Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cursed by Bad Words

My son has always been obsessed with words, learning to spell states and football players’ names when he became bored with his spelling words. He currently keeps a list of city names from our state and names of characters from books he reads. And I believe he also has a running list of all the cuss words he knows.

“The H one, the D one, the S, the A,” he says. “I just can’t figure out what the I one is.”

“The I one?” I think as I rack my brain. “What in the world is the I word?”

Years ago, the fact that my kid knew any cuss words in third grade would have bothered me a great deal. I would have felt irresponsible, guilty. But I realize it’s a natural, curious part of growing up. So it’s a little earlier than I would have liked, but I don’t think it’s any earlier than the boys I grew up with.

Though to him learning a new word is like cracking a code into some secret adult society, just knowing satisfies him. He doesn’t use them except, I’m sure, between giggles and whispers with his closest friends as they try to figure out life as third graders. He tells me his new words, but he protects his little sister.

Now that he’s nine, he’s at an age where it’s getting harder to decide where the boundaries are. This doesn’t mean we’re encouraging our son to swear. It means we’re deciding whether our son can possibly be mature enough to handle knowing bad things and not using them, using his own good judgment.

When he was invited to see The Avengers recently, at first I firmly put my foot down. No PG-13 movies. But it’s the summer blockbuster hit everyone and their five-year-old is raving about. After researching the movie and learning the swear words in it, I really didn’t want him to go. I polled a few people whose opinions I trust. One planned to take her seven-year-old. Hmm. Was I being too tough on my son?

I’ve always tried to shelter him from lewd language but when he’s out on his own, it’s out of my control.

When I read to him, I skip over anything I deem unfit. Several months ago, when I mentioned J.K. Rowling has an adult book coming out this year, he wanted to know why he couldn’t read it.

“Does it have cuss words in it? I bet it does if it’s for adults.”

“There are cuss words in Harry Potter,” I told him, surprised he hadn’t noticed during his reading. I even slipped and read damn one night in the throes of a heated dialogue.

“Is it the J one? Because I don’t know what that one means,” he said.

children's source for bad words, muddledmom

The children’s dictionary. A wonderful reference for naughty words, including the J one.

My husband so rarely gets to witness these conversations. “The J one?” he said. “I don’t even want to know what that one is.”

My son whispered into my husband’s ear, and I was thrilled to not have to explain what a word means. “That’s a donkey.”

“A donkey?” my son said. Bubble burst. The meanings really take the fun out of knowing a bad word.

“Well, I know it doesn’t have the B one,” my son continued. “That’s written on the back of the stall in the fifth-grade boys’ bathroom.”

I remember this struggle when I was a kid. I had learned a few choice words, possibly from my dad. In fourth grade he was nagging me about leaving my bike in the rain and in my retort, I couldn’t remember which word to use. “Well how the hell was I supposed to know?” Innocent mistake, though I’m not sure heck would have really been any better.

We’ve had our own incidents but not as bad as I’d expect, especially for a boy who collects bad words like pirate treasure. I found something in his backpack with bad words written on it. His friend gave him a quarter to write them. I was disappointed that he was stupid enough to do what his friend said. We had a long talk about those words, the principal, and the phrase, “If your friend told you to jump off a cliff…”

I want my kids to understand words, to understand that they can have more than one meaning, that they can hurt, that they can be nasty, and that they can be effective.

The word I do worry about? It’s an I word: ignorance. I won’t tolerate any words that deal with that.

And the movie? We let him see it. He was so enthralled by the action, he didn’t notice any bad words. I worried for nothing.



Filed under Boy Stories

The Saga of a Sleepless Son

Most mornings I wake to the sound of my husband tiptoeing off to the shower. I still have fifteen minutes until I need to help get the kids ready for school. It’s quiet. Peaceful. I can unstick the sleep gobs that glue my tired eyes closed in my own time.

But lately, my nine-year-old son shatters those precious moments. He climbs in bed with me at 6:30 and begins chirping away like a baby bird. “Mom, why is it so light out?” “Mom, do you think we’ll have soccer practice tonight?” “Mom, did the Flyers win?” “Mom, I found out what phlegm means in my Harry Potter book and it’s not what you said.”

His early mornings mean one of two things: he’s either excited or worried. And this phase won’t end until his mind is put at ease.

This is not how I like to wake up in the morning, and it brings back memories, evil memories of days that always began way too early after nights with many interruptions.

He’s never been much of a sleeper. I didn’t know kids even came that way.

The most common advice I got before having my son was, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sure, I thought. I will let the house be messy. Dishes can sit in the sink. Laundry doesn’t need to be folded right away. And babies sleep so much anyway, I’ll be able to sleep and still get those things done, right?

