Tag Archives: mothering

Other People’s Boogers

Y’all know I am a fool about these kids in Carlos’ preK class. There are a couple that I am super foolish about and my heart is pinching up this week because Friday is the last day of school. I’ll probably never see these kids again. Their preK class is pulled together from schools all over the district, so they won’t all be moving to a different room on the same hallway next year.

We have been through a lot this year, so we took a selfie this week at the Moving Up ceremony.

My friends

My friends

The little girl with the award for Outstanding Bus Conduct is the Egyptian angel that I wrote about in The Least of These. For the first two months of school, she didn’t speak. Then one morning while we were building a tower with blocks, she held up a block and whispered, “red.” Look at how she sparkles.

The little girl in the red shirt, she’s my special baby. She gets more lap time than anyone else. She tucks her head under my chin and I tell her that her hair smells like coconuts and it’s my favorite smell in the whole world. She left some boogers on my shirt on Superhero Day but we found a solution. I’m going to miss that little girl. Every day I fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m a worthless piece of shit, but this girl sees something in me.

Mr Man posing in the back there? He’s a handful. One of the smartest kids in the class–been writing his name in a neat line since before Halloween. We play a game every morning where I sit next to Carlos in one of the tiny chairs and Mr. Man comes up behind me to tap me on the shoulder. I look one way and then the other–with him bobbing and ducking–and then I ask one of the other kids if someone is behind me. They giggle and say his name, but I pretend I can’t see him. He knows I love him. And I hope I will see him again one day.

The boy on the end there? He’s the quietest kid in the class–Silent E. He’s left the most boogers on my shirt lately. He loves his mama. One time when I was playing at his table, he touched my arm gently and pointed to his feet. “My mama got me new shoes.” I made a big fuss over them. Then a few weeks later, he whispered with his chin tucked down to his neck, “My mama car broke.” I was about to say, “Did she get it fixed?” but then I thought about how much that costs and said, “Oh, that’s a big problem, huh?” instead. He nodded and we left it at that.

Two weeks ago, Silent E was sobbing before school because he missed his mama. The teacher held him and rocked him. I held him for a while and his favorite sweatshirt that he wears every day smelled like old cigarettes.

A few mornings later, his friend came up to me and tattled that Silent E had been running in the classroom. I turned to him to remind him that it was a walking feet place and he shrunk away from me. His whole body got narrower. No matter how many times I said, “You’re not in trouble, honey!” he cowered in the corner of the reading area. He wasn’t playing, no faking. The idea twisted into my heart–Silent E already sees the world as a fearful place.

And wouldn’t you know it–once the teacher talked Silent E into joining the class on the rug, Mr Man threw something hard and it bounced up and hit Silent E right in the head. While the teacher dealt with Mr Man, I took Silent E in my lap and held him close. I floated my fingers back and forth from his brow to his cheek, up and down, to the same rhythm that we were rocking. He quieted some but was still hurting. When it was time to leave, I kissed him on the head. I went home and changed my boogery shirt.

I love this kid, and I don’t know what kind of world he lives in. But every day when it’s time for me to go, he gets in line for a hug. He’s little, so I pick him up in the air and whisper in his ear, “I love you. Go have a great day.” Same thing I say to Carlos, who mostly ignores me.

On Graduation Day, I waved to all the kids and took pictures, just in case their parents couldn’t be there. I called Silent E’s name from the bleachers and he waved back. After the ceremony (which Carlos sat out on the sidelines with G and me), we went back to the class for awards and snacks. Silent E lay in a tight little ball on the floor behind the teacher’s desk. I caught her eye and pointed to him. “Mama couldn’t come” she mouthed.

I sat down on the carpet with him. “I was so proud of you today! Which song was your favorite?” He didn’t answer. “Hey, I took some pictures of you–look.” He leaned over my phone and swiped through the photos. “How about I email these to your teacher and she can send them to your mom? Or maybe she can print them out and you can take them home?” He nodded silently. Then he got a long hug and left some boogers on my sleeve.

This morning he was wearing a new shirt. He pointed to a tiny cut on his leg. I asked what happened and Mr Man said, “He fell on the playground yesterday.” Silent E asked for two hugs today.

I tossed him into the air and caught him close, held him tight.

