Nobody Listens to Turtle

I had a long talk with the dishes this evening, and it seems they flat-out refuse to wash themselves. I tried offering them a ride in the dishwasher if they’d only talk their clean brethren into dismounting the machine and making for the cabinet in an orderly way.

No dice.

I also stopped by to share my feelings with the laundry. Collectively, they seem resolutely opposed to washing and drying themselves. Folding is out of the question. And though they tend, eventually, to get themselves put back into the basket once they’re worn, I have never once, despite kind reminders, seen them place themselves into closets or drawers.

I don’t know when this mutiny began, but I feel it’s absolute. The floors categorically deny their role in the family’s lives, and refuse to mop themselves. I sweep, often, because I know the stuff that seems to reproduce itself into well-distributed floor decorations is too heavy for the floor to remove itself. But mopping shouldn’t be a big deal. And yet the floors refuse.

What have I done to earn this level of disrespect from the household? I’m thinking of taking the beds to a counselor, based on their seeming inability to change their own sheets.

The fridge openly mocks me in its disdain for either cleaning itself or staying clean once I sigh deeply and take on the task myself, despite knowing full well it’s my job to teach not to do the chores myself.

The bathrooms seem untrainable, too. What’s so hard about spray and wipe? We have eco-friendly bio-enzyme cleaners…you don’t even have to rinse yourselves, sinks and shower!

But no. They’re all engaged in a disrespectful mutiny in which I’m the default cleaner. Kindness hasn’t worked. Training them as though cleaning is fun hasn’t worked. Bribes do nothing. And gentle lectures about how we’re all in this family together and should each do our part has fallen upon seemingly impenetrable ears.

I don’t know what to do. Well, actually, I do. Because it’s what I do after the weekly or biweekly entreaties fail: clean everything myself.

Well, okay, not the floors or fridge. They’re older and I expect more from them.

I’ll keep hoping. And teaching. And communicating. Maybe in 30 years, when the floors are mopping themselves in someone else’s house, and the dishes live by themselves but manage to keep clean, then I’ll know I did my job well.

But until then, I’m frustrated as hell and running out of hope that the house will clean itself.



It’s been a while since I wrote an update to the books I’m reading, and maybe thinking about a few aloud in a post will help…

I’ve read quite a few books this year, which is a remarkable shift from the years since Butterbean was born. While pregnant with him, I joined a group read of Bolano’s 2666. I gave up about 50 pages from the end, when having a newborn and reading skilled but arms-length-remove prose just wore me down. When Butter was two, I participated in the Infinite Zombies group read of Gravity’s Rainbow. But I gave up about 50 pages from the end again, after getting a week behind in that last month. I just ran out of caring. I’ll likely go back to both, some day, from the beginning. But there are too many books calling my name for me to bother with the ends of those novels. They captivated my attention. They’re well written. I’m impressed by the breadth and depth. I simply ran out of you-know-whats to give.

And that’s surprising, since I pushed all the way through Freedom, a book in which the author barely tolerates his characters. I’m surprised I could muster enough interest in their lives, when he couldn’t seem to.

Anyway, I didn’t read much during the first four years of Butter’s life. And this Spring I threw myself into reading, in every form I could: paper, ebook, and audiobook. I posted a bit about books I enjoyed in the first half of the year, when I succumbed to audiobooks and devoured texts weekly.  I listened to, and loved No Ordinary Time and Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? I listened to, and had mixed feelings, about A Prayer for Owen Meany. Over the summer I enjoyed (and genuinely recommend) The Martian The Namesake, The Goldfinch, Neverwhere, and The Bone Clocks. And a string of memoirs amused me slightly–Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lina Dunham, in order of preference for their books–all kept me company on long runs. But I wouldn’t have read the books on paper. Autobiography narrated by the author, to me, is infinitely more interesting than reading the lives of performers.

I flat out didn’t like The Paying Guests or Go Set a Watchman. I felt that the former just lingered too damned long on every point and couldn’t decide whether it was plot driven or character driven, writhing languorously over both plot and character in such a way that I got tired of paying attention because I was being told that every moment mattered more than the last. The Harper Lee novel was as didactic as one by Franzen, with the added burden of having what felt like 400 pages of lecture posing as dialogue. Ugh. I’m still mad I wasted those hours.

