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the other side of parenting

I realize I’ve been quite polarized in my children stories on this blog; they all seem to be about catastrophes involving poop and shopping carts. I’ve neglected to share the other side of parenting—the one where you have these beautiful creatures in your care. They love you to death and the feeling is more than mutual. They snuggle you, cling to your leg simply because they like to be next to you, and speak spontaneous “I love you”s. The moments where your heart feels so big it could burst into a million particles? Those moments happen everyday along with the poop and shopping carts. Those moments are what make parenting worth it.

I had one of those moments yesterday. Dave was working late and I had been on my own with the girls for 10+ hours, 3 more to go until bedtime. It was a stunning day: 65 degrees, cherry trees in bloom all over the city, dotting the landscape with pink petals like snow. Yes, we’d been out of the house most of the day, but I decided one more trip before bed was in order.

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I tossed some leftover pizza, satsumas, apples and carrots into a picnic basket. In went a ball, a blanket, two baby dolls in various stages of undress that Charlie can’t leave the house without, and a stuffed unicorn night light named Rainbow Happy (Lucy’s must-have). We were set to go to the park for a picnic dinner.

Have you ever had one of those times where the stars align? Both kids are happy, in need of nothing, not complaining or whining or yelling about something? We had two hours of those moments, one after another, at this dinnertime picnic. The girls sat happily eating on the blanket, gracefully sharing their toys with an occasional kid visitor. When they weren’t eating, they’d run and play, then come careening back to our picnic and tackle me in a bear hug. My heart felt so big, and I felt so blessed to have created these two tiny, independent, miraculous people, that I wanted to burst.

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I’m going to tell you something about parenting, something no one told me before I had kids: there will be fewer good moments than tough moments. I’d say the ratio is about 70 tough/30 good. But that 30%–those moments that are wonderful and happy and blissful–are what will stamp your memory permanently. I remember all of the wonderful times and easily forget the struggles. It’s what allows us to keep having babies, expanding our families—we forget how hard it is to be sleep deprived with a baby at our breast for hours on end.

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We’ve been delicately toying with the idea of adding a third child to our family, when only last year I was vehemently against it. I gave away all our baby things. I started getting in shape, working on the house, building a career with my first book release. Everything in my life pointed to no more children, but moments like last night at the park make me think it’s possible. The easy thing to do would be to quit while we’re ahead, but I’ve forgotten how hard a newborn is. How hard it is to juggle a baby and a toddler. How my eyes looked after days of no sleep.

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When the sun was setting and a cold breeze swept across the park, we headed for home. The girls nestled in their car seats, singing along to a song on the radio, as the sun turned the sky pink and purple. They were so sleepy they hopped into bed, hair messy, feet green from the grass. And as I sat on the couch with my tea, reflecting on the day, I realized it was one of those 30% days. They’re few and far between, but I remember them always.

 

charlie vs. target

I had to get them out of the house. Or maybe I just had to get myself out of the house. At any rate, I decided a trip to Target to get the one thing we needed (diapers) would be an excuse to get them up and moving.

I knew in the back of my mind this was a bad idea. Taking two grumpy, possibly-on-the-verge-of-getting-sick, possibly-on-the-verge-of-killing-each-other girls to a bright, shiny store with full of toys and candy and makeup?

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. Everything could go wrong.

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It started in the parking lot. Charlie refused to come out of the car without her million-pound owl backpack, which contained a toy car, a maraca from Mexico, two bobby pins, a deck of cards, a sweatshirt, a bunny, a water bottle, five goldfish crackers, and a crumpled up picture of an ogre she calls Marcus. The backpack was too heavy, and she used up all of her happy energy carrying it from the car to the store. Then all that was left was the evil energy. The Mom-I-want-to-kill-you energy.

So there she was, 28 pounds of malevolence in a cherubic, Charlie-shaped body, ready to tear through Target with a vengeance. But, optimist that I am, decided to take my chances.

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We started on the toy aisle, so Lucy could pick out a birthday present for her little sister. Lucy played quietly with a ball and a baby. Evil Charlie grabbed a toy shopping cart full of toy food. Then a pretend car seat for a pretend baby. She had no energy left to carry these things, but in her mind she was not leaving the store without them. Then, she decided, the toy shopping cart would be great as an assault tank on the animal cracker display. One bash and the whole thing came tumbling down all over her. A nice employee came over to help us clean up.

