Defining Motherhood

One Mom Finding Meaning in the Madness

Halloween: A Tale of Homework and Husbands

peanut butter cup

HALLOWEEN: October 31 observed especially with dressing up in disguise, trick-or-treating, and displaying jack-o’-lanterns 

Husband and I tolerate the sugar highs and lows of Halloween with (enough) patience and (sometimes fake) smiles on our faces because we know that when the kids finally go to sleep we will reap our reward.

We feel remarkably little guilt as we pillage their candy buckets while they sleep. We dismiss the eighth commandment each Halloween in favor of these two replacement commandments:

  1. Thou shall not take all of one kind of candy.
  2. Thou shall not leave the wrappers where they will be found.

This year, academics ruined our routine. Both children were sent home with candy counting assignments. Our freakishly obedient children set to work as soon as they got home and had their candy counted and categorized before they went to bed.

I’ve never been so mad at a teacher. Was that really necessary? Can’t a kid just be a kid? Why all this academic pressure? But mostly: What did we do to make you hate us?

Knowing we couldn’t get away with stealing after the candy bowls had been fully inventoried, I went to bed dejected. It wasn’t until I was drinking my coffee this morning that I remembered we had our own candy bowl (the one meant for trick-or-treaters). I was so excited! I went to the living room, mouth watering in anticipation of a peanut butter cup.

There were none. The trick-or-treater bucket was completely peanut butter cup free. There were Whoppers and Hershey bars but no peanut butter cups and only four lonely Kit Kats. All the vibrant candy in the red and orange wrappers was gone and only the inferior brown and beige candy remained.

Husband had the trick-or-treater bucket brainstorm last night, apparently.

But, he violated both of the replacement commandments. He ate every last one of the peanut butter cups and he only half-heartedly hid the wrappers under a bag on the top of the kitchen garbage.

To his credit, Husband fessed up immediately and claimed that his violation of the first replacement commandment was accidental.

Thankfully, Husband already had a good sense of his penance. Yesterday, I’d run into a friend’s husband—let’s call him “Erik”—while I was on a quick errand to the grocery store. I told Erik that I wanted to know his wife’s secret. How did she get him to do the week’s grocery shopping?

Erik confessed: “Sometimes, a husband wakes up and does something wrong right away. When that happens, he knows that he will spend the rest of the day making up for his error.”

I laughed as one does when someone tells the truth so succinctly. Later, I told Husband about my conversation. Husband chuckled too.

But Husband wasn’t laughing this morning when he said, “I’m going to spend the rest of the day making up for this, aren’t I?”

If you see my husband at the grocery store this afternoon, please give him a knowing smile and point him toward the flower bouquets.

Love, Marriage, and Other Options


PRIORITIES: the things that someone cares about and thinks are important

This week has seen more than its share of conversations about love and marriage at our house. Daughter (6) and Son (8) approach the topic from different perspectives, as you will see in the transcripts below.


Daughter: I want to marry Daddy.

Me: Daddy’s taken. He’s my husband.

Daughter: Awww, but I want to marry him.

Me: You could marry someone just like Daddy—someone kind and funny and smart.

Daughter: And handsome.

Me: Yes, and handsome.

Daughter: OK. I’ll do that.


Daughter: Once, when I was younger, I knew exactly what I wanted my husband to look like.

Me: You did?

Daughter: Yep. And, one day I saw him walking in Downtown Seattle. But, he was walking with a woman and I was like, “Hey, that lady took my husband!”


Daughter: I want to marry someone with a good hairstyle.

Me: Is that the only thing that matters?

Daughter: Well, I want him to be nice too.

Me: That’s important.

Daughter: Yeah. If he was super nice it would be okay if he didn’t have a good hairstyle.


Son: How do you ditch someone?

Husband: What do you mean?

Son: You know, like stop being their boyfriend…

Husband: Do you mean “break up”?

Son: I guess…

Husband: Well, you usually just talk about how you don’t think things are working out.

