Life Goes On

by Abby on October 19, 2016

People still have to eat. Even in the midst of grief and loss and unthinkable events, people still need food multiple times a day. This was the thought that occurred to me two days after my father-in-law passed away.


On some level, it seemed astounding to me that the world kept turning. I couldn’t believe things like groceries and mail and trash pickup continued to exist. Didn’t they KNOW? Didn’t the rest of the world REALIZE? Something earth-shattering had happened. A person who was loved, vibrant, and full of life was gone. Didn’t that merit a moment of silence, at least? A break? A pause?

But no, life continued its unrelenting pace. If anything, the pace of my life picked up. All of a sudden I had to notify teachers, book plane tickets, cancel piano lessons, procure khakis and new shoes – oh, and comfort my heartbroken husband and children who had just lost their beloved dad and grandfather.

I found myself in a shoe store in the god-forsaken mall on a Friday night with both boys, fighting back tears, the words of two separate friends echoing in my head: one of the hardest parts about being a mom is not being able to feel your feelings when they’re happening. They were right. No time for tears, no going back to bed, hiding in the shower, dissolving into a puddle of grief. There are kids to dress! Errands to run! Peanut butter sandwiches to make! People still have to EAT. It feels so unfair.

I was in awe of my sisters-in-law, who sprung into action organizing services, making arrangements, returning phone calls, preparing food. There was just so much to DO. And everyone rose to the occasion. Like a busy ant colony, each person carried far more than their own weight, on top of the crushing weight of their grief, to ease the burden on the others. In the midst of it all, my mother-in-law continued on. Breathing, hostessing, functioning. I was amazed.

I was also somewhat dismayed to realize that my children still needed attention. They still needed someone – me – to shepherd them through meals and brushing their teeth, someone to break up their squabbles, someone to tell them to quiet down and share. They were sad, too, of course. At the sight of Pop’s empty armchair, my 7yo’s eyes filled up with silent tears. But young children don’t sit around solemnly for days, allowing you to process your grief and collect your thoughts.

One morning I decided the best thing I could do was get them out of the house and out of everyone’s hair. So we found ourselves at a botanical garden on a cool, misty Massachusetts day. It ended up being the perfect place. The boys tore around the grounds, chasing each other and leaping over steps and walls, burning off their pent-up energy and maybe processing their grief in their own little-boy way. Meanwhile, I caught my breath. I sat on a bench. I had a moment of silence for my father-in-law.

Stickworks installation at Tower Hill botanical gardens

He was a special person. I wrote about him years ago, and those recollections still hold true. A dedicated family man. Appreciative of life and simple pleasures. Always thinking of others. Quick with a joke and to offer a glass of wine. He raised 5 kids, worked 2 jobs, had 10 grandchildren. He knew better than anyone that life doesn’t stop to wait for you. It goes on whether we’re ready or not, which is both a burden and a blessing.

Baby Riley and Pop

He would also understand that people need to eat. He adored Italian food, fresh lobstah and clam chowdah, and strawberry sundaes. I think that one of the biggest injustices of the cancer he battled for 6+ years is that it robbed him of the pleasure of eating. Chemo treatment dulled his appetite and his taste buds so that everything he ate tasted like sandpaper, he once told me.

Cancer didn’t steal his sense of humor, though. We shared a running family joke about The Tiramisu Incident of 2006. My in-laws came to visit us in Baltimore shortly before our first son was born. My MIL and I went to a play, which I barely remember because my maternity pants were so tight at that point they were cutting off my circulation.

Meanwhile, my husband and FIL went to a bar to watch the Red Sox, probably. Afterwards, they got tiramisu at an Italian bakery. Neither one of them could stop raving about this delectable confection, and how it was THE BEST TIRAMISU they’d ever had. Yet did either one of these gentlemen think to bring his wife a piece? Even though one of their wives was 9 MOS. PREGNANT?! No, they did not. We’ve never let them live it down.

