Tag Archives: Relationships

I’ll Tell You When You’re Older

When I was a kid, I hated being the youngest. I always had to wait another year, another grade, a little longer. Pierced ears, staying home alone, R movies, adult discussions. No phrase rubbed it in more than “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

If I had kept tabs on all the promises people were supposed to tell me when I got older, at some point in my life I was in for a windfall. The question was, when exactly was “older”? I waited and no one ever sat me down and revealed to me all the answers I had been waiting for. Why couldn’t I read Forever by Judy Blume? Her other books were OK. What did two numbers have to do with sex? Why did I have to leave the room during “Romancing the Stone”? Boy, being a kid just really stunk sometimes.

I remember my sister and her friend watching “Vacation” in another room one night. I was too young to see it. I could hear them laughing—howling. Then they kept talking about it. “Hey, remember the part about the aunt?” And they would hold their stomachs and laugh and gasp for air.

“What?! What?!” I’d say. “What about the aunt?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

It was the quickest way to shut me up and send me stomping to my room in a huff, laughter burning my ears.

And it wasn’t just my sister. Everyone did it. When you’re the baby in the family, no one sees your age. Aunts, grandparents, older cousins—no one wants you to grow up. They want you to stay young forever. Forget that you could actually know something.

I remember my dad talking to his buddies one night and he belted out a string of German from his time living there. I had never heard him speak so much German and asked what it meant.

“It means ‘none of your business,’” he said to an audience of laughter. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

But those answers never came. I had to watch “Vacation” myself one day. I had to read Forever in college one break to understand the hubbub when my mom found out my sister read it. And I could never remember the German phrase. It was all a lot of disappointment.

I did luck out once though. One time not asking anything at all helped a lot of things click into place. I fear I never would have learned the birds and the bees if I hadn’t pretended to be asleep at one of my sister’s sleepovers. When conversation got interesting, someone whispered, “What about Karen?”

“Oh, she’s asleep.”

I’ve never been so still for so long in my entire life. But I got an earful that night. I got the entire scoop via whispering tweens in our neighbor’s den.

As an adult, a parent, I think that still rings true. Sometimes the more you ask, the less you know, the more someone else holds back. Sometimes it’s best to let the answers come to you.

If I’m quiet enough, if I listen, I find that they do.


Still waiting on some of life’s answers, like does parenting get any easier?


Filed under Family

It’s Inevitable: I Will Embarrass My Kids

While dinner bubbled on autopilot and before the kale would scorch, I grabbed my keys and ran outside to back up the van. My son wanted to play basketball and needed more room to shoot. When I came in, my daughter took one look at my slippers and scoffed. “You went out like that? I don’t even know you.”

These days my mere existence is often the source of embarrassment for my fourth- and sixth-grade kids. Everything I do and say, which used to seem normal, now sets off alarms, panic, and looks of despair.

Evidently I tell too much. I give too many private details to friends, teachers. I should just say my daughter is sick. Nothing else. I should not talk to any parents about my kids. I can understand this. (But I am not convinced my kids aren’t talking about me too.) In general, they would just prefer that I nod hello and move on. If I tell a story about when they were babies or that they cried in a store once, I get “the look” and then I hear it the whole way home.

In the school drop-off line, my kids jump out while the car is still rolling. Isn’t getting tangled up in the seatbelt like a fly in a web more embarrassing than having a mom? All of the kids in the drop-off line get out of a car that a parent or caretaker is driving. I bet some of them are even wearing their pajamas. I at least put on jeans.

When I wear sweats on a lazy day, the kids want to give me fashion advice. I find this amusing since I spent the first half of my kids’ lives gently coaxing them—and failing miserably—through the “that army green shirt doesn’t go with red fleece pants in summer” phase. The “shorts to your knees and socks that meet them” doesn’t really count as winter attire phase was a lovely look in fifth grade.

My kids have walked out of the house looking like they couldn’t decide whether to be an athlete, goth, or nerd, and it would be a fun surprise to see what it all looked like in the light of day. I’ve been out with them like that and smiled as other parents told them their outfits were “interesting,” which we all know is code for “what the hell did you put together there?”

But I know where my kids are coming from, I do, because I was their age once. Only other people your age can give you advice. Parents don’t know anything. They don’t know anything about fashion or the latest trends or a good fit or what could be best for someone’s age or body shape. Pfft.

At that age you learn fashion rules and social behavior by observing, and that can take a long time in some cases. I remember realizing that being seen with my parents in middle school meant I had nothing better to do and no one better to hang out with, no social life. Walking through the mall on a Friday night with my parents and trying to distance myself from them was bad enough. Turning around to see them holding hands was like realizing I wore holey panties in the locker room. Please, don’t let anyone see!

