The pet that wouldn’t die

I wish the family pet would just die already.

Oh, calm down. I’m not talking about a loving dog who has been a member of the family for years, or a sweet kitty who warms our hearth every night and purrs my children to sleep.

No, I’m talking about a fish. A stupid, lousy, neon orange fish I bought for $6.99 two years ago, who, in my defense, I’m pretty sure wants to die as well. In fact, I’m convinced this animal would have long ago dispatched himself to the giant Pet Smart in the sky if he could only figure out how.

As a parent, I wanted my children to have an “easy” pet, like a gold fish, so they could learn three important life lessons. The first is what is involved in caring for another living being. The second is that they are not ready to care for a dog. The third — well, I’m getting there.

I should have known things wouldn’t go according to plan when we went to the pet store and my children zipped right past the humble gold fish and stopped before a tank of fish in screaming neon colors.

“These ones!” my son cried, and my daughter began jumping up and down. Who was I to disagree?

I should have disagreed. In fact, as the Person in Charge, I should have made a hasty retreat out the door when Jana, the Very Serious Fish Attendant, starting piling enough equipment into my cart to wire a small command center, all while giving me detailed instructions on the many things I would need to do to keep these fish alive.

She looked me up and down.

“These are very delicate fish,” she said. “We have a very high standard of water quality.”

I nodded, suddenly aware that I must be wearing my T-shirt that said TOTAL F—ING MORON, because she was looking at me like I had just drooled on her.

“We also have a very generous exchange policy,” she continued smugly. “If either fish dies in the first 72 hours, bring it back for a new one. All we ask is that you bring a sample of the water from your tank so we can determine the issue.”

“Does that happen a lot?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

“Why the hell do you sell them?” is what I wanted to ask. Instead I smiled and nodded.

Three hours later, after I had prepped and set up and arranged their tank to incredibly specific instructions, bright orange Jack (named by and for my son) and bright green Walter (named for his best friend) were swimming happily. My children watched them rapturously for an entire 20 seconds before asking me to put on the Disney channel.

True to Jana’s word, the next morning Walter the Fish wasn’t looking so hot. This had me worried, as Walter the Human was coming over to play, and I didn’t know the extent of psychological damage it would cause him to see his namesake nose down in the gravel.

When Walter arrived, he and Jack ran off to see the fish before I could stop them.

“Boys,” I called out, “keep in mind Walter the Fish is kind of sick. He caught a cold and he’s not feeling well.”

When I reached Jack’s room the boys were standing nose-to-glass with the aquarium, watching Walter’s lifeless body floating belly up at the surface.

Walter the Human looked at me with a 5-year-old’s unwavering authority.

“He doesn’t look sick to me. He looks dead.”

“HA-HA-HA! Walter, don’t be so SILLY!” I cried shrilly, fooling no one. “He’s just sick. SICK!”

Walter shook his head.

“Jack, your fish is totally dead.”

“HE’S NAPPING!” I shouted, flicking his body away from its crash course with the gurgling filter.

That night, after my husband had surreptitiously managed to replace Walter the Fish — (“See, he’s all better!”) — I did some Internet research on our new pets.

It turns out the breed — which I will not name for fear of a lawsuit — is trademarked by a company that creates them specifically for their garish coloring. This means that, like all creatures of strategic breeding, they are high maintenance and more susceptible to all sorts of ills. These fish would be dead within a few months, according to several unauthorized pages.

This actually cheered me up. By now it had become clear the level of care these creatures required was beyond my children’s capabilities, and instead of becoming a lesson for them on how to take care of something, the fish became simply two more bodies in the house I had to feed and clean up after.

Every week I siphoned one-third (no more, no less) of the water from their tank using a length of tubing from the hardware store and a turkey baster. I added fresh water and pH-balancing solution. I delicately scrubbing the sides of their tank and dutifully changed their air filter after soaking the new one in lukewarm water to dislodge any carbon particles from the outside.

This didn’t mean I loved the things. They were just fish, after all, who seemed terrified of my kids and only interested in me because I fed them.

I’m not even sure how long it took me to notice Walter the Second was missing. It simply occurred to me one day that I hadn’t seen him in a while and so I scanned the tank for his little green body. Noticing that the pirate ship ornament had fallen over, I reached in to lift it up.

I found Walter. All 527 pieces of him. The poor thing must have become trapped when the ship had fallen over. There wasn’t even a body to bury, just a billowing cloud of neon green fish parts that needed to be scooped from the water while Jack the Fish swam in frantic circles.

“How do we tell the kids?” I asked my husband that night.

“If they don’t ask, don’t tell them,” he answered.

“But this is the most important part of pet ownership for a child.”

He looked at me in confusion.

“What is?”

“Death. Everyone knows that you get pets so kids can learn about dying.”

I could have sworn he inched away from me.

“What are you talking about? Where did you even come up with that?”

“V.C. Andrews.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the reference, V.C. Andrews was an author who wrote a number of disturbing books devoured by teenage girls (and really weird adults) in the 1980s. The plot lines revolved around things like incest, emotional abuse and inherited wealth. Kind of like the American Girls.

In addition to some horrific scenes now etched into my psyche, the books imparted the knowledge that pets teach children about death.

