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“The comments are a shitshow.” This from a friend on Facebook, a warning perhaps or an expression of vicarious disappointment. “I read the first one and threw my phone across the room.” This from a friend of a friend, a name I don’t recognize. They are commenting on a thread of an article I wrote, one in which I’ve been tagged.

Whenever I publish an essay on a popular website, I share the link on social media. Then I click on the little notification icon—on Twitter, on Facebook—and amidst the outpour of support, which I drink up like a warm cup of cocoa, there is almost always some mention of how dire, how diabolically offensive the on-site comments are. I tackle topics such as my marriage heaving under the weight of small children, or my failure, at 37, to have achieved financial independence—the sort of topics, in other words, that tend to elicit a more unforgiving breed of response.

I wouldn’t know how bad the responses are myself, because I don’t read them. I have a policy, put firmly in place the day my first New York Times piece went live, which boils down to one simple, non-negotiable rule: never read the comments. No matter how tempted you become in the flush of the moment, no matter how thrilled you are with the finished product. No matter how loudly curiosity scratches at the door.

I didn’t create this policy based on personal experience; I hadn’t been spooked by the ghost of comments past. In fact, that New York Times essay was one of the first I had ever published. The placement was a coup for me, a writer still wet behind the ears. I was trying to start over in my mid-thirties after years of being a stay-at-home mother.

The policy instead arose from watching others. Weeks earlier I had seen a blogging acquaintance of mine skewered in the same column. 277 comments, the majority of which revolved around what a selfish, suspect person she was. Her crime? Wanting more kids than her husband and daring to say so out loud. It was a glaring red flag for me: I could relate entirely to this woman’s plight. I had lived it myself, except while her situation remained unresolved, mine had already come to its conclusion (twins), which was the very subject of the essay due to appear.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Vela Magazine.




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the virtual aunt

I’m putting my daughter to bed, but her twin brother is still in the next room, waiting. I hear him chattering away, as he dances a toy elephant across the floor. He’s not talking to himself, though, my sister is with him. Well, technically, she’s some four thousand miles away in Vancouver, Canada, while we are in Glasgow, Scotland, but, virtually, she’s right there. My phone is propped against the bookshelf, the perfect angle for surveying the scene. My son is interacting with her as if she is sitting, flesh and bones, in the very same room.

We are regular partakers, my sister and I, in the phenomenon of the FaceTime babysitter. For me this kind of video messaging hasn’t just been a luxury, a vehicle for allowing an aunt to bond with her nephews and niece across an otherwise vast ocean. There have been moments, periods of time, where my sister’s virtual presence has been nothing short of a lifeline. Such is the way when you have two babies and only one pair of hands, only one set of eyes.

Back when their afternoon nap was the fulcrum of our day, we used to speak to her several times a week. I would put the twins in their high chairs at around noon; my sister would be getting ready for work, dawn breaking in Washington, D.C. They would choose the jewelry that best suited her outfit, oohing and ahhing over the various bracelets on display, as I cut crusts off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my laptop offering a comprehensive view of the kitchen. And then I would haul one toddler up to bed, while she would occupy the other, bound safely in his seat, and nap time would proceed smoothly, a staggered affair, instead of the manic free-for-all it became when I was on my own.

My sister has been heavily involved in my children’s lives from the beginning. She is a devoted aunt, to say the least, but she is also a woman with a job that takes her all over the world. The two of us have not lived in the same town, in the same country even, since 1999. Our relationship has been conducted through the channels of whatever technological means have been in the ascendency. Hours-long phone calls via special long-distance plans, Skype, when it was a novelty, and now the holy grail of instant visual access: FaceTime.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



all eyes on auntie g


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evolution of a reader

You start when he is two months old, you know it is important. All the experts say so, all the articles. Read to them, read to them incessantly. Do it early, the earlier the better. He seems like an alert baby, this one, wide-eyed and curious. The way he bats at his toys, the way he tracks your movements with a searching, soulful expression. Maybe all babies are like this, you aren’t sure. He is your first. You project onto him constantly—thoughts, feelings, skills—as if projecting will make it so.

