because I finally recognize that for women, having a six-pack is not only extremely difficult, but for most of us, pretty unhealthy.

    There are still days I wake up feeling a little bloated. There are days my jeans fit a little tighter. A few years ago, feeling bloated would have ruined my week. I would have made a plan to get back on track. I would have scolded myself for eating too much at dinner. I would have skipped breakfast, or worked out extra hard or even twice in a day. My body fat obsession is a little embarrassing considering what a luxury too much food is to most of the world. Now I shrug those bloated days off. But not because I am enlightened. Not because I am a better woman.

    I have a belief in the marrow of my bones. I believe it with every ounce of my being. I believe it so passionately that it makes me weepy. I am going to say it in all caps. That’s how strongly I believe it… YOUR SELF-WORTH IS NOT DICTATED BY YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE. Or your age, or your socioeconomic status. It isn’t now, and it never has been. Sure, society acts like it values youth and beauty and money above all else. But society is dumb. And subjective. You are just as valuable as a human being whether you are 100 pounds or 500. 75 or 25. Caviar or ramen. Whether you have a fat giant chunky nose, and a face full of zits. Or whether you could be on the cover of Vogue. It has nothing to do with your value as a person. I absolutely definitely truly believe this about every single person in my world… except myself.

    Yeah, I don’t worry much about my waistline at this point. But I am old, folks. I don’t need Barbie’s body when I am dealing with Golden Girls wrinkles. And what my hairdresser likes to call my “strands of wisdom”. Gravity is taking its toll. I am ever so aware that it is only downhill from here. I find myself debating as to where to put my limited extra money. Buy a hot tub, repaint the exterior of the house, invest in regular botox treatments, or have some elective surgery. What is an old lady to do? Because when it comes right down to it, deep inside I still equate my physical appearance with my value as a person. On the surface, I dismiss this vehemently. I don’t dress fancy, I don’t wear a lot of makeup. I am grounded. I am earthy. But deep inside, I worry that losing my looks and my youth means losing my value as a person.

    There are so many beautiful humans in my world. My beautiful sister Sarah, who competes in Crossfit competitions and cleans up at the age of 43. My beautiful sister Summer, who teaches English to refugees because she has a passion for helping a vulnerable population. My beautiful friend Sheila, who works so hard at her job, but also, as a totally single mom of four, makes sure her kids’ needs and wants are met, even if it means sacrificing her own needs. My beautiful co-worker Meekyung who came to this country speaking absolutely no English, but can read anyone under the table in English AND in Korean. My beautiful parents, who despite having no formal education and a limited start in life have become successful in every sense of the word. I admire all of these people and many many more. And their physical appearance, their age, their income, has nothing to do with my admiration.

    So why can’t I give myself the same grace? Why can’t we all give ourselves that grace?

    I have tried to instill the idea of appearance not equating to value with my kids. And I know I have definitely messed up. Yes, I try to tell them they are beautiful whether they are in their sweaty pajamas or ready to go out for the night. I have not pushed clothes, or makeup, or thinness. But I am sure they have picked up on things. Which is such a bummer. Because they are innately beautiful. Physical appearance aside.

    A couple years back, my girls and I were talking about noses. Rachel said something to the affect of “I have a perfect nose”. Little 8 or 9 year-old Emmy piped up and said, “not me, I don’t have a perfect nose”. What the heck? Her nose is adorable. I asked her what she meant and she said, “Every night I go to bed with no boogers, and every morning I wake up with boogers… like so many boogers!” My dream for my kids, and for all of you out there is that you view the worst of your physical imperfections as too many boogers in the morning.

  • Parenthood and Alcoholism

    Being a mom has been a strange experience. I am in a less traditional position, in that I only have my kids every other week. So half the time I am scrambling, trying to make sure their needs are met while also working a demanding job. The other half the time I have a lot of freedom. And I am lonely as hell.

    When they are home, I do nothing but work and kids. I like it this way. But it’s a lot. Every so often I get ambitious and make plans outside of my kids. They are capable on their own. They are almost all teenagers, so they have their own stuff going on anyway. But when it comes down to it, 9 times out of 10 at the last minute, I cancel whatever plans I have made. I just feel the need to be home and available. I am not saying this to toot my own horn. they are fine. They probably do not need me. But I need them. I need them to need me.

