The Blizzard of 2017: One mother’s harrowing tale of survival

Wednesday, 1/4: Reports come in that North Carolina is in for two to four inches of snow Friday night. All the local stations promise extensive of coverage of this “severe” weather. No, seriously, they use the word “severe.”

Thursday, 1/5: Since people didn’t lose their s—t enough, predictions have been changed to three to six inches of snow. North Carolina residents are urged to stock up on bread and milk. We don’t eat much of either so instead I buy beer and cheese.

We’re gonna get through this.

Friday, 1/6: People are finally taking this storm seriously. When I stop by Whole Foods the parking lot is filled to bursting with tank-sized SUVs and hybrids.

Inside it is upper middle class chaos. The shelves have been cleared of bone broth and a nervous-looking mother stuffs bundles of kale into a bag while her toddler munches on a dehydrated snow pea.

The line for the express lane snakes back to the GMO-free bakery, so I decide we can live without smoked turkey legs and place my empty basket back.

On the drive home I pass a municipal salt truck preparing the roads. Spying one is like laying eyes on a narwhal for the first time: you know they exist but can’t quite believe it until you see one for yourself. Since it takes days for Charlotte to clean up after a snow fall, I always assumed the city salt truck consisted of the vice mayor shoveling kitty litter onto the road from the back of a slow-moving Dodge Ram.

Putting the children to bed that night is akin to tucking them in on Christmas Eve. My daughter details the many things she will do in the snow: go sledding, make snow angels, build a snowman. I nod encouragingly, knowing she will be lucky if there is enough to scrape together one sad-looking snow ball.

Saturday, 1/7: At approximately 3 am my daughter asks me if it has snowed. I tell her we will see in the morning. She jumps off the bed and runs to the window.

“Mom, I can’t see anything,” she says.

“That’s because it’s the middle of the night.”

“Can you turn a light on outside so I can see?”

I resist the urge to tell her to get a job and her own place and somehow get her back to sleep.

During breakfast, wide, fat snowflakes begin falling over the layer of ice that accumulated overnight. When we finally make it outside, my son stares around at the thin layer of powder on the ground and asks, “Is this it?”

It is.

He goes back inside to play Subway Surfers.

My daughter really tries to make this work. She flops on her back and moves her arms and legs to make a snow angel. She does a wonderful job of crushing the grass into just the right shape.

We walk down the street to the local park where children are sledding down the only hill they can find: a steep incline by the tennis courts. Over and over they climb the few feet to the top, then have two seconds of sliding before they thwack into the chain link fence. We listen to the thwacks for a few minutes before my daughter decides snow is cold and she wants to go home.

We spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate, going for walks and playing CandyLand. By the time the sun sets, the snow has started melting.

Sunday, 1/8: There are some patches of snow but either the vice mayor or Mother Nature did their job well because most of the roads are clear.

The kids have no interest in being outside because the ground is wet and slushy.

At 6 p.m. I receive an automated call from the school district, informing me that school will be closed the next day due to the “severe” weather. Outside the cat chases after a cardinal and a man walks two golden retrievers.

The district’s Facebook page is a pen of venom, as ticked off parents berate the district. Since every employer in town — except the school district — will be open for business the next day, parents have been left scrambling to make child care arrangements.

Others berate the beraters, pointing out that the school district is trying to keep kids safe, that school buses can’t drive safely in the snow.

“What snow???” one man asks. “There is no snow.”

A woman posts a picture of her road, which is still slick with ice. They start calling each other names and questioning each other’s level of education and general competency, so I sign off and make plans to keep my kids entertained the next day.

Our governor offers these words of wisdom: “Travel conditions are still hazardous. Do not be fooled by the sun.”

That tricky sun.

Monday, 1/9: After a long and trying day of dealing with my kids, I receive an automated call from the school district. Due to the “severe” weather, there will be no school the next day. What they mean is, “Because there is still ice on one school parking lot at the far edges of the district, we won’t have school for anyone.”

Here’s the kicker: Teachers are expected to show up to work.

I add Amaretto to my hot chocolate and try not to cry. It’s not that my kids are horrible, I am merely at my saturation point. I’ve just had three weeks of their delightful company over the winter school break. I haven’t been able to GSD (Get Stuff Done), and it’s driving me crazy.

Tuesday, 1/10: We have exhausted every game in the house. We have assembled and disassembled every puzzle. We have taken long walks along the city greenway and run around like maniacs at the park.

