Holy shit, it all makes sense.  The mystery is solved.  My life can move forward.

"She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain," always felt like strange code but now I get it.  Now I GET IT.  I imagine the script to go something like this:

Child: Mom, when will she be here?
Mother: (Scrubbing spot on floor.) She'll be here soon, honey.
Child: Mom, is she here yet?
Mom:  (Picking up ornaments from tree that cat knocked down.) Not quite yet, honey, she'll be here soon.
Child: How many minutes, Mom?
Mom: (Delivering snack to child) Um, seventeen.
Mom: (Straightening cushions on couch.) Well, look out around the corner.  That's where she'll be coming from.
Child:  No, Mommy, it's not a corner.  It's a mountain.
Mom:  (Bringing snack dishes to sink.) Fine, whatever, look around the mountain.
Child:  She's not here yet.
Mom:  (Putting clean dishes away.) Okay, keep looking.
Child:  I don't see her.
Mom:  (Bringing in laundry from offstage.)  Okay, keep looking.
Child:  But I STILL don't see her.
Mom:  (Folding laundry)  Well sing a song and when you get to the end, she'll be here.
Child:  What song should I sing?
Mom:  (Still folding laundry.)  Maybe the ABCs?
Child:  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z, nowIknowmy ABCs, nexttimewon'tyou singwithme?  Mom, she's still not here.
Mom:  (Re-folding the pile of laundry that the baby just pulled down. Under her breath "jesus fucking christ.")  Okay, um, let's make up a new song.
Child:  Good idea, Mommy!  Will you sing it for me?
Mom:  (Hiding stack of mail in junk drawer.)  Sure, um... she'll be coming... round the mountain... when she comes.  She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes?  She'll be coming round the mountain?  She'll be coming round the mountain?  She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes?
Child:  (Singing along.)  Nope, she's still not here.
Mom:  (Wiping down table where smears from snack are still evident.)  Okay, um, she'll be... wearing... red pyjamas? When she comes?  She'll be wearing red pyjamas when she comes.  She'll be wearing red pyjamas she'll be wearing red pyjamas she'll be wearing red pyjamas when she comes.
Child:  (Singing along.)  Ha ha, that's funny, Mom.  I still don't see her.

Etc. etc. etc.

(End Scene.)


A List of Things I Fucking Hate

1a.  Having NO MONEY due to...
1b. Getting bills from pompous doctors who already got paid $528 for the five minutes they spent with my son and who STILL want another $130.  I get that it takes them twenty seconds to earn $130 but it takes me fucking MONTHS.
1c.  When the ONLY two hours of weekly work I'm able to scrape up gets canceled because the kid I work with had some SUPER IMPORTANT birthday party to go to.

2.  My toddler falling asleep in the car for five fucking minutes and then refusing to STAY asleep as I carry him gingerly to his bed.  It's cool.  I didn't need a break today.

3.   Hurricanes.

4.  That fucking moth I found at the top of my pantry.  If those fuckers infest our dry goods, it's war.

5.  When nobody reads my shit.  And by shit I mean THIS SHIT.

6.  My friends moving away and leaving me for their own spiritual and educational adventures.  Selfish, selfish, selfish.

7.  My friends having their third child without having first magically convinced my husband that three is awesome.  Again, selfish.

8.  My "potty-trained" three-year-old shitting his pants.  It's ALWAYS soft-serve and it's ALWAYS gross.

9.  A stand-up shower stall in the master bathroom that (a) nixes any dream you may have had of steamy shower sex and (b) can only be cleaned while standing inside of it.  Who's brilliant design idea was THAT?

10.  My English Degree.  Fuck that worthless, expensive piece of shit.  I pretty much bought myself a roll of golden toilet paper.

Namaste!  Have a blessed day!

There is really a man named Chester Gwazda and he is really on stage playing a mean guitar.  His shirt seems somehow obscene but when you look closer you can’t figure out why.  There are two words written in as many rows and they look like Turkish or jibberish or, as it turns out, code:  EIICY POCR.  I find myself saying the letters out loud, pausing in different places, hoping that the mystery can be solved aurally.  It cannot.

My hubby A. and I are here to see Dan Deacon, or so our ticket says, but our anticipation for the opening act is almost as palpable as that for the headliner.  Deacon is such a thinker, such a funnyman, such a natural leader who emits such a positive and raunchy vibe that it’s hard not to enjoy his music (or at least his live performances) right away.  When we heard that Gwazda produces much of Deacon’s material, we bought ourselves a Gwazda album pronto.  He is, as expected, also awesome and approachable and his opening set lubricates the dancing machine that is also known as the audience.

