Bad Choices

To the Parents of the Three Stooges at My Daughter’s Concert Last Saturday . . .

My daughter sang in a choir concert last week. Thirty kids. A couple of songs. It was lovely.


The couple next to me brought three young children.

In my head, I got judgy. Really judgy. Like I couldn’t focus very well on the second song my kid was singing about nature because these three kids were talking and dancing and whining about an iPhone and throwing a baby doll at the ceiling.

I also have three children.

So I get it.

Three children is bonkers.

Three children is somebody always crying about the game and how it wasn’t fair or the bacon and how she got more or the bathroom and how it’s my turn or the elevator and how he got to press the button last time.

Three children is hard.

And having three children was kicking that mom and dad’s butt last Saturday. At least, I think it was. Because when I wasn’t judging, I was wondering. What is going on over there? Are they okay? Should I say something?

I wanted to. I think maybe I should have. The kids were actually closer to me than they were to their parents. I could have asked in a super-small voice if they could please keep it down because my little girl was up there on stage singing about fireflies and maybe could they please sit down or play the silent game for 45 more seconds? Pretty please?

Except, I did not know their parents. And even if I did use my best preschool teacher voice, mom and dad would have wondered who was that strange scary lady talking to their kids?

So I could have said something to the grown-ups. You know, in between songs, just crouched or scooted over there to say little Larry, Curly, and Trixie were kind of ruining my mommy mojo. Maybe tell them about the bake sale outside in the breezeway.

But I didn’t say anything.

Know why?

You can’t say anything.

You just can’t.

Those were other people’s children. Not mine. If they were my cousin’s or student’s or my best friend’s kids, I could have gently intervened. Dudes, pop a squat, my child is singing about wildflowers.

My own children have been corrected by strangers. I usually don’t mind it. I figure if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. And I appreciate when someone tells me: Your son is climbing on that window ledge. Or I think you left your daughter in the ice cream aisle. I will take all the help I can get. Mostly.

But not always. One time during church, when my grandmother was sick and my heart was aching, I just kind of handed over the parenting reins to Jesus. As I quietly wept, my kids argued over the hymnal and knocked over a kneeler on someone’s foot during the Sign of Peace. It was not our finest hour. And it was made worse, not better, when the well-intentioned stranger came to me afterwards to give me some parenting advice. She had a book, she said, and she would send it to me. It helped moms like me raise kids like those.

Moms like me. . . kids like those.

We never entirely know, do we, which kind of mom or dad anybody is. If you see me on my best day, I’m baking bread with my kids, reading, singing, dancing, gardening. We’re riding bikes. We’re playing games. It’s all love and joy all the time.

But catch me on a bad day and I’m swearing. Not at the kids, but definitely about them. And near them. Closing their car door, frackin’sacking-frackin’sacking, and then opening my own. There are days when my kids feel like too much for me.

Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Choir Concert Crumb Bum were having one of those days. Maybe the games and the bacon and the bathroom and the elevator button had just done them in. Or maybe those kids weren’t even theirs. Maybe they were watching somebody else’s kids on that parent’s worst day and the babysitting adults were just as horrified as I was.

It is possible that they were just crappy parents. That’s what I was thinking for most of the song about sadness. And I wanted very badly to tell them that.

But even if they were the worst parents, they didn’t need my judgment right then. They needed my prayers. And my kindness. And looks of solidarity rather than scorn.

And I needed some perspective. It was just a kids’ concert, after all. Not an ordination or a wedding or funeral. And who knows? Maybe what looked like a family falling apart was actually a family trying desperately to keep it together.


Bad Choices

Pajama Day

It went about as badly as it could have.

It was Pajama Day at school—some sort of Spirit Week thing, I guess—so my kiddo and I woke up an hour early this morning to go shopping.

That’s right.

I awakened a child already in pajamas so she could put on clothes to go purchase pajamas to wear to school.

If you do not already have a tween, this is just a little bit of the cray-cray you can look forward to.

We are a low-key jammie family. Sometimes the kids get matchy-matchies for Christmas, but otherwise, our PJs are usually just t-shirts too worn, stained, or see-through to wear out in public anymore. This blasé approach to overnight garments has not heretofore been a problem. Until today. Freakin’ Pajama Day.