When the phone rings that evening and I see the district’s number, I answer it with trembling hands. The spokeswoman’s cheerful voice informs me there WILL be school tomorrow. I almost sob with relief.

And yet…

…and yet I live in fear of the next “severe” weather system to hit the region. Because every year of the seven I have lived here, we’ve had snow and ice storms that shut everything down. And every time, the locals say, “We never get this kind of weather.”

These are not wimpy people. They operate in dangerously hot and humid summers, they display no fear in the face of the rat-sized flying cockroaches that apparently have the deed to every house in the state. My elderly neighbor routinely kills copperheads with a shovel.

So to see them react with such caution to snow and ice is kind of cute. Or would be, if they weren’t in charge of the %*#ing school district.

How dolphins ruined childbirth for me. (The f**kers.)

Something parents are expected to teach kids these days is emotional self regulation. Apparently the method of clobbering your kid if he or she loses their s—t is now frowned upon. Instead you are supposed to teach them controlled breathing, visualization, even meditation to help them deal with the roller coaster of emotions that cause them to act like assholes.

This past week I was helping my son come up with a “safe space,” an imaginary place he can retreat to in his mind hen he is feeling overwhelmed. Logically, he chose the 72nd floor of a hotel in Atlantic City. I have no idea how he even knows what Atlantic City is, or why he settled for the 72nd floor when he could have easily made it the 110th, but there you have it. I’m guessing penthouse-level views of tainted sea water and drug addicts sleeping off a binge in the sand make him feel all warm and cozy. Aaaawww.

My son then asked if I had my own “safe space.” Tempted to tell him the truth — a slab of chocolate and season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — instead I said, “Mine is a spot in a beautiful forest next to a gurgling spring.”

This isn’t exactly a lie, as this was the “safe space” I came up with when I was preparing to give birth to him.

At the time I lived in what was apparently an extremely fertile suburb of London, as every childbirth class in the immediate vicinity was full. The only option available would have required two bus rides and a train journey (at night), so instead I turned to books and relaxation CDs.

So stupid.

Because every single guru on the market trumpeted the same approach to relaxation during childbirth: picture yourself on a tropical beach.

Look, I am a redhead with reeaaalllly pale skin. Being on a tropical beach is an invitation to sunstroke and/or certain death. It would be like telling an agoraphobic to make their safe space the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl.

But then one relaxation coach made it infinitely worse. In dulcet tones she suggested that, while slowly frying on the sand, I picture two dolphins swimming nearby in the surf to encourage me on my journey.

Aw hell no.

Because as anyone who knows me understands, I f—king hate dolphins. Can’t stand the little assholes. Perhaps the only thing on the planet that could make slowly desiccating in a tropical sun worse in my opinion is to have two of those snarky little SOBs swimming by.

To be fair, it’s not all their fault. About half of my ire comes from the veritable saint status we humans have assigned these creatures, mischaracterizing them as submissive and mild sweethearts who just live for the chance to perform at marine parks and rescue Sandy and Bud from sharks.

But like all animals (yes, humans included), they can be vicious and cruel.

Don’t believe me? Then I suggest you take the highly scientific step of Googling “dolphin attacks.” I’ll wait.


Now, whether they have the right to attack humans seeing as how we pollute the oceans and force them to do stupid tricks such as jump through hoops and search for mines is one thing, but dolphins can also be pricks to each other. They beat up on porpoises, although I’ll bet they’re also jerks. Their sexual practices can be violent and coercive. Males sometimes engage in infanticide. I mean, all behaviors you expect of animals in the wild but hardly the sort of thing you want commemorated on a keychain.

I only became aware of my contempt for them after I went on one of those stupid dolphin encounters years ago. Like most people, I was a sucker for the creatures, having watched “Flipper” growing up. It didn’t occur to me until I showed up at the venue that if you love animals, you probably shouldn’t put them in cages and force them to interact with you but hell, I had a lot to learn. I was only 30.

The place I went to was a penned-in lagoon, the water a dingy brown color. My husband and I were instructed to stand on a platform in the water facing each other while a dolphin swam in between us. Damn, but they are big creatures up close. Once next to one, you also become acutely aware that they are strong and powerful and if they don’t like you, they could make your life pretty miserable.

We listened to the trainer’s spiel and pet the dolphin and posed for pictures and it was all amaze balls. But the dolphin kept pushing up against me, a few times so hard I almost fell off the platform.

“Didn’t it hurt?” I asked my husband after we climbed out of the lagoon.


“When he stuck his side fin between your legs? He kept doing that and it was starting to piss me off.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“He didn’t do it to me.”

