Personal Entries

To my sons

My dear sweet, beautiful sons,

This weekend, you watched as my heart shattered.  After weeks of worry– of ups and downs, of questioning myself, of waiting for things that were out of my control–I fell apart.

Children aren’t supposed to see that, are they? Parents are supposed to leave the room for their disintegrations.  But you three watch me like hawks, as if I am the most interesting and important creature you’ve ever encountered, and  I don’t think there is anything I’ve ever done or felt that went unnoticed.  To assure you that I am OK when I’m not is to teach you that your instincts are wrong, and your instincts are rarely wrong.  I learned a long time ago that attempting to slink off to lick my wounds privately only makes you three nervous, and it’s best to be honest when I am struggling.  What you imagine is always worse than the reality.

And so you’ve been aware of my recent worries, and your patience and quiet concern have helped me stay calm and guardedly optimistic.

But suddenly it all became too much, and as I took one blow too many you watched at I crumbled. You gathered around me, encircling me with your skinny boy arms, shushing me as I sobbed, kissing me on my head as the first real hope I’ve felt in years drained away like the last light of the day;  as old scar tissue was carelessly ripped apart, yet again.

You three didn’t even flinch.  In one moment, you morphed from trash-talking, wrestling, nut-punching hooligans into pure goodness. Your compassion, your empathetic tears, your calm self-assurance as you shuffled me up to my bed and told me to lie down for an hour until I felt better, your protectiveness of me over the past few days  ….  it humbles me.    How do an 11, a 14, a 19 year-old know how to care and love this way?

You are such kind people, and that kindness and those skinny arms have lifted a bit of the heaviness from my heart–just enough that I can take a deep breath and steady myself.

You are my heroes, and it is an honor to be your mother.

Thank you for loving me so much,



Personal Entries

Tournament + Katie = No

I don’t think I’m a good fit for the boys’ out-of-town soccer tournaments.   I’m not sure that I’m equipped for that level and type of stress.

Mike has always handled these away trips, and so Riley’s tournament in Richmond this weekend was my first.   Mike seemed surprised when I volunteered for this trip, but I was adamant:  I felt as if I was missing out on something, and so I would be taking the boys to the Richmond tournament.

Ima tell ya why I won’t be doing this again.

1. Hotels often have balconies. This one did. The first four floors sported balconies overlooking the lobby (why? WHY?).  Does picking up your teammates and acting as if you are going to throw them four floors to their death ever get old? No! In fact it gets better each time someone does it, because each successive attempt is that much more out of control; that much more fueled by rising adrenaline and unbridled testosterone.  It is an awesome, awesome game, blogosphere, and you missed it.

“Guys!  Stop!  Please!”  I’d say.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”  The thirteen-year-olds would say.

2. They go out, and they can’t get back in. Because all the team’s rooms were clustered together, there was a great need to go in and out of our room. In and out.  In and out.  But the IN part was difficult because my boys had lost two keys and demagnetized a third by Saturday morning, and I was not handing over the last key.

Every time I’d hear the door click shut, I’d hold my breath, waiting for it….. Two minutes later:  Bang, bang, bang, bang.

“Mom! It’s me!  Mom! Mom! Can you let me in? Mom! Mom!”

And then, a chorus of:

“Dude!  Your Mom locked you out!”

“Aw, man, Riley’s Mom locked him out!”

“Your Mom hates you because you suck!”

I’d open the door to a sea of disappointed thirteen year old faces (it was much better when Riley’s Mom had locked him out because he sucked), only to have Riley grab his cell phone and head back out for another five minutes.

And, repeat.

3. “Hotel Tag” in the parking lot after dark is not a good game.

4. Hotels have hallways, and soccer players have balls. Lots and lots of balls.

5. Eating in public with a team of thirteen year old boys is a stressful thing. The spitball fight.  The cup of team-concocted “soup,” passed around with dares to drink it.  The way they kept putting the “soup” in front of me, because the way Ms. Stein gagged was hysterical. The sneaking off to the bathroom to dump the “soup” in the toilet.  The cup that went into the toilet.  The young, pregnant waitress who looked with terror upon her future by the time we left.

