My New Rule for Social Media: Like EVERYTHING.

Several years ago, when I had but one child, I joined a friend of mine for a girls’ night out. Although I didn’t know the other women that she had invited along, we all had kids, and that was enough to keep the conversation going. I can’t remember exactly how it came up, but at some point one of the ladies made a statement that went something like this: I don’t have that many friends on Facebook. I mean, if I’m friends with someone and they don’t even like any pictures of my kids, I’ll unfriend them. 


I know what you’re thinking: Am I going to post a picture every time she loses a tooth? Yes. Like it anyway.

At the time, I thought this statement was a bit harsh, if not straight up crazypants. You’re going to unfriend anyone who doesn’t like pictures of your kids? It seemed to me that Facebook had certain unspoken rules, and this practice was flying in the face of all of them. Take these, for instance:

  • It’s acceptable to friend someone after meeting them in person one time, particularly if the event where you met them involved alcohol.
  • It’s acceptable to friend someone you went to high school with and never spoke to, even once, provided you graduated from high school a MINIMUM of 10 years ago and haven’t seen them since.
  • If you haven’t spoken to a person face-to-face in more than three years – unless it’s, like, a cousin who’s teaching English in South Korea or something – you do NOT like or comment on their stuff unless you want to come across as a weirdo interloper.

Those are the rules. And I’m sorry, but 843 semi-random acquaintances are NOT going to like every picture you post of your child standing in front of various zoo animals or “smiling” at three weeks old. So it looks like you’re going to be hitting the “unfriend” button a whole lot.

That’s what I thought then.

But here’s the thing: The more time I’ve spent as a mom, the more those pictures of my kids doing inane kid things represent my life. My existence. My whole being. And so, yeah, if you don’t like pictures of my kids, if you don’t care to validate that giant part of my identity, are we really even friendly enough to warrant the term “friends”?

And here’s the other thing: If we are, in fact, friendly enough to warrant the term “friends”, shouldn’t I be going out of my way to validate whatever it is that you find important – be it your children, your cat, your new healthy lifestyle, your most recent crafting success, your borderline unhealthy obsession with a certain country music star? Yes, I should.

In light of this second realization, I have a new social media philosophy: Like Everything.


A picture of a freaking adorable card my child made? Like it.

Look, I know that Facebook uses some algorithm that impacts who sees what on whose news feed. You can’t like something you never saw in the first place. I get that. I don’t actually take it personally. It’s certainly possible that I don’t see posts from about 500 of my Facebook friends, and it’s not that I don’t care what they’re doing. It’s the f-ing algorithm. (By the way, I found this article about it fascinating…)

Anywho. Back to liking everything.

If you’re important to me, and it’s important to you, I vow to do my best to like it. Because I like you. I like what you stand for. I like your interests, even if they’re not my interests. I like your kids, even if they’re not as cute as my kids. (TOTALLY kidding. Of course they’re as cute as my kids. Way cuter, probably, because they don’t throw pantiliners all over my bathroom floor or try to serenade me with a doggy guitar while I’m sitting on the toilet.) I like your vacations. I like your home improvements. I don’t like your job troubles or your flat tire, but I WILL react with an appropriate emoji.


A picture of my child throwing pantiliners all over the bathroom floor? Like it.

I won’t, however, like everything flippantly. I won’t like it without actually reading it or swiping through the album, because I don’t want to be caught in a lie. I won’t like it out of pity or to prove something. I won’t like it if I don’t actually like it. Does that make sense?

I want to see how it feels, liking everything. Scrolling a little more slowly. Taking a minute or two more to appreciate all that we share of our lives, all that we offer. And then putting my phone down, or closing my computer, and continuing. To like everything. To see my life the way others do. These kids, my family, are my life. My existence. My whole being. If I don’t give myself a thumbs up, what does it matter who else does?


When Cuteness Turns Dangerous

When I was in my early twenties, about a year out of college, I decided to take in two foster puppies. I’d fostered other dogs for Stray Rescue of St. Louis, and when a call came out for puppy foster families, I thought that taking care of two fuzzy, wiggly little puppie-wuppies would satisfy my desire to adopt one of my own. I set Barley and Hops up in my spare bedroom, a nice big area, I thought, for them to run around and play. And yelp, constantly, night and day. And pee. And poop. And eat their poop. After only a few days of sleeplessness and non-stop pooping and plenty of poop consumption, I was over it. With my sincerest apologies, I returned these two repulsive creatures to the shelter and swore that I would never again be hoodwinked by cuteness.


