Jan 132012




“Don’t worry, Scout, it ain’t time to worry yet,” said Jem. He pointed. “Looka yonder.” 

In a group of neighbors, Atticus was standing with his hands in his overcoat pockets. He might have been watching a football game. (*He was actually watching the house next door to the Finch home burn to the ground.)

“See there, he’s not worried yet,” said Jem.

(p.105-107) To Kill a Mockingbird



I’ve been thinking about my mama friends for whom the start of the school year is a difficult time, because the classroom has proven to be a tough place for their child to display his particular brand of genius.

For these precious mamas, starting school means revisiting old worries and facing new ones. It means tears and tense phone calls and scary conferences and comparisons and lots of fear and anger and suspicion and Oh My God, Is He Allrights and What Are We Doing Wrongs?

I have some thoughts about this and so I’ve just sent up a Twitter prayer to the G-O- D that it’ll all come out right. Sometimes I know something to be true, down deep in my bones, but when I try to turn it into words, it changes. Gets all jacked up. Like how blood is blue till it hits oxygen and turns red. Which is why I predict we’d be better off if people talked less and just quietly knew more. She said, as she wrote her 367th blog post.

Here I go. I’d like to talk to you about your brilliant children.


Every child is gifted and talented. Every single one. Everything I’ve ever written about on this blog has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true. Every single child is gifted and talented in a particular area. Every single one also has particular challenges. For some kids, the classroom setting is the place where their genius is hardest to see and their challenges are easiest to see. And since they spend so much time in the classroom, that’s a tough break for these little guys. But I know that if we are patient and calm and we wear our perspectacles and we keep believing, we will eventually see the specific magic of each child.



Like my student who was severely dyslexic and also could’ve won Last Comic Standing at age seven. “Hey, Miss Doyle. Were you really busy last night or something?” Yes, actually, I was. Why do you ask, Cody? “Because your hair’s the same color it was yesterday!” The boy was a genius.

Like my precious one who couldn’t walk or speak because of his severe Cerebral Palsy, but whose smile while completing his grueling physical therapy inspired the rest of my class to call him the “bravest.” Genius, that kid.

Like my autistic little man, who couldn’t have hurt another living being if somebody paid him to. He was the most gentle soul I’ve ever known. And he loved animals like they were a gift made just for him by God. Which, of course, they were. But nobody in our class knew that but him. Undeniable Genius.

Like my third grader who read like a kindergartener and couldn’t add yet. But one day I stood behind her at recess, where she played all alone, and heard her singing to herself. And that was the day I discovered her gift. It was also the day that she discovered her gift. Since I FREAKED OUT. And marched her over to the rest of the teachers to make her sing for them. And announced to the class that we had a ROCK STAR in our midst. And she quietly beamed. And she sang all the time after that. All the time. Actually, it was a little much. But we let it slide because you don’t mess with artistic genius.

Or the little man in one of Chase’s classes who was always getting in trouble. Everyday, getting in trouble. And Chase came home one day and said, “I think he’s not listening because he’s always making pictures in his head. He’s the best draw-er I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be famous, I bet.” Chase was right. I’ve seen this kid’s work. Genius.

Or my little one who was gifted in learning the classroom way, and was miles ahead of the other kids in every single subject. But had challenges being kind and humble about her particular strengths. So had a lot of trouble making friends. Sometimes it’s tough to be a genius.


Every single child is gifted. And every child has challenges. It’s just that in the educational system, some gifts and challenges are harder to see. And lots of teachers are working on this. Lots of schools are trying to find ways to make all children’s gifts visible and celebrated.And as parents, we can help. We can help our kids who struggle in school believe that they’re okay. It’s just that there’s only one way to help them. And it’s hard.

We have to actually believe that our kids are okay.

I know. Tough. But we can do it. We can start believing by erasing the idea that education is a race. It’s not. Actually, education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and He’ll let us know when it’s time to unwrap it. In the meantime, we must believe that our children are okay. Every last one of them. The perfect ones and the naughty ones and the chunky ones and the shy ones and the loud ones and the so far behind ones and the ones with autism.

Because here’s what I believe. I think a child can survive a teacher or other children accidentally suggesting that he’s not okay. As long as when he comes home, he looks at his mama and knows by her face that he really is. Because that’s all they’re asking, isn’t it?

Mama, Am I Okay?

In the end, children will call the rest of the world liars and believe US.

