COVID-IARIES, DAY 2: The Anger Report

Well, we made it through Day 2. I mean that in the most literal sense. ALL we did was make it through. Schoolwork was attempted, and schoolwork was abandoned in fits of rage. The house remained a heinous, impassable mess. To comfort myself, I made American style “tacos” for dinner: ground beef, hard shells made from genetically modified corn, shredded cheddar, iceberg lettuce, salsa from a jar. It wasn’t anything like I normally cook, and it was damned delicious.

Our school’s teacher sent home an oversized manila envelope filled with about three pounds of paper- schoolwork for Bobo for at least two weeks. It was organized by subject and day, with instructions for each day.  I’ll say it again: TEACHERS DESERVE ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Like, maybe now that we’re living without professional sports, we can all agree that those salaries should just be transferred to teachers, right? I mean, seriously.

So. We had a packet of papers and an itinerary. So far, so good. I started to read through it, along with the email sent from the teacher.

Not two minutes in, Beaversons peed her pants.

I change her. I’m reading as fast as I can, trying to contain Bobo, and I’m also trying to make sure my two and a half year old isn’t using the kitchen drawer pulls as foot holds to get to the snack cabinet. Bobo’s desk is buried in the playroom at the moment, which I am using as my temporary bedroom, so we’re trying to do all this reading and sorting at a table from which we haven’t even yet cleared the breakfast dishes. The ants are rallying.

Twenty minutes later Beaversons pees her pants again.  I change her.

Someone demands a snack. Someone wants to turn on the iPad. Something gets spilled. The ants move in closer.

I clean, I clutch paper and something slowly washes over me. Panic begins to rise in my throat as I hang out to dry another pair of tiny pants while my five year old repeatedly rams her Plasmacar into the leg of the dining room table. It crystalizes: I have to be Bobo’s teacher for two weeks. Like, a real full time teacher. A teacher that pays constant attention and offers praise and doesn’t have her anxiety cage rattled by spilled beverages and bodies that won’t stop wiggling in their chairs. My perfectionism is sounding off like an air raid siren. I want to be the BEST parent, checking off things as they are completed, doing things in order but I also need order to do this, and we are currently in VERY short supply. I need to know things. I need there to be NO confusion, not even one minute of it.  I needed everything to be crystal clear. I needed a path through this. I can’t NOT know. I have ants, for god’s sake. I’m sleeping on a pull-out bed and our house is covered in crap. I need ONE THING to go right at this moment and I cannot be a teacher while things are not going right.

And then Beaversons pees her pants again.

Impulse control/waiting is NOT Bobo’s strong suit, so between not having time to read the lengthy directions and her not wanting to do schoolwork, we were both in breakdown mode in about four minutes. I’m constantly having to remind her that “all will be revealed with time” but here I was trying to absorb the contents of three pounds of paper all at once and not being one bit patient with ANY of it. Thanks, virus, for showing me myself.

After a hellish morning of trying to figure out homework in the midst of ants and mess, and a refusal to eat what I’d made for lunch, we headed out to the playground. We were the only ones there for a few minutes, and then another mom and two small kids appeared. From about 20 feet away, I heard the mom say, “Oh, I don’t know if we’re supposed to be this close to one another”.

I was in dirty sweatpants. My hair- greasy and standing on end and in desperate need of a cut by a stylist who is now forbidden to come within six feet of me- was barely contained by a ballcap. My shoes were untied. I was wearing the stained fleece jacket I only wear around the house.

Naturally my first reaction was to go FULL animal on her and bare my (unbrushed) teeth. I narrowed my eyes. Not today, Satan. Not today, I muttered to myself. This is MY park.  Get the hell outta here if you don’t want this virus, which I am SURE we are carrying. Just so ya know, my kids LOVE licking playground equipment. And picking their noses.

Turns out she was super nice and I? I am a turd.

Upon hearing the racket we were making in the park, one by one, like the Whos coming out of their houses on Christmas morning after the Grinch has stolen all their presents and roast beasts, kids emerged from their houses around the park. The very nice mom and I talked about how effing hard the morning had been, how the park, the outside in general, is going to be key in making it through these next weeks. Playing with and standing close to other humans in a park is going to be, well, irresponsible. But also kinda necessary for our collective mental health.

One of Bobo’s classmates lives around the corner from the park. She came out alongside her dad. I took one look at him and I knew, the way all parents know when they see another exhausted parent: It had been a shit day for them, too.

“Oh my god” was how he greeted me, I think. Yup, I responded. Yup. I pushed Beaversons on the swing as Bobo ran around and we just stood there, alternately staring at our beat-up Converse and into the far distance, wondering how in the hell we’d gone from being punk rockers to bewildered adults defeated by kindergarten-level reading comprehension worksheets.

I made spaghetti on Monday night and debated internally for a good 20 minutes about whether or not to add a dozen (probably freezer burnt) veggie meatballs to the sauce.  Should I ration them? Should I use them up and buy fresh things to ration? My sister and mother-in-law had both reported that there was literally NO food on the shelves in their supermarkets.  Not even Superstorm Sandy had caused this level of food hoarding. I opted to keep the meatballs in the freezer and added a zucchini to the sauce instead because, I rationalized, freezer burnt meatballs are better than no meatballs at all down the road.