I decided to keep only one of the two adorable things pictured here with me. (I mean, just look at those dimples.)

Fast forward ten years. Replace Barley and Hops with three small noisy humans. Who also keep me up at night. Whose pee and poop also require close attention on my part. (Although they have never – to my knowledge- eaten their own poop. And if they have, I don’t want to know.) Who also need me to take them outside, play with them, dangle treats in front of their noses so they will display desirable behaviors. The work that I was unwilling to invest with poor little Barley and Hops is now my everyday reality, and I’m okay with that for two reasons. First, my three ankle-biters were conceived out of love and grown in my own body. And on top of that, they are SO. FREAKING. CUTE.

This cuteness poses several problems, which I will now detail, with photographic evidence.

1. You can’t help but spend money on ridiculous things that they want. Because those things are cute, and when you add cute to cute, you get DOUBLE CUTE! IMG_3518

Wait, I take that back. This is creepy.



I don’t remember how much it cost to take a ride in this strawberry, but does it matter? She wanted to ride in a strawberry with her mom. If she asked me again (nicely) I’d bust my wallet out in a second.

2. You devote weeks, possibly months, of your life to taking photos of your darlings, posting them on social media, and then checking to see who has liked, loved, and hilarious smiley-cried over your photos. Until they turn twelve, because zits, braces, and poor fashion choices. (At least in the case of me and my sisters. I’m sure MY children will still be cheek-pinchable at twelve.) IMG_4022_1024Baby selfies. I have no idea what I look like, because I can’t stop staring at the diapered cherub next to me.

IMG_0543_1024If a cute female child is sitting next to a cute male child, you have an irresistible urge to take a picture and then caption it with something like, “First date!” Which is disturbing in that you’re kind of turning a playdate into an arranged marriage.

3. Cuteness deserves massive amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup insisted upon by adults whose own children are past the cute stage. Predictably, behavior turns not cute at all after said generously donated sweets. Thanks, nice stranger. Want to babysit for an hour?IMG_4017_1024

Aww, you just got your hair cut. Here’s a sucker so your mom can spend an hour washing the sucker out of your hair later.


Alright, fine. This time it wasn’t a stranger, but we only went to Yogurt Mountain because I was jonesing for some chocolate yogurt with Heath Bar and graham cracker crumbs. And I had better manners about eating mine than this heathen here.

4. When they do something bad, you cover your mouth and giggle and call your spouse in to see what this little troublemaker has gotten into. Then you snap a few pictures to post on Instagram. Oh right, then you discipline them. Because that’s going to be effective. 






There are so many examples. My kids are bad. It’s a good thing they’re cute.

5. Even though you’re a reasonable adult, sometimes their cuteness bends your will as if by magic, and suddenly you find yourself allowing them to do something that will ultimately be really annoying to clean up. 


Regular diaper in kiddie pool. Sure, why not?


Swimming in your clothes? Completely acceptable.


And when you’re done making a castle out of books, who will clean it up, dear?


Ugh, confetti.


That’s the face of a helper right there.

Clearly I have broken my long-ago vow to stay on the alert for the Kryponite-like effects of cuteness, wielded by puppies and children alike. Thrust me at the next cute kid you see; I’m a sucker. Unless my kids start eating their own poop, in which case I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to look at them the same way again.


To My Five-Year-Old Daughter, Who No Longer Wants to Sit Beside Me


Today, so far, has been a good day for you and me. So far, there has been no screaming, no time-outs, no threats of what privileges I’ll take if you refuse to obey. Today, you wanted a book from your preschool’s Book Fair. You came when called, obeyed requests in a timely manner. You even offered to carry Ceci’s backpack when she collapsed into a tantrum outside of school. “Ceci, if you’re a good listener, you’ll get a book!” you told her as she sprawled facedown on the sidewalk. The voice of perfect reason. You can be that, sometimes.

Other days, your dad and I take everything: no sweets, no TV, no playtime with friends, no books at bedtime. I take your favorite dress or the American Girl catalog that you got your hands on before I could hide it in the recycling bin. I send you to time-out, and when you won’t go there, I pick you up, which is no longer easy. And when you won’t stay in time- out, I carry you to your room while you swing your fists in your best attempt to injure me. I try to care for your sisters while we listen to you scream and rage behind the door. What I want is for you to stop fighting me all the time. What I want, when the screaming and raging has subsided, is for you to crawl into my lap and show me how pitifully sorry you are for whatever started this whole mess. You never do. You look up from your beanbag chair, where you are quietly coloring, and ask if you can have a screen.