I don’t know where he will land. I don’t know where either of us will be in the fall, but Silent E taught me that other people’s boogers can be a real gift. A sign of trust, of love given with open arms.



The Meanest Thing I’ve Said to My Daughter, So Far

Sunday night, just before bath time, my last nerve ran out into the street and threw itself under a car. About 45 seconds after that, I made a simple request of my daughter. About a minute after that, I said the meanest thing I’ve said to her….so far.

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Vivi was supposed to be getting ready for her bath. I looked over and saw a stack of orange peels and other snack detritus on the coffee table in the den. From the couch, I hollered down the hall, “Come get your dishes and put them in the sink!”

She thundered down the hall, running wide open through the den and straight into the kitchen, right past me. Then she wandered back into the den.

“What are you DOING?” I asked.

“Seeing if I could outrun the cat.”


She meandered over to the coffee table, picked up a book that had been left open there earlier in the afternoon, and started to read. I gave it a few seconds then said, “DISHES.”

“Oh, right!” She came very very very close to the dishes, but then the cat walked by again and she pounced on him.

“Leave the cat alone and just take the dishes to the sink!” By now, she had the cat draped across her left arm like a dish towel and ignored me when I repeated, “Put the cat down!” With the cat wiggling to get free, she stacked her water cup on top of her plate. Teeter totter sway and wobble…y’all can see where this is going, right? I’m not sure if the cat knocked the cup over or the cup fell over and the water landed on the cat, but all of that happened at once and now we had a bigger mess and water all over everywhere.

And that’s when I blurted: “Why can’t you just……BE NORMAL….for one minute?”

I meant to say, “Why can’t you focus on this? Why will you not listen to me? Why can you not leave the goddam cat alone? Why can you not remember to clean up after yourself? When will you learn to respect the laws of physics? Especially where cats and water are concerned???”

Instead, I said “Why can’t you be normal?” And I’m still beating myself up for that.

She paused for a moment but didn’t answer me. I hope she was too busy dealing with the mess to register what I had said,

After the mess was sopped up and thrown away and Rufus had escaped to the backyard to recover his dignity, I should have apologized to Vivi for that word. She was already giggling in the tub. “Normal” is the last thing I want her to be. I want her to be clever and kind and free and confident and courageous and content. I want her to be herself, authentically and unapologetically. I also want her to put her own damn orange peels in the kitchen trash can. Not the wastebasket under the desk that only gets emptied every few weeks–the KITCHEN trashcan. And I want her to do that the first time she is asked, while bearing in mind that cats and water and gravity are all fickle fellows. I want her to be a centered individual who knows how to live in the world with other people.

Normal. Ugh. My daughter isn’t normal. But I didn’t need to remind her of that.

I’m beating myself up about this slip of the tongue. Worrying that this one thing will become the inner voice that she hears. Wondering if this was the straw that broke the daughter’s back.

The mom guilt is strong on this one. Was this my big mistake that wipes out every positive thing I’ve ever done for my girl? That’s what I worry about with EVERY mothering decision. I guess that’s….oh what’s the word?


You Saw Me

crying graffitiOne day, I walked into Carlos’ classroom with him. A little girl I hadn’t seen before was sitting all by herself in the book nook. She wore a pink plaid sundress, white sandals, and a big white ribbon in her hair. She was crying so hard that the bow bounced up and down with each shake of her little body.

The teachers and the rest of the class were going about their business. I’ve seen kids sitting alone like that before at the Calm Table, where they go to get away from the bustle of the classroom when they need to regroup. But this little girl wasn’t just sniveling or glowering–she hiccupped with each little sob.

I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t mind if I’m 15 minutes late…later, so I sat down next to her on one of those tiny chairs. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked with my hand on her back.

She snurfled out a, “I…want…mommy.”

“Oh, sugar. I bet you do. Well, I’m Carlos’s mommy. Would you like a hug?” She bobbed her dripping little chin and slid over onto my lap.

“Is this your first day?” She nodded. I asked her name and she told me. I patted her back and rocked her a little bit while the rest of the kids thundered around us.

I asked Carlos to come over and say hello and he did. I told her the names of the other kids but she shrank up against me when they got too close. She wasn’t ready for them.

She held a Barbie picture book in her hand so I asked her about it. For a few minutes, we talked about books and what kind of shoes we like and how purple is her favorite color.

