My mid-term exam

Originally published Friday, March 13, 2009

Garden day. At one point, we had 16 helpers!


In the grand world of parenting, they say, there are no grade sheets and no final exam.

Hogwash, says I. I just aced my mid-term, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.

In the past two weeks, I have:

  1. BulletBeen on a college tour of Berkeley, where I helped a teenager craft a plan to visit Europe this summer. Told her why traveling alone would be good for her. Had long heart-to-heart about her love life.

  2. BulletTalked to another teenager, one year older. Told him why traveling would be bad for him. He needs to stay put. Had long heart-to-heart about his love life.

  3. BulletVisited a gay bar. First the tame one recommended by concierge. Then the very scary one where all men were shirtless and had the crack of their ass showing above jeans. Left quickly.

  4. BulletToured Berkeley in pouring rain for an hour and a half. Then got on a plane soaking wet.

  5. BulletPlaced a $1,500 co-op order for seven homeschooling moms, ordered everything, figured out who got what, met the truck, co-ordinated time and meeting places for all moms, figured out who owed what, and divided up food. Filled my pantry.

  6. BulletBought half a cow, found three other moms who wanted to divide the meat, organized the beef lady and all of the moms, got the meat here, met all the moms and delivered meat. Filled my freezer. For $3 a pound for hormone-free, no-antibiotic, pasture-raised Angus!

  7. BulletHad steak for dinner.

  8. BulletOrganized and rounded up 16 people to put in my garden. Traded food and garden plots for work -- although I actually paid Dylan to help. Dylan was amazing -- coordinated and cracked the whip and within one day, I had 38 garden beds, six feet long by three feet wide.

  9. BulletPut up a fence around the entire garden, by myself. More than 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. Plus eight feet tall. Then put in a gate, too. I feel like the little red hen -- no one wants to help with the fence, but they’ll all want to eat the tomatoes!

  10. BulletMade enough food to give to all of the people who came and helped with the garden.

  11. BulletWent to my aunt’s birthday party in Houston, three hours away. Talked to many interesting “ladies who lunch.” Spent a nice evening with my aunt and uncle at their house.

  12. BulletTaught a cooking class to four young people with autism. Designed for teenagers, but two adults showed up. Turns out one of them had a penchant for kitchen appliances. He turned on every mixer, fryer, oven and fan we had in the kitchen, and really wanted to take the mixer paddles home. It went well, but suffice it to say I think there’s nothing heartwarming or sweet about people with autism. I think the whole thing just sucks all the way through. It’s such a tragedy. 

  13. BulletAdopted three guinea pigs. Original names were Cinnamon, Sugar and Pig-Pig. They are now Snowball, Messy and Pistol. The boys are in heaven.

  14. BulletDisassembled and then reassembled the entire damned guinea pig cage. One stupid one-foot-square piece at a time. Times 80.

  15. BulletPlanted the entire garden, with plants I’ve grown mostly from seeds: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash, herbs, pumpkins, watermelon, squash, strawberries, blackberries and fennel. And cardoon. What’s cardoon, you say? It’s an Italian vegetable I ate in a a salad at Chez Panisse. It looks like celery and tastes like artichoke. I was fascinated by it, and then when I came home I found some at the garden center and planted it. Only then did I look it up and realize it grows to six feet tall!

  16. BulletKept my children alive, well-fed and happy. Taught the difference between obtuse and acute angles, dealt with two colds and coughs and two visits to the doctors.

  17. BulletTransported to Boy Scouts, gymnastics, vision therapy, violin, birthday parties, theater class and friend’s houses. Bought and wrapped birthday presents, found gym clothes and Scout uniform, kept up with violin practice, vision exercises and theater script.

  18. BulletRented the back kitchen. Met almost every day with renters, went over rules and expectations, figured out finances and kept the kitchen clean and organized.

