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 Routine of Writers

I’ve never been a big fan of the word “routine”. Well, let me backtrack. When my children were little, routine was my best friend. Routine made the 24/7 job of motherhood organized, slightly more predictable in a very unpredictable time, and made me feel like I had a semblance of control over those tiny, always-in-motion bodies. And the kids responded well to routine because then they knew what to expect as well. Their world was stable. Usually. There were times when routine was broken for some reason, and this would send my eldest into orbit, but we learned how to adjust as best we could.

For me, however, routine comes with the connotation that I have to do the same thing every day and if anyone knows me, that’s akin to being told what to do and I hate being told what to do. Even if the one telling me to do something is non-existent, the correlation is there. Routine=The Boss. And I want to be the boss. Fortunately, for me, I’ve had the ability to set my own schedule—after the kids started school—to some degree. I’ve always had the challenge of balancing my life with my family’s, and through the years the family’s often came first, but I still was able to salvage a certain number of hours to myself, either to work a part-time job, participate in community theater, or, as I have for the last 8 or 9 years, write books.

I am approaching 39 years of age and I am proud to say I have never had a full-time job. However, I’ve probably worked more hours thus far than some do during their entire life. In fact, most days I’m working on about 4 hours sleep, up at dawn to write, sending kids to school, going to a day job, coming home to a day job, writing again, fixing dinner, driving someone somewhere and so on and on and on. My routine looks like something out of the ADD handbook. Or maybe the DSM.

There are few things that happen at the same time every day except for the kids’ schedules and the times my dog has to go out. Often she can be found staring at the door, just waiting for it to be opened, because I’ve neglected to show at the designated time. But because my work schedule is different every week—sometimes a pain, but the way I like it—my personal routine is unrecognizable to most. Most people, especially other moms, look at my life like it’s a messy Tupperware pantry begging to be organized. And maybe in some ways it is, but I can promise you, you’ll never find all the lids.

For me, the most important part of my routine is making sure me and the kids are where we need to be on time—I’m actually quite punctual—and that I write every single day. These are the priorities. They’ve always been my priorities. I have to be self-disciplined and on top of every (or close to every) detail in order to make just these two things happen because there’s a lot of other things in our schedules. With the exception of my part-time work, there’s no boss to tell me to punch a clock. There’s no repercussions. There’s not even a paycheck.

This is why you might find me up at 4am writing a scene for my novel. Or closing the café at 7pm. Or driving my 16 year old to practice at 10. Pick a day, pick a time and most likely I’m doing something different each time. If my schedule were a game of Bingo, no one would ever win. It could be enough to drive some people quite literally insane. But this is my routine, the routine of a writer with a life to navigate. Grabbing every minute, making each day count. Making sure the important things are taken care of and letting the Tupperware gather dust. Living vibrantly and in the NOW. That is about the only routine I can adhere to.

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.