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When Moms Fail

Or: The time I forgot to teach my son about sex before he learned it at school.

Most of the time, I have a solid juggling act going on. I am efficient, acrobatic even, when it comes to navigating the working-mama life. My iPhone calendar works as my personal assistant, loaded with activities, appointments, times, and locations, and, most of the time, I remember to look at it.


But sometimes I drop a ball. Or Two. Or three. And sometimes it happens all in one week. You know the scenario. You drive up to an empty soccer field, looking for children in shin guards that don’t exist. “Am I early? Late? Where is everyone?” Then the gut tightens as you double check the calendar, which pointed you here. You frantically hunt down and re-read the email from the coach, slamming your hand into the steering wheel when you realize your mistake. “Dammit. Wrong field!” Then you drive ten miles over the speed limit to get your mini-van to the opposite end of town by halftime.

No? Just me? I didn’t think so.

Last week, my oldest son finished his Human Growth and Development Unit as a fourth grader. To be clear, this was a hotly debated unit that I voted in favor of. I first learned about my own female body in a “Psycho-Bio of Women” class in college, and I vowed my kids would be educated on the strange alchemy of their bodies before hormones stole their logic.

That said, before my son’s HG&D Unit began, I got recommendations for “Sex Talk” books and put them in the Amazon cart. When his teacher began the unit, I checked in with my son after school, keeping it light. I wanted to be the mom who talked about sex so often and so nonchalantly that it wouldn’t become taboo.

“Okay, so what did you and your friends giggle about today? What was the most embarrassing part?” I asked. Then, handing him a pen, “Can you diagram the vas deferens?” Or, holding up a string of spaghetti, “Pop Quiz: What’s a fallopian tube?”

My son blushed, laughed, begged me not to speak of it anymore, but I kept following up.

Until I didn’t.

After several weeks spent reapplying for my job in academia, (a task which involves so much document-gathering and summarizing that you’d think I was applying for the CIA), then another week spent planning a new remote class with an unfamiliar textbook, I got busy. I forgot to follow up.

Yesterday, I remembered the Human Growth and Development Unit and asked my son, “What did you learn this week about puberty?”

“Oh, we’re done with that now,” he said, waving a hand, clearly grateful. “We learned it all.”

My eyes widened. “All?” Like intercourse all? “They told you how babies are made?”

“Yes. All of it.”

Horrified, a hand flew to my open mouth. Egads. I had wanted to prepare him, ease him into the birds and the bees, but I forgot. “Did it freak you out?”

“Kind of,” he groaned, because the only thing worse than learning about sex in a classroom of your peers is rehashing it at home with your intrusive mother. “It’s fine.”

“Oh,” I said quietly, swallowing my guilt. But what about the books I bought–Oh shit. I realized I never actually purchased them.

It’s not that my son had never asked about sex before, but he was younger, so much younger. We needed an updated, Tweener chat that got into the details so he would be emotionally prepared for the school-ish version.


When I mentioned my failure, OUR failure to my husband (because, come on, I don’t hold all the parenting power here), he reminded me that the point of formal sex education in elementary school is to avoid the informal sex education, the misinformation that happens on the playground.

“I think learning about sex in that context, with scientific terms and discussions about the spectrum of gender and sexuality- that’s what we wanted. Is it really a big deal if we didn’t get to the mechanics of it first?”

I decided he was right, that my mom-fail didn’t mean our son would automatically get a girl pregnant in middle school. Still, it hurt that my good intentions, like so many plans we make as mothers, didn’t come to fruition.

But you know what? I will follow up. I will keep having the conversations, because sex education is recursive and fluid and complex, and you can’t learn “all of it” from a three week unit in fourth grade. Sorry.

I still have eight more years to talk about periods and pubic hairs over dinner. It won’t be embarrassing at all.


Teach your kids to ski. Trust me.

I’m one of those frenetic mamas who packs up four sets of skis, boots, and poles almost every weekend so my family can hit the slopes. No, I don’t have a ski condo or a second home in the Rockies. I didn’t grow up ski-racing and I never had top of the line equipment. I’m just a northwest girl who grew up surrounded by ski hills and inherited her middle-class parents’ love for powder. As a mama who has propped three littles up on skis, I can attest that although teaching children to ski is no small task, the effort is worth the reward.

Whether you used to ski or have wanted to try, here are five reasons to give it a go!

*Please note: in this article, the word *ski* can be replaced by *snowboard* depending on your preference.

#1. You love to ski.

If you love to ski but it fell to the wayside when children took over your free time (along with brunch and movie marathons), teaching them to ski will bring the joy back into your life. My parents taught me to ski at age three, and now, as an adult, clicking into my skis takes me outside, challenges me physically, and gives me sunshine in the cloud-covered days of winter. When I’m pressing my knees together and leaning into the frozen hillside, anxiety disappears into the thin alpine air. Raising children may detain us from activities we love, but grown-ups still need to have fun. As a parent, if you want to ski again or if you want to learn, it’s only happening if you drag your kids’ butts to the mountain and sign them up for consecutive lessons.

