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


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 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.

20 Ways To Not Piss Off Your Parenting Partner

Being a parent is hard work. Being married to/living with a parent is also hard work. So here are a few handy tips based on my personal experience (and some from my friends) to help navigate the tough/busy/emotional times, balance out the domestic to-dos, and avoid frustrations, snark and general spousal pissed-off-ness. Note the below applies not just to husbands, but also to wives (like me). Read on, for marital and domestic bliss awaits you.

  1. Don’t make assumptions. About anything.
  2. When opening the fridge, take note of what’s not there, and add those items to a shopping list (physical or mental).
  3. When popping into the store, think about what’s on the physical/mental shopping list, and buy them. Heck, buy two.
  4. Do not question money or time spent at the hair or beauty salon. Budget for it in the family financial plan and tell her/him she/he looks lovely.
  5. Check with your partner before making purchases over a certain amount. Pre-agree what that amount should be.
  6. Don’t just talk about scheduling items; go ahead and put things on the family schedule. Physically or digitally. Just do it.
  7. Participate in meal planning (see items 1 & 2).
  8. Share homework checking and backpack management duties.
  9. Schedule regular alone time or time out with girl/man friends. Then do item 6.
  10. Don’t contribute to the general messiness and disorder of the house. Or at least try not to. And if/when you do, pick up after yourself. See item 16.
  11. Always be thinking/doing laundry. It’ll avoid those “I have no underpants” situations. It might even get you laid.
  12. Have assigned duties/roles (e.g. he handles finances/bill paying, she ensures kids has an adequate supply of clothes/shoes that fit even when they are growing like weeds which is like always.)
  13. Be united in your kid disciplining approaches. Kids can see through any weaknesses in a nanosecond and will use all and any leverage they can.
  14. Don’t make assumptions. I know, I know I said that before but, boy, it is everything.
  15. Tune in to each other’s work/stress load and proactively offer to take the kids out or handle a chore you don’t usually handle. Even better, take the initiative: book a babysitter, make a ressie and take him/her out for the evening.
  16. Just do it. Don’t wait to be asked. Like, if you see a mess.
  17. Listen. Put down your smartphone and listen.
  18. Watch/listen for unspoken cues. Like sighing, eye rolling or, you know, door slamming.
  19. Quash the temptation to snark about each other in public forums; instead celebrate each other on Facebook. (Snark about your kids instead. At least until they are old enough to read or use FB themselves. Cos then you are in trouble.)
  20. Never EVER assume (or state the words out loud) that time spent alone at the grocery store is the equivalent of real alone time.

(Am printing this off and putting on my bedside table to review on a regular basis.)

(Actually, am printing another one off and putting it on his bedside table too!)


The Gene My Mother Didn’t Give Me (Now With Video)

(This is the story I read at the recent, amazing Listen to your Mother show)

Today I cooked for my family and nobody died.

It’s always a good day when my cooking doesn’t maim, injure or kill. Because every time I cook, I am convinced that someone will turn pale, clutch his or her belly, foam at the mouth and then sprint for the bathroom. Or just keel right over.

Needless to say, I am not a natural in the kitchen. I try. After all, I’m a Mom. This is part of the job description, right? It’s supposed to be part of my maternal DNA.

I definitely did not inherit the cooking gene from my Mom. She’s the world’s greatest cook. I yearn for her meatloaf and cheesecake. When I’m sick, her chicken soup is the only medicine that heals. Her trifle is legendary in England. I have fond memories of helping her measure and stir, as she’d prep and bake. Osmosis, however, failed me.

Like me, she wasn’t actually a natural-born cook. But once married, my Mom experienced a culinary metamorphosis, blossoming into this competent, fearless creator of deliciousness. Hoping to nurture similar qualities in me, my parents sent me to an all-girls school. Alas, while I did well academically, my grades for “domestic science” were well below average.

Fast-forward to my 30’s. One evening, I invited my soon-to-be-fiancé over to my place, intent on making a romantic meal. I prepared the only dish I really knew. He wanted to hang with me in the kitchen, sizing up my qualifications for future wifedom, motherhood and domesticity. But he quickly recoiled when he saw that every ingredient was either from a can, a carton or the freezer. Mortified, I banished him from the kitchen.

Did I mention he’s a professionally trained chef? No pressure, right? Well, despite his horror at my pasta mush, he still married me. Maybe he thought my culinary skills might emerge, like they had for my mom? Fortunately, our relationship is based on many other qualities, like good humor and forgiveness.

These days, I can be inspired by a recipe, game to give it a go and expose my family to something new. I’m all about Pinterest. My “recipes to try” board has more than one thousand pins of culinary delights. I’ve attempted about three of them. My success rate is, well, low. Usually the end result looks nothing like the picture. It might taste good but my kids usually turn their noses up when served something that looks, smells and tastes suspiciously different from chicken tenders or mac and cheese. My husband, bless him, praises my efforts, chews his meal with enthusiasm and makes all the right “mmmm” noises. He coaxes the kids to try at least a bite. The silver lining? Plenty of leftovers.

