The Adventure That is Camping With Young Children

So you decide to go camping this weekend with the kids. It’ll be fun, you think. It’ll be relaxing, you dare to dream.

Nevermind that you and the toddler have been suffering debilitating allergies. You just started your second steroid of the month, which hasn’t fully kicked in yet and, so your head has been pounding for eight days straight so hard that you feel the pain in your teeth every time you take a step. Nevermind that the toddler sneezed approximately five hundred times that day, spraying fountains of snot with every achoo. That, combined with her leaky red-rimmed eyes, convinced you to start her on some children’s Claritin, which honest-to-goodness stopped the sneezing by about ninety percent within the hour.  If she’s fine, you’re fine, so you take yourself to urgent care and get yourself Flonase and Prednisone to add to your Singular and Claritin and Sudafed cocktail you already are on. When you text your husband a picture of you and your now-less-sneezy kiddo from the urgent care office, and he asks, “Are we still going camping’, you confidently state, “Of course we are”.  Because you can be miserable at home or you can be miserable camping, so why waste the opportunity for the trip.

urgent care

The night before you leave, the toddler gives you a hard time about going to sleep.  She grabs her baby doll and dragging it up the stairs is whining, “I want to give my baby a bath!! I waa-annn-tttt-oo-oogi-iiiv-eeee-myba-aa-bbb-yyyy-ya-ba-th!”  She must not think you’re really getting her point so she tries a louder tactic, a high-pitched shriek, “I!want!to!give!my!baby!a!bath!”  Maybe it was her being so worked up about the hygiene of her baby doll (was she suddenly not okay with the mashed ground Cheerios on baby’s clothes or the orange marker scribbled all over her face?), or maybe she choked on a large amount of drainage running down the back of her throat that the Claritin couldn’t quite get rid of.  Whatever it was, it caused her to vomit all over the bathroom stool and floor.

As a mother, the first thought you have is, damn, she ate two whole carrots and now they’re on the bathroom floor, and you hope some vitamin K was retained.  You start mopping up the floor and while you’re doing that she seizes the opportunity to take her baby doll to the bathtub and start washing her in the bucket full of water left over from her bath earlier that day.  You find the situation ironic, and slightly annoying, that she is getting what she was originally whining about when you said it was time for bed, but at this point, screw it.  Her puke-splattered baby actually now does need a bath so she might as well be the one to clean it.

You text your husband a picture of the puke, so he can appreciate your current parental situation.


He asks again, “Are we still going?”

“Yes, damn it”. We will have a fun family vacation.  You’re starting to sound slightly Clark Griswold.

The next day you leave and it takes three times longer than it should to get to the campsite, but that’s okay, you left early. On the way there your toddler tells you her butt hurts, and you realize all of the diapers are trapped in the pop-up, so you stop at the grocery store and buy more diapers and change her in the car, thinking she must have pooped, but she’s just wet. You change her anyway and head to lunch. Somehow in the fifteen-minute span between the diaper change and lunch she pees more than she’s ever peed in her entire life, enough to drench the diaper and cause a urine overflow all over her pants.  But, like the diapers, clean pants are in the pop-up so you just change the diaper and know that even though she has Pee Pants on, the new diaper will at least prevent a urinary tract infection.

Despite leaving three hours ahead for the “hour drive” to the campground, after lunch there are only seven minutes until you can check in, and holy mackerel, the GPS says you are seven minutes from the campground!  This must be a sure sign of an upswing in your luck, you are convinced.

You unpack and head to the beach and pay the nine bucks to park for your hour-long stay, but damn your kid has fun,  and the beach is all she has been talking about doing for a week. She did everything she wanted, she dug holes and made castles and put her toes in the water, and scooped and stacked and to top it all off, the infant didn’t even choke on any sand.  You head back to the campground and ate dinner at the picnic table and the toddler, in camping-loving glory exclaims, “I love picnics! And she makes a rainbow out of her blueberries and then eats them all. The mama in you is thrilled because, antioxidants consumed!  

After dinner you make a fire and put together s’mores, which you’re sure she’ll love, though it turns out she doesn’t even want to try it.  You try to convince her to just try one bite, but after a minute you realize, Why am I trying to force her to eat a sugar-laden sugar sandwich?  So you forget trying to force-feed the s’mores.  You don’t even like them much anyway, as you prefer your sugar in a fermented form.

It’s time for bed and you read the toddler Goldilocks and the Three Bears four times, because that’s what she wants, and all seems well until about five minutes into sleep time and the toddler pukes.  She pukes purple from her blueberry rainbow picnic.  There is puke in her hair and on her pillow and all over her special blankie.  You clean up what you can and hand her a spare blanket that you brought and another ten minutes pass before she pukes AGAIN.  You strip her down and you add a few more items to the soaked-with-regurgitated-blueberry pile and AHA! You have a THIRD blankie.