Your mother sat with him when he was one week old, just home from the hospital, a sliver of a thing, and read him Pat the Bunny in that special sing-song voice you remember well from your own childhood. “Judy can pat the bunny,” she said, as your son stared into the middle distance, head lolling. “Now YOU pat the bunny.” She took the baby’s starfish hand, the nails still peeling from the wetness of the womb, and rubbed it purposefully against the fluffy bunny. And you couldn’t tell if it was ridiculous or adorable to be reading to a baby so new.

All the same, a couple of months later, you decide it is time to begin. Every night, every night without fail. Your husband gives the baby a bath, and then you coo at him, a steady stream of chatter as you stuff limbs into a sleepsuit covered with teddybears or rockets or stripes. You prop him up against you on the bed and read two books. Always two. Sometimes Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Sometimes Here Are My Hands. Sometimes you channel your mother and read Pat the Bunny with just the right intonations. You take it for granted that your son sits still at this age, that he tolerates the books without crying, when what he really wants is his milk. None of your other children will be so patient.

By the time he is one, he can pat the bunny on his own. He seems to understand you now, he has words himself, a bevy of animal sounds and an assortment of other babbles that mean something, finally. The floodgates of communication have opened; reading has become blissfully interactive. Your son loves books. You tell your family, your friends, anybody who will listen: “He loves books!” This makes you proud, as if it is evidence of an impressive feat of parenting or genetics. But of course he loves books, the shelves are lined with them, the house is strewn with them. Reading is your go-to childcare activity.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.


reading at one


reading at nine

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the hands-off grandma

My mother recently came to visit me and my family for ten days. Here is a list of the things she did vis-a-vis my four children:

Played with them, if asked.

Gave them snacks and sweets.

Talked to them.

Bought them gifts.

Hugged and kissed them.


And here is a list of the things she didn’t do:

Bathe them.

Dress them.

Prepare or serve any of their meals.

Help them with their homework.

Put them to bed.


Based on these lists, my mom is what you might call a “hands-off” Grandma—or Bubbe, as she is affectionately referred to. She loves her grandkids. She enjoys spending time with them, in small doses. She cares about their well-being and what is happening in their lives. But she is not interested in participating in the grunt work of raising them: the tasks that include bodily fluids and flailing limbs, tears and stall tactics and four outfit changes in as many minutes. In so far as it is possible to engineer, my mother, at 70, is looking to experience the good bits associated with young children, the fun bits, and not the slog.

For her, this is the line between what it is to be a grandparent and what it is to be a parent. This is the privilege you earn with the prefix “Grand.” “I’ve done my time,” she says, and she certainly has. She is the mother of three children, across eight years and two marriages. She did everything for us as we grew up—playdates, parties, projects—everything. She watches some of her friends “grandparent” in a way she finds unappealing, women, she says, who are attempting motherhood all over again. “I have my own life,” she reminds me, with perfect kindness and accuracy. “I don’t need to re-live having children through yours.”

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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is culture the reason my kids don’t listen to me?

My kids don’t listen to me. Or, rather, they listen to me, but rarely the first time and rarely without protest. Everything, it seems, is up for negotiation in our house, no matter how clear or firm I think I’m being. “You can’t have a snack.” But why? “It’s time for your bath.” But I don’t want one! “Lights out now.” But I’ve got 10 pages left! The other day I threatened to pull the car over when my 4-year-old wouldn’t stop kicking the back of my seat. And then I did, swerving into a side street more abruptly than I intended, and he looked at me with wide eyes and promptly started kicking it again.

My mother has long believed that for young children to listen to their parents they need to fear the consequences. I yell at my kids when they get out of hand, and to my own ears I sound like a banshee, but it doesn’t necessarily scare them into submission. I take away privileges (no iPad, the horror!), but it doesn’t ensure the offending behavior won’t be repeated. Even my husband, with his objectively stern manner, doesn’t intimidate them enough that they don’t talk back.

How do you command respect as a parent? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, because I am increasingly convinced that I don’t. It is through fear? Is it through discipline? Is it through quiet authority?

I consider myself a disciplinarian, but of course, if I were an effective one, my kid wouldn’t still be kicking the back of the seat after the fifth time I told him not to. I set boundaries, I enforce them; I am not, in other words, a pushover. And yet, at the same time, there must be some Gestalt to my parenting that is inherently non-authoritarian, something that fails to trigger blind obedience, that says to my children: the conversation is not closed. Not really.