It wasn’t always this way. When they were infants, they ate everything I cooked. Yes, cooked. I was really really good at making purées. Because, boiling and mushing stuff, that I can do – like a pro. And, since I wasn’t able to nurse my kids when they were infants, preparing food this way made me feel like mother of the year, all wholesome and nurturing. I was an over-achiever in the purée department; my fridge filled with baggies of green, yellow, even purple frozen cubes of homemade nutrition. My kids willingly consumed vegetables that today are considered devil spawn. Beets. Parsnips. Spinach. Even black beans. It was good while it lasted.

I’m happy to tell you that one of my cooking adventures has in fact become the stuff of legend on social networks. Allow me to introduce you to the Hippo Cake.

It was Rosh Hashanah and like all Jewish festivals, it’s celebrated with food. A few days before, I called my mother and asked for her wonderful honey cake recipe, thinking it was my maternal duty to bake one for my family at this auspicious time of the year.

I’ll never know what really went wrong. Did I confuse the measurements? Maybe I omitted the baking soda? Perhaps the oven was the wrong temperature (after all, British recipes are in Celsius not Fahrenheit)?

Never has a photo posted on Facebook received so much attention. “What is that?” was the most frequent comment. “Um, it’s a honey cake,” I’d respond. “It looks like a hippo,” quipped someone and everyone resoundingly agreed. And so the notorious Hippo Cake was born. Every year now, friends and family clamor for me to re-post the Hippo Cake photo on Facebook, claiming that the holiday cannot properly commence until I do.

So this is what it comes down to. I can bake cakes that look like animals and purée like a champ. Evidently, as a mother, cooking is not my strongest suit. But at least I haven’t killed anyone. They say genes can skip a generation, so I’m hoping my kids will inherit their quick wits, good looks and self-deprecating humor from me – and their cooking skills from their grandmother.

The infamous Hippo Cake

The infamous Hippo Cake

LTYM cast

The wonderful cast of #LTYM Boston – May 9, 2015


A Lesson in Letting Go of Fear

I took my newly-minted eight year-old to the park yesterday to ride her bike. The snow had melted, the sun was shining and she was eager to be reunited with her bike after such a long, hard winter.

Teaching her to ride her bike and riding with her has always been her father’s job (I’m not a confident biker and I’d always rather walk on my own two feet than balance on two wheels.) As I wrote here, if it wasn’t for him, she’d have never learned for I was always too fearful, terrified she’d fall, scared she’d hurt not just her knees but also her confidence.

Oh, I was so wrong.

It wasn’t her who needed to conquer her fears, it was me.

She set off on her bike yesterday, pumping those pedals, the wind in her hair. “Be careful, don’t go too far out of my sight,” I cried out. But it was already too late. Her hair was streaming out behind her, her helmet getting smaller as she accelerated away from me down the path, picking up speed. Though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.

She rounded the corner. I could still see her flying like the wind. And then, she was out of sight, around another corner.

I listened acutely for for the high-pitched wail that I would surely hear as she’d crash off the bike and hurtle to the ground. I hastened my already speedy pace, desperate to catch up to her or at least spot her in the distance.

A glimmer of stranger danger dangled on the edge of my nervous system, taunting my imagination with every parent’s worst fears. Yes, there were lots of people at this park but maybe among them, there might be one with ill intent, looking at her that way?

What if she gets scared when she realizes she can’t see me, I worried? I picked up the pace even more, blisters forming on my sockless-in-shoes-for-the-first-time-since-winter feet.

Panting and sweating and on the brink of panic, I rounded the corner and stared into the distance, squinting to make her out among the swarm of adults and kids walking, biking and skateboarding on this beautiful spring day.

Suddenly in the distance, I spotted the shape of her helmet, her long hair, her knees moving fast up and down, zooming towards me. Triumphant, happy, cheeks aglow. “Mama!” she cried. “I was pedalling so far, so fast. It was so cool.” She grabbed a sip of water and took off once again, yelling that she’d meet me back at the park entrance.

And it was then I realized.

She’s now a confident bike rider. There was no fall, no wail, no grazed knees.

She knows how to get out of a stranger’s grip. She’s a blue belt in karate – she can punch and kick and shout, really loudly.

She knows my cell number, we’ve talked about what to do if she’s lost, what kind of adult to find.

For parents, fear is a constant. Fear that we don’t know what we are doing, fear that we’ll screw up, screw them up. Fear they’ll get hurt. Fear they’ll get lost. Fear of strangers. Fear they won’t accomplish what we – and they – want to achieve.