My husband, wise man, conceded that was one way to look at it, but suggested it would be easier to teach kids about dead pets when said pets weren’t in tiny pieces on their way to the local sewage treatment plant.

He was right, which meant I had just missed my second opportunity to teach my kids about death. Damn.

At this point, to make this parenting venture pay off, I need Jack to pass away at a convenient time, in one piece, so I can sit my children down and gently explain the circle of life while soft music plays.

But of course, this is NEVER going to happen. That’s because this fish is obviously some sort of anomaly, a freak of nature sent by the universe because the Powers That Be decided that the circus that is my life needed another ring.

His life expectancy was six months and he is still alive two years later. He has outlived two companions and survived the stress of moving to a new house, the water in his tank sloshing on the floor of my car as I drove 15 mph, old ladies blowing past me giving me the finger.

He has become my earthly perdition. My children will be off at college and I’ll still be siphoning his water and scrubbing his tank with arthritic hands. My grandchildren will glance at him when they come for visits before asking for the Disney channel. I’ll probably even have to make provisions for him in my will, because I have a feeling the earnest little f—ker is going to outlive us all.

But despite how much I want him to die, I’m not about to kill him.

What kind of heartless, crazy a—hole do you think I am?


Six reasons you don’t want your child getting that “super” head lice going around. (If you really need them.)

The number of states battling outbreaks of “super lice,” (strains resistant to the insecticides in over-the-counter treatments) has grown to 25, according to scientists with the American Chemical Society. This means more and more parents will be battling mutant vermin for control of their children’s heads — and their own sanity — in the coming months.

If you’re not already suitably terrified, let me help you out. My 5-year-old daughter recently became infested with super lice and generously passed them along to me. It took us two months to get rid of the little bastards, and to say the experience was a nightmare would be an understatement. And I sat through the movie Ishtar.

Here are six reasons why you should be stocking up on wine and soiling yourself at the thought of your kids bringing them home:

1. Like glitter and drunk party guests, they are nearly impossible to get rid of.

You will try any and everything to get rid of them, but, like the bad guys in the movies, they always come back. That’s because they are impervious to most methods of extermination and reproduce constantly. By masturbation. (Okay, I made the second part up but that’s how it seems.)

2. All methods to get rid of them are equally distasteful.

Your choices include putting insecticides that probably won’t work on your child’s head (gulp) and/or massaging essential oils into his/her scalp. Apparently, lice don’t like the smell of tee tree oil mixed with rosemary and peppermint oils, which is frankly not surprising since the result is a scent I call “Satan’s Butt Crack.”

Another option is to coat your child’s hair with cheap conditioner and rake through it with a nit comb to get all the bugs and their potential offspring out. Raise your hand if your child enjoys getting his/her hair washed, let alone combed for an hour every day. If you did raise your hand, use it to hit yourself because you are LYING.

The method that finally worked for us involved 16 ounces of Cetaphil and a hair dryer. My daughter lives in fear of noise-making appliances, so you can imagine how much fun that was.

3. Despite what you may have heard, your child can pass them along to you.

Can’t get lice after puberty? Lice don’t like curly hair? Hair washing prevents the spread of lice?

Anything you’ve heard along those lines is a myth. As someone who is extremely post pubescent and has lots of curly hair, let me be the first to tell you they will come for you. And guess what: they prefer clean hair.

It’s a short crawl from your child’s head to yours during a cuddle, and the more adventurous bugs on your child’s head will gladly make that trip. As a consequence, you will wake up feeling something crawling on your head and find bite marks on your neck and ears.

Which brings us to:

4. It’s beyond disgusting…

There are bugs crawling through your child’s (and possibly your) hair. You will sometimes see them moving. When you comb them out, they will attempt to crawl away. ACROSS YOUR KITCHEN TABLE.

5. …and kind of embarrassing.

There’s nothing like having body parasites to make you feel like an unwashed social pariah. It’s just so century-before-last, as in, surely we curtailed this problem when people began bathing regularly and women got the vote. It’s like having a condition only a character in a Dickens novel would have, like scurvy or fatal syphilis.

6. Once they are gone you will spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. Literally.

Every time your child scratches his/her head or you detect your own follicular tickle, you will become convinced that the nightmare is starting. All. Over. Again.

If you are unfortunate enough to become infested, I recommend something called the Nuvo Method. It ain’t fun but it was the only thing that worked for us.


A very dear family I know recently lost someone very dear to them. Suddenly all those annoying inconveniences of parenthood seem trivial and it’s hard to get emotional over things that, in the long run, really don’t matter.

So of course this is when the website Blunt Moms decides to run a piece I wrote a while back about an issue that seemed so important to me at the time: mom-against-mom bullying. The article, which made my blood pressure soar as I wrote it but now barely stirs my pulse, can be found here. (I know I’m not doing a great job of selling it, but if you have any opinions on the “Mommy Wars,” it might be worth a read.)

It’s early for resolutions but so what. All those canned expressions, “Don’t take any moment for granted,” “Hug your little ones close,” and “Put down the damn cell phone,” have never seemed so apt. When it comes to dealing with non-family members, do as Jesus admonished and try not to be a dick. (It’s been years since I read the gospels but I remember the gist.)

Lots of love to the families I know — and there are sadly way too many — who will celebrate the holidays without a beloved child.