I was a stupid new mother.

My son slept. Only when we held him. But we had to bounce him. And we could only do that while standing. God forbid we try to sit down. Those first few weeks with him were torture and I sat in bleary-eyed delirium during my shifts with him in the wee hours of the night wondering what the hell I had done to deserve such punishment. When I did sleep, I’d dream that I was holding him and wake in a sweaty panic that I had dropped him.

Sleep through the night at three months? That was the first parenting myth I believed, a mere dream that sparked, fizzled, and smoked for over a year. Just when my husband and I thought we had nailed it, something else always put a kink in our slumber: teething, a cold, a change in temperature, a fly on the wall, a piece of lint, who freaking knew.

When he was a toddler and threw his babies out of the crib in the middle of the night, it was a top-secret mission to return them to him without being seen. I would army-crawl in through a sea of stuffed animals, toss the missing baby into the crib, and back out of there at top speed. If my son popped his head up, panicked thoughts raced through my mind as I lie splayed on his floor. “I’ve been spotted. Get out. Abort the mission! Abort the mission!” If I was too far in, my only choice was to lie still and try to blend in with the stuffed animals or hide half under the crib. Sometimes I was stuck there for what seemed like hours until he ducked his head down again.

Blue Oliver had a rattle. Don’t ever give your child a baby that rattles. Just don’t.

I’d get tired of those G.I. Joe missions late at night, and I wasn’t into playing peek-a-boo no matter how cute he was.

Once my son got into a regular bed, we’d wake to see him run past our room. My husband found him helping himself to a midnight snack from the fridge.

For an eternal stretch, it seemed like my husband slept on my son’s floor more than he slept in our bed. It was better than constantly being poked in the face and getting up half the night.

It took seven years for my son to let us sleep in peace, for him to realize that just because he was awake didn’t mean he had to wake up the rest of us. He finally learned that he could pick up a book and read while we slept in…until 7.

But now, every time he goes through one of his phases of early mornings, my brain starts ticking. I hear the thud of his feet hit the floor when it’s still dark out. Is it the birds chirping? An upcoming test at school? Excitement over a visit from his grandparent? Or something more? Troubled over something going on at school? After a few days, I figure it out. I don’t like for my son to be worried. I even lose a little sleep over it.


Filed under Boy Stories

What Does a Crazy Rash Diagnosis Have to Do With Marriage?

Balance. It’s always been the strength in my marriage. While I quietly freak out with worry that my children need to be rushed to the emergency room, my husband calmly looks up from his reading fighting an eye roll and says, “Karen, it’s fine.”

While I submit my children to constant examination, poking, prodding, and “let me see it just one more time,” my husband checks out the Phillies’ score.

When I snuck away to Google a bull’s-eye rash that mysteriously appeared on my son recently, my husband calmly explained that it was a flare-up of eczema.

As I diagnosed my child with Lyme disease, panicked, and then came back down to earth with the realization that it could just be a spider bite or…or, well, nothing, my husband read a book.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of a lazy, clueless husband. There have been times when he’s been panicked and I’ve been the calm one. But between us, one of us manages to always be sane. One of us has to be rational. We balance each other out.

Before I called the doctor and committed to adding $100 to our huge deductible, I mulled over the situation. It could have been nothing. But it looked like something. I didn’t know what it was. I could call a nurse friend I know. Sure, she was an OB/gyn nurse. I could run my child through the streets and knock on doors to see if anyone had seen anything like this rash. Surely they would see the crazy in my eyes.

After exhaustive comparisons to rash photos on the Internet, I called the doctor’s office. After one hundred questions, of course the nurse told me to bring my child in. After I got my children out of school early. After I endured ten straight minutes of my son telling my daughter to be quiet because he couldn’t read with her talking. After the torture of being cooped up in that tiny eight-by-eight room, the doctor finally came in.

The doctor examined the rash site. It was not a fungus caused by ringworm. It was not Lyme disease. Looked a bit like, yeah, eczema.

I am pretty good about listening to the voice of reason. I freak myself out a lot. About half the time I can talk myself out of my nonsense. The other 49 percent of the time, my husband does. The other tiny percent? Well, the doctor gets a good chuckle.

“Glad you took him for peace of mind,” my husband said.

Balance. And no I told you so’s. Even though he did.


Filed under About Mom

Hide-and-Seek: You’ll Have to Come Find Me

We’re playing hide-and-seek today. But I’ll tell you where I’m hiding. I’m guest posting over at Momma Be Thy Name. Go on over and read what on earth heart attacks, leg cramps, and boobs have to do with playing hide-and-seek with my family. Really, do you have to ask? You guys should know me by now. Check out Momma Be Thy Name if you’ve never been. She’s a mom to one-year-old twins and a toddler. She’s smart and sassy. And hey, she’s having me over for a play date!