You can read the rest of the article here, at The Washington Post.




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what my twins taught me about gender stereotypes

I have girl/boy twins.

Aside from discrepancies in their sleeping and eating habits, they were treated virtually the same for the first year of their lives. Yes, we had blue and pink blankets, onesies swirled with flowers and onesies peppered with firetrucks, but such is the reality of the day-to-day with twins that, as babies, they often wore whatever was to hand. They dipped in and out of a common collection of age-appropriate toys. They ate and drank from a shared set of crockery, the designs of which were both traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine. They were read the same books; they were spoken to and praised in comparable ways.

And then, poof, somewhere around their first birthday, it was as if the gender fairy flitted into our house and waved her magic wand, dusting them both with stereotypes. All of a sudden, my girl twin started ferrying around the toy chest’s lone baby doll, tending to his manifold needs as much as her rudimentary coordination would allow. At the same time, my boy twin became absolutely obsessed with smartphones. He keyed in numbers and toggled buttons with gusto. He had a strange reverence for wires and the act of charging.

Here they were, at 1 year old, poster children for the power of nature over nurture when it comes to typical gender play. The writing, it would seem, was on the wall.

But was it?

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.



they both wear superhero costumes; they both wear dresses



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the kitchen is closed

Children, damn them, they need to eat. Every day. Multiple times a day. It sounds simple enough, one of those straightforward facts of life. But there is nothing simple about my children’s relationship with food. They always want more of it, without ever quite wanting what it is that I have available. Their insatiable appetites and focus on certain food groups to the exclusion of all others is nothing less than an albatross around my neck. It is my Sisyphean rock. The meatball I keep pushing up the hill that rolls right back down again…uneaten.

I will never truly understand the plight of the parents of bird-like children. The ones who pick delicately, listlessly at the contents of their plates, before asking to be freed from the prison that is the kitchen table. The ones who skip lunch or “forget” to ask for a snack. In our house, “nack” was among the first words ever uttered and “nack time” has not once passed by unnoticed. Blood sugar levels plummet to precariously low levels if more than a couple of hours go by without a top up. Dinner is getting earlier and earlier. One of my kids asked me to make it at 3:45pm the other day.

My husband and I recently put up double doors between our kitchen and our living room as a way to stuff the dam of our children’s constant demand for food. For in the absence of a physical barrier, they have been known to swirl in and out of the kitchen at will, eddies of unquenchable hunger, no matter what time of day it is, no matter when they have last been fed (No, you can’t have“breakfast dessert”). Out of sight, the theory goes, and therefore out of mind, because if the little buggers so much as see snack-food or sweets, they need to have it. And if they aren’t allowed it, they start to beg. And then they beg and beg and beg some more.

You can read the rest of this post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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mothering in the rain

I hear thunder, I hear thunder.

Hark don’t you? Hark don’t you? 

Pitter, patter raindrops,

Pitter, patter raindrops,

I’m wet through; so are you. 

This is a nursery rhyme my children know by heart, many British children do, because the pitter patter of raindrops is the soundtrack to so much of their lives. Faces pressed against streaky windows, waterproof hoods pulled tightly over heads, most days my kids leave the house and are touched instantly by some form of moisture. Whether it is a misting that hangs in the air like gossamer or a sideways pelting that stings on impact, onwards they go, always in search of the next dry port of call.

We live in Scotland, where there is measurable rainfall for up to 250 days of the year (in certain parts) and where the seasons bleed into each other with a relatively moderate spread in temperature between them. I have a coffee mug that captures the phenomenon perfectly. It has a series of four pictures on it and, in each one, a bulldog is holding an umbrella against the rain, which continues to spit down irrespective of the season. The only thing that changes is the accoutrement: a scarf in winter, sunglasses in summer, leaves swirling aloft in autumn.

Brits talk about the weather incessantly, which is ironic considering it is so bad, but also telling of how deeply it infiltrates our psyches. There are few psyches as delicate as a new mother’s and, though I am somebody who never complained about it before, the climate here took on a whole new meaning to me when I had my babies.

