Surrender Dorothy

I ran the Philadelphia marathon in 2010.  The long training runs are crucial to marathon training, but notoriously hard to squeeze into your schedule. Especially a schedule centered around children.  I had to bang out an 18 miler on a Friday at 3:00.  I had been running around all morning – from camp to the pool – and was not properly fed/hydrated. This because clear at mile 16 when I bonked on the Schuykill River Trail.

It started with my legs getting stiff and heavy.  My arms were noodles, my brain an overripe cantaloupe.  I started crunning (aka. Running + Crying = Crunning).  What the hell is happening?  How am I going to finish this? No one knows I’m here.  What if I lie down and die?  

My body had literally run out of gas.  I prayed to the patron saint of runners and poor planners: HELP ME.  I visualized a Gatorade and soft pretzel from Wawa. And then, the parking lot appeared over the hill like the Emerald City.  I’m almost there, at last, at last!

emerald city

But I can’t run anymore!  I’m so sleepy!


Somehow, I made it to my car.  I drove to Wawa, where I staggered around like a mental patient, then stuffed my face with soft pretzel and Gatorade in the parking lot.  Someone was looking out for me.

Glinda-the-wizard-of-oz-5590466-600-400Why am I telling you this story?

Because staying home with children during summer vacation is a marathon.  It requires rest, hydration, (tip: Gatorade cancels out the vodka), and proper self care.  I discovered this yesterday morning while out for a run.  A short, easy 3 mile run.

Not so easy. My legs felt like cement. What is my problem?  Why am I so tired?  I started walking, a little disgusted with myself.  I walked by a little gift shop, and something made me go in.

I poked around for a minute, and my eyes landed on a little brown book with a red spine.  I opened it up to this page:


Love the parts of you that need more loving. 

I got weepy when I read this page, which means -as we say in yoga – “there’s something in there.”  Something inside that needs attending to, that needs a little TLC.

In other words:

surrender dorothy

We are four months into our move from Boston to Philly, and things are still….delicate.  I have been borderline obsessing about the girls: Why are they fighting so much?  Why is Emma not sleeping?  Should I put more on the schedule?  Less?  Why does Phoebe incorporate the word “vagina” into almost every conversation?   I am a snowball-worrier. One worry leads to another, culminating in an avalanche of fabricated scenarios.  This is very exhausting.


And always, even when it is lots of work, love the parts of you that you would prefer to hide. 

I would love to be more like my husband, Phil.  He is spontaneous and cheery, at ease with new people and situations.  He is the ultimate extrovert; he gains energy from other people.  I, on the other hand, am introverted.  I become moody and anxious when deprived of solitude or quiet time, aka. Summer Vacation.

Moving, I am realizing, is basically hell for introverts, because everything is small talk.  I am a bumbling idiot when it comes to small talk.  No, really.  I MANGLE IT.  Where a normal person might say, “So, do you live around here?”  I say something like, “Have you ever had the feeling that you might have two tampons in?”


Love yourself enough to give yourself the things you need. 

I need a good cry once a month.  I need Taza 87% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate in my freezer at all times. I need friends who have known me for 15+ years, because the fact that they still love me is a miracle.  But more than anything, I need time alone with Phil. He is my  soft pretzel and Gatorade.

When I got home from my “run,” I grabbed a water and studied the invite stuck on the fridge.  We recently joined a swim club, and the invitation was for a new member cocktail party that night.  We had the babysitter lined up and everything.  Phil loves these events. No, really.  He’s could be a professional cocktail partier.  I didn’t want to rain on his parade by being the emotionally fragile party foul.  But….

Love yourself enough to give yourself the things you need.

I took a deep breath and sent him an email: “Any chance you want to ditch tonight?  Just go to dinner somewhere?”

To which he replied, “Absolutely.”


Sometimes, you need to be your own Glinda the Good Witch.

Rhythm Is a Dancer

Summer snuck up on me.