Oh great. I had just experienced “bad touch” at the pectorals of a dolphin. I’d never be able to watch The Little Mermaid again without a trigger warning.

Look, I’m not saying the dolphin was purposefully engaging in unprivileged physical contact (so to speak), but since that encounter I have heard all sorts of stories about people getting nipped, bit, pushed and even “mounted” by the creatures.

So no, they are no longer on my list of preferred animals, which is why I was forced to pull up sticks on the tropical “safe space” promoted by all the relaxation gurus and move to a climate more suitable to my needs.

My imagined safe space was in a forest glen. A very well-shaded forest glen. The only animals allowed were butterflies because for all I know deer are assholes too.

Unfortunately, as the delivery date approached, I found it harder to concentrate during my relaxation sessions. Without warning my mind would whisk me from the cool, dark floor of the forest to a broiling white hot beach, where dolphins bobbed in the waves making obscene gestures or dragging one fin slowly across their throats in a slashing gesture.

By the time I found myself in the unimaginable agony of pitocin-fueled labor, the forest glen had been leveled in a wildfire and the dolphins were sitting in the delivery room like they owned the place, making long distance calls on my cell phone while detailing their unsavory plans for my young once he was birthed.

Of course, not much could have eased the pain and stress of that delivery, but it might have been easier if those f—king dolphins hadn’t showed up.


Reading to my children: the Roddy Doyle Experience



The Grinch hated Christmas—
—Well, we’ll find out if we keep reading.
—What’s a grinch?
—It’s like a, it’s that thing on the page.
—Is it an animal?
—I guess so. He looks like one. The whole Christmas
—What kind?
—What kind of animal.
—Maybe a bear?
—He doesn’t look like a bear.
—What does he look like?
—A fish with feet.
—Then that’s what he is. Now, please don’t
—Why’s he living on land?
—Because he’s a fish who can breathe.
—Wouldn’t that make him a different animal then?
—Can we keep reading?
—Gladly. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
—What does that mean?
—It means, like he didn’t think about things the way he should.
—He hates happy things.
—Why? Seriously?
—Why don’t we keep reading and we’ll find out.


My father was born and raised right here—
—Who is his father?
—The man who is his father. His dad.
—How old is he?
—Who? The dad?
—I don’t know.
—Can you guess?
—Sure, let’s say he’s 40.
—I don’t think he’s that old.
—That sounds right.
right here in Florida, so he grew up—
—He lives in Florida?
—I guess so.
—I’ve been to Florida.
—Yes, you have.
—How old is he?
—The person talking.
—I don’t know. Let’s keep reading and we’ll find out. ..he grew up on the water. His dad—
—Whose dad?
—The boy’s dad’s dad.
—His grandfather?
—How old is he?
—The grandfather?
—I don’t know.
—He’s probably really old.
—I would expect so.



…and it said to the dragon, “Buzz off, that’s my witch.”
—Do the scary voice.
—Dad’s scary voice is scarier.
—Dad has a Scottish accent. Everything he says sounds scarier.


Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives here in our town.
—In our town?
—No, in their town.
—What town?
—I don’t know. Whatever their town is called.
—Sure. It’s called Springfield.
—Do they know the Simpsons?
—I’d imagine so.
—I like Lisa.
—Me too.
She is very small—
—No, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
She is very small—
—Why is she small?
—I guess that’s just the way she is.
—Is she taller than me?
—But I’m really tall.
—You’re tall for your age but most adults are taller than you.
—So, is she taller than you?
—Like, this big?
—Yup. …and has a hump on her back.
When children ask her about the hump, she says, “Oh, that’s a big lump of magic.”
—Is it?
—Well, she’s pretty awesome, so why not.
—How many pages does this book have?
—Too many.

7 crappy toys my kids won’t be getting for Christmas

The holidays are coming, which means it’s time to figure out what the hell to get your kids.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of retail advice out there. Everyone from magazine editors to “news” program producers to, ahem, bloggers have suggestions for what to buy your littles. Even my kids’ teachers and occupational therapists have sent home lists of “recommended” holiday gift ideas.

I wish I could add to these mounds of wisdom but I can’t. All I can do, after reading through all these lists, is tell you which recommended toys I will definitely NOT be buying my kids:


1. Portable Hopscotch Play Carpet

If memory serves, hopscotch is among the most portable games in the world. All you need is chalk, pavement and a pebble. I suppose you could argue that the mat is for days when it’s too wet or cold outside to play. My response is, for $50 plus tax and shipping (the price quoted in the catalog I saw), my kids can play a game called Find Something Else To Do.

