Work Clothes


This happens at least once a week, but usually more. I drive my youngest to Chess Club in my slippers and pick up my older teens from their friends houses or school in my fuzzy pajama pants. Usually, I’ve got my work clothes over regular clothes when they come home from school. My ten year old says, “You really like that robe, don’t you?”

It might sound crazy, but this is how I work. My favorite days start with me up before dawn. Coffee brewed, wrapped up in thick pajamas and robe, and I sit down to the desk to write. And write. And write. When I’m working on a first draft or even a revised draft with lots of new details, I work best in the comfiest, frumpiest clothing you can imagine. I don’t shower, I don’t put on make-up or my contacts, and I don’t dare leave the house unless I’m summoned by a kid or have to buy food. If I’m in the middle of something, I keep going until it’s done. Usually. Life doesn’t always cooperate, and that’s precisely when I have to show up in public looking slightly homeless.

I sometimes feel bad about myself, like “Why can’t I just put on normal clothes to write? Is it really that hard to put on a pair of jeans and comb my hair?” And voices in my head tell me my neighbors think I’m a little eccentric when I go to the mailbox in layers of leggings, long tops, robe and winter hat. (The fact I just said I have voices in my head might prove them right.)

But here’s the thing.

There are actually good reasons I don’t get dressed unless I have to.

And it’s not because I am lazy. (Though sometimes I am just lazy.)

Writing is an intimate process.

Waking from dreamland and throwing myself immediately into another dreamland is a delicate transition. I try to do as few “real life” tasks as possible because it yanks me from that hazy, creative mind-space I need to be in to write and write well. Creatives call this “the zone” and when you are in it, be damned if someone tries to pull you out. The zone is an intimate connection between the lizard brain and the imagination and it’s like following a narrow path from bed to desk. I have to work hard to stay in that place until the words are freely flowing. Otherwise, it’s tempting to put on shoes and go to Target. Just like an actual relationship, if you allow yourself the distractions, the intimacy is lost. Robert Olen Butler has a wonderful book on this idea called From Where You Dream. This incredibly inspiring craft book talks about how to capitalize on your dreamstates. It sounds mystical and spiritual and may not be for everyone, but I do think it suits the creative life.

Writing is a vulnerable process.

I have a dear friend who confesses she loves to write naked. We get a good laugh from that one, but in reality I find it inspiring. I’m not going to sit at my desk in the buff considering I live in balmy New Jersey and I’d get hypothermia before I’d finish a novel. But being naked is about the most vulnerable state you can be in, and wearing pajamas and not putting on your real-world mask is just another step in that direction. Normally we reserve pajamas for the home where we feel the most safe and comfortable, and nakedness for our most intimate partner, where we feel loved and accepted. You must be vulnerable to write. You must be honest with yourself and your characters. It’s not just a matter of spewing words and plot on a page. To authentically craft a voice, you must question and explore so much psychology—and sometimes that can be difficult.

Writing is an emotional process.

If you have ever written a novel, or attempted, or even if you journal on a regular basis, then you understand what a crazy roller coaster ride writing can be. One day you think you’re writing the next big thing—Eureka! And then the next you couldn’t be drier, and will surely shrivel up and die. Then all of a sudden your character says something that makes you burst into tears and you think: Oh my god, I might actually have something here! If you’re a journaler, then you’re probably not thinking about publication, but you’re writing about your own life, or experiences, or jotting ideas down and so constantly accessing your deeper thoughts and emotions. This is hard work, people! Don’t take it for granted! Don’t worry if you’re not crafting the perfect sentence, or saying the perfect thing to change a reader’s life. Just write. Be comfortable in your own skin. Or in your pj’s. I am not all that comfortable when I’m wearing jeans and boots and sitting at the desk. Or worse—in a café! The waistband digging into my stomach, bunched up underwear, creases at my knees cutting off the circulation to my legs. No thank you. Hard to focus that way. Give me stretchy leggings and an oversized sweatshirt on my comfy couch and I’m an emotional fountain. I’m far more apt to access the depth of my characters this way, than dressed and made up and sitting in Starbucks.