But this is not a fluff piece.  Before I launch into how hard the show rocked, let's get the business end out of the way.  Mr. Deacon, I’ve got a few pointers for your own professional development and they are as follows.

1.  Yay, interactive dance-offs!  Nay, momentum-stopping, house-lights-upping instructions for such dance-offs.  We were just getting our mojo rising when you interrupted the flow for your famous back-up-and-make-a-circle game.  Maybe just hold off for another song or two next time around?  Maybe wait for us to finish our first toke before interrogating us with spotlights?  Maybe cut your four opening acts down to a measly two so that you don’t feel pressured to accomplish so much fun in such little time?

2.  No obligations.  Look, it’s fantastic that what you offer during your live performances is so unique, but you needn’t feel obligated to include each and every one of your interactive audience tricks during each and every show.  Perhaps you might alter your plan when the crowd is too large to successfully complete a round of London Bridge during the course of one (long) song? Or perhaps when the surrounding neighborhood is filled with strip clubs and criminals you might reconsider sending them (i.e. us) around the block?

3.  I say this with love in my heart:  please don’t get cocky.  Your fans adore you, and they often adore each other by the end of the night.  (Hell, my group and I made friends with a lobster, learned some tricks for having sex in a car, and announced to a bathroom full of ladies that they should probably wear condoms lest they turn out like us mothers.)  I suppose I should be more specific about the arrogance factor, but I’m not sure how.  Maybe just take note of items one and two above, and item three will be moot.

This is merely and EXAMPLE of nerds
In any case, dear reader, allow me to rewind for a moment, will you?  A few weeks before the show,  A. and I decided that we should dress up not in a we’re-going-to-be-in-a-city-and-should-try-not-to-look-like-the-mountain-people-that-we-really-are kind of way, but in a we-should-hit-up-a-thrift-store-and-find-the-dorkiest-possible-outfits kind of way.  I rocked a turquoise Hawaiin shirt with striped capris, Christmas socks, and beige, old-lady jazz shoes.  I penciled in my otherwise fair, unplucked eyebrows into bold, stage-makeup arches.  Mr. A. found old-man polyester pants, a hideous print shirt, a fifth-grade-teacher purple tie, and a bandana we bought in India several years ago that has clearly been laying in wait for its time to shine.  It features a large tiger in the center of the fabric and a purple and red design around the edges with bold, repeated text around the border:  AMERICA.  For those of you out of the Dan Deacon loop, this happens to be the name of his most recent album.

I found it a remarkable exercise in self-awareness, this dressing-up game.  After all, we weren’t dressed as lobsters or elves or any other costume-y getup.  It was only after our friend T. mentioned how impressed she was that we had these items lying around our closet that I realized our clothes weren’t as obvious as we had intended them.  It’s strange, how identified one becomes with one’s wardrobe.  What I wear is an expression of who I am and yet who AM I when I choose to wear something that is only like me by token of its silliness?  Nobody in the crowd knew who A. and I were (save T. and her buddies); how could we explain to them that it was a joke?  That we were actually much cooler than this? And (of course this was the existential point) why did it matter, anyway? Who cares if they thought these were our average date-night ensembles?  Why did we give a shit about whatever judgment was floating around in these strangers’ heads in regards to us?  It’s cute to say we didn’t care, that we were above it, and those statements may be partially true when we’ve willed them to be so, but, like I said, there was an unexpected element of identity exploration that I found compatible with Deacon’s steady undertone of intellectualism.

Moving on.

The show was awesome, bro.  I did the thing that passes for moshing at a Dan Deacon show for the first time in my life, and I felt like a junkie discovering drugs.  It wasn’t aggressive and angry as I had previously assumed.  It was physical, energetic, and energizing.  It was a little like flying, and not in some trippy, acidic way.  I would jump and fall a little off center, back-first, but instead of hitting the ground, I was bounced back up by the next guy’s back.  All the while you’re spinning somewhat, so your senses are always slightly disoriented.  Come to think of it, it reminded me a bit of those trust falls we would do at summer camp, where a completely new physical sensation gives you unexpected physiological feedback and, in doing so, makes you feel alive a new kind of way.  Next time, though, I’ll remember to wear a sports bra.

After the show, A. and I went to the merchandise table to pick up the shirt and tote we’d bought earlier.  It was one in the AM, way past our bedtime to say the least, but we were awake and alert and pretty buzzed from the show.  Chester Gwazda was there, peddling his product, and I couldn’t help but ask about his shirt.  

