Control and “The Science of Parenthood”


One of the most frustrating parts of parenthood is the assumption that you have control of anything. You know it’s true. I see you over there nodding.

And yet, we keep trying. When my kids were toddlers, my diaper bag would always be stuffed full, ready for every possibly eventuality: extra diapers and underwear, wipes galore, changes of clothes for them, change of clothes for me, wipes galore, first-aid kit, toys, wipes galore, snacks, toys, snack, snacks, more wipes, toys, children’s’ motrin, adult motrin etc, etc. Sometimes I’d actually use them (like the time G picked and ate so many blueberries, washed them down with apple juice and carrot sticks, and ran around and around in the sun and then puked, not once but twice, all over himself and all over the back seat of the car on the drive home.) More often than not, I didn’t need every item in my bag but I felt assured and confident that I was prepared for everything. My husband, on the other hand, would simply scoop up a child and head out – with barely a diaper or a wipe on him and have a perfectly successful outing. Nary a blow-out, projectile barf or low-sugar-induced meltdown. I never understood why that happened. Isn’t it ironic? (Secretly I wished for a spectacularly embarrassing poop incident, but alas.) The laws of probability were rarely on my side.

Whether it was strategizing a feeding schedule that would surely induce an infant to sleep through the night or, even now, figuring out how to inspire bribe motivate a child to assist with the laundry, the sad truth of the matter always is: parents have no/limited control over the outcome.

Because kids.

So when I read the new book “The Science of Parenthood,” created by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, I saw myself on every single page. I laughed. I cried. Then I chuckled some more.

Because kids.

The book is chock-full of pithy humor, colorful cartoons and amusing/helpful decision trees, each aiming to decipher and decode the “science” behind the daily irony of life as a parent, the choices we make as we stumble through, trying to make sense of it all. From pregnancy, to the challenges of interacting with our spouses, other kids and other members of the parenting species, the book analyzes the entire spectrum of parenthood through the tongue-in-cheek lenses of biology, chemistry, physics and math. Now, I’m not going to spoil this book for you but I did want to extract a few choice excerpts that spoke to me. Like, directly to me. If you’d have been there, you’d have seen me nodding vigorously, maybe sobbing gently or more likely, convulsing with laughter.

Here’s one from the section on Biology, in the chapter entitled: Post-Birth Conditions Your OB Might Forget to Mention (Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You!):

“Acquired Distraction Disorder: Marked by an impatient Now, what were we talking about?, Acquired Distraction Disorder (A.D.D.) is the progressive loss of the ability to follow a train of thought. A.D.D. typically develops among parents with toddlers who’ve just learned how to run. The adult brain becomes overwhelmed with the strain of excessive multitasking and begins shutting down “nonessential” functions to conserve energy for chasing tiny humans intent on leaping from garden walls and licking electrical outlets. Fortunately, A.D.D. lasts only until middle school, when children stop interacting with their parents altogether.”

Equally amusing was the chapter entitled: Poopology 101: The Gushy, Gassy, and Gooey. I’ll save you the, um, colorful details  but I know you will see yourself on this page. Wait, that sounds bad.

I most definitely identified with the section that served to (ironically) update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V or the “psychiatrists’ bible”):

“Delusions of Launder: The perpetual belief that one day, eventually, the laundry will get “finished.” Symptoms: Moms laboring under this delusion may initially appear upbeat, even enthusiastic, aiming to dominate the heaps of dirty clothes and pee-soaked toddler bedding. But as the laundry piles grow, these moms can sink into a depression as they ruminate on existential questions such as Where does all this laundry come from? and Why is all this laundry here? Fixating on “finishing” the laundry may lead to secondary physical problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, the result of folding endless pairs of teeny-tiny socks and superhero underwear.”

Other highlights to look out for: the Beverage-to-TV Index, the pie chart analysis of where your kids’ food actually goes, the Law of Urinary Dynamics, and the Wintertime Scatter Graph that investigates that annual dilemma “where did all the gloves go?”

And, I’m fairly sure the venn diagram on page 218 pretty much sums up my life right now.