What, are parents so worried that the urge to hop and scotch will hit their children with a fury the day of a major downpour and they’ll be stuck consoling their irreversibly traumatized little tykes because they didn’t have the foresight to spring for the stupid indoor mat? In this case, think of it as a teachable moment, when you as a parent can introduce your children to a little life lesson called “Sucking it up.”



2. Buddy’s Balloon Launch

According to the sales pitch, this game “can teach cause and effect, turn taking, cooperation and sequencing.”

They lost me with one word: can.

Because what is more likely to happen with a toy like this is bickering, name calling and me acting as a referee for a game that looks kinda stupid anyway.


3. Essential Oils Beginners Best of the Best Aromatherapy Gift Set

Yes, the above was actually on a list of recommended gifts for children. In all fairness, it didn’t mention the age of the child in question, so for all I know it’s for teenagers who want to get their aromatherapy on.

In the hands of my children, however, it would be good only for saturating our furniture with vomit-inducing concoctions reminiscent of a house of ill repute.


4. Ecobonk Organic Cotton Bop Toy

According to the sales pitch, instead of letting your child go 10 rounds with a plastic clown bop toy, with Ecobonk “your little one can cuddle, bounce, and bop with a variety of friendly safari animals.”

Um, not sure if the Ecobonk folks have checked a map lately, but you will find neither penguins nor grizzly bears on the plains of Africa. Unless you’ve been drinking. As for the inferior plastic bop toys in the shape of clowns, I think they’re a few decades off. Clowns aren’t for kids anymore. Clowns are for nightmares sequences in horror movies.

Forgive me for being obtuse, but what is the educational benefit of this toy? If it’s to instruct children in the idea that all nature is violent and we live in a world where the only way to ensure the survival of your species is to kick the crap out of others, then that’s really depressing and accurate. If it’s that grizzly bears just want to cuddle then they’d better have a good legal team on hand.




5. No Stress Chess

I’m sorry but chess should be stressful. They made a whole musical about this.



6. I Got This! 

This is a game. I think. I started to read the description but it was really boring. I think the idea is to bet on whether you can complete a particular challenge and there’s a self-assigned points system.

Basically, it introduces children to the fascinating world of gambling. I plan on teaching them that by taking them to the track, like a normal parent.



7. Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Perfect Balance

My kids would take one look at this game and proclaim it dumb. I would then agree with them.

Look, if I seem weary of the hypothetical joys offered by the world of retail, it’s only because I have bought the equivalent of the above — or worse — for my children during holiday seasons past, only to watch them play more enthusiastically with a bowl of sand. Among my brilliant purchases now gathering dust are a Snap Circuits kit and a $50 inflatable horse described by its Italian manufacturer as both an “involving and relaxing toy” and a “pyscho-motor tool.” What a “psycho-motor tool” is and why I thought it would be appropriate for my children now escapes me. The lesson not to buy anything like it again has endured.

Happy friggin’ holidays.




Why I always give my kids’ teachers booze for the holidays*


What do teachers really want for the holidays? I would expect better pay, improved working conditions, more respect from the general populace because they are highly trained professionals, not “babysitters,” and less interference from lawmakers who have no idea what actually goes on in the classroom.

Since I can’t get them that — at least not in the next few weeks — I’m giving them the next best thing: alcohol. published my latest here:


*Please understand that I check with teachers ahead of time to see whether they abstain from alcohol. I’m not completely insensitive. On the other hand, I’ve never met one who couldn’t drink me under the table.

My Thanksgiving sucked more than yours

Perhaps you had a rough Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you disagreed with your family over the outcome of the election, or you sat in slow-moving traffic for hours with whining children, or Aunt Brenda overcooked the damn turkey again.

Well guess what? My kids got hand, foot and frickin’ mouth disease (actual medical name: “hand, foot and f*&king mouth disease) and we spent the holiday in the hospital.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me. I did plenty of that while eating my Thanksgiving feast of Tic Tacs in the ER. If anyone deserves pity it’s my kids, who spent several days looking like syphilitic sailors from another century.

No, the point of sharing this is more along the lines of: ain’t life just a series of kicks to the nads? I mean, you either laugh or turn into a bitter, whiny jackass. I’m still laughing.

I’ve long held that my children are like used cars a week past their warranty: anything that can go wrong with them will. Over the years they’ve been treated by geneticists, neurologists, oncologists, gastrointestinal specialists, opthalmologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, developmental pediatricians, dermatologists and, of course, speech, physical and feeding therapists. They’ve been on the receiving end of MRIs, MIBG scans, and one colonoscopy, and had surgeries to remove adenoids and insert ear tubes.