  19. BulletPlayed the role of big sister while my sister looks for a car and a job with a steady income. 

  20. BulletKept my husband happy while he had a very stressful couple of weeks at work.

  21. BulletKept alive three guinea pigs, two tadpoles, four chickens, two cats and a dog. I must admit they were on the far back burner, though. I’m not sure I would have noticed if a few of them dropped dead.


I have not:  

  1. BulletLost weight

  2. BulletStopped drinking coke when I’m stressed out

  3. BulletLearned to be frugal, despite my best efforts

  4. Bulletorganized my closet

  5. Bulletdone any laundry

  6. Bulletbeen very nice to my husband, who deserves more attention

  7. Bulletstarted running or exercising

  8. Bulletcome to terms with the fact that I’m turning 40 in three weeks


Frankly, I can live with that.

And who knows, the next section of parenting might kill me off, and you never know when there’s going to be a pop quiz.

But I’m pretty happy with my mid-term grade.


The middle child


Published May 2, 2011


The picture above is not entirely fair to Sander: We were playing with the camera and I asked him to pose with his grumpy face. 

But it’s not the only picture I have of him like that, and not all of them were posed. And it is what he looked like most of today.

First, let me say this: I believe that it is my job to defend my children to the death. It is my job to place them first, and to make sure no one, ever, anywhere, talks smack about them.

Because for God’s sake, if it’s not my job to protect them from bullies and morons and predators and teachers who don’t think they’re perfect, than what I am here for?

I also believe that a parent’s job is to make the well-being of their kids priority number one. 

Having a nice house can’t come first, a good career can’t come first, and whatever goals you have as a human being can’t come first. 

Notice that I didn’t say that the child’s whims and wishes and hopes should be your top priority. Just their well-being.

Because if a parent doesn’t place their child’s needs (not wants, remember,) as their first priority, then who the hell will? 

Who’s looking out for your child? 

There is no one else on the planet who will put this tiny creature’s needs as a top priority.

That said:

I’m not sure Sander’s going to make it to his seventh birthday.

As I have said, I have no problems praising Sander. 

He’s brilliant. Funny. Can be incredibly sweet and kind and has such an empathic, nurturing side that it makes me think I’ve done something right.

And yet every wonderful, amazing thing about him is turned into a weapon against me if the stars aren’t lined up just right.

He is sensitive.


This means he will get laid in college. 

Bully for him.

In practice, right now, this means that he can’t function unless he’s fed, he’s at the right temperature and he’s had enough sleep. 

And God forbid someone’s said the wrong thing to him that day. He’s worse than a drag queen after a bad breakup: “No, I will NOT listen to you. You were mean and I don’t want to be around you and I won’t listen to you today!”

He’s brilliant. Terrific.

He’ll actually pass his classes when he’s not getting laid. 

In practice, right now, this means that he is capable of understanding much more than he’s capable of dealing with. 

And that he can pinpoint, with astounding accuracy, anyone’s weak spots.

And that he can remember everything you’ve ever said to him.

“But you said maybe, and I know that maybe is just another way of you saying no because you don’t want to fight with me over saying no, but I need you to either say no so I can know why not or say yes so I can stop asking you. So which is it? Can we go get a treat today? And if you say yes you have to promise so you can’t change your mind and if you say no then I have to know why so I can make you change your mind. And don’t forget you can’t say maybe.”

He likes adventure, and the outdoors, and constant movement and new things and new places.

Fabulous. He’ll be an explorer. He’ll travel the world.

In practice, right now, this means that after a week where we go to my aunt’s ranch, to Houston for three days, swim until we’re all exhausted, go on hikes, go to the zoo and come home with ten loads of laundry and a week’s worth of chores in order to recover, the next day he wakes up with, “So, what are we doing today? And don’t tell me we’re staying home, because that’s boring. It’s a beautiful day! Let’s go do something!”

He takes everything to heart. 

Everything is a big deal. Everything is important.

This is a wonderful thing. He’s serious and deep.

