Misery Loves Company

pexels-photo-247078Hello there, Holidays. You snuck up on me like an overzealous Girl Scout trying to unload her last box of Thin Mints. It’s the time of year when people channel their inner Martha’s and spend their free time crafting elaborate gingerbread houses while creating hilarious shenanigans for magical little elves with names like Tinsel McTinselson and Candycane Sparkles. (You’re all well-versed in my aversion to elves.)

It’s also the time of year when my cynicism hits overdrive, and I start to curse every perfectly frosted cookie and immaculately tied bow. It’s not so much because I feel the pressure to keep up with the divas of Hobby Lobby, but, between the hustle and bustle of the season and the post-apocalyptic lack of sunlight, it makes me so tired.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve always been a little jaded. I’m not exactly sure when it started. I suppose it’s a bit of genetics mixed in with education that taught me to question and criticize everything I learned, to never accept “truth” as truth, to look for hidden agendas and dishonesty. Add to that the media, YouTube videos of Black Friday shoppers, daily interactions with sour people, and the sheer exhaustion of parenting two active little boys, and Ta-Dah!  I’m one Negative Nancy.

And I’m not alone. I have 439 Facebook friends. I read what they post just about every day. Sorry, guys. Some of y’all are a bunch of Debbie Downers.

This weather sucks.

Obama is a terrorist.

Trump is really Putin wearing a mask and bad hair.

The Cubs will never win a World Series.

The Indians were robbed of a World Series.

My kid peed all over the bathroom floor and I stepped in it.

Okay, the last one was definitely me, but you get the idea. Politics, sports, the weather…we certainly like to complain, don’t we? And don’t get me wrong; I’m one of the biggest offenders. But it’s kind of depressing. We live in what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, but a lot of us seem pretty pissed off.

So why the heck are we all so negative? Are we as humans simply wired to find the bad in everything and ignore the good? Is it more fun to be callous and unkind than to be compassionate and caring? What happened to our joy? I’m not quite ready to become a crotchety old woman who growls at babies and tries to run down terrified puppies with her little Scootabout. So I’ve decided I’m going to make a conscious effort to find more joy in this world, and to spread that joy all over this good green earth until everyone I meet starts pooping glitter. Not just for the Holidays, not just for the start of 2017, but forever.

Which is a really long time.

But I think I can do it. I may be naturally hindered by my innate cynicism, but I’m going to do my very best to throw a big stinking heap of positivity out there into The Universe and see what comes back my way.

It might not change the world, but it’s worth a try.

Happy Holidays!







No. We don’t have an elf.

1C5225292-111223_elf_hmed_0616p.blocks_desktop_smallThe conversation went something like this:

“Brrr. It sure is cold out here. I can’t believe it’s December already!” I was waiting in the Walker line to pick my oldest son up from school when the woman in front of me got chatty.

“I know,” I agreed. I wanted to say that 45 degrees really isn’t all that cold when you spend the first 33 years of your life shivering in the arctic mitten known as Michigan, but I wasn’t in the mood for sharing the frigid stories of my past.

“And I have so much Christmas shopping left to do,” she sighed. “Plus I forgot to do our elf last night. This morning I had to put Tinsel Toes in the fridge hanging from Johnny’s lunchbox. It was last minute, but it got a good laugh!”

“Yep,” I replied. “Those elves are tough.”

“What’s your elf’s name?” she asked.

“We don’t have an elf,” I confessed, readying myself for the look of horror.

The woman took a step back and gasped, her hands clenching her chest in dismay. “You don’t have an elf?”

“Nope. We don’t have an elf.”

“Oh. Do you celebrate Christmas?”



We were magically saved by the pitter-patter of little feet lunging towards us after a long day of learning. The frazzled woman shuffled quickly away, anxious to escape the heathen family that celebrates Christmas WITHOUT an elf.

For the last few days my Facebook feed has been bombarded with pictures of those sassy little Elves on Shelves doing crazy things like taking marshmallow bubble baths and joyriding in Barbie’s Corvette. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that these red-clad sprites were traditions as old as time, rituals as deep-rooted as mistletoe and candy canes.

And I must confess – I do have an elf. It was gifted to my oldest son on his first Christmas, though I don’t remember by whom. But he never left the shelf, and, by the time my kids were old enough to understand the whole Elf on a Shelf concept, that little imp was tucked safely away from prying hands and joyous hearts.