The original purpose of this website was to rate the waiting rooms of pediatric specialists in the greater Charlotte area.

My poor daughter has endured the brunt of this medical treatment, and has a frightening knack of not only picking up every virus going around, but getting a monstrous version of it.

Most kids with hand, foot and mouth disease will develop spots and a mild temperature and recover over several days of rest and pushing fluids. My kid came down with a 104-degree fever, vomiting and tremors. She was admitted to the hospital and pumped full of IV fluids and acetaminophen to bring down her fever.

A doctor explained to me that some kids can develop encephalitis, even meningitis from this. Luckily, she didn’t.

Perhaps the hardest part of all this is that we weren’t at home. In a bid to bring some magic to my children’s lives, I took them for a short trip to Disney World. Although not a fan of the rides, they love meeting the characters and the general “Holy crap, it’s Disney World!” atmosphere of the park.

My husband stayed home to work. He says Disney World is fake and plastic-y and for some reason doesn’t like that. Missing out on the holiday is no biggie for him as he is British.

On Thanksgiving morning, my children were going strong in the parks, riding the carousel, exploring the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and hugging Ariel in her grotto, when quite suddenly my daughter ground to a halt. Usually energetic and talkative, she went quiet and lethargic and felt warm to the touch.

I took her to the first aid center in the Magic Kingdom, where the RNs on duty are well schooled in the art of Not Getting Sued. No doubt for liability reasons, they avoid treatment for anything other than scrapes, instead offering to arrange transportation to a hospital or delivery from a pharmacy, if “that’s what you want.”

As someone firmly in the “You’re the medical professional, tell me if I should be panicking” camp, it was frustrating, although I get it. After my daughter rested I opted to take her to the doctor and the rest is medical history.

That night was frightening and long. My son camped out with us in the hospital, as even though my parents were staying at our hotel, he didn’t want to be separated from me.

I finally drifted off to sleep sometime in the early morning, an arm resting on my daughter, the beeps from her monitors ringing in my ears. A few hours must have passed, because I awoke with a start to hear a tiny voice singing a song from the movie Trolls:

I’m not giving up today

There’s nothing getting in my way

And if you knock knock me over

I will get back up again

My daughter sat, hair sticking straight up, lips dry and peeling, looking at me. When she saw I was awake she grinned and croaked “Can I go swimming?”

She was discharged later that day. Her fever came back. We made it home to North Carolina the next day, and then my son came down with a fever. They’re both recovering nicely, pink spots like child acne dotting their faces.

I guess you could say we missed out on the holiday, although that’s no heartbreak for my kids since they hate eating and Thanksgiving is, for the most part, about food. It does leave me worried for the upcoming holiday.

See, all bad things come in threes and my daughter has a terrible track record. For Easter she got bronchitis. At Thanksgiving it was hand, foot and mouth disease. What’s next for Christmas? She’ll explode?

Hell sounds a lot like Chuggington

So, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked to publish my next blog post, which is frickin’ awesome. Since they own the rights to it for the next 30 days, if you want to read it please visit their site:

It’s about how this November marks five years since doctors discovered the tumors in Charlie’s skull and how little I can remember about those early days.

Words to live by


There is a question doing the rounds on Facebook: What movie quote best describes your life?

At first glance, that seems a tough one to answer. Do they mean my life right now? Or are they talking about childhood, the awkward teen years, the misspent youth, the dawning of middle age?

If I narrow it down to the present, then the choice is obvious and automatic. It comes from one of the few films that captures the chaotic, frightening and exhilarating moments of parenthood.

I’m talking, of course, about Jaws.

In my opinion, no truer words about parenting exist than those uttered by Chief Brody when he comes face to face with the behemoth shark he has set out to kill and he realizes he has set himself a task way beyond his capabilities:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Aw, hell, yeah.

Because as much as you think you’re prepared to be a parent, you’re not. You may have hired an expert fisherman, brought a marine biologist on board and prepared to stay out till the job was done, but eventually you will be forced to admit that your child is a 2-meter-long great white shark with a taste for human flesh and a personal vendetta against the good people of Amityville.

Ha-ha. Kidding. Maybe.

To be fair, there are people who don’t feel overwhelmed by parenthood. I met one once. The memory is hazy, since it was a few weeks after my first child was born and I was anemic and exhausted. In a breastfeeding support group, an impeccably dressed woman without a scrap of vomit sticking to her told me motherhood wasn’t challenging at all.