So when they ask us with their eyes and hearts if they’re okay. . . let’s tell them:

Yes, baby. You are okay. You are more than okay. You are my dream come true. You are everything I’ve ever wanted, and I wouldn’t trade one you for a million anybody elses. This part of life, this school part, might be hard for you. But that’s okay, because it’s just one part of life. And because we are going to get through it together. We are a team. And I am so grateful to be on your team.

And then, before we dive into “helping.” Let’s just eat some cookies together and talk about other things. There are so many other things to talk about, really.

And then our kids will see that we are like Atticus Finch . . . Hands in our pockets. Calm. Believing. And they will look at us and even with a fire raging in front of them they’ll say, “Huh. Guess it’s not time to worry yet.”

And then we’ll watch carefully. We’ll just watch and wait and believe until God nods and says, “It’s time. Tear open that gift, Mama.”



And we’ll get to say our Mama FAVE. Told you so. Told you so, World.




Have a brutiful weekend.







Jan 142012

When Tish was three weeks old, I peeked into her bassinette one morning and discovered that she was blue.

I punched Craig awake, and he looked at Tish and ran to the bathroom to vomit on his way to the kitchen to call 911. He returned to the bathroom with the phone while I held baby blue and lost my freaking mind. Craig connected with the 911 operator and screamed her directions to me from the bathroom. “Is she still blue?” YES. “Is she breathing?” I DON’T KNOW. “Hold your mouth to her ear.” WHAT? “THE LADY SAYS TO HOLD YOUR MOUTH TO HER EAR. HURRY UP! ” “All right,” I said.

Three minutes later, when the paramedics burst into our bedroom, this is how they found us: Craig was in the bathroom holding the phone with one hand and the toilet with the other, I was hunched over Tish on my bed, eating her ear. There was a moment in which everyone stared at each other and no one moved or spoke. One EMT broke the bewildering silence by stepping forward and saying, “Ma’am, give us the baby.” I was afraid to stop the life saving function the mouth to ear maneuver was serving, so I kept my mouth firmly in place and replied as clearly and with as much authority as a panicked idiot with a mouthful of baby ear can muster…”OKAY, BUT MAKE SURE YOU KEEP YOUR MOUTH ON HER EAR.”

After the embarrassing ambulance ride during which the EMTs asked me very hard questions that a terrified mother should never be expected to answer , like “when is your daughter’s birthday?” we arrived at the hospital and the doctor reviewed the events of the morning. At one point she asked, “Did you check her breathing? “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, did you put your ear to her mouth and listen? “ OH, I said.


Fast forward three and a half years. Tish is complaining that her cheek “huwts vewy bad.” This cheek report usually indicates that an ear infection is on its way, so I lay her on the couch and call Craig. I tell him we probably have a sick kid and that he should cancel his “Networking Event” (Happy Hour with other guys who also happen to have jobs) and come home instead.

Right after I hang up, Tish screams, and as I lay her in my lap, I notice that she is burning up. Then she starts convulsing. When her body stills, I stare at my horrified son who stares back at my immobile, helpless, planless self. Chase runs to the freezer to get the Elmo ice pack, which is the only strategy we have to fix anything . As soon as Chase holds the Elmo pack to Tish’s head, she starts convulsing again. I tell Chase to dial 911, since that’s what we do when Elmo doesn’t work. Elmo, then ambulance. It’s all we’ve got.

Chase hands me the phone and when I hear the operator ask “What is your emergency?” I describe what my baby looks like at the moment, what she sounds like, what she feels like. I fight the urge to start sucking Tish’s ear. I watch Amanda crawl up the stairs and start fiddling with the electric socket on the landing, grateful that Elmo’s already within reach.

The operator asks me impossible questions again, like “What is your daughter’s name?” and the dreaded “When is your daughter’s birthday?” which by the way, is February 9, 2006. I know because I have begun writing it on my hand every morning, just in case. Since I hadn’t started the hand writing routine yet though, I repeat to the operator “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” The only question I ask her is “Where the HELL is my husband?” She doesn’t know, which is a shame, but also might not be a totally fair question.