    My kids are exceptionally easy. They are independent, mostly responsible, and mostly chill. But I still feel like I should be available. As an at-home presence. Especially since I only have them half the time.

    The days are full when the kids are at my house. Wake up at 6, get the high schoolers going, do my workout, get the middle schooler going, shower, get the youngest going, make breakfast and lunches, get everyone out the door, do my goals and calendar for the day, get the kitchen cleaned up if I am lucky, get out the door for work. When I get home, it’s dinner and dishes, keep up on laundry and such, and quality time with whichever kid needs it (Emmy). Around 9:30 I get the kids settled. I head to bed at 10. From 10-11 is mommy time. I get ready for bed. I scroll facebook and instagram. I read. I chill. Theoretically, nobody is to bother me during this time. Hah. Someone always needs something. Whether it’s Lilly who needs a cuddle, or Carson who needs a cuddle that turns into a wrestling match, or Emmy who wants to tell me why she doesn’t want to go to school, or Rachel who just got home from work and wants to vent about her day… I take it all in stride. What else am I supposed to do?

    I’m not special in the challenges of parenthood. All parents go through this same routine to varying degrees. What is slightly unusual about my situation is that it’s just me. There is no partner to share the burden. For half of the time. The other half, their dad has to go through all of this… also without help. This is not the way it should be. It should be two parents supporting each other. Acting as buffers for each other. One taking over when the other needs a break. But there is no point in thinking about what should be. It is what it is. And what it is is pretty great all things considered.

    Regardless of all the great, by Thursday I am toast. I limp through Friday. When they head to their dad’s Saturday afternoon I am happy to see them go. By Sunday, I miss them like hell.

    The fact of the matter is, I am a much happier person when my kids are home. My life feels hectic and out of control, but it feels complete. I feel settled. I feel like I have a purpose.

    I took a walk the other night in an attempt to decompress, and I gave the whole situation some thought. My kids are pretty easy. They make good choices, they are helpful and cooperative, they are delightful to be around. Yes it’s hard when they are here. Mostly because there is no quiet. No alone time. No chill. I hear “hey mom” way too many times for a reasonable adult to handle. But I am fully aware of the fact that they are getting older. I have a little more than a year before Rachel graduates. Lilly follows suite the year after Rachel. That means in a little more than two years, my at home kids will be divided in half. Two years after Lilly graduates, Carson will. That leaves Emmy. In just over 7 years, I will be alone.

    David Sedaris writes a beautiful essay about his mother (if you don’t know David Sedaris check him out NOW). She died some years back from cancer, but she was also an alcoholic. There were six kids in the Sedaris family. He talks about evening meals, where after dinner his dad would take off his pants and sit on the easy chair and watch tv. But the rest of the kids would sit around the table late into the evening, trying to make their mom laugh. She loved and encouraged this. Her drinking only got bad after the kids all moved out. He says that he doesn’t think that was why she became an alcoholic. But without her fan club, she lost her purpose. There wasn’t much else to do but turn to drink.

    I relate to this so hard. And I worry about it. What will I do when my kids are not easily accessible? As hard as it is to have them, they are my purpose and my greatest pleasure in life. I would like to think that I would not turn to drinking, but I still worry. Yes, I can find hobbies, I can find friends. Hell, maybe someday I will find a partner. But what could possibly compare to the fulfillment of raising these kids?

    I have noticed a trend amongst the young people in my world. They don’t want kids. They are vehement about the topic. The why is a subject for another post. I fully support their choice. Nobody should have kids if they don’t want to. Raising kids is a privilege and a pleasure. For me personally, raising kids has been the greatest privilege And pleasure I have known. Yes it’s hard. And yes, my life would be much simpler if I had chosen not to have them. But parenthood has brought me the most joy (and sorrow) of any other thing I have done in my life. I pity the fool who does not get to enjoy this privilege.

    What will I do when they are gone? When they don’t need me as much as they do now? I don’t know. I will find hobbies. I will travel. Maybe, God willing, I will find a love of my own. But it will all pale in comparison to the joy of raising the four best humans I know.

  • Music and Time Travel

    Nothing brings you back to a poignant memory as successfully as a familiar song. I cannot listen to the following without thinking about being a little kid, riding around in my dad’s black pickup truck: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Hang on Sloopy, House of the Rising Sun, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, I Dig Rock and Roll Music, Brown Eyed Girl. He had a cassette tape with all of these songs (and some I don’t remember, although I am sure memories would flood if I heard them), and we listened to it on repeat when he and I ran Saturday morning errands. To the hardware store, to the dump, to the gas station. That cassette was the soundtrack to my young life. My favorite at the time was The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I even once convinced my best friend Katie Hurd that I was soprano that sang backup vocals in that song.