Lately it feels like NO is the only thing you and I say to each other. Our relationship has shifted in other ways, too. A couple of weeks ago we went together to Ash Wednesday service. You asked if you could sit in the front pew with some of your preschool friends, but it was already full. Sit next to me,  I said. You stayed  a sullen three feet away from me throughout, shaking off my entreaties. Come closer, Maggie. No. Come sit with me, honey. No. When it was time, I led you to the front of the sanctuary, where our pastor waited. I watched him dip his thumb in the ashes and place a cross on your forehead. You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” he told you quietly. And all I could think was, One day my baby will die. And today she won’t sit next to me.

You’re only five. Even though you roam the backyards of our neighborhood with the older kids, you’re still little. You haven’t outgrown tantrums. You haven’t fully realized how big the world is, how many other people it holds. You want what you want because your world is small, and everything, to you, feels important. Probably, this behavior, this pulling away, is just a part of that. Probably you’re just doing what kids do.

But you’re my first, and we’ve never been here before. Everything with you is new. So I worry, my love, that this isn’t just a phase.  I worry that this is just who we are, two people who dig in our heels, who are destined to misunderstand each other. I will still love you, even if that’s true, but I don’t want to fight with you. I want you to scoot on over in the church pew and let me pull you closer. If we are both dust, I want you to return to me again and again and again.



Why We Should Stop Fearing for Our Kids


I feel lucky, as a mother of three girls, to have been blessed with daughters who are tough. Five-year-old Maggie picks up bugs and climbs trees with the older neighborhood kids. Ceci – accident prone since she learned to walk at ten months – has taken some bumps to the head that would make me cry. The only reason she was crying was because I made her stop playing for five seconds so I could assess the damage. And Baby Alex, with older sisters as rough and tumble as hers, is going to have no choice but to learn to defend herself early on.

My girls are active, confident, strong. Not to say that they’re completely fearless: Ceci will tell you that she’s afraid of the car wash, beards, and the overly aggressive ducks that hang out at the local pond; Maggie thinks her two-wheeler bike with training wheels is too tippy and doesn’t like watching the scene where Luke’s hand gets cut off in The Empire Strikes Back. Alex, I think, is a little afraid of her sisters. Which makes sense.

I am so glad that, for now, their list of fears is relatively short. The last thing I want is for my children to be boxed in by fear, unwilling to try anything new.  Which is somewhat ironic, because my own heart, so full of love for my family, is surrounded on all sides by fear for them. When I compare my daughters’ fears with the fears I have for them, the lists are woefully unbalanced. Certainly I am afraid of physical harm, which lurks everywhere, all the time: high up in Maggie’s favorite climbing tree, in every object small enough to place in Alex’s mouth, in that terrifying combination of two-year-old stubbornness and poor decision-making.


What else do I fear? I fear for their spirits. I fear that their peers will not understand or appreciate the qualities that make my children unique. I fear the meanness of other kids. Worse, I fear that they will be the mean kids. I fear everything that comes with adolescence. I’m afraid of the way that they will one day view themselves and their bodies. I fear that they will lose themselves in the pursuit of prettiness and popularity. I fear that no matter how many times my husband and I tell them that they are beautiful in every way, they won’t believe us.

I fear the corrosive influence of our culture and its values: competition over compassion, wealth and consumerism over simplicity. If my children are kind (as I hope they will be), I fear that their kindness will be viewed as weakness. Mostly I fear that they will learn to internalize this jaded worldview, that they will give up on idealism and accept the status quo.

I fear for the future, for the ability of our country’s leaders to truly do what is best for all. I fear the precarious state of our planet. If you have not read the stunning novel The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, about a phenomenon similar to climate change, I’m not sure I can recommend it. Although I’m sure it wasn’t the author’s intention, I left the book feeling like maybe allowing my children to inherit this damaged world was a terrible, terrible mistake. (But seriously, it’s an amazing, beautiful, devastating book.)

Fear, from an evolutionary point of view, is only helpful insofar as it keeps us alive. So of course, I should give my five-year-old reasonable limits when it comes to tree-climbing, and I should probably not allow my living room floor to be strewn with choking hazards. In order to keep my children safe from harm, I should exert control on the conditions over which I actually have some level of control. But to live in a state of fear when most of my fears are out of my hands? When these hypothetical situations may or may not come to pass? Such a state of existence isn’t helpful. Not to my daughters, not to me.