I’m getting to the point in the year when I’m abandoning books left and right because they’re disappointing in comparison with books from the early 2015 months. I quit The Buried Giant last month. I sometimes enjoy Ishiguro and sometimes rankle at the pacing. This time, my impatience won. I quit Bel Canto two months ago. A pox on the unceasing, steady pace that lulled me like the rocking of an ocean liner. And I’m in the middle of, and considering quitting, Middlesex and A Visit from the Goon Squad. The latter is just boring me, in part because I’ve never cared about the music industry. And the Eugenides text is really annoying me. I have several friends who are, or who are close family with, transgendered, and the premise of Middlesex irritates me. It’s positing, I feel, that living in a space between genders, and navigating in a time of transition, can be blamed on a variety of ancestral errors. I feel in reading that the novel suggests that transgendered lives are mutations borne of unsavory history. And that angers me. I don’t know that Eugenides is arguing this point of view, but it’s what I’m inferring. So unless one or both books sways me soon, I’m dropping both.

A friend and mentor just sent me A Naked Singularity, and I’m going to start it soon. But it’s huge, and if I’m going to tackle a huge book this holiday season, it’s going to be Infinite Jest. Again. Because the nostalgia I feel for Wallace’s writing is increasing daily, and I just miss getting lost in the cadence and horror and familiarity and erudition and sadness of that book.

Any recommendations? I have a long list of what to read next, and am right now very happily ensconced in Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. I miss the world of the Rez and Alexie captures the magical and maddening in equal measure.

After I’m done, though, I wouldn’t mind a few books to stave off my Wallace magnet. I do believe there’s still talk of a February group read when the 25th anniversary edition of IJ comes out, so I might wait. We’ll see if I can.

What do you recommend I read to keep myself engaged until February?


Early holiday presents

I got a card this week from a dear old friend. Hadn’t talked to her in almost two years, though I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately. I wanted to write but didn’t make time. She did, and now I’ll reply. 

I received a message from a darling friend I haven’t seen in five years. We’re having lunch next week when he’s in town for the first time in a decade. We’re both already giddy in anticipation. 

I saw a text this morning from a genuinely awesome friend. I’ve heard from her here and there over the past few years, but we haven’t talked…really talked…since the kids started kindergarten. They’re in fourth grade now. It’s time for a long email and a cup of cyber cocoa with her. 

Blogging again after a long break has brought me messages from good friends, too. I’ve smiled so broadly this week as I get comments and texts from people whose existence I cherish and whose words I welcome. 

I don’t know what I sent out to the Universe in the way of distress signal or joy beacon or reconnection magnet. But I’m incredibly grateful to be steeped in engagement with friends who genuinely make my life better. 

Hello, friends. Hope you’re well!



You know what’s not fun at all?


You know what’s even less fun? Knowing for 24 hours how many someones are going to go, but not which of the someones it’ll be.

You know what’s even less fun? Being, on layoff day, a relatively empathic person who cries very easily. I cry at telephone ads, I cry at diaper ads. I cry when someone wins Top Chef and Project Runway. So each name I’m hearing during today’s mass layoffs has me crying.

I haven’t heard my name. So I’m crying about that, too.

Survivor’s guilt, colleague empathy, and relief.

That’s a lot of tears for one morning.

Good luck to all losing their jobs today. May the new job you find come before the severance ends.

Good luck, too, to everyone out of a job. May your new job come soon.

And to all the people who want a new job. May the right opportunity arrive today.

And to all the people having rough days…

No, no, no. Stop. It’s too easy for me to spiral to all the stuff not going right and wishing those people clean water, indoor plumbing, safety, and shelter. And food. And respect. And…again. Spiraling.

I’m going to focus on the people I know, today, who are suddenly unemployed. Wishing you all the best.




Roller coaster 

I do, sometimes, wonder if I’m mentally unhinged. 

Well, not mentally. Emotionally unhinged. I’m pretty okay mentally. 