The 10 Commandments of Southern Moms

1. Thou shalt always look like a million bucks, no matter what.

Having just birthed twins following a 42-hour labor without an epidural is no excuse to resemble a hot mess. It’s what waterproof mascara and long-wear pressed powder is for. Do not forget, your memaw will be viewing these pictures.

2. Thine family shall likewise look spiffy.

At all times thine daughters shall sport bows half the size of their craniums.

Thine husband shall not fear pink trousers.

Thine sons shall wear one-piece, hand-smocked john-johns into their teens, at which point they may switch to bow ties and flip-flops.

3. Thou shalt monogram the crap out of everything.

How else will thine daughter determine which Vera Bradley carry-all is hers after a rigorous Cheer Tumble All-Stars session at the Y?

Thine automobile shall not be exempt from this practice. Yes, thine SUV may already feature an OBX bumper magnet, thine family in stick figures on the back window and an orange Clemson paw (GO, TIGERS!) for easy identification, but then, so do half the cars in the Black Lion parking lot.

4. Thou shalt be able to stretch a penny like no one’s business. 

Thine seasonally updated, magazine-worthy home featuring some impressive accent pieces and a hint of whimsy cost thou $18.36 to decorate, thanks to Pinterest. Thine children’s back-to-school wardrobe may only contain pieces from Janie and Jack and Vineyard Vines, but due to thine diligent scouting at consignment sales, it cost thou a mere $23.67.

Thou shalt never pay full retail. Thou aren’t one of those gullible New York City moms, bless their hearts.

5. Thou shalt eschew regular monikers for thine children, such as “John” and “Cindy.”

Instead, thou shalt give them last names as first names. Even if those last names sound ridiculous as first names, for example “Shepherd” or “Dillinger.”

Triple bonus points if thou art able to honor multiple branches of the family tree by doubling down with surnames for first and second names. Williams Phillips Mulgavey? Thou hast just scored big time.

6. Thine children shall possess manners that put most adults to shame. 

Sure, that Northern mom may have looked impressed when thine daughter called her “Ma’am,” but thine son, Filmore Stevens Carter III, waited a split second too long before jumping up to hold the door for her. Thou shalt give him a talking-to later.

7. Thou shalt honor no other colors but pink and green.

Hast thou got that?

8. Thine children shall be raised to believe the South is the bomb.

On a regular basis, inundate thine children with stories about miserable experiences thou hast had on trips up North, where strangers don’t share their life stories while waiting in line at Target and no one uses the expression, “Have a blessed day.” Using color illustrations if necessary, demonstrate how thine offspring have escaped perdition in this lifetime by being born south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Old Testament may have proclaimed the Jews God’s chosen people, but that’s only because its authors hadn’t been to Virginia.

9. Thou shalt fear any temperature below 70 degrees.

The first autumn day it hits 65, though shalt wrap thine children in scarves and pull wool caps over their ears. Yea, when it drops to 60 degrees, thou shalt request their school hold recess inside.

Should it drop to 50 degrees, get thine butt onto Amazon pronto to buy ski suits. Make sure thou dost have these suits monogramed.

10. Beneath thine genteel exterior, thou shalt possess an impressive set of cojones.

Thou wilt hook thine own live bait and skin that 12-point buck thou didst take down with thine crossbow.

Should thine children uncover a nest of baby copperheads in thine backyard, thou shalt smash the snakes single-handed with a shovel while carrying on a conversation with thine neighbor about her mama’s back surgery.

The above was written by a yankee mom who immigrated to the South six years ago. Although she initially experienced culture shock, she now knows she could never live anywhere else.


A parenting manual I could use

Like any neurotic 21st century mom, I’ve read a lot of books on parenting. I just can’t accept that children don’t come with a manual. Everything these days comes with a manual. I’ve bought moisturizer that comes with a manual, so don’t tell me I can’t get one for a child.

Unfortunately, few of the books I’ve read have been useful, as the advice offered rarely applies to children who are neurologically and developmentally atypical.

Also, many of them are horses—t.

Each book I’ve read contradicted the one before. And while the content is different, they all do a fantastic job of describing how horrible my children will become should I fail to follow their advice.

My first foray into this world of bestselling confusion was made when I was pregnant with my son. At the time I was living in England, where the most popular baby book on the market had been written by a dour and frightening neonatal nurse who seemed to hate parents.

From page one she made it clear SHE was the only one who understood babies, everyone else was WRONG and that under no circumstances were you to trust YOUR instincts because she was the S—T and you were just some slack-jawed slob who probably didn’t even know she was having a baby until you tripped over the umbilical cord on your way to the kitchen for more pork rinds.

In Nurse Happy’s world, babies needed to be kept on a rigid schedule or they would become confused and miserable and grow up to be criminals. Or lawyers. If your baby didn’t wake at 7 a.m., the time given on her schedule, you dragged that lazy little f—ker out of his crib and made him snap to it. If he didn’t eat or nap at the exact time she said he needed to, then he was a manipulative bastard who needed to be shown who was boss.

The question-and-answer section consisted of two words:

“F—k you.”