When it was time for me to go, she wobbled a bit but held up. I hoped she would be there in the afternoon when I picked up Carlos so I could congratulate her for being brave. But she was already gone by the time I got there.

It took a few more days before we crossed paths again at drop off time. I walked Carlos out to the playground to join his class and a bright shiny girl waved across the distance. I waved back and called her name. She ran up to me and stopped about a foot away. Just beaming.

I said, “Hey! I know you!”

She giggled and said, “You saw me when I was crying!”

We’ve been friends ever since. Her choice of words has stayed with me–“You saw me when I was crying.” She could have said, “You gave me a hug” or “I sat on your lap.” But she experienced that moment as “you saw me.” I was struggling and you saw me.

Isn’t that what we’re all crying out for? To be seen.

Sometimes it’s easy for the mean voice in my head to convince me that I am The Invisible Girl. That I could sit right down in the center of the big spinning world and cry my eyes out, but the world would whirl right past me. It’s not true, but that mean voice is an inveterate liar.

To see someone. To walk up and say, “I see you there.” It’s the simplest of gifts.

your light

Mother Each Other

I’ve started doing this weird thing. When I hug someone, I don’t just do the hug and the pat on the back–I put my hand on top of their head and give a gentle pat. It’s such a mothery thing to do, the pat on the head. As if I am hugging them horizontally and vertically at the same time. OK that sounds weird. You know, the way you cradle a baby’s head when you’re holding them close.


I did it a few weeks ago to a total stranger. Heading down the hallway at Vivi’s school, I passed a young woman who was wiping tears behind her sunglasses. She was ducking her head and sobbing. I could have given her the head-tilt-sad-face combo and kept walking, but I stopped a few steps in front of her and asked, “Are you OK?”

“I just got some really bad news. These girls I went to school with were killed in a really bad wreck.” I wrapped her up in a hug and started mother-clucking.

“Oh, honey! That’s awful! Oh my goodness!” I patted her on the back of the head and let her cry for a few moments before letting go. “Are you OK to drive? Can I get you anything?”

She waved off the offer and said she just needed to get home. I told her to be careful then went on my way. Found out that night about the horrible wreck on I-16 that killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern.

Earlier that same day, I had sat in the sunshine with a friend whose life has been blown up in the last six months. I listened to him and told him what I knew about getting through hard times. When it was time to go, I hugged him and rested my hand on the back of his head. Held him close.

That instinct towards mothering the hurting–it put me in mind of a story my college sister Sally told about a moment she had at the school where she works:

“So yesterday I accidentally stabbed myself with a tiny screwdriver while changing the battery in my watch. (pretty par for Miss Graceful, here) I had to ask the school nurse for a band aid. Last night, as I was taking the bandage off, I flashed back to the moment with Mrs. F, the school nurse. She didn’t just hand the band aid to me. She opened it and carefully placed it on my wrist. Like a Mom. Then patted my arm and smiled. Like a Mom. And it struck me that as little girls we get “mothered-on” a lot. But when little girls grow up, we become mothers or mother figures to others and, for many of us, miss out on being “mothered-on.” Little boys get this attention as well, AND it continues into their adulthood. (If you don’t understand this point, you aren’t’ married or haven’t been long enough!) I think we can do better, my grownup girlfriends. Now go get a band aid and find a woman to “mother-on!” We all deserve this kind of love.”

bandageAmen, Sally, amen. Maybe my kids are so crazy about those Doc McStuffins bandages because they aren’t just a cool sticky thing with a picture–they’re visible reminders of how much they are loved. How their boo-boos will always be patted and kissed and fixed right up.

It’s the subtle difference in meaning between “loving someone” and “loving on someone.” One takes heart and the other takes heart and hands. One is an intransitive verb and one is very very transitive.

For Mothers Day this year? Let’s mother each other. Go find someone who’s hurting and love on them a little bit.