    I don’t think it will embarrass my dad if I say that the man can’t sing. If he hits the right note in a song, it is purely coincidental. But boy is he passionate about music. I remember the first time I listened to the song Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. My dad put the record on and told me to listen for the climax. The song is probably less than 2 minutes long. But when Cat hits that climax, your heart about explodes.

    When we would listen to the radio in my early years, it was always classic rock or oldies. My dad would ask “who sings it?” Initially, I almost never knew. He would say “listen to their voice. This is an easy one…” So I did listen. And eventually I got pretty good. Not good enough though. If I would guess the Beatles he would say, “Yeah, but which Beatle is singing?” Or “Yeah, but which one wrote it?” If I guessed Crosby Steels and Nash he would say “No. In this song it’s Crosby, Steels, and Nash AND Young”.

    My very favorite movie as an eight-year-old was Dirty Dancing. I had an unnatural obsession with Johnny. Who didn’t? But being only eight, I was expressly prohibited from watching it… So of course every chance I got, I went to my friend Rachel Lee’s house. She owned the movie. We watched it ALL THE TIME. To be fair, being as young and naive as I was most of the content went straight over my head. Because we watched the movie on repeat for months straight, I was very familiar with the song I’ve Had the Time of My Life. It was my jam. During one Saturday morning errand run with my dad, the song came on the radio. My dad turned to me and said “Name the movie!” Now I was in a bit of a pickle. I tapped my little eight-year-old finger on my chin while saying “hmmm….” for what felt like an unreasonable amount of time, trying to decide my next move. Do I give the right answer, thus giving myself away, or do I lie and say I don’t know? Eventually, I stuck my finger up in the air, like a professor in a movie with an “a-ha” moment.. as though the answer had just occurred to me.. I said “Dirty Dancing?” My dad didn’t make me wait. He just said “That’s correct!” I like to believe he was proud. Despite the fact that this happened over 30 years ago, I remember it crystal clear. This is what music does.

    When I was a junior in high school, we had a new house built. One of the great features of the new house was a food storage room. But it was unfinished. My dad, jack of all trades, finished it himself. With my limited help. We listened to the radio while we worked. Knocking on Heaven’s Door came on, and we had a full-on discussion about the song and it’s origins. To this day, when that song comes on my dad asks “what does this make you think of?” I can answer without hesitation, “finishing the food storage room in our old house.” I would not have remembered that project at all if it weren’t for that song.

    My dad has great taste in music. I would listen to his playlist any time. Heck, I am listening to it right now. Along with the ones I have already mentioned, my dad loves Three Dog Night, Simon and Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, the Stones, Neil Young as a solo artist, and every other hippy band or singer from the late 60’s to early 70’s. It’s great music. But that’s all he listens to. He’s not too interested in broadening his horizons when it comes to the music he likes. As a young person, I found this to be confounding. There is so much great new music to explore! Why stick with what you know? I tried in my teenage years to get him to listen to the “new” music I was into. U2, Dave Matthews Band, Sublime… no go, although he was a good sport.

    I am proud to say that as an old mom, I have become my father. A gal I work with asked me the other day what my current new favorite song was. I had nothing… See, I have a playlist too. It’s my own version of that cassette we used to listen to. And there is not much new on it. It holds all the songs I have grown to love over the past 30 years and that’s it. It has throwbacks to my childhood with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Elton John. But it also has music I discovered as a young mother. Lumineers, Gregory Alan Isaacov, Cold War Kids, Regina Spektor. All of the songs on that playlist have a nostalgic feel. Every last one brings me back to a specific period of my life. Listening to familiar songs is the closest to time travel that we will ever get. And there are a lot of moments I enjoy reliving.

    My playlist is the soundtrack while I run errands with my own kids. I tell them stories about the music. I ask them questions like “who sings it?” and “what movie is it from?” There is a song by Dispatch on my playlist that I absolutely love. It’s called “Only the Wild Ones”. I put it on a few months back and told Emmy “listen for the climax”. I like to think she dug it.

