Defining Motherhood

One Mom's Attempt to Find Meaning in the Madness

Wordy Wednesday


WORDY: using or containing many (usually too many) words

I embrace Wednesdays in my own way. In lieu of a photo, I offer you this random collection of other people’s words that impacted me this week as well as a handful of new words I added to my vocabulary.  I acknowledge that I am offering you less than the going exchange rate of 1,000 words per picture.  Forgive me.

Other People’s Words

This week, I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. The third time was indeed a charm.  I’d struggled to get past the beginning of this book twice before.  The first time, I hit the simile “a voice as soft as the penis in his pants” and just couldn’t shake it off.  The second time, I made it a little deeper into the book, but the narrator’s actions and behavior made it impossible for me to root for her enough to make it through three hundred pages about her struggles.  This time it was assigned reading for my memoir class and reading it with a writer’s eye was enough to get me over the initial hurdles I’d hit in previous attempts.  In the end, I ended up really liking the book and appreciating it both as a writer and as a reader.  Here are a few passages that spoke to me:

…Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was….

…I couldn’t’ break it down into a list. I couldn’t land on love or security, confidence or a sense of belonging.  A father who loved you as a father should was greater than his parts…

…Foot speed was a profoundly different way of moving through the world than my normal modes of travel. Miles weren’t things that blazed dully past. They were long, intimate straggles of weeds and clumps of dirt, blades of grass and flowers that bent in the wind, trees that lumbered and screeched.  They were the sound of my breath and my feet hitting the trail one step at a time and the click of my ski pole…

Words I Had to Ask Webster About

  • Aphoristic: a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment
  • Opprobrium: public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious


Ambiguous Arithmetic

pregnancy test

Anticipation: the act of looking forward

It’s the only time I can remember standing in front of store shelves searching for the highest priced option. Decades of necessary frugality had internalized a unit cost calculation that nearly always resulted in Crispy Rice instead of Rice Krispies for breakfast and inevitably favored mac and cheese in any color box but blue. And yet, there I was, reaching past one small box for a nearly identical small box that cost three times as much.

I didn’t want to scrimp on this purchase. If I was going to pee on a stick I wanted the highest quality stick on the market. In the absence of empirical data to fact check the marketing claims about accuracy and speed I had decided to judge quality by price.

I tossed the most expensive box in my basket alongside the few filler items previously selected to make the purchase of a pregnancy test look like a casual afterthought of a trip to the store primarily motivated by a need for bananas.

Home with my bananas and my pregnancy test, I read the instructions in detail. I’m a college educated woman but not acquainted with the point at which my urine qualifies as midstream. Aiming for good enough while prioritizing dry hands, I did my part then waited an excruciating three minutes while the test did its part.

During the three minute interlude, I worked to ignore a twinge of guilt. In pregnancy test commercials, the wife emerges to a waiting husband and reveals the news. I had left work early for the express purpose of taking the test alone. Partly because holding a plastic stick in the midstream of my urine while Husband stood outside the bathroom door tracking my progress through auditory clues sounded like the least romantic couple activity I could imagine; but mostly because I wanted a few hours to savor the knowledge alone. It was an act of uncensored selfishness in response to a gut feeling, a truth written in estrogen ink by ancestral authors, that this was my last chance to have something all to myself.

I approached the test on the glass ledge above the sink – mentally noting that my next order of business should be to disinfect said ledge – ready to accept my fate in the form of a plus or minus sign. Instead, I saw a blurry horizontal line and what I thought could be a perpendicular line. Or, maybe not. It was nothing like the picture on the box full of high contrast and easily recognizable arithmetic symbols. I’d been duped and paid extra for the privilege. I’d splurged on the blue box mac and cheese only to discover the same freakishly orange powder that was no more closely related to cheese than the powder in the Western Family box.

I hypothesized that the ambiguity of the symbol was the reason the EPT legal department was willing to sign off on the 99% accuracy claim. Reasonable minds could disagree on whether the test result indicated that I was or was not pregnant. I imagined a court trial with my pregnancy test bagged as People’s Exhibit 1 and held up before experts who would offer conflicting testimony until my physical form revealed with clarity what the test did not.

Confident enough in my junior high health course knowledge to know that there was no such thing as being sort of pregnant, as the test results suggested, I turned to the most accurate source of medical knowledge I could find (Google) and read about interpreting the results until I was convinced that any hint of a perpendicular line counted as a plus sign.

I sat on the couch, fingers hovering above my laptop keyboard and let what I’d suspected for weeks soak in. I was pregnant.

My brain began to digest the news. This was something exciting. The most exciting thing that had happened since Husband had asked me to marry him. In fact, it felt similar. An engagement ring marks the beginning of the anticipation period preceding a wedding. A positive pregnancy test marks the beginning of the period preceding a birth. I allowed myself to be carried away with the fun similarities. Babies and weddings are both cause for celebration! Both come with parties! And presents! And registries! And presents!