But on a functional level, I am a professional maker of molehills into sizeable hikes. I am wont to speak in hyperbole, hypothesize in worst case scenarios, and react in outsized proportions. 


see the moon? huge vs. tiny is about perspective, of which I have little

But my feelings are real, so I try not to tell myself that they’re wrong. 

Even though they’re totally wrong. 

Today included a talk with my son about behavior I anticipate will lead to a career in crime. I talked to colleagues about a mass layoff that begins tomorrow. I spoke with a pediatrician who, in filling in for our regular doctor, actually laughed at my concerns and asked me what’s wrong with me. And I talked the babysitter of the ledge when my kids were fighting about the packing material that came in a box delivered (and opened) last week. 

I should be exhausted. And grouchy. 

I’m not. For now, there a cat on my lap, a book within reach, a cup of hot water, and a quiet house. 

So is it a mood disorder that I’m not stressed right now? That I notice the calm and warmth of cat and steaming mug? That I’m willing to forget the day’s roller coaster? 


Maybe not. 

Better than chocolate

For my birthday, my boys wrote special notes to me, courtesy of a sweet little book that prompted them to spell out why they love me.

The oldest said things that warmed my heart…


But he also made me laugh.

they are so horrified when I start dancing mid-dinner because the song is just. too. good.

That’s a fact, boy. No j/k about it.

The little guy melted my inner Grinch, too…

One of those previous two is true, by the way.

But the best line from each gives a little window into their personality.

literal. also very literal.

daily focus on gratitude? check.

That’s about all I need in a birthday present, right there.

The feeling is mutual.


Pure Bliss

Early morning run.

Write client web copy.

Quick shower.

Drive to the ocean.  

 Large plate of fresh fruit, pumpkin scone with spiced pepitas. Mimosa. Decaf mocha. Write client ad campaign.

Kale, garbanzo bean salad with fig balsamic vinaigrette. Heirloom tomato greek salad. Mimosa. Homemade pistachio toffee. Write more web copy.

Sauna, with a book.

Walk on the beach at sunset.

Pear and brie in phyllo, asparagus with roasted red pepper sauce, ricotta blackberry tart, strawberries in balsamic glaze, and zinfandel.

 Episode of Sherlock.

And then another. 

Full night of sleep.

The beginning. 



In August, I kept telling myself to make it through until school started, and things would be simpler.

When school started, and logistics got harder, I told myself to just make it through the two big September work projects, and things would get easier.

When the first week of October brought big challenges at work, I told myself to make it through one big project.

Before that project ended, there were three new projects.

And so this week, I told myself to make it to Friday. To put my head down and push hard, because this weekend I’m going away with a friend. Without kids. With big projects looming, but time carved out for no work. The beach. A massage. A nice dinner.

When the kids were little, and there were no breaks after the milestones, I longed for the project-based rhythms of work. When those projects came back, both freelance and staff, I longed for a time with downtime between projects.

I’m going to have to stop waiting for breaks, and start making them myself.

And I will. Starting about four hours ago.

get me outta here!


The Day I Quit Parenting

Day off school? Cool! I’ll rearrange my week so we can hang out together. Have crepes and play video games and read and play soccer and go to a movie. At the theater! With snacks and everything!

So, how about you help get the day started…by fighting non-stop with your brother. Not just about important things. Scream at him for breathing too loud. Punch him while you think I’m not looking just because you want to see what happens. Tell him how bad he is at the video game I’m going to take from you in three….two….one, just for being nasty.

And you, little follower. Give it right back to him. There’s nothing I’d like better on a day where I’ve planned to focus on you and make life awesome. Pick on him. Stick your tongue out. Make sure to trip him each time he walks by. When he reacts, pinch him. Tell him he’s a princess and tell him that you’re going to break his toys if he goes to the bathroom.

That’s it. Now wrestle! Not the fun kind, where everyone is laughing and panting and exhausted. Wrestle as though gouging out his eyes were your job. Yes. That’s the way.

Too cool to hear you, mom.


That’s the way the first two hours of our day went. Then, screaming and crying when I said it was time to walk to the theater. Then, grabbing each other in the lobby while I was trying to show tickets.

