(Did I mention that I’m taking the first creative writing class of my life? It is a memoir class at the Downtown Writers Center, which is part of our YMCA. This is one of my submissions. Not new in terms of theme, hell, I’ve blogged about some of the specifics before. But a little more stand alone than most of my posting here.)

“How is it that you always look so calm and relaxed?” my friend asks as she hustles her kids across the parking lot.

“Ha!” I call back flustered. “Um…Lots of psychotropics?”

I buckle myself into the seat and let the giddiness wash over me. I am strong. I am powerful. I have proof that when people look at me they see someone who is completely normal. No, forget normal. Calm. Relaxed even. I win. I motherfucking win.

A few minutes earlier my pulse quickened as the parking lot came into view. Tom’s drop off at school had been later than I liked and I tore over to South Campus. Was there still a spot relatively close to the door on the right hand side? Was a car from the other direction going to get to the lot ahead of me and take the spot I needed? What would happen if I couldn’t find a space on the right anywhere?

My shoulders floated down from my ears and my heart rate slowed. A space was open. Charlie and I held hands as we walked towards his school. My left foot took the step up the curb and onto the sidewalk. At the gate I pushed the lock with my left hand and ushered him under my arm. I hoisted him up to press the bell and grabbed the door handle with my left hand when the click sounded. Left foot carefully cleared the threshold and into the vestibule. Left hand on the next door. Left foot over the next threshold.

After the hug and kiss goodbye, both repeated until they felt exactly right, I wished the green room kids a great day as I rounded the corner towards the two-way mirror. I watched Charlie, waiting until it was safe to tear my eyes away from him.

There are rules. If he is touching an orange toy I must wait until he has played with something else. If he is unhappy I must wait until he calms. Many mornings the moment happens almost instantly and I head back to the car. Left hand on the door handle, left foot over the threshold and repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Each movement I make, each choice is an opportunity to fail. My left arm tingles. It knows it needs to be the first to touch something. If I take an improper step I can feel the burn along the bottom of my foot. The panic radiates up my leg and I must repeat the mistake with my other foot to even out the fear until it begins to dissipate. The rules change all the time. A shirt, a pair of socks can become good or bad. A fight with Zeke or a bad afternoon with the kids, and I realize the fault lies with a sartorial choice I made that morning. The unpleasantness could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so damned stupid.

Remembering the rules takes an embarrassing amount of energy. Energy that should be spent on the kids or cleaning the neglected house. Your fault, your fault, your fault runs in a loop through my mind. If I get sloppy the whole world will fall apart. My fault.

Living the rules is suffocating. But I welcome how they consume me. If I’m being a good girl, if I follow them closely I don’t have the bandwidth to face what my mind hisses at me. Most humans can get through the day without having to take drugs for their brains, Karen. Most moms can parent without a pill, Karen. It was selfish and cruel to have kids knowing they could be like you, Karen. Any person who thinks they are powerful enough to stop bad things from happening based on which hand touches a door first is pathetic and a narcissist, Karen. You are worthless, Karen. You are an albatross around the neck of your family, Karen. You are disgusting. People only look at your with pity, Karen.

The rules are a small price to pay if they drown out the thoughts in my brain. They focus my fear so it doesn’t swallow me whole until I cannot leave the house. They are my guidebook to venturing out in the world. Most of the time I can handle school drop off and the grocery store and social niceties. I just have to follow the rules. Pay attention. Accept it is my fault if a mistake is made or the rules change and I don’t anticipate it. Know that I can’t fix a mistake right away if I screw up. I must live with the shame and fear and consequences of my actions.

The rules save me. The rules trap me. I cannot bear looking weak to others. I act perfectly normal until I can’t act anymore and then I hide. I smile and chitchat and agree to show up at your house for dinner. I do not show up to your house for dinner. I am sorry.

Charlie is safe at school. I grab the door with my left hand, left foot over the threshold. The dad in front of me holds open the outer door. No rules broken, not if I don’t have to touch the door at all. Left foot over the threshold. Behind the dad and through the gate. Left foot steps down the curb onto the asphalt.

“How is it that you always look so calm and relaxed?” my friend asks as she hustles her kids across the parking lot.