Food hoarding is kind of my jam. My sister’s too. I don’t throw the word “hoarding” around casually, either.  I mean it in the very realest, most irrational and unhealthy way possible. My sister and I were stocking up on garbanzo beans and frozen veggie sausage lo-o-o-ng before this virus became a known entity. We both keep larders in our garages. She can cook you 30 different pasta dishes right this minute. I could probably make 450 batches of gluten free muffins and 28 gallons of vegetarian chili by tomorrow if I started tonight. We’re both (damned fine) home cooks, so this *kind* of makes sense. If it makes anyone feel better (it makes me feel better), we do rotate through the food pretty regularly, being home chefs and all with families to nourish. I mean, most Americans don’t cook for themselves anymore, so we probably have pretty normal looking pantries for people who are obsessed with varieties of salt and like to be able to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice. Listen, we grew up with not a lot of money, so the first thing we both did when we got our first adult salaries was buy 40 pounds of rice. It’s just what you do when your childhood was unpredictable and you have a few spare feet of shelving in your garage.  Comfort looks like neat stacks of tomato sauce in cans next to the gardening tools.

I decided that I needed an avocado for dinner. I mean, I didn’t need anything, really (see also: garage pantry) except a break from the kids who were asking me to push them on the swings, which I did, lifelessly. It was DAY TWO and I was already exhausted, angry, and anxious about Bobo’s schoolwork. How the hell was I going to get through this? I mean, obviously we were going to be fine. A little pee and some ants and paper and schedules could all be worked through. Right at that moment, though, it felt pretty damned hopeless and the timeline endless.

I went to the store where there were, indeed, empty shelves.  Like, feet and feet of empty shelves. Very few cartons of eggs. No chicken, no beef. No rice. No beans, for god’s sake. You KNOW it’s bad when people are buying up old bags of beans. There were exactly four loaves of Sara Lee Honey Wheat left in the bread section. Well, that and a dozen loaves of raisin bread. Not even the Apocalypse will make people eat bread with raisins in it.


There are two things I do when I get stressed: I write and I clean. Right now, my bathroom is probably the cleanest it’s been in months. It’s “I scrubbed the molding” clean. It’s “I dusted behind the toilet” clean. You people right now perusing Netflix in your loungewear probably do things like “dust behind your toilets” all the time,  what with all the free time you have to wear loungewear and watch movies. But those of us with kids… we’re outwardly scoffing at your offering of adorable lists of things to do while all we’re under quarantine (hang shelves! clean out closet! make a nice meal!) but secretly wishing we could be doing the same instead of fetching endless bowls of CheezIts and breaking up baby fistfights.

Both of my cars are also vacuumed and wiped down, which is oddly both the most privileged and the most prepared thing I’ve written in probably my whole life. I’m not a germaphobe; quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been known to eat questionable things off the kitchen counter. (The five second rule is more like the five day rule.) I just needed a good deep clean to stay on top of SOMEthing, to give me the illusion of control. When I was young, my mom cleaned like she was going to into battle. She put on her best rags and got down on her hands and knees and mopped and polished and inspected the carpets for tiny bits of lint. Looking back, I imagine that, as a mother of four kids, it was her way of exercising SOME authority over an otherwise circus-crazy situation. I feel like I’m caught in that same understandable trap. I’ve just vacuumed under the couch and I have convinced myself that everything is going to be alright for at least the next twelve or so hours.

I also just sucked up six cups of popcorn from the living room carpet. Mr. Burdy thought he’d treat the kids to a movie tonight (since they don’t have school on Monday) which backfired spectacularly when both kids became overtired at exactly the moment the credits rolled and they refused to brush their teeth or move to their beds unless they were guaranteed massages and cups of sparkling water. I wish I was making that last part up, but, damnit, I guess that is the second most privileged thing I have ever written.

Bobo refused to brush her own teeth, so I had two sobbing, whining kids in our tiny (but clean!) bathroom at once, each whining in a different key, and Mr. Burdy standing in the door jamb threatening to take away books if they didn’t get a move on. Not helpful. I gently slammed the door in his face. It’s not even the end of Day 1 and we’re already slamming doors.

People are talking about all the babies that are going to be born in nine months… but I think the only thing coming in nine months is divorce papers. Time inside a too small house under construction is a recipe for, well. this. What’s happening right here.

On the eve of the outbreak, three things happened at our house.

1. We got ants. Sugar ants, the small variety that come inside when the weather warms up and they hear you’re the type to leave food out for five days. The ones that are almost cute at first because they’re so industrious! And curious! And then you feel one crawling up your neck as you’re transferring boiling hot pasta into the colander and you want them all dead, just die already, burn the house down while you’re at it.

We’ve resorted to ant traps because, frankly, we just can’t keep up. We’ve been spraying cinnamon oil where our countertops meet the wall and all along the molding. It only works for a few hours and then they come back.

2.  The second bathroom toilet started to overflow. I figured it would be a forty five minute snake job that would eventually pull a volleyball-sized globe of toilet paper from the pipes courtesy of my eldest daughter who thinks half a roll should do it every time she poops. No such luck. There are roots growing in our sewer line. The plumber we called, an oversized tattooed fella who looked like he might check IDs at a biker bar on the weekend, walked around the house with Mr. Burdy and mumbled things like “trench” and “re-route” and I immediately left my body and drifted off to another planet where I didn’t have to think about such things.