Listening? No. Heeding requests for modified behavior? Nope. Crazy, jerk-ish, rude behavior all morning.

I thought by evening it would be better. I made their favorite dinner, I paid close attention to their stories, I laughed at their jokes. When kids act like jerks, according to the hippie attachment parenting books I’m now totally throwing out, means children need more attention. Need connection. I have it all I had.

When they asked for a joint bath, I reminded them that they can’t take baths together anymore. It doesn’t work. Tub’s not big enough, nobody seems capable of keeping their hands to themselves. Take baths alone, I urged, and cuddle up together for stories later.

They swore they’d be kind. They coached each other, in front of me, on what to say to convince me.

So they started a bath together. And three minutes is this one snapped at that one, and the other grabbed painful parts in retaliation for the sharp tone. I talked gently and reminded them of the rules. I was patient, I was kind. And they kept pushing and grabbing and shrieking. And one, then the other was told to get out. Ignored me, fought with each other.

I’d had it. I yelled that everyone had to get out of the tub. I told them this isn’t the way this family is supposed to work. I said that I demand that when I’m asking for attention about a safety and kindness issue, like hitting, that they heed me. Both reacted rudely to my own rude behavior.

And then I quit. I went to the living room and started a project. I decided I wasn’t going to make meals anymore. I wasn’t doing laundry or helping with homework. I won’t remind anyone about library day or music day or any other day. Forget to brush your teeth or wear a jacket or do a book report? I don’t care. Not my job.

I’ll buy groceries, pay the rent, and ignore them. Forever. Because all I have to do is survive 15 more years. They’re not hearing what I say, they don’t care whether my points are valid or not. This is Lord of the Flies, and I’m Piggy.

The little one stomped down the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be sorting laundry, and I seethed but ignored him. Not my job anymore.

The big one stomped up the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be doing homework, and I ground my teeth. That kept me quiet, though, which is fine since they don’t plan on hearing me ever again, anyway.

And first one, then the other handed me an apology note. The little guy sounded out all the words himself.


 The big guy went winter-themed with his contrition. And multicultural, it seems from the punctuation.

And I decided that I could maybe try being their mom again. As much as I enjoyed my 20 minutes of full abdication, reinstatement as matriarch does have perks. I get all the handmade art I want. I get to read stories. And despite feeling, when they’re fighting, as though I have no influence, role, or value, I’m pretty sure that they at least get enough fiber, protein, and long explanations in answer to their questions when I’m on the job.

I wish the dynamics were different. It’s intensely hard on me that they’ve been fighting for four years, almost without pause. But life has been getting better. They read each other books last week. And played a duet, unprompted. I hope tomorrow is like last week.



The most challenging part of regular blogging is all the things I can’t say in this space. I write to be honest, to share, to ask questions. 

But I don’t write to shame or embarrass other people. So I’m sometimes stuck fighting the urge to write everything I’ve experienced and how I feel about it. 

In consideration of the public forum, of readers both known and unknown, of future lights in which these words will appear, of parties relictant to have their lives discussed in my blog…there’s a lot I can’t say. 

Four bits from today I simply can’t tell you. One silence is a legality, two are rooted in decorum to protect asshats who wronged me, and one silence is because I don’t want to reread in five years and feel like a jerk. 

So here is a photo of twinkly lights. Consolation prize. 

    Twinkle lights, like right now, in my living room. On the bookcase. 
Maybe tomorrow will have content for public consumption. 

Or more lights. 

    That’s lights and books and microscope. That’s pretty good, y’all. Pretty good day. 


Blog vs. Surf


I didn’t start using photos in this blog until 2012, according to my photo gallery. I checked because I was going to steal an old photo instead of uploading a new one.

Walking back through them, the dirty worms photo made me smile. They’re about as awesome as this blog’s photos get.

He sure was proud of those worms.


And of the things his truck could do.


And of the sand he brought home in his shoes but remembered to dump before he came inside.