Why, you might ask, don’t I have an elf? Well, it’s simple. I don’t want one.


I know. I’m a terrible mother. I’m reminded of that every day when I open my computer and Mr. Jingles, fresh from playing a heated game of Connect Four with Lalaloopsy, taunts me from the screen.

Bad Mommy!” he yells, burning a hole in me with those whimsical blue eyes. “If your kids end up in prison, it’s because you didn’t have one of me!”

But here’s the deal. We live in this crazy world where social media allows us inside people’s lives more than ever before. As wonderful as it is, it’s also created a skewed version of perfection, a non-existent ideal that has been meticulously cropped and Instagram filtered.

It’s the age of PTA supermoms and Pinterest perfection. Moms today are supposed to be manicured marathon runners who make their kids gluten-free quinoa nuggets with kale fries and fresh-squeezed milk while crafting seasonal BPA-free wreaths for the front door and knitting chevron infiniti scarves for the homeless.

I’ve fallen into that trap of trying to do it all, and it isn’t pretty. But lucky for me, I saw the light before I was institutionalized. Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of things for my kids every day of the year, and Christmas is no exception. We have a magical holiday filled with decked trees and sparkly lights and cookie baking and Santa parades. We mail our wish lists to The North Pole and get something special for a child on the Angel Tree. We watch Frosty and Rudolph and The Grinch and deliver tasty holiday treats to our favorite friends and neighbors. But these are all things I want to do. The elf thing? Not so much.

I truly admire all of you who have added an elf to your family tradition, but our Christmas is plenty magical without one. I promise. As simple as it may be for you, adding a Tinkles McKringle to our family for the holidays would put me over the edge, quite possibly ending with the brutal toilet drowning of our beloved pixie long before Christmas Day. My kids don’t need to see that.

So each day I’ll chuckle at the precarious situations of those silly little elves on Facebook, but please. Cut us elf-less moms a little slack. And remember, if you start getting a little too stressed this holiday, it’s never too late for your elf to move back to The North Pole.

Surviving Stillbirth: Life After Loss

IMG_6072My daughter Avery would have turned eight this past July. She’d be nine weeks into life as a third grader. I would no doubt be frantically running around, completely occupied with ballet lessons and shopping for frilly dresses and packing Queen Elsa lunchboxes and making pretty pink bows to clip in her long brown hair.

But Avery was stillborn three weeks before her due date. My daughter’s ashes sit in an urn in my bedroom, a little silver container from Hobby Lobby that gets a kiss every morning and every night. The pathologist’s report labeled the cause of death “asphyxia due to a tight nuchal cord,” which, to put it bluntly, means my daughter was strangled by her own umbilical cord.

Losing Avery was devastating. I had a healthy, active pregnancy. Everything was perfect. I couldn’t understand how my body had failed me – how my body had failed Avery. My world shattered into a million pieces, and the beautiful future I’d envisioned for our soon-to-be family of three became a bleak, desolate landscape of two. I’m generally a happy person, but for a very long time I was a lonely, depressed, guilt-ridden mess.

Stillbirth is horribly unfair. You are given the most incredible gift in the world only to have it taken away in a literal heartbeat. There are so many unanswered questions, so many what-ifs. It’s also something so archaic, so 18th Century, a thing that shouldn’t be possible in this age of medical miracles. Yet it still happens, and it happens a lot, nearly 30,000 times each year in the United States alone.

Stillbirth took my daughter, and it was a heartbreaking journey. I allowed myself time to grieve, but I didn’t let stillbirth take my future.

My oldest son just turned seven this past July. He’s nine weeks into life as a second grader. I’m frantically running around, completely occupied with baseball games and shopping for khaki shorts and packing Batman lunchboxes and convincing him to comb his thick brown hair.

My youngest son just turned five, and he keeps trying to convince me he’s ready to be a second grader, too.

People often say that time goes by in a blink of an eye, but I know exactly how I got here. Right after we lost Avery, I knew that if I didn’t try for another baby soon, I would never have the courage to try again. I was pregnant a month after my doctor gave me the green light, and 385 days after Avery’s birth/death, I delivered my son, Carter.

Carter didn’t magically cure my grief. He didn’t miraculously fill the hole that Avery left behind. There were concerns about me having Carter before I “got over” my daughter, and in truth there were moments where Avery dominated my thoughts. There were many nights when, overcome by hormones and exhaustion, I looked into my son’s newborn face and saw my daughter staring back at me. There were times that I sobbed hysterically because I had to dress my baby in a blue onesie instead of one of the pink ones tucked away in a storage closet. It wasn’t an easy time, but I don’t think it would have been any easier had I waited five years. Stillbirth isn’t something you just “get over.” It’s something you learn to live with, an invisible scar that represents both misery and strength.