Our children do not need our fear, and neither do we.  But can we, as parents, choose to live free from fear? Honestly, I don’t know, but what if we started here: We were children once, and we lived through it. We made mistakes, and they will too. Our job as parents is to give our children the tools to navigate an often treacherous but always awesome world. Every day we build our children up. If we trust in our abilities as parents, and if we remember to believe the best of our children, then we have a foundation that doesn’t feel so “tippy”. For those of us who pray, pray. For those of us who don’t, hope. Parenthood is too precious to waste with our minds in dark corners, so take a step toward positivity. Come out into the light. Just don’t forget your SPF.



Medicine for a Mom’s Soul

There is a voice that inhabits every mother’s head. It is a voice of shame and doubt, and it points a finger inward, berating us for all our shortcomings. Today you slacked off, it whispers. Today you made mistakes. Today you were less than the mom that you could be if you would only try harder. 


One way to drown out the voice.

I catch myself listening to that voice all too often. When, for a third consecutive day, I allow my five-year-old to watch a movie while the other children nap: You should be playing with her. When I use the time when they are playing in the bathtub to check Facebook: They’ll think you love screens more than you love them.  When a load of laundry sits in the washer, clean, for so long that it begins to smell like pond water:  Why did you quit your paying job if you can’t handle something as simple as putting clothes into the dryer?  And on the hardest days, when the baby is sick and I don’t bother showering because she’s going to keep wiping her snot on my anyway, when I can see clearly the crumbs on the kitchen counter and hear the dog whining because I forgot to feed him breakfast, when the older girls have decided that today they will be partners in defiance, giggling while they refuse to brush their teeth, it is so easy to let the voice consume me. You are failing, you are failing, you are failing.

It isn’t about silencing the voice. She is undeniable, a part of you. She is a side-effect of the sacrificial love that makes you a mother. She wants you to give everything you have, to dig always deeper, because your children are everything and you are nothing. She will never stop telling you this. And you know that, in some ways, it is true. Could you ever feel whole without them? Wouldn’t you die for them?


After the rain comes so much sweetness.

It takes incredible strength of mind and spirit to rise above the instinct of self-blame and to begin to forgive your own shortcomings. When I am feeling weak, I seek peace in the mundane, which is also a gift: Blue sky after three days of rain. The oh-so-sweet bitterness of a good cup of coffee. A book I can’t put down. Homemade bread, toasted, with butter and a touch of honey. My mother-in-law brought a loaf by the house yesterday, because she knows how much I hate preservatives. A hot shower, when the opportunity arises. Deep breaths of outdoor air. Watching a small brown-green lizard creep along the railing of my back porch, hunkered down against the gusting wind. I sympathize with her- I’ve been there. Let’s be honest, I am there.

I take comfort in the company of the people who love me. My wild “big” girls and my poor, snotty baby, who cried all night and is now napping in her car seat, the door to the garage propped open so I can attend to her when she wakes. My husband, the partner of my life, my fellow lizard in the wind. The friends who will take a fussy child from my arms and hand me a glass of wine. The friends who will say a prayer for me, even though we both know that this is just what motherhood looks like. It is not, however, no matter what the voice in my head tells me, what failure looks like.

Motherhood is a practice, not an art to be perfected. When I manage to make it to yoga class, my instructor always uses the words, “Wherever you are in your yoga practice today.” I need to start thinking of motherhood that way. Some days I will be more flexible than others. Some days will take me to the edge of what I think I can endure, even beyond. Some days I will fall off balance, but I will forgive myself. I will bring myself, all of myself, the flaws and complications, back to the mat to try again.

The voice is wrong. Where there is love, there is no failure. Life – all of it, the crumbs, the snot, the whining dog and gleefully naughty children – is beautiful. My life is beautiful. It is not too much. It is not less than enough.  Try as hard as I might, it will never be perfect. I think I can live with that.


Five Ways Parenting Is Like the Enlightenment

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I taught 7th grade social studies.  Maybe I’m a nerd, or maybe I’m just really enthusiastic about the advent of representative government, but my favorite unit to teach was on the Enlightenment. A lightning-quick recap for those of you who somehow managed not to pay attention during this riveting part of your historical education (bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere parenting-related with this):

Up until the 17th century, pretty much all of Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs who wielded unlimited power. The monarchs didn’t always use this power for good; King Charles I of England was a particular jerkface, so in 1642 a fed-up Parliament went to war with him. Parliament won and the king was publicly beheaded. A few other unsatisfactory rulers followed, and eventually it was decided that the best solution was a constitutional monarchy.