I kept sitting. My brain kept digesting. I was going to change shape. I was going to squeeze a baby out an alarmingly small opening (or so I assumed at the time). I was going to be a mother.

Holy $#!@!

I had all the parts necessary for birthing a baby, but I was nowhere near qualified to be a mother.

Suddenly, Husband could not get home soon enough. This was too much to bear alone.

I thought about how I should share the news. Should I go big or keep the reveal understated? Going big felt too much like a proposal and this wasn’t a question. Husband didn’t get to choose whether or not to accept the results of my pregnancy test.

I cooked dinner and listened for the sound of Husband’s shoes on the porch all while trying to imagine a world in which a human called me Mom. I had good intentions of playing it cool and calm and not letting on about the anxiety that had been growing all afternoon.

Good intentions failed.  The moment Husband’s butt hit the dining room chair, I unburdened myself by blurting, “I have news…”

Friday Favorites

FAVORITE: a thing that is liked more than others

Here are my favorite pieces of the week:

Mother in the Middle by Rachel Beanland

…Before I became a mother, I assumed it would be easy to choose another set of parents for our children. I have three siblings, Kevin has two—between us there is an army of people who would cherish our kids. What I failed to understand was how inferior any situation seems that doesn’t place us squarely in the middle of all our children’s most important moments…

Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books by Rachel Grate

…The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007. Most arguments have been about the sentimental versus the practical, between people who prefer how paper pages feel in their hands and people who argue for the practicality of e-readers. But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books…

Retweet if You’re Grieving by Anna Altman

…Perhaps it’s the ephemerality of online mourning that trivializes it — the word limits mocking death’s enormity…

To the Furious Mom in the Target Parking Lot by Lisa Sadikman

…Sometimes that’s all we need: to be seen, in our shiniest or plainest or shittiest parenting moments. Then something shifts, whether from pride or gratitude or shame or sadness, and we reenter ourselves through other people’s eyes. We reset… 

Wordy Wednesday


WORDY: using or containing many (usually too many) words

I embrace Wednesdays in my own way. In lieu of a photo, I offer you this random collection of other people’s words that impacted me this week as well as a handful of new words I added to my vocabulary.  I acknowledge that I am offering you less than the going exchange rate of 1,000 words per picture.  Forgive me.

Other People’s Words

This week, I finished Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison.  She is a Seattle author and was a guest speaker at my writing class last night.  I confess to having a bit of a writer crush.  Her book is funny and authentic – the kind of book you walk away from wishing the author was your pal and regularly requested coffee dates.  Suzanne Morrison captures the internal struggles of faith and doubt with a lightness and ease that is approachable and engaging.  And, when she gave her talk to my writing class she emphasized the importance of reading as much as possible.  So, you know, I wanted to give her a hearty high-five.

Here are some excerpts to give you a taste of her writing style. I hope this serves as an appetizer and you pick up her book for the full meal deal.  If you’re a local, I have a hard copy I’m willing to lend.

A passage on doubt…

…Sometimes I think there might be a god out there, and that every once in a while he tunes in to see what we’re up to, and have a good laugh at how we like to dress him up in various costumes.  Robes, thorny crowns, yarmulkes and curls, saris and butt-hugging yoga pants.  Male, female, a genderless reincarnation factory; a Mother Earth or a withholding Father Christmas.  I would think it would amuse the hell out of him.  That we’re all idolaters, worshiping figments of our own creation who bear no resemblance to him.  Maybe he’s sitting in some alternate dimension somewhere, saying, “Shit, I didn’t even create the world! I was just cooking my dinner, not paying attention to the heat, and suddenly there was this big bang and a few hours later, a bunch of dinosaurs…”

And one on the desire for faith…

…The strongest among us are atheists. The weakest are those of us who would believe, if only we could.  We are the most susceptible to despair.  We want to believe, we sense there might be something out there, but we can’t find it, can’t feel it, or can’t believe in it.  And calling ourselves agnostics doesn’t do a damned bit of good…

And one about love and loss…

…A friend and I were having drinks a while back and got to talking about what, precisely, makes breaking up with someone you love but can’t be with so agonizing. We weren’t’ talking about those breakups where the love is dead, or was never there to begin with, or where one partner has so injured the other that there can be no future.  We were talking about the saddest kind of breakup, the one where you simply aren’t right for each other, no matter how much love there is between you.  The trouble, as we saw it, was that the moment you break up, the entire relationship distills down to that first essence you fell in love with. Gone are the irritations, pressures, anxieties. You don’t fixate on their hypocrisies or failures, or how they didn’t understand you.  You’ve broken up – there’s nothing left to rail against.  All that remains is the memory of that fist, purest love you felt for the other person, and that, we decided, sucks balls.  It hurts.  When all that’s left is that first love, the loss is so much greater – you  didn’t lose the person who, late in the relationship, made you feel trapped or duped or diminished.  You lost the person you first fell in love with, who you went to be dreaming about and woke up dying to see, the one who felt like the kind of home you’d always wanted to make…