Carter didn’t replace Avery, but he gave me hope. He renewed my faith in miracles and my faith in myself. His sticky fingers and chubby thighs made me smile, and, like the story of The Grinch, my scarred heart grew three sizes. By the time I had my second son two years later, I was finally able to breathe, to accept my story as it was written and be happy with both the laughter and the tears.

Today I can honestly say I’m at peace with losing my daughter. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss her or think about how my life would have been different had she lived. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry or feel that pang in my soul when oblivious people ask me if my husband and I are going to “try for a girl.” It simply means that I’ve grown to accept that life is often unfair, but there is beauty in the madness.

In her short life Avery gave me many things. She gave me clarity about myself that I didn’t have before, and she made me stronger than I ever knew I could be. She gave me the courage to quit my day job and follow my lifelong dream of being a writer. She gave me the gift of appreciating every sunrise, every snowstorm, every inexplicably beautiful thing that reveals how precious life really is. But most importantly, Avery gave me her brothers, two little boys that give me dandelion bouquets and tell me I’m pretty every morning, two little boys that are lucky to have Avery for a sister.

Eight years ago I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I couldn’t fathom feeling normal or waking in the morning without an onslaught of sadness and guilt. It may seem impossible when you’re stranded in the vast sea of loss, but there is life after stillbirth – a wonderful life, even. It takes patience, courage, and love, but brighter days do come.

The Niceness Crisis

homeless-1213053_1280The second week of school, I found my khaki-short, polo-shirt-wearing second grader having a nervous breakdown getting dressed.

“I hate my clothes! They’re so stupid!” He stomped around the room like a scorned elephant before collapsing into a crumpled heap of tears on the floor.

It took me a few weeks and a shopping trip for new clothes before he finally opened up to me, but the truth eventually came out. My son was being teased by other kids because of his wardrobe. And I was pissed. The Mama Bear in me instinctively wanted to shake the names of those children from my son, don a ski mask, and sit outside these awful bullies’ homes with a Super Soaker and waterboard the little jerks until they were on their knees begging for mercy.

But I channeled my grown-up self. I gave him a pep talk about how sometimes people say mean things. I told him that the mean things people say aren’t necessarily true. I told him he was handsome and special and destined to do great things no matter what he wears, and that no one can change the awesomeness inside of him.

I don’t think he believed me. And when I look at the world we’re living in today, I don’t really blame him. We have presidential candidates engaging in a campaign of childish name calling reminiscent of a WWE wrestling match. We have mothers tearing down other mothers over bottle or breast. We have fathers getting in fistfights at soccer games. We have PTA presidents getting framed for drug possession by angry parents. Everywhere I look, I see a judgmental, narcissistic, hate-infused shitshow.

So why are we so mean to each other? Are we a society of mean parents raising mean children? Are human beings automatically wired to tear down the people around us? Are some people naturally good and some evil? From Freud to Milgram, psychologists have spent ample time trying to determine the motivations of meanness. There are a lot of different theories – jealousy, low self-esteem, projection – that totally make sense, but I refuse to believe that we can’t do better. I refuse to believe that if we all made a conscious effort to be just a little nicer, it wouldn’t turn into a snowball effect of greatness.

My heart breaks for my son, who suddenly hates second grade because of a handful of 7- year-old fashion critics. My heart breaks for all of the kids that have to go to school every day and withstand ridicule and snide remarks over petty nonsense. I wish I could honestly tell him it will get better when he becomes an adult, but these days, I’m not so sure. So for now, I’ll do my best to empower my children, to give them the skills to cope and prosper in what seems to be an increasingly cruel world. But I’m still scared as hell. Because I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse.

Don’t Forget to Feed Your Soul

13237612_10208770037384229_6420776503945183241_nMy husband took the boys to his softball game last week, and, for the first time in months, I had an entire evening to myself. I shuffled around the house for a bit, picking up toys and cracker crumbs and discarded pieces of clothing. I contemplated pouring a glass of wine or cracking open the novel I’d just renewed from the library for the third time. I considered giving myself a facial or doing something with the jagged stumps I call fingernails. I had so many things I could do, but none of them seemed right. As I walked to the front door to check the mail, I noticed delicate rays of light streaming through the blinds in our front room. The pale waves danced across the smooth black wood of my piano, giving it a heavenly glow.