You smugly think to yourself, This is why we “overpack”, Husband, and mentally note that you were so one-hundred-percent on the correct side of the argument you two had earlier about how you “always pack too much”. Clearly you needed to pack even more, since you gave her your pillow to stack on top of hers so she wouldn’t choke on her own phlegm and puke again, and you don’t have another blanket to wrap around yourself, so you have no choice but to suck it up and let the now-cold blueberry-puke-patch touch your thigh.  You read Goldilocks two more times once you’re resettled.

And even though you are covered in puke and the infant has been screaming this whole time, you laugh.

Because once you’ve accepted the fact that you’re sleeping in regurgitated blueberry and pukey hair, you just let go. You have no choice.  You accept it and say, fuck it, and you can’t believe that for a split-second earlier that day you worried about a few tablespoons of sand in the bed. Now, that sand is just a beautifully sprinkled reminder of that glorious time at the beach.  You feel liberated.  Once you’ve freed yourself from the expectation that all (or most. or some) will be pleasant, all is suddenly wholly good. You squeeze in a little closer to your pint-sized puke-head and share her double pillow, and when you realize that the pillow is also wet with puke, so don’t even flinch as you tuck the end of your blanket under your head and nod off for a few minutes until morning.

The next day you get a bit of retribution. You start the day with a deliciously steamy cup of french-pressed coffee, your spouse wore the infant in the baby carrier while you walked through town and got ice cream, you visited the salt-water pool at the campsite twice, and you read Goldilocks five times before nap, and best of all, there is no puking. And is it just you, or your jeans feeling a little loose, like maybe, just maybe, you magically didn’t gain an ounce from all of those s’mores you washed down with that six-pack of seasonal IPA?


In your delirium you book the next camping outing.

On the way home you stop for a night at your parent’s cottage and you wake up to find that the toddler shit her pants in bed and the infant peed through her onesie and sleep sack.  Since you didn’t “overpack”, your entire family has officially ran out of clean clothes, because they have all been puked on, or shit on, or peed on, and as you should have guessed, you find out your parent’s washing machine is on the fritz.  Your husband hand-washes the shit-covered dress and hangs it outside to dry.  You clean up the kids and let them run arond in nothing but diapers and go take a shower, and put your pee-soaked shirt back on as you pour yourself a cup of coffee.

It’s a good thing you drank that coffee because throughout the day you change approximately thirty-five shit-filled diapers between the two kids, many of which are liquid runs.  At once point when you try to get the toddler to sit on the potty, the contents of the diaper leak out into a brown puddle on the bathroom floor.  Since you didn’t “overpack” you ran out of diapers and wipes and have to get more.

You somehow manage to make it out for a pontoon ride and for a lovely half an hour, both kids nap and you enjoy the breeze and you think contentedly, Ahhh, life at the lake.  There is still hope left.  You get back to the cottage and the toddler eats some cheese and crackers and immediately proceeds to puke all over the carpet.  Enough puke for you to suggest taking the carpet out of the house and hosing it off.  Enough puke for your dad to say, “Maybe it’s time for us to get rid of this carpet”.


You read the toddler Goldilocks another five times in a row while your spouse packs up the car, and you head home a day early.

You gave it a valiant effort.

Human Light-Brites

There’s this thing called face blindness.  Some people have it, and it makes it really hard for them to recognize others, even those they interact with often. Face blindness can compromise the ability to form lasting friendships or positive networking connections because a lot of people aren’t aware this exists, so it just seems weird when someone doesn’t say hi to you or notice you when you’re right near them.  Once you know this is a thing though, you can help someone with face blindness by reminding them of who you are when you greet them, or you could work with them to come up with some type of cool code or signal to implement so they will recognize that.

I sometimes think I have a similar type of condition, except it’s not that I don’t remember what people look like, but instead I just don’t notice superficial changes in appearance. I’m not the best at noticing new hair styles or new jewelry.  I don’t notice if you’re wearing a new lipstick, or shadow or if you’re even wearing makeup at all.  I suck at recognizing a fresh mani-pedi or new pair of pumps.  I hate to admit this, but even when my own mother developed a condition that deforms the structure of bone and it started warping her skull, pushing one eyeball out a little further than the other one, I didn’t notice it until she pointed it out. Once she did, I couldn’t unsee it, and it stayed that way for a month or so, I kept ogling her orbs. I still know that one eye looks a lot bigger than the other one does, but now, since I know it isn’t caused by a brain tumor or other life-threatening reason, I’m back to not noticing it again.  All of those visual characteristics people often pay so much attention to just seem really fuzzy and irrelevant to me.  I sort of get a glimpse of where those with face blindness are coming from.

Sometimes this causes problems.  Like, “Hey, don’t you like my haircut?!” asked in a way that is not really a question but is more of an accusation.  A lot of women seem to get mad at their spouses for not noticing those things, but maybe it’s really not so bad.

While I might not notice your new spring wardrobe, I also don’t notice when your face is dripping with sweat, or you are smeared with dirt, or you have a million rogue eyebrows shooting off in all directions.  I don’t see that the tank top and yoga pants you are wearing is the same one I saw you in yesterday.   I don’t see that your eyes have no liner or your shirt is wrinkled or you have a blemish on your skin.  But, it’s not like I’m not paying attention to you.   I still totally SEE you, just in a different kind of way.