In practice, right now, it means that if I’ve told him we have to watch his baby sister all the time, that means we have to watch his baby sister all the time. 

Every freaking minute, or the Sander police come after you.

I can’t go to the bathroom and leave her outside the door, or the Sander police come up and yell, “Hey! There’s no one watching the baby!! She might swallow something!! Get out here now, you know a six-year-old can’t watch a baby!! Where are you?!”

I must wear my seat belt at all times. I must never have alcohol in front of my son, because he knows it’s bad for me. My room must be clean, or I can’t tell him to clean his. My clothing must be spotless and appropriate for the season, or I can’t tell him to change his shirt. I must not fucking curse in front of him, or I will hear about forever, and his father will hear about it, and so will my family.

The rules are the rules, you know.

And he will not bend.

Ever. He will not show weakness. He will not give in. And he has such pride and such vanity that he will not be mocked or teased.

And this, in practice, right now, is what’s going to kill us both.

A six-year-old child can not always be right. He must bend to the ways of the family around him. The world can not always bend to his whims.

And yet, usually, his strength of personality is so great that it usually does.

He wants to see a platypus, and so plans are in the works for a trip to Australia. He has a business watching people’s pets while they’re on vacation, complete with business cards. He has a couple hundred dollars saved up for this.

He wants to be a veterinarian. So he’s convinced everyone around him to read to him, night and day, about animals. The librarians know him by name and have new books set aside for him each week. He is sure of himself and friendly, and confident the world is on his side and out to help him.  

And so when anyone crosses him, he can’t imagine why they would be so foolish.

He likes to dress up; he’s still six years old. He likes capes and cloaks and magic wands, and his newest cool thing is to wear clothes that are the wrong size. He puts on Sawyer’s pants that fall down and wears a belt with them, or he squeezes into a pair of Scout’s sweat pants and waddles around the house laughing.

Today, he was tired. The stars were not aligned. He wanted to be entertained and catered to, and I was not in a catering mood. He wanted to be read to, and played with, or wanted me to come up with some interesting diversion for his royal highness.

I had errands to run. I was done with entertaining him. I wanted out of the house.

I told Sander I’d take him to lunch, to the library and to the store, and then we had to pick Sawyer up from school. Oh, and hurry up, because we’ve only got a couple of hours until we have to pick up Sawyer. Go get dressed, please.

So he came out to the living room waddling in a pair of Scout’s pants. She’s eleven months old. These were jeans that wouldn’t fit past his thighs. Cute, but annoying. 

Nope. Go get dressed for real. We’ve got to go.

He wouldn’t have it. He insisted that he was going to wear those pants, and that he was fine, and that they fit.

And here is where the diverging parenting strategies begin.

If I were cheerful, happy, and on top of my game, I could have done a number of things. Had a race to see who got to his room first to change his pants. Had Scout wear his pants so he could see how silly he looked. Grab an extra pair of pants so when we got to the car and he complained, he could change. Ignore the whole thing, let him deal with the fallout and let him not go to the library because he couldn’t waddle in.

But I was not cheerful, happy and on top of my game. I was tired of amusing him and catering to whims.

I told him I was going to the car, and he could come after he’d changed his pants. It was cold and rainy out, we had errands to do, and he had to be dressed to go.

Sander knows a challenge when he sees one.

“I’m not changing, and I can wear these pants if I want, and you can’t stop me, “ says he.


Now, instead of a day of errands, we have a face-off.

We have a full-blown pain-in-the-ass situation, where if I back down, the terrorists win. 

If I back down, I won’t be able to stop him. 

He will take this a personal weakness and will use it every day to his advantage.

However, if I don’t back down and I have to spend an hour making sure that he obeys me,  then I’m an idiot for setting myself up in a situation where a small child has now forced me to pay attention to him and to waste an hour of my day dealing with this.

I knew better. He’s done this before. He wanted my full attention, and now he’s got it.

