Bully for You

I have a confession: I was not bullied in high school.

I don’t *think* I was a bully, either, but memory is a tricky thing. I remember girls in my high school who were… pretty universally picked on. I don’t recall going out of my way to pick on them, but it’s safe (and unfortunate) to say I also didn’t go out of my way to defend them either.

I didn’t harass them (to my recollection), and I didn’t assault them (by, for example, knocking books out of their hands or tripping them in class). But I didn’t invite them to sit with me at lunch either.

I dare say this puts me firmly in the majority of teenagers, at least at that time.

If you read enough parenting sites on the World Wide Interwebz these days, it seems there are two groups in high schools (and younger, even): the bullies and the bullied. And if you aren’t the latter, then by default you’re the former.

But I wonder about that. I think most teens are like I was: not an aggressor, not a defender, not a victim. I just wanted to survive being a teen.


That said, I very nearly did get beat up one day. I yelled an insult about a girl in gym class. She heard me (I don’t know why I thought she wouldn’t), and teamed up with the toughest chick in my class (this girl smoked cigarettes!), and threatened to kick my ass.

I don’t know why she changed her mind.


I worry a little bit about my own girls. They are still young, but the drama is already pretty rampant. When Niece visits, it is just a matter of time until one of the girls is stomping off in a huff, wanting to be alone, or complaining about not getting played with. It makes me roll my eyes a little — we’re talking about a 6-, 5-, and 4-year-old here. Flora has come home from daycare (not DCL’s) complaining about one of her “friends” calling her stupid or not wanting to play with her.

The other day, Nephew even had to come to me to tell me that Flora hit him in the privates. When I talked to Flora about it, she was devastated that he told on her.

“I don’t like being told on!” she wailed.

I more or less pointed out that she shouldn’t do things to other people that are going to get her told on, then.

I’ve told my daughters to walk away if someone is doing something to them that they don’t like (i.e. calling them names, physically bothering them). If the person doesn’t stop, they should tell an adult. I have misgivings when I give this advice. Am I turning them into tattletales? At the same time, I don’t want them to take playground justice into their own hands and start hitting people.

We all know the kid that gets caught hitting gets in the most trouble.


When my brother was in eighth grade, he suddenly developed a real phobia about going to school. He had stomach aches, headaches, complained nearly daily about having to go.

When my father — who, incidentally, grew up on the streets of ‘SLiberty — finally got to the bottom of things, it turns out my brother was getting picked on. Bullied, more or less. A bigger boy (my brother was about a year younger than his classmates) was constantly threatening to beat him up.

My dad told him to fight the kid. And then had to teach my brother how to make a fist.

We grew up in the suburbs of Erie. We didn’t fight — as a practice anyway. My dad had a different childhood. He was pretty amazed that his son hadn’t already been scrapping on the playground.


Dan, too, was bullied in grade school. He said he finally turned around one day and socked the kid in the nose. Bloodied it for him, knocked him to the ground. The kid never bothered him again.


So, what will I be telling Michael in a few years?


Again, I don’t believe in helicopter parenting my children. When they are sniping with each other or with their cousins (on either side), I try to stay out of it. They have to learn to negotiate these relationships by themselves. As long as no one is putting her hands on someone else, then I try to keep my lip zipped.

Are there signs that your kid is going to be a bully, or be a victim? If it’s clear they are not being bullied, should I assume they are bullying? How do you (plan to) negotiate these waters?

Meatless Monday: Taste of Failure

I recently tried two new dishes that my family gave me the thumbs down on.

This is unusual. I do not have picky eaters. My girls (and Dan) eat a variety of foods, and love all kinds of different fruits and vegetables. Most of the time, they are willing to take a bite or two of something new. The pickiest eater in my house is probably my husband, and even then most of the time when it comes to dinner, he says, “It’s better than the dinner I cooked.”

Get it?

So to strike out twice in a short time flummoxed me.

The first thing I tried was roasted broccoli. My family loves broccoli. The girls eat it raw (dip optional). They also like it steamed, and sauteed with garlic. Aside from lettuce, it’s our favorite vegetable. But roasted broccoli — which I found very tasty, with lemon zest and romano cheese — was a no-go.

“I don’t like the brown parts,” Flora told me. Dan said it tasted bitter.

I may try it again — lower the temperature on the oven, maybe? It did get quite charred.

