Enjoy Them

This is a hard post to write, because it’s a hard thing to admit:

Sometimes I forget to even try to enjoy my children.

On the one hand, this is good. I give myself permission not to treasure every moment, and it’s a relief not to feel guilt when I can’t feel joy. Some things just aren’t better with small children. (Stomach bugs, for instance.) Some stages are particularly challenging. That’s ok.

But there have been times when I’ve hardened my hearts to my children, just seen it as my work to shape these little people into likable humans (a task Jennifer Senior explores in the really fascinating All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood). It’s true they are my 9-5 grind, but seeing them that way means that they’re just obtrusive work emails, obnoxious take-home work, standing in the way of my real fun when the weekend rolls around. I end up like Marilla Cuthbert, vowing grimly, “But I’ve put my hand to the plow and I won’t look back.”

So it was kind of a wakeup call to me this winter, reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids — a book with a truly embarrassing title. (Peaceful sounds like hippie nonsense and happy doesn’t feel like it’s in my control, or necessarily the point.) Still, it was the only parenting audiobook available from the library at that frustrated moment, and something needed to change.

And the book doesn’t come right out and tell you to enjoy your children, maybe because, duh, everyone else is doing that already. But it reminds you that a kid can tell when he’s delighting you, and reminds you that connection builds a basis on which you can strengthen your relationship and influence in your child’s life. When a child can tell she’s pleasing you, she wants to please you more.

Of course.

This is pretty self-evident stuff, but for me, it was revolutionary. Now when we argue, I try to return us to equilibrium, hugging or offering genuinely kind words or initiating an activity we both enjoy, like the 500th game of Octonauts UNO. I’m trying to remind us we like each other, and you know what? It helps. Good feelings encourage good feelings and soon we are both trying to say “yes” to each other more often.

There were other helpful things in this book — particularly parts where Markham points out that a lot of the anger we feel towards our children is motivated by fear triggering fight and flight responses — but the book, despite its occasional flaws and genre-typical ramblings, is worth it for this small epiphany alone: Enjoy your kids.


Commonplace Book, 18

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

Basic Cottage Pie Template


  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb (if lamb, then congrats, it’s shepherd’s pie)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 c beef stock
  • about four peeled potatoes (+cream, milk, butter, shredded cheese or whatever you put in your mashed potatoes)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • carrots/parsnips/etc., chopped
  • frozen peas (+corn if you’re gross)


When I’m on top of my game, I break this up over the course of a day or two, or else it’s a long process. Roast your chopped vegetables (onions + root veg), or boil the root vegetables in stock. Preheat oven to 400. Sauté your onion and cook your ground meat in a skillet. Make mashed potatoes in a third pot. When the onion and meat are brown, add herbs + roots + flour + broth + tomato paste and cook till thick (about 15 minutes). Mash your potatoes, spread on top of the meat mixture in either the skillet or an oven-safe dish. Add cheddar cheese if you’re cool. Bake till browned and cheese is melted.

I feel like I’m explaining this poorly. There’s kind of a lot going on, but it’s pretty intuitive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can take these ingredients and follow this recipe as a template to make it in the slow cooker. Still pretty good.

What I’m reading:

  • I FINISHED BROTHERS K. NO ONE CARES. Otherwise, I’m reading the same stuff as last week, and enjoying it markedly more now that Alyosha & Co. aren’t looming over me all the time.
  • Endangered American Slang Needs Your Help“: Who knew I’d ever come across the DARE outside of reference class in library school? Let it be known that I claim whistle pig. (h/t: Prufrock)
  • Pippin’s godmother showed me this just when I needed it: How We Can Reclaim the Awesomeness of Motherhood From a Culture that Thinks It’s Awful. This is a struggle for me, to strike a balance between gratitude and transparency. Does my blog do that? I hope so. I am so grateful for my beautiful, sweet, merry little children, and so often tired or frustrated. I hope I have more, and sometimes I wonder how I will possibly survive more. I need to remind myself:

“Parenting is hard, for sure; but the difficulties don’t have to be dreaded. The point of parenting is to teach other, smaller, people how to live well and be happy. We cannot teach what we, ourselves, don’t know—so if we aren’t happy doing it, then we’ve got it all wrong.”

My Halloween baby is way into fall spirit, yes he is.

On Becoming a Regular Mom


Did anyone else watch Mean Girls, like, a lot? We introduced it to my sixteen-year-old sister-in-law at Christmas, so maybe it’s just fresh in my mind, but I’ve been thinking of the creepy Amy Poehler mom character in it a lot lately.