We took Toddler Grouch to a museum not that long ago and they had a vertical wall full of holes, and huge colored plastic pegs you could push into them to create any pattern or shape you desired.  I snapped a photo of her and it looked like this:


This is sort of how I see you.  I see a basic outline and a few details of what you look like, but it’s the lit-up board in the background that I really focus on.  The background is part of you, too.  Each peg represents some positive quality you have, so a blue peg might be your compassion and an orange peg might be your commitment and a white peg might be your honesty and a green peg your humor. There are pegs for your interests and activities, like running, or singing, or sailing, or crafting.  There are pegs for positive parenting and pegs for your kindness and concern for others. There are pegs for your listening and pegs for your sharing.  There are even pegs for your anxieties and your fears, if you’ve been willing to honestly expose them.  I will admit that I while I do sometimes appreciate superficial beauty, that’s only one peg, so if that’s all you’ve got, your background still looks pretty dark and dreary, but if you’ve got all the rest of the pegs on the board filled, missing one isn’t noticed. The more pegs you have the more lovely you are.  Toddler Grouch’s real board is packed with many more pegs than the one depicted in this photograph.

Not noticing everything about a person’s appearance makes some people upset. Some people want me to comment on their fancy watch or their coiffed hair, or their pushed back cuticles.  Sometimes I use this to my advantage to weed out those who care too much about looks, since many of those people have really empty boards behind them, or are so heavily guarded that trying to dig through their built up defensives to find their pegs takes more energy than I have available to expend. Maybe people who deal with face blindness weed others out in similar fashion.

Yiayia’s Cooking Secrets (with Bonus Spinach Pie Recipe)

The first time my (now) husband took me to his parent’s house I didn’t get to meet them because they were out of the country, visiting their native Greece, but his yiayia (grandma) was there. She wore an ankle-length, dark navy dress, her usual attire as I would come to find, and her long gray hair was twisted into a bun that rested on the nape of her neck.  Her hands were thick and wide, strong from a lifetime of manual labor, the skin covering them was stretched out and creased and it would hold the shape of an object long after she pressed her hands down upon it; the elastin was long gone. They were also very soft. Maybe it was the muscle underneath, or maybe it was due to the fact she had been in the States for enough years for the calluses to wear away.

She walked slowly, but steadily, as she led me to the backyard and introduced me to her garden.  She spoke to me in Greek, which I couldn’t understand, but that didn’t deter her from chatting away and her not understanding English didn’t stop me from chatting right back.   She loved me from the get go, she smiled at me and held my hand and looked at my husband and winked as she rubbed my back.  We visited for a couple of hours and then prepared to leave to head back to campus.

“Meinete kai na fate (stay for lunch), she insisted.

Mr. Grouch tried to say no, but his weak protest didn’t do any good.  I was confused why he would say no.  We were college students and what college kid doesn’t want a free meal?  He relented, as it was clear he would, and she nodded and took my hand and led me to her garden again where she started picking the fresh onions, parsley, and spinach from the bed.  She washed and chopped the greens and then started mixing dough and began rolling it out into thin sheets with a narrow wooden dowel.  She was making homemade filo dough. For her, a “quick lunch” was making spanakopita (spinach pie) from scratch.  It was a solid six hours later before we were out of there.

But damn, that food was good.

I’ve learned that for a Greek mom (or yiayia), feeding her family is the ultimate expression of love. Feeding her family often.  Bottom line: The more food they offer you, the more they like you.  For my in-laws, it all stems from living as goat herders in the xorio (the village).  If they didn’t eat enough, they could literally die. They dealt with illness without doctors.  Exposure to the elements without shelter. Feasting because there could be famine.  Eating more food really could have meant the difference between survival and death. From this perspective, food is love never made more sense.

Once I met my now my mother-in-law I learned that she also created magic in the kitchen.  She makes simple dishes, yet they are so full of flavor that I usually want to eat half the pan. Okay, one time, I DID eat half the pan. I think I shocked her.  It was melizantes (eggplant and onions). I usually have some self-control, but that time I just couldn’t stop. She is such a great cook, and hostess, that we don’t ever alternate which side of the family we visit for Thanksgiving, we just always go to her house. Her food is the best.  And while she has much to be proud of, the downside is that she is a total food pusher.  It used to give me anxiety, to think of her basically force-feeding my children.  I’ve gotten over it, since we go over there and get free meals several times a month.  I have completely traded any worries about my children learning to eat when they aren’t hungry for homemade dolmades (grape leaves) and horta (cooked greens) and loukanika (sausage). I’ve even gotten to the point where I sometimes brag to her about how much I got my kids to eat so she’ll be proud of me. Which doesn’t usually work.

“She at two eggs today!”

“Hmmm, well that’s good she ate.  But so many eggs!  Too many.  All that cholesterol!”

Nevermind that after offering my daughter homemade spinach pie and french fries and koulourakia (cookies) and spaghetti and pancakes and sausage she will also offer McDonald’s and Cheeze-its and microwave popcorn and those ice cream sandwiches that don’t even melt in the Sun.  She will feed them anything to get those grandkids of hers to eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat.  She can’t help herself.  Her grandchildren MUST SURVIVE.