Carlos has been sick this week in that special confounding way that small children do.  He spiked a fever on Monday afternoon and had to leave school early, but after one squirt of Motrin he was chasing the cat around and giggling madly.  I stayed home with him all day Tuesday and felt like a real dummy because he was FINE.  We jumped on the trampoline, played in the sandbox, ate black grapes and dried apple chips in the sunshine, and we didn’t take a nap.

teddy-242868_640Then five minutes after the urgent care place closed, he reached up and touched his right ear gently and said, “Mommy, hurt.  Ouch.”  After a couple of hours of misery, his ear drum burst and the fever came raging back.  Ear infections are such assholes.  He spent the whole night suffering and I did too, right beside him.  Little ones get sick in the blink of an eye.  But they get better just as quickly.  Hopefully they do.

This is the first time that Carlos has been sick since he really started talking. “Ouch.” “Carlos hurts, Mommy.” “Carlos not want medicine.”  It’s always hard to see your child suffering, but it’s really difficult when they are old enough to communicate to you how bad they feel, but not old enough to understand how swallowing that yucky medicine is going to make their ear feel better.  Or why the kindly doctor needs to ram a swab in that pitiful ear to take a culture specimen.  Three-year-olds inhabit a very immediate world.  The hurt is right here, right now, but the healing is some other place, days away, down a strange path of jabs and glop and ointments.  He must think we are crazy to do these things to him.  


"Carlos water the flowlers."

“Carlos water the flowlers.”

And today?  He’s back to being his old self.  After dinner, when he told me that he didn’t want to take his medicine, I said, “I hear you.  I understand you don’t like it.  But Dr. Setia said that’s the best way to get your ear to feel better.  It won’t be for much longer.”  And dang if the little man didn’t sit there and take his glop and jabs and ointment like a champ.  We only had to chase him down the hall once and there was no hog-tying involved whatsoever.  

These moments of parenting remind me of what my sister said about doing a med school rotation in the Emergency Department:  “It’s hour after hour of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer chaos and panic.”  Yep.  

The Glameris Life

viviHow exactly did we end up HERE, you ask?


Last night, Vivi crowed, “Mommy!  I laid out my own clothes for tomorrow!”  I went into her room to ooh and ahh over her being so responsible…but all she had laid out was a diaphanous sequined sundress and a pair of pink high heels.

“Oh, sweetie.  I’m so proud of you for taking care of this.  I love the way this dress looks on you.  It’s for school, though, not dress up, so you’ll need to wear something under it, like some leggings or shorts.

She thought that was a grand idea.  She dug around in the “bottoms” drawer and came up with a pair of old brown yoga pants.

Okey dokey.

“How about a little jacket for the morning because it might be chilly?”  She frowned at the blue butterfly hoodie that I pulled from the closet.

“Can I just wear a shirt under it?”

Sure you can.

“I know you love these pink high heels, but they’re only for dress up, not for school.  You won’t be able to run or play or climb on things if you try to wear those.”

She brightened.  “I can wear my OTHER pink shoes!”

Of course you can.

So when she emerged in this riotously wonderful ensemble this morning, the only thing I could say was, “You look FANTASTIC!”  She smiled and spun a little so that the sundress flared out.

Her sister, lounging on the couch in a cloud of teenage disdain, asked, “Is it Tacky Day?”

Vivi looked at her in confusion and answered, “No, it’s Tuesday.”


Do you let your kids out of the house in their own creations?  I do, but I worry.  I worry that someone will make fun of her.  Someone will break her heart.  Someone will think she’s weird.  But I shut my mouth because I want her to pay more attention to the bold voice within her than she pays to the timid voices around her.  Especially the frightened one in my head that says, “Fit in. Lay low. Don’t attract the attention of the carnivores.”

And wouldn’t you know, Vivi’s schoolwork folder contained an essay that made me think we might be on the right track:


     By Vivi

I am a book worm.

I am nice to others.  My mom

sas I am glameris.  I have lots

of talints.  I love to play

Dragon City on my sisters ipad.

If you say Im alwasy an arihead,

your rong.  I stay as calm as in

egal.  Im sometimes loud but

I can be qiet too.


This is the drawing she did to go along with her essay.  She drew herself as a lion, surrounded by a mane of “adjtives” that describe her:

vivi lion


She’s glameris and frindly and amaginitiv and talinted.  Most days, my only hope is to keep her spirit intact.  She’s ALREADY OK.

She’s not wasting time worrying about carnivores because she’s the straight up Queen of the Jungle.

(And if I said that to her, she would correct me to point out that lions do not live in jungles; they live on the grassy savannas of Africa.)