“It’s just such a privilege to be a mother,” she said, as she nursed her infant and her toddler played contentedly at her feet.

Unsure what kind of support she was meant to be providing in a support group, I went back to “nursing,” which meant squeezing back tears as my son flattened and abraded a part of my body that deserves much greater kindness than an infant can give. (Why, oh why, can’t breast milk issue forth from a less sensitive part of the body, say, the callused soles of our feet?)

We were interrupted by Little Miss Privilege hrieking because her toddler had walked into a door knob. Flying across the room, infant still at one breast, she dropped to the floor and lifted her shirt so the older child could latch on to the other breast.

“She finds it comforting,” she told me, as her toddler stood and nursed with tears streaming down her face.

Holy hell, I thought to myself. If she thinks that’s easy, I’m am 100 percent f—ked.

But for the most part, people I have encountered find parenthood as daunting as I do. Because you can love your children to pieces, they can be something you wanted all your life, and they can still be your most formidable challenge.

Believe it or not, the physical part is the easy part. You can get by on little sleep, lowered standards of hygiene and scraps of food caught on the fly and survive. By my count, for eight years.

It’s the psychological aspect that can make you want to give up. When my son was an infant and cried, I was convinced he was in terrible pain. When he went on walks strapped to my husband’s chest, I was convinced he would catch the plague. (To be fair, we lived in London.) When his nose became clogged from a cold I was convinced he would stop breathing.

The first night my son slept by my side, I was wide awake and breathless in terror, constantly reaching over to check that he was still alive. It was then that I realized I would never sleep soundly again. Even though the delicate newborn years wouldn’t last forever, there would always be something to worry about. From nightmares to bullies to broken hearts and brutal life lessons, he would have to suffer and there WOULDN’T BE A DAMN THING I COULD DO ABOUT IT.

Damn straight I needed a bigger boat. Or a shot of Jaegermeister.

Of course, I’ve relaxed a bit. It’s impossible to operate at that frequency for  long without imploding and when the universe throws the degree-of-difficulty crap it has flung at my family, you just gotta sack up and deal.

But if there were ever any words that gave me more comfort in my “Oh s**t!” moments of parenting, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” tops the list.

That and “Sweep the leg” from The Karate Kid. I mean, right???

This image perfectly sums up my feelings about parenthood. It’s also an accurate depiction of mealtimes in my house.

Halloween rush

Halloween barreled through my house with the subtlety of Ethel Merman on a steamroller.

Perhaps it was because for the first time ever we celebrated the holiday in a neighborhood with children, meaning the houses were decorated and excitement was in the air. It could be because we discovered an incredibly bizarre man lives down the street. Maybe it was because during an election year, there are so many signs lining the road that it feels like you’re getting shouted at.

But most likely it’s because the whole thing was so rushed. From the minute we got home from school it felt like a race against the clock to cram the usual activities and the frickin’ magic of the holiday in before bedtime. I wasn’t about to let my kids stay up late or get out of chores or daily reading or piano practice. That’s not because I’m a good mother but because routine is the only thing that sustains a semblance of sanity in this house. If I vary timing or activities too much, disorientation, tears and tantrums ensue. And that’s just from me.

For once my kids were motivated to get everything done because — holy crap! — it was Halloween and they were going trick-or-treating. Even dinner went smoothly, which is saying something since my children approach food with the enthusiasm of the severely catatonic.

When my husband got home at 5:30, he scrambled upstairs to change clothes and make with the pumpkin carving. This is a duty he took on after our first Halloween with children, when we discovered his artistic genius. On that fateful day I had just finished cutting out the triangle eyes and jagged grin on my pumpkin when I glanced over and saw he had covered his with a series of pin pricks and gouges that, when lit from within, showed a witch flying her broomstick past a crescent moon.

“Wow,” was my response.

He claimed it was easy, because growing up in Scotland he’d carved turnips. I can’t even imagine trying to etch a design into something so tiny. The best part, he claims, is when you put a candle in the turnip and smelled it roasting. Yeah. That would make up for 14 hours of work.

But this year he wasn’t going to have much time to get the job done. He had barely made his first incision when my friend and her son arrived to go trick-or-treating.

“Go on without me!” he called out nobly. “I’ll catch up.”

I had high hopes for the evening. Trick-or-treating in our old neighborhood had always been a non-event, as our neighbors had been retirees and couples without children who seemed to forget the holiday existed. One year a woman down the street handed my kids protein bars because she hadn’t bought candy.