Pajama Day prompted the meltdown last night. Which led to the argument. And the words we should not say. Which led to the apologies. And the problem-solving wherein my oldest child strategized that she would pay for the superfluous new pajamas with her allowance money. Which led to the two of us standing in a department store at 7 o’clock this morning.

The only place open that early was north of the airport, an unpredictable drive on weekdays, but we made it in good time. We even saw a Panera nearby.

“Mom, I’ll just grab the first jammies I see and we can split a quiche before school.” That was my kid. Always making the best of things.


We don’t shop very often. New shoes as needed. Occasional sprees with Grandma. We are a hand-me-down kind of family. We had never been to this department store. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings.

After asking directions, twice, we ended up in Women’s Sleepwear, where even the puppies on the nightgowns looked severe.   Around the corner, I found a Kids’ Zone with princesses, bubble gum, and unicorns affixed on every nightgown. Was there no area in between? At age 11, my daughter is a hybrid—part grown-up, part child, part sulking puppy, part unicorn. She loves softball and sushi and sweet boba tea. She sleeps with a stuffed animal, but she is also taller than I am. It can be difficult to find her styles, not to mention her sizes. She still likes bright “kid colors” – pink, purple, bright green, turquoise – but palettes become more subdued as sizes increase. Out of habit, I grabbed a handful of larges and extra larges, but once in the dressing room, we discovered that a child’s large was too small, and a woman’s large dwarfed her small frame.

Where was the tween wear? The LOL fleeces, those annoying emoji shirts?

My daughter ducked into the fitting room and declared the first pajamas at least a partial success. “Mom, I found a pair of plaid pants that will work,” my daughter called from the fitting room. “It is part of a set, but the shirt is totally see-through. I’ll just wear the t-shirt I brought in the car.”

“The vacation bible camp t-shirt from two years ago?” I asked. That was one of the shirts that had prompted this preposterous shopping trip in the first place. Last night, it had been rejected as not pajama-y enough. “I’ll find you a better top,” I replied.

“No, Mom,” she growled. “I don’t like the shirts here.”

“How can you say that? You’ve only tried on one. I’ll be right back.” I paged through rack after rack, and pulled anything that looked like a possibility. I brought back about fifteen pajama-like tops, and one by one, she tried them on and nixed them all. Too big, too itchy, too small, too green.

“Mom, you aren’t listening to me,” Katie wailed, after the ninth shirt.

Not listening? I was standing in a department store at 7:30 in the morning. To find pajamas for a kid who was now grousing at me for trying to find her pajamas. Now we were both angry. This was what I got for giving in to her ridiculousness: more ridiculousness.

“Just pick a shirt,” I replied. “And let’s get out of here. We are going to be late for school.”

“What about Panera?” she cried. “We were going to have breakfast, remember?”

When I reflect back on situations during which my daughter and I have clashed, I can usually point to a moment — when I could have righted the ship, steered us toward a safe harbor rather than deeper into distress. I now realize that this was such a moment. I could have taken my tween to breakfast. After all, there is nothing easy about being eleven years old, feeling simultaneously big and small, both responsible for yourself and utterly dependent on your mom. Even the department store could hardly figure out who my daughter was, with all those sizes and styles scattered willy-nilly. Breakfast would have made us twenty minutes late to school. But over eggs and toast, we could have laughed about how badly pajama shopping had gone. I could have parented us through this dicey situation.

Instead, I steered us toward the rocks.

“We don’t have time for breakfast now,” I replied tersely. “Hand me the pajamas you are buying, and get dressed.”

She half-heartedly tossed the pair of plaid pants over the changing room door, and muttered to herself about the meanest Mom ever.

Unfathomably, there was a line at the checkout counter. Other parents, I supposed, trying to placate their children with early morning retail. When it was our turn, the clerk said, “These pants appear to be part of a set. Where is the top?”

I turned to my kid. “I told you,” she said. “I don’t want the top. It’s too see-through.”

“Yes, but you have to—” I broke off. “Never mind,” I said. “We’ll be right back.”

We strode back to the dressing room full of children’s and adult sleepwear in a heap.

“Find the shirt,” I ordered.

“But I don’t want it!” she replied.

“Yes, so you’ve mentioned. But the store will not sell them separately. Find it.”

“That’s dumb,” she replied, and dug through the pile and unearthed a sheer sky blue shirt and thrust it at me.