Little Old WHAT?


THIS is a "granny."

THIS is a “granny.”

My writer friend Chris taught me a lesson this week and I appreciated her opening my eyes.  Because, like most lessons, it came right back to bite me in the butt within 48 hours.

On Monday, I wrote that story “Shine Through” about my return to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend.  In it, I made an offhand reference to “eavesdropping on a couple of little old ladies.”  Chris emailed me later that day and said,

“Hey, I think we’re good enough friends for me to say this.  (We are.)  ‘Little old ladies?’  Think about removing that from your vocabulary.  It’s talking in stereotypes.  Would you call me that?”

Now, for the record, Chris IS somewhat of an authority on this because she is an actual five-foot-tall woman who has been celebrating birthdays since 1932.  So technically, someone could look at her and think little + old + lady.  But that someone would be seeing an idea of her, not her.


I replied, “Of course I wouldn’t call YOU that!  You’re a badass.”  This woman is funny and smart and iron-jawed and gentle and fierce and kind.  She’s had her heart broken beyond measure.  She was a computer programmer when that was a man’s game.  She’s a grandmother to two of the coolest kids in the world.  She’s facing a tough Mother’s Day this year because her daughter died in the fall.  She knits.  She doesn’t cook.  She writes stories.  She’s a breast cancer survivor.  She’s my friend.

If you saw her toodling down the street in her big ole Buick, white curls blowing in the breeze and a sensible sweater over her shoulders, you wouldn’t know all those things about her.

Sure, “little old lady” isn’t the worst thing you can call someone, but it’s dismissive in a thoughtless way.  It doesn’t see the real person, just the stereotype.  That’s why I thanked Chris for saying something.

And then came the aforementioned biting of the butt.  Two moments happened to me this week that had me thinking about age and the assumptions we make based on it.

The first moment happened at that same Wesleyan reunion.  After the big meeting, my classmate Tara and I were standing on the front porch talking in the sunshine.  As people came and went, I spoke to just about everyone.  Gave some directions.  Answered questions about events.  Near us, an alumna sat in one of the rocking chairs.  At one point, she reached out for my arm and asked, “Are you a student?”

Oh, how Tara and I laughed!  My first thought was that I was just so darn cute and charming that she thought I was still a teenager. Easy mistake to make!  I leaned closer to her so she could see my gray hair and said, “Good grief, no!  I’m 45 years old!”  I giggled a girlish little giggle.

She flapped her hand at me and said, “Oh, well…I’m blind.”


That explains it.  I owe my youthful charm to macular degeneration.

The second thing that got me thinking about age happened yesterday.  We had that awful windstorm in the early morning so trees were down all over town.  Carlos’ day care had to close because they had no power.  He and I had an impromptu adventure day together.  We came home from our trip to the library to discover that two fire trucks were parked on our street, just a couple of doors down.  We wandered over to see what was going on.  A tree had fallen onto a power line and caused some sparking, so the fire fighters were babysitting it (their words!) until the power company could get there.  We had one 3-year-old boy who likes fire trucks right there with six bored fire fighters, a fire truck that still smelled like smoke from an earlier call, and a gigantic hook and ladder truck.  Carlos was in heaven!

Those men were so sweet to my boy.  Carlos doesn’t like loud noises, so he stood there the whole time with his hands over his ears, worried that the siren was going to surprise him.  One man opened the doors of the truck, showed Carlos the hatch on the front that holds the nozzle, even offered to let him sit in the driver’s seat.  Carlos just said, “No!” and “Wow!”  It was precious.  One of the older fire fighters and I were talking about the whole fear of loud sounds thing.  He said his granddaughter doesn’t even like it when his cows get to mooing.

Anywho…after a while they got the word that one truck could leave.  So the nice fire fighter looks at Carlos and says, “Ask Granny to take you back in the yard now!”


Excuse me?

GRANNY???  It’s not the first time someone has mistaken me for Carlos’ grandmother.  I do have silver hair and an imperious bosom.  But DANG.  Do I look like a GRANNY?  Maybe a “Mimi” or a “Nana” or something sassy like “Gigi” or “GaGa” but GRANNY???


Who does he think I am, some little old lady?



Get to know Chris better through this wonderful blog post:  “Child of the Thirties.”  It even has pictures!