This adolescent terror lasts for a long time. When I went away to college, finding out that my mom told my suitemates to hang around with me because I didn’t know anyone there was beyond mortifying. I had made my own friends my whole life! But I think at some point, you start to realize parents are just embarrassing. They mean well. And you accept it.

I know as a mom, everything I do is subject to scrutiny now. I’m trying to keep in mind that there’s a fine line between sharing too much that’s theirs and sharing what’s mine too. The trick will be teaching them to see the humor and love in it all.

ropes course

OK, sometimes we embarrass ourselves too. Hug that pole a little tighter, eh? A morning ropes course had me in tears.


Filed under Family

It Took 40 Years To Be This Person

One recent Sunday morning I set my juice on the table next to a piece of rolled up paper tied with ribbon. “Is this for me?” My family took me by complete surprise. In 40 days I would be 40. They planned to celebrate me in some way every one of those days.

When you’re a kid, every birthday is special, filled with anticipation. Adults mostly try to push them back like the sand that keeps sliding and filling a carefully dug hole.

Over the past year, I’ve thought a lot about turning 40. Not worry, not dread. Reflection. I’m more excited about this birthday than I’ve been since I turned 21.

To me, 40 is not old. I’m lucky enough to have a father who never looked at age as something to dread. “I’m just glad I made it this long,” he says every year. I feel like this is my chance to take everything I’ve learned and go forth.

But 40 does feel like a crossroads. This big year of tumbling into a new decade. Do I keep trudging through my days the same way as always? Do I shake things up a bit? When is the right time to get out there and do the things I’ve always wanted to do? If ever there was a time to try something, this is it. Though I feel like I finally have wisdom backing me, I no longer have the luxury of an expanse of time.

I’m what you call a late bloomer. It took me a long time to come out of my shell. I remember a time, decades ago, when boys wore their best flannel shirts and stone-washed jeans to the high school dance. I gathered all the courage I had and blew it on walking in the door, forget dancing. I watched as everyone else without a date gathered in groups and bobbed together like boats on the horizon. Their bodies pulsed to the beat, they laughed, they goofed off. It didn’t matter what I faked. Smile or laugh or whatever, the only thing hearing me was the wall and deep down, I fought the tapping in my toes and the bouncing in my knees. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have as good a time as the kids on the dance floor.

In time, I learned. I learned not to care what I looked like. I learned that confidence and beauty really can go hand-in-hand with making a fool of yourself. People see your smile, hear your laughter. They move and smile and laugh with you. No one is moved to hold the wall up with you all night.

And I want to be an example. I don’t want my kids to be that person. I don’t want them to sit on the sidelines and watch. I want them to participate in life and jump in and not be afraid. I don’t want them to hold their happiness in.

When my kids are mortified to see me dance, when they hear me scream on a ride, when they see my step falter on a high climb, when they hear me speak up, when they see me try something new, I want my kids to know that it has taken me nearly 40 years to be this person. That you don’t ever have to stop growing. Every year I learn something new because I learned to let go of the part of me that was holding me back.

This was tough but quick. Almost at the end!

Something new and terrifying.


Filed under About Mom

We Learn From the Tough Stuff

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “I think you’re old enough now to make some of your own decisions.” I remember looking at my dad and thinking, “Are you kidding? Just tell me what to do.” I didn’t really want to make this decision, but my parents suddenly thought I was capable—at 13—right or wrong, whatever I decided was it.

It wasn’t a life or death decision, but tough on the social life of a teenage girl. I was deciding between going on a field trip that would last until late evening or going to a friend’s dance recital that same evening. I had already told my friend yes when we found out about the field trip. Of course I picked the field trip. Twenty-six years later, I still feel bad for letting my friend down.

I made other bad decisions. I shed some tears over them. I learned my lesson.

I faced many situations I wished I didn’t have to face. How could I deal with the girl who kept picking on me? Why did I admit that I liked Billy Bentley? Why did Tiffany seem to like Beth more, and what could I do about it? How could I face a boy who just broke up with me?

Those struggles helped me to be brave later. They helped me to know that I did have limits and I could stand up for myself. That sometimes a friendly smile is the best revenge after being dumped. That saying good-bye to a toxic friendship is the best cure. That I do have morals. That I actually could start over again and again.

But being the parent, taking a step back and letting my kids make their own decisions, it’s tough. I want to protect them. Sometimes the Mama Bear advice I want to give isn’t appropriate. But my kids know what they need to do just like I figured it out when I was their age.

All these years, it’s been the tough stuff that I’ve learned the most from. The lesson is just getting to a decision.