My second son arrived in late November and for weeks upon weeks we holed ourselves up inside, a scenario I imagine is par for the course with many winter births. But Glasgow winters are particularly bleak. Not only do they fail to produce any fluffy, idyllic-looking snow by way of compensation for the cold but, because of the city’s latitude, the days are shockingly short. The skies begin to darken at around 3:30 p.m. and stay dark until well after eight the next morning. It is a long period to be without natural light and it feels longer still with a colicky baby in arms, a baby who seems already at an obvious disadvantage for developing proper Circadian rhythms.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Brain, Child Magazine.




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playing with a point

“We live on the planet Naff,” he says.

“Oh,” I say. “Is that Naff with a double F or Naph with a PH?” The question seems immediately relevant.

“It’s N-A-F-F-P-H,” he says.

“Obviously,” I say.

“Excuse me,” he says. “I can’t understand you. We only speak Naffphian on the planet Naffph.”

“Of course,” I say, wondering where I can make an emergency purchase of the requisite Rosetta Stone.

“And we smoke pipes,” he says, pulling a Lego configuration from the folds of his pocket which may or may not look like a pipe, depending on the angle. “What flavor do you think this is?”

“Um…toasted marshmallow,” I say, which is my favorite flavor of jelly bean so seems as reasonable a guess as any.

“Don’t be silly,” he says. “It’s bubble gum. Have a smoke, Naffphian pipes aren’t bad for you.”

“Okay,” I say, inhaling dramatically.

“But where is your smoke ring?” he asks, disappointed. “Every Naffphian has his own smoke ring.”

“Pfffffffff,” I say. My signature smoke ring turns out to be a pineapple.

“No, Mom,” he says. “That’s a spaceship. You can see from the turbo boosters on each side.”

This is how my seven year old plays. It’s how he has played, with increasing degrees of sophistication, since he was old enough to string a sentence together. He is an imaginative little creature, my son Leo. He invents things on a regular basis out of otherwise mundane household items—toilet paper tubes and sticky tape—things you didn’t quite know you needed. Like The Wind Sock of Doom, which (according to him) detects the wind direction, particularly in a dungeon.

Leo is imaginative in a way I am not, the result of which is that I have trouble joining him on his creative jaunts. His kind of play is not the kind that comes naturally to me. I watch him spin these elaborate scenarios with an equal measure of pride and bafflement and the best I can do is try to keep up. But usually I feel panicky and distracted in the face of the game’s openended-ness, its lack of rules or obvious structure. The sad truth is that I am a slave to logic. My imagination tends to run out of gas before I even leave the driveway.

You can read the rest of the post here, as part of a series on play at You Plus 2 Parenting.


look out! mom has joined the game…


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stay-at-home moms need annual leave, too

I just bought a plane ticket for one.

I have four children, ages 3 to 9, which makes this purchase noteworthy. In a few weeks’ time I will pack a sensibly sized bag and fill it with things that belong only to me. Things that speak of a life beyond motherhood: clothes that don’t double as yoga-gear, books that can be read at will, toothpaste that isn’t fruit-flavored.

I am a stay-at-home mom and for five days I will officially be on vacation. Consider this me punching in my time card.

The average American worker is entitled to sixteen days of paid leave per year. If being a stay-at-home mom is tantamount to a full-time job, isn’t this a benefit we deserve as well? The obvious answer is yes. The reality is far murkier, both because of the nature of the “work” of parenthood and the extent to which it is valued by society.

A child-free holiday, regardless of the parent’s employment status, is not without controversy. Especially when the parents take it together. Eight out of 10 people, according to one survey, say this is not something they could do with a clear conscience. In a poll in Parents Magazine, 30 percent of respondents were prepared to go further and suggest there is an element of moral reprehensibility to vacationing with your partner but not your baby. In today’s era of intensive, all-in parenting, where there seems to be an expectation that a child’s perceived needs trump its parents’ at any cost, a trip sans enfants can take on an undeniable sheen of selfishness.

There is a paradox here, though. We talk ad nauseum about the exhaustion and manifold difficulties inherent in raising young children. Jennifer Senior has analyzed it painstakingly in her bestseller All Joy and No Fun, concluding that early parenthood is the phase during which people are, in fact, “least happy.” And yet, we are more hard-pressed than ever to give ourselves a proper break: the current climate of parenting tells us that enjoying extended time away from our offspring is indulgence at best, neglect at worst.

You can read the rest of the piece here, in The Washington Post.



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