I then turned to a book that advocated a softer approach, one based entirely on the premise that African babies never cry. Like, ever. This is because African mothers are the only ones in the entire world who know what they’re doing. (So, you know, nice try, Asia Minor.) Unlike their dips—t counterparts on the other continents, African mothers understand that only babies who are strapped to their mothers all day, fed on demand and put to sleep in hammocks grow up to be well-adjusted individuals. African babies are also toilet-trained by the age of six months, talking by seven months and by the time they take their first steps — at exactly nine months — are capable of rudimentary calculus. If you don’t believe all of this then you are a jaded a—hole who has obviously never been to Africa, unlike the author, who has. Twice.

Completely overwhelmed, I switched to biographies about serial killers, paying acute attention to their early childhood years. I figured even if I didn’t know the best way to parent, I could at least avoid damaging them to the point where they killed people and made suits out of their skin. What can I say? I aim high.

It was almost a relief when my children were diagnosed as neurologically and developmentally atypical. There are significantly fewer books on kids with special needs and the experts in this field tend to agree with each other.

And yet, every now and again I have a sort of religious revival when it comes to parenting books, thinking “this one will be different.” I can almost hear Amazon laughing at me when I click the “Place Your Order” button. It was during one such lapse of judgement that I became the disgusted owner of a book that made the staggeringly brilliant observation: “Parents have been parenting a long time.”

I was actually compelled to buy my most recent parenting manual by the teachers at my son’s Montessori school. The book they recommended promised “enhanced communication” between parent and child, and an end to “the fights, nagging and distance” that, according to them, plague all modern families.

Reading it is like having a front-row seat to the world’s most bizarre s—tshow.

The following is the type of exchange the authors insist are taking place between parents and kids across the country every day:

Bobby: (slamming the front door) That Timmy makes me so mad!

Father: Don’t say that! Timmy has been such a good friend to you!

Bobby: Dad, you don’t understand!

Father: I do understand! You are just so ungrateful!

Bobby: (stomping out of the room) You never listen to me! I hate you!

Okay, I’m sorry, but what. The f—k. Was that?

Maybe we just haven’t reached that age in our house — my children are only 6 and 5, after all — but are kids and parents really this dramatic? I mean, apart from on the Lifetime channel? For that matter, when was the last time you came across a male under the age of 40 with the name Bobby? Little boys these days are all named after activities or trades (Hunter, Cooper, Mason). Hell, in the South I’ve come across a Walker, a Butler and a Baker.

Also, what’s the dad is doing home in the middle of the afternoon?

Suspending my growing disbelief, I kept reading and learned how the dad should have handled the situation:

Bobby: (slamming the front door) That Timmy makes me so mad!

Father: You are really mad.

Bobby: Yeah, I want to punch Timmy in the face. He won’t sit next to me at lunch.

Father: Mmmm.

Bobby: It’s all because I didn’t choose him first in gym class for our kickball team.

Father: I see.

Bobby: But I had already promised Joey I would pick him first because he picked me first last time.

Father: Hmmm.

Bobby: I’d really like to punch him.

Father: Mmmm.

Bobby: I know, I’ll promise to pick him first next time, then he won’t be angry anymore. Joey would understand.

See how the dad handled that? He hardly said a thing. He echoed his son’s sentiments, didn’t question his feelings or tell him how to think and made noises encouraging him to talk through the issue at hand. This way, Bobby solved his own problem, there was no major conflict between father and son, and Dad can go back to looking through the want ads for a job. Or drinking. Probably drinking.

I tried it on my own kid, whose main problem is fear: he is or claims to be afraid of everything.

The other night he came into the living room after I put him to bed.

“My room is so dark. It’s scary.”

Now, I know for a fact that the kid’s room is lit up by two night lights and a fish tank. The old me would have said:

“I think you’ll be fine. Go back to bed.”

And he would have. And if any damage had been done, I would have been blissfully unaware of it.

But because his teachers want all the parents in his class to be employing this technique, I tried it.

Son: My room is so dark. It’s scary.

Me: It sounds like you are scared.

Son: Yeah.

Me: I see.

Son: It’s scary.

Me: You are scared.

Son: I just said that.

Me: Hmmm.

Son: (concerned) Mommy, are you okay?

Obviously, the technique didn’t do much for us. But when I checked back with the book, I got the disclaimer the authors put at the end of the chapter. It said, essentially, that if the technique is unsuccessful, you’re doing it wrong. How could I do it wrong when it involves saying jacks—t? As I kept reading the authors went even further with this theme. “This technique won’t work on every child,” they wrote, almost gleefully, no doubt high-fiving each other because they already had their advance from the publisher.

What the hell, authors??? Are you telling me I shelled out $12.99 plus tax to be told that either I’m failing your simple formula or that my child won’t fit into your mold? I could have told myself that for free.

My kids have really specific issues that I have yet to see a parenting manual address.

If I could ask any parenting experts out there for some help, I would ask them to answer the following questions in their next manual, which I will totally buy because I’m still a complete sucker:

1. My child would like to wear mascara but is only 6 years old. And has a penis. What do I tell him when he asks every single morning?

2. My son has autism. After a long day at school he will self-soothe by running in frantic circles around the house, humming or grunting as loudly as he can. How many minutes do I allow him to do this before pouring myself a stiff drink?

