September 1, 2015: Good-Bye Chronicle Telegram, Hello, Napkin?

Every morning for the past week we have started our day with the boys crying in a very screaming-like manner because they can’t have gum balls for breakfast.

I don’t understand why now, suddenly, this is an issue for them. We have never, not even once, let them just have gum balls for breakfast. But the fact remains: we are meanies.

We take solace in our knowledge that this is likely a temporary condition they are suffering from.

But we weren’t always so smart. It took us awhile as parents to realize — “OK, that was either awesome or kind of horrible but look at that, it didn’t last forever.”

Like the mom is perfect and can-do-no wrong thing. Or the whole not sleeping through the night thing. The worrying is he ever going to walk thing. And the constant asking strangers if they have nipples thing.

It feels like maybe it can last forever, but then one day it doesn’t happen anymore and you move on, sort of forgetting about it. That significant piece of your history together. That story of your family evolving, yet your head is stubbornly remaining in the present. And even though you dog-eared some of those pages it’s rare that you actually revisit them. Who has the time?

The great gift of journalism, and newspapers specifically, is how we as readers get to experience the many lives — actual people! — through its pages. We have the opportunity to share in these stories from all over the world, and through them, come to the important realization of how exactly human each of us is. How, despite our differences, we are really thinking and feeling so much beautiful sameness. Sameness that is unique in its interpretation, and therefore special.

What I enjoy most about co-writing this column with Melissa Naymick is that opportunity to chronicle my unique experience in the Mommy Wars and share it with others who inevitably write or call to say, “Me too.” That has touched me more than words on paper can say.

And perhaps most importantly, it has been profoundly joyful to write down our family’s history. You’d think that since I’m a writer I’d be all awesome at recording each step my boys have taken over the years. Each hilarious turn of phrase and tough moment conquered.

But no. Instead, I’m laughably human, and I forget to do the important work of capturing “now”–thinking I’ll remember some time down the road when I have more time. And really, that is some shocking bravado for someone who can’t even find her keys every morning.

This is my last Mommy Wars article I’ll be writing for the Chronicle Telegram, and I do it with a grateful heart. Having recently accepted a dream job in the area in which I’ll be working with this publication on the other side of the fence, it’s the right move. But I’m sad about it anyways.

So here’s my vow to myself: I will not rely on my mommy brain to do the important work for me. I promise to still write it down. To open my eyes and see my boys and their awesomeness and record it, even it’s just in some online blog or on a napkin or the back of an envelope. And I will continue to share what I see and thus know my sons are in some way living forever through this shared space. I hope you will continue to share with me too.

My sincere thanks to the Chronicle Telegram, Andy Young, Julie Wallace, and Melissa Naymick for this wonderful experience. See you on the other side!

August 18, 2015: Rocking My Retro Vacation Vibe

Chronicle Telegram August 18

Shame on me, I never got around to planning a family vacation this year. It’s all my fault. I was so intent on scheduling the boys up for cool summer experiences (I was drooling over the brochures back in April…Super Hero Camp! Skateboarding Camp! Camp Science Exploration! Under the Sea Art Camp!) that by the time I sat down to plan up something that included us parents…there was no space left on their busy schedules. Parenting fail #6,231.

But wait! What is this? A week before school starts in which the calendar remains clear? There’s a reason for this of course. No camps are offered that week, what with the frenzy of Back to School buying we are supposed to participate in. The shiny new shoes for my kids will just have to wait, I decided.

It’s actually a pretty great week to get away.You have that satisfying feeling of getting away with something (I know I’m supposed to be stocking up on zip lock baggies and pre-cutting healthy veggie snacks, but…) while enjoying short lines at all the touristy spots. Every once in awhile I’d catch the eye of another mom and our eyes would convey a secret fist-bump of pride. “We are geniuses,” we mental-telepathied to one another.