ReaganWriterMama in my happy place

That said, not everyone loves winter sports. In fact, most people I know would rather sit by a cozy fire than face freezing cold wind with red-nosed children. That is why loving to ski isn’t the only reason to teach your kids.

#2. Winter is long and boring.If you live in a region where the frosty gloom lasts for four and a half months, your kids may need excercise. Right now, skiing may be the only activity allowed in your county, but even in non-Covid years, winter can be barren when it comes to sports. Unless your kid is playing club volleyball or basketball, they might need a physical challenge (yes, that’s a Double Dare reference). Instead of spending entire Saturdays playing Minecraft, you and your family could be taking in majestic mountain views and getting your weekly dose of Vitamin D.

#3. No Electronics required.

Everyone needs to unplug and stop scrolling. When I’m on the mountain juggling what feels like a conveyer belt of moving parts—handwarmers, goggles, lift tickets—it is physically impossible for me to swipe open the latest political news. When I’m following my daughter on her tiny skis yelling “Pizza! Pizza! French fries!” as she practices her turns, I won’t check my phone all day. That never happens.   

#4. You make your own schedule.

Unlike soccer, skiing is an individual sport that doesn’t require coordinating schedules and games. You can pick the day, go alone or with friends, take lunch when you feel like it, or avoid the mountain altogether if you’d rather watch the Superbowl. Ski resorts offer lessons every Saturday and Sunday, weekdays, too, and you don’t have to schedule far in advance.

#5. Family ski trips.

What more needs to be said? If you’re a skiing family, you can plan adventurous getaways in February to destinations within driving distance. For me, that’s Montana, Whistler, Mt. Bachelor, or even Sun Valley. Ski trips are a great excuse to chart unknown territory while giving your family something to look forward to during the dreary months. Some resorts offer great family deals, but you can also stay at small hotels nearby and pay half the price.

My sons in 2021, now powder hounds

In sum, skiing is an incredibly fun lifelong sport and the ultimate gift to your children. If you commit to even one season of lessons and ski occasionally thereafter, you will have set your kids up for snowy success. The biggest drawback to skiing is the expense and the mental effort required to find the best deals. Some years, my family skis a lot and sometimes we don’t—it depends on finances and schedules. Mamas are busy and might not have the bandwidth or the money to take on more, which I understand. Teaching your kids to ski isn’t for the faint of heart.

When I think about the powder my parents used to drag me through, back when they wore rear-entry boots and ankle straps on their skis, I do remember epic “yard sale” crashes and occasional tears. But, I also remember singing on the chairlift, skiing backwards with my brothers, and drinking loads of hot chocolate. If you’re the kind of parent who is up for the challenge, I dare you to try skiing.

Ski-Mama Pro-tips:

“Hurry up, Mom.”
  • Children don’t need expensive gear they will outgrow in a few months. Search Facebook Marketplace and Craig’s List-type sites for seasonal gear. My kids’ skis have previously been used by at least five other children.
  • Spring for the private lessons for the super littles and very-first-timers. I’ve taught people to ski, but when it comes to your own children, if you can avoid the first day frustration, do it. The instructors have more tricks and WAY more patience than you. No trauma for this mama.
  • Rent for a while. Kids’ ski lesson packages make rentals affordable and they outgrow everything anyway.
  • Pack up and count everything in your ski bag the night before. Mornings are crazy enough and you’ll be lucky if you don’t forget one important thing. On our first outing this year, we forgot my son’s ski coat! He wore my fleece and it was FINE.
  • Pack Peanut M&Ms in your coat pocket for *motivation.* Gummy candies freeze and crack teeth, so I suggest chocolate with a little protein (unless your kids are allergic).
  • Check the weather. No, you don’t want to ski in the rain. Ever. Trust me.
  • Keep the excursions short (at first) to avoid meltdowns. Build endurance.
  • Make them pee whenever there’s a bathroom. “I don’t have to go!” “Yes, you do.”
  • Start at any age. I started my kids around age 4, but waiting until 7 or 8 is advisable if you’re not comfortable helping with the chairlift. My 5-year-old is an awesome skier but she is also pint-sized, so I have to boost her on every chairlift ride, no easy task. Make the choice that works for your family. For the record, some of the best skiers I know took up skiing in high school or college, so it’s never too late to start (it’s just 10x easier to learn as a child).

Are you a skiing family? What were your biggest challenges? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below!


Happy New… Blah.

Presenting the Fauci Rona Awards for exemplary leadership in times of turmoil

Happy New Year! Or… happy-ongoing-year of deadly pandemic. 2021 settled in with a great depression for me. Why make resolutions when the landscape of our lives has changed so radically? We can’t plan social gatherings, attend our favorite restaurants, reschedule trips, or even up the ante on personal goals because 2021 requires, at best, an extended lockdown, and at worst, more sickness, economic loss, and *since I drafted this* an attempted coup on the Capitol.

So instead of celebrating this new year in foam-party fashion, I present:

The 2020 Fauci Rona Awards

For Exemplary Leadership When the World is on Fire

(Title changed due to a NYT article with a similar name.)