One thinker of the time, Thomas Hobbes, saw the king’s execution as proof that humans were, by nature, violent brutes. John Locke, who wrote a generation after Hobbes, watched these events unfold and came to a different conclusion: people were born equal, with inherent rights that should be protected by the government. Both men, along with other philosophers of the era, were searching for a rational truth that applied to all men (and women, I guess, but who cares about them?) in order to determine what form of government was the best fit for human nature. It was an exciting time. Science flourished. Revolutions erupted. The guillotine was invented as a weapon of absolute equality and relative painlessness, at least in comparison to the instruments of torture used so indiscriminately by former rulers. Huzzah!*

Okay, I have now adequately conveyed my enthusiasm for teaching the Enlightenment. I’m not in the classroom anymore, which is a bummer, because while I love my own kids, I really did love teaching too. But with each passing day, I’m realizing that parenting is, in fact, much like the Enlightenment. Let’s look at a few key similarities.

  1. It’s always reason vs. emotion. Let’s say that Sir Isaac Newton himself is trying to explain to my children that there are scientific laws that apply to everyone and everything on planet earth. You know, like gravity. So if you stand on top of a rickety stool to look for the cookies mommy hid from you on the top shelf of the pantry, and you lose your balance, well, you’re going to come crashing to the ground. Their response would still be, “But I waaaaant to, Sir Isaac!” You can only reason with people who are rational. Didn’t you know that, Sir Isaac?
  2. The little people are always trying to make it a democracy. I’m trying my hardest to be as unmovable as that jerkface King Charles I, but no one in my house is taking my God-given authority seriously. They keep thinking they can chime in with suggestions. No, I’m not making you macaroni and cheese. You can have quiche like the rest of us. No, you can’t just eat the crust and then ask for a dessert. EAT YOUR DAMN QUICHE, PEASANT!
  3. It’s a study in human nature. What I loved most about teaching the Enlightenment was the discussion it generated with my students about human nature. Are humans really all greedy and self-interested? If we weren’t given rules to follow, what would we do? What characteristics and behaviors are learned, and which are innate? Observe my children for an hour or two and the answers would be as follows: Yes. We would make the biggest mess we possibly could and refuse to clean it up, or do gymnastics on the bed, or eat candy until we threw up. We learn all the good characteristics, like saying please and thank you, from our mothers, and everything else is inherited directly from our fathers.


    The revolution begins at the point of a lightsaber.

  4. The ideas of the past seem hilarious. Remember when people thought that the sun moved around the earth? That monarchs, even terrible ones, were hand-picked for the job by God? Ludicrous, am I right? Parenting is no different. Before I had kids, I thought all sorts of things. Things about staying in shape and going out on date nights and coming up with an organizational system that works for our family. Things about what I’m going to feed them and how I’m going to discipline them. If only I knew then what I know now.
  5. Everyone’s all like, I have rights! Well, not exactly. I’ve made it a point not to teach my oldest child this phrase quite yet- in fact, I’ll just let her learn it from her 7th grade social studies teacher. No, what she says instead, in the snottiest voice possible, is, “Well I can if I want to.” My two-year-old just says, “But I waaaaaant to, mama!” My ten-month-old just says, “Waaaaaaaaaah!” And in the meantime there’s me, going, “I have the right to tell you what to do! I AM YOUR MOTHER! DO AS I SAY!”

You know what? The more I think about it, the more I worry that I really am King Charles I and that a tiny army of Roundheads is plotting to overthrow me. Maybe I should concede to make that macaroni and cheese after all…

*I would totally cite a source for this information, but I crammed it all into my brain during the three years I taught social studies, and now I am really not sure. I know that’s unprofessional, though, so let’s just say Source: Textbooks and Internet.





Gray Matters: Is it Time to Dye?

I’m only 32, but I’m going gray. Well, white, if we’re splitting hairs.

It isn’t a new development; after suffering a minor head laceration in a car wreck when I was seventeen, my hair grew back white in just that one spot. I was self-conscious about it, stealthily plucking the offenders with tweezers in the hopes that no one else would notice. In this way I kept my embarrassing secret under wraps for several years.