We left her an enormous tip, but really, is there any tip big enough to compensate for the soccer team-induced, pre-partum disillusionment in parenthood which she must be feeling?  No.  No, there isn’t.

6. Hotels have hair dryers. I don’t understand this: every drip of water on Matt’s body or clothing called for the use of the built-in hair dryer in the bathroom.   I’d never before realized how wet Matt must perpetually be.

Having just fallen asleep, I awoke at 10 o’clock to “ZZZHHHHHH!!!”

“Honey, what are you doing?”  I asked.

“I had a wet spot on my sleeve.  I dried it.” Said Matt.

And the next morning, “honey what are you doing?”

“I’m just warming up my clothes in case they’re wet.” Said Matt.

“Well…..are they wet?”

“I don’t think so.” Said Matt.

7.  Driving with a car full of thirteen-year olds is challenging. Especially when they sing this song to each other, whilst rubbing each other’s heads.

After that, they needed to sing it to inanimate objects.  “Soft shin guard, warm shin guard….”

Most challenging was when they decided to sing it to me, while trying to rub my head.  “Soft Ms. Stein, warm Ms. Stein, little ball of fur……”

I feel their behavior was why I kept getting lost.



Personal Entries

All I did was sit on his face

At the airport with the boys, waiting in line to board their flight north to Mike,  I quickly run through my parting routine.

iPods safely tucked away?  Yes.

I’ll wait until your flight is in the air before I leave the airport, so no worries,  I’m here. OK?  OK.

You know you’re precious and I love you, RIGHT?  Yes, yes, OK, Mom, OK.

A kiss for each of my babies, and then I put my hand on my hip and point my finger at them each, in turn.  I’m not aware I’ve made this gesture, but I will be in just a minute.

To Jake:  “NO. Bossing.  Do NOT boss your brothers.”

To Riley:  “Do NOT instigate.  Yeah, I see that grin on your face, son.  Do NOT antagonize.”

To Matt:  ” Don’t get defensive. Just don’t go looking for a fight, OK?”

And they all start talking at once.  Well Matt and Jake do.  Riley puts his hand on his hip and starts shaking his finger at me, mimicking me, a huge grin on his face.

“Mom. Mom,”  says Jake, hands up and palms out, a physical gesture urging me to be reasonable, to stop being so alarmist.  ” I won’t boss.  I’m not going to boss them. I’ll just help them if they need it.”

The man in line behind them has to turn away as he begins to laugh.

“Sweetie, the line between bossing and unrequested help is such a fine one, and I just don’t think you have the  subtlety needed to handle walking that line.  Don’t. Help.”  One of the very best things about Jake is his ability to laugh at himself, and at this he laughs as he hugs me to him in a rough teenage boy hug, and tells me he loves me.

During this exchange Matt has been running a monologue. ” I am not defensive, I DON’T look for a fight.  I am NOT defensive.  Ri starts all the fights.  All I did was sit on his face, and he PUNCHED me in the head.  What?  I can’t even defend myself?”


“I’m not allowed to even sit on the COUCH?”

“Dude.”  I have no idea when the face-sitting-head-punching occurred, but I’m certainly reassured, now, that Matt won’t be defensive and look for a fight.


“Oh baby, I love you so much.”  I’m going to miss the little pacifist, and I grab him and squish him into a hug so overblown and athletic he stops his bitching and laughs.

“Mooooooom, I can’t breeeeaath!”

And as I hug him I look at my Riley.  Riley, grinning, eyebrow cocked, not-so-subtly pointing to Matt.  His brother’s head has just popped off in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and he didn’t even need to say a word.

All I can do is sigh, roll my eyes, and love them with all my heart.

Personal Entries

Get the hell out of my house.

Oh sweet mother of pearl, why are there so damn many people in my house?  I love them, but they cannot loiter around me asking me to explain every noise I make  and every look on my face for the next seventy six days of summer break.  Why am I so fascinating?  I don’t want to be fascinating, and they need to get the hell out of my house, bless their little hearts.