2) We decided to renovate the master bedroom. The entire contents of the master bedroom loom ominously tall and lumpy from underneath blue tarps in our living room, covering every spare inch minus a three foot walkway. This was all planned months ago, when we knew we’d be able to open the windows for ventilation, and Mr. Burdy’s work schedule wasn’t too heavy, and we’d finished paying off the PREVIOUS renovation. The plan was to tear out all of the walls in that bedroom and replace the fifty year old insulation and brittle wallboard so that we could actually feel warm. Indoors. Also, we wanted to tear out the carpet that hadn’t been replaced since the Carter administration.  Inside the walls we found:

a) several old wasps nests

b) some rotten/termite-chewed framing

Mr. Burdy has been putting in full workdays and then donning his “dirt clothes” after the kids go to bed to repair and mud and tape and sand.

The long and short of it is we don’t have a second bathroom. Or the use of our washer/dryer. And there are ants everywhere and nowhere to go. I am ALSO potty training a toddler, which means there are a lot of tiny, pee-moistened pairs of pants regularly air dying on my shower curtain rod. Which means my house smells like a combination of old snickerdoodles and a subway platform.

I keep seeing things about how Gen Xers (*technically* the generation I am allegedly, depending on who wants to fight you that day, a part of) are the only group of people prepared for social distancing. Normally I roll my eyes at this kind of boxing in, but I’ve got to hand it this other Lauren lady. NAILED US.

Also, as if the Universe itself was like, “Hey, wanna see something cool? Check this out!” I happened to catch my neighbor outside as I was taking Beaversons for a walk, and I let him know that if he needed anything, he was more than welcome to come over, slip a note under the door, whatever. He graciously accepted my offer, then returned it, and then waved away the whole pretext, saying that the media needed “something to talk about”. And then he cited the death toll in the SARS outbreak was only 12,000. He also said something about politicians keeping themselves employed. I had a very surreal moment standing there on the other side of his literal hedgerow thinking, holy shit. This is it. I’m talking to a Boomer who thinks this whole thing will be a whole lot of hullabaloo about nothing one day. Damn.

Speaking of hullabaloo, we went to my mom’s yesterday for our annual corned beef and cabbage feast (we are not even the least bit Irish). We ate and we drank and the kids searched for a plastic pot of plastic gold coins and tchotchkes my mom hid in her yard and my eldest LOST HER MIND when the milk and the water turned green, and we all had a great time. It didn’t really sink in till I lay in bed that night: this might have been the last family gathering we’d have in a long time. I’m slated to host Easter at my house, but I’m feeling a statewide quarantine coming on and I think the Easter dresses that arrived via my online order are just going to sit in their shipping box this year. It’s strange to think of an event that far away already being cancelled.

My uncle brought a box to mom’s house containing things he’d found while looking for my mom’s naturalization papers. Inside were documents related to my grandparents’ emigration to this country more than 50 years ago, things like birth certificates and wedding certificates and letters of endorsement from my grandfather’s employer. We, my sister and mom and dad and aunt and uncle, we all held these papers and marveled at them. We wiped tears from our eyes thinking of what they’d endured as a young couple so that we could all be here, sitting around a table festooned with a cheap shamrock-themed tablecloth. We smiled, too, thinking about how funny they both were, how smart and brave and dogged.

The world around us is shuttering, one establishment at a time. Bobo’s dance classes are happening online if they are happening at all. Beav’s music classes are cancelled. Refunds will be issued. The library is closed indefinitely. Of course, school is closed for two weeks. We have ants. We can’t walk in our house because there is stuff EVERYWHERE. And we can’t wash our clothes and stuff is piling up.

I keep seeing this meme floating around, the one about how our grandparents were called to war, and all we’re being asked to do it sit on our butts. My grandparents were called, and they went. Then they made the very measured and weighty decision to leave Europe and come here once the war was over.

Surely we can get through this, right?

An Empath’s Response To Suicide

When the first headlines about Chris Cornell started to appear on my Facebook feed, I thought maybe he’d died of a health-related issue.  He must have collapsed from the pressures of being on the road, I’d reasoned.  Musicians get overworked all the time.  White males, especially, are prone to heart issues. By the end of the night, though, the headlines were weightier, sadder and more reflective.  Cornell had actually taken his own life.

I remember learning in grammar school that suicide was “selfish.”  Though I didn’t know it, my empathy feelers were already raised.  Like most dogma handed to us from our Catholic school teachers, this explanation of “selfishness” didn’t sit right with me.  Apparently, it was some sort of slap in the face to the God who’d made us that we would throw away this precious gift he’d given us. Like he cared, I thought.  There’s war and famine and babies dying in their cribs, and He has time to be sad about this one life that didn’t make it?  Come ON. 

That’s not what suicide was, I thought.  It was something far more complex.  Couldn’t the teacher see this? Couldn’t anyone see that it took an enormous out-of-body experience to end your life?  Couldn’t anyone see that it was not a choice any more than drinking or injecting yourself to death was?

I wasn’t especially precocious.  I wasn’t a young philosopher.  Born into a family who was damaged in many ways, I lived with that damage hovering at the periphery of my childhood, and so I understood, if only marginally, the need to slip away from this life.  I was aware of it like it was a fifth sibling.  But I didn’t have language for it in the way that no kid has language for things like “verbal abuse” and “lower middle class” and “dry drunk.”  Still, it was there. I could sense it every minute of the day.  I’d never considered killing myself, but that was because I was terrified of guns and needles.  Then again, I didn’t suffer the way others did.  I felt everything, but was also too full of adrenaline, too in the midst of living like a cornered animal, to do anything about it.  I could weigh things on an imagined scale in my mind, so I felt I still had options: If I die, I’ll miss out on ____ vs. I just can’t go on anymore. Killing myself would be better.  The missing out always won.