In no particular order and through an entirely biased selection process without any committee input, THE WINNERS ARE:

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Essential workers who prescribed me drugs, checked out my groceries, told me where to buy scented hand sanitizer (the beauty store!), showed me how to safely stand in line, and served ALL members of the community, facing the threat of infection every single day. I thank you.

Netflix and HBO because if I hadn’t had a backlog of five thousand shows to watch, neither I nor my children would have survived isolation or each other’s faces.

*Special Props go to people who let me borrow their passwords because watching GOT and Queen’s Gambit is necessary for social survival.

Instagram Knowledge-Droppers, the scientists and social activists who are doing academic work but with joy and in a widely accessible format. We know the good stuff comes from peer-reviewed articles, but because of influencers who combat mis-information on a daily basis, we don’t have to read 5000 pages of dry doctoral theses. Bring me all the research, but do it on Instagram.

*My fave Knowledge-Dropper accolades to @jessicamalatyrivera and @kinggutterbaby and @blairimani and @britthawthorne and @IamErinBrown

Kids YouTube Creators like Rob at Art For Kids Hub who taught all of us to draw a penguin entangled in Christmas lights and Louie’s Loops at Club Crochet who showed my 10yo son how to crochet an army of alligators, squids, and penguins. When I couldn’t pass on any creative skills to my children, you stepped up, YouTubes.

Niche Twitter Communities became the water cooler when we were thirsty for conversation and stuck in our bedrooms. #MomsWritersClub filled the hole in my heart, but the D&D groups kept my husband’s wit running when he wasn’t starting the dishwasher or filling the Crockpot. We miss banter when we’re alone and while Twitter isn’t necessary to the economy, it felt essential during some of the lowest points of quarantine. Hashtag grateful.

Romance Novelists for creating the escape I needed for the last nine months. Feeling the flowers of love is a challenge in a pandemic, especially when people don’t get a break from their partners and tension drives our shoulders up to our ears. I don’t know how romance authors write those graphic sex scenes without hiding from their mothers, but I applaud your work. Bravo!

True Friends who wear snow-pants and a mask and sit in 20-degree weather with me just to “catch up,” the ones who drop off tiny bottles of vodka on my doorstep, the ones who add an extra Zoom to their day just to say “What’s going on? Should we take up horseback riding this month?” We might not be able to sing together, or sit in the bakery, or watch our kids wrestle, but y’all are floating around in my periphery like magical creatures I will hug to life someday.

That’s all the awards for now, but my coffee-maker and yoga pants get honorable mentions for showing up every damn day of the disaster that was 2020. Keep on keeping on, fellow mamas and friends. While I may not be making any resolutions this year, I am hopeful we are working our way toward a healthier humanity. As my fave infectious researcher @Kinggutterbaby says, “Be good to each other, wash your hands, and cover your face.”


Smoky Skies and Sweet Treats

The Covid pandemic. The horrific racial injustices. The upcoming election. The wildfires. The hurricanes. The online school situation.

Okay, that last one holds least importance, to be sure, but my point is that there is no shortage of topics to write about yet this blog has been stagnant for months, partly because of a collective depression, but also because the summer-without-solitude became like the movie “Palm Springs” where my eyes glazed over watching life repeat itself. No camps or activities means a whole lot of mom-entertaining, am I right?

Now we’re in virtual learning mode, a kindergartner, a second grader, and a fourth grader, with only indoor recess due to 500-level-hazardous smoke and I feel like the spider trying to crawl out of the toilet.

Get me out of here!

But I am here, writer/reader friends. We’re all here, frozen in time.

I confess— I’m not quite ready to post anything of substance, but I have been revising, editing, and, most, recently, BAKING. When I swirl about the house, emailing teachers, coworkers, bankers, picking up clothes and wrappers (so many wrappers) wondering what task to conquer next, I bake, like overly-ambitious-Food-Network-kind-of-bake. I know Delicious Miss Brown’s Strawberry Lemon Lush cake won’t make the woes of the world disappear, but dirtying every measuring cup in my kitchen might just make me forget for the one hour I mix and pour, then the three hours I wipe down and wash.

So, for today’s blog I’m sharing one my favorite passions: The Sweet Treat Drop-Off.


1. Bake a new recipe. Muffins and quick breads work especially well.

2. Triple it. You can’t make a recipe for others and not taste the sweetness yourself. When my partner sees baked goods on the counter, he always asks, “For Book Club or for me?” Save some treats for the fam.

Delicious Miss Brown’s Strawberry Lemon Lush Cake Tripled

3. Prepare for drop off with paper plate, cling wrap or foil, and…

**This is the MOST important part**

4. Write a meaningful note to a friend, or a friend’s parent, or the elementary school teacher on your block. Write it in such a way that they feel seen, that they know someone is thinking about them. No blah “Thinking of you!” notes. Get personal. Not sappy, just thoughtful. Mention their incredible azaleas, or how you cherish those monthly happy hour Zooms, or that you miss their dog Maggie as much as they do. Be a little vulnerable.