“Ha!” I call back flustered. “Um…Lots of psychotropics?”


Sometimes you wake up to find your kid quietly playing legos next to you.


Hey! Ho! Let’s go!


Finishers in the half mile fun run yesterday!


Since the New Year our life has been charged with excitement and worry. Z has been in the long process of interviewing for a tenure track position at SU. Long story short: he got the job. The tenure process takes six years. We feel pretty committed to Syracuse now. We want this city to be our long term home.

My anxiety has spiked once again. Dealing with the stress and unknown is not something I do with grace. In the back of my mind I also knew Z’s Japan trip was looming. He is teaching a class there for four weeks this spring. He leaves on Sunday. The anticipatory nature of my anxiety disorder has been rearing her ugly head.

In the last few weeks I have ballooned into a round and swollen version of myself. At least that is what I see every time I glance in a mirror. I’ve pretty much stopped looking. The voice is back that tells me I am disgusting and worthless and an object of pity. I’m scared of getting through the next month. I’m scared I am not a good enough mom to be alone with the boys for so long.

My parents are coming for the first week. They spoil my whole family rotten. My friends have assured me they will be here for support. Still, I am turning in on myself and pulling away.

Crazy folks need a crazy friend. Someone who gets living with chronic mental illness. Someone who understands in their bones when you share that you are struggling. My crazy friend moved at the end of last year. I miss him so much that I haven’t let myself process his absence.

The four women who are my closest friends are a lifeline to me. But none of them have been chronically mentally ill. Last week I put on my big girl pants and emailed them to tell them I’m having a hard time. When we are all together and I say that I’m ok….well, I’m really not ok. Just sending the note removed a weight from my chest. These women have my back.

Z is in New York until tomorrow afternoon for an end of the school year event. Our gang tends to do a potluck dinner on Wednesday nights. I hosted this week. We sat in my backyard and my friend told me they all wanted to get me a Mother’s Day present. I got red in the face and apprehensive. We are all moms. Why would they get me something?

My friend explained that she knew I was anxious about the state of my house with my parents coming. We are slobs, Z and I. Terrible terrible slobs. On Saturday my friends want to arrange a cleaning service to get the house in order. I worked really hard not to cry. It was too much. I didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to accept such a huge gift. A few minutes passed and the conversation moved on. Eventually I turned back to her. “I would love to have the house cleaned.” It was hard to say and I was choking on the guilt. But I accepted their kindness.

The anxiety is never going to go away. But it is not preventing me from being loved and cared for. It isn’t preventing me from loving others back.

Syracuse is our home. We are happy. Now. Today.

I have never trusted happiness. It can be snatched away for a million reasons. Acknowledging it means tempting fate. Yes, tragedy and sorrow can hit our life at anytime. I’ve suddenly realized that isn’t a reason to shy away from happiness, rather it is a compelling reason to enjoy the happiness while it is here.

Am I scared shitless about Z’s Japan trip? Yup. Is my anxiety worse than it has been in a long time? Yessir. Do I despise myself right now? I do.

All of that did not stop me from enjoying the triple date we went on last Friday. Six of us piled into our friends’ minivan. We were a cliche of “Parents’ Big Night Out!” and I loved every second. The bad stuff didn’t stop me from enjoying Z’s birthday part on Sunday night. We had more than 30 people over for the first backyard barbecue of the season.

Good shit is happening here. Z and I are happy. The boys are happy. We have friends that we would do anything for. And it turns out they would do anything for us as well.

lots of boys at the zoo

Taking a bunch of boys to the zoo.

the mighty salt city

Z’s early 42nd birthday present by awesome local artist Cayetano.

zeke 42

Singing Happy Birthday to Z. When I lit the candles I accidentally blew them out along with the match the first time.

handsome man

Painting banners for the annual Carnival at T’s school.

I Don’t Know How to Talk to My Kindergartener About Race

T included a classmate in a drawing at school. He wrote the child’s name and put a label beside the picture. Black. Another student informed the teacher who took T aside and explained they do not use terms like white and black at school because those words can hurt feelings. His teacher assured me he was using the word as a descriptor and not out of meanness.