The shopping cart had to go. But as soon as I tried to take it from her evil death grip, she let out the first Scream. (Side note: our Target is two stories. It’s huge. You could likely hear her Scream, with a capital S, all the way upstairs in the break room.)

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It was at this point that I kicked into survival mode. As in: survive this moment, then get the hell out of Target before someone recognizes me. I let her keep the shopping cart and push it to our next destination: the diaper aisle, maybe ten yards away. 28-pound Charlie was pushing her pretend shopping cart, clutching her pretend car seat, and lugging her 50-pound backpack, and she refused help.

It took us 10 minutes to get to the diaper aisle, because she had to stop at each display along the way and knock everything off at eye level. She set her car seat down to do this. She rested her shopping cart next to her, then grabbed everything she could reach and dumped it on the floor. Then when she was satisfied she’d done enough damage, she picked up her car seat and rolled her shopping cart to her next target (no pun intended). I trailed behind her; picking everything up and put it back as fast as I could. I didn’t try to stop her at this point—I was just trying to get to the diapers and go. I saw the evil churning behind her eyes. She was taunting me: just try to stop me mom, and I’ll the out The Scream again. You’ll see.

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We made it to the diapers. We grabbed a pack and kept moving. We were almost to the cash registers. I could see them: the Holy Grail. But then, to our left, a distraction: girl’s hair accessories. They’re on a giant rack, each one of them shiny and pink and crack-cocaine for little girls. Lucy examined them gently. Charlie rammed her shopping cart into the display and started throwing hair clips and headbands on top of the pretend food.

One item she didn’t throw in the cart: a pack of four rhinestone bobby pins in neon colors. This one she clutched possessively with her sharp talons. This one is mine, Mommy. For the moment, she’d forgotten about the shopping cart (which we’re not going to buy) and the car seat (which we’re not going to buy). She was fixated on the bobby pins, and they’re $3, so I’m just going to go with it and get the hell out. I started cleaning up her hair accessory tornado. I swept the shopping cart and car seat discreetly under a t-shirt rack for some nice Target employee to discover later.

“Nooooooo Mom! My shopping cart!”

This was good. She was only fixated on the shopping cart and the bobby pins now. She’d forgotten about the car seat. Two items—two items I could work with. I could negotiate my way out. And I could tell by the crack-cocaine glint in her eye that she was going to choose the bobby pins.

CharWinter

“Char, you can only have the clips or the cart. Not both.”

Then The Scream came. She threw herself on the floor and started army crawling under the hair accessory rack. But the display rods were too low; she got snagged. She started kicking to get free, and tangled herself even further. One leg got stuck, and her backpack snagged on a rod. I was terrified she was going to impale her eye if she kept flailing. I grabbed her and yanked her free. She bolted to the shopping cart, ran and rammed it against the elevator, collapsing to the floor in a sob.

It’s at this point that Lucy stepped in—my saving grace. She approached her sister gently.

“Char, you can’t have both. You have to pick: the shopping cart or the hair clips. That’s what mommy said.”

Charlie snuffled and moaned. Snot poured from her nose. She looked up to her sister.

“Shopping cart.”

Okay. Shopping cart. We had a deal. I put the toy shopping cart in my own, attempted to repair the hair accessories display, and picked up Evil Charlie. Only she wasn’t Evil Charlie anymore, she was just tired, pitiful Charlie. She surrendered and allowed me to carry her—and her giant backpack—out of the store and into the car. We escaped with $9.99 worth of diapers and $12.99 worth of shopping cart.

It’s their new favorite toy.

Did I give into the tantrum? Absolutely. But it was my fault in the first place; I knew in my gut she would have a meltdown. So I chalked the $12.99 up to a lesson learned and went on my way.  Four years of being a mom and I still don’t have it all figured out. I don’t think it’s even possible to have it all figured out.

11 minutes in the mind of Lucy

This is Lucy. She’s almost 4, precocious as hell, and talks non-stop. Like broken record non-stop.