Son: What exactly do you say?

A Nightlight By Any Other Name

Red lightNIGHTLIGHT: a small lamp providing a dim light during the night

Last week, our family said goodbye to Roxanne. We’re still mourning.

Roxanne was the kids’ nightlight. She was a small, plastic lamp purchase at IKEA for five dollars. She served us well for nearly eight years. As you may have guessed from The Police song reference, Roxanne was a red light.

We miss her more than I thought it was possible to miss an inanimate object.

Roxanne was a small win in the bleary days of early parenthood. She gave off just the right amount of light to fend off monsters (for the kids) and avoid Legos on the floor (for the grownups). But mostly, Roxanne was proof that while the transition to parenthood had taken many things from us (e.g. freedom and free time), Husband and I still had our sense of humor.

Each time the kids asked, “Can you turn on Roxanne?” Husband and I would smile at our wit.

Roxanne did not go quietly. A routine bulb replacement ended with a spectacular explosion.

We drove to IKEA last Saturday hoping to buy a replacement. That’s right, we went to IKEA on a Saturday for a five dollar lamp. Our grief made us irrational.

[I’ve tried to write an appropriate description of IKEA on a Saturday for several minutes, experimenting with a mixture of the terms “Costco,” “Black Friday,” and “free trips to Disneyland” but still can’t quite paint an accurate picture of the mayhem. Imagine the most crowded place you’ve ever been. Now double it, give everyone a grocery cart and take away their self-awareness. Now, make them walk the most circuitous route possible from the door to the checkout stand. Got that? Double it again and you’re almost there.]

In the end, it all came to nothing. IKEA had pink, blue and white versions of our beloved lamp for sale, but not red.

We selected a blue version—feeling pretty sure that Shakespeare was wrong and a lamp by any other name would not be as sweet—and made our way to the checkout line with our inferior purchase.

We’re trying to adjust to life without Roxanne, but it’s hard. The new light is too bright. Its cord is too stiff to tuck discreetly along the baseboard. The new lamp is just a lamp, an unnamed lamp.

We miss Roxanne.

Soccer Saturdays and Sentimental Sundays

soccer goal

SOCCER: a game played on a field between two teams with the object to propel a round ball into the opponent’s goal by kicking or by hitting it with any part of the body except the hands and arms 

When the coach pulls out the long-sleeved jersey and padded gloves and turns toward Son, one of us grins and the other cringes. Son loves the Saturdays he gets a chance to play goalie, but I dread them.

I can’t relax when he’s in the goalie box. I pace the sidelines with an elevated heart rate and start bartering with The Almighty hoping that what I have to offer (e.g. fewer road rage expletives, clamping down on gossip, rededicating myself to the Fifth Commandment) will entice Him to grant the outcome I’m requesting.

I’m not praying for a win. I don’t care how many goals Son lets in. I’m praying for his safety. When the final whistle blows, I want Son returned to me with his facial features and digits in the same condition they were in when I brought him to the game.

I hold my breath each time the other team charges down the field to kick a ball at my firstborn. I want to scream at them to be gentle but 1) that would be ineffective and 2) I don’t want to be that mom.

I try to focus on the lessons he is learning in front of the goal.

There are games when his team (Go Panthers!) dominates their opponents. Those games aren’t fun for a goalie. Sure, he can say he blocked every goal, but that’s not much of a boast when there were so few shots and the shots that came were slow and predictable. Easy games aren’t fun. In fact, it’s lonely and boring to stand at one end of the field when all the action is at the other end.

The triumph of a goalie is proportionate to the skill of his opponents. There is little to celebrate when anyone could have stopped the shot but justifiable exuberance when the other team should have scored but didn’t because of the goalie’s speed, agility, or sheer luck.

While I’m praying Son’s nose remains unbroken, it is a small comfort to think that he will leave the field understanding that accomplishments worth celebrating are preceded by challenges.