3. How much psychological damage will I cause when I start withholding affection from my daughter in an effort to potty-train her? I ask because all the typical incentives — stickers, sweets, a convertible — don’t hold any appeal for her and yes, she’s mentally several years younger than her chronological age but the fact that she changes her own diapers makes me think she could totally do this if she put her mind to it. And please remember, the question isn’t whether I should play mind games with her but how much will I need to put away for her later psychological repair, because this s—t is so on, no pun intended. (Extra credit: What would Freud have to say about her protracted stay in the anal stage? Extra, extra credit: If Freud were a modern-day parenting guru, what would the title of his first book be? His domain name?)

4. When your child draws a toilet on the sidewalk with chalk and then proceeds to avail himself of said commode, do you punish him or applaud his creativity? What do you say to the officer responding to the neighbors’ complaints?

5. How do I fairly and effectively settle a fight over a piece of string? A piece of f—king string.

6. Either one or both of my children are frightened of the following:

  • dogs
  • the dark
  • school buses
  • the deep end of the pool
  • movie theaters (too loud)
  • blenders (“”)
  • vacuum cleaners (“”)
  • the art museum (too big)
  • walks in the woods during a bright summer day (too dark)

How much of this can I blame on the fact that their father is British?

Experts, I await your wisdom.


YMCA wisdom

I wish strangers would stop trying to teach my kids stuff.

It would be one thing if it were useful information, such as, “Your mom is always right,” or, “If you must invest in gold, buy into an exchange-traded fund, preferably one that generates dividend income.” But no, the guidance offered by strangers tends to be weird and useless, such as the elderly lady at the mall food court telling my son that Jesus wanted him to finish his lunch. (I told him Jesus didn’t care but the dessert fairy would be pissed.) Or the guy who said hi to my kids and then told them, “You shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

The worst offender by far is our local YMCA.

Where I’m from, YMCAs are pretty much secular recreation and sports centers. I didn’t even know the “C” stood for “Christian” until I was 23.

But here in the South, YMCAs are for “mind, body and spirit,” and dammit, they take that spirit part really seriously.

Example? There is a portrait of Jesus Christ at the gym entrance. (Not on the cross or anything. This is a Protestant shop, thank you very much.) It’s actually pretty brilliant motivation, not that he’s particularly ripped or anything but because he is the poster messiah for being in pain but not giving up.

You can almost hear his voice when you’re working out:

“Hey, don’t worry if you want to skip a few reps. You’re obviously tired and a little sore. I mean, I was pretty sore when I was NAILED TO A CROSS to redeem your WORTHLESS SOUL for ALL ETERNITY but that’s cool. Sit down. Take five. Need some water? You know who would have enjoyed a nice, cool drink of water? ME, when I was being CRUCIFIED so you could enjoy eternal life in MY FATHER’S KINGDOM.”

Yup, the thought of Jesus considering me a pussy has whipped me into great shape.

But even worse than having Jesus in the gym is a practice our local YMCA has called “Thought for the Day.” Printed on tiny strips of brightly colored paper, “Thought for the Day” falls into the category of religion-meets-self-help. “Thoughts” in the jar for adults have Bible verses. Those in the jar for kids have little pieces of advice.

It’s either a cute idea that’s been crappily executed or a crappy idea that simply can’t be redeemed. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice you can give children. For one thing, they are all so different. For another, their levels of comprehension vary so much.

Even if there were, it has yet to make its way into the hands of the “Thought for the Day” authors, as you can see from the following actual “thoughts” brought home by my children:

“Determination is the highest quality of successful people. I am successful. I follow the rules and try to make my school a better place. I never, never, never give up. I keep trying until I achieve what I want.”

First of all, these are several somewhat related ideas thrown together in a language that isn’t even English. What is a “highest quality”? What’s a lowest? It’s like looking at an English language T-shirt printed in Tokyo. (“Have Much Happy Fun Time.”)

Second of all, do I want my kids thinking about being successful at their age? Having success at little things is okay, such as tying their own shoes. But successful? They’re 6 and 5. They don’t need to be thinking in terms of external measurements of self worth. I’d settle for them not picking their noses and wiping it on the curtains.

“I follow the rules and try to make my school a better place.” Not sure where that even fits with the first two sentences. (“Good Super Best Time Fun.”)

“I never, never, never give up.” Never, never, never? What if your goal is driving your parents mental? Could you please give up?

“I do not make fun of other children because I don’t know what their life is like.”

Okay, but what if you do know what their life is like and it’s pretty great? What if you know for a fact that their parents are loving and supportive and that they live in a nice house and have enough to eat every day and STILL act like assholes. Can I make fun of them then?

“Smiling is contagious. I smile at everyone. I smile at the bus driver, at my teachers and at people on the street. When I smile, others usually smile back.”

Ringworm is contagious, not smiling. You know what smiling is? It’s an invitation to child predators. Dammit, YMCA.

“Before I buy something, I ask myself ‘Do I really need it’?”

This is by far the worst piece of advice I have heard. Ever. A skilled shopper knows you buy it because you think you like it and you don’t know when you’ll make it back to the store and what if you wait and someone else buys the last one or the store is blown up? You buy it, leave it in the bag and after few days or months decide whether you needed it. If the answer is no, you return it.

Maybe you should stay out of the retail advice business, YMCA, and stick to the stuff you do know. Like Jesus. And Zumba.

“The more I share with others, the more I have for myself.”

