my letter to nicki minaj

the 2013 american idol judges ::michael becker / fox

the 2013 american idol judges :: michael becker / fox

Dear Nicki Minaj,

I just wanted to send a note of thanks to you for all the ways you’re helping me teach my 10-year-old about respect and responsibility. As a judge on this season’s American Idol, your efforts to showcase how not to treat others have been really brilliant. See, my kid is at a crossroads these days; working overtime to figure out how to manage disappointment and anger, experimenting with sarcasm and snark, repeating words he really shouldn’t, having fun pushing buttons. We know it’s a  natural part of his development, but it sure frays our nerves.

When his dad or I point out what not to do, it often goes in one ear and out the other.  But Nicki, when he sees you act out or be disrespectful on TV, he totally gets it. He can’t believe a grown-up – one who already has everything she could ever want – could still be so rude.

During the regional auditions, remember when you stormed off the set, swearing and pouting because the other judges disagreed with you? That was genius. You acted just like a kid who’s not mature enough to handle conflict or accept defeat. My kid saw himself in you, watching with his jaw dropped. Brilliant move.

Or how about this week’s antics? The way you showed up for Wednesday’s live show 15 minutes late and blamed it on L.A. traffic? Of course, we all know that talent, production staff and the audience are expected to be on-set waaaaay in advance of the actual airtime – even for an itty-bitty local show. When you did show up at the judge’s table, you were chewing gum in a hoodie and giant sunglasses, like you’d just walked off Santa Monica Beach. Sooooo clever. And then, last night, when one of your favorite contestants got voted off the show, you threatened to go home and dramatically tried to walk off the set. Thank goodness your fellow judges lured you back, just like parents who have to convince their kids not to run off whenever things don’t go their way. You looked so silly that I think my own kid might think twice the next time he considers storming off. Ha!

I know it probably sounds like I’m angry; I’m really not. Admittedly, I was irritated by your antics early on the season – but now I really am grateful because I’m able to turn your lapses in judgment into teachable moments with my son. This over-the-top persona of yours is great fodder and provides context for our talks about manners and respect.  I must say, we have also seen glimmers of kindness and generosity from you during the season, which has inspired talks about making positive choices, too. (Given that American Idol is one of the most-watched TV shows by kids ages 2-11, I just hope most kids watching also have a grown-up around to point out the good, the bad and the ugly.)

So thank you, my little ladybug, for helping me be a better parent. I’m obsessed with you – and hope that when you have impressionable kids of your own, there will be a role model like you to help teach them right from wrong.

Love & Light,


inside my mama heart: why i’m a mess

Do you remember this classic scene from Parenthood? One of my all-time faves. I was 15 when the movie came out and remember laughing so hard. But I thought it was over-the-top; that the little girl throwing up all over Steve Martin was just done for comedy’s sake. I never imagined at the time I would live out that scene countless times in my own life.

In fact, it happened again yesterday, at 3am. Tru started complaining of a tummy ache an hour earlier, so I climbed into his little car bed with him, hoping he’d fall back asleep. I rubbed his head, scratched his back, tried all my magic mommy tricks to soothe him. When he said, “I going to throw up,” I scrambled to get out of his bed, reached for him in the dark with hopes I could carry him to the bathroom in time. No such luck.

little boy sleepingI swear every particle of food he’d eaten over the past week hit me like a tidal wave; I was covered from my neck down to my toes. And I thought nothing of it. I got him to the bathroom, told him to wait there for a minute. I woke Brad up, telling him nonchalantly I was covered in vomit. He launched into action, getting Tru out of his soiled PJs, gathering all the bedding and starting a middle-of-the-night load of laundry. I sent middle-of-the-night texts, canceling the nanny and rescheduling meetings.

This is what we do now. With Ryder turning 10 this week (!!), we now have a decade worth of real-life scenes like this – and we laugh so hard remembering the most cringe-worthy moments of our own version of Parenthood.

Snot on our sleeves. Pee on the carpet. Poop on the walls.  My 15-year-old self would have been horrified to think this was my future. Heck, my 28-year-old, pregnant self might have been equally horrified!