Yesterday, for me, was a solid lesson in letting go of some of that fear and replacing it with confidence in my child. Confidence in her abilities and smarts. Confident that her father and I have equipped her with many of the tools to succeed. Fear will always be there, but as I learned yesterday, it’s my problem, not hers.


Turning Eight!

Today you turn 8. Eight. EIGHT!

Wow. That was quick. And long, too.

I’m so amazed and proud and a whole-lot awed by the incredible being you are becoming.

You, my love, are funny and fierce and happy and smart and diligent and quirky and forthright and self-righteous and snuggly.

Seven was the year when Katy Perry nudged aside your affections for Optimus Prime, just a little. Last night, you even told me that seeing Katy Perry in concert was the best part of being seven. And that, ever since, “By the Grace of God” is your favorite song.

In 2014, you wore a dress just the one time. (Because you had to – it wasn’t your choice.) You rose to the occasion, donned your fancy tights, sparkly (borrowed) shoes, necklace and shiny headband. And totally rocked the look. The remaining 364 days of being seven, you wore a variety of pants, tops, undershirts, underpants, socks and a fleece in different jaguar and leopard prints. And totally rocked the look.

You’ve spent much of seven researching what breed of dog you want (p.s. it’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever.) You’ve read about how to train a puppy. You are ready for the responsibilities of feeding and walking your next pet. Which you remind us about every day.

You are my “bounce back” girl. One year ago on this very day, you experienced a frightening car crash. More recently, you learned an important lesson in losing. You took both in your stride and I am grateful for such character and resilience. I could learn a load from you.

Recently, you explained to me that you have “grit” – I’m not sure from where or who you learned that phrase – but it made me stop in my tracks. Grit will take you places in life; grit will mean you won’t give up or give in or be bowed by the hard work. Grit will thicken your skin. I love grit.

I am still flabbergasted by your beauty. I try not to tell you that too much as I need you to understand that your beauty really comes from your character and spirit and actions. Not the remarkable shape of your eyes. Or the deep red of your exquisite lips. Or your porcelain skin, accentuated cheekbones and graceful forehead. You remain blissfully unaware of your beauty and it makes you even more beautiful.

Looking ahead: you still want to be a vet when you grow up. You have decided you wish to go to school at either Wellesley College or Boston University. (Our 529 needs more grit.)

Welcome to eight – it’s going to be awesome.

A Lesson in Losing

Yesterday I stood by and watched as my kids were kicked and punched.

It was their first karate tournament and they were sparring. They’d practiced for months and today was the real deal. There were trophies to be won; there was pride at stake. Both kids thought they were each pretty good. Neither was nervous. My daughter calmly informed me she was “pumped up.” They weren’t cocky, just self-confident, assured that they knew what to do in the ring, no matter the belt, size or gender of their opponent.

This was also my first rodeo as a karate mom. Actually, it was my first time as a mom at any form of competitive kid’s sport. My kids might not have been nervous but I was, unsure of how to build them up, but not too much. Worried about their fragile egos. Hopeful they might win. Scared they might lose.

All around us were other parents, some new to this gig, some old-timers. There were those who quietly directed their kids, up close, looking them in the eye, reminding them of their lessons. There were those who were chill about the whole thing. And there were many vocally coaching their kids from the sidelines.

“Use your crescent kick!”

“Let him come to you.”

“Go on the attack!”

That wasn’t me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to catch my kids eyes before they went on, giving them a small thumbs up of encouragement. Mostly, I watched mutely from the sides, mildly terrified, unprepared for this role and the psychology it would demand.

I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they might not win. But let me tell you, receiving a “participation” trophy is a phony substitute. One kid took home two of those suckers. The other took one. They regarded these trophies with disdain, evidence of their not being good enough. There were tears of frustration and disappointment. Then to our surprise – and even his – my son took third place in his last match. His face lit up, and he fairly grew an inch with pride and delight. As if his earlier assurance had been warranted. His smile said “See, I can do this.”

At almost 8 years-old, my daughter had the hardest time repelling that ineffective phrase “It’s the taking part that counts.”

I wanted to win. But I lost,” she sobbed.

I wanted to provide all the justification in the world, encourage her to use this moment to look around and observe what it takes to win. To remind her that, with effort and practice, those trophies could soon be hers too. I feared she’d want to throw in the towel, abandon her karate altogether. Instead, I decided the best thing to do was to just hold her and let her absorb it all.

Because letting them fail is something we have to do, as parents. It’s a bitch of a lesson but it’s a healthy one.

The best part? She shook it off pretty quick and her happy spirits returned. And her brother, fortunately, didn’t gloat over his win.

I’m sure they’ve filed yesterday’s experience away. I’m hoping the next time they “suit up” for karate, it’ll be maybe with a little less confidence but a whole lot more determination and respect.

As for me, I’m also going to need to thicken up my game-day skin if we are all going to come out of these tournaments unscathed. It’s been a solid lesson in losing for me too.


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