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 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

Blurry Pictures

blurry dad

BLURRY: lacking focus

I flip through my childhood photo album searching for pictures of him and find exactly three. There are some photos that might have a piece of him – an elbow or shoulder captured by the camera’s peripheral vision that could be his – but he is mostly absent.  Conspicuously so.

There is no visual record of our first meeting. No proof of adoring gazes or football holds.  There are no images of outstretched arms to coax early steps.  No bedtime stories or morning snuggles memorialized on film.  He does not hover while I blow out candles or look on while I open gifts from Santa.

There is only a trilogy of appearances – less than one per year featured in the album.

In the second photo, he is stuck in a hospital bed and I am perched on his belly. Presumably, he wants me there but even if he doesn’t he isn’t in a position to protest.  He needs to save his strength to protest against the wheelchair in the corner of the frame that some naïve nurse thinks she’s going to convince a proud cowboy to sit in. I want to think that he is looking at me, but it’s possible that he is looking at a TV just to the left of the picture’s edge.  That interpretation is better aligned with my memories.

In the third photo, I sit atop his shoulders looking happy and at home. The red stripes on the trailers and giant elephants in the background tell me the photo was taken at the circus.  The ballpoint scrawl on the back tells me this moment of daddy/daughter normalcy happened in the spring of 1983.

I came to this photo album looking for photos that would add clarity to my blurry memories. But, it’s not the clear photos that draw me in.  Instead, it’s the first picture in the trilogy that speaks to me most.  The photo is extremely blurry – the kind of blurry that would be considered a camera malfunction and discarded without a second thought in a family where pictures weren’t so hard to come by.  But of the three, the blurry photo best captures the man I know.

I see a man in cowboy boots. I’m not sure if I know they are boots because of the brown triangles barely visible through the haze or because I know that boots are the only non-military-issued footwear he has ever worn.  I see a girl reaching out for the dad she loves and a dad reaching back.  And, of course, I see the red cup.  The red cup is the clearest part of the picture.  This seems inevitable.  I don’t know what’s in it, but I can make an educated guess.  The fact that he has a cup in one hand and my hand in the other is a Cliff Notes summary of my childhood.

As I sit on the couch looking through old photos, I know now that the red cup will win for most of the decades in our story. But it’s fun to imagine for a moment being the diaper clad toddler walking on the beach with her dad not knowing what happens next.  Knowing only that there is a hand to hold.

Friday Favorites

john oliver

SATIRE: wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose

The internet is full of great written words and I usually link to a few examples each Friday.  This week, I’m linking to spoken words instead because I liked THIS John Oliver segment so much I watched it twice.  It’s a great piece of satire. I’m passing it along in hopes that 15 minutes of comedy and truth telling brightens your Friday.

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

I love when I’m reading fiction and come across a truth spoken with artful clarity. Here are a few great truths about motherhood capture in fiction:

From Diana Gabaldon in Dragonfly in Amber: Babies are soft. Anyone looking at them can see the tender, fragile skin and know it for the rose-leaf softness that invites a finger’s touch. But when you live with them and love them, you feel the softness going inward, the round-cheeked flesh wobbly as custard, the boneless splay of the tiny hands. Their joints are melted rubber, and even when you kiss them hard, in the passion of loving their existence, your lips sink down and seem never to find bone. Holding them against you, they melt and mold, as though they might at any moment flow back into your body.  But from the very start, there is that small streak of steel within each child. That thing that says “I am,” and forms the core of personality.

From Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible: A first child is your own best foot forward, and how you do cheer those little feet as they strike out. You examine every turn of flesh for precocity, and crow it to the world. But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after–oh, that’s love by a different name.

From Jodi Picoult in Perfect Match: Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.


Words I Had to Ask Webster About

  • Alacrity: a quick and cheerful readiness to do something
  • Meretricious: tawdrily and falsely attractive, superficially significant
  • Sangfroid: the ability to stay calm in difficult or dangerous situations

September Reads

READ: to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.


Sept sharp objects

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl was the first – until this point only – book of Flynn’s I read. I’m glad I went back in time to her first novel.  Like Gone Girl, this book is a far-fetched but thrilling page-turner.  I liked the flawed and fragile main character/narrator.  This was an impressive debut novel worth reading, especially if you want to enter a twisted world that will stick with you after the final page.

Sept how not to

How Not to Calm A Child On A Plane by Johanna Stein

I’m a sucker for funny mommy memoirs and this one did nothing to lessen my love affair with the genre. Stein had me laughing out loud, and not in the cheap Facebook sense of the acronym.  Actually laughing.  Out loud.  She does what great comics do – push a little beyond what is comfortable and decent in a way that disarms you and has you laughing at something your grandmother would not approve of.  This book is not for the faint of heart or those who can’t overlook profanity.  For the rest of you…read it.