5. Don’t tell them you’re coming. The Sweet Treat Drop-Off is best when unexpected, plus you don’t want to have an awkward front door conversation without a mask on. We’re in a pandemic, after all.  

If you have a fave recipe you like to share with friends, please post a comment and pass it on. Anxious-baking feels like a solid coping mechanism for the fall!

<Today’s Feature Photo brought to you by Armageddon Air Quality and my masked children.>

Running with Dad

“Do you have a poop bag?” my dad asks.  My caramel-colored vizsla jumps like a pogo stick at his side.

“Yes,” I say. The plasticky bag is stuffed inside my fanny pack, along with my phone, inhaler and a small pepper spray.

My dad, Dave, and my dog, Jellybean

My father, who just turned 70, grabs the leash and we trot toward High Drive, only a few blocks from my house in south Spokane. This run will be harder than my solo jogs down Manito Boulevard because my dad runs the bluff, the trails, to be nicer to his feet, the scariest feet I have ever seen. In the summer, when my brothers and I catch a glimpse of his bending big toes in flip flops, we toss sideways looks of fear wondering who will inherit the bad ugly feet of our father.

It won’t be me, I think, (although I already have one toe surgery in the bag).

But my dad’s feet, after one surgery and several inserts, have kept him running since he started at 40, around the same age his father experienced his first of several heart attacks. My dad came to running later in life, when my grandmother told him one summer, “You look like you’re pregnant,” and my dad realized he needed exercise to prevent heart disease.

My dad running a 10K at Priest Lake, ID

Since he started, though, he hasn’t stopped, and many folks who commute via High Drive can attest to this, to spotting my white-haired father running down the road four times a week with my dog, Jellybean.

 “Saw your dad the other day,” a friend from high school tells me at the grocery store. “Man, he’s still running?”

“How old is your dad?” A neighbor asks me, marveling at Pete Carrol’s doppelganger sweating at my doorstep with a panting puppy.

Now I am 40 and though I only run with my dad a few times a month, he is my “pace car,” my trainer, and the best running companion a middle-aged woman could ask for. With my father, I run farther and faster, even in a pandemic when motivation wanes with each month of isolation. He runs to clear his head, to eat Rock City pizza, to visit the steep trails of his youth. He isn’t running for a record time, and for someone like me, five-foot-tall with asthma, this is a requirement in a workout companion.

“When I was upset as a kid, I used to ride my bike down here,” he tells me. “All the Wilson kids hung out on the bluff.”

While I gasp for breath and try not to slip on the dusty rocks, my dad entertains me with tidbits from the newspaper or untold stories from his past.

A train chugs through the valley below and he says, “Brings back memories.” Memories from a brakeman job he had post-college when he rode the rails to Avery, Idaho along the St. Joe River, switching out cars at remote rail spurs. “Lots of quirky characters at that gig,” he smiles, and I marvel at the many lives that came before me, before he owned the Instant Sign Factory downtown.

 When we jog, we talk, and sometimes we walk.

“Jogging is not about time or even distance,” he tells me. “It’s about frequency, getting your butt out the door.”

Some days, he cuts his run short, returning with an injury, alarming my mother and me. “It’s fine. I slipped,” he will shrug, then walk around with a bloody leg all day until my mom makes him clean it up.

“I want to keep running as many years as I can, and that means knowing when to call it quits. I’ve learned my lesson,” he often says.

And I learned it, too, when he had a foot surgery, refused to rest, and recovery took two months longer.

“Keep it elevated for as long as you can,” he told me last spring when I had my own bone spur shaved off. “Don’t be me.”

Jellybean on the Bluff

The trail dives down too steep on a rock slide, so we stop and take pictures of the orange and yellow leaves.

“This is the best part of my day.” He says. “Why rush it?”

We let my dog off the leash and chat about the economy. In the era of Covid when academic jobs like mine are not guaranteed, my dad reminds me to keep going, even if it means changing direction.

“There will always be a job for someone with potential who wants to work,” he says from experience. Before my dad found his path to small business, he worked a variety of corporate sales jobs, keeping his optimism in a stream of dead ends. “You just got to stay positive,” he says, and if anyone out there has met Dave Nail, the mantra rings true.

A loyal Bloomsday supporter, my dad never misses a race and he trains on the bluff, often getting lost as he tries to find longer routes in the weeds. The year my grandfather died, my father ran Bloomsday in his father’s worn-out tennis shoes, paying homage to the man who held an all-city pole-vaulting record for a decade.

“He ran it with me that year.” My father recalls the race he will never forget.

People often ask if my father has ever run a marathon because of the sheer quantity of miles he logs. It feels like an obvious step.

“No way,” my dad says. “I did a half marathon once and around mile ten, when I felt my body hurting and the boredom coming on, I thought, ‘Once is enough.’”

In a culture of pushing to do more, better, faster, his perspective is unique. Having friends with reconstructed hips and muscular diseases has taught him not to take his body for granted, especially at 70 when recovering from even a pulled quad takes months.