Lulu

I’m an introvert. I need time and space to collect myself, but I have a yapping almost-4-year-old at my feet most of the time, chiming on about nonsense. So basically I haven’t collected myself in…almost 4 years.

I’ve tried to embrace it. I even tried to record it, but then I realized I’d have to sit and listen to the whole damn recording, which would be like having the almost-4-year-old yapping in my ear all over again. So then I tried to follow her around with the laptop, typing everything that she says. I got to 11 minutes before I gave up. I couldn’t write fast enough. But those 11 minutes were like gold, so here they are, for your reading pleasure.

Oh, and for reference, Char is her little sister.

Char

This girl.

Nudge is our dog.

Nudgles

This guy. Poor muffin.

11 minutes in the mind of Lucy Miller

7:20am

It’s part of a tampon.

Look, it’s a tampon sword.

A tampon sword is what I use. Yaaaaaaar!

Nudge, you say it like this: TAM-PON.

How does it feel like having tampons in your panties?

Nudge what are you up to little doggie? What are you up to Nudgles? I’m going to go see what that is.

Mom, can you find my Merida wig? Oh, there’s my tampon swordie. I get all this yucky stuff on the washcloth. Mom, look! It’s a washcloth! I have to go get Char.

7:27 am

Char, look! A tampon! Do you like it? I traded Char for the blue washcloth for the yellow washcloth. Bluuuuuuuuuuue! Yaaaaaaaah! She wants me. Nudge, I was sitting right there and you can’t stiff me!

Ruff ruff ruff ruff. Howwwwwww! Ow ow owwwww!

Oh yeah? Hey little dog.

Nudge growls.

Okay, just stay there a second Nudge.

Yelling from the other room, then quiet.

7:31am

Can you find the little curl that’s hanging in Merida’s eyes please? It’s ok. It has Velcro! See that little scratchy there? It means it has Velcro. You don’t have to worry Char. He wants his PJ’s on it’s cold!

Char cries, “No, no, don’t want Lulu!”

-end-

For the record: I blame her father.

 

why life with kids is like living in an insane asylum

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books (or films, if you’ve seen it) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the patients are playing Monopoly.

“Not that one, you crazy bastard; that’s not my piece, that’s my house.”
“It’s the same color.”
“What’s this little house doing on the Electric Company?”
“That’s a power station.”
“Martini, those ain’t the dice you’re shaking—”
“Let him be; what’s the difference?”
“Those are a couple of houses!”
Faw. And Martini rolls a big, let me see, a big nineteen. Good goin’ Mart; that puts you—Where’s your piece, buddy?”
“Eh? Why here it is.”
“He had it in his mouth, McMurphy. Excellent. That’s two moves over the second and third bicuspid, four moves to the board, which takes you on to—to Baltic Avenue, Martini. Your one and only property. How fortunate can a man get, friends? Martini has been playing three days and lit on his property practically every time.”
“Shut up and roll, Harding. It’s your turn.”

Every time my girls are doing something that completely boggles my mind, I think of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, in the film), the least crazy of the crazies, trying to play a nice game of Monopoly that keeps getting marred by rolls of nineteen and disappearing dice.

The other morning, I really felt as if I were in a nuthouse, as both my girls seemed to have flipped their lids simultaneously. It was after breakfast, and I was attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee on the couch while the girls played with their toys in the living room.

“Darzy! Mom, where is Darzy?” Lucy yells out of nowhere.
“Who is Darzy?” I ask, because I have no damn clue.
“He’s a guy! Oh boy. Oh boy.” She jumps around the living room. “We have to find him!” She gets on her pretend phone. “Hello? Hello? Help! We have to find Darzy!”

In first grade I had an imaginary friend, an orange turtle, who lived in my desk at school. I cried when I had to leave him for recess (sidenote: I don’t know why the turtle couldn’t leave the desk because he was imaginary and I made up the turtle rules. I should have been smarter about that.) I’m afraid that Darzy is Lucy’s orange turtle, come like four years too early.

“Lu, what does Darzy look—” But I’m interrupted by Charlie, who has discovered that the louder she yells, the quicker she gets my attention.

“Baaaaaa!”
“Yes Char?”
“Hi.”
“Hi, Char.”
“Mo.”
“More what, sweetie?”
“Baaaaaa!”
“More yelling?”
She grins. And then she turns back around to her play kitchen and keeps making play cookies.

