Wednesday, December 23, 2009


It’s Christmas, but you wouldn’t know it by my house, which has no tree, no wrapped presents, no fauxflake or stocking or stray spray of tinsel. It’s not because I’m a curmudgeon. I just started thinking: What do we need that we don’t have? What do we want that we don’t get nearly as quickly as the thought pops into our heads? While this condition is much the same for us every year, it’s the first time I have been stricken by the absurdity—of frantic shopping, of wrapping surprises on the same pre-scheduled day as most of this country and some of the world, as if we’d deprive our child, now too old (not to mention too Jewish) to believe in Santa, of her reasonable heart’s desires for an entire year, as if we should have waited on Hendrix the Creature, her pet bearded dragon. As if guitar picks should be stocking stuffers rather than tools of her trade.

As I sit here, my daughter is pounding insanely on the drums while her friend makes repetitive keyboard sounds, my husband is watching some dull war documentary, the kitchen countertop is covered with crumbs, my back is sore, and my dogs are where they always are—beneath my feet, a perpetual tripping hazard—one of them, Cleo, snoring so loudly that I can hear her over the drums.

But I am practicing a new craft. I am waving away the fog of depression, turning the ugly floaters into the swirling glitter of a snow globe. My daughter taught herself how to play the drums, and she’s good; she has a friend with her, and they are making music, not noise. My husband is watching the movie on our brand new shiny iMac. My counter is crumby because I’ve just made warm, delicious brownies filled with the free bag of chocolate chips Safeway gave us for spending twenty bucks on the ingredients for brownies and chicken stew. My back is sore because I’ve been standing up playing guitar, something I couldn’t do a few months ago. And my dogs are beautiful; at fourteen, Cleopatra’s cacophony is a comfort because it means she is still alive.

If I have a resolution for the coming year, it’s to practice more of this kind of witchcraft, to discover a way to transmute anxiety and sadness into something bright and gleaming, something the crow dragged in.

I have spent far too much of 2009 listing the things that have gone wrong. It’s not that I didn’t earn the right, but pacing back and forth along this path has put a rut in it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s as awful as it is habitual. Now the rut is a damned trench, which makes the climb out a little tougher. All I really need to do is start filling it with each good thing until that, the filling, becomes my groove.

Habits, old or new, are hard to break; however, I’m wise enough to know that my blessings are many. My family, friends, and social networks have literally kept me alive when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay that way. We had foster families at the beginning of this year, people who fed us and drove us around and made sure we were safe.

Before I sat down to review the year, I’d already panned 2009, in my mind worse than at least forty other years. But some pretty remarkable things happened this year.

• I knitted and sold enough scarves to help pay for an expensive chair, which was instrumental in my recovery.

• I ran almost two miles six months after back surgery.

• I felt the force of several thousand crows lifting off from a field where I stood.

Bob Schneider sat next to me in my car, and, a week later, I got to hang out for half an hour with the very cool Chuck Prophet.

• I have written at least five really good songs this year and will record them in the studio soon.

• I was in two movies, I Will Smash You and 60 Writers, 60 Places, both of them released recently. In two different glowing reviews, my parts were singled out for positive acknowlegment.

• My daughter, Serena, got straight A pluses (except for the A in religion), improved her saxophone, guitar, and drum playing and her singing. She landed the acoustic intro to one of my favorite songs ever, “ Crazy on You,” by Heart, for the Seattle Sounds show in January, and she’s nailing it.

The Book was published! Let Me Eat Cake was not the best book ever written, and I got down on myself a lot after negative reviews, but you know what? Simon & Schuster liked it enough to pay me for my words and to publish them with a beautiful cover and pictures inside. I don’t know too many people who can say that. So there!

I’m not completely skipping gifts and holiday cheer, but I am finally questioning them in light of our dwindling bank account and increasing debt and dismal prospects for employment. And all we have already and all we discard every day. For instance, this week, I’ve received ten Christmas cards in the mail. Half were store bought; the other half were personalized with family photos. Not a single one of the senders wrote more than a generic, nameless greeting and a signature. I appreciate that you thought of me among the mountain of friends who give your hand a writer’s cramp each year, that you’d truly like me to have a blessed holiday, that you’d share your beautiful family with mine. But tell me something—that I’m a good neighbor, a good friend. Tell me you love me and my family, that we’ll make an effort to get together more this year, that you hope my back heals, that I write another book, that I stay with my husband for the 28th year. Make me laugh or think or cry over your sentiment. Those are the cards I save and reread when I need a quick reminder that I’m worthwhile. Unfortunately, my recycling bin fills up first.