I cannot even think straight.

Studio work is ok, because I can put in earplugs and pretend I can’t hear them.  But the writing?  I do not have two lucid thoughts to rub together.   It would be so rude to walk around with earplugs in all day, but I’m considering it.

And the big one.  Oy.  The big one?  He needs to get a damn job, but quick.  Dude’s making me nuts.

Being a parent would be so much easier if there weren’t actual children involved.   And there are so many of them, I swear they’ve multiplied like rabbits in the past week.   Like fucking rabbits.

All the parents reading this are probably nodding and saying, “Oh, I’m so with you sister.  What do you say we duct-tape the darlings in the closet and meet for a drink?”

All the non-parents are saying, “That is horrible.  Those poor babies.”   But the non-parents don’t yet know of the moments when biting your tongue is a major achievement, and loving your children in theory is as good as it’s going to get.   Ambivalence is a concept you come to know well once you procreate.

They are precious, they are wonderful, they are beautiful.  They need to get the hell out of my house now.

Thank you for listening.  I feel nicer now.  And a bit guilty.

In my thoughts at moments like this?  David Sedaris’ “Let It Snow.”

Let It Snow

by David Sedaris

Winters were frustratingly mild in North Carolina, but the year I was in the fifth grade we got lucky. Snow fell, and, for the first time in years, it accumulated. School was cancelled, and two days later we got lucky again. There were eight inches on the ground, and, rather than melting, it froze. On the fifth day of our vacation, my mother had a little breakdown. Our presence had disrupted the secret life she led while we were at school, and when she could no longer take it she threw us out. It wasn’t a gentle request but something closer to an eviction. “Get the hell out of my house,” she said.

We reminded her that it was our house, too, and she opened the front door and shoved us into the carport. “And stay out!” she shouted.

My sisters and I went down the hill and sledded with other children from the neighborhood. A few hours later, we returned home, surprised to find that the door was locked. “Oh, come on,” we said. I rang the bell, and when no one answered we went to the window and saw our mother in the kitchen, watching television. Normally she waited until five o’clock to have a drink, but for the past few days she’d been making an exception. Drinking didn’t count if you followed a glass of wine with a cup of coffee, and so she had a goblet and a mug positioned before her on the countertop.

“Hey!” we yelled. “Open the door. It’s us.” We knocked on the pane and, without looking in our direction, she refilled her goblet and left the room.

“That bitch,” my sister Lisa said. We pounded again and again, and when our mother failed to answer we went around back and threw snowballs at her bedroom window. “You are going to be in so much trouble when Dad gets home!” we shouted, and in response my mother pulled the drapes. Dusk approached, and as it grew colder it occurred to us that we could possibly die. It happened, surely. Selfish mothers wanted the house to themselves and their children were discovered years later, frozen like mastodons in blocks of ice.

My sister Gretchen suggested that we call our father, but none of us knew his number, and he probably wouldn’t have done anything anyway. He’d gone to work specifically to escape our mother, and between the weather and her mood it could be hours, or even days, before he returned home.

“One of us should get hit by a car,” I said. “That would teach the both of them.” I pictured Gretchen, her life hanging by a thread as my parents paced the halls of Rex Hospital, wishing they had been more attentive. It was really the perfect solution. With her out of the way, the rest of us would be more valuable and have a bit more room to spread out. “Gretchen, go lie in the street.”

“Make Amy do it,” she said.

Amy, in turn, pushed it off on Tiffany, who was the youngest and had no concept of death. “It’s like sleeping,” we told her. “Only you get a canopy bed.”

Poor Tiffany. She’d do just about anything in return for a little affection. All you had to do was call her Tiff, and whatever you wanted was yours: her allowance, her dinner, the contents of her Easter basket. Her eagerness to please was absolute and naked. When we asked her to lie in the middle of the street, her only question was “Where?”