We continue this back and forth of unanswered questions for four long minutes, at which point the EMTs arrive in my family room with my panicked husband right behind them. I feel both relieved that help has arrived and embarrassed that there is an entire box of cheerios on the carpet. Earlier that day, I discovered that if I spread the baby’s snack all over the floor of the family room, she would have to crawl around and find it. This would mean that it would take her much longer to eat and I could sit on the couch for an extra ten minutes. I felt like a genius at the time, but now my cheerio plan meant that there was a sound track to Tish’s rescue effort, consisting of black boots crunching cheerios as the harmony and three screaming children as the melody. But mostly, I don’t care. Help has arrived. I’m not in charge, or the most experienced, or the most expected to have a plan anymore. In short, I’m officially not responsible, which is all I’ve ever really wanted.

So I just start breathing and hold my baby and follow directions… and I even remember to tell Chase “it’s going to be okay, honey” which makes me feel very selfless and grown up. And this time when the EMT’s tell me to get into the ambulance, I don’t sneak away to put on a headband and refresh my powder first, which makes me feel very efficient and unfrivolous, like a real mom. And as my pes de resistance…in the ambulance I resist the urge to stab myself in the arm with a syringe in the hopes that it might be a tranquilizer, which is such a sober and rational thing not to do that I decide it totally makes up for the unknown birthday issue. Besides, shouldn’t 911 have my kids’ birthdays on record by now? Jeesh.

In the ambulance, The EMT gives Tish a fever reducer which stops her seizures and calms her down. She falls in love with the ER, especially the Tylenol with Codeine, and asks for seconds. This makes me more nervous than the seizures did. She is her momma’s girl. She cries when she learns that we have to ride home in the van instead of the ambulance. I assure her with me for a momma, she will undoubtedly be back in another ambulance within the year, not to worry.

When Craig picked us up at the ER, he remembered our punch card; and I think we only need four more punches till we get our set of free steak knives. 12 hours later all was back to normal (as we know it) in Casa de Melton. When Tish demanded to wear her tap shoes to her follow up appointment the next morning, I knew we were in the clear.

Our ER stories are comforting to me. They remind me to be grateful for the incredible privilege of raising my kids in this country. In America, if one of your babies gets sick, and you are terrified and helpless with nothing better up your sleeve than Elmo, you can summon a team of heroes who will drop everything to race into your home, crunching cheerios and stepping over dolls, with the singular goal of making your baby better. They will tell you and your children that everything is okay now because they have arrived…and they will whisk you away to a clean, safe hospital where another team of experts will nurse your baby back to health and and patiently talk you down from the ledge upon which you are still panicking. One might even give your baby a teddy bear made by a community volunteer or offer a steady hand to calm the fear. This is all that matters, I think. If your child gets hurt or sick, you will have the best help available on Earth. Millions of mothers around the world are on their own. Today as I relive these stories that have already become family folklore, I thank God for the gift of perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time grumbling about money, the economy, the state of the country. These memories put me in my rightful place… knee deep in Cheerios and gratitude.

Jan 162012


originally published december 12, 2010


I’m at Target yesterday with Tish and Amma. We’ve made it through the shopping part and we’re in the check- out line. I can see the Promised Land, which is: We’re Done Shopping, Let’s Go Back Home.

I watch Amma notice a pack of gummi worms. Her eyes widen. I brace for chaos. She grabs the worms, shows them to me with tears already in her eyes and says, “I need dese worms!” I say, “Uh-huh. That’s the curse of Target. It makes me think I need all this junk, too. The Target curse is why you’re not going to college, baby. No gummi worms. Put them down.”

Now. You know I try my hardest to describe my ridiculous little life to you. But there is no way to convey to you the drama that crashed down on poor unsuspecting Target immediately following the word “No.”

Amma threw herself down on the filthy Target floor and screamed like a person who maybe just found out that her entire family had died. Amma’s particular tantrum style is that she chooses one phrase to repeat seven million times at seven million decibels until everyone around her seriously considers homicide or suicide. Yesterday she chose, I SO HUNGWY! I SO FIRSTY! (SKULL SPLITTING SCREAM.) I SO HUNGWY ! I SO FIRSTY! (SKULL SPLITTING SCREAM.)

This was a long, crowded line. And every time the line scootched up I had to grab Amma’s hood and drag her forward a few feet while she kicked and screamed, like I do with my luggage in the security lines at the airport. And then Tish started crying because it was all so ridiculous. And so I gritted my teeth and made my scariest face at Tish and growled STOP at her like some kind of movie monster, and this sort of thing does not tend to calm a child down. So she cried harder. People started moving away from us and shoppers were actually stopping by our aisle to stare. I was sweating like I was in a sauna, and wishing the “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” song that was on replay would just end. With the kids jinglebelling and everyone telling you, be of good cheer! Riiiight. My experience exactly.