But there is an indescribable seismic shift when you become a parent. Your heart actually aches with growing pains,  as an avalanche of new priorities replace petty stuff that no longer matters. Your brain feels like mush, on information overload. And your ego takes a beating, eager to be the best parent ever, but humbled to the core by a love you never could have imagined and constant reminders you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

I had lots of work-work to do yesterday – deadlines, calls and meetings. It all got pushed aside so I could care for my little guy, who spent 12 hours throwing up every 20 minutes. Stupid norovirus. And today we’re home again as he recovers. I’m helplessly behind. I desperately need a shower. And we’re now watching The Alvin & The Chipmunks Christmas Movie for the 17th time. Kill me now.

Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I adore my work-work, but my most important life-work is raising kids who feel unconditionally loved and cared for. It’s the hardest job I’ll ever have and, believe me, I’ve threatened to quit a few times – which they always find hilarious. Because they know that know no matter what they do – including covering me in puke – I’ll always love them like crazy. Which, I guess, means I’m doing my job right.


First Birthday Card for New MomsSpeaking of parenting, this card has been flying out of my shop lately. I don’t know how or why, but thank you! I love knowing lots of new mamas are being celebrated on their little ones’ first birthdays. And I’m thinking I may need to create another for those of us deep into the journey. Stay tuned…



happy first birthday…mama

Last night, as I snuggled in next to Ryder as he read aloud his bedtime story, I studied him carefully, looking for signs of the little boy who graced our lives nearly a decade ago. What happened to me reading to him!? How did his feet get bigger than mine? When did that chipmunk-cheeked toddler turn into a lanky, handsome boy?

And if that much drastic change has happened with him over these past nine years, I thought, just think of the changes in me. I was so lost when he arrived. Sometimes, I still feel bad about the ways depression and PTSD made me so distant and foggy when we were supposed to be bonding. That first year of his life was such a blur, as it is for so many new parents. There is nothing that can prepare us for the physical and emotional highs and lows of those early days. And then, in the blink of an eye, baby’s first birthday arrives with balloons, an adorable face full of cake and loved ones gathering to celebrate the guest of honor. It goes. so. fast.

I will never forget Ryder’s first birthday party, in our old bungalow in south Minneapolis, a crowd of friends and family squished into our tiny dining room. As our friend Sita walked through the front door, her first instinct was not to find the birthday boy, but to reach out to me. Already a seasoned mama of three, she embraced me and said, “You did it! You made it! Happy first birthday, mama!” and I nearly broke down in tears.

New mamas {and papas, too} do deserve and need a pat on the back {better yet, a big embrace} for the huge life shifts they’ve been through. It’s monumental. Life-changing. I’m not sure why it took me this long, but I finally designed a card to honor this milestone. Because every new mama needs a friend like Sita to recognize her triumphant journey.

Back To School Cool {Feeling Groovy}

Get a load of this kid. Can you even handle the color coordination, from the shoes to the necklace!? It’s not my doing – I promise. He has been dictating his wardrobe, concerned with every little detail and color combo, since he could talk. He goes through phases: no jeans, only jeans, no logos, all logos…we can’t keep up.

But I can tell you that what he wears affects his mood like nothing I’ve ever seen. He is highly sensitive, this one. Inside and out. If a tag is bothering him or his colors don’t match precisely, he’s crabby all day. Sometimes, he just wants to put on pajama pants for several hours to feel the softness against his skin.

What he wears has nothing to do with fads or trends; it’s about how the clothes make him feel. Yesterday, we went shoe shopping and he fell head over heels for these black-and-red high-tops. I had to have a serious talk with him in the shoe store, reminding him they wouldn’t match everything – and that he’ll need to wear them anyway.

And then, the insecure fourth grader in me – the one who had to have Guess jeans and friendship pins in my laces because that’s what the cool people wore – asked the dumbest question ever: “Are you sure you don’t want to wait and see what everybody else is wearing before you choose your shoes?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “You know I don’t care what everybody else is wearing! They’re cool to me.”

Enough said. Shoes purchased. Kid beaming. Mama heart thumping with pride.

