“Are you in lockdown?”

An incident at school Wednesday, followed by a flurry of confusing text messages from my son, had me texting him this question:

“Are you in lockdown?”

IMG_2859I didn’t ask this frivolously. It was the only way I could think of to interpret the incoming messages. The only way I could figure out whether the incident he was describing occurred off school grounds or was happening in real time. And to determine whether he was in danger.

The magnitude of that exchange did not hit me until the next morning. This is where we are, folks. A place and time where I can text my child this question as a matter of course.

This is where we are.

Never in my life did I believe I would accept something so scary, so chilling, as a commonplace question. A practical means to an end.

Our kids are under siege. What the hell are we going to do about it?

As parents we suffer so many anxieties, worries, frustrations and fears. But that our kids will be shot in a school, mall or church? At a concert or movie? Seriously? That is not sane.

This isn’t a war-torn country. IMG_2858We don’t live in Somalia or Syria or Afghanistan. This is the United States of America. A country I still believe to be the greatest in the world. But a great country protects its future and we are not doing that. Why have we come so far and fought so hard if we’re willing to sacrifice our children to outdated and dangerous ideals?

I don’t have all the answer and I don’t believe this problem can be completely solved with stricter gun laws. But your gun vs. my kid? I don’t even have to draw a breath to respond to that one.

This is the real world where many of us live and I want you to see it and hear it. To think about the kid, my kid, who got THAT text and had to answer THAT question. To his mom. In the middle of his school day. And I want you to realize it could easily be yours tomorrow or next week or next month.

Lockdown isn’t normal. Active shooter drills aren’t normal. None of this is normal.

Please, oh God, please – don’t let this be the new normal.


Didn’t mean to take an off ramp

IMG_0017A few years back, I worked on a project for a large, local corporation on why women “off ramp” from their careers – leave a promising job despite the fact that they’ve educated themselves and fought their way up the ladder. In this particular workforce, we found two reasons:

  • They were leaving to care for young children – these women tended to be in their early 30’s and most intended to re-enter the workforce
  • They were leaving because they were deeply dissatisfied with their careers – these women tended to be 40 or older and many left for self-employment or consulting work

It was a little frightening to see myself in the profiles we developed for that project. I left for both reasons. I had my children late in life, and I hit both of these crossroads simultaneously. I had progressed in my job about as far as I could go, and the other jobs that were available to me were just more of the same. And I had no time to care for my kids, put a decent meal on the table.

I wanted to start a new phase of my career, not exit. I threw myself into my work seeking a different kind of success.

I loved consulting, for a while. But I was surprised to find myself, ten years later, again deeply dissatisfied – this time with the isolation of my work, my home office, the time I spent with my now teenaged kids who didn’t really need me for more than transportation and basic supervision.

It was time to make a change again. So I did.

The good news is that much has changed in the ten years I was on my own. I found a job easily, despite the horror stories you hear about how hard it is to find a job when you are a) not early in your career; b) have been self-employed; c) need a little flexibility to manage family. Granted, it’s contract work – but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pick up where I left off and contribute in a positive way.

But my mind keeps going back to those young women we talked to and their stories. How hard it was to get anyone to take them seriously when they were ready to go back to work. How they were offered less money than they were making before kids because they had “taken a break”. How they endured comments like “We aren’t sure you’ll be able to multi-task.” Really? Who multi-tasks better than a stay-at-home mom?

See, the thing is, I didn’t think I was taking an “off ramp”. I thought I was just taking the alternate route. And I’m guessing many of them thought so too.

This post is part of the SITS Girls Stop the Summer Slump writing challenge.


And the winner is…

IMG_0307My children are competitive – really competitive. They come by it honestly. My husband and I have long since reconciled ourselves to the fact that we cannot play board games together. The opportunity for rapidly escalating, unseemly conflict is just too great.

My children feel no need to deescalate the tension. To them, everything is about winning, even if what they are trying to win isn’t worth the effort.