Here was another opportunity. This was the first thing we had agreed upon all morning. We could have talked about the economics at play in pairing a great pair of pajama pants with a sub-par shirt. Or I could have applauded the modesty which had prompted my child to reject the sleazy shirt in the first place. Instead, I hustled her along—back to the checkout line, to the car, and ultimately to school. En route, she changed into her new plaid pants—the very first pair she had tried on an hour earlier, before I had offered her dozens of other choices and clogged up our entire morning.

In her new pants and her ratty old camp t-shirt from two years ago, she looked perfect. And, for once, I told her so. “You look great, kiddo.”

“Never doubt my sense of fashion, Mom,” she said. And my grown-up little girl closed the car door and headed into school.

Maybe she isn’t the one confused about growing up. Maybe I am.





Bad Choices

Operation: Airborne Lizzie


About to throw out a leaky old air mattress, when the kids came up with this backyard game.

Mattress stays.

Bad Choices

When Dad Is in Charge . . .

Fountains are fun!  And profitable too!

(ignore child peeing in background)



Settle down . . . we put the money back.

Bad Choices

Teaching the Kids to Swear

We nearly hit a deer last week. To be fair, we were minding our own beeswax driving down the Interstate. It was the deer, loping out of the darkness and across four lanes of concrete, that nearly hit us. But still….

I screamed, “$#*&ing deer!” My husband swerved, and we narrowly avoided killing Bambi on the highway. For a moment, I felt triumphant. As far as I was concerned, I had just saved the family. But my kids, riding in the back seat, were alarmed.

My sweet, animal-loving, 5-year-old gifted me her stuffed kitty for the rest of the journey. The next day, she and her sister presented me with a swear jar in which to place a few coins whenever I “say a bad choice.” And at church later that week, my nine-year-old asked if I had apologized to Jesus yet.

I found all of this perplexing. Had my children, in fact, never heard me swear? I cuss like a sailor. Even my husband, who was in the Navy and is an actual sailor, finds my potty mouth surprising. I have called people a-holes during charity fundraisers. I dropped a bunch of f-bombs at my cousin’s wedding. I told a friend she was being a d-bag right in front of her grandmother. Lucky for me, grandma was hard of hearing, so when asked to repeat myself, I redacted my statement.

As a mom, there is something freeing about swearing. There is just so much to curse about. Poop, tears, snot. These are all substances I had on my jeans yesterday. All three of my offspring, in their brief little lives, have vomited into my hair, mistaken my shirt for a Kleenex, and backwashed into every bottle of water they have ever touched. Kids are disgusting. Some days, I FRACKING HATE caring for these FRACKING CHILDREN. So I don’t think cussing about them makes me crazy. I think it keeps me sane. Yet, until the Bambi debacle, I had managed to insulate my kids from this R-rated truth.

It is not unusual for me to mutter obscenities in-between closing my daughter’s car door and opening my own. That may put me out of the running for an Atticus Finch award – but as a parent I need the safety valve. I think of it as Profanity Therapy. If I swear about the kids, it keeps me from swearing at them. That distinction matters. I may have f-bombs up my left sleeve, but I have Sesame Street up my right. Whenever Lizzie kicks her sister, I want to say, “Knock it off, you little bitch!” Instead, I channel Grover: “I feel sad when you hurt people.”

As I sat there cuddling Lizzie’s stuffed cat last week, I thought about delivering a brief homily regarding obscenities. Yes, Mommy used a bad word, but sometimes that is okay. I even came up with another example, like when I dropped a 33-pound barbell on my naked toe. Mommy swore because it hurt. Mommy also swore because what kind of idiot loads a barbell barefoot? The rule would be simple – the more urgent the situation, the more urgent the speech.

But then I remembered what happened last time. After watching the movie Mamma Mia, my then four-year-old asked, “Mommy, what is a slut?” I kept my wits and said, “Sweetheart, a slut is a girl who makes bad choices.” A few days later, I was invited to the preschool director’s office. Was I aware that my daughter had been calling the other girls sluts when they did not share the crayons? Though I was pleased Katie had remembered my definition, it proved exceedingly difficult to explain why it was never okay to say that to people. If memory serves, she called me a slut the whole way home.

Despite my desire to tell the kids it is okay to swear sometimes — in an emergency, to save a life – for now, I’ll keep apologizing to Jesus, dropping quarters in the cuss jar, and muttering to myself outside the car door.

Kids, man. Effing kids.


Originally published by the New York Observer.