Maybe because last year in Massachusetts – after a winter of blizzard like conditions – the kids got out of school about 15 minutes before the 4th of July parade came rolling down the street.

But we ended this academic year in a Catholic school outside of Philly, and on June 2, it was all over. “That’s a wrap!”

Huh?  Already?

Transitions are not my thing.  This is because I tend to be rigid a creature of habit.  I enjoy spontaneity but only if it’s a little bit planned.  Spontaneity for the whimsically challenged.

Unfortunately, summer requires us to change our plans, to adapt them, to adjust to a different schedule.  This makes me incredibly anxious.  So I self-soothe by binge-planning; stuffing the calendar with random activities to overcompensate for my lack of an actual plan.

You know when you are at a wedding and the DJ blends one song into another, with no pause in between?

You are out on the dance floor.  You’ve just had half a vodka tonic and about 1.5 minutes into Billie Jean you start to feel like you are finding your groove, like your arms and legs actually CAN move simultaneously in a non-seizure like fashion.  You have found the rhythm.  Then, suddenly, Billie Jean morphs into Thriller.  Your little hip shimmy-jazz hands routine no longer fits the song.  You stand there, frozen. You have lost the rhythm. You completely blank on the Thriller zombie dance.  Where’s my vodka tonic?

My transition from school to summer was kind of like that.

Our first day of summer vacation was a disaster.  I started with the best of intentions, aka, a binge planning session.  I planned trip to a playground with a giant xylophone and self-cooling misty sprinklers built into the monkey bars.  I brought snacks, sunscreen, bug spray.  This lasted an hour at best.

“We’re hungry, we’re bored, we’re hot!”

On the car ride home I told them about my childhood summers of being dropped off at a dusty field where I was forced to play dodge ball for eight hours.  This fell on deaf ears because this parental strategy has failed for hundreds of years.

Craft projects made them frustrated.  Outdoor games made them hot.  “She’s touching me without touching me!  She’s making a vampire face! MOOMMMMMM!!!!”

After I caught Phoebe in the bathroom drawing a mural on her butt with a green Sharpie marker, I put on Peppa Pig, tapped my box of wine, and gave myself a time-out on the front porch.

It dawned on my that the kids were also struggling to find their rhythm; that they too were trying to find away to seamlessly transition from Billie Jean to Thriller.

Rhythm (rith-uhm) n.

1. Movement or variation characterized by the regular recurrence or alteration of different quantities or conditions.

Movement…alteration….different conditions.  All words that suggest ease and comfort with transition; an awareness to the ever-changing cadence of life, a tuning-in to the substrative hum of nature.  In the words of the German eurodance dance group Snap!:

Rhythm is a dancer; it’s a soul companion

You can feel it everywhere

Lift your hands and voices, free your mind and join us

You can feel it everywhere.

If Rhythm is a Dancer, then I am Elaine Benes.


Sitting on the porch with my glass of Pinot Grigio, I listened to the sounds of summer: the whizz of kids flying by on bikes, the buzz of a fly circling my head, the swish of the leaves in an unexpected breeze.  Summer is the music.  But as a mother, I am the conductor.  It is my job to ease my kids into summer, to help them move from one song into another.

These things are easy to remember when I am sitting alone on the porch with a glass of wine. But I needed a mantra to ground me when someone Sharpies her butt.  And what words could be more poetic than those of hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock:

Cause I’m cool, calm just like a breeze.

I repeated these words to myself on Sunday as we drove home from a Father’s Day celebration at a beer garden in Philly.


We had a great time, but I could feel myself getting sleepy…lazy.  Phil said, “Let’s take the scenic route.”

I could feel my mind start to do it’s thing: We have no food.  We still need to get Emma a tennis racquet for camp.  Do the girls have clean underwear?  I started scrolling through my phone calendar, obsessing about dates in the distant future that had no relevance to the present moment. I could feel the thrashing suffocation in my body, like an elephant trying to take off a sweater. Then, I remembered:

Cause I’m cool, calm just like a breeze.