About once a day, I hear myself saying to my charming brood, “(Fill in the blank) is not a competition.” Which is just dead wrong. It’s all a competition. Where you sit in the car. Who gets the last piece of cornbread. Who gets to shower first. They even compete to see whose grades are the highest, although I gotta say, sometimes the bar is pretty low.

An urge to compete can be good. It can propel you to success others only dream of. It can spur you to excellence. Or it can just be darned annoying.

The other day, when I remarked, in response to a conflict, that “You people could make a competition out of tying your shoelaces,” my daughter replied, “And I would win that one for sure.”

And the other night, at the dinner table, my oldest son remarked, “I know this is not a competition to see who can eat the fastest, but if it were, I’d totally be winning it.”

To which my youngest child responded, pointing to his sister’s plate, “She didn’t finish hers, so there is no way I’m not going to ‘place’ tonight.”

That’s right, folks. At our dinner table it’s win, place, or show for the glory. For you slack others, it’s just the last of the dishes.

My kids seem unable to comprehend a world that is not about winning. When I took the photo to accompany this blog post, my oldest son, asked, “What is this for?”

“For a blog post on competition,” I said.

His next question? “What do you get if you win?”

Uh, I’m sorry son, that’s “on competition” not “in competition”. Unclear on the concept, I guess.

The 9 circles of parenthood

IMG_0503With my apology to Dante, if an apology is warranted. Dante could be a pretty creepy guy, but I did reorganize The Inferno a little in my spare time.

When your children are born they are angels. They coo. They smile. They dote on you. Your worst problem is changing a nasty diaper. And then they start to grow up and to your dismay, you find that are completely unprepared for the evils you encounter.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The Nine Circles of Parenthood

Limbo. Also known as toilet training. The phase where you will repeat, “Do you need to use the potty?” 100,000 times. It is fraught with uncertainty. Do you buy the Pull-Ups®, or do you not buy the Pull-ups? Can you risk a quick trip to the grocery store? Can you let your child in the wading pool, or are you courting disaster and a public shunning? Should you try to transport the soiled underwear home, or should you just pitch it in the trash?

Lust. When you have no lock on your bedroom door, and one of your children finds their way in every night, this one takes care of itself. Nothing vaporizes lust like a small pair of feet lodged firmly in your lower back. (Sure, I could have talked about teenage lust here, but none of us is ever quite ready for that, right?)

Anger. You are an adult. You have a college degree. You endured workplaces where you encountered all sorts of unreasonable behavior.  And yet, none of them made you half as angry as the child who stowed a half-eaten sucker under the couch cushions you just cleaned (because someone had previously stowed a half-eaten sucker in the same spot.) Who knew your capacity for anger could be this large?

Gluttony. A growing child is capable of all kinds of heinous behavior, like eating, as an after-school snack, most of a chicken that was supposed to feed the whole family before an early lacrosse practice. Or a child who announces, after a day making Christmas cookies with a friend, which ones she intends to share, and which she intends to eat entirely on her own.

Greed. Nothing motivates greed like candy, especially if you discourage its consumption. A child will eat all his brother’s remaining Halloween candy, even if he has just eaten all his own, and his brother had it hidden in a dirty sock behind his bookcase.

Heresy. Your child roots for the Packers during a Vikings game. The Packers!

Violence. Also known as “horseplay,” although you’ve never seen horses carry on the way a couple of boys will. There is no good end to a violent act. Nothing screams an afternoon at urgent care like a child announcing, “I think (my brother) just broke my neck.”

Fraud. You’ve seen that band practice log, and your child is either perpetrating fraud, or writing fiction.

Treachery. They leave. In the end, they leave. You feed, clean, clothe and drive them around for two decades and then they move, taking with them your linens, your car, and half of your small appliances. Oh, and your money.

And Dante thought hell looked bad.


Moon in the Morning

IMG_0597The day has launched itself in a typical fashion – a few schedule changes, an alarm clock not set. One child missed the bus, one didn’t have his homework done, the third misplaced something that doesn’t belong to him. It would be easy for me to fall into my typical everyone is out the door, what a relief, oh damn we’re out of coffee mood.