At this point, the car is running, the baby is strapped in, it’s raining, and he’s outside, dressed in flip-flops, a dirty T-shirt and baby pants. Way to go, killer. 

“Go back in and change your pants,” says I, as the baby starts to cry because she’s pissed that she’s in the car and it’s not moving.


And he climbs into the car and buckles in.


Now it’s a physical escalation. If I have promised that he can’t get in the car unless he changes his pants, I have to back down or take him out of the car. And I’m not backing down.

And I know that you can’t do physical escalation. In ten years, this kid will be six feet tall and sixteen years old. If I don’t figure this out now, there’s no way I’m going to be able to manhandle him into doing what I want then.

But I can now. So I pick him up, get him out of the car, kicking and screaming, and put him in his room, telling him to please change his pants. And yes, by this time, he and the baby are both screaming and yelling.

At some point, he does, in fact, change his pants. We did make it out of the house. And a mile down the road, he asked me to pull over so he could get in my lap and stop crying.

But he wouldn’t apologize. And when I tried to discuss what happened and how we could do better next time, he put chopsticks in his ears and said, “I refuse to talk about bad things.”

And we had to skip the library, because we ran out of time, and he threw a fit because I “broke a promise to go to the library, and now you need to get me a treat to make up for it.” 

So tonight, Mark put him to bed so I wouldn’t murder him.

And tomorrow, he will wake up sweet and happy and will want to know what adventures we’re going to have and how I will entertain him.

And tomorrow is Mark’s birthday, and because Sander is sweet and thoughtful, he will make a present and draw a picture and will want to make a cake and have a surprise for Mark.

But I will spend the entire day trying to avoid traps that leave me with no way to back down.

I’ve got to figure out how to work with this kid before he gets much older. 

Because if he’s this hard now, his teenage years are going to finish me off, right before all of those difficult traits turn him into an amazing man, and that would be a shame to miss.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Published February 14, 2009


I have two true loves, I’ve decided.

One isn’t enough. 

And you know, in Europe, they don’t expect your husband or wife to fulfill all your needs, or to be your everything -- and I don’t think they should be. I have two loves, for two very different needs, and I think that’s as it should be.

I adore my husband, and he loves me, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner through life. He’s my best friend, and a fabulous guy in general, and an amazing father. He’s funny, and he’s solid as a rock, and I never, ever have to worry about him.  I don’t worry about whether he loves me ( he does.) I don’t worry about whether he’s going to do what he says (he does. Always.) And I don’t worry about whether he comes home on time, or whether he’s going to call and see what’s going on at home, or still thinks I’m cute. He does.


He’s a guy. A man’s man. A guy’s guy. He likes barbecue. His favorite meal is chocolate cake and beer. He couldn’t name three cheeses if you paid him. He. Will. Not. Go. Antiquing. Ever.

He likes Van Damme (or maybe it’s Van Diesel...)  movies and The Real World and Jackass! He does not always want to hear the drama in my family that goes back three generations and needs to be re-analyzed every three months or so to see where the latest psychotic breaks from reality in which family member are traced back to which trauma.

And he will not engage in long discussions about Harry Potter with me.

So. He does the laundry. He’s gorgeous to look at. Good in bed. Laughs at my jokes. Has no sense of smell, which is a huge plus if you have to sleep in the same room with my feet. Loves red hair and big curves (we’d be in trouble if he had a thing for skinny brunettes.)

Adores our kids. Listens to everything I say and takes me seriously. So all of his faults can be overlooked, but you know, sometimes I still need to talk about Hermione, dammit!

And this is where Christy comes in.

She loves antiquing. She will putter. She will discuss my mother’s trauma, and my sister’s quirks, and will remember why my sister has her quirks in the first place. She knows everyone in my family. I have known her since she was 18 and I was 22. Mark was the interloper in our relationship!

Christy is funny, and bright, and reads as much as I do, which is saying a lot.

She doesn’t mind me calling her four times a day to say, “Did you read this article?” and “My son is irritating me,” and “I wish I could take up heroin.”