I also like that Son has to stay in the present when he’s goalie. A great block doesn’t mean the next kick won’t go in, and sulking about a goal doesn’t help. When he is goalie, Son has to shake things off and move on. He has to forgive himself for his failures and avoid getting cocky about his successes. He has to do his best every time and accept that sometimes his best wasn’t enough.

Life lessons, I tell you, are there for the learning each Saturday.

Those lessons might just be worth a broken nose or finger.

At least, that’s how it seems on Sundays when I sit down at my computer comfortably philosophical because I know he’s still in one piece.

Come next Saturday, the life lessons will seem less important than his safety and I’ll have to plant my teeth firmly in my tongue to avoid screaming, “Don’t hurt my baby!”

September Reads

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

Putting the kids back in school put me back in the mood for non-fiction. My Summer Reading Bingo card was fiction heavy, and there was still quite a bit of fiction in my reading pile for September, but it was fun to mix it up a bit.
all joy

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

I wish I had read a paper copy of this rather than listening to an audio book because I found it hard to soak in all the data without seeing the numbers on a page. Even still, I loved this book so much I listened to the audio twice through and suggested my book club read it. I want to discuss the material with as many people as possible. Senior presented research and information in a way that both helped me understand and helped me feel understood.

elephant company

Elephant Company by Vickie Croke

This story of “Elephant Bill” and his time in Burma before and during WWII was my Book Club’s September selection. I enjoyed reading about British colonialism and the use of elephants in the teak jungles of Burma but struggled with the mysticism, anthropomorphism, and portrayal of J.H. Williams as a nearly perfect hero. The things that made this book hard for me may not bother other readers. In the end, this was a worthwhile read but not one that I’ll be forcing on friends.

labor day

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Thirteen year old Henry is a charming narrator for this story about the weekend the life he was living with his reclusive mother was disrupted by a misunderstood convict. Maynard’s prose and characters are good enough to help readers overlook the implausibility in the premise and relax into this compelling and often moving tale.

before i go

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

I thought this debut novel about a woman with terminal breast cancer determined to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away was the right blend of sincere and sentimental. There were plenty of times I wanted to shake the main character, but in some ways her pigheadedness was part of what made the story work for me.


The Selection by Kiera Cass

This Hunger-Games-Meets-The-Bachelorette novel is as delightful as it is predictable. A perfectly enjoyable read and a fun enough first book to make me curious about what Cass will do with the rest of the series.

love letters

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I’m a sucker for debut authors, epistolary novels, and YA. So, I was predisposed to like this book about a student who takes her English assignment to the next level. The emotional pull and writing was a little uneven, but overall I enjoyed Dellaira’s fresh voice and flawed characters.

thirteen reasons

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I read this story about the big repercussions of small actions too close on the heels of John Green’s Paper Towns and struggled with this book for similar reasons. I couldn’t convince myself that one person could successfully dictate the actions and compliance of so many characters.

Summer Reading Bingo (Part III)

summer bingo

BINGO: a game in which players match numbered squares on a card with numbers that are called out until someone wins by matching five squares in a row

Blackout! I finished by Seattle Public Library summer reading BINGO card. This was such a fun summer reading program. I hope they do it again next year.

animal vegetable

Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Category: Re-read

I would follow Barbara Kingsolver’s prose nearly anywhere, but it is especially fun to follow it to the intersection of memoir and food politics. This book was every bit as great as I remembered. The contributions form Kingsolver’s daughter and husband add texture to an already beautiful book.

horse whisperer

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

Category: Set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit

This book was on the shelf at a place we rented on our summer road trip. My fond memories of the Robert Redford movie by the same title, together with my love of cowboys and free paperbacks, started me turning the pages. I kept turning the pages because the well-paced story filled with untidy emotions and flawed characters drew me in. The book ending, while not necessarily likable seemed more fitting than the revised ending used for the movie adaptation. Counting this as my “always wanted to visit” setting is, admittedly, a bit of a cheat. Yes, I’d like to spend time on a ranch with a rugged cowboy, but if I’d been seeking out a book purely on setting I probably would have picked somewhere more exotic than Montana.

