Never Underestimate the Power of Bacon

The bacon was the best part. Everyone agreed – even George, the shelter resident whose weary black eyes belied his quick smile and spritely demeanor. Initially partial to the homemade, vanilla-infused waffles, George quickly changed his vote once I revealed I had played bacon chef all morning.

For two hours last Sunday, our family prepared breakfast at a local homeless shelter with five other volunteer families. While I hoped we would glean some teachable moments from the experience (and some fodder for a blog post), my goal was to complete the community service requirement for our daughters’ school. I didn’t give much thought to the human connections we might make.

With only one hour to prepare a buffet spread worthy of a Michelin rating, we chopped and stirred, sautéed and diced while chatting with our fellow volunteers.

Our nine year old, Ava, played sous chef; her proficiency cracking eggs matched only by her ability to simultaneously make a new friend.

While my husband, Mike, quartered muffins and arranged them artfully on a platter, I cooked bacon for the masses and supervised our four year old’s placemat decorating efforts. Rhys lovingly drew rainbows on exactly two placemats. After encouraging her to quicken her pace, she replied, “I am an artist, mom. Don’t rush me.”

Once we’d prepared enough food to feed the Duggar family for a month, the volunteers sat down with shelter residents for a meal to rival any four-star restaurant.

“This is better food than I have at home!” Ava yelled, raising a slice of caramelized porcine goodness. The residents giggled and applauded her enthusiasm.

“Do I smell like bacon?” I asked, sitting down next to George.

“Best smell in the world, darlin’,” George said, grabbing another slice. “We’re lucky to have so many good cooks here today.”

Mike and George hit it off quickly, talking about Chicago winters and sports teams. After a few bites of cheesy eggs, even Rhys warmed to George, teasing him about eating all the bacon.

George was surprised by how many people volunteered daily at the shelter. “When I get out of here, I’m volunteering too. Pay it forward, you know.”

As we left the shelter, George, who had been out for a post-breakfast walk, approached us wearing a sky blue windbreaker, five layers too light for the frigid March morning. After thanking us for the meal, he walked away, tears streaming down his weathered face.

“Why is he crying, Dad?” Rhys asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s sad he doesn’t have a home of his own. Or maybe he’s lonely,” Mike replied. “I wish I’d given him a hug.”

At bedtime as I tucked Rhys under her stack of warm blankets, she asked, “Mom, why was George crying today?”

“I don’t know, honey. Maybe his heart took in more love today than he’s used to. I bet he was happy he got to meet you.”

She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me close enough to whisper, “I think he really wanted more bacon!”

I’m linking up with Yeah Write this week. Click the badge to check out some great writing! 

Life Patterns

Our four year old is learning about patterns in preschool and beginning to notice the many patterns of life all around her. Seemingly overnight, our budding student (who has yet to embrace the useful pattern of play, play, clean up) is attuned to the various patterns she witnesses in nature, in her artwork, in books and in our daily routines and interactions.

“Mom, did you know that the sun has a pattern?” she asked recently, her mouth full of Goldfish crackers. “It rises in the East and sets in the West. And when we get up, get dressed, and brush our teeth in the morning, that’s a pattern too!”

At first I was impressed by her keen observation skills, now I’m panicked that she’ll pick up on some of my less-than-flattering patterns; ones I’d rather keep under wraps, or least out of her classroom. I can picture it now:

Rhys:  “Teacher, I have some patterns to share with the class!

Teacher:  “Great! Go ahead, Rhys.”

Rhys:  “Small, small, big. That’s the pattern of bumps on my mom’s ass chin.”

Rhys:  “She also yells at us every morning for running late. And throws away our artwork and stuff without asking. Those are patterns, right?”

Teacher:  “They sure are, Rhys. Thanks for sharing!”

Before Rhys has the following conversation with certain people, “Did you know that every time you call, my mom lets the answering machine pick up? It’s a pattern,” I’ve decided to feed her some patterns I made up am okay with her sharing:

How about:

life patterns, patterns of life, behavior patterns

Yesterday as we were cuddling on the couch, I reminded Rhys of two of my favorite parenting patterns:

“Rhys, did you know that my reading to you every afternoon is a pattern? Our daily dance breaks are a pattern, too.”