Bottom like: I am no scientist. I’m just a parent, trying to make sense of it all, trying over and over to impose some iota of control over something that is scientifically uncontrollable. “The Science of Parenthood” sums it all up brilliantly. You can buy it for yourself (to reassure you) or for a friend (to reassure him or her they are not alone) over here.

Because kids.

the law of when you kid needs to poop


Today’s Gratitude: Neighbors & Raspberries 

What’s better than freshly-picked raspberries? A big bag of fresh raspberries given to you by a generous neighbor. 


The Monster Wall

There’s a monster in my kitchen. Actually, there are lots of monsters in my kitchen.

Most of them have googly eyes. Some have abnormal numbers of limbs. There are definitely some weird antennae poking out.

Yes, my kitchen has a Monster Wall.


The Monster Wall

I’m not really sure how the Monster Wall started. I’m guessing the kids were going through a monster drawing phase. From time to time, they produce freshly-created monsters from the guts of their backpacks. There’s always room on the wall for new monsters.

I’ll take monsters on the wall any day over the monsters that used to hide under their beds and which would wrench them – and me – from sleep. It’s been a few years now since our slumbers were shreakingly disrupted with visits from the monsters. Yes, we used to proactively diffuse monster spray at bedtime to evaporate any monster particles in the air that might threaten to make their presence known. We’d read books about monsters to poke fun at them. We watched Monsters, Inc. to see how cute and funny the monsters and their operations are. These days, my son likes to read spooky, scary books and they sometimes produce bad dreams but filled more with ghouls and specters, I think, that the fanged, cyclops, seven wiggly-armed variety. My daughter, with her feet firmly planted on the ground, has recently overcome an everyday monster – automatic toilets with their dreaded, soul-sucking flush.

But for the most part, my kids today are carefree, happily gliding from one experience to the next, with barely a care in the world other than the injustice of having to empty the dishwasher or the regret of a traded Pokemon card.

They will inevitably face other kinds of monsters as they grow. They could be bullies. Maybe self-doubt? Anxiety, depression, loneliness, heart break. So many potential manifestations that, as their mother, I cannot bring myself to conceive, let alone write. Monsters that cannot be soothed with a spritz of lavender spray or a comforting hug in the night.

I’m hoping that they will be strong enough to face their future monsters head-on, as they do right now, everyday when they sit at the kitchen table looking at our Monster Wall. I’m hoping I’ve prepared them, as much as any person can, for the inevitable monsters they’ll encounter in life. I’m hoping they’ll be able to see them for what they are: opportunities to seek help, express themselves, grow. I’m hoping they’ll still call out for me, whether from near or afar. I’m hoping I’ll be able to help.

Maybe I will miss those night-time monsters after all. These future monsters feel mighty scary to me.

monsters and bad dreams

There are monsters in my kitchen

Honest Lies, an excerpt from “Wide Awake. Every Week”

Last week I read a Facebook post written by my boss and friend, Beth Monaghan, and it started a chain reaction for me. It was an excerpt she had contributed to the book “Wide Awake. Every Week”, by Starla J. King with Ros Nelson, in which 52 contributors share a week’s worth of “aha” moments. Beth’s contribution touched me because telling kids the truth – or versions of the truth – is such a huge responsibility. I’ll let you read her preface and contribution to the book below.

I have a copy of this book sitting by my bedside. I haven’t opened it yet because I need to finish what I’m currently reading. But it’s there, calling to me. Not just with the anticipation of reading some amazing writing but also with the anticipation of a lesson to learn. Maybe even 365 of them ….