But something happened when I had children. I could blame the change in my body’s hormones, or the marked increase in my stress level – whatever the cause, the white hair would no longer be confined to one inconspicuous patch. It was spreading, making itself known at my temples and sticking up crazily along my part. I was teaching seventh-grade at the time, an age group that, while delightful in many ways, is lacking in certain social niceties. The first time a student jabbed a finger at my head and said, You got a white hair, Ms. Pray!, I laughed it off with an excessively sarcastic response. It hurt, though. On top of feeling exhausted by the demands placed on me as a full-time working mom of a small baby, now I felt old and unattractive.

The next time I saw my hairstylist, I asked if she thought I needed to start coloring my hair. She assured me that the white was really not that noticeable, that it wasn’t worth the cost and maintenance of dyeing it. That was over four years ago. Since then, I have had two more children and become convinced that President Obama’s notable graying over the course of his presidency has nothing to do with the difficulty of the job and everything to do with raising daughters. I’m coming to terms with the hard fact that I cannot tame the gray. My options are to live with it or to begin a decades-long process of covering it up. So where do I go from here?


I get it, Alex. That’s how I feel about my hair, too.

It’s not that I’m morally opposed to hair dye. Over the years I’ve used drug store box dyes to kick up my color by a shade or two, just for the fun of trying something different. I’ve just never done, you know, the hard stuff. A box of Nice n’ Easy is seven bucks. A full-on dye job at the salon every six weeks or so is a big-time commitment of both time and money. It’s also a statement, on my part, that I am more willing to spend my time and money than I am to sport white hair.

It bothers me how much these white hairs bother me. I want to be above petty vanity. I want to teach my daughters that it’s not their face or hair, but their character that counts most. I want to look around me and see other women boldly making the choice to let nature run its course.  And I know, I know. It’s not such a big deal. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. There are worse vices I could have, and aren’t I being just a little overdramatic by using the word “vice” in the context of coloring my hair? Calm down, Jenny.

It’s just, I think of my daughters’ imperfections. They have birthmarks, exczema, cowlicks. One of them has a patch of hair on her back that may never go away. My wish is that they will be able to embrace these flaws which are not really flaws at all. God made them the way he made them. God gave me daughters and white hair.

And yet I can’t deny it: I want to feel pretty. So I’m bowing to our culture’s ideal of beauty. I already made the appointment. I’m still young, with a lot of life ahead of me, and because I’d like to look that way, it seems that the only thing to do is dye.

Authors Note: Please, reader, forgive the puns. In addition to all of my other weaknesses, I cannot resist a clever (even if annoying) play on words.

Something’s Right, Even When It All Seems Wrong


Some days everyone in my house feels like this…

This morning went the way most mornings do. I let the baby stay in bed with us after her 5:30 a.m. feeding, and was woken at 6:30 by Ceci climbing in too, bringing blankie, Pillow Pet, and talking Yoda with her. I managed to get everyone dressed and fed. I only yelled a little. We arrived at preschool exactly on time, which almost never happens; everything else was usual.

Still, as I pulled out of the parking lot to head back home, I felt an urge to call my mom. I wanted to vent about how the days pass and I never get anything done that I mean to do, how I feel like I’m just treading water. When I look at myself and I look at my house, nothing ever looks the way I’d like it to. And I’m ready to have my body back, but my 10-month-old isn’t ready to relinquish it. I would tell her that I’m tired from the nights that Alex cries. I’m irritable with the other girls and then immediately sorry for my short temper. Comfort is what I’m seeking, and sympathy. That’s what I want.

What I need, though, I know, is not for someone to pat my head and say, Oh, poor you. Tell me all about it. What I need is to acknowledge that my struggles, as real as they seem to me, are absurd in light of what I know about the world. What I need is to seriously stop complaining and be grateful for all that is right in my life.

So I don’t call. Instead I make an inventory of the things that are, today, just as they should be: The warmth of my baby next to me, her body small enough, for now, to fit perfectly in the curve of my arm. Ceci in her car seat, curls tumbling from the hood of her rain jacket. She lets out a goofy chuckle and I imitate her, and the game continues for a minute or two until we both can’t help but laugh for real. On the drive to school, I hear Maggie say Wow… I ask what she saw and she tells me it was a puddle, a really big one. Good for jumping in? I ask. Yeah. Big enough to fit eleven people. These are moments of joy.