This morning, he strutted to the bus stop for his first day of fourth grade, feeling fantastic. He kissed us goodbye, gave us the peace sign and waved from the bus window. There’s no doubt: he’s the coolest kid I know.



Imagination Movers {Why I’m Crying Happy Tears}

Once upon a time, a creative girl married a creative boy. They were always imagining wonderful things – sharing ideas, playing silly games, asking big questions, and envisioning their future.

Along came a precious baby boy and he, too, had a giant imagination. “He’s just like us!” they exclaimed with relief. And together, the threesome lived happily together, playing make-believe whenever they could. There were costumes and art projects,  living room concerts and bath time adventures. In their colorful, fanciful world, anything was possible.

And then, to the family’s surprise and delight, another baby boy arrived from the stars. So sweet and giggly, they knew he was made of pure magic. He took in the world with big eyes and decided to bloom at his very own pace. Slowly but surely {much slower than most}, he learned to say words…and walk without wobbling…and not to eat rocks. With every small step, his family cheered. They sang songs! They jumped for joy! They hugged him tight! But deep in their hearts, in the back of their minds, the creative mama and the creative papa and the creative big brother worried. For their star boy did not seem to play the “right” way. He would copy a story, reciting the lines; or mimic a movie, acting out every scene; or shut out the world, deeply lost in his own. But never, not ever, did he play make-believe with his very own thoughts.

The boy’s team of helpers, real angels on earth, said lots of things – both crushing and kind – like “we just can’t be sure” and “we’ll do what we can.” The mama cried softly, the daddy shook his head; for the first time in forever, they were out of ideas. It was impossible for them to imagine that it was impossible for their child to imagine.

So, they decided to do the best thing they do: play anyway. Day after day, month after month, they played and he watched. They said silly things. They sang funny songs. They made pretty art. They made up tall tales. He giggled and clapped; he knew it looked fun. He studied their every move, like he could see the ideas swirling over their heads.

And then, one day last week, something bright caught his eye. A little light bulb, flickering above his own head. He reached up, his eyes wide, unsure what to do. “Mommy?” he said, seven times in a row. She waited for a question to form. A request for more milk? A plea to go outside? And that’s when he said it. Five glorious words from his four-year-old lips: “Can we play rocket ship?”

Her eyes snapped up from her paper. There, dangling above him, was a teeny tiny light bulb; a miracle in midair. He raced upstairs and she followed him close, desperate to keep the little bulb lit. She grabbed two pilot hats from the costume bin and placed one on his head, the other on hers. Then he grabbed at thin air, and pulled it over his chest. “Put on your seat belt,” he instructed, as his mama tried to catch her breath, tried to soak up the moment, tried to keep her heart from leaping out of her chest. She looked at him in disbelief as he held an invisible steering wheel, counting down numbers – 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. – and blasted them off into a new world. They went faster and faster, dodging meteors and catching stars. And when they landed back down, they collapsed into a pile of giggles.

She dabbed her eyes as she looked into his; foreheads touching, hearts thumping. And then she said the five words she’d been longing to say for so long: “You have a great imagination.” 


A Beautiful Mind. A Beautiful Moment.

The other day, while going through my dad’s old notes to prepare for this, I found these words he’d scribbled on a little pink post-it:

“Thriving kids have a look – a demeanor – like when flowers stretch out to meet the sun. A vibrancy, an energy, a buoyancy, a curiosity.”

Just a quick thought he wanted to remember, I’m sure, but so beautiful it took my breath away.

Yesterday, while playing with Truman in the backyard, I snapped a quick pic of these flowers. When I looked at the resulting image, my breath stopped short again: the flowers were stretched out to meet the rays of sun – as my little guy, thriving like crazy these days, giggled in the background.

The synchronicity felt Heaven-sent and too sweet not to share. Hope you agree, dear ones.


The One Thing My Kids Need To Know

“If you could teach your kids only one thing, what would it be?” I heard someone ask this question the other day, and it sent my mind racing.

In the blur of a typical day, it feels like I’m trying to teach my boys a million little things {which typically go totally ignored!}. It was a real challenge to think of just ONE life lesson I want them to know – until it finally hit me:


Do all things with love. 