This one’s just wrong. If you have five donuts and you share two of them, you are left with three donuts. Three. Three is undeniably less than five. There’s really no way around this one, YMCA.

If you’re going to go with the “It’s a metaphor” defense then that’s even worse. My children don’t always understand the concrete, let alone the abstract. I already have enough trouble explaining to my daughter why she can’t use the urinal like her brother so please don’t add to my load.

As you can see from these examples, having generic advice for kids is pointless. If the folks at the YMCA really wanted to make this work they would allow parents to pre-print their own strips of paper and hand those out.

I already know what my first thought would say. I could even make it religious:

“Every time you sit on your sibling’s head and fart, Jesus throws up a little.”

You’re welcome, YMCA.


Dear Taylor Swift

Young lady, we need to talk.

You don’t know me but I feel like I know you incredibly well. My children adore your music and by now I’ve listened to your albums so many times I could write an academic dissertation on each track.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a preamble to something negative — I am not one of the haters you must shake off. In fact, you could punch a blind orphan in the face and I would make excuses you for you. (“Kid had a mouth on him.”)

You are obviously a gifted musician and if I had a nickel for every time a fellow MOTSF (Mom of Taylor Swift Fan) said, “She’s such a great role model!” I would be, well, nowhere near as rich as you but I’d have a lot of coins.

I’m not crazy about every song you’ve ever written but you probably wouldn’t like all of mine, either. (Although the chorus to “Shut Up and Go To Sleep Before I Change My Mind About Corporal Punishment” is really quite catchy.)

And I was never convinced that you were truly a country artist, although you certainly have the country musician’s gift for storytelling. That expression, “It’s like she’s singing about my life,” is definitely true in your case. I just wish you wouldn’t write about the times life kicked me in the nuts and ran away laughing.

As a mom I can’t condone all of your romantic choices. You can be forgiven for that John Mayer disaster since you were so young, even though the rest of us could tell he was a walking sack of excrement just from the self-satisfied smirk perpetually etched on his Cro-Magnon mug. (Here’s a hint: when a guy with a reputation as a man-whore asks you to record a song called “Half of My Heart,” about a self-absorbed jackass who can never truly give himself to another, he’s probably not a good bet for a long-term, stable relationship. It’s okay, dear. Go console yourself in a bath of royalty checks and forget this ever happened.)

But dumping TAYLOR LAUTNER? How could you? He seems so sweet and was certainly the most stable in your stable of beaus. It doesn’t hurt that he is a serious piece of man candy. (Look, I’m old enough to be the guy’s sister but I would still tap — never mind.)

Okay, back to the point and that is this: I’m very concerned about you.

In 2012, you released a single called “Ronan,” about a 4-year-old boy named Ronan Thompson, who lost his battle with neuroblastoma. (The same kind of cancer my daughter has.)

The song is based on a blog kept by the boy’s mother, Maya Thompson, and includes some of the most haunting lyrics I’ve ever heard.

In the chorus, the mother sings to her child:

Come on, baby, with me
We’re going to fly away from here
Out of this curtained room
And this hospital grey will just disappear.

The first time I heard those words I was astounded. Because that’s exactly how it felt. Here’s this little person you love more than yourself, someone you would do anything to protect and you can’t do a damn thing to help her. Your motherly instincts tell you to snatch her up and run — or fly — as far as you can, to comfort her and console her and make all the pain and sickness go away. But you can’t, so you do your best to make her comfortable and pray that all this suffering isn’t in vain.

And then there’s the verse where the mother talks about her grief after her child has died:

What if I’m standing in your closet
Trying to talk to you?
And what if I kept your hand-me-downs
You won’t grow in to?
And what if I really thought some miracle
Would see us through?
And what if the miracle was even getting
One moment with you?

Those words capture so perfectly both the uncertainty and the stakes involved when children get cancer. As a parent, you’re terrified of losing your child because she is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. You don’t want to be ungrateful for a single second you have had with her but you can’t help but worry about what might come next.

Because cancer never really lets go when it latches on to a child. Of all the children my daughter started treatment with, she is the only one still alive. Some of the boys and girls we knew had made it through treatment, had even been declared cancer free, only to have the disease return stronger than ever.

The children who survive are changed forever by the treatments they have endured.

Charlie might not be able to have children. I hope she can forgive us for that. She could very well develop cancer later in life because of all the invasive procedures and scans she’s had. I hope she can forgive us for that, too.

But we’re the lucky ones because at least she will be alive. To imagine your child going through all that suffering, only to miss out on the joys and necessary heartaches of growing up, must be unbearable.

And this is why I am so concerned about you, Ms. Swift. Yes, I get that Maya Thompson provided the material for the lyrics to “Ronan” but you made a connection to her story. A writer can only move halfway to her audience. Somehow, at your tender age, you bridged the gap. You were sensitive to the sorrow and agony this woman was suffering. You composed beautiful music to accompany her sentiments, and shared her story with your many young fans.

That in itself is a huge testament to your character.

That you were only 22 at the time? Extraordinary.

That you gave his mother a writing credit and donated all the proceeds to children’s cancer research? Well f—k you for making me feel even more feelings.

To be this sensitive and insightful at such a young age must be a huge burden. To be able to feel the pain of others so well must make living in this world harder.