That all being said, sometimes you must GET OUT. After a couple days of living in the zone, it’s time to shower, dress, and hit the town. Talk to real people. Smile at babies. Pet dogs. Observe life and fill the tank so you can start all over again. I have a day job that allows me just that and if you can believe it, I do not show up in my robe. They appreciate that. And I like to look cute from time to time, so it works for me too. But you can be sure that the second I come home, the boots go in the closet and out come the sweatpants.

My kids say, “Really, Mom?”

Yup. Really. Where are my slippers?


Serendipity and an Apple

I had been simultaneously dragging my feet and longing to buy a new computer. I needed to do it soon because our desktop officially crashed last week. It had been unofficially crashing for weeks prior and I knew it was only a matter of time before resuscitation was impossible. Each time I saw that black and white text screen I cringed. Pressed restart. Sighed when it set itself right. The poor thing is ten years old. That’s, like, at least 95 in Dell years.

As it reached old age, I began debating whether or not I would (or could) replace it. The kids get iPads from their schools, but writing a research paper is tough on an iPad. They needed something to write with, something to print from, something to play Minecraft on (c’mon, people, priorities), so I knew a purchase was justified. I’d get an upgrade and they’d get my current laptop. I have wanted a Mac for myself for a long time now, but always ended up buying something cheaper because I didn’t really need a Mac.

I always have a tough time with that word. Need. What do we need really? Not much. In fact, I was in Target this morning buying paper towels and toothpaste and contact solution and watching the numbers tick up as I added things to the basket. I passed a couple browsing in the home décor aisle, and I heard the woman say with urgent desire, “Oh, I NEED these!” I didn’t look to see what she was referring to, but I can almost guarantee you it was something ridiculous like maple leaf napkin rings or ceramic pumpkins. Both very cute, but I’m sorry. No one needs napkin rings. Now if it had been a pair of suede riding boots, I might have agreed with her. I always need suede riding boots.

But truthfully, how often do we consider what we actually need versus what we want or what we think we deserve or what we justify to ourselves as logical. In Kohls, where I went in only to pay off the entire balance of my credit card (Okay. Fine. I looked at the boots.), the woman asked me if I wanted to sign up for their new shopping rewards program. I must have given her a baffling look, because she quickly tried to explain how you get points for every dollar that you spend and I’m staring at her, thinking the entire time: This is Kohl’s. You already have a gazillion programs. How many more do you need? Why are you trying to confuse us? And what the hell are shopping reward points anyway? How do I live in a country that rewards you for buying shit you don’t need?

Whatever. Yes. Sign me up.

I didn’t buy any boots. Don’t pat me on the back or anything. They didn’t have my size. But numbers were ticking up in my head once more anyway, considering the computer, considering the coming bills, considering my lack of a pair of boots in every color, for every day of the month. What we all need sometimes is a different perspective and I work very hard at keeping mine intact. Sometimes I slip up and I buy boots. Sometimes I sit down with the bank and get actual things accomplished and that was what I did today. I met with the nice loan officer and she told me she can refinance my car for half the monthly payment I pay now. In some ways, that sucks. I don’t like debt. It’s even more ridiculous than shopping reward points. But we live in a country where college could easily cost a student a mortgage payment and a reliable car twenty-grand. For now, me and my car and school loans will have to figure out a way to get along. At least I was feeling a little better about buying the computer. The scales balanced a little bit. I was figuring things out. I didn’t get new boots, or shopping reward points, but you know what? I still felt that little jolt of euphoria that shopping sometimes gives you. That “retail therapy” boost. And in a much more permanent fix. Because figuring out my finances was something I actually needed.

Then I was on my way again and thinking about how to now tick up the numbers in my checking account. Lowering bills was good, but increasing input even better. There was a sign hanging in a local restaurant looking for servers and I’d been considering stopping in for a couple weeks. It’s a cute little brewery and I’ve eaten there a lot and it’s close enough I could walk to it. It would be a great third part-time job, except that it would require nights and weekends—the bane of a single parent’s schedule. The bane of a 38 year old’s schedule, really. How much sleep cycle abuse can one person take? The tips would be great, but the consequences on my kids (and my brain) not so much.

And then I got an email with good news.

