On-my-own parenting: What I’ve learned.

When I was growing up, my dad traveled a lot. He was in the Air Force Reserves, and had a civilian job that kept him on the road sometimes for half the month.

It was pretty common for him to be absent at birthdays, have to duck out on holidays; miss school plays and spelling bees.

It was the 80s and 90s, and dads didn’t have to do a lot of that stuff anyway. Generally speaking, moms baked cupcakes in ice cream cones and bought Halloween costumes. Dads drank martinis professionally and had other people type things for them.


It was a different time, and there was a lot less for dads to apologize for.

Everyone was getting divorced and if your dad sat down to watch Knight Rider with you, that pretty much covered his hands-on parenting for the week.

So when my dad was gone, it wasn’t super different than when my dad was there, except we could be louder and have our friends sleep-over.

Still, my mom was smart.

When she could, she took short-cuts to make it all a little easier and fun.

On long weekends we’d head to my grandparents’ house to camp out in their guest room. They had cable, which was kind of a crazy big treat, and we would order food from the Italian place down the street, or Chinese food or KFC, which owned up to what it was back then — fried chicken.

Mashed potatoes with shiny, brown gravy.

Cole slaw. Mayonnaise.

Oil. Fat.

Pepsi. Mini Snickers bars.

Virginia Slims.

On Saturdays, we’d go to lunch with my grandma at Marshall Fields and then go shopping, and almost always my mom or grandma would buy me a new Nancy Drew to add to my collection.

We’d go to the big grocery store, which sold much more than the Minute Mart near-by that had one register and one kind of apples.

Somewhere in the journey, we’d stop at a payphone to call my grandfather and ask him what he felt like for dinner, and we’d all eat out of different containers than the night before and watch Golden Girls and Love Boat and Fantasy Island until at least most of us passed out in the living room.

I realize now, as a grown-up, that my mom had fine-tuned a plan to make solo-parenting work — she would let us stay up a little later than normal. She’d order food. She’d share the responsibility and make sure we had extra entertainment, like a new book and access to the novelty of Nickelodeon.


When I first became a mom, my own mother’s constant question to me was why I had to make things so hard on myself.

She said it out of love — she wanted to know why parenting seemed hard for me. She wanted to know why I couldn’t ignore the crying, at least for a while, why I didn’t switch to formula (breastfeeding was tricky for me), why I always seemed tired and stressed.

She was trying to protect her own baby.

I took it the wrong way, of course. Couldn’t she see that I was just trying to be a good mom? That there’s a lot of pressure out there to do things well? A lot of judgement?

That it was hard to have a kid with food allergies and that when I said I was
“just trying to do the best I can,” that I meant I was literally trying to do THE BEST I could.

Like, accept no failure.

Like, I’ve only got one chance to not screw this up.

And so when my own husband traveled, it was usually a mess.

It seemed like during every trip, a major appliance or the car would go bananas. Once, a window just shattered. I still don’t know why.

Probably, though, because of the pressure cooker I created in our home trying to keep everything together.

Because things felt a little overwhelming and scary, so I turned hyper-vigilante, convinced that someone was going to end up in the ER, or fall into a river.

Never mind that we were nowhere near a river.


I’m not sure when things shifted for me. When I realized that by trying to control everything while on my own, I was making us all miserable.

But at some point, I started thinking back to those years of my mom, my sister and me — the Three Musketeers.

And I remembered how my mom tried to make things fun instead of perfect.

How she would order food, and let us stay up late. How she would have a general plan of action, but not a schedule. How she would utilize her support system and rely on the people who were still in town to help her parent …

And I think that’s when “Mommycations,” like the one was had last week, started to get fun for us.


The thing is, a lot has changed since my childhood. So, I’ve tried to adapt, while keeping in mind what my mom did to make solo-parenting a little easier:

  • We don’t have a grandparents’ house to crash at, but we do have friends to visit who provide mommy back-up.
  • I try to work ahead so that I don’t have a lot of looming deadlines, which can make me less patient.
  • Meals out are pricey, so we budget for them in advance, because they’re also super fun and easy.
  • I try to have some ideas in mind for fun things to do, like dollar movies and places that offer discounts. But we don’t make a super firm plan because …
  • I don’t force bedtime when my husband is gone. Everything feels a little off at night, and trying to push bedtime always backfires for me, so I let the kids stay up and we sleep in a bit instead.
  • We eat a lot of ice cream.
  • We work as a team now, which makes things so much easier. (Moms of littles, take heart! It gets so much easier!) My kids remind me about garbage and help me feed all our pets.