I absolutely hate cooking, but her recipes truly are the kind of recipes that are worth taking the time to learn and make.  They are worth dirtying up a million dishes or having to chop for hours.  They are made from scratch and filled with love, and typically a lot of garlic and butter. They are heavenly.

If I am at home and I want to ask her about a recipe, it’s a gamble to try to call her on the phone and ask how to do something.  She can’t remember.  Or she can’t articulate it.  Or she assumes I know…anything about cooking.  When she cooks she relies on muscle memory.  It’s like her brain might not really know what she’s doing but her hands do.  And her eyes do.  They remember, even if her mouth doesn’t. This is a woman who consistently calls potholes, “potholders”, after all. If I want to know how to make a dish, I have to see her make something to ensure I’m getting accurate information.

When I do watch her make something, and jot down the directions as I observe, there is still much room for error.  You see, she doesn’t measure.  She doesn’t necessarily make things the same way every time, depending on what ingredients she has on hand, and, what is partly due to her naturally flippant speech, and partly due to English not being her native language, she sometimes (often…always…) says one thing and then contradicts herself and says the exact opposite thing.

I am 100% positive that at one point she told me you could bake baklava and freeze it, but you had to do this before adding the syrup.  Once the baklava was thawed, she told me, you could make the syrup and add it.  When I finally get around to making some baklava, and thinking maybe I could make extra to freeze for later, I asked her about this, but she told me she has no clue, and she has never done that.  Then, she tells me I could bake the baklava, add the syrup and then freeze it.   I know this is completely different information than I heard before, and it can’t be trusted.

I think maybe we’re having communication difficulties about this because when I asked her we were talking on the phone.  I wait until I see her next in person and ask her, “If I’m going to make baklava and freeze it, do I add the syrup before or after I put it in the freezer?.

Her response?  “Yes”.

I asked my husband’s sisters.  His cousins.  NO ONE KNOWS. Which I call total bullshit on.  But, unless you watch them do it, you’ll never learn how to cook like they do.  And, let’s be honest, even when I watch them, mine still tastes like MINE and theirs still tastes like THEIRS.  I’ll take it though, the MINE version is better than anything I would ever come up with on my own.  So, I periodically meet with my mother-in-law and watch her make a recipe I love so I can try to recreate it at home.

Here are a few classic scenarios that occur every time I am furiously scribbling one of her recipes down.


“How much flour do I add?”

“A handful”

I look at her little elfish hands.  I look at my gigantic man hands.  *blink blink*



“How many walnuts do you put in for one batch?”

“About four handfuls”

The old handful conversation again.




“How much salt should I add?”

“Just a little” (said with a tone that implies I should understand what she means).

“A pinch?”

“Yeah, a pinch.  Not too much”.  She pours out how much she needs into her hands, and then transfers it into a measuring spoon so I can record the amount.

I nod my head in acknowledgment. A teaspoon.  I totally understand what a teaspoon is.

“But you need enough. Not too little either”.  She takes the salt shaker and pours an ungodly amount, unmeasured, into the mixing bowl.

I bang my head against the wall.




“See?”  She dips a spoon into the pot and lifts it up, letting the liquid pour back out. She’s trying to make me see the level of viscosity of the syrup.

I see pouring liquid.  I don’t see what I’m supposed to see.

“Um. How many minutes until it’s done?”

“Until it looks thick enough”.

I will my eyes to be smarter.  I stare harder.  I might as well have a blindfold on.  I’m cooking blind.




“So, I need three scoops?”

“Three scoops.  Full ones”.

“Got it”.  I put three scoops in and smile.  I did it!

She looks at it with a critical eye and says, “Maybe a little extra”.




You will need:

Yiayia sized mixing bowl: She can curl up and fit in it. Yes, she’s only 4′ 10″, but still. You don’t have one this size, trust me.

Yiayia sized pan: Yiayia uses a dented pan made from an unknown metal that has been passed down from the women in her family since the late 1800’s.  Good luck finding one like that.  You could use a sheet cake pan. Or two large pans.  I can’t tell you what size because it depends how thick you  make your spinach pie.

Salt: Way more than you would ever guess. But definitely not too much.

Dill: Copious amounts. Full disclosure, Yiayia doesn’t put this in hers. Except for the times that she does.

Feta: A huge hunk. But not so much you ruin it by making it taste like there is too much feta.

Cottage Cheese: A one pound container.  The only thing you will know for sure.

Corn Meal: A large handful (a cup or so).

Green onions: Three bunches. Unless you forget to buy it, or don’t have it in your garden, in which case, zero bunches.

Yellow onions: If you want.

Parsley: Two bunches. If you’re chopping like Yiayia, take each leaf and carefully cut the stem off. If you’re cooking like me, hack away, and eat a million partial stems.

Spinach: A shitload. Rinse it in a sink full of water and keep draining and refilling the sink until there is no more dirt settling to the bottom.  Repeat stem-cutting steps as mentioned previously.