And when we vacation, we don’t go all fancy. We are full on retro. We stay in a family cottage by the lake, the kind of place with no central air and no matching silverware, and hang out in our swimsuits and sunburns all day.

You want popcorn for breakfast? Sure! You want to wear the same shirt for 4 days in a row? Heck, I don’t care. I can’t even tell you with certainty that either of them brushed their teeth that entire week.

Something about the experience takes me back to the 70’s, my own childhood, and letting the kids rock it the way we did at their age. We even listened to 70s music on the beach, and gave the kids nothing but sticks to dig with at the beach. They collected rocks like champs. Searched for buried treasure along the shore. Challenged us to games of shell checkers and tic tac toe. It was heaven.

A few times we bravely ventured out, and it took all of our energy to rip ourselves away from that beach. Our first stop was at Kalahari, which is always kind of a mistake. It’s noisy, hot and humid, so much to do, so little time. Our family typically doesn’t function awesome under those circumstances.

But this year? For once, both boys were tall enough for most of the slides. Which meant I got to go on slides too, and you know what? I love that business. Racing my boys up the stairs, challenging one another to world domination for whomever reaches the bottom first, and laughing, laughing, laughing.

There was only one tantrum, which is a record for us. So if you were at the water

park last week and wondered who was the child so incredibly unhappy in such a wild and crazy fun place…yeah, that was my boy. But as he explained to me: We haven’t had any CANDY for TWO WHOLE DAYS!!! So just know the tantrum was legit.

Our other brave outing was to the African Safari. For some reason I recalled it not being that great when we were young. I remember wondering where all the animals were. But today’s safari has upped its game. Their gentle giant heads nudge right in your window–no shy babies here!–and check you out, grab a carrot thank you very much, and drool all over you in a most satisfying way.

Back at home, exhausted, exhilarated, we settled into our routine of “OK I guess we HAVE to get ready for school, now.” And what used to be an anxious time of stress over I-don’t-even-know-what was overlaid instead with our 70‘s vacation vibe of who-cares? that makes me squeeze my eyes shut and wish and dream and hope upon hope has the power to stay with us for the many months of not-vacation to come.

August 4, 2015: The Holiest of Holies…the Overnighter with Grandparents

Last night my parents watched the kids in that holy of holies – the overnight sleepover. To say that the kids were “excited” does not fully paint for you the picture of them running around the house like wild banshees, whooping at the top of their lungs, pounding their bare chests in glee.

Now, I’m not entirely sure my parents felt the same way about this arrangement. Not that they don’t love the boys, they do with all their hearts. But they also have a certain love of quiet solitude and orderliness that cannot coexist in the same realm as my boys. I’m pretty sure this is how black holes rip into the universe – it’s an improbability that blows the mind.

But agree to this time-limited occasion they did (and by time limited, I mean my parents checked with me at various points in the day to confirm just when, exactly, the boys were being dropped off and picked up – it was a little obsessive in fact).

After a whirlwind of packing (yes, you have to take your toothbrushes, no you can’t take the gold fish, sure, you can take deoderant, no you can’t take the stapler – no wait – ok you can take it) their little bodies were tucked away in the car, the seatbelts barely able to contain the energy radiating off their spf 50-slick bodies.

The ride to their grandparents’ house is only 20 minutes long, but that’s still too long for my delicate ears to handle sustained yelling from the backseat. In a flash of genius, my husband yells out “BINGO!” as a yellow car drives past, triggering entertainment that contained some of their energy.

The game, which originated we think from cousin Sophie, is pretty simple. You yell out BINGO whenever you spot a yellow car or truck. After a particularly dry spell of yellow cars a month or so back, port-a-potties were added to the mix. And as with every kid game there are rules, oh, the rules! to abide by, which are ever-changing especially when our 7-year old is feeling particularly sensitive about not spotting any BINGOs. But I digress.