We chose a quiet dip between two hills, a spot where drivers were almost required to skid out of control. She took her place, this six-year-old in a butter-colored coat, and we gathered on the curb to watch. The first car to come along belonged to a neighbor, a fellow-Yankee who had outfitted his tires with chains and stopped a few feet from our sister’s body. “Is that a person?” he asked.

“Well, sort of,” Lisa said. She explained that we’d been locked out of our house, and, while the man appeared to accept it as a reasonable explanation, I’m pretty sure he was the one who told on us. Another car passed, and then we saw our mother, this puffy figure awkwardly negotiating the crest of the hill. She did not own a pair of pants, and her legs were buried to the calf in snow. We wanted to send her home, to kick her out of nature just as she had kicked us out of the house, but it was hard to stay angry at someone that pitiful-looking.

“Are you wearing your loafers?” Lisa asked, and in response our mother raised a bare foot.

“I was wearing loafers,” she said. “I mean, really, it was there a second ago.”

This was how things went. One moment she was locking us out of our own house and the next we were rooting around in the snow, looking for her left shoe. “Oh, forget about it,” she said. “It’ll turn up in a few days.” Gretchen fitted her cap over my mother’s foot. Lisa secured it with her scarf, and, surrounding her tightly on all sides, we made our way home.

Personal Entries

Potato chip defeat

Last night I was at the grocery store with boys in tow, waiting to check out.  In line ahead of me were two little girls and their very pregnant, very tired Mommy, who was still in work clothes despite the late hour.  The older girl might have been four, and she was very excited to meet me.  I was her new best friend.  It starts young, doesn’t it?

She held up a bag of potato chips for me to see, a bag half as big as she was, with a picture of  bright orange chips on the front.

“Oh my gosh, are you getting those?”

‘Uh-HUH!”  And she starts to swivel rapidly from her knees up, she’s  so exited. “A BAG OF CHIPS!”

Her mother looks at me, and I know that look;  it says, “I lost this battle, I didn’t have the energy for this, and tonight they won.”

“You are so, so lucky. What kind of  potato chips did you pick?”  I ask the little girl.

“Uhm….”  She turns the bag around to look at the picture, and furrows her little brow for a moment, before breaking into a huge smile.  “ORANGE!”

“Orange flavor? No way!  Are you sure?”

She looks at me with something close to pity, “Yeees.  Orange like orange juice.  Don’t you know orange juice?”  Then she starts hopping, chanting, “Chips, chips, chips chips chips,”  And her mother looks like she might cry.

“Dude, I do not think those chips are orange flavored.”

“Nooooo, orange JUICE flavor!”

“Are you sure?”

She turns the bag to herself again, “Ummmmm….”

“I bet cheddar cheese flavored chips would be awesome!”  Because that’s what she’s holding.

“They’re all-natural.”  Her mother says this quietly, but her daughter is still considering cheddar cheese flavored chips.

“Eww.  No.  They’re orange, orange, orange, orange, orange.”  More hopping. Suddenly she stops, and points to her little sister, who is sitting in the cart.  “She has some, too.”

The little sister holds her own bag up for me to see.  Regular potato chips.

“Wow, those look delicious!  Do you like potato chips?”

Little sister will never need to learn to speak, because big sister is there to speak for her, “Yes, she does.  Hers are BANANA!”

“Dude.  Are you serious?  Those aren’t just regular old yummy potato chips? ”

“Nooo!  They’re BANANA potato chips!”

Her little sister’s eyes sparkle, and she whispers, “Banana.”

Jake has been watching all this with a smile, and grabs a bag of chips out of our cart; one of two bags, because I caved, too.  I have no idea if they are all-natural, and I’ll worry about that some other day.  The bag he holds are his favorite, salt and pepper.  The picture on the front is an extreme close-up of heavily peppered potato chips.

Jake holds them up for the little girl to see, “We have some, too!  What flavor are these?”

“Uhmm,” more swiveling as she processes what she’s seeing, “Chocolate chip, I think.”

“Ewww!” I say. “That would be so gross!   These are salt and pepper.”

She scrunches up her nose, “Salt and pepper?

“Yeah, like you have on the dinner table.”