The other dish I tried that I thought would be a sure thing was Banana Corn Fritters (recipe at Weelicious.com, a new-to-me site. I wish I could remember how I stumbled onto it.)

We are huge fans of brunch and brinner (breakfast + dinner) at my house. And Dan makes the best pancakes ever. I figured this was like a banana pancake, and since it was served with honey, the girls would love it.

I was incorrect.

Flora tried one with honey. After two bites, she said, “Can I have it with no honey?” After two bites of one with only butter, she said, “This is thick. I’m full. Can I go play?”

The fritters are dense, rather than fluffy like pancakes. Dan liked the taste, but didn’t like the corn. So I’m going to try again, with no corn this time. Flora didn’t like the corn either. I found kernels that she had plucked from the fritter on her plate. Apparently, she only likes corn on the cob. News to me!

Kate was markedly unenthusiastic about both roasted broccoli and the fritters, but she is not nearly so articulate as her sister. She just didn’t eat ’em.


On the plus side, Flora tried and liked pesto pasta (made with garlic scapes for a more mild flavor), and I did manage to get some fresh strawberries (and chocolate chips) into my trusty muffin recipe, and the girls each ate three (over two days). So that was a win.

What have your kids or spouse eaten — or refused to eat — that surprised you?

The Kids Will Be All Right

After finally hearing and reading all the hand-wringing about Lori Gottlieb’s article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” in the Atlantic Monthly, I went and had a read for myself.

And I was relieved. Because you know what? She’s not talking about me. Whew. I am so not one of those “well meaning” (read: helicopter) parents.

Do I want to raise happy kids?

You bet.

Do I think I can *make* my kids happy?

Hell, no.

I can give them the tools to help them make good choices. Good choices, and being self-sufficient can lead to moments of happiness. Will my kids — even with the tools I give, and my love, and my blessings, and good choices, be happy, happy, happy all the fucking time?

Hell no.

No one is happy all the fucking time. (And if they are, check the medicine cabinet.)

To sum up: Gottlieb’s article, on the surface, is about how modern parenting still lands kids in therapy. The fact that the kids of helicopter parents are ending up in therapy full of anxiety or/and depression should shock just about nobody.

If you raise your kid by protecting him or her from EVERY hurt or failure, intervening in his or her interactions with peers and authority figures, guess what? That kid is going to have zero confidence in his or her ability to navigate the world on his/her own.

I’m not saying you should let your kid be bullied by his peers. You shouldn’t let a person in authority over your child (teacher, coach, priest) abuse his or her power.

But geez louise: let the kids go a little bit.


Here’s my favorite quote of the article: “…happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” — Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory at Swarthmore College. Emphasis mine.


Here’s my favorite take on the babble about this article — and helicopter parenting in general — so far, plus a take on the Go The F*ck To Sleep book that engendered everything from insecurity to rage. I mean, people: it was supposed to be funny.


I had great parents. They didn’t hover, and they put their marriage first and foremost. They didn’t protect me from failure. When I came home with my very first D (high school calculus), my dad took one look at the scarlet letter on my test and said, “You better work to pull that grade up.”

They weren’t neglectful and they weren’t helicopter parents. They set boundaries, and they disciplined us. We were expected to do our own homework, although they helped if we asked. (We didn’t ask often.)

When I was in my 20s, I suffered a pretty bad break up. Although I had the support of my family and many of my friends, I had terrible anxiety about my life. I started having nightmares, most of them about being consumed. Literally eaten alive.

So I went to therapy. It helped immensely. We examined my anxiety and where it came from. We talked about my reaction to being in a relationship, my propensity to “settle” instead of getting the love I deserved. We talked about religion, poetry, and life in general.

I always say if it weren’t for therapy, I wouldn’t have married Dan. I wouldn’t have been in the place I needed to be — an open place, a place of security and knowing not just want I wanted, but what I deserved — I would have totally whiffed on my relationship with him.

Could some of this stuff that came up in therapy be pinned on Mom & Dad? Sure, why not. Was it their *fault* that I needed therapy?

No. It’s no one’s fault. Even these earnest, “well meaning” helicopter parents didn’t plan for their kids to be in therapy. (Although my husband and I thank them!) It’s not their fault.

This quest for the perfectly well-adjusted child — or parent or mother for that matter — is futile. People, we are imperfect. We act imperfectly. We aren’t Stepford mothers or children.

And that’s okay.

And if you need therapy to help you figure out that not being perfect is okay, I’ve got a contact name for you.