Honest Lies

by Beth Monaghan

I had the honor of writing a week’s worth of its 365 “aha moments” and it changed the way I think about them. I used to expect them to arrive as lightening bolts of insight during times of great joy or struggle. The writing process for “Wide Awake. Every Week.” reminded me though, that insight does not always reside with the momentous. Often, it’s up ahead slowly gathering energy until it begins shimmering through the cracks of everyday life. We have to look up, right now, and reach for the sparks as they flicker. I’ve included one of my aha moment essays below called “Honest Lies,” which appears on January 20 in the book:

I vowed to always tell my children the truth, and when our French bulldog died, I passed my first test. Izzy, then three, kept asking, “Ernie go on train to Boston? Ernie at Gamma’s house?” Sob. I told her the truth, “Ernie’s body stopped working and he can’t be with us anymore.” ~ A few months later she also asked my husband, who told her that we buried Ernie’s body. To that Izzy asked, “What about his head?” Phew. That one was easy, but as they grow, my children ask harder questions and the truth is that I tell them honest lies. ~ Monsters aren’t real. ~ Your dad and I will always keep you safe. ~ If you’re kind to others they’ll be kind to you. ~ There aren’t any “bad guys” in our town. ~ Gray hair is just something that happens. ~ We’re lucky to live in a country where everyone gets a fair chance. ~ It didn’t hurt when I had you because the doctors gave me medicine. ~ Seat belts will keep us safe in the car. ~Big girls don’t cry. ~ You don’t have to worry about a fire in our house. ~ Girls can do anything. ~ Motherhood has led me to the gray space between honesty and truth. I stand in its bubble holding an umbrella of security up to life’s “what ifs?” while I try to show my girls how to be safe, without teaching them how to fear. I’ll tell it all … one day, but the hardest truths can sleep through childhood. For now, I’m grateful that Izzy is only on to the truth about the Easter Bunny because she saw her uncle hiding eggs in the yard. Yes, please, let’s start there.

If you’d like read more grab a copy (or 10) click here to order on Amazon: Wide Awake. Every Week.

Wide Awake. Every Week by Starla J. King

2015 Summer Camp Report Card

We made it. We survived another summer of camp. Yes, not just them. Us parents too.

It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with summer camp. In short, I love that my kids have 7-8 straight weeks of outdoors fun, activities and friendship during which their bodies get strong and brown, and their characters and friendships thrive. But oh my lawd, the preparation, the anxious mornings, the exhausted evenings. The hangry. The dirt.

This year, I thought I’d mark the highlights of 2015 summer camp with a report card – so here goes:

  • Inches grown: At least half a foot each.
  • Poundage of food consumed: Off the charts.
  • Number of times we missed the bus: Six or seven
  • Number of times we almost missed the bus: Every>Single>Day
  • Numbers of times someone forgot their lunch: Just the once. Phew.
  • Items of clothes irreparably stained: Every top my son owns. Most of his socks too. At least the ones that have fund their way to the laundry and aren’t stuffed down the back of the couch or strewn in a corner somewhere.
  • Number of items lost: Surprisingly fewer than in recent years. Maybe a water bottle or two.
  • Number of items found: Amazingly, a towel that was lost two years ago found it’s way back home. Welcome back, towel.
  • Amount of sand brought home each night: The entire contents of the gaga pit. On my kitchen floor.
  • Number of fist fights and disciplinary action: Just the one. But a first for us.

But seriously, hats off once again to the YMCA for another amazing summer of camp and for making every day at summer camp a day my kids look forward to; once I drag them out of bed, that is.


Analyze This

People tell me I’m creative.

Sure, I’ve created two awesome kids and I can create stuff that people read with my words.

We all know that, when it comes to culinary creativity, I am utterly hopeless  Also I torture plants rather than nurture them.

But get this. Two things I am good at – and enjoy – are deconstructively constructive.


And removing wall paper.

Go analyze that.

I Really Miss Being Pregnant

Really, I do.

I miss being amazed at what was happening to my body. I’d seen so many family and friends experience it and I had so desperately wanted this. When my turn finally came – not without its own set of struggles and heartache – I was equally thrilled and terrified. Could my body actually do this? How would it feel? Was I capable of growing life inside me?

Fortunately the answer was yes, twice over. Every day, I was enthralled and amazed at how my body knew what it was doing, cultivating these balls of cells into bones, limbs, organs – life. Those first 20 weeks or so, as I expanded and expanded and expanded, and couldn’t get enough food into my body fast enough to extinguish the bottomless hunger and refute the fatigue, I actually doubted I was really pregnant. Maybe it was phantom? Maybe I really was just a greedy pig?