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Category: A book from your childhood

As a child, I was prohibited from reading this classic about outcasts fighting evil based on my mom’s religious objections. Many sci-fi and fantasy books were painted with her broad “occult” brush. Imagine my surprise when the characters started Bible verses. A good book, but more importantly a good reminder to take the time to investigate before denouncing.

paper towns

Paper Towns by John Green

Category: Young adult book

John Green is one of my favorite YA authors but this wasn’t one of my favorite YA books. I love Green’s writing but didn’t think this story allowed his skills to shine. The premise and the characters felt forced. That said, a crummy John Green book is still a good book.

harry potter

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I also enjoyed reading the first three Harry Potter books aloud to Son this month. It has been a ridiculously fun ride for both of us, even if I’m terrible with the voices.

Summer Reading Bingo (Part II)

summer bingo

BINGO: a game in which players match numbered squares on a card with numbers that are called out until someone wins by matching five squares in a row

I’ve been out of town and unplugged, so my July book reviews are tardy. Like last month, my reading was dictated by the Seattle Public Library’s summer reading BINGO card.

abundance of katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Category: Prizewinner

This book was so fun! Smart, funny, and nerdy all wrapped together and tied with a coming-of-age ribbon. Michael L. Printz Honor Book, LA Times Book Prize Finalist, ALA BBYA, Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.


Glaciers by Alex M. Smith

Category: Local Author

Every line counts in this short and sweet book about a day in the life of twenty-something Isabel who works with damaged books and collects things that others leave behind. This is a quiet, reflective, and beautiful book perfect for those who like lyrical prose.


Surveillance by Jonathan Raban

Category: Set in the NW

Oh, man. I’m not sure how to review this book. Raban is an excellent writer. I enjoyed each step of the journey…right up to the destination which was so bizarre, sudden, and unconnected that it pulled the rug out from under everything that went before. I suspect this is the kind of book where others with more artistic sensibility will talk about the statement the ending made. I suspect that I will continue to hate it.

written in the stars

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Category: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book tells the story of Naila who is removed from her American high school and returned to Pakistan where she is forced to marry. The writing is simple, the chapters are short, and the pace is quick. The author’s note at the back distinguishes between arranged marriage (which Saeed herself has benefited from) and forced marriage, but that distinction is not clearly teased out in the novel’s narrative.


Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Category: Out of your comfort zone

For this Bingo square, I put out a call on Facebook: “SPL summer reading bingo requires a book out of my comfort zone. Now accepting recommendations for vampire novels, bodice-rippers, or books by Ann Coulter.” Octavia Butler was recommended more than once. I enjoyed this story about kinder/gentler vampires who enter into symbiotic relationships. It’s sexy without being sensational (with the exception of the pre-teen/adult interaction at the beginning) and thoughtful without being didactic.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Category: You own, but had never read

This is the story of 13-year old Brian’s survival in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. I read this Newberry Honor book primarily to screen it for Son. I love stories that show the resourcefulness and resilience of humans. This book provides that for a younger audience. I think Son (8) is too young for this but that it will be perfect in a couple of years.

bone season

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Category: Author under 30

I was confused for most of the beginning of this dystopian novel, despite the explanatory charts. Eventually, the story took off and I was able to immerse myself in the action. The pacing was slower than I expected, but worked. I could feel the weight of the groundwork being laid for sequels, but enjoyed the strong heroine and the complex world that Shannon built.

bourne identity

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Category: Published the year you were born

I was excited to see a spy thriller on my list of options for reading from my birth year. Summer is the perfect time for a page-turner and since I’d already seen the movie I was happy to spend some time with a main character I couldn’t help picturing as Matt Damon. This was a fun read. Good, but not great. I am perfectly willing to suspend reality for books like this and embrace far-fetched high-stakes drama and suspense. I found it harder to suspend everything I know about human communication and embrace the stilted, unrealistic dialogue.