I’ve been an empath for as long as I’ve been alive.  I didn’t have a word for that—the experience of being knocked down constantly by other people’s emotions— either, when I was younger.  I was shocked and let down when I began figuring out, maybe in my late teens, that not everyone felt everything in the room at once.  The closest approximation of my reaction to the world was a pharmaceutical commercial for ADD I’d seen: it featured channels changing in rapid succession on a TV. This was supposed to be the ADD sufferer’s brain.   YES, I thought.  That’s what my brain is like: unable to focus on anyone or anything, least of all me.  It was a constant slideshow of everyone else in the room, and was distracting at best, leveling at worst.

Which is why, when my dad came home from running an errand one day, and he approached me on the staircase and told me Kurt Cobain had killed himself, my initial response wasn’t HOW DARE HE, nor was it anger or a condemnation of anything.  It was empathy.  I could feel the scales had stopped working in Cobain’s head. He’d had to travel to a place beyond our understanding of desperation to do what he did.   All I could allow myself to feel was loss.  Though the violence of his ending startled me, it also left me hollow. I let that be.  I felt no need to fill myself up with analysis or critique.

There was talk afterward in the music community about the hubris it took to think of yourself as “fully formed” and therefore cliché by your early twenties, like Cobain might have.  And, sure, lyrically, he seemed to have achieved some sort of next-level ascendancy to my young ears, but the primal-ness of Cobain’s wails?  You didn’t need to hear much more than that to understand he’d been in pain.

As the smart kid who was constantly being hung with the mantle of great expectations, but who was paralyzed by a fear of failure, I understood that pressure to be more than I currently was. I felt like I knew this piece of Cobain.  I didn’t have a right to tell him to stay in a world he felt oppressed by any more than I had the right to demand more work, more brilliance from any artist.  If I’d really believed in the unrelenting upward trajectory of success, I would have had to become one myself. That prospect, along with everything else I could feel out there in the great big world, scared the living hell out of me.

It was later that I found out about the chronic stomach issues he suffered, and much, much, later, that, through fortune or fate, I drove through the town of Aberdeen, covered in clouds, and with signs on the freeway off-ramp that forbade panhandling, and I understood a little more about his pain.   I “got” Cobain all over again with that drive.  Back east, I wore flannel as a fashion statement.  He wore it because it was cold and miserable where he lived.  Damn.  Everything had a reason.  Some things are practical choices, like flannel.  Some things we will never, ever understand.  Who the hell are we to judge?

My friend, a fellow empath, wrote me last night: People. Please stop killing yourselves. Please. Despite the political crisis and the eco crisis and many other crises…the spiritual crises of the human race is the one I worry most about. As an empath, I am acutely aware of the crises and it’s overwhelming, because I can actually *feel* it.”

Me too, friend. 

Me too.

When Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman committed suicide, we had a huge national discussion about mental illness.  We used terms like So Much Talent and Unrealized Potential, which was a veiled way of saying something else: waste.  We turned our attention to The Family.  The Survivors. We posted suicide prevention hotline numbers to our Facebook feeds and told everyone we were available to talk. We needed to correct, to bring everything to center rather than just sit in that dark sadness and let it wash over us.   There could be no further waste.

For the past few days, I’ve been wrestling with how to write about Cornell’s passing without going right to solutions-centered language and speaking in terms of nostalgia and talent gone before its time.  Empathy has always been my way in to a room already crowded with opinion and dissection.  Maybe I could offer more than my earnestness in identifying with the deceased’s pain.  Maybe I could offer my quietude, my willingness to sit in that dark sadness.

And then my friend Tina wrote something on her Facebook page, and something heavy gave way: She said she’d “fallen down and lay in the road for almost a year and a half, writer-wise.”  Something in her had just woken up, though, and she was ready to ask her community what it needed.  What could she give that would be of most service?  More writing? More humor?  More hugs?  It wasn’t Cornell’s death that spawned this re-awakening.   It just so happened to come on the tails of it.  What I take away is related to his death, though: we all have something to give, but we can’t expect everyone to give at the same time. Sometimes we’re rarin’ to go.  Sometimes we have to lie in the road for a spell.  Sometimes we can’t crawl out from whatever weighs us down.  In any manifestation, it is not selfishness that keeps us from one another, but something far heavier and deserving of our contemplation and forgiveness.

The Work BEFORE Work


There are times in motherhood, times involving cursing and sweating and frantic rubbing at stains, when you must weigh the situation at hand and determine if:
a) you are actively dying or
b) someone out there has it worse than you.

These times demand your careful consideration because otherwise, you can become overwhelmed by the seemingly intractable, filthy circumstance you find yourself in and you can go mad with the injustice of it all.

There are times, too, other times, when you are so exhausted, so physically worn out by the 2 am wakeups and demands for more milk, more crackers, more goddamned renditions of “Hush Little Baby”, that your decision making becomes impaired, and you find it difficult to perform these tiny feats of analysis.

These are the times that try women’s souls.