An unexpected job offer came waltzing into my morning as if it had no idea of what was going on at the moment. Hands in its pockets, whistling a happy tune, it just decided to pop in and see if there was any chance I might be interested. It actually excused itself and said, “Sorry, is this a bad time?”

Wait? What? Get your ass back over here!

I’m reminded, yet again, that over and over, regardless to what you attribute your circumstances, regardless of what you think you deserve or don’t deserve, that more often than not we are somehow taken care of, somehow held by the universe, lifted up and far beyond what we think we can handle. Given gifts we assume were meant for someone else. It’s not really all a matter of God or serendipity; it’s a result of hard work, being open to opportunities, and a lot of positive thinking. But sometimes things seem so magical, so perfectly timed, it’s hard to not believe.

So, Momma got her first Mac laptop today. Still a hold-my-breath purchase. Still not sure if it’s needed. But I am willing to bet that the universe still has more in store for me. Something better than suede riding boots. Something more magical than I could guess.

Today, I’m willing to believe.


The Wax and Wane of Motherhood

Tomorrow my oldest child turns sixteen. His younger sister, only his junior by a year and joining him in high school this September, asked me in the car: “Mom, how does that make you feel?” Funny, but I hadn’t really thought about how it made me feel. Up until that point, it didn’t occur to me to feel anything.


I remember when the Irish twins both attended elementary school for the first time. Kindergarten and First grade. For the first time in six years, I only had one little one to care for at home and when people asked me <gasp!> what I was going to do with myself, I was pretty confident I could figure it out. And I did: I started writing novels. With my little blonde cohort, who sat in my office with his Star Wars figures and Duplo blocks, I began charting a course for myself in which I’d never turn back. Happily, I worked and played all day and had fresh-baked cookies on the counter for the school-aged kids. It was an exceptionally joyous transition.

Sometimes I think I’m one of the few moms who embrace transitions like these with little to no tears and while milestones certainly pull on my heartstrings for a few minutes, mostly I am incredibly honored to raise and watch my children grow into themselves, to see how they navigate their own lives. The older they get, the less I intrude, and how they chart their course is remarkable. Sometimes I still butt in, big-time. Like when the eldest decides shouting sensitive anatomy vocabulary at the top of his lungs is a fun neighborhood activity, or when the daughter decides chatting with an online stranger is okay. Yeah. No. Mama is still the boss. But mostly, up to this point they have proved trustworthy and so, I give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. May that day never arrive. The prayer of parents everywhere.

My children are only mine for a short time. For the “twins”, that time has waned dramatically. In my opinion, by the time you house high schoolers, if you don’t step way back, they don’t find their way. And in a time when more and more mid-twenty something’s are living at home, and college kids can’t hack being away on their own without their decision-making helicopter parent hovering nearby, I gladly step out of the center of their solar system, and become the moon instead of the sun. I’m still here. I’ll still guide their tides, but I will not be their main source of light for much longer. They have to find it inside themselves.

I believe my babies are really good at that.  And that brings the tears.

So, baby girl, how do I feel?  I feel pretty damn good.

photo (23)The high school freshman (freshwoman, she would say)

The Way-Way Back: A Movie Review. Sort Of.

I don’t normally review movies because when I read other reviews I feel like there’s a certain language that must be utilized. A language in which I’m not schooled. Words like “captures” and “nuanced” and “cinematic proportions” usually send me glancing at the margins for trailers for the “Coming Soon” selections. The truth is, the less I know about a movie, the better. I’ll watch the trailer or read a quick description on IMDB and that’s all I want. If it seems interesting, I’ll watch it. If not, I’ll skip it. I used to be a movie-hound. I’d see almost anything in the theaters—the atmosphere alone entertained me. But these days, most movies are skipped. I’ve found that my age plus my reading “habit” plus my lack of patience for just about anything that reeks of video-game graphics and poorly developed characters equals staying home almost every single time. I’ll just rent it, thank you, so that I can turn it off when I’m predictably disappointed.