“I guess so,” she said, staring at me. “Mom, I see a pattern on your face. You have crinkles next to your eyes. Short, short, long. Short, short, long.”

“Those, my love, are called smile lines. And they’re my best feature.”

Smiles Lines. My best feature.

Smiles Lines. My best feature.

Maybe I’d be smart to steer her toward some of my husband’s patterns instead …

What patterns of yours do you hope your children don’t notice?

Ancient Chinese Secret

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I made the appointment with Dr. W on a whim. After more than a year of fertility treatments and three devastating miscarriages, I was desperate for fresh hope. Convinced by a pregnant colleague that Dr. W was a fertility miracle worker, I persuaded my friend Trish to drive me to his Chinatown office for a traditional Chinese medicine consultation.

When I pushed open the glass door to the waiting room, the musty, oily smell of burning leaves mixed with lemon Pledge overwhelmed my senses. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves held glass canisters brimming with herbs and tinctures.

“Do I need to believe in this witch doctor stuff for it to work?” I whispered to Trish.

“I doubt it,” she said, squeezing my hand.

A receptionist handed me pages of questions covering every facet of my menstrual and fertility history. “He is certainly thorough,” I thought, taking relief at the thought.

Two seats over, a young woman relaxed with a cup of earthy smelling brew. “It’s my first time. Yours too?” I asked, hoping for a friendly distraction.

“No. I’ve been coming three times a week for five weeks,” she replied. Dr. W gives me acupuncture and prescribed this tea and a bunch of herbs. I think it’s helping!”

I smiled in response and returned to my paperwork. “That’s some strong-smelling shit she’s drinking, but she seems normal enough,” I thought.

As a nurse led us into Dr. W’s bright, tidy office, I felt myself relax.

Dr. W reviewed my paperwork and circled several answers in red ink. “Show me your hands,” he said, breaking the silence. I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans before offering him my hands.

He scrutinized my palms, fingernails and cuticles. “I know I shouldn’t bite my cuticles,” I stammered. “Bad habit.”

Dr. W nodded and asked me to stick out my tongue. “Hmmm, not good,” he said. “Not pink enough.”

“What does that mean?” I asked as he shined a light in my eyes and directed me to look up, down and sideways.

“No babies. You’re too sick,” Dr. W said. “You’ll get acupuncture and herbs and maybe you’ll get healthy enough for a baby. Now, no.”

Too shocked to respond, I looked over at Trish. I watched her mouth form words my brain couldn’t comprehend as she asked Dr. W what sounded like questions.

After scheduling an acupuncture appointment and buying a baggie of ash-hued tea leaves, both of which I knew I’d never use, we left Dr. W’s office. Once outside, I let loose a year’s worth of rage, tears and frustration.

“Screw him!” I wailed. “I refuse to give up, and I am never coming back.”

The pungent smells wafting from the take-out restaurant next door preceded the wave of nausea that overwhelmed me as we walked to the car. Once the nausea passed, I was left with an unusually strong craving for a greasy, pickle-smothered cheeseburger.

Four weeks and three positive EPT tests later, I mailed Dr. W a thank you note.

I’m linking up with the wonderful community of writers over at Yeah Write. Click on the party hat badge to read some wonderful writing, then come back on Thursday to vote for your favorite posts.

Guess Who’s Having a One-Year Blog Anniversary?

I planned to write a wise, funny yet gripping one-year blog anniversary post featuring a riveting celebrity-type interview (think Vanity Fair or Oprah Magazine) of me (playing the celebrity) by my daughters (playing the adoring interviewers). Here’s how that worked out:

Plan A:  The Celebrity Interview-Style Post

Me:  “Ava, it’s time for the interview. What questions do you want to ask me about blogging for my one-year anniversary post?”

Ava (9 yo):  “What’s your favorite subject to write about?”