The game kept them fully entertained until we pulled into my parents’ driveway, with only a few minor episodes in which it was debated whether a particular yellow car had in fact been spotted twice in two separate locations and thus didn’t count for this very important game (I probably should not have told them we were compiling a life-long tally of BINGOS) and another in which my husband’s claim that a yellow logo on the side of a van went strangely uncontested.

After the drop off of the kiddos, after 9 separate sets of hugs and kisses and pretending that I don’t know my dad is going to teach them how to use matches and eat ice cream for dinner, my husband and I were again in the car. The atmosphere quite a bit empty and quiet and less interesting without the boys. Wait, this is what we wanted, right? Some alone time? Some quiet?

As we drove to dinner, I contemplated this, moodily staring out the window, wondering what is wrong with me. And then, a yellow car. But my husband beat me to it: “BINGO!”

July 21, 2015: No You Can’t Have Our Babysitter’s Phone Number

I was in a meeting this week when I received an ominous text from the babysitter: Heads up, when you get home, call a “Butt Time Out.” Don’t ask.

I couldn’t help but laugh, even though it was awkward timing in the middle of someone’s presentation.

All I could do was pass it off as a sneeze and set my face set in an expression of deep thought. Which wasn’t too difficult, since I was considering how careful you have to be about who you let take care of your children when you can’t be with them. And us? I think we have a winner.

Sure, she introduced them to the television show “The Day My Butt Went Psycho.”

And OK, she did paint their nails with blue glitter and red sparkles the day before family picture day.

Yes, she goes through ridiculous amounts of soap and glue every week with oddball science experiments. And I’m PRETTY SURE she feeds them candy for breakfast.

But when we get home? The smiles on their faces (and hers) tell me all I need to know.

Later that afternoon, I received some more texts. My favorite kind: photos.

The first was of the boys working a makeshift lemonade stand, in which they were also selling the honor of petting our dog for ten cents. They had made $16 so far.

The next photo featured my boys cramming pizza in their mouths. Were those hot dogs stuffed in the crust? I wondered, for the rest of the day.

When I finally pulled into the driveway I was attacked by my four-year-old dousing my car with chocolate milk from a “Super Soaker” squirt gun. Relaxing nearby was my 7-year-old sipping juice boxes from the dual straws of a “Foam Dome.”

Our babysitter, with a radiant face and I think jelly in her hair, bounded up to me, laughing. “You gotta try these, here!” and she handed me a jar of jelly beans to enjoy while we recapped the day.

In addition to all of the above, they had also visited the pool, stopped in at Five Below, and maybe, sort of, had a sling shot fight with my bras. “We put them all back though,” she reassured me. “Except for the one on the chandelier, but we’re taking bets to see when it will fall.”

I grabbed for a jelly bean, and as I went to pop it into my mouth, both boys excitedly drew near. “It’s the green one,” my youngest whispered, and they all cracked up laughing.

“What’s wrong with the green ones?” I asked.

“Well,” Julia explained. “It might taste like a good apple. Or, it could taste like a booger. You just never know until you try it.”

As the boys rolled with laughter, I tossed it into my mouth and chomped down. “I think I know a good apple when I see one,” I said.

Thank goodness I was right.

July 7, 2015: How Many Generations Does it Take to Respond to a Band-aid Crisis?

We’re at a Fourth of July Party/Family Reunion when suddenly: my motherly services are urgently needed.

“Mom, I need a bandaid!” My four year old wails, the corners of his mouth turned down in some serious dismay. The sea of relatives parts to make way for him and his hand, which he holds out before him, index finger extended importantly like a crown of jewels on a pillow.

Three of his lovely older cousins cradle around him, revealing him in his damaged glory. Behold: an injured child.

I am feeling very certain that I’m about to get fleeced. I mentally go over the contents of my tote bag, trying to remember if we’d gone through the last of the Super Hero bandaids.

“Oh no! What happened?” I ask, trying to assess whether an old piece of candy will save the day.