Sept the painter

The Painter by Peter Heller

I liked this book and loved the writing in this book.  Heller writes in a style that reads like stream of consciousness but feels like poetry.  His prose is lovely and lyrical.  I want to read more of Heller’s work.  This particular plot wasn’t my favorite, but his writing style is so unique and fun that I can’t wait to read more.  I want to see what he can do with a different story.

Sept how the light gets in How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

I met Penny (and Chief Inspector Gamache) in The Beautiful Mystery. This is the next book in the series.  I love Louise Penny as a mystery writer.  There is plenty of action and intrigue in her books but she also gives the reader great characters and side plots.  The action portion of this plot was a bit contrived, but I liked the characters enough to smile more than I eye rolled.

Sept absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

I’m not sure where I came across this kid lit recommendation (I suspect it was Nerdy Book Club), but I’m glad I did.  I wasn’t ready to read it aloud to Son just yet, as the main characters is years ahead of him in school.  But, I’m sure I’ll encourage him to read it in a year or two.  What I liked most was how ordinary the main character was.  A struggling student with no labeled deficiency.  I hard tryer who never quite achieves his goal.  There was none of the ending vindication that so often occurs in children’s literature, just a realistic story about struggle.

96% of the Time

GUEST: a person who is invited to a place

I’m excited to have my friend Dana visiting today as a guest blogger to share about her approach to kid creativity (and the messes that come with it).  I’ve known Dana for more than two decades, but don’t see her in the flesh nearly enough.  Although, now that I know I can send my kids to her house to paint, the three hour drive to her town doesn’t seem so far. 


A mom friend came over for a play date and was in awe of my willingness to let The Smalls paint in the house.   It’s true.  96% of the time I say yes to creativity, even when the outcome will be a horrible mess.

When The Smalls are creative, I see amazing things. Sometimes I’m not sure about the specifics of the amazing things I’m seeing and need to tactfully request that The Smalls tell me about a particular creation. I’ve learned that just because a creature has nine legs, lion is not necessarily an inappropriate guess.  I’ve come to understand that “Drawing legs is more interesting than just drawing a tummy.”

Saying yes to messy creativity doesn’t make me immune to being annoyed when The Smalls leave creative carnage in the wake of a masterpiece.

Saying yes doesn’t mean we avoid mishaps. Like the impressive pumpkin tattoo drawn upside-down by my two year old that lasted for nearly three weeks (Crayola’s definition of washable, not mine).

Dana 1

Saying yes just means that after The Smalls create a Jackson Pollock all over my great room I clean up with a smile on the outside (occasionally letting a caps lock string of profanities loose on the inside) knowing that the rainbow of handprints made because they wanted to see a rainbow and it wasn’t “raining and sunning” today is a fair trade for some quality time with baby wipes and a mop.

Dana 2

I say yes because the joy of creative expression outweighs the hassle of cleaning the defiled hallway and bathroom that inevitably follows “Bloody Extra #2” washing up all by herself…

…96% of the time.

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 reading Peter Heller’s book The Painter.  It seems fitting to celebrate the book with a quote about art:

The reason people are so moved by art and why artists tend to take it all so seriously is that if they are real and true they come to the painting with everything they know and feel and love, and all the things they don’t know, and some of the things they hope, and they are honest about them all and put them on the canvas. What can be more serious?  What more really can be at stake except life itself, which is why maybe artists are always equating the two and driving everybody crazy by insisting that art is life.  Well.  Cut us some slack.   It’s harder work than one might imagine, and riskier, and takes a very special and dear kind of mad person.

Then, I picked up Johanna Stein’s How not to calm a child on a plane and other lessons in parenting from a highly questionable source and enjoyed a laugh (or ten) per page.  It’s more funny than any small quote can do justice, but here’s a taste:

…even a brainless jellyfish knows you never ask a lady if she is “with child,” even if said child is bungee jumping on the end of an umbilical cord that’s dangling from said lady’s lady bits…

…Of course I recognize this anxiety for what it is – an absurd and totally irrational fear that has no basis in reality but is predicated on an insidious set of cultural beliefs, which contribute to the notion that there exists a “perfect” style of mothering, but which of course we can all see is “perfect” only in that it is “perfectly” unattainable. On the other hand, if I do die trying…I think I can safely say that that “Mother of the Year” Award is mine.

“29 things I’ve lost since becoming a parent… #21 – A handle on current events; if pop culture knowledge was an animal, mine would resemble a groundhog emerging every six weeks to randomly yell out a social trend (“Gangnam Style!” “Game of Thrones!” “Ryan Gosling!”) only to retreat back into its hole of social oblivion and stale macaroni for another six weeks.

Words I Had to Ask Webster About

  • Prurient: marked by or arousing an immoderate or unwholesome interest or desire
  • Putsch: a secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government

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