    My mom’s Three Musketeers vibe works really well, it turns out.

Last week, I had a blast with my kids, and it went by so fast.

It didn’t feel scary or stressful. It didn’t feel overbooked or like the days were dragging on.

It felt a bit like a vacation really.

It felt so much less like waiting, and more like purposeful celebration.

It felt like the kind of memories that I want to make.

Do you have a spouse who travels sometimes? What advice do you have for making it work?
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Do it anyway.

A long time ago — not really that long ago, but long ago in Mom years — I interviewed a yoga teacher about yoga for moms.

It was a totally selfish assignment that I had pitched to my editor — can mom’s really do yoga? Can we ever really get Zen again?

{Will my stretched-out, stressed-out body ever feel like mine once more?}


Yes, the yoga teacher said. Yes, because it’s all yoga.

Breathing at the stoplight is yoga. Washing the dishes is yoga. Rocking the child is definitely, absolutely yoga.

But it didn’t feel like yoga to me. It didn’t feel like those days as a singleton, and a newly-married, when I would go to 90 minute classes and sweat and breathe and walk out feeling like a million bucks.

It didn’t bring me peace to stretch for 30 seconds only to have a dog step on me or a child cry. I always felt the rush to finish before a nap ended, and yeah — in time, I felt a little resentment.

And then guilt because who resents a baby?

But still, I stuck with it, making yoga fit into a tiny corner or my life. About the size of a pea maybe.

Or a small bean.

My mat would sit propped against the wall for months until it was full of cat hair and spiders, and then one day I would pull it out and downward-dog until I remembered how it all went.

I’d buy a new DVD or a book and do it for a while — at least until the next catastrophe that left my mat relegated to the nook under my desk, right alongside my running shoes.

Oh yeah. Because running has never been easy for me either.

It involves waking up and sneaking out of bed without waking animals or kinder. It involves shin splints and aches and pains and also I hate it.

So I gave up being a runner some time last year and decided to focus on being a Yogi.

It’s literally more my speed, and I can’t discount the benefits.

I walk too sometimes.

It works.

Except when it still doesn’t.

When the dog crawls over me, or the cat attacks my mat.

When the kids get in a disagreement about popsicles, or my husband comes in to find me with my tushie in the air and I just can’t anymore. I feel silly suddenly, and so I roll down slowly and switch off the computer without making eye-contact.

It’s pretty much never perfect.

And yet.


Any yet lately, it’s been helping a lot. An anxiety that had been chasing me for a while finally backed off. Everything seemed do-able again.

My back, which had been in knots for a few weeks unclenched a little, and I realized that what my doctor had told me, that I “trap all the adrenaline and frustration and anger and worry” in my muscles — that it’s 100 percent true.

Which reminds me, while I am speaking of less than perfect: My doctor also recommended I get a massage, so I made an appointment, which I forgot about until 15 minutes before the appointment.

I showed up winded and sweaty (I guess I do still run sometimes) with unshaven legs, and quickly hacked off all my leg hair while balancing on a public toilet, using one of the disposable razors that the spa generously makes available for other hairy, forgetful people.

The masseuse never saw nor touched my legs, for the record, and it was an amazing massage. I felt everything in my back loosen at once and in the end, I was so blissfully relaxed that I got into the shower with my underpants on.

I left the spa with my wet underwear in my pocket, and still felt more relaxed than I had in weeks.

That should say something.

And I think it does.

I think it says to just do it anyway.

Take care of yourself anyway, as much as you can.

I know it’s hard.

It’s sort of at the bottom of an endless to-do list, after you clean out the gutters and go through the boxes in the attic.

I get it.

But if we wait for it to be a good time to take the little steps to feel better, we will never take the steps, and we will never feel better.

Also, you don’t have to do it all at once.

Pick one thing.

Get a haircut.