“I don’t know!” He throws himself into my arms. His little body is sweaty with play, and he smells quite a bit like barbeque potato chips.

“Then why…do you need a bandaid?”

“Because it hurts!” The finger is thrust in front of my face as evidence.

“OK. So, where, exactly?”

Again, he juts the finger towards me. I close my eyes to keep them from being jabbed out. I open one eye, then the next, cautiously. I’m no doctor, but I see no blood, no redness, no oozing of any kind. I’m stumped.

“You need to help me out here, babe. Under what conditions does it hurt?”

He takes a deep breath, steeling himself for the big reveal.

“Well, it hurts when I yank on it like this,” he demonstrates, giving his index finger a good pull. “And when I do this,” he twists it in an abrupt jerk. He starts to cry again.


It takes all of my strength to keep a straight face, and join in the cooing as his cousins pat his back, comb his hair out of his sweaty little face. I’m thinking to myself, Wow, I could take some lessons from these girls. And also: What a scam.

I make the mistake of introducing reason to the equation.

“Honey? Babe?” He stops crying for a bit, and wipes his nose with a chubby hand, before directing his mournful big blue eyes my way. “Hey. Now that you’re not doing those things to your finger, does it still hurt?”

I can see he’s a bit affronted by this notion, and is about to burst back into tears, when the balloon lady enters the scene. God bless Aunt Connie, I think to myself, because she’s the one who had the foresight to know that such a distraction would come in handy during this day-long event.

I begin to see a theme: every female at this party seems to have better instincts for handling this quasi-emergency. What’s that all about? How did I not get this gift?

And while a balloon puppy, or is it a turtle? begins to take form before my little boy’s eyes, I root through my tote bag to discover that no, in fact, I don’t possess a band-aid. Nor a piece of candy, for that matter. Mothering FAIL.

But I do notice that one of the cousins has a Hello Kitty bandaid on her shin, basically doing NOTHING but holding a mosquito bite at bay. Do I dare ask this of her? Yes I do. But first, I grab a start-spangled cupcake off a nearby tray.

So what if it takes three generations of females to do it? We’re gonna make this kid’s day.

June 23, 2015: It’s My Father’s Day in the Mommy Wars

I was a Father’s Day baby, and am lucky to have a pretty cool bond with my dad. He led my brother and I on epic hikes growing up that evolved into a lifelong love of nature and getting muddy. He involved me at a young age in things like cooking, mowing the lawn, and golfing—all which taught me important lessons—mainly, that I do not enjoy nor will ever be skilled at cooking, mowing the lawn, or golfing.

But easily my fondest memories are of lying on our bellies by the fireplace, telling stories. He swears that mine always started with, “There was a little bear…” which honestly I do not remember. But I do remember how the creation of worlds that do not exist piqued something in me that remains today.

This year on my birthday he called me at work and told me what it was like to bring me home from the hospital. He and my mother laid me on the floor (wow, thanks guys) and my red headed self would scan the world, eyes wide open in wonder. His throat hitched with emotion as he told me this, and there I was, bawling in my office, thinking how great it would be to hear his voice here in the Mommy Wars. The submission below is the voice of my daddy, Edward M. Stewart.


When my daughter first asked me to contribute to the Mommy Wars for this year’s Father’s Day edition, I snatched the opportunity out of the air, afraid she’d take it back.

That’s when the panic set in. Not being a mom, I felt ill qualified to enter the mommy war. But she assured me I had plenty of material, with two children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. “Just write what it’s like, watching your own kids mess up the same way you did.”

And with that she is right on. Parenting is an imperfect act: part science, part art, mixed up with a whole lot of luck, and if you are lucky, a good baby-sitter. It is seasoned with some sweat, many tears, a little blood and many hugs and good bed-time stories. This is how we each end up the same, yet different.