I looked up from my frantic phone-finger gymnastics and gazed out the window.  We were driving down a narrow road perpendicular to the Schuykill River.  People sat in lawn chairs around fire pits and barbecues, talking and laughing while kids played tag.  One man strummed a guitar.  Hanging from the trees were the biggest wind chimes I have ever seen.


“Where are we?  Are we still in Philadelphia?”

Phil smiled.  “Yup.  Like I said, this is the scenic route.”

“MOM!” That lady is on a HORSE!”


As we stopped to take this kind urban equestrian’s photo, I decided to leave the laundry and meal planning for…whenever.

To find my summer rhythm, I need to let go of the metronome; the steady tic-toc that sets the pace for the school year.  Summer is not the time for things to run like clockwork. Sure, we all need some structure to our day, especially kids.  But summer is the time for taking the long way home, for reading novels, for eating waffles and ice cream for dinner and playing board games on the front porch.


Summer is about lemonade stands and lightening bugs and running through sprinklers.

IMG_2174This weekend marks the summer solstice, which means “sun standing still.”  I love this. Because in between the inevitable bouts of whining and fighting, I catch glimpses of my two little suns standing still – relaxed and present, moving to their own rhythm, basking in their own light.








Nothing But The Truth (Because I Suck at Lying)

Transitions.FrontCover.NBTT3rdED_FrontCover_4.2.14Tonight I will be at a Soho bookstore in NYC, reading the essay I had published in the anthology Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. This is the first time I have ever done a book reading….or had something published in a book….or typed the words “Soho.”

My editor’s instructions were to start the reading with “a few words about your experience with the book.”

Almost two years ago, I entered an essay contest – the topic was “Transition.” I read the contest requirements while sitting at the dining room table of our rental cottage in Scituate, MA, surrounded by boxes of books and board games. Most of our possessions were still in the house in PA we had yet to sell; the rest sat in a storage unit waiting to be reclaimed somewhere in the ambiguous future. I knew a thing or two about transition.

I entered the contest. I didn’t win. I wasn’t even a finalist. This was not at all surprising, considering the last thing I won was the Book Mark Contest in 4th grade. And even then I didn’t exactly WIN, I tied with my friend Deirdre.


A few months after the contest, I received an email from the editor at the publishing house who sponsored the contest, asking if I would be interested in having my essay included in their next anthology, Transitions.

Ummmm, YEAH.

I hooped, I hollered, I did the Dance of Joy. Then, I panicked. Like, cold-sweat-holy-shit-what-did-I-do kind of panic. You see, when I wrote the essay, I didn’t think anyone was actually going to read it. Especially the people who I actually wrote about in the essay. People like my mother-in-law. And pretty much Phil’s entire family. I had gone from happiness to hives in two minutes.

It’s not that I wrote anything bad. I love my in-laws; we are actually very close. Hell, this blog is named after my mother-in-law. The woman gives me some priceless material; she’s practically my muse. But the essay touches on how overwhelming it was for me to marry into Phil’s large and boisterous family – and how for many years I was a fish out of water. So while I didn’t write anything bad…I did tell the truth.

Putting the truth out there – or at least the truth as you see it – can be a tricky business: Am I hurting someone’s feelings? Is this my truth to tell? Should I wait until everyone is dead?

But I am a writer. I write about the world around me in order to make sense of it, because if I don’t, I start to go a little crazy. Sometimes a lot crazy. And it’s important for me to write the truth as I see it, because that is the only thing I know for sure. Writing about something I don’t really know triggers my deep, dark fear of being a fraud.  Of being found out.

As an English major, I spent my college years writing like I knew what I was talking about, when in reality, I was completely making shit up. Most of my papers were complete BS. My motto was: When in doubt, find the Jesus figure. It was a Catholic college, I figured no one was going to argue with that.

But this shot-in-the-dark strategy gave me terrible anxiety. I was sure people were going to call me out for the academic imposter that I was, because I am a terrible liar. My theory is that lying is controlled by the part of your brain that does math and reads maps.