This is why I am concerned for you, young lady.

Also, you look so thin these days. Are you sure you’re getting enough to eat?


We’re no angels

The second people find out you have a child (or children) with special needs, many of them want to assign you saint status. There seems to be this idea that parents of special needs kids are mild, patient, long-suffering angels put on this planet to make other parents feel like crap if they lose their temper because the kids drew on the dog with a Sharpie. Again.

Well, you can all relax: with few exceptions, I’ve never met a special needs parent who is meek, perfect or mild. If anything, being in this situation brings out the badass in you.

Take, for example, my friend Bonnie (not her real name). The youngest of her three sons has cerebral palsy. Pity her. No, seriously, I dare you. She’ll brush it off with a, “I put on my big girl panties a long time ago.”

Every week Bonnie brings her youngest to the local YMCA for aquatic therapy. He can walk but not long distances and he’ll use a wheelchair that looks like a stroller to get to and from the pool.

Last week she pulled into the last available handicapped parking spot — she has a tag and it’s prominently displayed — and began unloading his wheelchair.

An older woman pulled up behind her and asked, “Are you coming or going?”

“Coming,” Bonnie replied as the nursing assistant who helps her during these appointments unbuckled her son from his seat.

“Well, are you handicapped?” the woman asked.

“No,” Bonnie replied, “but my son is.”

This woman, who is apparently beyond any social redemption, then said, “He’s handicapped but rides in a stroller?”

“Ma’am,” Bonnie said, and as anyone knows, when a southern lady uses the word “ma’am,” she is either being polite or fixing to kick your ass, “that’s a wheelchair, not a stroller and you are being a bitch.”

With that, the lady drove off in a huff. (Oh, don’t cry too much for her. She found a parking spot and made it to water aerobics just fine.)

In my opinion, this incident illustrates perfectly why special needs moms are not, in general, shrinking violets. We wouldn’t last very long on the job if we were.

Because, despite the overwhelming majority of kind and caring strangers out there, there will always be Buick-driving a-holes such as Betty — which is her real name, I would give her license plate number if I knew it — who think it’s acceptable to do things such as question whether we deserve the special parking spot.

Or suggest that autism doesn’t really exist. (That one was said to me.) Or “inform” us that children with neurological conditions would just get better if we spanked them. (Said to a friend.) Or tell us that we are poisoning our child with chemotherapy and we could easily cure her cancer with an all-juice diet. (Said to me.)

It would take the patience of a saint not to get ticked off by such behavior and I have yet to meet a special needs mom who qualifies for saint status. (Unless you’re talking about one of the ass-kicking saints, like Joan of Arc. She was cool.)

Also, it’s not just us on the receiving end of people’s rudeness. When we take our children out in public they are often subject to ridicule or contempt. We stand up for them to teach them they are worth standing up for. The few times I’ve lost it with strangers the message was really for my children. I want them to understand that they shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by the comments of strangers, it’s the strangers who should be mortified. (Yes, it’s not lost on me that on occasion, I’M the one embarrassing them with my behavior. I’m working on it.)

Hell, I’ve been criticized for not being hard-nosed enough. “You need to be an advocate,” has been said to me more times than I can count. And I have assumed some really ugly masks in the name of advocacy.

I have stood in the school district main office screaming like a lunatic because no one could tell me where to get help for my children. I have yelled at doctors who ordered another blood draw on my daughter, when both her arms were already black and blue, because they wanted to run a test that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

There’s probably some happy medium between pushy and abrasive and meek and mild but I haven’t found it. Like all parents out there, I’m figuring this out as I go along.

And that’s my point: being a parent is hard, period. All moms and dads give of themselves selflessly every day (and a lot of nights) and no one suggests they are saints.

One of the problems I have with this automatic saint status is that it comes with a hint of pity. And while this pity comes from a good place, it’s hard not to take it in a bad way. Because even though it isn’t the intention, the pity implies that my children are burdens I am patiently suffering through.

Oh. Hell. No.

My kids are my heart. They’re my joy. I love them beyond all reason and even when they’re a challenge I’m grateful for them. They aren’t my burden, they’re my privilege.

None of this makes me worthy of pity or assigns me saint status. It just makes me a parent.


“Magic” Kingdom, my a%#

Forget all these so-called parenting experts. From now on I’m only taking advice from successful gamblers and hustlers. After all, what is raising children if not a huge game of chance?

While there are many deep and meaningful examples I could give of parenting bets and their payoffs, I’ll stick to the one that inspired this entry: a trip to Disney World.

The Hajj of middle class families everywhere, a trip to Disney is a gamble like any other. Unless you’re among the wise and principled parents who don’t allow their children access to TV, the bet isn’t whether you are going. (You are.) The game of chance isn’t whether you will spend money. (Prepare to bleed.) It’s whether you will spend enough money so that you don’t lose your f—king mind in the process.

My husband and I put off going for as long as possible. We wanted to wait until our kids were old enough to appreciate it and save up enough money to “do it right.” But when a family reunion drew us to Orlando for the 4th of July weekend, all our wisdom went out the window.

I barely got the words “trip to Florida” out before my son punched the air and yelled, “Disney World! Disney World! We’re going to Disney World!”

One look at the rapturous expression on his face and I heard a voice that sounded remarkably like mine murmur something about “giving it a shot.”