The “M” Word

I am in my sister’s wedding in October. Along with Flora — the flower girl, aptly enough — and another maid of honor, and her future stepdaughter as the junior bridesmaid. It’s a small wedding party, which is great.

As the married woman of the group, I am expected to carry a title that I have a strong dislike toward.

I am officially declaring that in the program and in all other communiques regarding Dr. Sis’s wedding, I would like to be referred to as the Married Maid of Honor — the MMOH.

Not that other word.

That other word is for powdered aunts over 70 years old. It is for proper ladies who wear pearls. It is for women of a certain age. I may someday be a powdered aunt who properly wears pearls. I probably will be of a certain age — in 40 more years.

But I just can’t embrace my proper title. Yes, I am (happily!) married; I have delivered four children and am raising three.

I own a lovely pair of pearl earrings passed down from my grandmother.

Otherwise, I just don’t see myself as a… you know. That word.


Along those lines, I am planning a Girlie Weekend in the Philadelphia area for the women of the wedding. Any restaurant or spa suggestions are welcome. (See, I’m planning spa time! Those M-words don’t go to spas!) I also regularly panic about the thought of giving a toast. I’m not a nervous public speaker per se, but I’ve no idea what to say. I guessing the shorter the sweeter, right?

My sister was my MOH. She wrote and read a poem as her toast. It was pretty impressive, so I do have a bit of an act to follow.

Random Thoughts: The Growing Up Edition

Last Saturday, the girls cleaned up their room with minimal supervision. And NO bribes.

I almost couldn’t believe it.

Dan and I asked them to go to their room and pick up all their stuffed animals. (He and I were also busy cleaning.) They also made their beds (to the best of their abilities), and picked up their books (stashing them in the bottom drawer of their night stand).

It was totally stunning. And we praised them to high heaven for it.

Also, we need to put a bookshelf in their room.


Kate loves to help me. She helps me load the clothes washer, or move clothes from the washer to the dryer. She likes to fold her underwear (I know) and put it neatly in her drawer. She likes to wipe off the kitchen table or wash dishes. And by “wash dishes” I mean wash five things over and over again. I’m okay with this.

Flora likes *to offer* to help me. But if I don’t move quickly enough, her attention wanders, and she decides to go draw or watch Looney Tune cartoons instead.


Last night, as I was finishing my dinner of a big ole salad (with a Quorn cutlet and feta cheese thrown in), Flora walked up. “Give me a bite!” she begged. So I did.

“Do you want a salad?” I asked her. We get salad greens from our CSA that are stellar. Flora said yes, and I gave her about a cup of dressed greens.

She ate every last leaf. I’m so proud!


Flora is really reading now, and she loves to pick a book and read to me as I’m feeding Michael, or reading the bedtime book. She is still occasionally skittish about sounding out totally unfamiliar words, but she is getting better. I’ve noted that being tired makes her quicker to ask for the word rather than sounding it out. Her frustration level ramps up at night.

It’s fun to listen to her pick her way through the words. I often think of two things while she’s reading aloud:

1. How much I love to read, and how knowing how to read is opening up worlds for her. Worlds of fantasy and fun, of learning and language, of different lives and different universes.

2. How many people still don’t know how to read. I am still stunned to know that there are illiterate people in the United States — most likely due to educational access or learning disabilities. I didn’t set out to teach Flora to read, but here she is, reading to me. I know a lot of that is because I read to her *daily*, because she is in a good school system, and because — as far as we can tell to date — she doesn’t have learning disabilities.

When I think of the illiteracy rates in the United States (about 21% to 23%), I often wish I had the patience to teach others to read — actively teach. But I know I don’t — believe me. If you have suggestions as to what I can do to help boost literacy, please share them in the comments.


I have videos of Michael ALMOST crawling and also drumming with his dinner spoons on his high chair. I’m having some issues uploading them from my phone, so you’re going to have to wait to see them. But: CRAWLING (okay, not completely belly-off-the-ground yet; he still uses his elbows) and EATING SOLIDS.

Father’s Day we went to brunch with Dan’s family. Michael woke up from a 2-hour nap right before we had to leave. Flora gave him some of his bottle in the car — he was fussing to eat — and when we got to the restaurant, I got out his cereal and pureed banana. His whole face lit up and he sat straight up in his high chair. It was hilarious. If he had been holding a spoon, I think he would have started banging it on the table, all, “Hurry UP, woman!”