Me:  “Great question! I love writing about the lessons I learn from you and Rhys about …”

Ava:  “Mom, the right answer is ‘Ava.'”

Me:  “I love to write about you, honey!”

Ava:  “Good. Are we done yet? I don’t have any more questions.”

Me:  “None? Don’t you want to ask me what I love about blogging or when I started writing or what I wanted to be when I was a little kid?”

Ava:  “No. I really want to go back to reading my book.”

Me:  “Okay … Rhys, honey. You know how I told you it’s my one-year blogging birthday. What questions do you want to ask me?”

Rhys (4 yo):  “What is three plus three?”

Me:  “Six. What else?”

Rhys:  “That’s all, mama. You did great!”


Plan B:  Interview Myself (with some questions I stole from a celebrity interview in Oprah Magazine.)

Best Childhood Memory:  Jumping off our home’s front stoop and biting through both sides of my tongue. It didn’t really hurt, and I still remember all the sympathy, ice cream and Italian ice I scored.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood):  My mom’s homemade chocolate/strawberry/whipped cream birthday cakes. Every year for decades. The best.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood or food):  Let me get back to you on this one …

Best Hidden Talent:  Holding it in. But I’m working on it.

Best Karaoke Song:  Santa Baby (I can’t carry a tune, but when I turn on my pout-y, entitled gold digger persona, ain’t nobody got nothin’ on me.)

Best Surprise:  Feeling increasingly nauseous while in a theatre watching the movie Rabbit Proof Fence with my husband in late 2002, rushing to the nearest drug store for a pregnancy test and finding out we were unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. That and this red tandem bicycle.

gift fail, tandem bicycles, romantic gestures, inexpiable gifts

My Second Best Surprise

Most Memorable Holiday Moment:  Christmas 2002:  Telling our families that we were pregnant with Ava. I wrapped a book, “The Expectant Father,” and gave it to Mike to open in front of my family on Christmas Eve, then rewrapped and presented it to him again on Christmas Day with his family.

Best Escape:  Going to Costco or Target by myself. Or perhaps you meant travel? New York City. Or anywhere I can walk/sightsee/people watch with my husband or dear friends, be inspired by great art and theatre and get a massage.

Best Keepsake:  Curls from my daughters’ first haircuts and the many blankets and sweaters my mom lovingly knit for both girls.

Best Attribute:  Willingness to own my side of the street (eventually)

I Never Miss an Episode of:  The Good Wife with my husband (And we all know what kind of trouble that causes.)

Best Parenting Tip:  When in doubt, call 911.

Best Mom Skill:  Calling 911

I’m Proud of My Kids For:  Expressing all their feelings, speaking up for themselves and knowing & asking for what they want (I didn’t say I always like it, but …)

Most Prized Possession:  Other than my laptop for digital photos, this goose (which I am now aware is, in fact, a duck). I’ll write the story someday, but until then, I’ll tell you this goose/duck went with us to the hospital for both of our daughters’ births.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Duck, Duck, Goose

Anything Else You’d Like to Add:  On the one-year anniversary of A Teachable Mom, I’m beyond grateful for the love, acceptance and inspiration you all have shown me this past year. Thank you!

–As told to me by me.


A Teachable Mom

And That’s Why God Created Doctors

Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?

I blame Google.


I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)

If you haven’t been following our ER saga, you can catch up here and here.

And if you aren’t familiar with the talented Adrienne Bolton and her touching, funny and poignant blog, The Mommy Mess, get thee over there pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link again:  And That’s Why God Created Doctors.

The Mommy Mess

My Big, Wide Road …

Do you ever find yourself obsessing over decisions, turning seemingly small choices into life-altering ones? Does the entire future of your existence ever rest on choosing the right summer camp for your kids or picking the perfect nail polish color for your not-often-enough pedicure? No? Just me? Apparently all of you have actually learned not to sweat the small stuff? Miraculous!