That doesn’t mean he shies away from the elements, though. In the summer, he runs after work, sometimes in 90-degree heat. Then, in the icy months when the bluff is packed with snow and a layer of slick water, my dad straps on his snow-treads and flashy light-up vest. For the last five years, heart-rate technology has given him new courage, along with the data to know when to stop. Unlike many runners, he will.

“Don’t worry, I have my smart watch,” he tells my mother, tapping a wrist and adjusting a wireless ear phone. “It’ll text you if I fall!”

On this October morning, he says, “Will you look at that?” His arms open wide at the panorama of Vinegar Flats, the hourglass shapes of the golf course below, the pine trees swaying in the breeze. “Just look at that view.”         

Slow and steady, that’s my dad and me, trotting through golden grass when my dog decides to poop, shame in her eyes as she squats on shaky legs.

 “I got it,” he says and carries the stinky bag for two miles before finding a trash can.

“I cannot believe you ran that far with poop in your hand,” I laugh as we hit the streets, circling back to my front yard. “I’m a responsible dog owner, but I’m not doing that.”

He hands me the leash. “Thanks, Reago,” he says. “Always a treat to run with my girl.”

But not many girls get to run with their dads when we have kids and jobs and 20 to-do lists. Not many 40-year-old “girls” have a dad who still jogs, who makes the effort to take my dog, who always wants to run with me at a much slower pace, carrying a bag full of crap, no less, just to chat about nothing at all.

Now that’s something.


5 Lessons of Isolation

  1. A wiped schedule is freeing.

On a typical morning, I check my iphone calendar for post-work activities which involve 2-6 pick-ups and drop-offs for each family member.

Swim at 3:15pm. Basketball at 4:30pm. Pick up friend from Express and take boys to soccer 6pm. Book Club 6:30. Remember talent show practice early next morning.

However, since the pandemic swooped in and wiped my schedule clean like a rag on a white board, my family lives without “enrichment,” and you know what? It’s not so bad. I am lucky to be isolating at home with my family—my husband and I are not essential workers and I know isolation looks vastly different for those families. I can only speak to my experience, and in our house, I do not miss the before-school rush of hurling granola bars and yelling, “Put on your shoes!” in intervals. By contrast, we sleep in. The kids pour cereal and watch cartoons while I make coffee and check my email at a leisurely pace. Home-school gets up and running at around 9:30, and this– navigating the teacher assignments and logins—is the hardest part of my day. We have a flexible schedule and bins of work, but because we have no appointments, we are not overwhelmed.

Sometimes I feel the urge to get in my car and GO, but since there is nowhere to go, I am released from the pressure like a sigh, and instead we walk the dog, settle in to our books, and tackle the Baby Yoda puzzle (three weeks in and nowhere near finishing).When I think of the energy required to transport everyone pre-quarantine, I get anxious. Will I be able to maintain that level of motion again when the world reopens? I’m not sure. Slowing down feels like the Zen my family needed to refocus, zooming in on the things that matter, like bug-hunting in the backyard and building forts in the basement.

2. Kids learn. From everything. All the time.

When the state shut down the schools, parents reacted by setting up an academic regime at home, or stocking up on snacks and preparing for an extended spring break. Both responses felt appropriate with all the unknowns at play, but once they canceled school for the entire year and administrators pushed teachers to hold students accountable, the game changed.

School might be closed, but the kids have to keep learning.

The surprise? They already are learning, from the science of their dad’s sourdough starter, to the trajectory of a Covid sneeze, from the time-management of their screens, to the math of dispensing equal bowls of fish crackers to their siblings. As a parent, I appreciate the resources the teachers provide online and otherwise, but isolating with your family during a scientific and historical moment teaches lessons we won’t be able to recreate. Read: Wash your hands!

By homeschooling my kids, I have also gained insight into their academic motivations. My oldest son misses his peers who push him to do his best, craving the comic relief only a group of nine-year-olds can provide. Pleasing a teacher in a colorful classroom setting is much more rewarding, turns out, than pleasing your mom in her flannel pajama pants. I discovered that my younger son is independently motivated, can finally read chapter books on his own, and may even have a penchant for writing. Without the school closure, I would never have known!

3. I might be an introvert.

My parents, a social duo, can barely stand the quiet nothingness Covid-19 has brought into their lives, and many of my single friends miss their exercise classes or happy hours on the patio, the warmth that social engagement provides.

But hunkering down with a family of five feels more like a bunch of molecules bumping together in boiling water than “isolation.” As someone who normally keeps a packed schedule, (book clubs, volleyball games, band practice), one would think I’d be distraught.

Nope. The thing I miss the most during quarantine is being alone.

4. It’s okay to be terrified. It’s okay to not be terrified.

Depending on how much news you read, where you live, the size of the outbreak, and the health of your family and friends, we have varying levels of fear. Even in my own friend group, we handle the guidelines of isolation differently. Some wear masks when walking the dog, some don’t. Some go to the store once a week and take precautions, some haven’t been in public since lock-down began. It’s okay to feel ridiculous when wearing a mask in public and it’s okay to wear one! We all feel awkward and suspicious of each other because this is uncharted territory. Give everyone a little grace.