I’ve seen my kids make some tough choices, whether they knew it or not. A friend who makes fun of you maybe isn’t the best friend. When my son got glasses and his friend made fun of them every day, I noticed he hung around that friend a lot less.

My daughter had a tough choice this week: dissect a fish or don’t. And that left me with a tough choice: encourage her to do it or don’t. She worried the smell would make her sick. She thought it was gross and said she wouldn’t do it. Stress and drama overshadowed what I thought was a great opportunity for a third grader. I told her that maybe she could just leave the option open.

Where do I draw the line at encouragement and telling her to try, and being too pushy and making her decisions? I thought of all those choices I had to make growing up. Sometimes I didn’t want to make them. But I did and I did OK.

She knows in her gut what’s right for her. In the end, I told her to do what she needed to do.

This week, she did dissect a fish. She showed herself what she can do. She showed me what she can do—and I never thought removing an eyeball was on that list. I certainly don’t like watching the struggle, but the growth makes a mom proud.


Filed under Family

Life Through a Mason Jar

Everything had been picked over. Or claimed. Like birds had pecked at the flesh and picked everything clean to the bones, taken what they wanted and left the discards. I scoured her bedroom for something, a memory, a part of her. I took some earrings that I had never even seen her wear.

As the youngest grandchild, I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother. When my mother worked, I spent time in the big two-story house, certain that Chewbacca lurked behind corners. The fridge was always stocked with Nehi in every flavor. I grew up spending my Friday nights with her, eating at diners and making her laugh.

At 18 years old, I wasn’t ready to watch her die. I was still a kid, and I barely had the strength to say goodbye.

She always told me that when she died, a certain ring she wore would be mine. From the time I could talk, I always knew it. When she died, that was really all I wanted. It was the token I most associated with her.

When I see the ring now, it takes me back. But it’s not something I use every day. It sits tucked away. And so do the memories.

My grandmother’s ring was always on her hand. I used to sit on her lap and she’d ask me whose it was. I knew. She’d bounce me on her knees. She’d sing to me. She’d smile. I sing those same songs to my daughter. I remember.

But I found out quickly how sour things turn when loved ones die. People become greedy, wanting things for value or feeling others don’t deserve anything. It’s not about that. When someone dies, what I want is something that makes me smile when I see it. That takes me back to that time and that place and that sound and that smell. That moment in the kitchen when the snow was falling. That clink of metal when loose change hits a box. I want the one thing that will remind me of that person forever. And it could be a fancy ring, a cheap metal cross, or glass marbles. And every family member deserves that.

When my other grandmother died a year ago, I had a feeling dividing up the estate would be similar, bitter. I took one last look around her house while I could. I was rushed. I saw one of her old blue Mason jars and held it. She always had some near her stove, filled with tea or pasta or other basic ingredients. She was a cook like me. My grandmother had given me things through the years that she wanted me to have, but I wanted something that made me think of her when I saw it, something that evoked different memories. It didn’t need to have value. It just needed to take me back.

I’m glad I took the jar. It was the only token I got. The house is gone now. I know that with time, I’ll remember something and wish I had it. Something small like the milk glass that, after twenty-some years, I wish I had from my other grandmother. But at least I have the jar that spans my childhood memories of every kitchen that grandmother cooked in.

I hope that when I die, my kids don’t fight over things. I’d rather them bond over our time together and to think about the Mason jar: it appears old and empty, but through the glass I only see memories of a life lived.

jars mominthemuddle.com

I took this photo before my grandmother died because the jars reminded me of hers.


Filed under Family

The Owl Search That Delivered a Moment

The first time I heard the owl, I thought of Owl Moon. Many years ago I had read Jane Yolen’s picture book that describes a father and child owling on a cold winter night. “Oh, to have that moment,” I thought the first time I read it. I didn’t even have children at the time, but the story moved me.

Wishes of seeing the owl that was hooting somewhere near my house penetrated dreamy half-slumber. But at 3 a.m., I wasn’t about to climb out of my toasty bed and trek into the cold to go owling myself. Maybe it would come at a time that fit my schedule better?

Many times over the course of a year, we heard the owl, then two owls calling back and forth, then possibly three. Sometimes they were far away. Sometimes we’d swear they were in our yard. At 4 a.m., their calls kept us awake. Still, I never left the comfort of my bed to find them. So much for Owl Moon. I looked up owl calls online, trying to figure out what kind they were. Still unsure, I settled on the Great Horned Owl. That’s a pretty big bird, with a body size of 18 to 25 inches.