“Sorry if it’s obvious but, um, what’s your shirt all about?”

He smiled and folded the middle of the bottom line to meet the middle of the top line, MAD magazine style.  “Fuck off,” he said and smiled.  “It’s a conversation starter.”  

And that, my friends, is how you begin with an ending and end with a beginning.  Thankyougoodnight!

We have a pet. His name is Terrance. He lives in a terrarium between a bookshelf and a plant stand and he is a tarantula.

Terrance came to us one fall afternoon during his migration season.  We were driving to the county park on a road that runs adjacent to a little creek.  The first cool Californian October days are not unlike the first sunny East Coast spring days:  folks stumble outside, dazed from a long stretch of indoor imprisonment,  and breathe deeply of the sweet, temperate oxygen.  On days like these, I would be happy to simply stand on my front porch and beam.  This, however, does not jibe with the general momentum of toddlers, and so we as a family packed up and headed for the only place well-suited for sliding, running, climbing, and generall exercising all kinds of gross motor skills.

Terrance, meanwhile, was making his way to the creek, jay-walking as it were, perhaps in search of water and perhaps in search of a mate.  We nearly squashed him flat, and for a brief, panicked moment, we thought we had.  Pulling over promptly to do some investigative work, we soon learned that Terrance was alive and well.  I found an empty tupperware in the backseat (because, apparently, there are a few bonuses to having a messy car) and A scooped up the startled spider.

It has been living in our living room ever since, and I have learned a few lessons thanks to Terrance’s presence:

1.  Not everybody, the author included, is terribly fond of spiders.  There is a primitive ‘ick’ factor when they move, unfurling their giant, furry, creepy,icky, crawly legs and the very motion of walking tends to send goosebumps through any witness’ spine.  Tarantulas are especially guilty of instilling a certain kind of terror in the humans that stumble upon them.  For starters, they’re huge.  This ain't no Daddy Long Leg.  And yet.  This is not the lesson.  What I’ve learned from this experiment in tolerance is that I’m willing to sacrifice quite a bit in order to encourage my son’s curiosity in the world around him.  Yes, friends tend to go rather pale when they ask, “does anything actually live in there?” and are thence introduced to Terrance.  No, I am not a fan of adding, “pick up ten crickets” to my list of errands.  Yes, I check and double-check that the lid of that terrarium is on tightly before heading upstairs to bed.  But watching my son learn about habitats, and watching him gingerly hold the complete exoskeleton of what used to serve as the body of his beloved pet, and watching his sheer excitement at catching Terrance in the act of eating a cricket, well, these moments have won me over.  Curiosity is a fire I’d like to stoke.

2.  Tarantulas actually make for good pets.  We can leave town without worrying about who’s going to feed the spider.  And we certainly needn’t worry about Terrance making a mess on the carpet or otherwise destroying our furniture and belongings.  A has been adamant about not getting a dog because, he says, it’s already hard enough planning a backpacking trip.  I like to pretend that this breaks my heart, but he’s totally right.  Terrance never gives me those puppy dog eyes when I leave the house and he most certainly never begs for kitchen scraps.  From what we’ve read, tarantulas actually prefer small, enclosed spaces.  So it’s kind of like we’re doing him a favor?

3.  I think I’m ready for a daughter.  Boys are fucking awesome, but a pink sparkly ballerina princess motif might be a nice relief from bulldozers and wrestling and spiders.

In closing:  thank you, Terrance, for acting as an involuntary teacher for my family and me.  Maybe next year we’ll set you free so you can finish tracking down that mate.  Until then, please stay in your little cave when company comes.  And please wait to molt until the boys and I get home from buying your crickets so that we can continue to be more engaged than repulsed by you and so that I can continue to tolerate your creepy crawly presence in my living room.  Thanks, Terrance!  You're the best!

From Louis C.K. to Paula Poundstone, comedians have recently taken a liking to picking on Mommys.  Or perhaps that is too harsh an assessment.  Sorry to be so dramatic.  Let me rephrase.  From Louis C.K. to Paula Poundstone, comedians have recently taken a liking to picking on Mommys with cell phones.  

Truly, who do those Mommys think they are, texting on the park bench while their children play?  Or worse, how about those Mommys who take eighteen thousand photos (on their phone, of course) of their children playing?  Sheesh, get over it already.  Get back to texting or something.