Filed under About Mom

The Women Who Showed Me How to Mother

When I was a little girl, there were three things I wanted to be when I grew up: a teacher, a writer, and a mother. My choices hardly changed throughout my life. Those were always the choices I juggled. I chose a career that allowed me to write. I married a man who wanted kids. I have never taught in a classroom, but being a mom certainly qualifies one as being a teacher.

Hardly a day passes that I don’t think of at least one of the women in my life who has made a lasting impression on me and given me the skills I’ve needed to become the one thing I’m most proud of being: mom.

Here are the women who showed me how to do it.

My mom. When I was young and my sister was in school, I played dress-up in my mom’s closet, donning her wedge heels. I pretend-shopped in our kitchen and hid in the cabinets. My mom would take me out for lunch to a Chinese restaurant where I loved the fried rice. It was our thing. When I was sick, she stayed up with me and rocked me to sleep even though I was too big to fit on her lap. She nursed my weekly migraines. Even though I wasn’t the most gracious of teens, she still has bouts of empty nest syndrome. She has always loved me, a lot. She is the reason I stayed home with my kids.

My sister. It’s not that I doubted my sister would ever have kids or that she’d be a good mom. It’s just that when we were kids, she used to line up all of her dolls on her bed. Facedown. And she’d stand back with a belt and run up and whip them. We certainly weren’t punished this way. But I had to wonder if she’d be a bit of a disciplinarian when she had a family. Good news. She turned out OK. When my niece was born two years before I had kids, my sister filled me so full of knowledge about those early years. I laughed. I cried. If it weren’t for her, motherhood would have been a rude shock because she is the only person who gave me the truth about what would happen to my body after birth, clued me in that kids don’t really sleep through the night at three months, and made me realize that most of the time you want to pull your hair out but you love your kids anyway. She gave it to me straight.

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day love from the kids.

My mother-in-law. I am lucky to have married a man with a wonderful, loving mother. She must be one of the most generous women I know. When her own mother became ill, she put her life on hold and moved several states away to cook meals, clean, and care for her aging parents. When it became clear they needed more care and they moved into a nursing home near her, she visited them almost every day. Knowing the tricky relationships mothers and daughters can have, this has always moved me. She showed me that mothers care for their loved ones no matter what went on in the past. Love has no bounds.

My friends. My husband and I have no family nearby. When I had my son, it was one of the loneliest times of my life. Having a baby who wants to be held all day and no friends to talk to was rough. I joined a moms’ group at a local hospital where I met moms with newborns who cried and screamed, moms who were tired and who wanted to talk. We formed a playgroup of 18 moms and we met every week. We went on field trips. We formed friendships. Now, nine years later, I still keep in touch with nearly half of them. All of my friends have helped me survive motherhood. They have become my second family. We moms take the kids and bike together, teach our kids to cook, hold crazy science experiments in our back yards, play in the creek or the lake, camp, or just hang out. Us moms talk about the challenges each new age brings. We laugh. We cry. We advise. In spite of our different parenting styles, we embrace one another and learn from each other. They inspire me.

I can honestly say I am a better mom because of all of these people. I think it really takes a village to raise a mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Filed under About Mom

The Time Cover: An Example of Why I Hate the Mommy Wars

The TIME cover. While it’s about Dr. Bill Sears and attachment parenting—extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and wearing your baby around all day—the image and headline “Are You Mom Enough?” have fueled another fire in the Mommy Wars.

I hate the Mommy Wars. This is the reason I never played well with girls. I can’t stand the cattiness of it all. I try not to get involved. But the headline did strike a chord with me. Women are moved to judge by such things. It pushes buttons. It infuriates. It should only educate.

I do have a take on nursing, the mommy war over it, and why it needs to end. Every woman and child has a different experience, a different need. While I look at that TIME cover and can’t imagine that life for me, who am I to say anything about that mother? She is doing what she believes is good for her child and herself. The reason I can’t imagine that life for me? Nursing is not for everyone. I wasn’t able to nurse my firstborn and could barely do so with my second. And being judged for that wasn’t much fun.

My experience with nursing my first-born was hell. When the lactation consultants at the hospital tried to help us, they got things going for a few minutes and then my son would fuss. We went through this dozens of times with countless nurses. I was tired. My baby was hungry. I was a new, worried mother of a newborn who after 36 hours had had only drops of nourishment.

Every time I tried to nurse him, I changed positions, techniques, said prayers, cursed, relaxed, tensed up, cried a little, and wanted to freaking scream. I mashed the call button for help, but I knew the nurses wouldn’t be going home with me. I had to do it myself.