Butter: Melt a stick or two. The amount you need depends how dry the filo is.  If you’re like Yiayia, clarify the butter by scraping off the gunk from the top.  If you’re like me, don’t waste any time, or butter.

Filo: Bought. Because some family recipes are so much work you know you’ll never make them yourself.

Oregano: From a plant transplanted from a tiny Greek village high in the mountainside, picked fresh from the garden, dried in Yiayia’s guest bedroom and stored in a glass jar with a broken handle and ill-fitting lid that your husband won’t get rid of, no matter how many times you cut your hand on it.

Garlic powder: Never enough. Garlic can stream from your pores for days after eating and it still wouldn’t be enough.

You will do:

1. Chop the greens and onions until your hands are sore and you have newfound respect for the strength Yiayia possesses. Be nicer to her, because you realize she probably could kill someone by crushing their windpipe with her bare hands, based on this hand-strength metric.

2.  Add the corn meal and squeeze to soak up some of the water.

3. Combine the rest of the ingredients.

4. Butter the bottom of your pan(s) and place 8-10 layers of filo.

5. Alternate layers of spinach mixture, then three layers of filo, then layers of spinach mixture, etc…until all spinach mixture is used up.

6. Top with another 8-10 layers of filo.  Brush butter on top layers, and by brush I mean SOAK. Then add more. Pro tip: add a bit of olive oil on top of all that butter.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees until done.

Yiayia's authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Yiayia’s authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grouch.

Happy birthday to you, and to many years more!
You say it’s just a day, no need for decor,
but I say let’s eat some cake (and then let’s eat some more!),
because why not celebrate the man I adore?

While we should never take for granted those we would die for,
we know those fairy tale scenarios are nothing but lore.
So when given then chance to do something more,
I say take it. Go crazy. Buy presents galore.

Today I celebrate you, a man kind in his core,
a man bearded and brawny, one I only have eyes for.
Cheers to a man who always opens my door,
who shows it’s our family that he looks out for.

Hip! Hip! to the man who works, and then works some more,
hammer, shovel, mow, plumb, wage dandelion war.
Bang, sand, lift, hold, surf the internet shore,
for another rental house you’re in the market for.

So just in case you’re not sure, I must really implore
you to notice there’s so much I give you credit for,
and when push comes to shove, it’s you I go to bat for.
It’s with you, and just you, this Earth I want to explore.

So today I celebrate. I shout, “You’re top drawer!”
Do you hear me? You listening? Hello? Ten four?
You’re stuck with me forever, until we’re at death’s door,
And each year on this day HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’ll roar.

The amount you get on my nerves, I love you that much, times four,
You complement me, do things well, that I deplore.
You turn off lights, double-check that I locked the front door.
You calculate, and invest, to make sure we won’t end up too poor.

Even when you constantly tell me to shut the pantry drawer,
or make other such comments you know I abhor,
know that loving you still is never a chore,
and always remember, I love you more.

Three Dirty Wash Cloths Can Put A Parent With Anxiety and Depression Over The Edge

Laundry is not a chore I mind doing. It’s something I can do while I’m doing other things around the house.  It doesn’t require me to get my hands dirty.  It’s not too physically demanding, except when I lug the basket up and down the stairs, but then I can pretend I’m getting some cardio in.  I like the way our detergent smells. I like taking the mess of dirty clothes and ending up with the neatly folded piles.  I like the way it feels when it is all done. Every hamper emptied. Every drawer stuffed full of folded clothes. When I’m done with the laundry, I know I’ve done it right and I really like that feeling.

Most things I do don’t give me that absolute feeling of successful completion, of knowing the job was well done.

Parenting is certainly not a job that leaves me feeling that way.  Especially being a parent that deals with anxiety and depression.

I try to do a lot of things for me, to ward of the depressive slumps, because doing so helps make me a better mama. One of them is running.  Nothing on this planet feels as good as a long run. Running makes every molecule in my body vibrate.  Right now a pretty significant hip injury has left me unable to run for several weeks. WEEKS.  And my body is not responding kindly. Other than the shooting, stabbing, searing pain in my hip joint, for the past four weeks it has felt like my legs are numb.  I’ve been wading through thigh-deep water instead of just walking like a normal person on land.  The other day I stood in place in the middle of my kitchen and had to think, much longer than should ever make sense, about walking to the garage to grab my shoes and then carrying them to the front door, or just walking outside barefoot because I wasn’t sure I could manage the extra trip across my house.  Lately I am moving very slowly. I am dropping things.  I am worried I will not be able to run the marathon I signed up for. I am not happy.

Maybe it’s my mind that isn’t responding kindly.

This month there have been so many days that I’ve felt like I didn’t have the energy to be the best parent I could be.  When I get like this, I worry I’m not doing enough arts and crafts, or taking the kids outside enough, or reading enough books.  I worry about my toddler watching too much t.v.  I worry I’m not giving enough attention to my youngest.