See, because, for a long time, I kind of thought of myself as a cool mom. Or, if not cool, then bohemian or…something. Not a regular mom. In western Massachusetts, I was a very young mother at 26, where many first-time mothers were a decade older, and it felt kind of edgy to have a baby when we were young and pretty broke. Also, at the time, I did other stuff, cool stuff. I didn’t just have a baby — I traveled abroad while pregnant! I worked! I finished a graduate degree and hung out at bars with my classmates! I’M A COOL MOM.

Let me be clear: I did not think that not being a regular mom made me a better mom. If anything, it gave me justification for so often feeling like a fish out of water, more than a little lost. I was younger, and poorer, and only slowly building up a tribe of kindred mothers who could share their secrets. I was on the fringes of Motherdom.

But increasingly, that doesn’t ring true. I don’t just have a baby — I have two kids, and one of them is starting preschool. (There is no cool way to say “the children.”) I also have a mortgage, and a husband with a real job. Now I attend mom events, like orientations and playgroups and La Leche League. In this season, my energy and time are more consumed than before with the tasks of motherhood. And I’m 30 now, in an area where women have babies much younger than where Pippin was born. I am not always overwhelmed now, though I often am. (That’s just the way I roll, I’m afraid.) In short, I am the target market for diaper cream applicator brushes.

This shift is good, and right, and humbling. I want to be a regular mom. I’ve met so many moms I admire, and I’m honored to join their ranks. I want to progress in motherhood gracefully, cheering on my growing children, slipping into comfortable mom clothes and mom interests (though never, I hope, becoming fully subsumed). I’m grateful to be in this difficult, beautiful part of life, especially when so many women I love long for children of their own. I don’t want to waste time grasping for youth and hipness, posturing and winking in a push-up bra like Amy Poehler’s character.

I’m ready to be a regular mom.


Commonplace Book, 15

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Orzo with tomatoes and feta. Pretty much doesn’t need a recipe, but I used one anyway, because that’s how I roll.
  • Super Fantastic Cinnamon Rolls in the Bread Machine. It’s in the title, right? Pippin requested cinnamon rolls and ACTUALLY ATE THEM. The first 2.5 were astonishingly delicious but now thinking about them makes me queasy. Beware the overdose, I guess.
  • In continuing my vaguely-ethnic-chicken-in-the-slow-cooker bonanza, Thai Peanut Chicken. (See vaguely Chinese, vaguely Indian, and vaguely Southern in previous commonplace entries.) It ended up rich and lovely, like a very lazy chicken satay — and I have such fond memories of eating that dish, once when a college friend made chicken peanut satay for me after she returned from a mission trip to Indonesia, again eating tofu peanut satay at the top of the Space Needle on our honeymoon.

What I’m reading:

  • You know the little bunny icon on the Librivox app where you can speed up the reading? The other day I did that for Brothers Karamazov after realizing I’d been on three runs (/shuffle-wheezes) still listening to the dang initial interrogation. FINISH, FYODOR.
  • In other finishing news, I finished Book 2 in the Throne of Glass series and am no longer bound by the laws of sisterhood (or sister-in-lawhood) to continue, but I probably will. It’s pure escapism and I’ve enjoyed texting my teenager sister-in-law to discuss them. Long live the SMS Bowers Book Club, I guess.
  • Did I say last week that I’d wanted to read The Dog Stars one summer but it was high school assigned summer reading? Um, pretty sure I’m misremembering, because it’s a fair bit past PG-13 and reminds me more of The Road than anything else that comes to mind. Not sure yet if I’ll finish it, because whoa. I’m pretty sure someone’s going to get eaten.
  • Did y’all see the post this week over at Mama Needs Coffee? I’m always gobsmacked by Jenny Uebbing’s ability to start off apparently just giving a general, casual family update and sneak amazing insights there into the middle:

But that morning I just stayed where I was, physically and mentally content to remain at home.

I am sorry for the months and years I wasn’t able to be in this place with my kids, but I have no guilt.

I don’t think I was ready for full contact motherhood until recently. I think it was essential to my mental and physical health that I have some degree of separation from my kids, and I think it helped me to survive a demanding season of life.

But my parenting muscles are growing. I’m getting stronger and more able to withstand long stretches of time without the relief of going off duty, even if only mentally. And I’m so glad. Because I love my children, but also because for a while there was a sneaking suspicion, never voiced but ever present, that maybe I didn’t pick the right life, so to speak. That I should be doing motherhood better, stronger, more joyfully.

Now I can see a little more clearly that as they have grown and changed and matured, so have I.