I get it. And I don’t get it. And I get it.

We live in a city. T goes to our local public school. It is very diverse, both economically and racially. Every child in the school receives free breakfast and lunch. Since the beginning of the year he has had a lot of questions about his classmates. Only occasionally are they about race, but those are the ones that I remember. What does black mean? What color am I? What does white mean? Do we have any black people in our family? Why not?

In our school there is a correlation between race and privilege. It is uncomfortable and impossible to ignore. There are extracurricular events arranged by the PTO; STEM night, mini academies, the neighborhood 5K, marching in a local parade. The same kids and parents are always involved. Of course the segregation is not 100%, but again, impossible to ignore.

Forget my kid, I don’t know how to talk about race period. I notice a gap between the experience of T and some of his peers. I notice the gap only widens by the higher grades. Does it help to talk about it? Do I dare talk about it as a white woman who is incredibly privileged? Can I do something to help? Is trying to do something to help an example of privilege trying to solve problems it doesn’t understand?

How do I explain race issues in America to a five year old when I can’t wrap my brain around them myself?

If the rule is we don’t use color as a descriptor at school that is fine. It is easy to tell him that the color of a person’s skin has nothing to do with who that person is. It is harder to explain why addressing race is a minefield in America.

“We need to talk about something serious, T. I need you to focus.”

“Ok. But can we stop at Target after swim lessons to get one of those squishy Transformer things? From the dollar section?”

“You are not listening. And no, no toys. You need to focus.”


“You know how we have talked about women being treated like less than men?”


“So 100 years ago women couldn’t vote. Women used to belong to their husbands. They couldn’t own property. You know how Daddy and I own our house together? A long time ago I wouldn’t be able to own a house.”


“It used to be like that for black people. Actually the white people came to this part of the world and they took the land from Native Americans. And then they brought people here from Africa and made the those people slaves. You remember what slave means?”

“Yeah. Um…uhhh. To take somebody away and never let them go back?”

“Yes, to own a person. Which is terrible thing. So white people were in charge and they made really bad choices about how to treat people who looked different from them.”

“If white people were in charge were white women in charge, too?”

“Nope. Not for a long time. If you were a white woman or a person who had darker skin you were not treated equally. And the problem is that even though now there are laws to make people treat women and darker skinned people equal it doesn’t happen all the time.”

“If I went back in time I would be really nice to women and people with different colored skin.”

“I really hope that you would be.”

“And I would be mean to white men to teach them a lesson.”

“Oh baby. No. I don’t want you to be mean to anyone. I wouldn’t want you to go back and be mean to white men. Maybe if you went back in time you could try to change their minds about the way they treat anyone who is different.”


“Listen, there are good white men and bad white men and good women and bad women and good black people and bad black people. Because we are all human and we are all born equal to each other. And there are good people and bad people in this world, but that has to do with who we are on the inside, not what we look like on the outside. Just because white men made bad choices a long time ago doesn’t mean that all white men are bad. Is that daddy bad? Is granddad? Is grandpa? Are you?”


“Dude, this is so complicated. It is so complicated that using colors to talk about people’s skin can be hurtful and we need to be extra careful at school not to do it because those are the rules. But it is ok to think about how people look different. It is ok to talk about it. You need to be aware that people with darker skin are still treated unfairly too often and we need to speak up when we see that happen. You need to understand that you will be given extra opportunities as a white man that have nothing to do with how hard you work. And that is not fair. It also isn’t your fault, but you need to be aware of it.”





“Stop it Mom!”



Is this enough? Is what I said appropriate? I have no idea. How do you explain institutional racism to a 5 year old? The amount of discomfort I feel about it tells me we need to be talking about it. Even if I screw it up. We need to keep talking until we get it right. I don’t want him to carry the guilt of the choices his ancestors made. At the same time he must understand he occupies a place of privilege in this world that he did not earn, but that he was born into.


This kid is trying to figure stuff out.