While I was distracted, Lucy has been telling her Darzy-is-lost-sob-story to our dog, Nudge. “You have to find him, Nudge! Use your powers for good!” Because a 13-pound dog clearly has a choice whether to use his powers for good or evil. Lucy is trying to compel his tiny King Cavalier brain to go after an imaginary lost soul.

“Let’s go boy. On a hunt. Sniff this.” She holds a bubble wand under his nose, because imaginary Darzy’s leave a scent of bubbles in their wake, naturally. “Let’s find the trail!” And with that, Lucy straps on Nudge’s leash and they go Darzy-hunting around the house. I put my feet back up, take a sip of coffee, and then promptly get a wooden cookie shoved in my mouth.

“Yummy!” Charlie laughs.
I gag and remove the wooden cookie. “Gentle, sweetie.”
“Mo?”

Yes, of course I want more wooden food pushed down my throat. She toddles back over to her kitchen and I hear some banging around. A moment later she comes back and shoves a felt sandwich in my mouth (you would think that I could stop a 15-month-old child from shoving things in my mouth, but she is freakishly strong).

“Yummy!” She exclaims. We go back and forth like this for a while, she shoving odd bits of pretend food in my mouth and me trying not to 1) gag, 2) spill my coffee all over her naked body (did I not mention both my kids are perpetually naked? All. The. Damn. Time.)

Naked Lucy returns with a somber-looking Nudge on his leash.
“Mom, I can’t find Darzy!”
“Sweetie, I would help you but I don’t know who Darzy is.”
“Darzy is one of the knocks.”
“Well I’m glad we cleared that up,” I shrug.

I get up from the couch and go pour myself another cup of coffee, because I’m living in a nuthouse, but without any of the good drugs: only coffee (booze after 5pm. Okay, 3pm). I’m trying to play Monopoly and all they want to do is eat the pieces and change the rules. And that’s okay, because they’re kids. But it doesn’t make them any less insane.

After a few sips within the quiet walls of the kitchen, I figured: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So I went back into the living room to hunt for Darzy and make imaginary eggplant cookies. At least my fellow inmates are pretty damn cute.

 

what to do when your child poops in the museum

Warning: this story contains poop. And profanity. If either offends you, look away. But if you like laughing at the follies of others (me), read on…

I was feeling indestructible. We just returned from vacation—a nice break from the everyday grind—and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to have this stay-at-home-mom gig. I chose this, I thought, and how lucky am I to be able to spend every day with these two little angels? They poop unicorns and lilies and their urine smells of cupcakes.

So instead of spending our first day back from vacation catching up on laundry and grocery shopping, I decided to take my darling cherubs to the Children’s Museum. To hell with being sensible! I announced. We might not have a fruit or vegetable in the house, but today we’ll have FUN! 

The day was going swimmingly. Charlie (15 months) was toddling around with glee and her older sister Lucy (3) had found a slide that fascinated her more than the iPad. But all at once my tranquility was broken when Lucy asked from atop the slide,

“Mom, did you bring any extra panties?”

“No. No I didn’t, you little shit.”

But what I really said was, “Yes I did, sweetie. Did you poop?” Because she was making the squeezey face. (If you’re a parent you know exactly what the squeezey face is).

I felt her bottom (sidebar: at what point in parenting, I wonder, is it no longer appropriate to squeeze your child’s butt to check for fecal matter?). Inside her panties was a quarry of rock-hard turds the size of dimes. Shit. She’s dehydrated.

Just kidding. Because right at that moment I didn’t give a lick about her hydration. It was more like Shit. She has panties full of tiny turds. Now I have to clean this crap up, goddamit.

“Okay, Lu. Let’s take you to the bathroom and change your panties.”

I lifted her off the slide and tore Charlie away from the fish tank. In all her toddler glory she threw a tantrum the size of Texas and pulled the Gumby trick, and I nearly dropped her to the floor.

As we made our way out of the exhibit and toward the restroom, Lucy exclaims,

“Mom, it tickles!”

I look down. “What tickles?”

She’s squirming and giggling and grabbing her ankles.