Say, for instance, you know in your heart of hearts that a balanced diet is more than just a good idea– it is insurance against the runny mess you will have to wipe from your child’s butt in a few hours. But, say, for instance, even though you know this, you still feed your child not yet three feet tall a full cup of blueberries, some watermelon, a peach smoothie, and some dried mango and nothing else in a 24-hour period.  Never mind that you’ve tried to coax her into eating the tender meatloaf you lovingly formed with your own hands and have cut into small bites suitable for her adorably small mouth. Of course you know this is a diet better suited to the chronically constipated, or maybe a species of tree sloth, but your endurance is withering thanks to sleep deprivation.  You are too defeated, too plain old worn out to do the arithmetic of:

Needing to be somewhere on time on Wednesday + too much fruit on Tuesday = disaster.

Say, too, that you have forgotten that the babysitter is on vacation. And say you’ve already packed up the kid, and her lunchbox, and her diaper bag, and your own lunch bag, and you park the car at that asshole angle that says “But I’m only running in for a minute!” and you haul the kid out and all her seven changes of clothing (because, don’t forget, you’re in the middle of potty training and life has been reduced to mad dashes between potties). And say, for further instance, that you are tired of wearing the same old baggy post-partum shirts to work so you finally zazz it up a bit with some tailored slacks and a crisp blouse but now you have to walk through your sitter’s yard – where she keeps chickens, god bless her homesteading soul- in that outfit, your bags banging against your legs, to check to make sure your sitter IS still on vacation and you haven’t lost your mind. And say you haven’t lost your mind (hallelujah! A minor victory!) and you remember, right, your sitter IS still on vacation, and now you must come up with Plan B. So, say you pack up the kid, who is quite fond of her sitter and the chickens and most definitely does NOT want to get back into the car, and you text your client and beg forgiveness for needing to bring your kid to work today.

Say, too, that you are so preoccupied with the fact that you are going to have to be productive and deadline-conscious while keeping your curious little angel under your desk for three hours, you miss the turn into the parking garage at your client’s building. Another bit of dangerous math will enter your head: the construction downtown plus a new series of stops and one-ways yields a potential for a potty accident. You are now sweating through your crisp, new blouse.

And there, just as you round the last traffic-clogged corner and descend into the cool darkness of the garage, you see it. In the backseat, your child’s face is bent into a look of concern. Her tiny fist rises into the air, her thumb tucked beneath her forefinger, slowly waving, like a flag of defeat, the toddler sign language for “potty”.

As you snake your way into a parking stall, The Fisher Price carseat mirror confirms what you can already smell. There will be poop. Lots of it.

Though you are still dressed in the uniform of an office working lady, you will now need to assume the temporary role as head of FEMA. What you need to know is: How big is this mess? How long will it take you to clean it up? What’s in the car that can be used as a shovel? A bag? A hazmat kit? Is there clean water nearby?

You will do a tiny bit more math. You will realize this is not the worst day of your life. No, the worst day is still yet to come. That day, you will be hugging the toilet bowl, puking your guts out while your toddler stands close by and shoves something insistently into your ear, or maybe your lower back, while whining about the PBS station break. No, that day, after you’re done vomiting the last bit of water from your system, you will also be washing everyone’s pajamas, sheets, the dishtowels, the bathroom towels, and anything else you grabbed that day to mop up regurgitated toast. You’ll be doing this in between trips to the bathroom and to the kitchen to warm soup and refill juice cups. So, really, that day is not this day.

This day, you will have all the poop contained in a wet bag. You will have remembered to pack that, of course, but no wipes. So you will daub at your daughter’s butt with some old Chipotle napkins you stashed in the glove box half a year ago, and you will use the water from your water bottle to moisten them. When your daughter whimpers and gives you the sign language for “hurt”, realize that maybe you are trading efficiency for hapless brute force. You will realize it is hopeless to try to get all the poop off, absolutely hopeless. You will pray that the Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo wafting off her adorably curly head will be enough to mask the smell of excrement that will surely permeate her pink and green toddler leggings for the rest of the day.

And just as you extract yourself from the backseat where you will have been performing this triage with your breath held for three minutes straight, your daughter will crinkle up her face again, and give you the “potty” sign with her hand. Again you will try to be mindful: you are not dying. It is only poop. You can do this.

Your instinct to comfort your daughter will be duking it out with the stopwatch ticking in your head, because, after all, you were supposed to start work twenty minutes ago. And then there is the decency issue: you are floors and floors below an actual potty, to say nothing of toilet paper. If the first batch of blueberry fueled crap you gingerly tucked into that zippered bag was any indication, this next round is NOT going to be pretty. However, you are a mom before you are anyone’s office monkey, so you will grab your half-naked kid by the armpits, squat her in front of the car, and you will tell her to go, right there, on the parking garage floor. And boy, how she will go.

You will do more mental calisthenics. Drying time for kid diarrhea? Roughly the same amount of time you might need, say, to perform your job today? Availability of rubber gloves? Negative? How about a half-eaten bag of dry cereal you happen to have stuffed into the console weeks back? Could you empty that out into the carseat snack cup and use it to scoop up the poop? Yes? Well, then maybe you will NOT have to be that mom that left a steaming pile of shit in a parking garage.

Oh, and make sure while you are re-gathering the lunchboxes and bags and your purse to repeat the litany of gratitudes you have designed for such occasions. Be sure to take a minute and be mindful that you have not washed upon a foreign shore’s lands in a rubber raft, or have to worry about being shot for having a tail light out. Repeat over and over again the refrain of the white privileged working mom: This too, shall pass. It’s not that bad. At least you have a job. And a car to take you there. And a healthy baby to pour out all the binder clips beneath your ergonomically designed office chair.