So many of you have touched my soul this year. Telling you each might take me the majority of 2010. Until I do, please enjoy the card I made from photographs of the beautiful snow, an icy windshield, and the birds I love. Print it out if you’d like to keep it. When I see you next, I’ll write on the back of it what I love most about you.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

bmm: bad mommy moments

In the following story, the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Photos are for illustration purposes only and do not depict actual persons or television shows.

A friend of mine, Mary, is a little stressed out. In addition to her nearly full-time career, she has two kids in different schools, both involved in sports and artistic endeavors, and her husband is mostly away.

She wakes her son, Ken, for school every day at about 7; he’s usually quick to get ready, and they’re a family of late sleepers, so that’s the last possible minute. One day, Mary calls to him from the other room and gets in the shower. He is of an age that he shouldn’t have to be watched, but you know how that goes; at 7:15, he is still in bed. Mary doesn’t hear him stirring and sees that he’s still asleep. “Get UP!” she screams. “It’s time for school! Get up NOW or else!”

“Or else what, Mom,” Ken calls back before he promptly falls back asleep.

Mary yells again. “Get UP NOW, or I’m gonna come in there and beat your butt!”

“Hahaha, Mom. I’d love to see that!” her son yells back, cackling. He doesn’t budge.

At 7:30, the boy is still in bed, and his mom is yelling again, “I mean it! I’m not kidding! Don’t mess with me! Get up NOW! I swear if you are not up in the next few seconds, I am coming in there to beat your butt!”

Ken erupts into spasms of laughter. “I’d like to see that! Yup, I’d sure like to see you do that! Hahahaha, Mom. Good one, Mom.” And at 7:40, Mary goes in the room and plants a good whallop on his tiny rear end right through his covers, and leaves the room with an extra "Now GET UP" for good measure.

The boy shrieks. “You hit me! Mom! Mom, you really hit me!” He gets up and dresses quickly, though obviously still in shock, alternating between mutters and bursts of yelling. “Mom, it still stings, Mom! It stings from where you REALLY! HIT! ME!”

Mary is now downstairs in her kitchen, facing a new dilemma: what to feed her kid for lunch. Ken had recently declared a disinterest in sandwiches, so Mary had begun packing peanut butter crackers and yogurt. Now the yogurt is coming home nearly uneaten, and there's not much left to give him. “Will you eat peanut butter?” Mary calls to the still-muttering boy. He feels the sting of messing with her, so he asks nicely if she'll put some marshmallows on it.

I am close to tears from laughing at my friend's hysterical tale, but I suck air through my teeth when she gets to the bread. Mary's a little disgusted and embarrassed; she's surprised I'm laughing, as if this were an example of parenting gone horribly wrong. “I was looking at the kitchen counter. My mom was just here, and she did the shopping and bought white bread. So here I am, spreading peanut butter and marshmallows on top of Wonder Bread after having just beaten my kid. Could I be any more white trash?”

Sure. She whooped him through the covers, after all—not with a wet hand. And although the bread pushes it just to the edge, she would have to be missing some teeth and living in a trailer park in West Virginia, and even then she wouldn't make an episode of Springer.

We all have our bad-mommy moments. I yell too much, and I cuss (I could fund Serena's college education with my contributions to the swear jar). I spend too much time on the computer. I sometimes feed the girl cereal for dinner when my husband’s not home. But I pick her up and drop her off on time, make nutritious meals, and grunt disapprovingly when she wears her pants too short or her shirt has a stain on it. I pay attention to her hygiene. I clean the poop from her creature's cage and sit alone in the car next to a bag of crickets every week because she has a tough schedule. I sometimes put the contents of her drawers, her closet, and beneath the bed in a mountain on her floor—something I learned from my own good mom. But I’ve never left her anywhere (unless you count the time I almost drove off from the Target parking lot while she stood banging on the window of the locked back door—a fluke), and I only make her rub my feet when they really, really hurt (usually in exchange for something, like a delayed bedtime so she can watch Law & Order SVU or, her favorite, Criminal Minds).

Roseanne Barr used to say, “I figure by the time my husband comes home at night, if those kids are still alive, I’ve done my job.” While both history and news are full of fucked up parents and damaged children, it's still funny in the proper perspective. After all, a smack on the rump and makeshift fluffernutter on Wonder Bread are not going to put our kids in therapy or give them a movie of the week.

Still, next time, Mary, you'd better use whole wheat.

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Do you have a BMM? What is the most embarrassing thing you've ever done, the thing that you were sure made you the worst mom on the planet?