“It’s on my leg!”

Mother fucking fuck fuck fucking fucker, I say in my head, because I know exactly what is on her leg, and I have packed everything in the diaper bag but my flask of vodka.

I lean down and, from the outside of her pants, locate the rock-hard-size-of-a-dime turd that has jumped ship from her panties and attempted to make its way down to her socks. I squish it to the inside of her pants so it doesn’t fall to the floor, which in retrospect I think is a pretty cool MacGyver-type move and I should receive some sort of awesome mom award for. The trophy would look like a pile of rock-hard turds.

Tiny paleontologist

Ten yards later, we’re almost to the restroom. Lucy feels a tickle again, and turns her tiny blonde head back in the direction from which we’ve come. There—sitting in the middle of the museum—is a lone turd. My hands are full with Gumby Baby, and I have no way to get the wipes out of my purse to pick up the lone turd that is sitting in the middle of the packed Children’s Museum.

I can see the family restroom: the sign says vacant. In a panic I stuff the girls inside, tell them to stay put, and dash back to the turd, which is miraculously still there and hasn’t been mistaken for a hunk of Baby Ruth by some unsuspecting kid. I pick up the turd with a sanitizing wipe, scrub down the floor with another, and then run back to the restroom.

Tinier paleontologist

Once inside, I discover that the “family” restroom is not your standard run-of-the-mill deal. It has two stalls, a changing table, three sinks, and three urinals about a foot off the ground. Apparently it’s built for the Brady Bunch.

Charlie, in the ten seconds I’ve been gone, has removed all three urinal cakes and is making a game of sticking her arm as far into the pipes as far as she can reach (little boys don’t flush urinals, by the way—I suspected this all along). I stare at her in amazement as she looks up at me, smiles, picks up a urinal cake off the floor, sticks the rim of its plastic cagey thing in her mouth, and walks into a stall. I run after her, yank the nasty urinal cake out of her gross little paws, and resolve that we are all taking 27 baths in rubbing alcohol when we get home.

Meanwhile, Lucy is running around in circles, leaving a trail of turds in her wake. I decide to corral her first, since Urinal Cake-Eater will only go for the gusto again if she’s not in my arms. I get Rabbit-Turd Pooper (do you like how my little angels have less charming names by this point in the story?) clean and in fresh clothes. I get Urinal Cake-Eater clean and in fresh clothes. I pick up the restroom, wash my hands 98 times, wash their hands 345 times, and douse us in hand sanitizer until we’re high from the fumes.

When we emerge from the bathroom I was off my high horse and back to (gross, putrid, stinky) reality. Being a mom can be completely gross. And just when you think you’re doing everything right, they’re leaving a Hansel & Gretel trail of turds through your favorite play area and trying to hold hands with China through urinal plumbing.

In the future I’ll think of that day and laugh. Just not today. Or tomorrow. But maybe in a few months, after several glasses of wine with my girlfriends. But for now, I just need another vacation.

a wonderful mother

It was a makeshift scarf, made by my mother from a piece of fleece from the fabric store. Lucy felt warm and cozy and grown up wearing it, so I let her. She wrapped it around her neck and we drove to the mall for some playtime before dinner at her favorite restaurant on her third birthday.

As I strapped the baby in the carrier I thought I was doing everything right: I told Lucy we weren’t bringing the stroller because she didn’t like riding in it. I told her I wouldn’t be able to carry her because I was already carrying Charlie in the Ergo. I had prepared for every conceivable need: diapers, a change of clothes, hand wipes, water, snacks. But what I didn’t prepare for was that scarf, being slowly pulled tighter and tighter around Lucy’s neck by her tiny three year-old hands. Twelve feet into the department store, she was beginning to choke herself.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rockin’ the 3D glasses

 

“Lucy, sweetie, we need to loosen the scarf. You’re pulling it too tight and I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself.”

“Nooooooo! I want it like this!” I pried one finger between the pink fleece and her skin, which was also turning pink. A few more moments like this and her face would be blue.

“You have a choice: we can make it looser or I can take it away and put it in my purse.”

“No! No! No!” She collapsed in a tearful fit under a rack of men’s Bermuda shorts. “I want it tight!” I could feel every eye in menswear on us. She let out a scream.

