Category Archives: motherhood

Why I Look Haggard

Here’s how a typical night goes for me, though there are many variations:

Lights out by 11 p.m.

Husband wakes up around 3 a.m., goes to the kitchen for a snack. The sound wakes me up.

He comes back to bed. Cat comes in meowing. I pretend I’m asleep. So does my husband. He ignores the cat, who’s keeping me awake. I ignore her too. She swats at my toes a few times and stalks out.

I hear her push open the door to the kids’ room and meow fruitlessly at them. She clicks across the hardwood to the living room.

My husband is snoring by now. I tell him he’s snoring. Sometimes I hiss at him or shove his shoulder to wake him but on this particular night I simply tell him. He stops snoring.

Now I can sleep again, but there’s the creak of a door and little footsteps and here comes a child to snuggle in with me. “Why are you in here?” I ask, even as he curls up against me and I pull the covers over him.

“I was too cold to get under the covers,” he murmurs. I tell him I can bring him back to his bed and will put the covers over him. He’s already asleep again in my arms.

It’s nice, this snuggling, but there is so much breathing in this room. Child’s breathing. Husband’s breathing. Here comes the damn cat again.

I don’t have the energy to carry the child back to his own bed, so I leave him in mine and get up and go crawl into his bed. But first I must move my cell phone and charger, so the alarm will wake me (hah!) and unplug the filter of the fish tank in the kids’ room, because the noise keeps me awake, and turn off their nightlight.

Ah, bed. I forgot his pillow is hard and hurts my jaw because I like to sleep on my stomach. I don’t have the energy to get up and get my own pillow.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. The wall clock. It is loud. I try to incorporate the sound into relaxing back to sleep.

I give up and check my phone. 4:26 a.m. I might still fall back to sleep. I won’t give up yet.

4:55 a.m. Furnace kicks on directly below me. I might still go back to sleep!

5:23 a.m. I give up. I just give up. I might as well get up now.

I get up. And let the cat out.

Hello, Monday.

Creating A Star Chart for Kids

We’ve needed a star chart for a long time. “Just find clip art!” someone (a teacher? therapist?) told us brightly. “Just make one!”

For tired and overwhelmed (and hey, design-challenged) parents, “just finding clip art” can be a daunting task. What clip art? Where do I find it? What do I need to put on the chart? Also, our brief experience with a potty training chart hadn’t been encouraging (not the chart’s fault).

This has, of course, come up again in a recent meeting. Last year the preschool had a neat chart they’d put together. They wouldn’t give us a copy, despite all the meetings and tuition payments and looks of defeat on our faces. Nope, we had to come up with our own.

Fast-forward a year, and we’re told the teacher might share a “home-school chart.” I started to think, again, about all the times we could use a star chart. The morning hell. The after-school routine. Bedtime bedlam. General behavior, table manners, the few small chores they have. WHERE DO WE START?? We also don’t want to have charts everywhere like some kind of maniacal control freaks. Just one small chart to start, please … but one that really meets our needs.

I hit the Internet harder than ever. And found the solution. It’s a site called and frankly it’s kind of a noisy site. But it is extremely useful. You can either download one of the pre-made charts on the site or give the site your email (that’s right — that is all you have to do) and download your own customizable chart. Yes. For FREE you get a word document with a chart format AND a ton of clip art, organized into topics, that you might need. Everything for the morning routine! For after school! Chores! Bedtime! Prayers, washing windows, feeding the cat –you name it, there’s clip art here for you to use!

The chart we downloaded has five rows. That’s good. That’s all a kid can handle sometimes. We settled on a morning routine chart, since 1) mornings are a really hard right now and 2) if we start the day well, maybe the rest will be better?

I made and printed the chart (had already bought shiny star stickers at Staples, but you can probably get them at any drugstore or office supply store). Then we went over it with the kids. If you do something (get dressed, brush teeth) after being told only once, you get a star (you get two stars if you do it without being told). If you get ALL your stars in a day, you can have iPad time or some other child-suggested-in-advance treat after school. If you get all your stars in a week, you can have —

— “A HAMSTER!!!!!” Ben shouted.

Aw jeez no. He’d stopped mentioning it months ago but I guess he still wants one. Ugh.

“Uh, we were thinking some other kind of special treat, like an ice cream party at home, or going out for slushies, or going to see a movie,” I suggested.

“Yeah, a hamster might be after three months of all your stars,” said C.

“No, a week!” said Ben.

“Maybe three weeks,” I said.

[NOTE: SORT THIS STUFF OUT WITH YOUR SPOUSE BEFORE YOU INTRODUCE THE STAR CHART TO YOUR KIDS. Also, don’t forget that if you turned on the boiler fill valve before you started a load of laundry, make sure you TURN IT OFF before you forget all about it and come back upstairs to go over the star chart with your family, unless you really love wasting water, flooding your basement, and hauling buckets of water to drain the boiler. Trust me on this. Also, our boiler turned out to be fine — as our neighbor said, noticing me pouring five-gallon buckets of water on the lawn in the dark, “it’s like an enema for your boiler.” Yes.]