I don’t have a point, really, except that this blog has some nice memories tucked inside. Some moments that I remember more clearly, cherish more deeply, because I shared them.


from KTVU footage of our apartment caught in a massive wildfire

When you cross SAD and PTSD

I had a rough couple of Octobers as a young adult. Big earthquake one year. Huge fire two years later. Terrifying car crash a few months after that, which wasn’t October, but which also didn’t make fire recovery much fun. In Boston, also October a year later, I struggled with a major injury; another big injury the following October.

And as I was acclimating to those psychic bruises, I walked through Harvard Square to rehearsal one October night. The sky was absolutely black, street lights painfully bright, and life flowing all around me. I didn’t notice that I was having to try much harder to get through my days since the time change. But I did notice that it was starting to rain. Barely.

I stopped at a red light and looked down a side street. And the tiny rain drops looked, in the street light and against the black sky, like snow.

And I lost my everloving mind.

I paced like a wild animal, knowing I had to get out. I had to leave, escape, claw, leap, fly. Fly! Yes, that’s it. I ran back up the street to a pay phone (yes, it was when there were pay phones but not cell phones). I pulled out my credit card, and checked the back for an airline phone number. I called and asked for the first flight back home.

I laughed at the price. I had to find a way to make it, and not lose my mind. Because I couldn’t afford a panic trip home.

Instead, I talked myself down, went to rehearsal, and the next day looked in the yellow pages for a therapist. (This was in the time of pay phones and email. I’m pretty sure there was a search engine of some sort. I just don’t remember if this was still yellow pages time, or if we were able to ascertain the location of a therapist by just typing in “Boston therapist seasonal affective disorder.”) Now that I think about it, I called my insurance company. From a land line. They gave me three names.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty easy to remedy, he said. Generally, it takes lots of outdoor exercise in the daylight, and 15 minutes a day in front of a light box. For me, he said, based on my reported symptoms, it had to be 2 hours a day of full spectrum light. Read a book in front of the light box, he said. Every morning. Eat your breakfast, write letters, do whatever you need to do, but get within six inches of a medical device every day for two hours. If it feels like you’re euphoric, back off by 10 minutes. And if you feel unable to work, get out of bed, or eat, come back.

It was a long winter. So was the next one.

When I came home to a place with more sunshine, milder winters, and longer days in winter, I had fewer problems. But winterns are still tough.

And without fail, some time in October I start to a panic a bit. Is there any chance to get closer to the sun, quickly, for at least four months? Will this winter be bad? Will I be able to make logical decisions or am I beyond all hope until March? Or beyond? Am I just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, anyway? Is there any point to the light box or exercise? Or healthy food? Or getting out of bed?

It's a long walk off a rotten pier.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

November, to me, is both intensely tough and intensely joyful. Thanksgiving is coming, and I love seeing family. Fall is lovely, and soup plus corduroy plus cocoa make anything wonderful. But the dark and the cold leave cracks into which sadness creeps. Even in cords, drinking soup and stirring cocoa. I ser the sad coming. I know it’s here. I know I have to fight.

I have my lightbox out, and will use it tomorrow. I’m trying to get more sleep. I have all my bright scarves out, so I remember to wear one on particularly emotional mornings. I have healthy foods planned so I don’t sink into a self-medicating pattern of whole loaves of bread for dinner this winter. I will move around, outside in daylight, every morning.

I hope that everyone who notes that the change of the season, and particularly the end of daylight savings time, makes days a bit harder, a bit slower, a bit more claustrophobic will make time for outside activity, bright colors, good food, and a lightbox if necessary.

They make a big difference.

So does making it through October. Thank you, Universe, for making it through October.

The Blessing of Expired Coupons

The first week of this month is my favorite. Hope, possibility, and the permission to recycle a fistful of expired coupons.

I don’t use coupons. The circulars that come in the mail go straight into recycling. Envelopes of alleged deals do, too. Most of the things I buy don’t offer coupons. But every once in a while, I wind up with a few coupons or micro gift certificates for things I actually use, and will likely buy before they expire.


So I start a pile. Near where the mail goes and papers to be signed go. And I see the stack every day, winking at me with the possibility of a few dollars off.