There is peace in my life where I am willing to find it. It comes in the sound of my children at play, pretending only as children can. Ceci walks around the house with the phone from the toy kitchen, calling her friends, relatives, teachers. Miss Amanda? Hi. How are you? Good? I’m good. Are my friends being good listeners? They is? Good. Okay, bye! Maggie, too, is still unembarrassed about playing make-believe. I can hear her in her room while Ceci naps. She is all of the characters; I don’t know how many or who. When I come to tell her that quiet time is over I scan her room for clues. There are Star Wars figurines lined up on her book shelf and clothes pulled out of her closet. She could have been waging a war or posing in a fashion show. Either way, it looks like she had fun. She’s five, she should be having fun.


…and then there are moments like this.

I’d like to believe that there is an order to it all, a harmony so big and wide that it encompasses the chaos I am living in. What I see as disarray is really just a natural process of shifting the pieces until they all fall into place. For instance: In the night, most nights, my youngest daughter wakes. I will not nurse her until morning, so I straighten her blankets and try to quiet her. Each night she will be soothed only when I allow her to hold my hand. It is uncomfortable; I have to hang over the crib rail in a way that cuts off circulation to my arm and painfully tightens my lower back. As I hang there, her small hand fiercely gripping mine, it’s hard not to focus on the pain and exhaustion. I want her to sleep, I want to go back to my bed. But the beauty, the rightness, of my hand in hers- that isn’t lost on me either. Isn’t that what it is to be a mother: to look for the brightness on the other side of pain? To know that every bit of this experience we call motherhood, even the parts that feel awful, add up to something greater?

So many of the things I complain about stem from the three greatest blessings of my life. What could possibly be wrong when so very much is right?

Someone Point Me to the Greenest Grass



I might kill for grass like this. (Oh come on, I said might…)

I think we can all basically agree that, to some extent, our culture as a whole- and I would say my generation in particular- suffers from a “Grass is Greener” complex. If we find ourselves dissatisfied with our lives, we decide that all we need is something new, something that will be just a little better and will make us just a little happier. When I was in my early to mid-twenties I found this so refreshing and exciting. In a period of about five years I lived in six different cities, had eight different housing situations, graduated from college, served a year with AmeriCorps, started teaching, got my Masters, and met and married my husband. My life felt like a giant Applebee’s menu; the choices were endless. Did I want to find an apartment in University City or the Central West End? Would I keep teaching private school or commit to public? Would roses or lilies look best in my bridal bouquet? Always planning, always anticipating, always expectant to see just how my life would change next.

The pace gradually began to slow soon after the wedding, when we moved to South Carolina. My husband began the process of establishing himself in a dental practice. We bought a house. We started a family. All huge changes, to be sure, but this time it was different. This time it wasn’t about what might be fun for a while. This time it was about what we wanted our lives to BE. Before, it was like we were driving a mountain road, not knowing what might be around the next bend, willing, at any time, to take some terrifying detour that just might pay off with a spectacular view. Now we were on a stretch of highway through Kansas. With no off ramps. Listening to some children’s song about a canary overindulging on ice cream cones, because that’s the only thing that keeps the three little girls in the backseat giggling merrily. That’s what I mean by different.

To back up a moment, my husband and I were staring down that long road when we purchased our house here. We weren’t looking for a starter home; we hoped to find something we could envision ourselves spending the next twenty years of our lives in. (Also, how obnoxiously American is the term “starter home”? Like, I‘m going to settle for this okay house that meets all of my basic needs, but as soon as I amass enough money, I’m going to show everyone how much I’m really worth!) We knew basically what we wanted and we knew our family would be growing, so we decided on a house we could grow into. As we signed our lives away, we felt the normal (I imagine) combination of dread and euphoria. The understanding that this structure belonged to us, for better or worse, that was a little frightening. I mean, yeah, we could sell it – our realtor informed us that the average person lives in their first home for five years – but we had already made the commitment. This was it.

Until. Until the pool equipment started acting up, and our heating and cooling units quit on us, and we found out we had standing water under the house, and we realized just how drafty it is living in a house with original windows, and we saw with new eyes, the eyes of people paying a mortgage, just how cheap and hideous certain aspects of our home really are.

And that’s just the home itself. We didn’t really get what it meant to have a baby and a big yard. Then another baby, and another. Our grass- and I swear this is not even a metaphor- our grass is pretty much nonexistent. There’s a greenish sort of covering in places, a mixture of clover and moss and other weeds, with maybe a touch of actual grass mixed in, but a lot of our yard is dirt. In dry weather it becomes a dustbowl, in wet weather a mud pit. A quagmire, if you will. The grass is literally greener EVERYWHERE else.


The upside? Lots of healthy dirt to munch on.