But as my expanding boobs and protruding pooch finally met in the middle, making me look less like a three-ton whale and more rotund like an actual pregnant person, I felt special, even glamorous. I imagined the life growing within me shone out through my skin, my eyes, my smile. My hair and nails never looked finer. And then I started feeling that baby move, confirmation that there was someone in there, moving and all too often, hiccuping. Hello baby, I’d say in my head, rubbing my belly, trying to connect with this thing inside me. Every thump in the ribs, every hiccup was a grateful reminder of this miracle in the making. It was, surely, the most beautiful experience. Though I’m not religious, this was the closest I’d ever felt to it.

I miss that.

Hey, don’t worry, I’m definitely not feeling clucky. That ship left the dock eight years ago. Quite frankly I’m too old and way WAY too tired to ever EVER do that again.

Because then I remember the heartburn. I remember the tossing and turning at night. I remember being oh so hungry but not being able to fit enough food into my stomach which was then situated precariously close to my throat. I remember how the muscles in my neck and back became increasingly thick and immobile. I remember how foods I had loved were either forbidden or became strangely unappealing. I remember exhaustion like I’d never known before (but quickly knew in the weeks following their births.) I remember how, especially with my first, I wasn’t just pregnant in front – I was pregnant all over! There was not a part of my body that did not expand. I remember the strange, dull ache in my loosey-goosey groin muscles. I remember the leg cramps (which have never left me since.)

My husband remembers me being a bitch for 40 weeks and 3 days the first time around, and then again for 32 weeks the second time. “When do I get my wife back?” he would sigh.

I remember contractions, my insides deciding they were going to repeatedly squeeze and contort themselves to force that thing out from inside me. I remember how medical it all was. I remember all the prodding and oozing and the machines that went beep and, ugh, that one nurse who had too much perfume on. I remember how frightening and weird it was that these people were cutting me open, putting my intestines off to one side and extracting a baby, all while I couldn’t feel a thing. My husband distinctly remembers how they counted all the swabs and tools as they closed me up.

So, yeah, maybe I don’t really miss being pregnant that much. Or at least, I choose to remember the magical parts.

Every mother has their own pregnancy and childbirth story. This is mine. And let’s not forget the prize at the end of the journey – the babies.


“I don’t like swimming,” said the little boy, five years-old.

“It’s too hard. And I have to do it every day at camp.”

“If you do it every day, then you’ll get better at it and then it won’t be so hard,” I responded.

“Hmmmm,” he remarked, twitching his little nose, dubiously.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. The boy looked at me, both curious but doubtful of the grown-up advice he was about to receive. I fully expected an eye-roll, selective listening or to be outright dismissed.

“If you believe in yourself,” I continued. “If you believe that every day you’ll get a little bit better than the day before, then I bet by the end of the summer, you will be an amazing swimmer.”

He looked at me.

And then returned to playing, or went off elsewhere. I don’t remember. This was probably the longest and most serious conversation I’d had with this little boy who I’ve known all his little life. But I presumed, to him, I was just another boring adult saying bla bla bla. I quickly forgot the conversation as I assumed he had.

A month or so later, his parents mentioned to me that suddenly he’s had a new attitude towards his swimming classes. He’s serious. Committed. Intent on doing the work and improving. He told them “Aunty Sam told me to believe in myself so that’s what I’m doing.”

Hearing this brought sudden hot tears to my eyes, surprising even myself. Who knew that the words that had come out of my mouth – without too much aforethought, admittedly – had actually been heard, instead of discarded? Those words were processed by that little mind. Absorbed and now, applied.

So many words. We say so many words to each other. Many without due thought, not even thinking about the impact they may have or unsure whether anyone is really listening.

But Sondheim was right: “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.

This was a potent, and precious, reminder.

Summer Camp Preparation: A Business Woman’s Guide

Twenty-one days. That’s how much time is left until my family’s weekday morning schedule has to adjust backwards by an hour.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

Yup, summer camp is almost here. And we all know how I feel about summer camp: it’s a love/hate thing. But the few weeks leading up to the transition from school to camp make my stomach churn with anxiety. How the heck are we going to get out of the door at 8am every morning, when doing it at 9am every day during the school year is so freaking challenging? The drama, the yelling, the last minute “oh I need a penguin for today’s xyz project?” or “I can’t find my shoes” or “mama I have no underpants” calamities.