My piano. 

Oh, how I love my piano. As a child, I cursed my mother for the lessons, the hours of practice, the recitals that had my introverted self shaking like a leaf. But as I grew older, it became more like a friend than a chore. It was something to pound on when I was angry, something to make me feel when my soul fell numb, something to pour my heart into when everything else in my life felt as if it were crashing down around me. In college, I found myself wandering through the halls of my dorm at midnight, blinking back tears from a breakup/bad grade/fight with a friend, until I landed at the ancient Steinway in the lobby and played until the night clerk told me it was time to go. To this day, I’m still amazed at how a few minutes of Mozart can cleanse my soul and provide strength for another day.

I have a beautiful piano now, a Kawai baby grand that sits in our front room collecting dust and deflecting the sticky fingers of my children. In between parenting and writing, it gets played once a month at best, and I’m lucky to get in a full song before I need to stop and break up a Lego-induced fight. I miss my hours in front of the piano, and if it could talk, it would probably say it misses me.

I could feel the day’s tension in my shoulders as I sat down and opened up my go-to book, Schirmer’s Thirty-Two Sonatinas and Rondos For the Piano. For a good hour I played Clementi and Kuhlau, Hadyn and Hofmann, finishing with the Mozart Sonata I performed in an eighth grade solo and ensemble competition. My fingers were cramping, but my shoulders were tense no more. A calm had possessed my body, a forgotten peace that almost brought me to tears. I pulled my achilles heel from the bench, Beethoven’s nineteen page Sonate Pathetique. I played it for my Senior Recital when I was seventeen; I love it more than anything, but it’s hard. My hands were shaking by page five, my arms heavy by the second movement, but I played on. It was far from perfect, but perfection was not the goal. Daylight was waning as I played my last note, but I no longer needed the light. I was finished, my soul fed and cleansed, as if I’d spent the last two hours laughing and having cocktails with a beloved old friend.

The door flung open as I closed the piano’s lid, and my fresh-faced children rushed in to disturb the peace with their boisterous chatter. They took a seat at the kitchen table and proceeded to stuff fistfuls of popcorn into their mouths.

“Did you have fun while we were gone?” my oldest asked in between chews.

“I did,” I replied.

“What did you do?” my youngest chimed in.

“I played the piano.” I stretched my aching fingers and stole a piece of popcorn.

My oldest’s mouth opened with awe. “The whole time?”

I smiled as serenity floated through my veins. “Yes. The whole time.”



Let Them Bleed

I’m not a parenting expert, and I certainly don’t consider myself one of those moms that judges and preaches about every little thing. But every now and then I see something that gets under my skin, and I can’t help but think that today’s kids will grow up to be better people if we can just let them go a little bit. That’s the inspiration behind my latest piece on Scary Mommy. Let me preface it by saying I love my boys SO much and don’t let them walk around with broken legs. But sometimes a little blood is a good thing!

The ‘Let Them Bleed’ Style of Parenting


Dear Parents of Spirited Toddlers: It Gets Better

pexels-photo-116151-largeMy oldest son Carter is a Spirited Child. As a toddler he would melt into the hardwood at the sight of pants. He’d foam at the mouth if I suggested he wear a color other than blue. He was constantly talking, moving, taking things so thoroughly apart that even Einstein wouldn’t have been able to put them back together. One day after preschool he locked me out of my car and sat happily in the driver’s seat honking the horn for ten minutes while the other mothers shook their heads in disgust.

What is wrong with that child? No one ever came out and said it, but it was written all over their well-rested faces. But on that day, I was too exhausted to care.

Because one of the hallmarks of the Spirited Child is his inability to sleep. I’m not sure exactly when it started since my limbic system was way too sleep-deprived to create concrete memories, but I think it was around two-and-a-half, right after we moved him into a big-boy-bed in anticipation of his mildly-spirited little brother’s birth. Carter had never been a fantastic sleeper, but this was the dawn of The Dark Ages, the age of waking up at 3 a.m. and trying to warm pizza in the clothes dryer, the age of sneaking out into garage at midnight and pretending to be Mario Andretti Junior with Mommy’s car. (Honk, honk.)

We’d be at the park, and well-meaning strangers with children content to sit on the swing for hours would watch in amazement as Carter did 986 frantic laps around the perimeter.