It is both comical and painful to watch your own kids try to accomplish what you never could, to produce that perfect child. After a short while they, too, realize that perfection is overrated and therefore unattainable. We settle for what we can attain, which is a pretty good kid. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. If not in most ways, at least some.

Father’s Day is a good time for us Dads to reflect on just what did go right in all those formative years. Did the music lessons pay off? How about the forays into sports? Was it worth dragging kids along on a car trip to the Grand Canyon? Do they share your love of gardening, nature, good food, and a great laugh the way you always wanted them to?

As you watch them do their own parenting you really learn what it was that did catch on. Be prepared for some surprises. Once in a while you will hear in your own child’s voice an echo of something you likely said when they were young. I’m already laughing, anticipating the moment my daughter hears her boys tell their own theirs, “If I have to wear pants, so do you.”

June 9, 2015: Thank Heavens Soccer is Over–I Can’t Take the Parents Anymore

Soccer season is officially over–hooray!

Please don’t misunderstand: my boys had a great time. Running around, making new friends, the snazzy shirts, SNACKS.

But life on the sidelines is a bit different. Parents, as it turns out, are awful.

My youngest son plays on a U4 team, and it’s about what you’d expect. A jumble of little ones kicking madly at the air and falling over their own feet. It’s hilarious. Every once in awhile they get stuck in a glob of themselves and it turns into more of a wrestling match, than soccer–it’s great.

But holy cow, some parents take this stuff seriously.

Example: there’s this awesome little guy on the team who is so fast he blows the rest of the kids away. He’s the youngest in the family, and the rest of his siblings play soccer, so even at this age he “gets” the game. He knows what you’re supposed to do, which is a perspective not every 4-year-old has in his or her young life. So they’re playing, and he’s kicking goal after goal by pure default of knowing that’s what he’s supposed to do, and a parent on the other team starts to get really steamed. She’s yelling, arms are flying into the air: we’re all a little embarrassed for her. At one point, the glom of kids comes together and her son falls down, like many of them do, but she’s determined the fast little boy on our team is at fault. She goes storming over to the referee and is yelling in the ref’s face about it, wanting a foul card to be thrown out or something.

All I could think was, Lady, relax, these kids are FOUR.

The other day I was chatting up one of these refs and asked how she liked the gig. She was a lovely, polite young lady, and it struck me what genius it was to have students refereeing these games. I mean, what kind of person is going to give a teen a hard time over a call in a youth rec league, right?

Apparently all kinds of people. The ref told me, “Honestly, I don’t know if I can do it anymore. I love the kids, they’re great. But the parents,” she shudders. “They’re horrible.”

After that conversation I began to take note. Like, actual notes of the words coming out of parents’ mouths from the sidelines of my children’s soccer games. Now, mind you, the ages of said athletes are 4 and 7:

“God, who is that kid? He’s been messing up goalie long enough. Get him out of there.”
“Kick the ball! Don’t just stand there! Kick that ball! No, don’t look at me! Why are you looking at me? Agh!”
“How could you let that girl steal the ball from you? Didn’t we talk about that this morning?”
“Wow, that boy can’t even tie her own shoe. What are his parents thinking? He’s not ready for soccer, obviously.”

It makes me want to cry. And I’m an adult! How does this make the children feel, you gotta imagine.

Don’t even get me started on the discrepancies between the sidelines of girl games and boy games–something my sister-in-law has opened my eyes to. Her daughters are ages 10 and 8, and apparently there is more “coaching,” especially from fathers, on the sidelines of a girl game than at boy games. People, get a grip. Our daughters do not need to be told what to do; they can figure it out just fine. Let them!

If all of this doesn’t bristle you, then you’re a better person than I.

Listen, parents, there are plenty of resources out there that will help you to not be a nightmare before, during, and after athletic events. Read up on these. And if you don’t, then here’s the take away: according to professional athletes, the only acceptable words for a parent to say to their athletes are, “I love to watch you play.”

Say those words to your child now. It will make your little athlete’s day.