And yet, every year, we seem to manage. I’m driven largely by a deep-rooted fear of missing the camp bus which would mean driving the kids 30 mins to a place that is entirely the opposite direction from my office. Yes, fear. It’s a big motivator.

So, to mitigate against drama, chaos, panic and so on, preparation is key and for this, I draw upon a few fundamentals from the world of business:

Procurement: Be sure to stock up on sufficient kids clothes (so you don’t have to do laundry more than once a week) and other essentials which will get lost, despite all and any attempts to label them or nail them to your kids backpack or body. These include: socks, shoes, T-shirts, underpants, swimsuits, towel, water bottles, hats, sun lotion, bug spray, goggles, lunch boxes (and innards), and so on. Not to mention lunch and snack stuff.

Inventory: No matter how much you have procured ahead of time, odds are it will not be enough and at some point during the summer weeks, you’ll run out of something mission-critical. Or they’ll lose their back pack. Or wreck their shoes. Be prepared to maintain and strategically top-up inventory.

Logistics management: I cannot stress how important it is to keep things moving to avoid a great big pile-up of drama-inducing chaos. Yes, this means doing laundry semi-regularly and actually moving things from the washer to the drier and back into closets. It means making sure that shoes get taken off at the end of the day and actually put somewhere where they will be easily found the next morning. No matter how much you have drilled your kids in doing their own laundry or shoe-putting-where-they-need-to-go, during the summer time, you will probably need to take back these duties or at the very least micro-manage them. It also means fanatically accounting for the whereabouts of everything. Which usually goes a little something like this:

Me: “Didn’t you take a blue water bottle today?”
Kid: “Yes I did.”
Me: “So why did you bring home a green water [or no] bottle. “
Kid: “I lost/traded/forgot mine.”

Business processes: New household processes must be executed. For me, this involves rinsing out the kids’ swimsuits each night because if they get actually washed in the laundry too often, they start sagging at the bottom. (Note: this is because I buy cheap swim suits. See point 1.) And nobody likes saggy swim suit bottoms. It also means ensuring that bedtimes are observed because late nights mean late mornings which means panic, drama, yelling and me being late to work. Working backwards, if prompt bedtimes are to be observed, this means that dinner needs to be ready swiftly upon getting home at the end of each day. Which means we need to know what we are making for dinner each evening. Which requires aforethought and, you know, grocery shopping. (See procurement/inventory.)

Workforce management, scheduling and integration: In an ideal world, both parents are fully invested in the New World Order that summer camp season mandates. Similarly, adaptations usually need to be made to who’s doing drop offs and pick ups. It may take a while for all parties to adapt to the new routine so be sure to integrate it into the family schedule. If you have one. (Note to self: work on family schedule.)

Closed-loop feedback: Communication is absolutely essential. With all parties. Spouses/partners. Kids. Bus drivers. Camp counselors. Other parents. It also means reading every crumpled, dusty and damp piece of paper (why are they always damp?) that get stuffed into backpacks informing you about something important happening, like “It’s Green Day tomorrow!” or “Dress Like a Parrot Day.” (Confession: I usually ignore these because the procurement/inventory/supply chain is simply not flexible enough to allow for unexpected wardrobe changes.)

Twenty-one days. That’s how many days are left.

Pass the brown paper bag.

Imperfect Model

by Kerri Ames

(The following was written and performed by Kerri for the recent Listen to your Mother Boston show. It is republished here with Kerri’s permission. You can – and should – read more on her blog (Un)Diagnosed and Still Okay.)

Photo credit: Amy/Emily Photography

Photo credit: Amy/Emily Photography

I used to pity parents whose child had a disability. I would see them in a restaurant, a movie theater or other public outing and think to myself: “Thank God that is not my child”.

I used to say the word, retard. A lot. As in “I’m so retAHded”, “stop being retahded”, the list goes on.