There are some great films, however, that grab my attention at trailer-time and I decide to take the risk and pay for the astronomical ticket fee. But 9 times out of 10 these are independent films, not the blockbuster Hollywood movies, and therefore I have to go to an independent theater to see them. I don’t know why it took me so long to find my way to such films…let me pause for a minute on that word. Films. Not movies, films. That’s the difference, you know, between award winners and commercial bank-breakers–the language. It’s like comparing Twilight to the latest National Book Award winner. Candy to five-course dinner. No contest.

Anyway…like all art, film is subjective and so even the award winners and the buzz-causers may not do a thing for you. And that is the way it’s supposed to be. That is the purpose of art and entertainment—to hit each and every one of us in a different way. When I watch movies with my family, which isn’t all that often anymore because of our diverse tastes, the proof is in their varied responses, based on age, experience, and understanding. But I had a hunch that this movie would be a winner for everyone.

The Way-Way Back is a quiet film. (Oh…now, here I go with the review language.) It’s about a mother (Toni Collette) and her son going on a summer vacation to the cape with her boyfriend and his daughter. They are about to become a blended family and this is the first joint trip and very much a test to all parties. The potential step-father, played by Steve Carell, treats his potential son rather terribly and the movie opens with the boy sitting in the way-way back of the family station wagon with Carell berating him while the others sleep. It sets the tone immediately—you know right from the start that this movie is about the boy finding his own way, his independence and exodus from this man.

If this were a traditional review, I’d tell you next to everything that happens, but I can’t bring myself to do that because if there’s anything I hate more than bad reviews, it’s spoilers. What I do want to share, is that throughout the course of the movie, which touches on deep subjects from blended families to infidelity to smoking pot, my kids were totally in to it. I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about it, especially the 10 year old, because it wasn’t The Hobbit and it certainly wasn’t Captain America.  But it captured even his attention, most likely because the story held so much truth. Even though he was in a situation my kids couldn’t quite relate to, they felt for the main character. They understood his plight. They were rooting for him.

Which is why, in the end, my 10 year old had a fit.

Without spoiling the movie or making you think the ending is sad—because it’s not—my son just didn’t understand it. He’s used to movies where it’s good versus evil and the ending is black and white—good always wins in a very obvious victory. In the Way-Way Back, good still wins, but good is not as lovely and pure as we always wish it to be. Sometimes there are sacrifices and compromises and means to an end. But he didn’t get that and what had been a fun movie night turned into a “I’ve been betrayed by Hollywood” moment.  It was actually kind of funny, from an adult perspective, and I tried to explain why it ended the way it did but he just wouldn’t accept it. I knew I had to chalk it up to the ignorance of youth and that someday, maybe when he was older, he’d give the movie another chance and then he’d understand the ending and appreciate it.

Turns out, it didn’t take that long after all.

Tonight, I came out of my writing space and downstairs in the living room my son watched TV. I passed through the room, grabbed myself a snack in the kitchen and then came back and he had an inexpiable  look on his face. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You look guilty.” My older son said, “Because he’s watching that.”  I thought I’d look at the TV and see some rated-R flick or a particular cartoon made for adults that I detest. But no. He was watching The Way-Way Back.

Art leaves an impact. Good, bad, confusing, ugly, truth, lies—call it whatever you want. But it is important, in all forms, for learning about the world, understanding other people and becoming. Rebecca Solnit says: “The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist.”

I don’t know if he understands the movie yet. But he is trying to and the act of trying is the act of becoming. And that is about the best thing a mother could ever ask for.

A Day For Mothers

Mother’s Day arrives every year with a blend of emotions for most women and children, which means every breathing human out there. I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have some mix of gratitude and grief on this Sunday of Sundays, what has become almost another holy day or at least a commercial nightmare. I wanted to return a skirt today and found myself wondering if the mall was even open—is Mother’s Day a national holiday yet?

I have three children, been a mother for nearly 16 years and I have never expected a thing for Mother’s Day. This is not an attempt to say “look how humble I am”, it is merely my perspective. My mother was the same exact way and I love her for it and we have a lovely relationship. When mom doesn’t expect—or worse demand—something, then it’s all the more wonderful for a child to surprise her. Guilt free, unconditional love—isn’t that what being a mom is really about anyway?