    My kids play music for me as well. New music. Music that means something to them. Music that makes them feel things. I am a good sport, just like my dad was. But I categorically hate it. I just want my familiar nostalgic tunes.

    Though they roll their eyes at me, I have noticed something in the past couple of years that warms my heart. When I put my playlist on, my kids don’t really complain. More than that, I catch all of them singing along to the songs. They know the words. They know the artists. They know all the trivia. I would like to imagine that someday, when they are raising their own kids and living their own lives, they will refer back to the music I played on repeat while they were growing up. I hope they will have some great memories to share.

  • Bad Advice

    I maintain that one of the hardest parts of being a young parent is the flood of unsolicited advice. Now that my kids are older (let’s face it, I am older too), I don’t get a lot of parenting tips. Or maybe I do, and I have just gotten good at tuning the advice out. When I was a young mom , it felt like every time I opened my eyes I was bombarded with articles, Facebook posts, well-meaning strangers, friends and family, all telling me the right way to be a good mom. Heck, it started even before I had kids. During my first pregnancy, I was working as a trainer at a gym. I was helping a lady slightly older than me, and she asked when I was due. I told her I only had a few weeks left. She smiled so sweetly for a moment… and then she said, “Just so you know, you are going to hate it. You will act like a bitch, your husband will hate you. You will hate you. You won’t want sex. You won’t want him to touch you. For the first few months you will be miserable (I wasn’t. The first three months of parenthood were the best three months of my life).” This wasn’t even advice. It was just mean. But it was an introduction to what I would experience for a few years to come. The advice I saw in my young mom years, no matter how well-meaning, just left me with a feeling of falling short. A feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. A feeling that what I was doing was totally wrong. It was disheartening. It wasn’t just parenting advice that got me bogged down. It was also dieting and workout advice, advice on how to set and maintain goals. Advice on how to love my husband (will approach all of this in a post to come). Advice on how to keep a home. It all felt overwhelming. And impossible.

    The older I get, the more I appreciate that advice is subjective.

    I heard my mom say once that she potty trained us all at two years of age. And that she would get pretty grumpy if we didn’t pick up on it right away. To be clear, my mom never said she thought I should do the same with my kids. But as a young mom, I thought I was doing it wrong if I didn’t take the same approach. So when my oldest turned two, I started the grueling process of getting her to pee in the toilet. I remember taking her little toddler toilet with me in the mini van to run errands. I would ask her every 15 minutes if she needed to pee, fully prepared to stop at the side of the road if she required it. It was a fruitless effort. She wasn’t getting it. There were so many “accidents” during this period, I was about ready to lose my mind. Grocery shopping was a nightmare. If at any point she indicated she needed to go, I would abandon the shopping cart and take her into the public restroom, along with her baby sister. Usually she would just look around, fascinated with the auto-flush toilets, and then tell me she was done. This would happen maybe three or four times during a shopping trip, until inevitably she would pee her pants. I would have to go out to the car to get her backup pants and undies (why not bring them with me to start? I am a shameless optimist), take her back to the restroom to change, and then resume our shopping. One time, we were gone so long that an employee assumed our cart was abandoned and put the groceries away. The grocery shopping was pretty much complete at that point. I had to start all over. This experience may have been one of the most disheartening moments of my young mom life.

    It’s clear to me now, as a wise and mature older mom, that Rachel wasn’t ready for potty training. I would like to go back and give the young mom that I was some advice that she most definitely wouldn’t take. I would tell her “Relax and breathe. She is not going to end up in kindergarten with diapers on. Let it go.”

    Things came to a head shortly after my sister Sarah had her fourth little baby, Maya (one of my favorite children to this day). I took Rachel and Lilly to visit the baby, and offered to stay for a while and watch the four kids so Sarah could go get herself some food. I was pregnant with Carson at the time, and quite overwhelmed. Which is no excuse for what I did next. It felt like time for Rachel to use the bathroom, so I took her in. She sat on the toilet and wouldn’t go. I did not have it in me to change her out of pee clothes again. I lost my temper. I screamed at her over and over again to “just go!” She was crying, I was sweaty and angry. And then Sarah walked into the bathroom. Home much sooner than I expected. What a sight I was. To her credit, she didn’t say anything. I was mortified. To this day, it is one of my most shameful parenting moments. I did damage to that child by insisting she developed a key life skill on my terms. I regret it. So my advice to all of you young parents is, they aren’t fully potty trained until they can go, flush, wipe and wash on their own. So until they are old enough to do these things, don’t bother. Or do what you want. It might be bad advice.