I kind of need that reminder sometimes. That it’s a process to learn how to manage it all, to grow into being a mama, and that it’s ok to need space and breaks. Evidence below:

Bad parenting day = sitting in the grocery parking lot after a solo grocery run, eating a {tragically stale} doughnut and reading teen fantasy because sometimes you just need a break

Grubby Kids

When Pippin was a wee newborn, a friend with a toddler commented she’d had difficulty navigating the transition from keeping everything sanitary for a newborn to accepting everything would be filthy with a toddler.

I didn’t get it, at the time. Having a newborn felt pretty messy: he was kind of leaky, it seemed, always spitting up or blowing out or seeping through. It felt like a Herculean task to try to keep it all under control and his sweet seven pounds dry and tolerably clean.

Now I understand. I have an almost-toddler with dirt and butter in her curls, knees grimy from crawling, crumbs in her neck. I have an almost-preschooler who colors his legs with markers and smears PB&J around his pie(/sandwich) hole.

There is both a sadness and a glory in letting go, in letting the grubbiness take over. I can’t always pick out Pippin’s clothes now, or decorate his room just so, but in exchange I get his crazy, rainbow-hued ideas and his increasing helpfulness and independence.

I approved the Shire print, owl and duvet. The rest is all him.

With a newborn, you get to control everything but you have to control everything. These days, it’s a relief when Scout shows an obvious preference  for a lunchtime meal, and it’s touching when Pippin chooses what he’d like hanging on his walls, though there are so many times I’d rather just handle it myself — less mess, less drama. Delegating decisions is scary and frustrating and illuminating and freeing.

Pippin-selected art; Pippin-applied washi tape (I’m raising the next Martha Stewart here, y’all)
And grubby, for sure.

Commonplace Book, 13

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Yogurt-Marinated Chicken with Creamy Greek Sauce, for my lovely husband, who mowed the lawn. I’ve made it before, but had kind of forgotten about it — I tend to prefer recipes where you can do almost everything at your leisure, as with the slow cooker. But this is super easy, and makes J happy.
  • A not exceedingly good tomato cobbler, although that was probably my fault: too many caramelized onions, too few tomatoes.
  • A pretty exceedingly good batch of French toast from a loaf of Amish peach bread my aunt-in-law brought. FRENCH TOAST, HOW HAD I FORGOTTEN YOU?

What I’m reading:

“Forged love, married love, love that starts molten and throughout its life must be thrown back into the fire, recast, reshaped, restored. […] Married passion is a quest, in the end, and the lovers are its heroes, fighting along the way demons of their own making and of others, changing identities, carving their initials into each other’s hearts.”


“Perhaps, if anything, the meaning in this book for others may be this: Here is a job in which it is not unusual to be, at the same instant, wildly joyous and profoundly stressed.”


“I adore the privilege of our babies’ constant care even though to write a paragraph requires long preparation. […] One reason there is not a great deal written about what is like to be the mother of a new infant is that there is rarely a moment to think of anything else besides the infant’s needs.”

unrelated image of beautiful produce

On the Scary Stuff in Fairy Tales

The other day when everyone was sick we watched Shrek and I realized Pippin was getting zero of the fairy tale references, except maybe the Gingerbread Man, because it turns out we haven’t read him any fairy tales.


The kid’s a Grimm, for heaven’s sake. But I do a lot of child-led book selection and so it’s been all trucks, all the time for the most part, though at least he got some fractured nursery rhymes, which he looooved, from The Big Book of Truckery Rhymes.

And you know, it turns out reading fairy tales to your kid is kind of scary business. For the parent, I mean. Pippin doesn’t bat a lash at Little Red Riding Hood getting gobbled or Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandoning their own children, and he enjoys knight/dragon battles with a relish I frankly find a little unseemly.

The truth is, I don’t think he’s encountered a lot of darkness in his own life yet, beyond his own not inconsiderable fears and anxieties. Two years ago at Holy Week we started to talk about the crucifixion, but when NPR talks about the latest shooting, we change stations, and we skip the Mr Rogers episodes about divorce, because it hasn’t come up in Pippin’s life yet.

Reading him this sad and scary stuff hurts me a little, as if I’m destroying his innocence, but his excitement and solemn focus suggest that these stories are telling him something he needs to know, and perhaps has long suspected. I’m reminded of that bit from G.K. Chesterton:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

So I’m letting him know now there are dragons in our world, and someday sooner than I’d like we will give them names: playground bullies and neglectful parents and police brutality and all the other ugly things in our broken world. But I hope by reading him these old stories, I will help him learn to find the heroes and to maybe, someday, become one himself.

(What are your kids’ favorite fairy tale versions?)

Baby Pip made a pretty adorable Little Red Riding Hood, right?