Push down the urge to cry that stems from having to be the torch bearer for the leagues of female workers that are lined up behind you, convinced they can “have it all”. Sit there in that yawning divide between a 21st century woman’s life and her 19th century work culture, and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Be grateful for the invention of washing machines, and indoor plumbing, and plastics. Congratulate yourself on having had a few spare napkins in the car. Be exhausted. Be happy for your kid’s gleaming colon. Spot check your new blouse for stains. Now “go to work”, even though you’ve been at work nonstop for the last 23 months, 19 days, and 6 hours.

Work Vs. Work


It came to me during a doctor’s visit: The reason for my anxiety over my decision to go back to work after the baby was born.

The question that had been on my mind lately was this: Am I working because I want to, or because I feel like I should? Financially, I don’t need to work outside the home. I had been convincing myself I go to work for two main reasons: one, for my sanity, and two, so I can feel like I’m contributing to our household. I don’t really think, though, that these two reasons cover it all.

The more specific answer to the question came tumbling out of me when my acupuncturist asked me how I was dealing with going back to work. After some meandering, I found it: I still feel poor, I said. Even though our family has enough money to live comfortably, I still feel poor. I hadn’t given that sentence- I still feel poor– more than a few seconds’ thought prior to that moment, but there it was, living right there on the edge of my tongue, just waiting for someone to ask me the right question so it could come falling out. It was a relief to answer it. It felt like my mouth was just tired of holding the answer in.

The words hung there in the air for a moment and I stared out the window of my acupuncturist’s office to regain my focus. I still felt poor. The sentence filled the room. I corrected myself: I feel poor. As in, currently, I feel poor. I feel poor like I did when I was growing up.


We weren’t the worst off, growing up. Not by far. We never went hungry. We always had a roof over our heads. But we went without a lot of things that other kids did because we never had a spare dime floating around.

As a kid, I learned to take good care of the things I had because I never knew when or if a replacement would come. This was not a bad lesson to learn, honestly, but it did raise the anxiety level in my already fragile heart. I worried.   What if there wasn’t enough money for new sneakers? For more sandwich bread? For next near’s school uniforms? What then?

Poorness is hard to shake. When you live with it, you become it. It’s like a sickness that never leaves your system. You walk around afraid to delight in things because you never know when another bout of poorness might flare up in you. It colors your worldview, separating people, unfairly, into haves and have-nots. It makes you resentful towards those who have even a touch more than you do. It creates a certain self-loathing, as in: I must not have enough because I haven’t worked hard enough, because I am not smart enough, because I AM NOT ENOUGH. It didn’t occur to me back then that the world was set up so that some people will ALWAYS have more than enough. If I felt poor, it was somehow my fault, and not the fault of existing systems or legacies of privilege.

I realized at the doctor’s office, even with double incomes, and the ability to travel the world, and a few bucks in savings, I was still walking around like it was all going to evaporate. This poorness has been at my side for as long as I’ve been alive.

That I had this revelation during an (arguably optional) medical treatment, paid for by my husband’s insurance company, in the middle of the workday in one of the wealthiest cities in America, was not lost on me. But sometimes answers come in odd places and at odd times.

What caused this question that had been camping out in my head for so long to suddenly become more sharp and edgy? What had pushed the answer out of me? Well, many things, but most recently, my client, the one I thoroughly enjoy working for, was concerned I wasn’t putting in enough hours.

It was a gut punch. And true enough. I wasn’t putting in as many hours as the former bookkeeper. Getting my shit together, though, was proving to be VERY difficult with my kid. First there was finding good babysitting help. I hadn’t known where to even start looking for it. It took me a very long time of begging favors from friends before I figured out the whole “get a professional/ask for recommendations” thing. Then there was the routine of putting together the bag for the sitter: packing the diapers, the wipes, the wetbag, the frozen breastmilk, the bottle, the extra clothes… while trying to shower, and feed myself and my colicky kid. This, after not sleeping most of the night.

Then there was the fear that I was screwing my kid up irreparably by leaving her in such a frazzled state. Most of the time, I felt like I was flinging the diaper bag from a still-moving car in the general direction of the sitter’s front stoop after having shoved the carseat/kid jumble into her arms. I couldn’t seem to be on time for anything and nothing ever went according to plan. That is, if I had conceived of a plan at all. Most of the time I was so exhausted, I was just running on autopilot. And my autopilot was necessarily set to warp speed to overcorrect for all the untimely diaper blowouts and coffee spillages down my work clothes on the way.

On top of that, I was almost suffocated by the new mom fear that I was leaving my kid with a perfect stranger. The chorus of what if, what if, what if played itself over and over in front of my eyes. What if she broke her arm while I was away? What if she was snatched by a child predator? What if she choked to death on a piece of carrot? The chorus of what ifs was so deafening, it drowned out all of the other what ifs. What if she learned to be comfortable with other people while I was gone? What if she learned a new skill I couldn’t teach her? What if she was exposed to foreign languages and foods that helped broaden her experience and appreciation of the world? What if she listened to music I would never think of listening to? What if she got to see ten dogs and twenty kids on her walk and she was so, so pleased with her tiny world that day that she learned to clap her hands in joy?

Friends reminded me that plenty of children in America are left with some kind of childcare provider, and they all mostly turn out just fine. Furthermore, who was I to think that stuff wouldn’t happen while I was away? Wasn’t I the one who let my kid fall off the bed that one time while my back was turned? Wasn’t I the one in charge of her when she received that mysterious gash to the cheek?   Kids get injured. They get scared. They recover. We all do. Discomfort is part of the human experience, my own included.