As a 40-year-old asthmatic fighting my lungs for the last two months without a virus, I might be more terrified than my neighbor who skeptically watches me wiping down Amazon boxes with Lysol wipes, and that’s okay. I have several immuno-compromised friends who might be too scared to attend a concert or dinner party until Dr. Fauci gifts us with a vaccine. Understandable.

5. Pets are the best.

Pandemic pet adoptions are through the roof! We already have two dogs, but this Covid crisis has pushed all the pet-owning naysayers into bringing a cuddly buddy into their homes. In every Zoom meeting, I see my coworkers petting their fancy cats or rubbing their Doodle’s ears.

Beyond the beauty of saving animals from kill-shelters and abandonment, animals bring so much solace during these uncertain times. My sons lie on the dog bed, set up treats all over the house, race them in the backyard, and scoop their poop. Never have my dogs gotten this kind of attention!

In sum, while isolation and the canceling of the world brings about other stressors, job security, money, loneliness, food storage (agh!), slowing down is strangely illuminating elements of life that were previously in the shadows. For this zig-zagging working mama, chilling the eff out might be the most important lesson.

A Lesson in Letter Writing

Here’s an easy home-school writing lesson: Snail Mail is the Best!

Parents, homeschooling in the best of circumstances is hard. Toss in a pandemic, an economic upset, and, (at least where I live), terrible weather, and we may all be drinking screwdrivers in our coffee mugs by noon.

As someone who teaches for a living, I have tricks, tools, zillions of educational resources I can download, but after Zooming with my kids teachers and staring at my work computer in fifteen minute intervals, I am not interested in more websites.

Homeschooling during quarantine just plain sucks.

To lighten your load, and your children’s daily dose of screen time, consider spending a morning teaching them the fine art of letter writing.

Explain the basics to your kids. People love getting mail, especially when they don’t know it’s coming, especially when it comes in a square envelope that isn’t stamped by the utility company. Receiving letters brings your loved ones joy!

Give your kids the materials needed: paper, pen, envelopes, and fancy stickers. Now is the time to dig into your stationary drawer. Remember that time Hallmark had a sidewalk sale and you bought all those random cards? Throw them on the table. Those extra Shutterfly envelopes you stashed away for a rainy/Covid day? Pull them out. Encourage your kids to write to their friends who they miss like crazy right now, the great aunt who still has a flip phone, the cousin who won’t be egg-hunting with them this year — now is the time to write to your people.

Surprise: writing letters is a novelty to contemporary children. They know emojis, text, messaging, and email, but they don’t know the value of making and receiving a heartfelt letter.

My kids spent two hours writing letters that included a greeting, a question, an update of their isolated lives, and many hand drawn pictures. When they finished, we searched the house for flat treasures to tuck inside the envelope, (Yoda stickers, pirate tattoos, a flip-flop key chain, a paper snowflake). Be creative! My daughter wrote a letter to her one-year-old cousin. He may not be able to read it, but someone at the house will appreciate her preschool sentences.

As my doctor cousin says, this is an historic time. Why not go back to the basics? Due to distancing measures, we need to work harder at connecting with each other. I know the internet is handy, but old school letters reign supreme. Write to a girlfriend in Seattle, or the neighbor-mom who you haven’t seen since the universe canceled basketball. Remind them you exist and you’re thinking about them. #Wereallinthistogether, after all.

Fingers crossed: someone will write you, too.

Book Spotlight

Showcasing Between MOM and ME, a Mother Son Journal, written by Katie Clemons

Last year, my oldest son turned eight and with it came a Pokemon obsession, a Beanie Boo collection, and an alarming moodiness that reminded me of my adolescence. In what felt like an overnight shift, my upbeat boy with the motor mouth stopped dishing out the gossip over bowls of cereal and started giving me the silent treatment. When I asked how he was doing, I’d get an apathetic shrug or the dreaded, “I’m fine” response.

Was I losing him already? I wondered. I haven’t even given the sex talk yet!

Like any neurotic parent, I started doing research, searching for articles about a possible pre-pre-tween hormonal slump, or skimming through books about making my children talk to me.

Instead, I stumbled upon Between MOM and ME, a Mother Son Journal, written by Katie Clemons, a workbook for mothers and sons that guarantees a continued emotional connection with our sometimes hard to reach boys.

The journal opens with a contract, an agreement between mother and son, as to whom can see the journal, where it should be kept, and how the passing logistics work. My son and I decided the journal was only for us, unless we asked permission to share, and when one of us completed a writing entry, we slipped the journal under the other one’s pillow. The journal is basically a series a writing prompts, some that apply to me, the mother, some that apply to my son, and some that are meant for us both, so we can chat and fill out our answers together.

As a writing teacher who knows how many adults hate writing, I am always looking for kid-friendly composition opportunities, so I latched on to the idea of a shared journal immediately. I wasn’t sure how my son would react, but when I offered a coffee/cocoa date to start our special writing project, his enthusiasm burst through the frigid facade and he felt truly special. I have three kids, so anytime we single a child out for a unique activity, the gesture carries weight.