Lately I keep hearing a lot about how if you’re worried you’re a good parent, then you shouldn’t worry because that means you are one.  Which is sort of confusing.  Does that mean to stop worrying?  Because I’m worried now.  Is that good? Now I’m worried that I don’t even know the right way to worry.

Today I was finishing the final fold and had the, “Ahhhh” feeling of a task fully completed.  I exhaled for a minute.

Until I went into the girls bathroom and saw this:

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

I shit you not my heart jumped a beat. How did I miss this?  Damn it, I thought I had done all the laundry, but here are three wash cloths in the sink!  It’s like even though I did five loads of laundry today and everything is folded and put away, it all the sudden doesn’t count because of three dirty wash cloths.  For some reason it made all the more insulting that they were still wet.

And I know it doesn’t matter. I know that by tomorrow we’ll have dirty onesies and socks and bibs and whatnot, so what’s the big deal?   I know it shouldn’t bother me.

But it does.

So even though I’ve come a long way, I realize I am always on edge. My anxieties are raging.  I’m always worried that something won’t be good enough. The kicker? Something always won’t be.  And usually the more I worry about it, the more I screw shit up.  Or at least the more I notice.  Either way – that’s not a good situation to set oneself up for.

I’m working on it.  Usually at the end of the night I do a final load of dishes and clean up the living room and kitchen, making it somewhat presentable before I pour my glass of wine and relax on the couch.  I pat myself on the back on the nights I’m able to step over the baby toys on the floor and just leave them.  I’m happy to report that there have been days that I have been able to do this and let it go.

Today just wasn’t one of them.

The Six Week Check-Up

She started walking two days after,
running within a week.
Each day she ran those miles faster!
Physically, she would quickly peak.

She ran to combat it,
her becoming a disaster.
She was afraid to bring it up,
she was scared they would ask her.

But even more afraid of that,
she feared that they wouldn’t.
They had to bring it up,
she knew that she couldn’t.

It was hidden inside her,
like a wire wrapping her psyche,
cutting into her brain,
she felt the pressure, tightly.

It just might kill her,
if that wire tightened more.
It would shred her to pieces,
it would sever her core.

You look great! They said.
Her appearance fooled them.
She looked healthy. Strong.
She smiled and wooed them.

But she was not okay.
She was sick, deep inside.
She felt weak. Embarrassed.
The disease was easy to hide.

She was wearing herself to the bone,
running from fear, running for health.
She could not be trusted to be alone,
not with the baby, or her own self.

She wore a mask, to appear in control,
as the docs droned on and on.
They didn’t notice the void behind either eye hole,
or their patient, so withdrawn.

Everything looked good, or so they said.
Amazing! Bravo! Congratulations!
Smiling, the doctor shook her head.
But there were serious internal complications.

They never asked about it,
which she thought was bizarre.
She smiled and left.
And cried in the car.

Don't wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression.  Bring it up yourself.

Don’t wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression. Bring it up yourself.

In Which Parenting is Like Cutting Off a Limb

Have you seen the movie 127 Hours? It’s based on the real life situation in which Aron Ralston went hiking by himself through some canyons in the desert and managed to get his arm trapped underneath a boulder too heavy for him to lift. He was stranded without hope for rescue and got to the point where me made the decision to cut his own arm off in order to survive. (SPOILER ALERT: he does cut off his arm and he does survive). The movie producers did a fantastic job of depicting his self-mutilation. He sawed through the muscles and tendons with his multi-tool, which was grisly, but the cinematographic artistry peaked when he hit the nerves.  As he stroked the nerve, the screen vibrated and, like guitar strings, the wires screamed out grisly chords.  It made me cringe and grab my arm in response. He eventually realized he couldn’t saw through the bone and he had to break it in the end, but as disturbing as that part was, the nerve scene was by far the most powerful. It was disgustingly well done.

For some reason Aron’s story sticks with me. It pops into my mind with surprising regularity and makes me think. It makes me wonder if I would cut off my own arm in a similar circumstance. I wonder if I would cut off my spouse’s or if he would cut off mine. I wonder what other things I would do to survive. To live. It makes me wonder if what I do on a daily basis is enough. It’s a powerful story.

Sometimes his story pops into my mind just from parenting.

It’s the nerve pain.  It’s the vibrato zing. It’s the razor-sharp adrenaline rushes that slice open my insides and cause chemicals to seep into my blood stream faster than they normally would.

Parenting is gasping and inhaling and sweating and heart RACING RACING RACING. Parenting is survival mode and I’ve been in it for 20,040 hours. The difference between Aron and I is that instead of for actual life or death circumstances, I’m on overdrive for stupid things like these:




“I have water in my eye!”

She spilled her sippy cup on her face.


It’s a middle of the night moan.


ZING!!!!  My head vibrates. My eyes vibrate. My fingers vibrate.

I hear her roll over. She’s still asleep.



“Mama!” A shriek this time.

Flup!  I can hear my eyelids unstick from one another.  I try to listen over the thumping.  Nothing. I doze off.


THUMP THUMP THUMP.  Silence. I doze off.


Silence again.  What the hell?