I would think to myself, God how awful for them. The parent’s whose child was in a wheelchair, had a feeding tube or a breathing tube. Wondering what made them decide to let the child live.

I would see a child having a temper tantrum in the grocery store and whisper to my husband, why don’t they just smack that kid.

I had my first, perfect child and became the paragon of how to be a working mother. I knew the answers to putting the baby to sleep at exactly 7pm. I let her cry it out and slept through the night. I had a schedule. I was that model working mom. The one you read about in magazines. The one who “does it all”, showers daily and who kept a clean house. Abby was well behaved, well-traveled and the child you could take to any event.  I could leave her with anyone for any amount of time. The girl, who sat quietly in restaurants, did her school work and reinforced my thoughts that “those other” children were just a result of poor parenting.

Five years later, my second daughter was born.

At just four days old I found myself in the NICU as I begged the doctors to do anything to save her life. I didn’t question brain function. I didn’t wonder if we were taking extreme measures. I saw my baby and feared she wouldn’t come home.

I bargained with God.

I offered my soul. I told him I could handle a retarded child. Just please, God, let my child live.

We came home with a beautiful little girl. One who vomited every 20 minutes, one who would only sleep if she was snuggled on your chest and who cried. A lot. If she was awake, she was crying, unless she was being held.

So I held her.

Bridget wasn’t achieving her milestones and the doctor ordered testing of her brain. We knew she was different. That she wasn’t the perfect child you dream. They performed genetic testing and told us she had a genetic mutation that had never been discovered. The testing revealed a slow brain pattern.

I asked, “Is my daughter retarded?” and I was gently told, “We don’t use that word anymore. But essentially, yes.”

The best advice I received that day was to never put limits on Bridget. Do not limit her with labels or assume she would not achieve greatness. That perfection has a new meaning.

One of the greatest things Bridget has achieved is changing the world view most of us have. We have more empathy for that mother in the grocery store. We have a smile for the parent who is pushing their child in a wheelchair. We buy a glass of wine for that mom in the restaurant. We look at our disabled child and think, “Thank God this IS our child”.

We have banned the “R” word in our house and in our lives.

Bridget has changed the lives of not just her parents, but her community. She is the mayor of her school. She is hugged in the grocery store. She has allowed friends to be comfortable asking questions. Hard and difficult questions just six years ago I would have been embarrassed to ask.

When I was told my daughter would be developmentally disabled, the world I knew was destroyed and recreated. I resolved that this would not change the way I would nurture my daughter, that she would be provided the same experiences and opportunities as her sister. By not placing limits, Bridget has created an advocate in her sister.  She has given an 11 year-old a purpose and a drive. One who includes her sister in everything because, in Abby’s words, “that is what sisters do”.

I have grown in so many ways since that first day in the NICU. I will educate when someone says retard.  I have become knowledgeable in any treatment, medication, therapy or doctor who can positively impact Bridget. It was through motherhood I learned the value of friendship, and which of those friends to leave behind.  Being Bridget’s mother has allowed me to find my voice.  We have created a village of support that includes therapists, friends and families who understand that life with a child who has special needs is still a fantastic life.  A life where the smallest accomplishments are celebrated.  A life where we cry and laugh with equal measure.

I am no longer that perfect model of the working mother who can do it all. Motherhood trumps meetings.  I frequently go a day without a shower, happy that I managed to brush my teeth. My house is rarely clean, but it is full of life.

Six years ago I bargained with God to let my daughter live.

It took being Bridget’s mom to show me what living was.

Kerri Ames is a working mom from Cape Cod with her husband, two daughters, untrainable dog and a bunny who was supposed to live outside. Kerri writes about raising two children, one whom has a rare genetic disorder, with humor and honesty at (Un)Diagnosed but Still Okay. Kerri possesses many titles: mom, wife, advocate, business manager, writer, trail runner and lover of wine. Her passion is advocacy for all children to be accepted for who they are regardless of ability. Kerri believes you can conquer any challenge in this world with good friends, family and a bonfire on the beach. She acknowledges that without her village of support her life would be infinitely more difficult.  You can follow Kerri on Facebook and Twitter at @undiagnosedbut.



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