We started the journal as a way to connect and that is exactly what happened. Through short but thoughtful responses, I shared my childhood struggles with school, with family, with technology, which my son then responded and connected to in his own written responses. I learned that he worries about school and that writing assignments freak him out, something he never told me before. When prompted by Clemons to reflect on how I (his mother) could help with those challenges, my son wrote that he would love for me to sit down and practice writing with him more often. He also described how playing games with me is one of the main ways he feels my love. Now, every time he brings me the deck of cards, when life is busy and I have emails to return, I remember to stop and give him the love he needs.

This shared journal also prompts shared gratitude, a practice we as a family are trying to improve all the time. Clemons asks us to articulate what we appreciate in the other, or what we admire, or what we are proud of, and while we know we love each other in a general sense, seeing my son’s admiration literally spelled out on the page made me want to shout rainbows from the rooftops.

Some of the prompts made us a little uncomfortable, like the one asking my son about romantic feelings, and others made us laugh, like me describing an AOL chat room, and many passages require further explanation, like, “What the heck is a Walkman?”

Through Katie Clemons’ Between MOM and ME journal, I have been able to emotionally connect with my son and protect our open line of communication. It’s not flawless– he still won’t tell me everything– but it’s a lot more than an apathetic shrug. Yes, I could have given my son a blank journal to write in, to process his feelings on his own, but sharing in the vulnerability is what makes the journal exciting. We look forward to each magical exchange and can’t wait to write back!

With any parenting project, the novelty can wear off, but over a year later, my son and I are still filling out these pages. Between Mom and Me is not homework, it’s not mandatory, but it’s a valuable resource for connecting with your child.

5 Creative Activities for Short Attention Spans

Keep your children busy in a DIY maker-space so you can get some work done!

As a Drama major, I have a flair for the arts, so when I became a parent, I looked forward to revisiting my creative self. My oldest son was three when I set up his first painting station. I stretched butcher paper over our dining room table, taped down each side, and then put a towel underneath my son’s chair. For a palette, I squirted colorful blobs of paint onto a paper plate and set out a variety of brushes and tools. I even wet a few washcloths and put them aside for wiping up smears. My son couldn’t get into his smock fast enough.

Then my son gleefully started painting. And finished painting. The whole thing lasted less than five minutes.

The fantasy of entertaining my son with art all afternoon was gone with the stroke of a brush and I was forced to admit defeat.  

This wasn’t the first time my wild child had disappointed me with his lack of focus. At the preschool “Story Time” at the library, neither of my sons would ever sit and listen to the stories being read aloud because they wanted to talk and run and roll around. I stopped going to story time just to avoid the librarian’s dirty looks. 

Despite my child’s terrible attention span, researchers continually show that creative play for children ages 3-6 is integral to becoming creative adults. In Dorieann O’Connor’s article, “Creative Development in Early Childhood: The Role of Educators,” she describes the four factors of successful creative play, which are, in brief, free play, fun, integration of the senses, and risk.

By giving my son a controlled work space, was I encouraging free play and risk? Nope. By making my boys sit still at the library, was I allowing them to have “fun”? Definitely not.

As parents, we need to think outside of our comfort zones when initiating creative activities, especially if we want to hold their attention for longer than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.

On that note, here are some mama-tested creative activities to hold the attention of your wild child.

1. Water.

Water. Water. Water. Water. Water. It is very simple. Kids love playing with water. Throw a beach towel on the floor or table, fill a large Tupperware half full with warm water, and toss in some spoons, cups, action figures, or toy cars. More than anything, they love pouring water back and forth, so the more bins to dump into, the better. If the weather is nice, by all means, set this up outside (you don’t even have to have a water table).  Afraid of getting water everywhere? Put your child in a swimsuit, bring the bin of water into the dry tub and let them have at it. Be sure to toss in toys that are not normally used for the bath (kitchen items are favorites).  While toddlers will love this activity, my now seven-year-old would still jump at the chance to play with water.

*Safety tip: Make sure all nearby outlets are child-proofed and no electrical appliances are plugged in near your child.

2. Go to the library, but skip “Story Time.”

What is your child interested in? Dinosaurs? Ponies? Bugs? Non-fiction books are organized thematically in most places. Show your child where all the animal books are and let them pull out whatever suits their fancy. So much learning happens in the non-fiction section! Seeing pictures of real shipwrecks or giraffes or butterflies encourages children to ask questions and learn about their world (without Googling or looking at a screen).  Be sure to take some books home so you can expand the conversation further.

*Public Relations Tip: Sit with your children so you can manage the avalanche of books and avoid leaving a giant mess for the librarian, but do let them pull out a bunch. It is part of the fun.

3. Don’t be afraid of Kinetic Sand and Play Dough.

I know, I know—it can get everywhere. You’ll have to glob up the dough afterward. You may have to sweep or vacuum under the table an hour later, but that’s the bonus—it will be an HOUR later. I recommend using a big tray with raised edges to contain the mess and giving your child a lot of different tools. We use play dough tools with kinetic sand, and we use cookie cutters for both the dough and the sand. Give your children some safe kitchen utensils they’ve never played with and they will be thrilled.