And then I realize it is Mr. Grouch’s nose doing a whistling sort of snore. My arms are pinging and pulsing and I’m ready to pounce, but my kid was never even awake (Sidebar: This is why we hate you, sleeping spouses. And anyone who asks if the kids sleep through the night yet, because that doesn’t really matter, if we’re still not).

Parenting is constant nervous system misfiring. It is hypervigilance.

Sometimes my spouse gets caught in the misfire, saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. It’s like he’s bumping the hand that is severing the other limb off, triggering sudden and unexpected searing pain, but, since he doesn’t realize I’m cutting my arm off, he has no idea how he possibly could have struck a nerve.

He usually doesn’t even know he did until I snap at him.  Which pisses him off, and makes me appear too sensitive, and then we’re both in a foul mood because I am snippy and how the hell doesn’t he notice my bloody bleeding stump?

Okay, okay, I’m not really comparing myself to this bad ass who cut off his own limb but sometimes hormones and anxiety make me feel this way.

Maybe I drink too much coffee.

Our loved ones certainly tug at our heart-strings, but I think they tug on our nerve-strings too.  So, if you’re the one who gets treated like you’re always on your spouse’s nerves….maybe this is why.

Parenting is exhausting and can be as hard as cutting off your own arm.  Maybe.

Parenting is exhausting and can be as hard as cutting off your own arm. Maybe.

Maybe This is How it Begins

I’m beat.

The lack of sleep and the germs from daycare and all of the running around is catching up with me. The seasons are changing and, unlike most of the population, when the Sun starts shining and the birds start chirping I don’t skip along joyfully smiling and sniffing the peonies. I sweat and sneeze and whine and wheeze. I do not feel rejuvenated and refreshed, I feel worn and ragged. It’s like my fragile inner self is exposed when I shed the protective outer shell of my winter wardrobe. I look as strong as a rock, but I am just pumice. Full of holes. Easily eroded.

Infant Grouch was already in bed for the evening and Mr. Grouch, recognizing my weariness (read: crankiness), took Toddler Grouch out for a car ride to give me a half hour window of quiet time so I could nap.  Just as I shut my eyes, the baby started crying.

She cries so loudly.

Infant Grouch made enough of a fuss that I felt I needed to go into her room, reach into her crib and pick her screamy little self up. When she was in my arms her cries subsided immediately but her hiccupy catching of the breath lasted for a long time after. I wiped the salty streaks from her cheeks.  Eventually she softened.


I sat in her room and held her. I am typically not a proponent of rocking my kids to sleep even though I know myself well enough to admit that personally I can’t handle implementing the cry-it-out system. Each baby scream is like the epicenter of an earthquake and shock waves radiate directly from their little bodies directly into my nervous system. I can feel the shrieks vibrating my bones.  I am unable to tune it out, I can’t focus on anything else with the screams echoing in my ears.  Even though I was exhausted, I knew I couldn’t leave her to cry herself to sleep.  Maybe I just think that because she doesn’t do this every night.

At least she hasn’t so far.

I probably have prided myself far too much about the fact that my babies generally fall asleep in their cribs awake and I have mentally poo-pooed those who say they are forced to hold their kids until they are sleep on a nightly basis. But this evening, my body melded with the cushions while her body melted into mine. And I kept rocking.

It was easier.

Maybe this is how it begins.

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard enough to stop the blood from flowing to my fingertip, and it must have caused an unnatural backflow of blood surging back towards my chest because even when I wanted to be mad at her for not letting me rest somehow she managed to lift me up out of my horrific mood.

She unearthed a rare gem out of the rough.

I can't let my baby cry it out.

I can’t let my baby cry it out.

Moms Aren’t The Only Ones Out There Mothering

I dropped my girls off at daycare the other day and watched two-year-old Toddler Grouch take of her boots and put them in the basket at the bottom of the closet. She unzipped her coat and laid it on the floor before grabbing a hanger off of the bar purposely positioned at half the usual height.  She folded her coat’s arms around the ends of the hanger, hung up her coat and shut the closet door while I chatted away with Ms. J.

Ms. J. and I talked about how the kids were doing lately, not superficial talk, but talk about how they were actually doing, the minute-by-minute of every nap and night, the what and how often and by what method, nutrition was being obtained, the color and shape and frequency of each bowel movement, the how well are they listening, the where are they at with each motor skill, the she did that! and the oh-no-she-didn’t! We smiled and nodded while we expounded upon how silly and exuberant and fun Infant Grouch was lately, whether it be her side-to-side head-shakey dance or her fearless rampaging through the crinkling polyester tunnels, or the yelling at the top of her lungs when the other kids cheered, always wanting to be part of the group. I laughed at something Ms. J. said and called Infant Grouch a little goofball.

Ms. J. hugged Infant Grouch to her chest and cupped her hand gently around the back of my baby’s head while leaning her own forehead in and looked into my daughter’s eyes as she said to her, “You’re my little goofball”.  For a split-second my heart stuttered.

She called MY little goofball HER little goofball.

And I realized, she is hers, too.  Ms. J spends almost every weekday of every week teaching her, holding her, caring for her.  Loving her.  She and Ms. L. are mothering my children, and on many days, for more hours than I am.