When I think of my father-in-law, it will always be with a mixture of joy and sadness. We had some great times together. He is gone too soon. And life goes on, whether you’re ready or not. The next day comes, the next meal is served, and we all take our places around the table again, only with one chair now empty. You will be missed, Pop.

empty chair


You’re Killing Me, September

by Abby on September 22, 2016

The September tsunami has hit. I had high hopes that this year would be different, and the back-to-school stress would be minimal. I tried. Oh, how I tried.

I went school-supply shopping — blessedly without the kids (their idea) — painstakingly digging through the picked-over bins at Target, Michael’s, Rite Aid, and Big Lots (yep, FOUR stores), looking for the exact right type of erasers, journals, and dry-erase markers.

back to school shopping comic

Fun fact: my kid’s school supply list demanded 12 dry-erase markers and they only came in packs of 10, and there was only one pack left, anyway. The list also stipulated 3-hole wide-rule paper and they only had college-rule with no holes.

I ran into a friend, wild-eyed and frantically clutching her kid’s supply list. “I need a white plastic pocket folder. They don’t even MAKE white folders! Do you see any? Text me if you do!” she shrieked across Target. School supply shopping is like the least fun scavenger hunt ever, where the prize is an empty checking account.

That’s unfortunate, because September is also fundraising month. You remember how I was brought to tears by giftwrap? Well, that’s just the start. We’re also being hit up multiple times a day for charity races, political fundraisers, and Girl Scout cookies. And what kind of monster can say no to a Girl Scout, I ask you?!

I should start a charity to replace items my sons lose at school. We are barely a month in and we’re already down one water bottle and a uniform sweatshirt. That I painstakingly applied iron-on name labels to, I might add. Do you know how many uniform sweatshirts my younger son lost last year? 5. That’s right, FIVE. That includes a pricey Gymboree one that he had for LESS THAN A WEEK.

So I did what any desperate, broke mom would do and pawed through the disgusting lost and found. Alas, no Gymboree sweatshirt. I was tempted to steal a Ralph Lauren one but I have morals. Also, it had that kid’s name ironed on it.

Guess what else September brings: homework. But wait. Someone remind me: do we like homework now or do we hate it? We hate it, right, because it takes away from quality time with family and playing outside and our kids are overworked and stressed enough already? Or do we like it because it reinforces learning, teaches them responsibility, and prepares them for college? Whatever, I hate it.

I hate homework because the rules keep changing. Are we supposed to let them do their own work or are we supposed to correct it for them? Because I’ve gotten stern emails from teachers saying both. Either parents are admonished for taking over the take-home projects and turning in work that first-graders CLEARLY could not have done themselves (ahem, a scale model of the White House made out of popsicle sticks). Or we’re scolded for not correcting their spelling. Which is it, educators??

BTW, who watches Odd Mom Out? You must. It’s delightful. There’s an episode where Jill, an Upper East Side New Yorker, goes to a birthday party in the neo-hippie enclave of Brooklyn, where the moms are still breastfeeding their 7yo’s and making placenta smoothies. Jill starts to tell her daughter how to spell “quinoa” and the Brooklyn moms all gasp. “You’re not supposed to tell them how to spell! … It hampers their creativity.” Watch Jill’s hilarious response here.

So my 5th grader comes home the other day in a panic. The science project he thought was due at the end of the month is actually due tomorrow. I check his binder, which has been set up according to a specific school-sanctioned system that’s only slightly more complicated than filing a tax return. No mention of the project on that day’s homework agenda. (Yes, there’s an “agenda.” It’s like a day planner with cartoons in the margins.)

I dig through his “in box,” which I have cleverly set up for each child in an attempt to corral the massive piles of paper that come home in their backpacks each day. I flip through the math quizzes, fundraising forms, requests for additional classroom supplies, and lice awareness letters. There it is, the science project assignment. Crap, it IS due tomorrow! And wouldn’t you know, Dad’s out of town on business and we have soccer practice tonight.