And it seems like the comedians are right!  How dare those mothers engage in adult interaction!  How dare they check in on their husbands, wondering if they’d prefer Asian meatballs or spinach feta pie for dinner!  How dare they make playdate plans with other mommy friends, or other mommy non-friends whose kids their kids just happen to like!  How dare they verify that the babysitter can come a half hour early on Friday so that Mommy can actually shower before her ultra-part-time (2-sweet hours per week!) job!  How dare they text their own mothers asking if shit was as lonely and infuriating and messy and glorious as it was when they themselves were children!

These Mommys are at the park, for crying out loud!  They should be monkey barring and slip sliding and sand throwing!  And if they’d rather text while their children develop independent play skills, well maybe they should just stay home!  Those kids shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house if all their negligent mothers plan on doing is taking them to a park to engage in age-appropriate relationships with their peers!  Lock those kids up inside as punishment for their Mommys’ bad behavior!  That’ll learn ‘em!

And as for you, overload Mommy picture-taker, you need to take a cold, hard look at your options:  either let your kid play or... or... stop taking pictures?  Your choices aren’t exactly clear but you’re irritating the comedians so just cut it out already.

Because just like every single member of the real workforce (as in those with real jobs, like for example people who are professional comedians) Mommys should also be expected to be fully engaged with their job duties one-hundred percent of the time without exception.  Have you ever met any employee ever who need a five- or ten-minute break from being productive, effective, and totally focused?  Right, me neither.  Just because they’re at the park doesn’t mean Mommys can take a few seconds of a mental break from livingbreathingbeing in Kid World.  That’s just lazy.  

It’s infuriating, these Mommys with cell phones!  It’s offensive!  It’s tragic!  Please, join the comedians’ cause and glare viciously at any guilty Mommy you spot!  Or better yet, join us at www.nomore... Oh, wait, just getting a text.  Gotta run.

I do not think of myself as the nicest of mothers, and I often notice my friends as they watch me discipline M, who is now three and persuasive, as they try to mask their expressions of sheer terror.  They feel the terror, then make a terrible face, then feel embarrassed that they are looking so terrible, then try to return their face to neutral but overcompensate, then sit uncomfortably reminding themselves that even when they think they are being mean, to cut themselves some slack because they would never, NEVER go this far.

No, I am not a very nice mother at all.

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Whenever possible I give M a five- and one-minute warning that play time will be over.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I can’t.  But I want M to be able to handle a warned and non-warned end of play.  Because that’s just good manners.  When play time finally is over and I ask M to clean up, he sometimes agrees right away.  

“Look, Mommy, I’m being a big boy!  I’m cleaning up!”

“Great job, honey.  I’m really proud of you for making a good choice.  Well done.”

And though this story does not yet offer evidence of my mean-momminess, have no fear. It will.

Not infrequently, M will keep playing.  I will tell him again that play time is over and that it’s time to clean up.  I use my nice but serious mama voice.  Sometimes, if I look closely, I can see that he’s finishing one particular element of the game.  I’ll say, “it’s okay if you want to take that orange tinker toy out of the wheel, but please just say, ‘Mommy, can I finish this one part, please?’”  He echos my example, and I tell him that yes, of course, he can finish that one part, but that we need to leave the house soon and that he needs to clean up right after he finishes.

Maybe I leave the room to finish doing the half-ass job I was doing on my hair.  It’s half combed, frizzy, and if I could just have three minutes to braid it, tame it, well, that’s all I need.  I finish combing and check in on M.  He.  Is. Still.  Playing. 

“M G S,” I say in a rather loud mean-mama voice.  Some might call it yelling. “We are TRYING to get ready for PLAYGROUP and it is YOUR job to CLEAN UP.  So clean up NOW, please.”  Transcribed, these words look pretty decent.  I didn’t say anything emotionally damaging.  I even said please.  But that, here get closer, that is my main trick.  I say the right things in a mean voice and can totally get away with it.  Even baby D has grown accustomed to my vocal range and may startle at the first word of the scolding, but certainly doesn’t cry anymore.  Good baby.

I run downstairs, pack the food, the computer, the yoga bag, the diaper bag, my purse, an extra layer for the boys because it is finally (FINALLY) not hot, switch the laundry, and run upstairs to check on M.  