One dark evening just as autumn was settling in, we heard hooting. My husband and I listened at the back door and watched as a large bird flew into our tree and another flew out of it. It was too dark and there were too many leaves to see anything else. It then became my mission to see these owls. When the leaves fell, surely I would be able to spot a large owl among our trees.

Something else had happened since the first time we had heard owl calls. At a local park, a pair of Barred Owls had been attracting visitors daily. While walking with a friend there a few months ago, I tried to show her where I had seen an owl hanging out back in the thick trees. I told her to look closely, but you can often spot them because of their size. We didn’t see one so we walked on.

A few feet away, my friend threw her arms out like an overprotective mother. Three feet above my head, gazing down at me, was a Barred Owl. Being so close to a wild owl was breathtaking, but neither of us wanted to walk under that tree branch. We felt a little like that huge bird would pluck one of us up and fly away. But it was a sight and I wished my kids could have seen it.

barred owl mominthemuddle.com

photo credit: Janet Wright

That made me want to see the mysterious owls in our yard even more. Please wouldn’t they show themselves after all this time?

One night at home, the owls did come early again. At 8:30 I heard the distinct call. Cold or no, this was my chance to go owling. My daughter and I bundled up and walked around the yard, listening to the owls’ calls. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Leaves crunched under our feet. We looked in all the trees, certain we’d see the silhouette of a large owl on the bare branches. The cold air nipped at our fingers. Our breath puffed like bursts of steam. Beyond the moonlight, stars twinkled. It was just us and the sounds of the owls. Then whispers. A flash of movement to the right. My daughter thought she saw something land and take off far away. We couldn’t be sure.

We stood side by side in the cold, still looking for owls. Silent. Still. Just the stars and us. We waited for the chill to take over our bones, for our feet to grow numb. We searched the stars, the branches, one another’s faces. With each frosty breath, we took it all in. Silence. We never saw an owl, but I wasn’t disappointed. All I could think was, “I hope she never forgets this moment.”


Filed under About Mom

When a Writer Is Born

I see my daughter close her diary, then run down to the kitchen to put the keys back in their hiding place. She can’t have her brother getting a peek again. After school, when homework is done, she wants computer time to type up stories about finding shells on vacations or blurbs about how much she loves her family.

She writes letters to family with run-on sentences about the owl in the backyard or the possum she sees at night. Who cares if she may be taking some creative license? Thank-you notes gush with love for an item, the color, the memory it evokes. Papers at school that require only a paragraph or two end up with pages and pages of her conversational tone, explaining in-depth our trip to Maine this summer or why bananas ripened in our kitchen.

Some mornings when it’s time for school, she shouts, “One more minute!” from her great-grandmother’s roll-top desk as she finishes up a letter, a story, a thought.

I both love and hate that she does that, has this need for writing. All my life when I’ve had an urge to communicate, it’s spilled out easily into words on a page. Flowed so fast my hand wasn’t able to keep up, the scratchy writing sometimes hard to decipher when I went back to read it again. My brain always moved too fast for my hands but there has always been a connection there, brain to hand.

The connection between my brain and my mouth is a different story. Words don’t flow from my mouth as easily. I am often quiet. Things come out all wrong or not at all. I am stumped for answers, for something touching when I need to be. Or words come out too quickly. I can’t take a moment to pause, speak, and go back and try again. Once I put spoken words out there, inappropriate as they are, they’re out there, unfiltered. But with paper or screen, words flow. Thoughts come. There’s no deleting, looking for the perfect word when you speak.

I remember as a child wishing I wasn’t the way that I was. I knew it had to do with writing. I felt like I sensed things differently, maybe I didn’t. I knew that I didn’t have to be famous or published to be a writer. I just was, in my heart, always. It was the way I had expressed every thing of my life.

I love that my daughter has that in her, that passion, that need. But I also hate it for her, that curse. That feeling that you just have to get it out. That you can’t go to sleep at night or leave the house or finish a conversation until you relieve yourself of the burden. Scrawl on scraps of paper or in a notebook in the car a thought, a story, an observation, a poem, a pain. Those words, those feelings. Those things you can’t say to anyone but your paper.

I was that girl. I still am. Before bed I scrawl a thought on a scrap of paper, sometimes never giving it another thought. Sometimes it’s the perfect ending I’ve been waiting for, for months, and it came to me while washing my face. I’ve poured my heart into journals. I’ve breathed life into dramatic teenage poems that I’d die if anyone saw. And I’ve shouted, “One more minute!” so I could finish a thought that just had to be written on paper instead of whispered in someone’s ear.

I’ve always thought that writing is a lonely life.

I hope she finds the courage to share hers long before I did.


These days, most of my writing is done via keyboard.


Filed under About Mom