longest ride

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

Category: Turned into a movie

I was excited to have an excuse to read a Nicholas Sparks book. I’ve seen a few movies based on his books and am a totally sucker for sappy. I expected to enjoy this written version of a chick flick, but didn’t. I couldn’t find the tension and attraction needed to carry the story on the page. There were parts of the book where I wished I was watching the film adaptation. Rather than being told that the characters were attracted to each other, I could be convinced by prolonged eye contact or a zoom in on a gentle touch. I also struggled with the two separate story lines. The two sets of characters weren’t equally engaging and I found myself slogging through one story line while waiting impatiently for a return to the other.

life changing magic

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Category: You’ve been meaning to read

This book has received a lot of hype and at first I shunned it as a fad. But, eventually curiosity got the best of me. For me, this book would be better as an essay. The book was full of repetition. Nevertheless, the idea of choosing what to keep (based on whether or not it brings you joy) rather than what to discard is a useful lens through which to view your belongings and take steps toward minimalism. I did the clothes stage of the tidying process for myself and my kids and our drawers have never looked better.

Meet Hecate

Meet Hecate, Formerly Known As Purple Bear

Hecate (née Purple Bear)

DENOMINATE:  to give a name to

Rick Riordan has changed things around here.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series transformed Son into an eight-year-old boy who would rather read than have screen time. The Heroes of Olympus series transformed him into someone who made sure to have his allowance in his pocket if we were passing within the vicinity of Secret Garden Books.

And, the changes go beyond reading enthusiasm. Before Percy Jackson, the stuffed animals in our house had names like Big Dog, Little Cow and Purple Bear. Now, a large number of formerly plain-named creatures have been christened with names like Poseidon, Hecate, Zeus and Hephaestus.

My children have spent the last two hours in their room acting out complex scenarios and battles at Camp Triple Blood. That’s right. Camp Triple Blood: where kids that are a combination of human, Greek god, and animal go for the summer. I’m really hoping my children don’t ask too many questions about the specifics of how three people would mate to create the campers for this imagined camp.

If they do, I’ll be asking Rick Riordan to make a house call and clean up this delightful, inventive mess he made.

Summer Reading Bingo

summer bingo

BINGO: a game in which players match numbered squares on a card with numbers that are called out until someone wins by matching five squares in a row

It’s time for a review of my June reading. All of my selections have been dictated by the Seattle Public Library’s summer reading BINGO card. I’m now deep in the throes of competitive reading with strangers from around the city in hopes of being the lucky winner of a stack of new books.  Check out the scorecard and play along. Here’s what I read in June: 

Everything i never told you

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Category: checked out from the library

A quietly sad and well-written novel about what can happen when we choose appearances over authenticity. I was surprised to find that this was categorized as adult lit rather than YA. That made me less forgiving of the heavy-handed role of racial prejudice and certain unlikeable characters. But, I’m a sucker for first novels and a lover of dysfunctional family stories so this book was mostly a win for me.

the bookseller

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Category: from an independent bookstore

This was my book club’s pick for the month. My lukewarm recommendation of this book is more likely the result of my own cheapness and the fact that the book is only available in hardback than an accurate reflection of the quality of the novel. I mostly enjoyed this road not taken story—bouncing back and forth between two plausible life paths—but found the narrator’s over-enlightened modern perspective on autism jarring in this story set in the 60s. While the journey was quick and fun, the destination was disappointing.

 the dinner

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Category: translated from another language

This book takes place during a single dinner, with key plot points revealed like timed courses. The characters are erratic and unlikable. The plot is farfetched. The suspense is overdone. And yet, I liked the book as a whole. It was the literary version of a still life: Very few people keep a well-stocked fruit bowl with one stray pear artfully placed on a counter nearby, but it’s still impressive when an artist captures the colors and texture of a pear just right. If for no other reason, this book is work reading to appreciate Koch’s fabulous caricature of an upscale restaurant.


Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness

Category: collection of short stories

Choosing to read this anthology was a bit self-serving, but I enjoyed the range of essays from my fellow writers. It’s the first book with a spine that includes my byline. So, yeah … I liked it. A lot.

girl with pearl earring

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Category: banned

This book is written at a gentle pace that matches the unfolding lives of the characters. Chevalier captures scenes in painstaking detail and allows the reader to be completely immersed in a world where subtleties—an open mouth, a wisp of hair, a concealed grease spot—mark significant shifts in power and intention.

this one summer

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Category: graphic novel

I get what this book is doing. I like realistic, subtle portrayals of depression and dysfunction as much as the next girl. It turns out, I just like those portrayals in writing. I’ll take 1,000 words over a picture any day. I suspect that for those better able to appreciate graphic novels, this will be a hit.

a boys will

A Boy’s Will by Robert Frost

Category: collection of poetry

I have long loved The Road Not Taken and, mistakenly, believed that I would love all of Robert Frost’s poetry. A Prayer in Spring and Revelation were two of my favorites in this collection from 1913, but I found the poems uneven. Though, to be fair, this is an early collection of Frost’s writing. I suspect that most famous poets—as well as anyone who dabbled in angst-ridden rhymes in their youth—cringe a bit at their early works.

84 charing cross

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Category: recommended by a friend

A solid recommended from my friend Brooke. This book is a series of letters between Helene Hanff (a New York writer) and Frank Doel (a London bookseller). While the letters start off as little more than an old-fashioned transaction—Please send me X edition of Y: I’ve enclosed some cash but don’t know how to convert dollars to pounds, so do the math and let me know if I need to send more—they become exchanges between friends brought together through a love of literature. This collection of correspondence is curated into a tiny, charming, and thoroughly enjoyable book.

ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Category: you finished reading in a day

This stunning story, told in alternating narratives, completely captivated me and was my favorite read of the month. I was sad to see it end, but lacked the restraint to make it last longer. I admired the vividness and authenticity of the relationships as well as Nelson’s writing style and her tidy-in-the-best-way plot.

35 things that matter to me today


BIRTHDAY: an anniversary of a birth

Like major holidays or the first day each autumn that the coffee shop offers eggnog lattes, each year on my birthday I feel compelled to reflect on years past and what the day has meant to me over time.

This year as I reflect, I find many of the things that mattered in the past—my height, the theme of my invitations, the content of my gifts—don’t matter to me anymore.

Other things—my width, the theme of my current essay, and the contents of my coffee cup—matter more.

Here are 35 things that matter to me today:

  1. My husband
  2. My children
  3. The crazy joy that those particular people bring into my life
  4. The certainty I feel that I bring a bit of crazy joy to their lives too
  5. Childhood friends
  6. The perspective that comes from spending time with those who knew you when
  7. New friends
  8. The freedom that comes from spending time with those who didn’t know you then
  9. A ceramic cup that feels just right in my hand
  10. Coffee in that cup
  11. Gilmore Girls
  12. Pride and Prejudice
  13. Perfectly-salted popcorn
  14. Hoppy IPAs
  15. Comfortable shoes
  16. Spanx
  17. A cute purse
  18. Holding hands
  19. Sharing the covers
  20. Getting more than my share of the pillows
  21. Using the proper name for body parts
  22. Gilbert Blythe
  23. Mr. Darcy
  24. Hand-written thank you notes
  25. Alphabetized file drawers
  26. On time arrivals
  27. Having my name spelled correctly
  28. The color of the ink in my pen
  29. Paper that tears cleanly from the notebook
  30. A thought perfectly captured
  31. Writing the truth as I know it
  32. The flavor of my toothpaste
  33. Summer road trips
  34. Good chocolate
  35. Shaved armpits

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