File your nails.

Take two extra minutes at night to put on some good moisturizer.

Take a five minute walk after your husband gets home from work.

Whatever it is, just do it anyway.

Do it despite.

Do it and don’t feel bad.

Because you’re the glue that holds everyone and everything together, and self-care is the glitter.

So do it anyway, and get your sparkle back.


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I can’t do anything without my brain: Why I started bullet journaling

My maternal grandfather, in addition to being my hero, was a large man and a country vet who had a work ethic the likes of which I have not again encountered in my time on this planet.

You know how people talk about that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life?


Well that was him.

He never worked but always worked.

It was near impossible for him to be idle unless he was asleep or reading the paper at night, (and even that he did with pencil in hand, sipping tea and making notes and looking up words. That man loved words.)

In fact, once, when I was 16 years old, I pulled into his driveway to find him lying under his tractor.

He wasn’t moving, and I knew at that moment that he was dead.

So I ran over to him, shouting and already crying, hoping that maybe it was just a terrible-but-somehow-OK head injury that had rendered him unconscious.

“It’s OK Tweety,” he told me, sitting up and smiling. “I was just trying to figure out how to fix this thing. I’m fine. I’m just fine.”

We was 78 years old.

My grandpa always had a long to-do list, but he was also always busy, so sometimes he would lose track of things. For most of the time that I knew him, he carried a “brain” in his back pocket.

“I can’t do anything without my brain,” he would laugh, and he would often pull it out and flip through it to remember his next task, what he needed at the grocery store, or the plans for a small but useful invention.

I wish now I had even one of his many, many brains. I’d love to look through his quick notes, written in the illegible scrawl of a busy doctor with hands the size of banana bunches.


I found myself thinking of my grandpa last week at the library.

I was talking to my friend about my attempts to organize my thoughts. Things were feeling rather scattered, and I had actually missed a few appointments and tasks, which sent me spinning.

“I just think that I’m a paper person,” I said. “I just need to get everything written down and out of my brain.”

Suddenly, saying it outloud, it made so much sense. Apps and online calendars just weren’t doing it for me. Structured planners with 2×2-inch blocks weren’t working.

I needed a BRAIN.

But like my grandpa’s — an external one. A place for everything.


I had stumbled on the idea of bullet journaling at the beginning of this year, but it seemed very overwhelming at that point. Besides, I had invested in a fancy Kate Spade planner (which only survived a month. I think I ask a lot from a planner — I need it to multitask.)

And so I started researching bullet journaling a bit more. I created a Pinterest board and eventually, I was won over.

By the office supplies.

Man am I a sucker for office supplies.

In my old Newspaper Woman days, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, my pal Sharon and I would go to McDonald’s for Cokes, and then hit Staples.

I’d come back and use the caffeine buzz to completely reorganize my desk.

When office supplies are your addiction, tonight on TLC.

When office supplies are your addiction, tonight on TLC.

And so I went online and admittedly, had a little bit of fun, purchasing stuff to create a bullet journal.

I created my bullet journal with:

And I set about getting everything in one place.

And I think I’m in louvre because:

  • I need a daily to-do list — that’s kind of the whole idea of bullet journaling!
  • I need a non-daily to-do list. That’s totally my current Page 2!
  • I need to write down my rhythms and routines in one place — Eureka!
  • I’m tired of reinventing the wheel every week with meal plans and grocery lists.
  • I’ve got a section for blog stuff, which is good because Post-its on my desk sometimes migrate.
  • I’ve got a section for school stuff, which is good, because I will tell you I am having a lazy summer, but come on, the wheels are still going. (But now I can write stuff down and let it go!)
  • I had been struggling with how to track my work hours — I’ve got a page for that!
  • I’ve even got a section just for books. Books, glorious books. In one place.
  • And maybe best of all, I can pick a page, label it Brain Dump, and go to town. (And then go to sleep!)

This all feels, of course, like something I should have done a long time ago.

But maybe you need to drop a few balls before things fall into place, right?

At this point, I am loving my new brain.

And frankly, it’s helping my previous one CHILL OUT. Yeah!

Have you tried Bullet Journaling? Or do you have questions? Grab a coke (or not!) and ask away! ;)
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