They realized my son’s frenulum, that long connecting tissue under the tongue, was too tight and he simply couldn’t nurse. They said it could stretch in time. They offered to cut it. My husband and I said no. They started bringing in all kinds of contraptions for me to try. A pump to get my milk flowing. I felt and looked like a cow and after all of my effort, I didn’t have an ounce of milk.

The nurses hooked me up to some tubing so I could finger-feed my son with my breast milk. I felt like someone’s science fair project and my son was still only getting drops of milk. He continued to fuss.

All the while, the lactation consultants kept telling me not to give him formula. It would be detrimental to my milk supply and to him ever latching on. I did as I was told, but my heart was quietly breaking. None of it felt right. I felt like my son was starving and I was sitting by watching.

By the middle of our last night in the hospital, another feeding just wasn’t happening. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was hesitant. The nurses had made me feel incapable. They were set on me not sabotaging nursing. My heart was more set on providing for my son. In the day and a half since he’d been born, we hadn’t had one tender moment of feeding and closeness. It had only involved strangers, contraptions, and too many opinions. I felt like we hadn’t bonded.

The nurse on our night shift was an older woman, and I asked for her honest opinion. She said she would give him a bottle. Relief washed over me and for the first time, I fed my son in peace. And I have never once regretted it.

I continued pumping at home but I never had enough milk. Nursing was not for us. And I have never felt guilty about it.

That was the first tough decision I made as a mother. It hasn’t been the last. So yes, I am mom enough. Because I don’t listen to anyone else. I don’t care what others are doing. I listen to my gut. That’s what makes me a mom.


Filed under About Mom

My Funny Things File

When my kids started talking, I diligently kept a list of the words they said and the date they said them. I proudly added new ones to their baby books even though it sounded like mumbo-jumbo to anyone outside our home. To us new parents, the words meant we were finally on that road to real communication with our children. Instead of cries and shrieks, our son could say, “Ah-noo,” and we knew he meant football. He had his own language, but we cracked the code and bought into the cuteness.

Our daughter could say, “upsididdy down” and we knew what direction she meant. If she asked for “lemonlade,” by golly, shouldn’t she have some?

As the kids got older though, real words replaced the cuteness. But some funny stuff started to come out of their mouths. In my busy day of folding laundry, wiping rears, and trying to steal a nap, I didn’t have the time to write down whole conversations in the kids’ baby books. In the moment, I began quickly typing up the funny stuff my kids said and hence, a funny list was born. I still keep this list on my computer and add to it when I overhear a hysterical conversation or my kids make me choke on my Sun Chips. And from time to time, my husband and I still read it when we need a laugh.

This is the part of the list I’m willing to share:

1. My husband asked my son, age 4, “What do you want to know about girls?”

My son didn’t miss this opportunity. He lifted his arms to his chest and shouted, “BOOBIES!”

2. My son, 4, to my daughter, 2: “Hey, say this: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America….” He told her the whole thing and then said, “If you can say that, I will play with you forever.”

My daughter’s response: “Weeble wobble.”

Weeble Wobbles

Weeble wobble, an answer for anything. (Photo credit: m kasahara)

3. My son, 4, from the backseat: “Mommy, can penises undo seatbelts?”

4. Playing hide-and-seek with my son and his Spider-Man toys, I asked him who was counting. He answered, “I said Venom was, but you didn’t listen.” Ouch.

5. I had only been out of the room a minute. When I returned, my son, 5, had a red line all the way around his mouth like a clown. I asked him what he did to his face. He said, “I wanted a beard.” I told him I was going to have to scrub it off and that I would take his markers away if he did it again. He said, “How many?”

“All of them,” I said.

He thought about it and said, “I’m going to hide them before you do that.”

6. After my son, almost 6, was super bad one day, my husband had a little talk with him. My son said, “I’ll be good till Christmas and after my birthday, then I’ll be bad again.”

7. My husband left for work one day with a box of granola bars. My daughter, 4, said, “Are you the snack bringer?”

8. My daughter had a friend over one day and the kids were eating a snack. The little girl exclaimed, “I’m going to marry a very nice man one day.” Without missing a beat, my son said, “I hope it’s not me.”

9. After crawling in bed with me one morning, my daughter, 4, asked, “Momma?”

“What?” I moaned, on my back still half asleep.

“Where did you boobies go?”

That woke me up fast.

10. Overheard while the kids were roughhousing…

My son, 6: “Ow! You’re smooshing my pee-nus!”

My daughter, 4: “Now you’re a girl.”

Without this list, I would have forgotten most of these moments. And though it’s not a fancy baby book, those lines of typed words bring more smiles than the date of a first tooth.

What funny things have your kids said?


Filed under Everyday Life