This year, everything got off to a great start: people were generous with the loot and kind to the children. We did have one elderly lady flee her lawn chair in alarm when she saw us coming and then refuse to answer the door, but that’s no big deal. The way I look at it, given what people pay in taxes these days they’re under no obligation to give my kids free s—t.

We’d barely reached the end of the block when the children knocked on a door and were greeted by a werewolf. The man who lived there had dressed in a shaggy grey costume and answered the front door on all fours. Bless his heart. (That’s a southern expression that has many meanings, in this case, “What the f—k??”)

It was cute until it got weird.

“Have some candy,” he growled.

The kids helped themselves.

“Do you see my spooky bats?” he growled.

The kids nodded.

“Come inside,” he growled.

“Ok,” my son said cheerfully. Stranger danger my a—.

“No!” my friend and I both shouted.

“Come back and check out my giant spider!” he said as the kids retreated down the driveway.

For the love of everything law-abiding, he’d better have been talking about a decoration.

A few doors down a woman admired the kids’ outfits and then asked if they were out alone.

“No, those are our moms,” my friend’s son said, pointing at us.

The woman’s face brightened.

“Well, that is just fine by me!” she nodded enthusiastically.

Judging from the political candidate signs occupying every square inch of her front lawn, this woman not only thought we were a couple but heartily approved.

As we headed to the next house, my friend said, “I’m wearing pants and you’re in a skirt, so I guess I’m the husband.”

“That’s kind of how I see us,” I said.*

The next 40 minutes were pretty uneventful. My husband did a rush job on the pumpkins and caught up with us to enjoy the magic. We took a candy break, which consisted of my children doubtfully licking at their fun-size Snickers. (The upside of them hating food is that candy holds no appeal.)

We called it a night shortly before 7 and started heading home. As we turned the corner to our street, I noticed a figure crouching on a utility box nearby. It was the werewolf man. Bless his heart. (Same meaning as before.)

When we passed by he climbed down and ran at the children, growling. My daughter shrieked. Trying to keep her from getting even more freaked out, I said:

“Ha-ha! That silly werewolf is trying to scare you guys but you’re not scared, right?”

“I’m not scared,” my daughter said, with the same lack of conviction employed by Kevin Costner in his movies.

Werewolf guy grabbed at her candy bag.

“I think he would like a treat,” I said, and began digging through her stash. “What’s your favorite kind of candy, Werewolf?”

“Kids,” he growled.

“Okay, time to go,” I said.

Wouldn’t you know it, that lunatic scampered after us for about half a block before turning back to his house, presumably to scare the daylights out of another group of children while disturbing the crap out of their parents.

Bless. His. Heart.

It’s possible he just really gets into Halloween. It’s also possible that he has a neurological condition or a mental illness. He was wearing mom jeans, after all. Whatever his issues are, he topped off a particularly manic Halloween for us.

Now that the costumes have been put away, the decorations stored and the candy completely ignored, a calm has settled back over our house.

Which gives me the time I need to check the sex offender registry for our zip code. Gotta run.

Not my husband’s best work. Still a million times better than what I can do.

*I understand that’s not how same-sex relationships work. My friend and I were just being jacka–ses.

Diary of a road trip

There’s really no way around it: traveling with kids sucks. From all the preparation and planning to the schlepping and supervising, you could compare making a road trip with children to organizing a military campaign. That said, it’s hard to imagine any of history’s great generals — Agrippa, Charlemagne, Bolivar — calling off an advance every five minutes so their soldiers could pee.

After several torturous days on the road over the summer, I vowed not to make any trips with the children for a long time. But my sister recently moved to North Carolina, and I figured a short drive to her place in the mountains would be easy enough to handle.

So. Frickin’. Stupid.

You see, I trusted my GPS, which by now I should know not to do. This device informed me the drive would take one hour and 55 minutes, which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of optimism.

It didn’t turn out as planned:

9:01 a.m.: We pull out of the driveway and head towards the highway. The kids have proclaimed KidzBop lame, which is awesome, so the regular pop station plays.

9:07: A sweet voice from the backseat murmurs something about needing the bathroom. I pretend not to hear it.

9:11: We pull on to Interstate 85, an 8-lane highway I call “Thunderdome” because it is driven exclusively by blindfolded people who believe speed limits are suggestions.

9:13: My son asks me to change the radio station. I tell him I’m not taking my eyes off the road for even a second, so he’d better learn to like easy listening. (I’m sorry, DJs, but you can’t claim to play “only the best music” if your lineup includes “Break My Stride.”)