This doesn’t mean I’ve never tried to lie. When I was a freshman, I came home for fall break with a giant hickey on my neck. I didn’t even attempt to hide it, even though it was the year of the J.Crew roll neck sweater. That’s how bad a liar I am – I didn’t even think to put on a damn turtleneck. I walk in the door and my mother says:

“What happened to your neck?”

“Uh..I walked…into…a wall..?”

“With your NECK?”

She walked away, disgusted by either my sluttiness or my inability to hide it, or both. She sat me down later and said: “You know, Jessie, some people can lie and get away with it. You will never be one of those people.”

Wiser words were never spoken.

So, I write the truth, because when I try to be coy or breezy, I look like a poser-idiot. The flip side to not looking like a poser-idiot, however, is the possibility of really pissing people off. Important people. People you need to sit next to at Thanksgiving.

Hence, the hives.

When Phil’s family got wind of my essay’s publication, they were obviously excited and wanted to read it: “What’s it about? Send me the link!”

I tried to avoid this in my signature suave, hide-the-hickey fashion: “Yeah…sure….I will….except that my computer, like…melted….because it was like, too close to the…sun…OMG I GOTTA GO I’LL CALL YOU BACK.”

One night at my house, my sister-in-law Trisha finally called my bluff. Despite my attempts to distract her with cocktails conversation, she insisted on reading the essay. I printed it out and hid in my bathroom.

When I came out, she looked up and said, “I never knew you felt this way. If I had known you felt this way, I would have…I don’t know…tried to help you not feel this way.”

A few things I have learned about the truth:

  1. When I think I know someone else’s truth, I am always wrong.
  2. When I think I know someone else’s truth, I am avoiding my own.
  3. When I am vulnerable, I give others permission to do the same.
  4. People want to tell the truth. You just need to give them a chance.
  5. There is always a deeper truth beneath the truth. So keep digging.




South To Drop Off, North To Pick Up: Adventures in Car Line

mr momIt’s the Great Parenting Challenge that no one tells you about: The Car Line.  A cross-section of parenting personalities condensed into a .3 mile auto-obstacle course. No matter how organized the system, even the most tightly run car line can go horribly wrong. Because there are people involved.

Let’s say you have never been in car line. You might say, “What’s the big deal? You are just picking up your kid at school.”  And then the rest of us would laugh at you. Not with you, but at you, maniacally, because car line makes you mad as a hatter.

With the school year coming to a close, here are a few of many examples -from my observations – of the “types” that make up this unique demographic:

The Competitor: The parent that treats car line like an army bootcamp. She arrives in car line at 2:30 – the bell doesn’t ring until 3 – so she can get “her spot” in the left lane.  She secretly makes her children do timed practice drills at home.  As she pulls up, fear registers on the faces of her children. They race to the door their crazy mother has climbed over the seat to open.  Bags are thrown in the car, children dragged in by their armpits. The older child chants: “GO! GO! BUCKLE! DOOR!” The younger child is crying: “Yelling scares people and it doesn’t work!” They pull away in silence, spent, sweating. The hands of the Competitor are bleeding.  Older child comments: “I think we shaved 2.4 seconds off our best time.”

little_miss_sunshine01Captain Compliance: The parent who thrives in a controlled environment but lacks street smarts. Always prepared, her bag is filled with wet wipes, bandaids, and Goldfish snack bags. Captain Compliance always follow the rules, but when the rules change, she is paralyzed. Scenario: A bus breaks down, but Captain Compliance won’t move, she’s a deer in headlights. Her face panicked, she mouths through the glass: But you’re not supposed to change lanes! A tornado could be barreling toward her car full throttle, but she will not move, because You are not supposed to exit your vehicle! Which brings us to….