Also Sunday, I prayed for my children. Prayed for their bodily integrity, for straight limbs and clear eyes; prayed for their buoyant and curious spirits. I know that I cannot protect them from every injury, every scrape or boo-boo, every heart ache. I have to be strong enough to let them go out into the world.

But I did pray that they not be crushed, not be broken. That their limbs and senses remain straight and clear; that their minds remain alert and curious; that their spirits remain open and loving. I don’t want to shelter my children from failure, hurt, or pain. But I would like to teach them to survive these things, and go forward stronger. I’m not 100 percent sure HOW to do that yet. But I prayed for the wisdom to learn.

The Two Faces of Kate

I was going to do a Random Thoughts post about stuff I’ve been reading on the Interwebz this week, but as most of it has been infuriating to me for one reason or another, I decided to drop it. I either need calming meds or to stop reading comment sections.

Or, you know, beer.

Instead, I give you a laugh (I hope). Here are two pictures of Kate, taken within minutes (if not seconds) of each other.

And each is undeniably my second daughter, my sweet and fickle and irrepressible and entertaining middle child. (Please to ignore the purple bar at the bottom of the second picture. I haven’t figured out what caused it, so I can’t figure out how to get rid of it.)

I give you: The Two Faces of Kate

(For the record: Flora’s “graduation”; those are my parents, AKA Nonna and Pap-pap. Also AKA “the greatest parents on the planet”.)

Black Hole Sun: Follow Up

Still thinking about this. Bear with me as I work some of it out. (Or, you know, click to a happy blog!)

I have been depressed before, to a certain extent. After Gabriel was probably the closest I came to true depression. But every day, through my sadness and heart-crushing grief, I got out of bed. I usually ate and showered. I told myself that the day I couldn’t take these basic steps was the day I would ask for medication. Yeah, I got up and went to my couch and cried for an hour (or four) some days, and yeah, I went into therapy. But every day: out of bed.

I have been flirting with depression since Michael was born. First it was some post-partum stuff, a little more than the baby blues I was used to. Then difficulties breast feeding made me feel bad; having to return to work full-time didn’t help; conflating Gabriel and Michael was heart-hurty (not a real medical term).

But again, I was functioning: getting up, showering, dressing, eating, taking care of my family, going to work. The pressure was definitely increasing. Talking to some friends at Cook Forest at the end of April about my current schedule, one of them said (incredulously), “How are you doing all that?” I said, “I’m faking it.” I didn’t realize until Saturday how true that was.

Usually, when talking about “mental health issues”, I default to anxiety. I get worked up and overwhelmed, and panicky, and have anxiety attacks. It ain’t pretty.

So the depression of Saturday was, uh, different. Not in a good way.

I’m trying to do things a little differently this week to take off the pressure. First, and I admit I’m not proud of this, I am giving my kids easy dinners this week. A lot of “not”dogs, mac and cheese (not a staple at home; they get it enough if we go out to dinner), vegetarian baked beans, etc. I’m not cooking from scratch this week. They are getting fresh fruits and veggies, though. No need to skimp on those with my CSA.

Second, I am trying to keep lines open between Dan and me. I am looking for little ways to treat him right (making a big salad for when he comes home, writing notes to tuck into his briefcase) so that we stay connected. He is trying to do the same for me.

Third, I am trying to take 20 minutes or so daily to read. I’ve really lost the habit since I went back to work. Which is weird, because I LOVE to read. Trying to get back into that groove.

My next goal — my perpetual goal — is incorporating exercise into my life. Little walks during the day, bouncing on the stability ball at home, deep knee bends as I put away laundry or empty the dishwasher.

So that’s where I am now, today, this minute as I write this. Breathing deeply, and focusing on not falling again. Not much else I can do.

Black Hole Sun

Because my father reads this blog, let me offer this disclaimer: I am fine.

Saturday, however, I was not fine.

I experienced for the first time ever true, black-hole depression.

I felt broken. I felt that I couldn’t go on, that I didn’t want to operate another day doing what I was doing. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to be a mother or a wife, I didn’t want to clean or do laundry. I did not want to shower or eat or get out of bed.

As a matter of fact, I spent quite a bit of the day in bed. If Michael — my dearest son, who was also sick with a fever and an ear infection (diagnosed Sunday), and who made this sound all weekend, “eehhhhh” “eehhhhh” — If Michael was asleep on Saturday, so was I. My other two children watched Looney Tunes and played with their cousins, and were largely looked after by their Tadone and Bella. (Thank you, Tadone and Bella.)