Even before my kid was born, I bragged that I would want to go back to work AS SOON AS PHYSICALLY possible, which, for me, meant six weeks. Six weeks. I had only stopped my post-partum bleeding at that point. My body was still a lumpy, recovering bag of hormones, and I was ready to stick it in an office chair for eight hours a day. What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking: I was thinking I was not cut out to be a stay at home mom. I thought I wouldn’t want to abandon my “established career”. That I thought we’d be much better off with my very part-time salary. Turns out I was wrong. I wanted to be around my baby more than I anticipated. I cried at work during that first week back because I was so overwhelmed with guilt over leaving her with a sitter and the daunting task of just picking up where I’d left off. Nothing was the same. Nothing. I thought I was just going to be the same ol’ me, doing my same ol’ job, just with a baby.

I was so, so wrong.

And I have been treading water ever since.

So when my client came to me and nervously told me that she thought the job required more hours than I was willing to put in (or physically could, given my kid, the babysitting situation, etc.) I went right to anger. Anger that what I had to give wasn’t enough. Anger over thinking I could pull this off, this half in, half out, minimal effort, part time babysitting, part time working thing. I thought: well, now I have to quit and my client has to find a new bookkeeper because I can’t give her what she wants. I’m not cut out to be a stay at home mom, and now I’m not cut out to be a part time working mom either. I must not be smart enough. I must not be hard-working enough. I must not be organized enough. And I am poor, so I don’t have a choice. I must go to work.

That anger gave way to guilt. Why guilt? That seems to be my default emotion these days. When things fall short (as they often do with parenting), I go right to blaming myself. Why couldn’t I just pull myself together? Why couldn’t I be the one of millions of other women who return to the workforce and just carry on, their kids with babysitters or daycare centers? How is it that single moms were doing this, but here I was not able to hack it with a loving, well-paid, willing-to-help partner? How were moms out there- moms I know personally– with cancer diagnoses and/or sick partners making it work? Why couldn’t I, with a healthy baby, a healthy husband, and a healthy income, make this work?

Why this crushing guilt over what should be a pretty easy decision: either put in more hours or happily walk away and be grateful for the experience?

Put another way: Why couldn’t I just appreciate what I had, for chrissakes?


It was the mom comparison thing again.

My mom was an expert salvager, scrimper, and saver. We weren’t wearing playclothes made out of the drapes or anything, but we were wearing hand-me-downs from the neighbor kids and having our cups of (pricey to us) orange juice rationed. I know what government cheese tastes like. A constant refrain to our begging for the latest toys or novelty snack was, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know”.

We lived paycheck to paycheck. Lots of families around us did. We went on only one family vacation in my whole life. We drank Kool-Aid, ate plenty of nitrate-stuffed meat, and never took a swim class, a clarinet lesson, went to camp, or wore name brand clothing. We shopped at discount stores, we played in the backyard most of the time, and we watched plenty of TV.

So it’s not really a surprise that, as an adult, I am vastly uncomfortable with having money. It’s a foreign concept to me. I know this sounds weird, but I don’t know how to spend it. Mr. Burdy is a software engineer at a startup, which means, at least in Seattle, that you can actually hear the cha-ching of a cash register when you say those words, “Software Engineer” aloud. Still, compared to the salaries of others working for large corporations in this city, he doesn’t make that much. It’s staggering to think of it. Two years into this marriage (and sixteen years into our relationship) I am still getting my head around the idea of a shared income.

There is this image of my mom seared into my head. It’s of her balancing a checkbook and being frustrated that things weren’t adding up. It’s one of literally millions of images of moms that flit past my eyes all day. If it’s not my mom, it’s another mom, someone who has to make a choice between food and medicine, or a pair of shoes and a tank of gas. My heart swells with empathy for these moms. I can’t stomach the thought of my not having to work even a part time job while there are moms out there who have to work three just to make ends meet.

THIS, this right here, this guilt over having so much while others have so little- THIS is what gets my butt out of bed, and the diaper bag packed and flung, and my child packed into a carseat. This is a shitty way to be motivated: by guilt.

There is something else, too. There is fear. Fear that we won’t have enough one day. Fear that Burdy will get killed in a car accident and that we’ll have nothing. Fear that I’ll get brain cancer and that treatment will bankrupt us. My whole life, I’ve been operating with Plan B on in the background. Plan A looks great, and feels pretty good. But just in case of… you know… I’ve got a piggy bank ready to smash and a box of MREs in the basement. This dual existence- this straddling the here and now and the catastrophic future- this robs me of enjoying what I have. It’s what all the great philosophers and healers have been talking about for millennia. It’s Ram Das’s imperative. Be present in your life, or you will not enjoy living.

Also? My imagination is fierce. Maybe what I hear about is moms having to make these dire decisions, and maybe there are loads of them out there, but it’s not every single mom. There are others with the means to actually give money away, and maybe those moms are helping those other moms. Maybe, at the end of the day, everyone does what they can. Maybe I underestimate everyone’s resilience, just like I underestimate my kid’s ability to fall off a bed and recover. It’s a delicate thing, a very fine line between remaining empathetic to those in need, and not constantly labeling them “in need”. It serves no one to divide the world into have and have not, “in need”, and “doing okay”.   Aren’t we all a little of both at all times?


So I don’t “need” to work to make our household stay financially solvent. What I need is a way to keep my head active and engaged with adult activity. What I need is to get out of the house and away from the endless repetitive tasks of mothering a young child. Somehow, I have equated this need with the mandate to make money.