But that’s not all. Amidst tears and moaning and copious amounts of pretzels, I encourage my son to tackle his homework. (You’ve got to nip procrastination in the bud or it will come back to haunt you, take my word.) My other son has put on his PJs, is gorging himself on cheese sticks and ordering LEGOs off Amazon, judging by the sounds coming from his iPad.

We can’t find the laptop’s power cord, which causes a tense moment when we fear all his work so far will be lost. Frantic texts to Dad go unanswered. We find the cord! We go to print the paper and… we are out of printer ink. Frantic texts to a neighbor are answered! She prints the paper, brings it over and… it’s the wrong version. We email her the correct version, she prints it, and we make it to soccer practice in the knick of time.

As if the cleats and shin guards and socks weren’t enough gear to keep track of, we are now required to bring an alternate white T-shirt to practice because a parent complained about the “shirts vs. skins” scrimmages. Either it stifles their creativity or promotes negative body image, I can’t remember. What is this, Brooklyn?!

No, this is my life. This is September. And this is KILLING ME, people!!

P.S. I’m collecting money for a new charity called “BTS is BS.” It supplies boxed wine to moms stressed out by back-to-school. Can I put you down for a box or two?


I’ve Been Doing Self-Care Wrong

September 7, 2016

Turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. The whole time I’ve been an adult, and especially a mom, I have been approaching self-care the wrong way. But first let me just say that it took me a while to get comfortable with that term, “self-care.” It sounded so… cheesy? Touchy-feely? Indulgent? Far less appealing, […]

Read the full article →

Dreaming of Water

August 1, 2016

“Mama, sometimes I dream something that happens in real life.” “Really?” I don’t tell him then, but this has happened to me, too. A room, a rug, a place—snippets of subconscious that come to life at a later date. A flicker of recognition, a feeling of déjà vu. Where have I seen this before? Oh, […]

Read the full article →

Reflections on a Decade of Motherhood

June 8, 2016

My oldest son turns 10 today. I started blogging when I was pregnant with him. I’m glad I did, because I have a record of my thoughts and feelings as I made the transition to motherhood, memories that otherwise would have been blurred, misremembered, and even lost entirely to sleep-deprivation and aging brain cells. You […]

Read the full article →

On Cute Baked Goods, Folding Thongs, and Perspective

March 20, 2016

Somewhere along the line, women’s perspectives got majorly messed up. I’m not naming names (Sheryl Sandberg, Marie Kondo), but somehow we have absorbed the barrage of information and opinions coming at us and emerged with the idea that all successful women are killing it at Fortune 500 companies and folding their thongs. (Seriously! There’s a […]

Read the full article →

I’m Breaking Up With Winter

February 16, 2016

Winter and I do not get along. Oh, it starts out promisingly, like a new relationship. Those first fleeting flakes, glistening romantically against the evergreens. The cozy fires and hot chocolate. The sledding and impromptu get-togethers with neighbors and friends. It’s invigorating. A break from the routine. But then things start to decline. One snow […]

Read the full article →

The Blizzard of 2016 in Emojis

January 27, 2016

You may have heard we got some snow here in the Baltimore area. Up to 30 inches, to be precise. But on Friday when they cancelled school I was confused. Because there wasn’t any snow. Yet. So I cleaned my house and invited the neighbors over. Fun! By Friday evening the snow was falling fast, and […]

Read the full article →

‘You Might as Well Dance’

January 14, 2016
Thumbnail image for ‘You Might as Well Dance’

My last living grandparent passed away last weekend, just a couple of weeks after he celebrated his 103rd birthday. I’ve written about my grandfather before. He was a great storyteller. One of my favorites was about the time he ran away from summer camp and supported his solo adventures by entering and winning dance contests. His […]

Read the full article →

A Book for Creative Types Who Believe in Magic

January 6, 2016

I don’t buy many hardback books, let alone the week they come out, not because I don’t like to support authors but mostly because my shelf-space is already overcrowded with the entire Captain Underpants series and a perplexing number of nonfiction books about LEGOs. And also, because I don’t usually re-read books after I’ve read […]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Read the full article →