Missing the bus is a particularly painful circumstance. The drive to school requires more than the total time I usually have to shower, dress and get myself out the door.

For some reason, our high school was designed in a fashion that requires everyone to enter using a left turn. This is challenging by any account, but this is Minnesota so people wait patiently in the northbound lane until someone heading south stops all traffic in order to let them in. I kid you not. This waiting-and-pausing-traffic-unexpectedly is classic Minnesotan. Add to that the fact that a majority of the drivers entering the school are teenagers with varying degrees of driving skill and it makes for a traffic snarl worthy of a much larger city.

In addition, the drop-off area requires you to talk to a real person, a parking attendant, in order to pull in, drop your child and go. I wasn’t up for a chat with the nice young man since I was still in my pajamas. (Hey, I didn’t plan this errand, don’t judge.)

So I performed a parent cheat – dropped my daughter in an obscure area with the instruction, “Hike over to the front door. Have a nice day.”

As I maneuvered my way back out of this traffic jam, I could feel the day slipping away. It only takes one wrong move to start me down the slippery slope of slightly missed opportunities.

But as I headed west toward home, something caught my eye. The moon, round and full, features plainly visible, still hovering in the morning sky. Something about the way the daylight surrounded it seemed hopeful.

And then a bald eagle flew over my car. I’m sure it was a good sign.

Time to get my day on.


This is a Ready-Set-Done writing prompt from the Daily Post – ten minutes of free-writing. See other posts here.

They’ve blinded me with science

IMG_0594And failed me in geometry, history, technology – you name it. My kids, that is.

Children are curious creatures, and mine are no exception. On a fairly regular basis, I emerge from sleep only to be hit with a question that has been burning in one of their little brains all night. I like to call this phenomenon the Unanswerable Question of the Day.

I know some of these have answers based in scientific theory or historical fact, but frankly, before I’ve had my first cup of coffee (or two), they make my eyes bug out.

So, dear readers, how would you answer the following?

  1. If you were a dragon, and you had a mouthful of water, how many noodles do you think you could cook in there?
  2. Would fire float in space?
  3. Did William Tell ever accidentally kill someone when he was shooting an apple off their head?
  4. What would have been better to own in the 1600’s – a weapons store, a farm equipment store, or a grocery store?
  5. Could the cat have kittens if we hadn’t had her sockets removed?
  6. When the Spartans rowed into battle, did the rowers also fight, or did they just row?
  7. What happens if you’re a T-Rex, and you want a baby T-Rex, but you accidentally poop out a caveman?
  8. Do trees feel pain?

Thus my problem. I don’t even know if William Tell was a real person, and I’m more than a little distressed at the idea that trees might feel pain.

Sigh. Time for that next cup of coffee.


Road Kill

IMG_0017A truly depraved game to play with your children.

My family plays a game in the car that can only be called “Road Kill.” The object of the game is simple: Spot the road kill from a moving vehicle before the other occupants, and you get a point.

This game arose not because we have a particular affinity (or sympathy) for road kill, but because we are so competitive that we can’t take even a five-minute car ride without fighting tooth and nail for supremacy.

You’d think I’d have the advantage in this game because I am usually the one driving, but this is not the case. I’ve found that the act of paying attention to traffic, stop lights, and exit ramps sadly detracts from my Road Kill performance. The rules do benefit me some, though, being the driver. If we drive over a skunk that is already dead, I get the point. If we actually hit an animal of some kind, I get that point, too, but I may not hit one on purpose.

(Before you get up in arms, let me inject that I have never hit an animal on purpose, nor tried to hit an animal on purpose, and in fact, have hit very few animals. Once, a squirrel. Once an armadillo, and let me tell you, that’s a little like running over a football helmet that still has a head in it.)

The rules of Road Kill evolve during play. (A camel is 50 points. A human is 1,000,000.) We keep a running total until someone is so far ahead that the rest of us have no hope of winning, and then we start another round.