Words I Had to Ask Webster About

  • Catafalque: an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body
  • Chiaroscuro: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art; the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities
  • Exigent: expecting much time, attention, effort, etc., from other people
  • Prevaricate: to deviate from the truth

Babies in the Basement


PREDICTION: a statement about what will happen or might happen in the future

I first met my children in the basement of my childhood home.  Or, at least, the concept of my children.  Becky held the pen and was about to determine the trajectory of my life on a sheet of scrap paper.  Because, you know, back then LIFE was easily boiled down to five essential components: type of dwelling; job; type of car; name of partner; and number of children.  With earnestness only seen just before jury verdicts in TV dramas, Becky geared up for the big reveal.

Would I live with my current crush in a mansion with two adorable children and a Lamborghini or was I doomed to a life of disappointment in a shack with Mr. Plan C and oodles of children?  Even then, I knew that two children seemed about right and that oodles of children was not for me.  Oodles in this case meant four because you had to list four numbers to play MASH and it was the 80s in the suburbs – shunning reproduction altogether by suggesting zero as a number simply wasn’t an option.

I knew just enough about cars to list the same four every time.  I imagine modern day girls list minivan as their uncool but palatable option.  They probably also use an app instead of lined paper with the spiral fringe attached. I listed station wagon.  The wood paneling was implied. I lacked the foresight and humility to list “Honda Accord with paint highlights on the bumper from fixed objects in parking garages.”

We didn’t think to question that we would have absolute authority to name the creatures we grew in our uteruses.  [Note to Reader: Proper term is the result of hindsight and personal growth.  Babies still grew in tummies back then.]  We selected names for our future children with no consideration of what our future spouse’s preferences would be.  Plus, Jake (please let it be Jake) seemed like the kind of guy who would be proud to father a child named after one of the New Kids on the Block or a character on Saved By The Bell.

Those who have knowledge don’t predict. 

Those who predict don’t have knowledge. 

Lao Tzu

Friday Favorites

FAVORITE: a thing that is liked more than others

Here are two great pieces I encountered this week:

If You Give a Mom A Nap by Katherine Almy

If you give a mom a nap, she’ll wake up refreshed and in a good mood. She’ll probably let you bounce on the bed as she’s getting up. After you’ve bounced her out of bed, she’ll be ready to play hide-and-go-seek with you…

The Problem of Entitlement: A Question of Respect by Steve Almond

…entitlement is the enemy of artistic progress, which requires patience and gratitude and, above all, humility. You don’t grow as a writer by writing off other people’s efforts. You grow as a writer by respecting the process.  A big part of that process is putting in the hours. But I also believe that writers must develop a critical faculty—the capacity to judge with ruthless precision and empathy. It’s easy to say you don’t like a story or poem or novel. It’s much more difficult to point to particular scenes or paragraphs or sentences, and to articulate exactly why they feel false or hurried or confusing. And it’s hard, also, to look past your own sensibility, your biases—to assess a piece of writing on its own terms…

Wordy Wednesday


WORDY: using or containing many (usually too many) words

I embrace Wednesdays in my own way. In lieu of a photo, I offer you this random collection of other people’s words that impacted me this week as well as a handful of new words I added to my vocabulary.  I acknowledge that I am offering you less than the going exchange rate of 1,000 words per picture.  Forgive me.

Other People’s Words

This week, I finished The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.  I read most of it on a weekend away from the kids and gave myself permission to just read for pleasure and get wrapped up in the story without bothering to pull quotes.  But, here are two passages I flagged when I got home and was reading with post-it notes in hand:

…Had they both been suffering a form of temporary insanity? It was a defense for murder, after all; why not for married couples?  Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation…

…They’d be shocked for months, before they finally learned, like Rachel had, that the unthinkable happened, and the world kept turning, and people still talked at length about the weather, and there were still traffic jams and electricity bills, celebrity scandals and political coups…

Now, I’m reading Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.  I am struck by how well Smith can set a scene or capture a character with very few words.  Like this passage:

So the mall went up – built like a row of happy lower teeth – grinned for a while, and then about a year ago some of the shops there began shutting down, blackening out like cavities when people left our town for other, better places.

Smith also tucks substantive observations in small sentences throughout the book. No expansive explanations, just tightly packed sentences the reader can take time to unpack if s/he wishes.  Like these:

…History chews up sexually uncertain boys, and spits us out as recycle, generic greeting cards for lonely old men…

…Everyone knows I love you, too does not mean I love you. The too makes it a concession, a gesture, an instinct of politeness…

Words I Had to Ask Webster About

  • Bildungsroman: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
  • Eponymous: of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named
  • Schadenfreude: a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of others

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