First day, Max tried hard to do everything without being told, which is pretty normal for him. Ben, on the other hand, thought he should get a star for “get dressed” even though C dressed him after we’d spent 25 minutes trying to get him out of bed, because … well, I’m not sure why he thought he should get a star for that, honestly. I still don’t.

The next day went better, as did the day after that. And tonight before bed they reminded me to print a new chart for tomorrow.

Wow. So easy. The chart, and getting them to follow it. Maybe we should also introduce a bedtime chart. The site makes it very easy to make one.

So if you think you need a star chart and don’t know where to start, try (and ignore the site noise). It’s so helpful!

Christmas Cards: I’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

I’m supposed to be wrapping gifts to mail. Or baking cookies to wrap and mail. Or baking cookies for us. Cleaning. Cards. Something.

At least I got school lunches made, before I fled the kitchen, with its sticky counters and floor that needs to be swept yet again. The lid that I need in order to pack away the mediocre raspberry palmiers (why, oh why, didn’t I stick to my tried-and-true baking traditions?) is missing. I can’t put them away. They’re so disappointing I wish they’d just vanish, somehow, along with the mint marshmallows.

I hate mint. I make very good vanilla marshmallows. But for some reason (all the chatter on Facebook, maybe) I decided to use peppermint extract this time.

The kids quickly lost interest in licking the whisk, the spatula, the bowl. “It doesn’t taste right,” they complained. “It’s not good.”

They are right. I wonder if the marshmallows can be redeemed by a good dip in dark chocolate or if that would be a waste of even more ingredients. Maybe I can wrap them in cute packaging and tuck them into my husband’s stocking. He likes mint.

I was thinking we should skip stockings this year, he and I. Stockings used to be my favorite part of Christmas morning, all the little surprises, useful and fun. For the past seven years or so, I’ve filled my own stocking at Christmas, with little things like lip balm and chocolates. I don’t mind. But I’m out of ideas for my husband this year, and out of ideas in general, so maybe we should just fill the kids’ stockings and quietly tuck ours away.


The older boy has been ill since Friday. Coincidentally, I was also laid off on Friday (rather, my project ended—same thing?), and after a chaotic few months, I was deeply looking forward to 20 beautiful hours to myself this week, to bake, go to yoga, clean our home, go Christmas shopping, and take carloads of clutter and donations away. I would organize my desk, fold laundry, and….and….I don’t know. Have entire thoughts, uninterrupted by the relentless needs of others.

I don’t even remember what that is like.

Today is Wednesday. Max was well enough for me to take him out grocery shopping today, and to play with his friends after school when we went to pick up his brother, but he still tires easily. We both do. I now have a very short fuse by the end of the day, shorter than usual.

Bedtime went so smoothly tonight and then Ben came out, begging me to read him a book. This was after lights-out, when I’d nicely let him have a flashlight to look at books in bed. Another book? Now? You know it’s time to be in bed!—even now, my shoulders tighten as I wait for someone to yell, “Mom?” The endless yelling for me. The endless needing me. They yell past their father for me, most of the time.

I wanted to scream and throw things when he came to ask me. I was suddenly furious. I seized the book and the flashlight. After 14 hours on the job—the caretaker-and-cook-and-thankless-housemaid job–I should get a break. I deserve a break. I want a glass of wine and time to write out Christmas cards without anyone bumping me or fighting or climbing on me or trying to use the stamps as stickers. If I could figure out how to work our TV, I’d turn it on and watch something mindless, even though I get bored with it quickly.

I want two minutes, ten minutes, entire days, that are just mine.

Instead, I pick him up, carry him to his bed, and lie there with him, rubbing his back. We talk about flashlights. I tell him how proud I am of him. I tell him I love him so much and how he’s growing and being such a great person.

I kiss his nose, hand him the flashlight, and tell him he can keep looking at books, if he wants, and I’ll read him the other one tomorrow.

And maybe I’ll bake better cookies tomorrow. Or maybe not. Maybe I will do absolutely nothing tomorrow, with Christmas fast approaching, and that’s fine, too. Last year I felt so overwhelmed by general life that we didn’t send any holiday cards at all, not even the photo kind where you don’t even have to write on them. That seemed way too challenging.

This year, I’ve updated my address list, made contact with old friends, and bought the non-photo cards wherein you have to actually handwrite a personal message in each and every one.

I consider it a marvel that I’ve gotten to this place, this place where I can write out holiday cards once again. So what if our gingerbread house looks awful (we did it one night, just the three of us, when Max was too sick to even sit up but tried to do his share lying down on couch), and so what if our cookie arrangement isn’t what I want it to be? And I might have to pay extra shipping costs to get presents where they need to go on time?

I’m writing out Christmas cards this year. I’m pretty pleased about that.

Despite the relentlessness and despair and drowning of motherhood, I’m writing out Christmas cards. And maybe one day I’ll just, in general, write again.

Happy holidays.