“He’ll sleep good tonight,” they’d remark with a smile, as I fought the urge to slap them across the face.

I didn’t sleep for two years, and I thought I was going to die.

Then he started kindergarten, and he was that kid. Always talking, always moving, always running into the girl’s bathroom to growl like a monster and make his friends laugh and squeal. I asked his teachers, his pediatrician…Is it ADHD? Too many processed foods? Not enough exercise? Why did he have so much goddamn energy? Why couldn’t he just sit on the couch and play video games like a normal kid? What the hell was I doing wrong?

That’s the thing when you have a Spirited Child – you constantly blame yourself, and you’re constantly looking for a way to “fix” your kid. For a very long time I was sure it was my crappy parenting that made Carter the way he was. I didn’t eat enough Omega-3 fatty acids when he was in utero. Once he was out I didn’t read enough/craft enough/hug enough/yell enough/play enough/do anything remotely good enough. If only I were a better parent, he’d be a better child.

And then, in the blink of an eye, Carter changed. He was no longer the untamed maniac that couldn’t sit still for more than 30 seconds. He learned to read and write and choose his own clothes and not care if they weren’t blue or had an evil tag that was plotting to kill him. He started building Lego cities without overdramatic tears of frustration. He even used the microwave instead of the dryer. He began telling other people “to be quiet, please, I’m trying to concentrate.” Something in his brain clicked and he did the impossible, practicing self-control and recognizing the triggers that pushed him over the edge before he spiraled over to The Dark Side. The child I was so sure would end up in prison has become a joy to be around, not to mention one of the smartest kids in the first grade.

And that’s something that we tend to forget about Spirited Children – they’re freakin’ smart. Once their constantly spinning brains stop long enough to focus, they have a sixth sense that sets out to unlock the mysteries of the world. Carter spends so much time learning, packing every ounce of knowledge he can into his ever-growing beautiful mind. And, for me, now, that’s so much better than having a kid that sits on the couch playing video games all day.

So if you’re averaging three hours of sleep and using coffee with 5-Hour Energy creamer to hang onto your last thread of sanity, or if you’re currently standing next to your locked car in tears as your toddler honks and waves, hang in there. It gets better. So, so, so, so, so much better. I promise.

You Get What You Get

IMG_7874“Are you mad you don’t have a girl?”

The question caught me off guard, like the car in your blind spot when you’re changing lanes, the one that lays on the horn and gives you the finger and sends your heart into a series of herky-jerky palpitations that make you wonder if you should dial 911.

I had just finished telling the story of Avery’s stillbirth to a near stranger, a story I’ve told hundreds of times, a story that typically elicits awkward nods and sad smiles and “I’m so sorrys,” not brutally honest questions with the potential for politically incorrect answers.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

A saying danced through my head, words stolen from my son’s kindergarten teacher, words I tell my kids multiple times throughout the day. “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” It’s true, too. Whether you’re talking about a Happy Meal toy or second place in the spelling bee or horrible diseases or even death – there are so many things that are out of our hands, things we humans wish we could control but are ultimately powerless against.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I’m sad that seven years ago my daughter died. I’m frustrated that I did everything right but nobody saw it coming. I’m irritated that I had to have three full-term pregnancies to have two children. I’m heartbroken that I have to try to explain to my boys how the sister they never met died, and how that little girl changed so much about our lives. But am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I think of the parents that only have girls, up to their ears in glitter and bows, twirling through a world of dance recitals and nail polish, and wonder how they see me. I wonder if they feel a little left out of my world, the world of fart noises and monster trucks, the world of bug collections and pretty-eyed mama’s boys whispering, “I love you so much, Mommy,” right before their lids become heavy with sleep.

I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m missing out on in the Land of Pink. I’ll never shop for bras or prom dresses or wedding dresses. I’ll never know that special mother – daughter bond that people always post sappy memes of on Facebook. But am I mad I don’t have a girl?

“No,” I finally answered. “I’m not mad.”

And it’s the truth.

I’ll always have that tiny pang in my heart – perhaps mine is a little bigger than most because once upon a time I had a girl and then all of a sudden I didn’t. But I’m not mad. I adore my boys; I adore my life. It would be useless to be mad about something so out of my control. To hold onto anger like that would only cloud the spectacular road ahead and keep me from truly enjoying the ride.

Even if that ride is in a monster truck riddled with fart noises.