While it has provided hours of amusement opportunity for us to battle, there are some unhappy side effects of this game. Most notably, you start to witness the ill effects suffered by the roadside dead if they remain for a few days. Hot, humid weather has a particularly unfortunate effect. And you start to notice when it is taking your local municipality a little too long to pick the stuff up. (“Were all the road kill picker-uppers on vacation last week, or what?”)

And I’m guessing the inevitable winter will put a damper on the game. It’s hard to spot road kill that’s covered in snow. We might have to develop a new game. Perhaps “spot the slipping pedestrian.”

No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. I mean it!

The sandwiches of the 70’s

IMG_0559Maybe it’s because I just finished loading the completely overwhelming school calendar into my schedule, but today’s Daily Post writing prompt got me thinking about school lunch – what to buy, what to send with my kids, and what we ate. Especially what we ate.

The 70’s is not an era known for its cuisine. It was the time of gelatin blocks, frozen mixed vegetables (including the dubious lima bean), and an array of convenience foods best known for promoting the widespread use of MSG.

In keeping with the times, my classmates brought sandwiches that make me cringe now – peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and marshmallow cream, and my personal favorite, peanut butter and pickle. All served on good, old, spongy white bread that had about as many nutrients in it as the brown paper bag we carried it in.

My kale-loving, grain-eating self can’t quite reconcile my current eating habits to those days, and in truth, I didn’t eat many of these sandwiches. Peanut butter and pickles never made it into our family repertoire, and my mom did not buy marshmallow cream. Instead, I ate a tuna sandwich almost every day of my school career, a habit that followed me into my college years. (Which makes me think that the hazards of consuming mercury have been grossly overstated by public health officials.)

This would seem a more healthful choice if I had not consumed it alongside one of the past-the-sell-date Twinkies we bought at the Hostess outlet store. Oh, and a Delicious apple, the type that has been bred, in my mind, to taste the least like an actual apple. As you see, I cannot play the superiority card here.

My children have many more healthy options. I buy whole-grain bread, and nitrate-free turkey. Pack warm, homemade soup. Make kale chips. Cut up beautiful, organic fruit.

None of which they’ll eat. Even if they have the time to finish their lunches (which they won’t), I have no illusions that given the chance, they’ll trade for a past-the-sell-date Twinkie.


Actions speak louder

IMG_0301I say “I love you,” to my kids so often I’m sure they don’t hear it anymore. Well, to be honest, they don’t hear much of what I say these days. I can give a direction five times before anyone even acknowledges it.

But I persevere. I’m a doer, so I’m convinced that the little things I do will cut through the fog and instill themselves as some kind of ghost memory of my love in the minds of my kids.

Am I dreaming? Maybe. But if you think about all the annoying things you do just because you love your kids it gets to be a pretty long list.

No one who didn’t love you would do this:

  • Cut up a mango. It’s a giant pain.
  • Go to Chuck E. Cheese or one of its for-the-younger-set counterparts.
  • Change a diaper. Any diaper.
  • Use $10 in gas so you can go to a job that will pay you $40.
  • Invite a friend to be the 6th at dinner when I only made enough food for five.
  • Host a sleepover with more than two children at it.
  • Let you eat in the car.
  • And while we’re at it, prepare a homemade meal whose primary asset is that it was designed to be eaten in the car…
  • …but skip dinner myself to drive you to your activity.
  • Watch The Teletubbies while sober.
  • Drive you to school in my pajamas.
  • Pay your phone bill.
  • Volunteer at a school event that requires me to produce an attractive and educational display…
  • …or carve a map of Africa out of a pan of brownies.
  • Spend the afternoon in a wet bathing suit.
  • Play the same children’s CD in the car, every day, for a year.
  • Make a 5-hour round-trip for the sole purpose of adopting a stray cat.

I could probably stay at this list all day. But I need to go drive some people around.

What’s the most annoying thing you do for your kids?

Read some other perspectives on love or link up at The Wounded Dove.