Syracuse Half Marathon

A couple of weeks ago I took a spur of the moment trip down south and was at my sister’s house in NC for an evening. My best friend from high school lives about 45 minutes south of B and was able to drive up for dinner. We haven’t been in touch for a couple of years, but we have the special sort of relationship in which it seems no time at all has passed between visits. I opened the door to greet her and she commented on the change in my appearance.

My face got read, “Yeah, um….I started running.”

She burst into hysterical laughter.

Please understand there was not a trace of unkindness in that laughter. It was the perfect reaction. She has known me for 24 years, even though we have been out of touch she still knows me better than most people. Actually, her shock at my news illustrates how well she does know me. She would have had an easier time believing it if I’d told her I was pregnant with one of the Nelson Twins love child. And yes, let’s just get this out of the way, we did go see Nelson when we were in 8th grade. It was 1991. What do you want from us? They were beautiful!

She texted me a couple of days after I got home. She went running. I couldn’t stop smiling. Turns out a bunch of people I know have started running either again or for the first time after being kind enough to read about me blundering through the process. I’m more proud of helping motivate folks (just like my friend Kelly motivated me) than I am of the running itself. The reason I think friends have decided to give it a try after seeing my struggles and little victories is because it is so unlikely that I’ve stuck to it. It is impossible to look at me without thinking “If she can do it, I can definitely do it!”

These friends that have started running? A lot of them are way better at it than I am. A lifetime of inactivity, almost a decade of being overweight, never being physically fit all add up to a very slow runner indeed. Sheer will that I didn’t know I possessed keeps me going, but my name should be tortoise. I am slow and steady.

One of these friends, T, decided to come visit and run the Syracuse Half Marathon with me. She had done a few 5Ks. She injured herself in January and came back from it, training outdoors to be ready for the race. This was her first half.

She and I watched the weather report last week as the high for Sunday dropped from the 30s to the 20s to the low 20s. The race started at 8am. We wouldn’t even be touching the highs. The cold wasn’t my only issue. Our winter was so harsh that I skipped many training runs. I was woefully unprepared. The night before the race we followed the race map and drove the course. Fear settled like a brick in my stomach. It was hilly. Really really hilly. Super hilly. Frighteningly hilly.

T and I did a quick 15 minute run to loosen up a bit on Saturday. It was clear she was much faster than me. She also said that this was the only half she was interested in running. She wanted us to stick together, but this was her only shot. I wanted her to rock it. On Sunday we stayed together for less than a mile, partway up the first never ending hill of the race, before she took off.

The conditions were brutal. Temps held steady at 17 and it had snowed an inch overnight. T rocked it. She finished 20 minutes before I did. She was incredible. It is pretty great to be proud of someone and in awe of them at the same time. It’s pretty great to know I played a small part in her decision to start running. It’s pretty terrible to feel a twinge of jealousy that she is so much faster than I am. Thankfully the petty jealousy exists outside the pleasure I feel for her.

And it turns out I PRed the race. Barely a minute faster than last time, but with the cold and the hills and the undertraining I’ll take it. For most of us non-elites the only one we are competing with is ourselves. I might be jealous of T’s speed, or my friend A’s speed, or my friend K’s, or my friend N who ran for her university and with a semi-pro club for a time. But they all run their own races. And I want them to do the best they possibly can. I just wish my best looked a little bit more like theirs.

T might have started running in part because of me, but I look at her and see the kind of runner I hope to be someday. To be honest, I look at her and see the kind of mother and person I hope to be someday as well. Don’t know how I got lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who are such extraordinary people. But I will keep on learning from them as long as they let me hang around.

syracuse half marathon


And a big thanks to the wonderful folks who supported us yesterday. Z for kid wrangling. E for making us post-race soup. L and E and D for cheering me on at the finish. E and E and R and E and L for joining us at lunch. I don’t know what I did to deserve you guys, but I love you all.

Report Card

A couple of weeks ago I trudged through the snow towards the kindergarten door at T’s school. A gaggle of middle school girls breezed by and I noticed one of them waving a small manila envelope. Goosebumps erupted from my scalp to my toes.

It was a report card envelope.

In the fall we had parent teacher conferences and the first report cards were distributed then. Seeing the envelope in that girl’s hand was a complete surprise, and I could not wait to hustle T home to see if he had one too. I wanted to peek into his bag as soon as we were back in the car, but I made myself wait, savoring the anticipation and excitement. By the time we got to the house I was lightheaded and giddy.