Up until this point, I kept my head down, but it seemed time to offer my best beleaguered, apologetic, what are you gonna do? looks to the other shoppers, in hopes of receiving some sympathetic looks in return.

But here’s the thing. When I finally looked up, I realized with mounting discomfort that there weren’t gonna be any sympathetic looks. Everyone was staring at me. Every. One. One elderly couple looked so disturbed that the grandmother had her hand over her mouth and was holding tight to her husband’s arm. At first it appeared to be an effort to shield herself from my rabid animals. And I thought, I hear ya lady, they scare me, too. But then I realized that she wasn’t looking disapprovingly at them, she was looking disapprovingly at me. I locked eyes with her and without subtlety, she looked down at my clothes, then to my cart, and then away.

So I did the same thing. Down at myself, then to the cart. Oooooooohhhh, I thought. Shoot.

My stupid Lyme is back, and I’ve been sick for a little while now. Yesterday was a bad Lymie day, and so was Wednesday, so I may have forgotten to shower or brush my hair. For 48 hours. And also, when I looked down I noticed that I still had on my pajama top. Which apparently I had tucked in to my ripped jeans. Like seventh grade. I looked bad. Not like a little bad, like offensively, aggressively bad. And also, here is what was in my cart: 6 large bottles of wine and curtain rods. It appeared as if perhaps I was planning to build a wine bong. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if my smallest child would have stopped screaming: “I SO HUNGWY, I SO FIRSTY!”

And since I was so tired and in such a state of self pity – I couldn’t even bring myself to feign sympathy towards my starving, parched child on the floor. Because I wasn’t sympathetic, not even a little bit. I definitely remembered feeding her the previous day. Faker.

But based on all of these things, I decided to forgive the frowny, judgmental lady. I had really left her no other choice.

I resigned myself to suffer through. I stopped trying to help the girls at all. Just left Amma there on the floor screaming and Tish beside her crying and prayed the line would move faster. I am sure there were a lot of people praying that the line would move faster.

All of a sudden, a uniformed police officer started walking toward us. At first I was alarmed and defensive. But he stopped in front of me and smiled warmly and winked at me.

He looked down at the girls and said, “May I?”

I was not sure what he was asking exactly, but I allowed myself to hope that maybe he had a paddy wagon and was planning to take them away. And so I nodded at him.

The police officer patted Amma on the head gently. She looked up at him and stopped mid-scream. She stood up. Tish fell silent and grabbed Amma’s hand. All of a sudden they became a pair of grubby little soldiers. At attention, eyes shining, terrified.

The police officer said, “Hello girls. Have you two ever heard of “disturbing the peace?”

They shook their little heads no.

He smiled and continued, “Well, that means that your mama and all of these people are trying to shop in peace, and you are disturbing them, and you’re not allowed to. Can you try to be more peaceful?”

They nodded their little heads yes.

The officer stood back up and smiled at me. I tried really hard to smile back to show my gratitude.

I noticed that the girls grabbed each other in a bear hug and held on for dear life. It appeared they had lived to die another day.

He said, “Being a parent. It’s a tough gig sometimes.”

For some reason, I became desperate to be perceived by him as something other than a struggling mom, so I blurted out, “I’m also a writer.”

He looked genuinely interested and said, “Really? What do you write”

“Lots of things. Mostly a blog.”

“What’s it about?”

“Parenting, I guess.”

His eyes twinkled and he grinned and said teasingly, “Oh. Does anybody read it?”

And I said, “A few. Mostly for laughs, though. Not for . . . well, advice. Obviously.”

I miraculously found the energy and ability and space and breath to giggle.

And my officer smiled and said the following:

“You know, my wife and I raised six kids, and I think that’s actually the only parenting advice worth a damn. Just try to keep laughing. Try to keep laughing. It’s good advice. You’re doing good, mom.”

Then he tipped his hat to me and my girls, and walked away.

In the end, only kindness matters. Thank you, Officer Superhero. Merry Christmas.

The girls were silent until half way home from Target when Tish announced loudly, “I can’t believe we almost went to jail. We better not tell daddy.”

And I said, “No way. We have to tell him. What if we don’t and then he sees the report on the news tonight?”

More silence.

Joy to the World.




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