If, like me, you lean perfectionistic and tend to talk to yourself less than lovingly (like this perhaps?) …


head over to Christine Carter’s place, The Mom Cafe, to read the rest of my guest post, My Big, Wide Roadwhere I talk about tightrope walking and what happened when I made all “wrong” choices for a day.

Christine is such a loving, inspiring woman and a talented, generous writer. I always leave The Mom Cafe feeling uplifted and encouraged. I’m confident you will too. Enjoy!

Basketball, B Teams & FGOs*

Photo by J. Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by J. Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Every weekend for the past several months, I’ve sat on the sidelines of my daughter’s basketball games, cheering her 4th grade team to victory. I’ve enjoyed the social aspects of the game:  applauding the girls’ budding talent, getting to know the other parents and reveling in our shared experience. Who knew a custom-made FGO* lurked amid the air balls, sweat and horrible nylon uniforms? (*F–king Growth Opportunity)

For the first few games, I felt shame that my daughter wasn’t a better player; embarrassed that she wasn’t more coordinated, more talented and more willing to be within ten feet of the ball.

I implored my husband, himself a skilled basketball player, to work with her. “Please do drills with her and help her get better,” I said.

“If she wants me to work with her, I will,” Mike replied. “But I’m not going to pressure her. She’s fine exactly as she is.”

I hate it when my husband is right; his wisdom both inspires and infuriates me. We both know that pressuring is my specialty, my raison d’etre. “Better, faster, stronger” is ingrained in my DNA.

Doesn’t everyone want to be the best? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? While I want to believe life is more than a competition to be won, I come from a long line of perfectionists. In my playbook, if you can’t do something as well or better than others, you either must try harder or quit. Nothing is more humiliating than being on the “B” team in any aspect of life.

These outdated beliefs have never served me, yet eradicating old messages is harder than mastering a well-timed jump shot. As much as I want to teach my daughter that slow, steady progress is brave and worthwhile, I hate slow, steady progress. And if I don’t have something or someone to measure myself against, how will I know I’m okay? Or justify feeling less than?

Several of my writing friends are succeeding at a pace that far outshines my own. My writing endeavors have forced me to face my oh-so-flattering issues with comparison and competitiveness; issues that I thought were long healed. Or at least deeply buried. Hah! When I’m not competing, it’s easy to sidestep the muck that gets stirred up.

At times, I want to quit writing altogether and move on to something else, ideally something I’m naturally gifted at (I am soliciting ideas on what that something might be). Other times, blessed fleeting moments, I glimpse that my friends are simply leading the way, providing a beacon of inspiration.

Continuously showing up and striving to do my best while trusting that slow improvement is worthwhile and will actually lead somewhere positive is a frightening proposition. Believing there is enough success for all of us is a lesson I long to embrace. And teach my children.

On Sunday, her stomach in knots before a playoff game, my daughter announced she wanted to stay home.

“I’m scared, mom,” she confided, “It’s hard not to be the best. We all know who the best players are, and I’m not one of them.”

“I get it honey,” I said, kissing the frown lines creasing her forehead. “I compare myself to other people too. And it hurts. I don’t know how to stop comparing. Maybe just for today we can trust that we’re good enough exactly the way we are.”

“I suppose so,” she replied, doubt underlying every syllable. “Well, I am better at basketball than I used to be.”

“You’ve practiced hard and grown so much these past few months,” I said. “I don’t care how good you are at throwing a basket into a hoop. I care that you face your fears and try. Keep doing that and you’ll conquer anything.”

After the game, she told me how much she loves basketball, loves being on a team. I am incredibly proud of her. I’m learning from her, being reminded how scary and exhilarating it is to learn something new and not be the best, but try my hardest, and let go of the results.

Using those criteria, every time I sit down to write, certain I have nothing useful to say, and write anyway, I’m growing. Every time I navigate relationships with my writing friends and confront my envy and self-pity without giving up, I’m hero material. Every time I trust that I am exactly who and where I’m supposed to be, I’m a miracle.

FGOs? You bet. Bring ’em on.

Linking up with Yeah Write. Click on the badge to read some great writing, then come back on Thursday to vote for your five favorite posts.