But I can’t seem to remember them when I shop. And though that local restaurant is good when we go once or twice a year, our infrequent outings don’t ever seem to coincide with a month where I have the appropriate coupon.

I functionally ignored the coupon pile, even as life’s odometer rolled over to November.


Today I realized that ten coupons are now an impossibility. Their “you should use this” glare died October 31. “Hurry and use that coupon. Or that one. Or one of them. Take your pick, but go to a place and buy a thing and save several monies.  Come on. You should do this. Or do something with your life for heaven’s sake!”

Sorry. Can’t. Coupon expired. Phew. One fewer thing to forget. I am no longer burdened with the “remember coupons” line item on my to-do list. Clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. So why pay any attention at all?

I threw them away. And for good measure, I threw away the rest of the coupons, too. Expiring December 31? That’s cool. But you’re already wood pulp for something new. I don’t care. And I shall say that loud and proud.

Eff off, coupons.

As I tossed the now dead scraps of paper, I saw the four screws on the kitchen counter that have been waiting for weeks. Or months. I don’t remember. I’ve been trying to recall what they’re for, and I just don’t know. But I thought if I kept them out and visible, I’d remember eventually. Or need them for something.

And I should have just put them in the toolbox. But I wanted so much to find their role and allow them to fulfill their screwy destiny that I left them out in a vIsabel heap of junk-drawer-gone-obligatory

Today I tossed the screws. In the trash. Not in the toolbox, not out on the curb where the whole city seems to dispose of its unwanted but useful things.

I pitched them gleefully.

Good riddance, obligation. Goodbye reminder that my memory is crap. Goodbye unreasonable expectations.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

And now I’m wandering through the house with a bag, drunk with power. Sock without a mate? Whether it’s been waiting a week or a year, it’s gone. I’m tired of waiting. Tired of telling myself I’m not doing enough. Tired of hoping all the messy ends of life will get neatly tied together.

Goodbye, book I know I won’t read. You’re going to the library.

Goodbye tea I don’t like. I’m not saving you for guests. Friends deserve better.

Goodbye, game I don’t like playing with the kids. I play other games, and I don’t care about you at all. You’re a pain and now you’re headed to Goodwill.

Goodbye wedding china. You’re “supposed” to go to eBay, but you’re going to the other half of my failed marriage. He can sell you or use you or give you away. I don’t need the should of your box shaming me from the closet.

Goodbye, tax receipts. I don’t…just kidding. I’m want to, but I’m not stupid. Freedom is symbolic, and currently only at the coupon, gift certificate, and third-rate novel level for now.

But that’s a pretty good place to be. Shedding what I don’t need. Streamlining. And knocking dumb things off my list.


Finally Fall

The story is the same every year: Hot in September. Hot in October. Eighty degrees on Halloween. 

Then mid-sixties the first week of November. A battle between me and my mother as to who turns on the heat first. She claims to make it until November 11 some years. 

I rarel make it past Election Day. 

Happy boot weather, Bay Area! Bring out your cords! Bring out your cords!

dude! they took my blanket! please let me cuddle in right here.


How I Ruin Everything

I go back and forth thinking I’m doing an okay job balancing work and family, and then sure that I’m not. And this week’s proof of my failure to thrive was in the mail, proclaiming to everyone in the school community that I’m not within 50 yards of making it work.

Do I mean “rush down the stairs last week while brushing my teeth to help with a dispute gone wild, abandon my toothbrush in the kitchen, and brush my teeth with the kids’ brushes at midnight, for a week, because I’m too tired to fetch my own” failure to thrive? Sure, but also “ask my kids to find my keys or phone every morning because I seriously can’t keep track of anything” failure to thrive? Yep. And “let my kid curse like a sailor because I can’t seem to find consistency, in anything”? Uh-huh. That, too.

A bit of background: my dear little boys are finally in the same school. We are two months into a two-year phase, the only one of their lives, where they’ll be at the same school. And it’s heavenly. One drop off. One set of events. One community thoroughly disappointed in my level of commitment.*

*I’m assuming that disappointment. I might be projecting, just a wee bit, since I’m completely disgusted with my level of commitment. But I’m pretty sure the other parents, teachers, and staff have noticed, too. I see the way they look at me…smiling and waving. Making small talk. They clearly hate me.