At the thought of looking at my kindergardener’s report card.

When I was growing up I was not a popular kid. I was not a beautiful kid. I was not an athletic kid. I was a smart kid. Everyone looks for an identity as we grow. Honestly, I would have loved to find mine as a popular kid or a beautiful girl, but smart is what I had. So I clung to it.

Over the years I’ve come to realize I am not anywhere as smart as I thought I was back then. But in childhood being grouped with the smart kids made me feel like I belonged. Excellent academic performance was not just expected, it was required. If we weren’t in the National Honor Society how would we get into a great college? My sister and I were good girls. We got into great colleges.

This is the baggage I hauled into the kitchen with me as I opened T’s report card. It was excellent. T is a bright kid. His preschool teacher called him her little thinker. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Most of the 3s he got in the fall had turned into 4s. At the parent teacher conference we were told they don’t give 4s in the fall because it doesn’t give the kids any room for improvement.

“They don’t give 4s in the fall, but T got one 4.” I bragged to my friend.

“Wow. What was it in?”

“Homework. I always make sure he hands it in early.”

“Oh, so YOU were actually the one who got a 4.” My friend is incredibly smart, way smarter than I am. She nailed it. My pleasure in that 4 could not have been a clearer red flag that I was being nuts when it came to T’s performance in kindergarten.

The second part of T’s report card was a series of standardized test results. Like in the fall, his scores were terrific. All but one. He was a few points below the expectation in one.

The room started to spin, my ears started ringing, the lightheadedness increased.

That one score invalidated every good thing I’d read. I panicked. Should I call Z? My parents? What were were going to do? What had I failed to teach T? When was the soonest I could get a parent teacher conference with his teacher? Should I email her right away or talk to Z first? What were we doing to do?

I gulped in some big, deep breaths. My mind cleared a bit.

What the hell was I doing?

T is five. He is in kindergarten. He is happy and learning and figuring out how to be a student. He is thriving. I am so proud of him.

Do I want him to see me losing it over one score out of many on his report card? Do I want to put that kind of pressure on him? On the flip side, do I want him to see me being thrilled over the good marks? Do I want him to think that my approval is tied to his academic performance? Is that fair to him? Is that the kind of Mom I want to be?

I called my parents and told them the whole story. They talked me off the ledge. Near the end of the conversation I told them I was still probably going to contact the teacher to come up with strategies around the lower score. Obviously I had not really internalized my big realizations about not pressuring my five year old. They gently helped me see that there was nothing to contact T’s teacher about. T was fine. I was obviously an insane helicopter mom, but T was fine.

That night I got an email from my dad with a link for a news story out of Staten Island. A mom allegedly threatened to bomb her daughter’s high school after learning that the girl failed a standardized test. My father, sarcasm oozing off of the computer screen, indicated her reaction was completely reasonable. I laughed so hard I cried. And then I cried for real.

T is not me. He is not a chance for me to relive and improve upon parts of my childhood. My son’s kindergarten report cards have no bearing on his academic future. Being a smart kid in kindergarten doesn’t mean he will always be a smart kid. Intelligence is not a measure of worth. This is a time for T to grow and learn and not be faced with pressure, especially additional pressure from his mother. My husband and I came up with a list of three things the boys need to do in order to make us proud: Be kind. Try hard. Treat girls the same way they treat boys. The three things are a mantra in our house. There is nothing about report cards or intelligence on that list.

I screwed up big time. Big time.

In the five short years I’ve become a mother a chasm has cracked open separating the kind of Mom I want to be from the kind of Mom I am. Five years doesn’t feel long enough for it to have become so deep and wide. Seems like I have much more work to do than T does.

airplane T

This kid’s report card doesn’t matter.

100 days of kindergarten

What matters is how much he loves kindergarten. The class made crowns celebrating completing 100 Days. At first he was crushed because he thought kindergarten was over and he didn’t want it to be. But he got into the celebration when he learned he has months left. His love of school is the only rubric we need right now.