At the same time, I’m not entirely unselfish. If there’s going to be a day set aside for me, and we’re going to celebrate it, I’d love for the choice to be mine. For most of my life, this hasn’t happened. Because I expect so little, I also voice very little. But this year, Mom’s day, Mom’s choice. The first thing I did was make my kids pancakes because I haven’t had the time or energy to do that in a very long time. I got 2 thank-you’s out of 3, so that’s not so bad and, honestly, it’s 100% enough for me because I just wanted to make them breakfast. I don’t need the thank you’s, but they are certainly appreciated.

After they ate, I took my dog for a walk in the fields we like to visit every day. When it gets warm out, we have to go early in the morning or after the sun goes down because she overheats very easily. She’s meant for the cool, green fields of Scotland, not the humid, tick-infested meadows of New Jersey. While on the path, I found a four-leaf clover AND a five-leaf clover.  And as we circled round back toward the houses, up ahead, a bright orange blur—a young fox on her early morning hunt. Purely magical. My kids would have liked to see her, but I was thankful to be able to stand there, alone, and watch for as long as I could. I showed them the photo. “Oh, yeah. Cool.” They say, half-interested, and turn back to whatever they are doing.

photo (9)

 photo (10)


But this is okay. It is encouraging, actually, because I know that my kids are secure in who they are as my children. They don’t need to be or do anything more than what they usually do, which is being all teen-agery, because they are teens and pre-teen. And I love them for it.  I am comfortable in this role as mother. It does not define me, nor my children. We are able to just be.

Refreshing.  Especially considering I have seen some of the most horrific mother-child relationships in my lifetime. Even my own, with my mother, was not healthy when I was a child, but we all grow and change and learn and so Mom and I did that together. We did it well.  Not every mother and child do. Some mothers never feel value past taking care of their kids and when that short time is over, they are lost. They expect to reap rewards that just don’t come. Some kids cannot sever the ties to mom that they need to sever and pine for her attention well into adulthood, trying desperately to gain her approval. Some end in sad grudges over differing opinions—they just can’t conceive of not agreeing. All of it, such a waste.

Later in the day, we took a long walk together. All five of us carrying our own joys and burdens, varying in degree, of course, as the oldest is 40 and the youngest is 10, and his greatest grievance was taking the picture, as you can see. He is actually a delightfully sweet and sensitive little boy, but absolutely despises having his photo taken…and so, for the sake of Mom, we had to force him. Poor kid. It is but a teeny-tiny reminder that life is difficult and changes constantly and sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. As we walked, I felt this deeply, felt the wind of change, the ways our family has grown and evolved and will continue to change. I tried to let the sorrows go, and enjoy the day for what it was. A sunny, warm walk with my family. It was truly all I needed.






After our walk, I was reminded of the many children without present mothers when my daughter’s friend who was taken from her family and placed in foster care, stopped by to hang out, watched me and my daughter re-enact a sketch we saw on TV and she said; “OMG, can you be my mother?”  This same sweet girl one afternoon asked me if, instead of playing with my daughter upstairs, she could watch me wash dishes and clean the kitchen. Normal mom stuff that she no longer saw.

Then again when my son’s friend waved to me on my walk, whose mother lives 8 hours away, a woman who left her family several years ago and never looked back. A woman I will never judge, because I do not know her life or her reasons, but whose son’s sad eyes are with me constantly.

And I think of many female friends who have always wanted children and have either lost or just never had the opportunity to have them. Or adult friends who to this day, still cannot quite connect to their mother on an adult level.

How can anyone be worried about eating out and gifts and expectations when these are the things that others suffer with?

Not that this means we go hide in a hole somewhere, but I prefer to just enjoy my day, with my kids, quietly. It’s my day to reflect on being their mom. It’s not their day to emulate and sing my praises–I don’t need it. It makes their unexpected hugs and thank you’s and cards so much richer, and rewarding, and most importantly, real.

I’m not perfect, by any means. I’ve made mistakes; I will continue to. I will make choices for my life that may hurt or confuse my children. I will not fill all of their expectations or hopes or ideals of what a perfect mom looks like. I will never be that conventional suburban mother who cooks and cleans and paints her face for her kids’ soccer game and attends all the school functions and classroom parties.

But, even if it is not returned, I will love them unconditionally. That, I can promise.