We can call it daycare, or childcare, or preschool, but if they’re doing a good job, they’re mothering, right? Wiping noses, bandaging skinned knees, diapering, cleaning up after. Teaching skills and character: ABC’s and 123’s, no thanks and yes please.   Hugging, touching, smiling.  Watching, reinforcing, encouraging, enlightening, guiding, reprimanding, uplifting, forgiving. Loving.

Us mamas aren’t the only ones mothering our kids.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

When my kid leaves daycare she’ll have teachers that will see them for a fraction of the time that their daycare providers do, and I can only hope will love them a fraction of the amount. Because those relationships are important.  I have no interest in a teacher or a coach or a mentor who isn’t mothering my child, at least part of the time.

Note that I did not say coddle, because that isn’t the same. Mothering is not friendship, and mothering means love with limits and setting the bar high, and helping achieve goals.  Mothering means doing what can be done to mold a person into someone who is as self-sufficient as possible, as kind as possible, as well-rounded as possible. Mothering means doing these things with a gentle tone, or at least a gentle heart, with you-can-do-its and try-agains and safety nets, not forceful sneers, dismissive shrugs, or there’s-nothing-more-I-can-dos.

We mamas take a lot of pride in our roles, and a mother’s work could very well be one of the most important jobs in the world, but we can not forget to acknowledge, appreciate, and respect those other lovelies out there who are also mothering our little ones. Most of us don’t do it alone.  I sure as hell didn’t teach Toddler Grouch how to put that coat away.

So with Mother’s Day near, I say thank you, fellow mamas. Thank you to the Ms. J’s and Ms. L’s, and the other childcare providers, the teachers, coaches, mentors, grandmas, aunts, cousins and friends. A very extra special heart-huggy thank you to those mamas who aren’t mamas by birth, but are mamas by heart. Thank you for helping mother my babies.

Got a great childcare provider?  Tell them thank you, today.

Got a great childcare provider? Tell them thank you, today.

The Purposeful Marathoner (The Purposeful Person)

This time around I set out with the intention of running a marathon again.  For awhile there, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it. I felt too weak.  Too tired.  Too busy.  But, I decided that I wanted it, so I found a way to make it work.   I’m not the skinniest.  I’m not the strongest. I’m not the fastest.  But, I do not care.  I want it anyway.

I want to do certain things.  So I do them.

The older I get, the more I am on a mission to make sure what I do has a purpose.  That I do things with intention.  I don’t know how many minutes, days, months, or years I have left, but I sure as hell don’t want to waste them.  There are things I want to do. Important things. Nice things.  Silly things.  Frivolous things.   Things I am good at. Things I am bad at. All kinds of things.  I don’t care what other people think about the things I do, because they are mine.  They make me me and they make me happy.

marathon 2

An acquaintance of mine asked me what I thought my time would be for this race and when I told her my time for my first marathon she said, “Oh, that’s a long time”, probably thinking I was going to run this one a whole lot faster, and then she told me what time she thought I should be able to run it in, which is nowhere near what my time will actually be and I do not care.  I will run it anyway, and it will take a loooong time and it will be glorious.  Because the past few months while one of my intentions was to train for this marathon another was to eat popcorn and drink homemade wine while I sit on the couch snuggling my husband, watching House of Cards, analyzing all of the relationships between the fictional characters on the show.  Long gone are the days that I let embarrassment, or fear, or even ability, stop me from being ridiculously, outrageously, happy with the things I choose to do.  This marathon is just one of the many things that are important to me right now, it is not the only thing.

I want to do things I can feel with my hands and my fingertips.  I want to do things I can feel with my brain and my heart and that weird spot in my chest that may or may not be a real physical space but that certainly swells every time I feel all the feelings.

Before you get all let’s-stop-the-glorification-of-busy on me, know that sometimes I want to do nothing, so I do. On purpose.


I will purposely fuel my body with fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. I will intentionally indulge in wine and nachos. I will purposefully smother those around me with hugs and kisses.  I will intentionally leave them all at home when I go for a long jog by myself. I will purposefully write.  I will intentionally not spend too much time wondering if it is any good. I will purposefully push myself into downward dog.  I will intentionally breathe.

I think it might be possible to suffocate oneself with all the crap and the sadness and the mundane.  I am working to collect every free minute I have, to gather them one by one and pack them together and carry them around with me, like a deep-sea diver carries a tank full of oxygen and nitrogen molecules strapped to his back.  I know I can only hold on to so many at once, so I will not be too stingy with my minutes and I will take deep, luxurious inhales of them. How could I not?  They keep me alive. Even though I know I will be able to refuel, I will certainly try not to let any escape because what if one of those wasted minutes ends up being the one that could save me later?

We all have the same hours in the day, and we all make our choices about what it is we want to accomplish.  I am done saying that I wish I had the time to do x,y or z that my pal is doing because if I really wanted to do it, I could.  It just might be in the place of something else.

What do you do with purpose? With intention?  What do you make sure to do with your minutes?