T thrown in the snow

Playing in the snow after school.

Crisis of Confidence

My body rebelled as soon as my feet hit the treadmill. I spun around and darted down the stairs and back to the locker room to swallow some Imodium and rush to the toilet. A few minutes later I forced myself back up the stairs and onto the same machine. Less than half a mile in I felt like I was dying. At two miles I couldn’t bear it any longer and walked for the next quarter of a mile.

The Syracuse Half Marathon is just over a month away and I haven’t completed a long run over 8 miles since the half I did in October. Last week I ran 8 total. Today’s 4 was the first running I’ve done this week. And I walked a half a mile of that.

Today I realized I might not finish the race in March. I just might not have it in me. There are a million excuses why, the weather is freezing and snowy, I can’t hack treadmills, T is on winter break, we traveled to see family and brought the snow and cold temperatures with us more than 600 miles south. This is the point in the training when I am supposed to be doing more than 30 miles a week. My week so far: 4, really 3.5.

Tomorrow the windchill will be -30 and we will have several inches of fresh snow on our poorly plowed streets. We haven’t had temps above freezing since January 29th.

All of that sucks, but like I said it is also excuses. Running gives me something to hold onto, a semblance of control. If I can force my body to go ten miles without stopping I can force myself to muscle through the anxiety. Without it I am unmoored. The anxiety washes over me in waves. I call Z almost in tears from the YMCA, interrupting him while he is teaching, to tell him I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day until he gets home. I am jittery and have no patience for the kids as we make our way through airport security. I punish myself by denying myself rescue medicine for hours as the anxiety takes over and ruins the day for the whole family.

Nine more days until this evil month, the longest of the year and you cannot convince me otherwise, is over. It is exactly 0 degrees as I type this. On March 22nd I may not be able to run 13.1 miles, but it will certainly be warmer than it is today or tomorrow or the next day. If I don’t finish the race I will still be working my way back to the place where sweating through the miles proves that I can do hard things. If I can run for two hours without stopping I can face life outside the carefully constructed routine that comforts me and restricts Z and the boys.

photo (51)


last week snow

Last week.

 today snow


silhouette C

Beautiful C in the big bay window at my in-law’s house.

Teeth Brushing

T didn’t want the tooth fairy to take his teeth away because he is planning on bringing them with us when we visit his Granddad and Grandmom. Last time we were down there Granddad pulled out one of his microscopes and T was mesmerized as he looked at treasures found in the yard magnified many times over. In the cavity of one of his teeth blood is visible. T is giddy about getting a closer peek.

The teeth are in a round metal craft container with a glass lid. They live next to his bed and he looks at them often. Last week he brought the container into the bathroom and informed us he needed to brush the two teeth after he finished with the ones still in his head. Bedtime was rushed that night because Z was headed to a band practice, so we told him he could the next morning. Next morning we were running late for school. And so on and so on. Until last night when he finally got his chance.

I had been hurrying to get a small load of the boys’ laundry folded before we started the reading portion of our bedtime routine. T caught my eye as I began to bustle past the bathroom door, my arms filled with his clothes.

He stood with his floppy hair dangling in his eyes, his body both tiny and so unbelievably big not yet dry from the bath. His electric Transformer toothbrush buzzed away in his hand, the other hand gripping his tiny baby tooth firmly as he gently brushed away. He had a look of fierce concentration on his face.

I watched him at the door and the stress of dealing with two stir crazy boys on a snow day was forgotten. I was filled with a breathtaking feeling of tenderness. Five plus years into this parenting gig and I still get overwhelmed by how much I love these boys. Most days I’m frustrated and whiney and bitchy, but that is all bluster and noise.

I love them enough to put aside sarcasm and my impulse to make everything into a joke for a moment to be nakedly sincere. Since the day T was born my capacity to love has grown exponentially. In the moments when I feel the full weight of that love I can almost see it, it tethers the boys to me. There is a hole in my chest, exposing my internal organs. It makes me feel frighteningly vulnerable and invincible at the same time. My love for them makes me feel fully alive. And I am so grateful.


He added the little legos and calls them his jewels.

post haircut

Post haircut on a snowy day.