So, nearly six years into home ownership, we’re starting to talk. Is this really it? Do we need to move on? Undertake some radical home improvement? Would either of these options make us happier? Would they solve our so-called problems?

It seems to me that our dissatisfaction is coming from somewhere deeper, an underlying urge to remove ourselves from our current situation and rematerialize in a place where there is order, where things are clean and new, where the windows don’t bear traces of Nutella fingerprints and the living room carpet doesn’t have a run in it, where the furniture isn’t for gymnastics, where the contents of children’s bedrooms don’t ooze out past the door frames like some kind of living slime. What we are asking ourselves, really, is Is this it? This is how we live now? This is where all of our choices, all our excitement, has led us?

This life, this long and sometimes brutal highway that is parenthood, this was my goal all along. I need to remind myself of that. I can move to a different house, I can spend a fortune painting and fixing and refurnishing the one I have, I can break my back trying to grow grass in my yard; I can try to bring change into my life in these ways. Or I can accept that my life isn’t a thing to be fixed or tidied, and I can live here, in the quagmire.

Can My Children Live His Dream?


Back in Snow White and Aurora’s day, Tiana wouldn’t have even been invited to the ball. So we are definitely making progress.

On Friday, when I picked my two older daughters up from preschool, I reminded them that there would be no school on Monday due to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. “I know,” said my five-year-old. “We read a book about it.”

“Oh you did?” I asked. “What did you learn about him?”

“I learned that he had a dream,” she answered. “What are we having for lunch?”

What I should have done, I know, is to stop her there and have the conversation. It wouldn’t have been totally new to her. Once, after hearing the name Rosa Parks mentioned in one of her children’s songs, I gave her a little background. We talked a little bit about how some people have white skin and some people have brown skin. The pre-school she attended last year was primarily black, so this made sense to her. I told her that there was a time when a lot of the people with white skin weren’t nice to the people with brown skin.

“Why?” she wanted to know. A good question, obviously.

“Well, because they looked different. Is it okay to treat someone badly because they look different?”

An earnest head shake. “NO.”

“Did God make people with brown skin?”


“Did God make people with white skin?”


“So is anyone better than anyone else?”


Conversation over, and rather successful, in my book. I didn’t feel I could go much deeper than this with a then-four-year-old. And I didn’t want her to over-think race, either. I didn’t want her to see differences where she hadn’t before. But at some point, as my children grow, the conversation will have to continue. I know this.

It isn’t the fact that we live in the south that worries me. Racism where I live in South Carolina doesn’t feel worse, necessarily, than the racism I heard people express where I grew up in Upstate New York.  Of course, I’m not the target of racism, so I could be totally off on this. What I mean to say is that even if it’s subtle, racism has been present, perceptible even to me, in every place I’ve lived. In New York, in my mostly affluent, mostly white town, the “n-word” was a term used by teenage boys who could count on both hands the number of black people they knew personally. The optimist in me would like to believe that it was stupidity and ignorance, not real hatred, that led them to choose that word over another one. But when people of different races continue to live apart, go to school apart, worship apart – how can we chip away at that ignorance? How can we even make a dent?

Until I left the classroom this past April, I had spent the past ten years of my life in education. I have seen what middle school looks like for a child in inner-city Saint Louis. I’ve seen what it looks like at an elite private school in the suburbs. I’ve seen middle school in Greenville, South Carolina and here in my own town, and, to varying degrees, I have seen inequality firsthand. No one can tell me that race has nothing to do with it.

Listening to and reading Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I get emotional. The future he envisioned was for his children. For ALL children. As a mother, I want my daughters to be a part of it. The events of 2015 showed us that, as a nation, we aren’t there yet. And I feel, in many ways, powerless. I’m not an activist. I have no “real” authority, but I have been charged with three human beings, and that’s more than one, right?  I want my children to have open eyes and hearts. I want them to love fully and without prejudice. I want them to speak when they witness injustice. I want them to hurt for others.

How do I teach these things? Luckily, I have help. I have a church that cares deeply about social justice. I have a husband who sets the most amazing example, who is genuinely friendly toward everyone he meets. I have friends in our school district devoted to teaching every child, no matter their skin color or situation. It will be my job to steer my children into situations where they can encounter true diversity. It will be my job to hold them to account, to remind them that goodness must, in the end, win out. Dr. King reminds us to embrace “the fierce urgency of Now.” I need to do what I can, now. Like write about something that makes me uncomfortable. Or have a real conversation with my child.