“SALT AND PEPPER?  That’s NASTY!”  Because salt and pepper chips are unreasonable, whilst the flavors of banana and orange juice naturally lend themselves to potato chips.

The girls’ Mom has finished paying, and as she rounds up her bags and her daughters, she turns to me,  “You have three? ”

“Yup.  They’re good guys.”

She  puts one hand on her giant belly, “Are boys easier?”  She’s so beautiful and so tired and so pregnant.

“Absolutely,” I lie.  “Much.”

Sometimes is takes the third to realize two was a really good number.

Older favorites · Personal Entries

It’s coming

Last night I didn’t sleep well; when I went to bed there was a small person there, already.

I’ve always been pretty firm about kids sleeping in their own beds, but I’m happy to make room if someone is sick or has a nightmare.  Finding a boy in my bed is unusual, but the boys had been with their Dad all weekend and maybe Matt was just lonely. 

Matt is not easy to sleep with.  He vacillates between squirming and cover-grabbing, throwing himself spread-eagle across the bed, and wrapping himself around me like a rhesus monkey.  I love him.  I got into bed and curled up next to him, and my heart just broke when I smelled his little-boy shampoo smell.  And that’s why I had trouble sleeping.  I’ve become used to his tossing and flailing after nine years of experience with it, but last night it occurred to me that there won’t be many more nights like this, and I was treasuring his closeness too much to sleep.  How many more nights will he crawl into my bed because it smells like me?  How many more times will I get to fall asleep with my nose buried in his neck, and with his hand seeking out mine in his sleep? He’s still a little boy, but he’s right on the cusp of tipping into big kid land.  I spent the night looking at his profile in the moonlight, and wondering how it will change, wondering how those big eyes and freckles will morph into a grown-up man face, and thinking about how, when he was tiny, he would fall asleep half-sprawled across me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been sentimental in my loss of sleep.  I would sell my own grandmother for a good nap, and sleep deprivation was a huge hurdle when the boys were tiny.   But it’s been hitting me lately that the hard part is coming to an end, and that’s good, right?  But the hard part is also swirled with the most tender part, the gentle part, and so its passing is bittersweet.

Mike, the boys’ Dad, has always talked about how this day would come.  In my phone calls to him in New York, when I’m overwhelmed at being the only parent on site, when I’m exhausted emotionally and feeling so alone in my single parenting; in my life that’s focused on getting my boys to where they need to be to face their lives’s horizons with strength and self-assurance, Mike will always say, “soon they’ll need you less, and then you can take care of you.”  I thought that day would never arrive, and yet here I am, in tears because I see it coming.

Personal Entries

I really love him, continued

I’m dying here.

It occurred to me that while I’ve put punishments in place for behavioral issues at school, I haven’t offered Riley any rewards for behaving well.  There is a part of me that thinks it’s ridiculous to hand out rewards for doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place, and Riley has actually pointed this out to me when I’ve offered his younger brother rewards for behaving well.

And there it is, the thought that stopped me and made me think:  I’ve offered his younger brother rewards for good behavior in the past.  Why does Ri get a different system?

And so I came up with an awesome reward.  If we get to the year’s end without any phone calls from school regarding behavior, Riley gets the  current Holy Grail of soccer paraphernalia, the product he’s been telling me about for months.  Behold, blogosphere, Nike ID, customizable soccer cleats. I would show you a picture of them, but they would burn your eyes and blind you,  just like God when you look upon him.

Riley has spent hours on Nike’s site, designing and redesigning the perfect shoe, regaling me with details of the many different configurations one can create for specific game situations: cleats for dry grass, wet grass, turf, indoor, outdoor, playing Spanish speaking countries, dictatorships….you name it, they have a way to customize these shoes.

And after I’m done buying these cleats as a reward for the boy?  I will take any money I have left in the bank, pile it up in the backyard and burn it, while maybe dancing around the flames. Which is almost the same thing as buying these cleats for a 12 year old.

When I woke Ri up for school yesterday, I told him about my great idea, and at first his eyes got big, and his face split into a huge grin.  Then the grin quickly faded, and he got quiet.