Two things set off this feeling. Well, no, I shouldn’t say that. I have been feeling increasing pressure for weeks now, pretty much since I went back to work (see: plate spinning). I guess there were two straws that broke the camel’s back. So to speak.

One was a minor argument that Dan and I had Friday night — it just soured things, and when things aren’t right with Dan, nothing is right for me. Then on Saturday, we were late for Flora’s last soccer game of the season. Because: I couldn’t find her shin guards or her uniform; I had to bring snacks; I had to wrangle children who were intent on doing anything but what I told them to do; and because after sleeping well all week, Michael picked Friday to Saturday to get up twice in the night.

All the plates came crashing down, and I didn’t care.

Every day is a struggle for me. Not as bad as Saturday, but definitely a struggle. Even to do the simple stuff. Every day I pick and choose what I am going to do well, if at all. And Saturday wasn’t a struggle simply because I didn’t do anything. After soccer, I let the kids loose in the yard (except for Michael, who was sleeping), and went to bed. When Michael went in for his other nap some time around 2:30, I went to bed again. He got most of my care on Saturday: he got fed, changed, and held. I gave him Tylenol for his fever. I can’t say a was a very excellent mom, especially to  my other two, but everyone survived.

Including me, apparently. Sunday I slowly emerged from the black hole. I talked to Dan about how I felt; I listened to him talk about how he felt. I don’t know that we solved anything. Given that our situation hasn’t changed, I suppose it’s perfectly possible that I could have another bad — really, really bad — Saturday any day now. I don’t know.

I guess that’s the scariest part of this: Nothing has changed. I don’t foresee anything changing. (Flora’s not in soccer for now, so I guess that’s a plus.) And now as I’m going about my plate-spinning life, I’m horribly aware of the black web underneath it all. Waiting to catch.

Random Thoughts: These are the Days to Remember Edition

Last night’s conversations in the car included the following topics:

1. What Smarties are made of. (I had no idea, and surprisingly — distressingly — “sugar” is not the answer.)

2. How cotton candy is made.  (I got this mostly right, by the way.)

3. Explaining what “Judas” and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga are about. Respectively, knowing what is good for you, but still wanting to choose what is bad for you (“Like knowing you should eat broccoli, but still wanting to eat cotton candy.” I can rock a metaphor, yo.); and accepting and loving others and yourself for what they and you are.

4. What Flora will miss about soccer, which may consist wholly of the snacks they get at half time.


Flora contradicts everything Kate says. I mean, EVERYTHING.

Kate was going to share her Smarties with her unicorn stuffed animal (“Uni”, natch) yesterday. Flora: “You mean for pretend. Uni’s not real.”

Kate was going to buckle Uni in her carseat with her, not just to be safe, but also because she didn’t want the police to get us. Flora: “The police won’t get us if Uni’s not buckled in. Uni can’t get hurt; she’s not real.”

Honestly if Kate said the sky was blue, Flora would say, “Today it’s kind of gray because of clouds.”

It’s driving me NUTS. I tried talking to Flora about it, but it hasn’t changed anything. I’m trying to let it go, because Kate could care less. Uni is as real as she needs to be, and Flora can go fly a kite. I don’t know why it’s bothering me so very much. I just wish Kate could say something — anything — without Flora jumping in and offering a contradictory view. Especially when it comes to pretend.


I’m kind of sorry I let the kids listen to “Judas”. It’s a metaphor for wanting what you know is bad for you — see above — but still, hearing your 4-year-old singing “Jesus is my virtue/Judas is the demon I cling to” warps your head a little. Whoops.

I do stand by my decision to let them hear “Born This Way” though. I don’t think there is enough love and acceptance in the world — especially of ourselves, when it comes to girls and women — so I’m encouraging that any way I can.


I want to remember all of this, all their questions, their lively debates (until hitting becomes involved), their giggles and hugs and the innocence of wondering how candy is made. I wish I could bottle their laughter now and keep it on a shelf. For later, for the teen years everyone warns me about, for when they are off in college and/or getting married and/or having their own careers/families. I *like* being in these trenches, as difficult as I find it on a macro level. I love their kid selves. I don’t want to miss a thing.

What do you want to remember most about the kids in your life? What would you put in a bottle?