This was how we found ourselves in the swarm of humanity that descends on Disney World during one of its busiest and hottest weeks of the year.

A common misconception about Disney World is that it’s located in Orlando. This is false. The parking lot is located in Orlando. The parks themselves are near the Georgia state line. At least, this is what it feels like after you have taken two forms of transportation to get from your car to the front gates.

Some families enjoy the tram-ferry-monorail connection, as it feels like a ride. But that magical train in the sky struck my son as a death trap and he began screaming bloody murder the second the doors slid shut.

“Too high! Too high!” he wailed and scampered up me like a monkey. I think he added something about how we were all going to die but I couldn’t hear very well because his knees were digging into my ears.

My husband was able to pry him from my head when Cinderella’s castle came into view (“It’s Cinderella’s castle! Cinderella’s castle! Look at Cinderella’s castle, g—dammit!”), and he calmed down somewhat when the monorail discharged us at the front gates of the Magic Kingdom.

My husband and I had a brief “aren’t we awesome” moment as we gazed at the main thoroughfare of the park in all of its turn-of-the-last-century splendor. But this was cut short when I looked down and noticed my daughter flushed bright red and blinking sweat out of her eyes.

“We need to get her out of the sun,” I said.

We took Main Street, USA like soldiers on a house-to-house search, ducking into shops just to enjoy a few moments of air conditioning and forcing our children to sip water from slick and sweating plastic bottles.

(“So, have you met Mickey Mouse?” I asked a shop assistant lamely as I wiped my forehead on my T-shirt, stalling for another minute in the cool air. She gave me a funny look and I wanted to snap, “Oh right, you’re wearing orthopedic shoes and a dirndl and I’M the a—hole.”)

Once we made it to Cinderella’s castle, I called over my shoulder, “Head to It’s a Small World! There won’t be any line.”

There wasn’t, because, as anyone who has been to the Magic Kingdom knows, it is the dumbest ride every conceived. As we stood under the awning waiting for our turn, panting like dogs, I was struck by Mr. Disney’s brilliance. Locate your amusement park in one of the hottest, most humid places in the continental USA, and people will be so grateful to get inside for some air conditioning that you could put on a shadow puppet show and they would declare it “magical.” Hell, I would have happily listened to someone make armpit-farting noises just for a few moments of respite from the sun.

“Wait, why is there a boat?” my son asked in a panic when ours pulled up.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just going to take us for a little ride to look at some dolls.”

“It’s going too fast!” he said, as we began inching along.

When the singing, dancing dolls came into view, it was all over.

“No!” he screamed into my husband’s chest.

Charlie looked around in confusion.

“Dolls,” she said.

Yeah, pretty much.

We gritted our teeth and braced ourselves to get the damn thing over with. If you’re not familiar with the ride — and you don’t want to be — right towards the end you enter a room where all the dolls are dressed in white (what a statement, Walt). The music crescendoes and the flashing lights go from irritating to seizure inducing. My son screamed in fear and even my daughter began to cry.

And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the ride got stuck. It got effin’ stuck in what should officially be known as the 10th circle of hell. As I sat there holding my sobbing daughter, listening to my son shriek, I muttered:

“You better hope I don’t find out where they’re keeping you, Walt. Because if I do, I’m gonna hit the defrost button, kick your ass twice and then kill you.”

Our visit to the “Magic” Kingdom ended the second our boat docked.

As much as I want to hold the Disney folks responsible for our misery, it was really our own fault. We didn’t stack the deck. We thought we could pull a quick one over on the Mouse by just dropping in one of the busiest and hottest days of the year.

Any skilled player/parent would tell you to stay away during the crowded seasons and visit when the heat index isn’t 1,000 degrees. Celsius. They would advise you to hock any non-essential organs so you can stay in a Disney resort and avoid the hour-long — apparently terrifying — commute from the parking lots. Shore up your trip in any way possible because there will always be variables you can’t foresee, such as your son being scared s—tless by the lamest ride in existence.

What we should have done is taken them to a McDonald’s play area and said, “Holy crap! We’re at Disney World!” because it would have saved us a lot of money and misery.

But see, here’s where the wisdom of gamblers and hustlers falls short. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still smart people but all advice falls a little short when it comes to parenting.) When gamblers place their bets, they need only keep greed and ego in check in order to think clearly. Parents have to contend with the angelic faces our children assume when they think they want something.

It’s kryptonite like no other and leads us to make the same mistakes again and again. Because do you know what my little boy did as soon as we got him back to the hotel and administered first aid for heat stroke? (I’m only kind of kidding, they were both in bad shape.) He smiled sweetly and said:

“Mama, that was so much fun! Can we go back tomorrow?”


Scary Mommy

The website Scary Mommy is running a piece I wrote about my ambivalence toward MILFhood, “Guess How Many F–ks I Give About Being a MILF.”

Older posts:

8 Things I’ve Learned from Children’s Television

A Trip to the Farm

Kate Middleton and I: Birthing Buddies

Patience is an effing virtue

He’s No Rain Man

MTV vs Hand Dryers

The Other ‘C’ Word

5 Reasons Scotsmen Make the Best Husbands

Hospital Food Kicks Ass (And 4 Other Things I Forgot About Life on the Children’s Ward)