“Let’s go. We need to talk somewhere quiet.” I scooped her up—no easy feat with a 22 pound baby strapped to my side. We walked as quickly as possible to a women’s dressing room and shut the door. I set her down, unwrapped the scarf, and stashed it in my purse out of sight. Then the fit really began.

Charlie Belle, 11 months

 

“I. Want. My. Scaaaaaarrfffff! Moooooommmmmm! I want my SCARF! NOW!” She hit me. Kicked me. Nearly kicked her sister. Threw herself on the floor. Spit. Wiped snot in her hair. Screamed some more.

“Lucy, you have a choice. We can stay in the dressing room and cry, or we can go play and then have dinner. You decide.”

“I. WANT. MY. SCARF. NOOOOOWWWWW!”

“The scarf is not an option. Your choices are to stay here and scream, or to go play and then have dinner. Those are your choices.” She slumped down. Her eyes softened a bit. The worst was over.

“I want you to carry me to the play area.” Shit. The restaurant and its wine were looking very, very far away.

“Sweetie, we talked about this in the car. I didn’t bring the stroller because you don’t like to ride in it. I told you I wouldn’t be able to carry you because I was going to carry your sister. If you want to go to the play area you have to walk.”

“NOOOOOOOO! I. WANT. YOU. TO. CARRY. ME. NOOOOOWWWW!” The poor women in this fitting room—they only wanted to try on some clothes. Little did they know their afternoon shopping would come with a very loud soundtrack as well.

She’s 3…going on 13.

 

“Tell you what. I’ll carry you until I get very tired. And then I’ll hold your hand. There are posters of The Lorax on the way and we can stop and look at them.”

“The Lorax?” Bingo. I scooped her up as promised and we made a swift exit. I thought we were free and clear when I heard another fitting room door—the shopper who had been next-door—open behind us.

“Ma’am, I have to tell you something.” Here it comes. Sorry, lady, that you had to hear my child scream for 15 minutes. She was in her underwear, half covered by a dress still on the hanger. “You are a wonderful mother.”

That…I was not expecting. I was speechless.

“I heard the whole thing, and I just had to say that you are doing a wonderful job.”

The day had been so long and the last twenty minutes so stressful that I felt tears begin to well up. “Thank you—I’m so sorry you had to hear all that. It’s her birthday and I think she’s just a little overwhelmed.” She was complimenting me and all I could do was make excuses for Lucy’s behavior; I had been so prepared for an attack.

“Not at all. You handled it all very well.”

“Thank you. That means a lot. It really does.”

And it did. It meant everything. Because the truth is, I never hear that from anyone, not even people who know me very well. And yet a half-naked stranger who listened to one conversation for 15 minutes told me I was a wonderful mother and those words echoed in my ears for days. I was a wonderful mother. I am a wonderful mother.

Play Doh with Mom’s kitchen gadgets

 

No one wrote a how-to book for this job. There are no performance reviews. No bonuses and no report cards. And yet we are so quick to judge each other’s performances: Ian hits (Mimi must be a bad mother). Rebecca is 3 and doesn’t know her ABC’s! (Sophie must let her watch way too much TV). Alexander isn’t potty trained yet! (What the hell are Michelle and Sam thinking?).

Do we ever tell each other what a good, fantastic, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, ass-kicking job we’re doing? Nope. So we doubt ourselves. We try to do every little thing right. We compare ourselves to others and tear each other down and act all Mother Superior (pun intended). From someone who has heard those words, let me tell you: it felt like relief. Like, all this work, everything I do, everything I strive for, it’s all worth it. Because I’m good at this. Maybe my children will not grow up to be ungrateful, egotistical heroin addicts who make their living working in a traveling pet zoo. Maybe.

My little girl turned three that day and a year from now what I’ll remember most is not her birthday meal but those words from a stranger: you are a wonderful mother.

Wherever she is, I hope she knows that she is a wonderful woman who gave this mother encouragement when she needed it most.

 

happy birthday little bear

Happy 2nd birthday to my Lucy, a.k.a. Little Bear. Thank you for making me laugh everyday and giving me so much joy in my life. I love you more than you love your Kermit shirt.

xoxo

-Mom