After all, I’m able bodied, I’m willing, and I already have a skillset that makes me employable. Shouldn’t I be working?

Should. That’s a dangerous word, that one. It’s been at the front of my marching orders my whole life. I should be a homeowner by now. I should have a marriage that looks like this, a family that looks like that. I should work as hard and as long as I can. I should have more money saved up. I should be published. I should have a few more things checked off the to do list by now. It’s a strange thing to be willingly guided by such a dangerous word for thirty some odd years.

Want. Now there’s a word that doesn’t come up for me much.

When you grow up poor, the concept of “wanting” becomes twisted. There is so much you want, and so much you don’t get. The want becomes a constant, an unattainable, this dream you paste into your head without a plan to reach for it. The constant want squanders all your energy and you stop making plans. Dreaming becomes a full time job. And when you’re not dreaming, you’re surviving. You do what you need to do to survive. You do what you should.


It’s my job now to look beyond the should and get to the want. And banishing the guilt for having wants in the first place. When I think of all those other parents out there, dealing with shoestring budgets, and layoffs, and illnesses and all the rest, I have to really work at setting aside the thoughts that sound like I should be a little more able to make this part time work thing happen.

The truth is that nothing good comes of guilt. Nothing. I’m going to promise myself that I’m going to be motivated by passion, and not by fear (thank you, sister of mine, for reminding me of this). If not for me, then for my tiny kiddo. This kiddo who, I swear, can sense the tension in my body when I’m frantically packing up a diaper bag, or tossing and turning the night before work. She knows. And I have the power, right here and now, to stop this endless cycle of doing things because we should. I have the responsibility to teach her that wants are just as important as the shoulds in life.

This is my job now. Not bookkeeping.

This is the work I am meant to do: to teach my kid that her passion should override her fear.  And she, in turn, will teach others.  And on and on and on until that guilt just dissolves into nothingness.

Thoughts On Mother’s Day


If there’s one thing I’m learning about motherhood, it’s that it’s a constant game of comparisons. I wouldn’t be asking myself “Am I doing this right?” so often if there weren’t so many agents out there reminding us that there IS a wrong (and a right) way to “do” motherhood. Of course, if you ask my husband, my mom, or my close friends, they’ll probably roll their eyes and pat me on the shoulder with that “you adorable idiot, you” face and remind me that I’m doing just fine. Then they’ll rip into a rant about the hundreds of people in this world legitimately fucking up their kids. So far, my kid isn’t dying of starvation or exposure, so, according to them, I seem to be nailing some things.

Others things? Other things not so much.

They might as well hand you a kit to deal with all the mom guilt you’ll be having when you leave the hospital. Here you are ma’am: your formula samples, your adult diapers, and ah yes, your Guilt Belt. Be sure to wear this every day for the rest of your life or you won’t be a real mother. Oh, chin up, lass, it’s not so bad! Everyone else is wearing one, too! What’s wrong? Are you already feeling bad about what the next eighteen years are going to look like even though your kid is only hours old? Ah then, wonderful! It’s working already and it’s not even on you!

First Time Colds


It’s Friday, which means I can finally admit this has been a hell of a week. Last week at this time, I was salivating over the thought of a whole fried fish and maybe some fried plantains for dinner. Later on that same night, I was cradling my feverish baby in my arms in a rocking chair in the dark.

Two different friends of mine both let me know this week that they were being biopsied for cancer. It was all terrible and scary. I can’t tell what was more depressing: that my friends have possible diagnoses, or that I’ve come to expect these phonecalls and emails with a certain regularity as I get older.

Every time I get this kind of news, I’m never quite sure what to say.  My brain goes right to the endgame. I can’t help it. I’m wired for tragedy or something. I have to remind myself that my husband and child are still alive and well and maybe we should not waste the weekend doing laundry and go out and see a mountain or something. News like this will re-order your priorities. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be constantly mindful of the order of these priorities withOUT the shitty cancer scare? Like, why do I need that cancer karate-chop to the back of the knees every few years? Why can’t I say FUCK IT to the laundry and the to-do list on the regular without it?



You guys, I’m going to be part of this national storytelling event in May called Listen To Your Mother. LTYM is sort of like the Moth, but all about moms, which is not nearly as Hallmark card-y as I am making it sound.  There will be no sixteen-inch rises on acid washed denim or “Live, Love, Laugh” painted on driftwood, just good old fashioned stories about sex, drugs, and motherhood.  Emphasis on the motherhood part, probably, but, hey, you never know.

Shout Out To My Fellow Hoarder Decorator


I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon this blog years ago, but holy smokes, what I do remember is not being able to get enough of it. I sat in my darkened office long after Burdy had gone to bed and crammed my guffaws into my sweater sleeve so as not to wake him. The next morning, Burdy asked me what was so important that I had to stay up half the night hunched over my computer screen.

A Case of Myopia Writ Large


Oh, hey!  It’s been a while, huh?

Like, nine whole months?  Yeah. Nine months. A lot can happen in nine months.  Niiiiine months.

Yeah, so I have a baby now, everyone.  Surprise!  World’s worst baby announcement right there, folks.

I didn’t mean to time it this way or anything.  It’s just that I’ve had a grand kick in the ass recently (a life-affirming, HELL YES kick in the ass) and it prompted me to wipe the dust off this blog and start writing here again.  So here we are, all new and shiny and old at once.