*Obvious Tip: Do not play with both Kinetic Sand and Play Dough at the same time. Bad idea.

4. Build mini-forts.

Have you ever seen the joy on your child’s face when you agree to help him build a fort?  I’m guessing your own joy did not match your child’s, as building a fort takes up space, requires a zillion blankets, and uses every chair in the house. Instead, have your child build a mini-fort for his/her action figure, car, or favorite doll. Offer up the Legos—the big ones if you have them—or let your child repurpose your old Jenga game (blocks are blocks). Usually, building mini-forts takes on a life of its own as the kids create storylines, characters, and unique worlds of play. 

*Warning: If your child has a sibling or a friend to build with, the activity could last all night and they may not want to put away their Legos.

5. Paint, but do it outside.

Painting at a table is so . . . limiting. No wonder my son only wanted to do it for five minutes. Children see every object as a canvas worth exploring, so why give them only one at a time? If you set up a paint station outside, you can throw down ten pieces of paper, on the grass, on the pavement, and maybe some sticks, or old bathroom tiles. Use a paper plate for a palette and let them paint their world and their bodies. The last time I let my kids paint outside, they painted the paper, the plastic picnic table, their easel, and their bare bellies. Then, they poured water over everything and used paintbrushes to swirl the mess around. To clean up, I just hosed it all down (the children, too).

*Anxiety Tip: Use washable, non-toxic paint for this activity so you don’t worry about staining your concrete red or turning your child’s blonde hair blue.  

In sum, creative parenting should be a little messy.  As the saying goes, no risk, no reward, and I think kids can feel that.  My rambunctious children enjoy activities that give them the freedom to experiment in authentic, tactile ways, but I enjoy the passion that spills out of them every time I witness it (even if I have to mop the floor afterward).

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Get the Flu during a Pandemic

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on pandemic protocol. I’m just a mama with a sick kid.

“We’re closing the college for finals week,” the university emails read. “Stay home if you’re sick, tell your students to stay home, and operate online as needed.”


Then the emails from the K-12 schools start coming in, reiterating the message: “Keep sick kids home…and call the school with a list of symptoms.”

Hmmm. They are detectives now!

At my son’s basketball practice, I wonder, “Should we be going to practice? Should we instead be huddled in our basements, breathing in our steamy diffused oils, avoiding human contact of any kind?”

My family isn’t there yet, but a teacher mom at practice says, “We got a memo that all kids with a dry cough need to be sent to the nurse.” She paused. “My school doesn’t even have a nurse.”

Meanwhile, my daughter, fighting a cold for the last week spikes a fever of 103.4 that lasts two days, then goes away, then comes back as she huffs and puffs, rolling around in bed between my husband and me, all night long like a tick-tocking jumping bean.

I read articles by doctors advising us not to panic, to treat symptoms at home with cough syrup and ibuprofen, but the headlines in my home state of Washington keep tallying up the dead as if they’re electoral delegates. “Another one dead in King county!” Then following up with something reassuring, a statement akin to, “Don’t worry, they had ‘underlying health conditions’ and they were old.”

But is 55 old? Cool. I won’t worry then.

I call my mother and say, “I’m worried about your health. You’re over 65.”

“Well I just had two vodka sodas,” she laughs. “I’m sure it killed all of the bacteria in my body! By the way,” she follows, “I’m going to Vegas tomorrow. Don’t worry–I have a mask.”

Another headline shouts from my phone, “Fools! The Masks Don’t Work! Why are you wasting resources?”

For a mom wondering if I take my daughter to the doctor, if I stay home, if I keep my entire family home, if I should cancel my classes, or my kids classes, my head spins with conflicting information that I cannot navigate with confidence.

When I sent my husband to the store the other night, at nine o’clock pm, AT NIGHT, for the love of Pete, to grab some noodles and sauce and rice and beans and soda water (yes, canned soda water because we can’t survive an apocalypse without refreshing bubbly) , I hated myself for joining the panic-shopping trend I had laughed about days before.

I will not be an idiot and overreact, I thought, but HELL if I will under-react and be the only one in our city without a month’s supply of Nutella!

My husband sent me pictures of the empty shelves, and I thought, “This shit is real.”

Nothing is more real, than a severely sick, four-year-old girl in the middle of a pandemic, though, where we either quarantine ourselves or wait for some scary entity in black suits to carry us away to hide out with “the others.”

My mama instincts tell me she has the flu, a flu, maybe the flu, but the only headline I broadcast is: “Watch TV, drink your noodle broth, and keep pounding water.”

This fear of illness, or THE illness, the one that wipes us all out, (a darkness I shall not name), feels new because we cannot hide from the terrifying details, hurled at us like a pitching machine, the treating sick kiddos is also a common story. Many moms are nonchalant. “Scared? I’m not scared. Pretty sure we had it three times already.”

If only that were true.

In the meantime, I’ll snuggle my ladybug princess, share half my pillow, and keep the antibiotics coming.

Then I’ll go wash my hands while I sing the ABCs.