The Hiney Honker: (aka. The Butt Beeper) The Hiney Honker is a subset of Captain Compliance. Despite the fact that her preschooler is incapable of entering the vehicle and securing a seat belt unassisted, the Hiney Honker will not exit the vehicle. Instead, she climbs over the back seat to buckle the child, and in the process honks the horn with her ass. She then freaks out, thinking she is in trouble: “Who is honking at me?? I’m following the rules!” Her 2nd grader, with a roll of the eyes, says, “Mom, that was you, you butt beeped again.” Ok…I might be the only person in this category. Speaking of honking, that brings us to…

The Taxi Driver: If the Taxi Driver is behind the Hiney Honker, all hell can break lose, because the Taxi Driver loves to lay on the horn and will reflexively honk back. To the Taxi Driver, car line is no different than rush hour in Manhattan. Typically male (but not always), the Taxi Driver has no patience for idleness and slow-moving people, even if the “people” are kindergartners or senior citizens. He consistently throws up his hands in disgust, mouthing the words, “Awwww, C’MON!” or “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS,” or “ARE YOU F*$#ING KIDDING ME?!” Note: Sometimes the taxi driver actually is a taxi driver. 


The Early Ejector: A close cousin to the Taxi Driver, the Early Ejector drops his child off at least 100 ft away from the designated drop-off zone. The Early Ejector’s schedule is of paramount importance, and he just doesn’t have the time for all the rules/safety nonsense. His attitude is: I need to BE somewhere, People.  While his kid bear crawls up a grassy embankment and rolls down the other side, landing directly in the line of traffic, the Early Ejector DOUBLE EJECTS by saying “I’m blowing this taco stand” and cuts through the right lane, over the orange cones, and speeds to freedom. Speaking of the orange cones…

Scan 19The Cone Dragger: (aka. The Curb Jumper).You know the orange cones that mark the zone of safety for your child? The cones that create THE LANES? Well, say goodbye to the left lane because the Cone Dragger just dragged it around the corner and left it by the baseball field. Always distracted, always on the phone, the Cone Dragger is a charmer, often feigning shock/innocence, as if the cone attached itself to his/her tire. He/She mouths “SORRY!!” to the irate traffic director without ever getting off the phone.

The Clown Car: This is the mom who is picking up for every house on her street. A line of kids pile in to the black hole that is her mini-van. Is there a mini-van that seats 13? She either lacks logistical planning or the ability to say no. She realizes she bit off more than she could chew when she leans in and says, “Oh Billy…do you still use a booster?” Yeah, like Billy is going to fess up to that, and risk being called Booster Billy for the entire summer.

The Lady’s Maid: The parent who forgot to dress their child at home and instead does it in car line.

The Smother Mother: You will see them at 3:00. They are going to school, not Afghanistan. No more kisses.

carline_ kiss and go

The Rearranger: The parents who feels carline is the appropriate time and place to examine the contents of her trunk. Even after the children have already exited the vehicle, the Rearranger can still be seen rolling up her yoga mat, moving her cold grocery items into her new insulated cooler bag from Trader Joes.  Oh, what’s this?  It’s Katie’s math book! “Katie! Wait!!” She turns around to the other cars, avoids eye contact, and holds up a finger, “Just one minute!” Which brings us to……

The Deserter: The Deserter is the curse of the car line. Not only does the Deserter break the cardinal law of car line -Don’t Leave The Vehicle – but then he/she NEVER RETURNS.  This triggers a reaction in every other car line personality: The Competitor is losing precious seconds off her time, Captain Compliance is stuck behind the Deserter’s vehicle but is paralyzed with fear (“Her flashers aren’t on! I can’t go around!”).  The Taxi Driver starts honking, the The Early Ejector can’t take this sh*t, he’s out of here, The Cone Dragger can’t hear his conference call, so he finds an alternate route, dragging the right lane with him. Pandemonium ensues.  Traffic backs up onto a major street. Fender benders occur, people are late for piano lessons, blood pressures rise, gas is wasted, the air is polluted with fuel and fury. Basically the car line Deserter messes with the entire ecosystem. The whole planet suffers.

True Confessions:  I am a Competitor/Captain Compliance.  My husband is the original Cone Dragger.  Which car line personality are you?