“Could I trade the cleats for Saturday’s game?”

Ohhh.  Oh.  I can’t do it.  I cannot stick to this punishment.

What would you do, blogosphere?


Personal Entries

You will be assimilated

I’m a very open person; I tend to think that if an action requires being hidden, then maybe I need to rethink that action.  But there is a difference between openness and candor, and in writing this blog I’ve questioned where that line lays.  Being honest about myself and to myself in real life, and pouring my guts out to an unknown audience are not equal.  There is a line of stupidity there, and I think using a blog as a confessional is crossing that line.

However, what is on my mind is a very human concern, broader than myself, and in that way is not intimate at all.  So, I’ll think out loud.

Do we need romantic partners?  Why?  We live in a society where romantic love is the subject of hyper focus, and made to seem a necessity and the ultimate life goal.  But is it?   While almost half of adults live singly, there is a certain attitude about singledom; that it is a state to be avoided, that it is the result of being unwanted or unattractive, that it is made necessary because one is unfit for pairing in some way.

We are drawn to pairing up, if for no other reason than to satisfy our physical drives.   We are compelled for reasons of companionship and emotional intimacy as well, and I think we are often unrealistic about the ability of romantic partnership to meet any of these needs.   For every need met, partnership presents a challenge of its own, for better or worse.

I’ve been dating for a number of years (oh honey, I’ve dated half the single men in North Carolina), and have met some wonderful men, and some not-so-wonderful men.  Part of me would love a man in my life, but that broad, ideal “man in my life” is never clean and easy.  Intimacy brings out some oooooddd stuff, y’all.  I’ve never been more miserable than when paired up, I’ve never been happier, and I’ve never been more devastated than by the hurt an intimate partner can inflict.

That spectrum can be exhausting, and takes a toll on the other facets of my life.  I’m distracted by love.  My attention is fractured, and frankly?  After years of being a stay-at-home Mom and devoting my attention to family, I’m feeling a bit selfish.  As my kids become more independent and require less of my attention,  I’ve put that new- found surplus of brain power towards the pursuit of creative and professional success, and hell if I’m going to be distracted from the path I waited so long to walk down, and feel so passionately about.

I also wonder if my little puzzle-piece of self is so battered around the edges that it will never interlock well with another.  Love has turned me inside-out on more than one occasion, and maybe my reticence is only that I’ve finally developed some armor over the heart I’ve always worn on my sleeve.  Maybe this is just what armor feels like?  Maybe my lack of interest is healthy, and those other poor sods, gunning to pair up, are misguided.

I’ve lived deeply in many ways, and I’m very much an individual.  I’ve noticed a strong tendency in many men I’ve dated to push me to conform in different ways, and I find it controlling, and a distasteful expectation.   In the instances where I felt men would need to conform to meet my needs, I’ve walked away, and I know I’ve hurt men in that way.  Asking for tweaking is part of life, but it seems very different from expecting conformity.  But am I being unrealistic?   Is it healthy to expect some conformity? I was definitely more malleable when I was younger, and while that made pairing-up easier, I’m not sure it was such a good idea in the long run.

In my perfect world I get to be me, and he gets to be him, we’re happy to adjust a bit here and there, and just very much want each other’s company.  And short of that, whether conformity is healthy or not, I’m not sure I’m interested.

I’m at a crossroads, and know that my ability to step back and question this is, maybe,  indicative of jadedness and cynicism. I don’t know if giving up on the idea of dating is cowardice, or selfishness, or denying myself an opportunity for growth.  But I do know that I just don’t feel interested.

Reading back through what I’ve just written, I think I realize what this conglomerate of ideas is;  who the author of these thoughts is.   I’m 41.  I’m a grown-up, and I’m pretty important in my little world.  I think I’m beginning to realize just how valuable I am;  how strong and how fragile I am.   Perhaps I could have arrived at this state while in a marriage, but I didn’t and I’m single.  This life I’ve built, the boat I’m in, is pretty precious, and I’m not willing to rock it for just anything.