He is playing happily, and my blood goes hot in my cheeks. “If you don’t clean up, I am going to spank your bottom,” I say very clearly and carefully and on the louder side of polite.  He kicks into gear immediately and the Tinker Toys are put away in thirty seconds.  When he doesn’t make an immediate move toward cleaning up, I follow through with a little swat.  The whole I-don’t-want-to-teach-him-that-hitting-is-okay argument doesn’t really work for me in my mean-mama land.  There are lots of things that I do that are not okay for him to do:  I use the stove.  I drive the car.  I say four-letter words.  I am the bigger person and I am not hitting him out of frustration; I am hitting him as a consequence for his own behavior that he chose to engage in.  So really it’s up to him: he can make good choices and avoid a spanking, or... not.


In fact, I spanked him the other day when I was in the middle seat of a minivan and he was in the back.  My seatbelt was designed in a way that let him pull it with his foot.  The first time he yanked me backward by kicking my belt, I asked him not to and explained what was happening when he touched this part here with his foot, and that this was irritating and even painful; the second time he yanked me backward I told him not to and said that if he did it again I would give him a spanking; the third time I hit his leg because I couldn’t reach his bottom.  He stopped.  This is all to say that the spanking is not an empty threat.

When friends are over they get an eyeful of this whole shebang.  I’m pretty sure I don’t censor myself, though it’s hard to say for sure considering the inability of my point-of-view to be anything other than mine.  If anything I think I’m a bit more strict with the boys when there’s company.  If M has asked to paint and I say yes, but only after I get this meatloaf in the oven, and he asks again, and I ask if he remembers when he can paint, and he starts whining and screaming “but it IS in the oven,” (it isn’t) or “I want to paint now, now, NOW,” or any derivative therein, I will absolutely tell him to sit on the stairs until he’s ready to speak nicely and stop whining, all while our dinner guests try to look at their hands.  He often pleads, “I’m ready!  I’m ready!” before actually sitting on said stairs, and if he shows me that he really is done crying, well, no harm no foul and he’s welcome to join the party.  I’ve considered apologizing to people who would never treat their children in such ways, but the truth is that I’m not sorry.

Because even as a mean mama, I’m pretty sure I’m a good mama.

Sometimes I have a short fuse and I delivery unfair consequences and subsequently feel like a total asshat, but for the most part I explain my expectations, offer verbal praise for compliance OR a progressively more serious/ mean voice for non-compliance until, if necessary, I use not my words but my hands.  Sure I’m a mean mama if my kids make a bad choice, but they have plenty of opportunity to choose another route.  In short I expect my son (at least the one who is walking and talking) to be well-behaved but I will not hesitate to deliver consequences if he is not.

And for the record, I don’t tell him to “be well behaved,” or “be nice,” or any of that fluffy, meaningless non-instruction.  I give him concrete, behavioral choices.  “I understand that it’s frustrating (to not get a sponge capsule, or whatever), but it’s not okay to scream and cry in the kitchen.  You can stop crying or you can sit on the stairs.”  If he makes any effort to reign himself in, I offer more support.  “Okay, deep breath,” modeling the inhale/ exhale.  Sometimes this just pisses him off more and I will repeat the original question:  “calm down or take some time on the stairs.”  Sometimes I add “you’re not in trouble, but if you need to take some sad time, please go sit somewhere else and cry.”  

Yes, I want my son to feel emotionally safe and have good self esteem and all that jazz.  But I’m pretty one hundred percent sure that I’m not sacrificing those things by being a mean Mama.  If he’s really hurt, I am happy to hold and cuddle him.  I comfort him when necessary and snuggle when he’s in the mood.  But making bad choices and throwing a tantrum hardly seems like coddling-worthy behavior.  In fact, I see it as my primary job to help M, and eventually D, and perhaps a little unmade child to come, build coping skills.  And kids can’t learn them unless they actually practice coping.  I see it as my job to help my boys through the innocuous frustrations of childhood (which, all kidding aside, truly must feel like the end of the world for a three-year-old) so that they have the skills to eventually deal with not getting into their first choice college, or the disappointment of a friend bailing on a road trip, or a guy cutting them off in traffic, or whatever adult problem you care to substitute for these.  

I want M (and eventually D, poor little parenthetical baby) to cope with not wearing his olive green shirt and lime green shorts (though he is, I tell him, welcome to wear his green shirt and khaki shorts OR his white shirt and green shorts) and with sharing a favorite toy when the friend asks instead of grabs, and with watching said friend play with said toy in a novel way, and with reading a book that his brother chose, and with eating oatmeal for breakfast because that’s what we have in the cupboard even though he wanted cereal.  

I want my children to develop these skills because  I want them to be able to navigate the world without me and if this makes me a mean-mama, so be it.