She calls me, too, to say, “And what do you think about THIS?” or “I feel a rant coming on....”

And she finally has a baby, thank God, so she gets it.

She could name nine kinds of cheese in her sleep. She would not watch a Van Damme movie if you paid her.  And she has an ultra-developed, super-sense of smell, which made her a very, very bad match for my feet. We could not live together anymore, I don’t think. We’re too used to being in charge of a household. But man, I sure like to talk to her.

She will talk about Hermione’s parents and why there were in Australia, she knows about the Edward vs. Jacob controversy, and if you asked her why Elizabeth Bennet married Darcy, even after he dissed her family, she could tell you. Mark has no idea who Darcy is. None. And I’ve told him the story three times, at least.

Christy is frugal, sensible and tough. I am none of those things. She’s organized and efficient and she’s as smart as I am, which is also saying a lot.

So, to the two people who have traveled the furthest with me down this path so far, I wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day!


My latest obsession

Originally published February 11, 2009

I do actually have two children. It’s just that Sander’s the one who’s always demanding to be photographed...

He’s hiding here in a post hole, playing “Prairie dog,” in an ugly, barren stretch of clay and rock that I am determined to turn into a garden.

Three years ago, when we first moved in, I planted a garden. Then the deer ate it. So I planted another one, put up a better fence. Deer ate that one, too. Last year, same thing.

So this year I’m getting serious.

I have offered on Craig’s List one month’s worth of dinners to anyone who would come and put up a deer-proof fence.

I warned that the ground was solid rock, and that you’d need a jackhammer to dig a post hole, and that I really will suffer a nervous breakdown if I have one more tomato plant nibbled to the ground the night before the tomatoes are ripe.

Enter Sam. He’s young, good-looking, digs fence post holes for a living, and he’s hungry. He works all day and has no clue how to cook. He goes home exhausted and falls asleep hungry because he’s too tired to fix anything.

A month’s worth of free dinners sounds just about right.

So last week he showed up with a HUGE truck that hammered right into the soil, drilled four feet down into the solid rock, and there you have it. A real post hole, ready for a real fence.

Also via Craig’s List, I have a farmer named David coming on Sunday to till the entire area with his tractor. Same deal -- he’ll get month’s worth of dinners, too.  Sam will come back and put up the fence once the tilling is done, and I will have a real, honest-to-God, garden, not a half-assed patch of dirt with a hose.

I have seeds starting inside for tomatoes, tomatillos and beans. I have lots more to plant once I can put them right into the ground.

I am WAY too excited about this. I’m sending the husband off to get a trailer full of compost tomorrow, and I can’t wait for the compost to get here. Who knew I’d be excited about compost?

I’m really excited about the fantasy garden in my head, though -- the one where I can go out and pick what’s for dinner every night by what’s in season and what’s ripe, full of berry bushes and tomatoes and squash and beans. 

In reality, I don’t really eat squash, and weeding a garden this big is going to be a huge pain in the butt.

No matter. I’ll be satisfied if anything grows that I can eat before Bambi does.

I no longer think deer are cute.


Dinner tonight


This is Sander being silly tonight; he said he was going swimming in a snowstorm!


Published February 12, 2009

Dinner tonight was corn chowder. Quick, easy, boring. It was pretty good, but I got lazy and didn’t make any bread, because it’s a pain in the ass to make bread. So we just had a bowl of soup.

It’s a very easy dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan meal, though, and it only takes a couple of minutes.

Saute an onion, add frozen corn (organic, please -- corn’s almost always genetically modified if it’s not organic,), some chicken or veggie broth, lots of herbs -- I had oregano, rosemary and herbs de Provence -- and bring to boil. Reduce heat, add a can of coconut milk, and blend with stick blender or real blender.


In each bowl, put a little salsa in the middle to spice it up. If you can eat bacon without feeling guilty on six or eight levels, add crumbled bacon, too.