    I also got it in my head that pacifiers were a crutch, and that a toddler who still relied on one was obscene. Bad for their teeth and all that. I took Rachel’s away at 12 months. Lilly and Carson found their thumbs pretty much right away, and I thought that was great, since it solved the whole taking the pacie away problem. Both of them sucked their thumbs way beyond their toddler years. Talk about bad teeth. I would have been better off insisting they had a pacifier. When Emmy came around, I was tired. I had four kids under the age of six, and I was barely coping. Emmy loved her pacifier, and for all I cared she could keep it until college if it meant I got a good night’s sleep. She gave it up pretty easily around her third birthday. Yeah, she needs braces… but pretty much all kids do. So my advice to all of you young parents is, let them have that pacifier. Even if it means your kids end up with buck teeth. Chances are they will need braces either way. For the love of God don’t call it a binki (I have my standards). This might be bad advice.

    There’s a myriad of other controversial topics when it comes to parenting. Co-sleeping? It’s not for me, but if it creates harmony for you and your family, do it! Home school or public? Or charter school since the options are endless these days. I say whatever works for you is the right choice. I have met a lot of strange home-schooled kids. But the public school kids are just as weird, so don’t overthink it. Kids are just weird all around. You want to do a natural birth? Well that is beautiful, and good for you. You want all the drugs so you don’t feel a thing? That’s pretty great too. Screen time is bad, but a well-rested parent is good. So if you need to use the iPad in order to get some down-time, that seems ok. Don’t let them watch violent shows. But violence is better than sexual content. Right? Or just let them watch whatever. Do what you need to survive. It’s best that one parent stays at home so your kids are not raised by strangers. But maybe staying at home with your kids makes you feel unfulfilled. Which isn’t good for your kids either. And if you don’t put them in daycare, how will they socialize? My advice to all of you young parents is, do what works best for you. Stick to it, and shut out the noise that’s telling you you are doing it wrong. It might be bad advice.

    If I were to give one bit of legitimate advice it would be this. Be like my oldest sister Summer. I have modeled a lot of my parenting on hers. She loves her children fiercely. And she has made a great effort to prioritize them. All five of them are amazing individuals. I spent a lot of time at her house as a young adult before my kid days. Just observing. Learning. As a demonstration of my sister’s unparalleled parenting skills, I will try and tell this story as accurately as possible. My dad came to visit Summer some years back, when Summer’s kids were pretty little. The house was in disarray, and everyone was dressed up as pirates. Summer included. My sweet nephew Owen told papa “You know, my mom is tougher than a boat full of pirates!” And he truly believed it. She IS tougher than a boat full of pirates. And the best kind of mom. One that recognizes that her biggest priority is not a clean house, or a career, or anything else. Not pacifiers, not fast food, not charter schools. Her biggest priority is her children. Cultivating their interests, being there for them, making sure they feel loved on their terms. I have tried so hard to do the same with my precious children. I want them to believe I am tougher than a boat full of pirates. And that I would do anything for them. Be more like Summer. This is good advice.

    Bottom line. Happy parents make happy children. So whatever you need to do to remain a happy parent is good for your children. As long as you make sure they feel loved and safe, you are doing a great job. Don’t overthink it. Do what feels right. Disclaimer… this may be bad advice.

  • Emotional Support Kid

    When Lilly was four, we decided to try our hand at raising meat chickens. We already had laying hens, bees, and a massive garden. We figured raising our own meat was the next step in our dream to become real hobby farmers.

    In the spring, my husband at the time brought home 6 little meat chicks, and we cooped them up. I am not exaggerating when I say that the process of raising meat chickens is appalling. They are bred to grow large, and to do it quickly. The result is that their legs do not grow strong enough to support their body weight. So they spend most of their time lying in their own filth. We kept their coop as clean as possible. Even so, words cannot describe the smell. The smell aside, it was hard to find the meat chickens lovable. Where laying hens are adorable and endearing, meat chickens are hideous. Even as chicks. Which is probably for the best, since they are destined to be slaughtered and eaten. I mean, I would have had a hard time roasting Frenchie the laying hen for Sunday dinner.

    When our meat chickens were finally the right size, my husband set up his (very humane) slaughter station in the back yard. Rachel was fascinated. Lilly was horrified.