When my oldest started kindergarten five years ago, I cried the first day. I was in the classroom twice a week. I knew all the kids’ names by the end of the week, and they wrote me thank you notes when the year ended. The second child, who started kindergarten this year, got none of that. I drop him, greet the teacher, and all but run out of the schoolyard within 2 seconds of the bell ringing.

It helps that the second guy is very independent. (Probably because he hates me, too, though that’s another post.) It also helps that I’m rushing off to a job I enjoy, where I feel I’m doing valued work, and where I am cobbling together a flex schedule that lets me be with the boys every non-school hour. Or, at least, every non-school hour of my days. On their dad’s days, I work longer hours.

And that’s where some of the ruining comes in. I don’t mean the part about me ruining the kids because I have shared custody. That’s just to easy a target. I mean the part about me ruining everything else while I try to work full-time, be with my kids full-time, make shared custody as painless as possible, keep the house from appearing on an episode of Hoarders, and sleep at least 5 hours a night.

So what’s the big deal? What did I screw up this time? The news from the school comes home Thursdays. Thursdays are a dad day, and after school the sitter whom I gladly accepted as a hand-me-down from my brother and sister-in-law picks them up, feeds them, and takes them to soccer. Their dad brings them to my house at bedtime. So I see them for just a few minutes before bed. And the morning, though long, is pure chaos. I try to remember the Thursday folder of news from school, which the kids empty and put on my place at the dining table to read and sign. And I thought I was doing a good job of reading everything and keeping up with the announcements.

But I missed the school directory form. The completed directory arrived this week, replete with phone numbers and email addresses, physical addresses, and nicknames. My kids are each listed as only a name. No contact information for new friends to text for a playdate. No multiple ways to email us if one of the kids rescues an old lady from an oncoming bus, no information on how to call us if one of the kids punches another kid in the nose.

Yes, all of those are likely.

It was the last in a string of “I didn’t know that” or “did they tell us about that in advance?” instances last month, and I completely deflated. I felt invisible, in the way that most working parents tell me they do, excluded from events that happen at noon, at the mercy of cobbled together carpools and caretakers and school holidays and early-release days.

So when the directory showed that I’d missed the boat yet again, I chastised myself for letting things fall through the cracks. I chided myself for not committing the way I used to.


But I’m just as committed. It’s just that I used to commit to a different balance of children and work and writing and art and health and house. Now that the balance has shifted, I feel off my game, insecure, unstable. I’ve completely ditched health and writing, and am close to criminal in the neglect of the house.

The “I don’t know how to do this” feeling of newborn, of tantrums, of preschool questions, of eight-year-old attitude problems should be gone by now. But instead of living my life around being an intensely good parent, I’m shifting my priorities as they need a little bit less.

The learning curve is a different kind of steep. It’s the learning curve of going from undergraduate work to grad school. You know how to do all the things, but the level of intensity is higher.

The other night we had 30 minutes in which to get some tasks done. I asked one kid to practice piano and the other to get Monopoly ready while I quickly loaded the dishwasher. And then their dad came over to take one of them on a date (we trade each week taking one kid on a date so they get solo time and so it’s not always one parent with two kids) and the little guy cried that he didn’t get a chance to play with me because I “take too long doing cleaning things and don’t play with us or do anything fun.”

That is probably true for most parents. We have a lot of tactical, practical, boring, time-consuming work to do. But committing to multiple clients as the only adult in the household means I really don’t get much time with either child. I’m home before school and after school every day specifically to be with them. But it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day.

I don’t have a good chance of getting more hours out of the week, so maybe I should cut back on work or on expectations. Or maybe I’m still learning, and that I’ll figure out how to do everything I want, everything I need to do, and all the superfluous extras, including being accurately represented in the school directory. Some day.


Or maybe this is just the way it is. Hanging on by a thread, doing my best, disappointed by the results but still ahead of the game, when I’m really honest.

Is that just about how you feel about your life? Or am I the only one?