9:20: My daughter calls from the back seat that she really needs the bathroom.

“Son of a b—ch!” I blurt out as some complete waste of space swerves across the road toward the exit, causing four separate cars to slam on their brakes. My kids erupt in laughter. For the next five minutes they take turns yelling, “Son of a b—ch!” before exploding in delighted giggles all over again.

9:25: My daughter announces she has laughed so hard she has peed a little. Sigh.

9:33: We pull off the highway to use the bathroom, and my daughter changes into one of the many backup outfits I packed for her.

9:50: Back on I-85 I almost miss our exit trying to come up with a plausible interpretation for my son of the song, “Talk Dirty to Me,” one of the better brag-rap-with-a-klezmer-interlude hits on the radio these days.

In the grand tradition of parents everywhere, I lie with abandon.

“He wants to talk about dirt,” I explain to my son.

He is completely comfortable with that explanation.

10:01: My daughter needs to use the restroom — again — so we pull over — again — at a gas station. A line of moms and kids waiting for the bathroom snakes out to the pork rind display. I think I recognize a few from our last stop, but I can’t be sure.

When the guy using the men’s room emerges, my son bolts toward the open door.

“Hey!” I shout, but before I can tell him to check the entitlement, the women in line tell me it’s fine. I am incredulous, as it’s one of those individual restrooms. There would be no men in there. There are no men in line. There is no discernible reason why they wouldn’t make use of it, instead of standing in line for the women’s restroom. I practically shout, “Suckers!” as I drag my daughter in after my son and shut the door.

10:15: Back on the road we encounter a traffic jam and my children learn a new word: “clusterf—k.”

My son asks after the meaning of the song “Hotline Bling.”

“They’re such great friends she can call him up anytime,” I answer. “Even late at night. When she’s all alone. And wants him to come over. And, like, watch TV.”

10:31: The kids settle in to watch movies on their iPads, headphones firmly in place. I slip a book-on-CD — a biography of Al Capone I’ve been desperate to read/hear — into the car stereo.

10:42: My son leans forward and asks me what a “hit” is. Seems he never attached his headphones to his iPad and has been listening along. I switch off the stereo.

10:43: We pull over to use a bathroom. We are now definitely out in the country. The towns are farther apart, each consisting of a depressing and sterile main drag built by the 1980s in brown glass and brick.

I wonder what it would be like to grow up in such a remote place. Would it feel like a refuge or a cage? Would you have an anxious need to escape to the larger world or a desperate desire to hide from it and cling to the familiar?

“Is this a booger?”

My son is thrusting his finger in my face. I squint.

“Yes,” I answer. “Yes it is.”


“What the hell is wrong with you????” I ask.

Inside, the gas station doubles as a general store, selling boiled peanuts, pickled peaches and refrigerator magnets printed with the Lord’s Prayer. You know, in case you want to get your God on while making a sandwich.

11:01: At a traffic light a man in a Nissan Altima chatting on his phone pulls abruptly in front of me, causing me to hit the brakes. My kids’ heads tumble forward and back like overfilled water balloons. A bumper sticker on his car informs me he is a carbon-neutral commuter. I wonder if he’ll work on his d—khead-neutral certification anytime soon.

Another sticker on his car commands me to “Buy Local Art.”

He’s absolutely right. It’s really gauche of the people living in the double wide trailers that line the highway to enrich their collections exclusively on buying jaunts to Paris.

My kids learn another new word: “a—hat.”

11:09: My children ask me to put on their favorite CD, an album by an outrageously talented country music duo named Maddie and Tae. I’m grateful to get away from the radio. As I listen to their songs, I am struck by how brilliant these young women are. They write like bards, play like maestros and sing like angels.

12:15 p.m.: We have now listened to the CD three times. I hate this CD. I want this CD to die.

12:17: We stop to use the bathroom.

Back on the road we switch on the radio and my son asks what “Take Me to Church,” an alterna-emo hit by some Irishman who likely didn’t date much in high school, is about.

“Sweetie, not even the guy who wrote it knows,” I answer.

12:50: We arrive at my sister’s house, just in time to use the bathroom.

And this is where technology once again fails parents. If GPS designers really wanted to be helpful, they would allow you to enter both your destination, plus the number of children you are traveling with and their ages, figuring in bathroom breaks accordingly.

They could call it a G-Pee-S. I would snatch that device up in a heartbeat.



My little girl done gone country on me at the general store.