    I was making dinner that evening (probably fresh chicken), and half listening while Lilly told me all about how great our cat Jackie was. How Jackie was cute. How Jackie was nice. How Jackie was NOT a meat cat. This is where my ears perked up. I finally stopped what I was doing and paid attention. Lilly looked at me with all seriousness and said “Jackie is not a meat cat ok? We can’t kill Jackie”. No lie, Lilly did not eat meat for 2 years after the chicken slaughter. She is a vegetarian to this day.

    When she was around six, Lilly’s dad took her and Rachel fishing for the first time. Lilly was beyond thrilled about the adventure. I was just thrilled about a bit of time to myself while my littlest ones took a nap. A few hours after they left, Lilly came in devastated, along with a triumphant Rachel and a bewildered dad. Somehow Lilly had gotten the impression that the whole fishing expedition was meant for catching pet fish. Fish that she would be able to take home and put in a fish tank. Fish that she would be able to raise and name and love. She was horrified to learn that the fish were meant to be killed and eaten. She did catch a fish, and convinced her dad to let it go. Rachel also caught a couple. And she had no intention of setting them back into the wild, despite Lilly’s begging. Lilly was inconsolable.

    For her eighth birthday, Lilly had only one request. No killing squash bugs. In our giant wanna be hobby farm garden, we had a number of zucchini and squash plants. If you garden, you know, with squash plants come squash bugs (or vine beetles as some call them). They are the worst. They are invasive and nearly impossible to kill with insecticides. And they can take a beautiful, healthy zucchini plant to totally dead within a few hours. I don’t take pleasure in killing anything. But I did find it gratifying to smash those little squash bugs with my latex gloves before throwing them into a bucket of water. Lilly hated it. She felt it was cruel, especially when I killed the ones who were in the midst of mating (but mom, they are in LOVE!). I honored her birthday wish… until she was in bed for the night.

    I am telling you these stories so you know what kind of person my second born is. She is thoughtful, she is empathetic. She is loving and kind, and aware of her surroundings. All three of my other kids will tell you she is their favorite sibling. I asked Emmy once if she would trade Rachel and Carson for a horse of her own. She said yes without hesitation. I asked if she would trade Lilly for a horse. The answer was absolutely not. There is nothing Emmy wants more than a horse of her own, so that is really saying something. I regularly come home from work to a perfectly clean house, courtesy of this child. She makes an effort with her siblings. She asks me how my day was. She cares. She makes it her mission to achieve harmony. I am lucky. My relationship with her has always been easy. We talk. We are close.

    Tonight, for the first time since her dad and I split up, she asked if she could spend the night at his house. She said she needed a break. A break! From me, her loving mother and best friend. This was after I threw an embarassing fit about my efforts around the house, and not being appreciated. Not my finest moment. I asked why she wanted to go. And with a tear-stained face she explained. Even though I don’t require her to clean the house, and even though I don’t directly ask her to be responsible for her siblings’ well-being, and even though I don’t ask her to be my emotional support, she feels like she has to. Because she wants everyone to be happy. She doesn’t want tension. She doesn’t want me to be stressed.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have failed. I have always known Lilly is who she is. And without being aware, I am afraid I have exploited it. Lilly is not my emotional support kid. She is just a kid kid. She makes it easy for me to let her take on the role of emotional support. But I am her mother. And I should do better. I can tell her all day long that my emotions are not her problem, but she is still going to feel it, and want to fix it. And she is going to carry this tendency through all of her relationships.

    I am not totally sure how to divert this situation. I’d bet good money I am not the only one who has an emotional support child. So tell me, what do I do? Lilly is wonderful as is. The best I can do is create a space for her to be herself, but still be a child. To not be responsible for me and my stresses. To not feel obligated to make sure everyone is happy. To keep the lines of communication open?

    I don’t have the first idea on how to fix this situation. But I know this. I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t have a Lilly in their life. And I am going to do my best to not take it for granted.

    When Lilly was a toddler, she would follow me around the house just hoping and waiting for affection. I remember a specific moment with her in her little toddler sundress and pigtails, and her fleshy pink cheeks. I gave up my house cleaning for just a moment and said to myself “I am going to just hug this child for as long as she wants to be hugged”. So I did. That hug went on forever. I am sorry to say that I am the one who finally ended it. I want that moment back. I would not let go this time.