Years from now, I’d love to look back on our precious little life together and know that, within these walls, our boys learned to let love guide all of their decisions: how they treat others, how they treat themselves, the work they choose, the pastimes they pursue, and the ways they make their mark on the world.

It’s the mother of all life lessons, dear boys: all you need is love.


Making Father’s Day Matter

me & my dad ~ 1999

Just when I think I’ve got this dance down, that I’m close to mastering this exhausting waltz with grief, I trip over something that brings me to my knees.

I know it’s not fair or reasonable, but I’m a little bit pissed at all the retailers sending me emails with cheery Father’s Day reminders:  5 Ways To Tell Your Dad You Love Him or Give Your Dad The Best Gift Ever! Even a simple card for grandpas at Target –Happy Father’s Day, Papa! – had me scurrying to an empty aisle to catch my breath and wipe my eyes.

When my dad died eight months ago, I knew holidays without him would be hard. As a family, we have felt his presence on special occasions {heck, he basically called me on my birthday!} and we’ve found new ways to celebrate without him.

But Father’s Day is just feeling extra hard. I do have dads to celebrate; Brad is an amazing daddy to our boys and I have a soft spot in my heart for his father, who’s visiting us this week.

But I can’t help but focus on my own dad right now and how much I’m missing the chance to tell him this weekend – heart to heart, face to face – how much I love him. Last Father’s Day, we had a fabulous day at a Twins game. This Father’s Day, he’s gone. I believe everything happens for a reason…but it still sucks.

I would love another chance to sit down and chat, or see his name pop up on my cell phone, or dance a silly dance, or laugh till we cry over something ridiculous. Since I can’t, I’m hoping you will. For those of you who still have your dads, could you let them know how much they mean to you? I know that sounds cliche…but I really mean it. I would love so much to know you’re making this Father’s Day matter.

Last year, I gave my dad a card that said “I am because you are” on the front. I could have just signed it and called it a day…but, instead, I felt compelled to write a list of characteristics I possess because I learned or inherited them from him. Like kindness. Like work ethic. Like hay fever {thanks a lot}! Oh, he loved it! As he read the list out loud, it felt so good to celebrate {and tease him about} many of the things he’d passed on to me. And it’s such a comfort to me now, knowing I said what I needed to say.

I realize now, more than ever, what a gift it was to have a strong and loving relationship with my dad. I recognize and am so sorry that not everyone has that. But for those of you who do {or feel like a deeper connection is possible}, wouldn’t it be phenomenal to make this Sunday really meaningful? Call or write or share in-person how much your dad helped shape who you are. It’ll be an amazing gift for him and one you’ll never regret giving.

Seize the day. Say what you mean. Do a happy dance with your dad. And have a happy Father’s Day.


Nesting Instincts

Oh, bless the little birds who saw this No Parking sign and parked there anyway, perching a nest right on top. Such moxie!

In most bird species, the mama sets her sights on the perfect spot for a new nest, the daddy builds it and then the mama decides if it meets her expectations. I suspect the birds who live here, on top of a street sign, longed for a quiet neighborhood for their brood, with access to good schools and nice parks – only to find that every tree was taken or there was nothing in their price range.

What’s a mama to do? She finds a way. She flaps her wings. She breaks some rules. And asks for forgiveness later.

The so-called experts don’t mention this in baby books. They don’t reveal that what we should really expect when we’re expecting is that motherhood will be an act of extreme courage; that sooner than later, we’ll have to slam some doors and turn some tables and raise our voices to get what’s best for our families.

The next time I need to ruffle some feathers, I’ll think of this gravity- and rule-defying nest – and the brave parents who built it – for inspiration. If they can do it, so can we.

Inadequate Mommy Syndrome {I’ve Got It Bad}

When I was growing up, playing house was so borrrrring to me. I wanted to play “office” or “store’ or write musicals. But sitting around with my friends talking about our baby dolls? That made no sense to me. I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’m suffering a little from what I call IMS – Inadequate Mommy Syndrome. See, I still feel like I’m 10 sometimes, totally unsure about how to play house and bond with other girls over our kids.

This morning, as I was dropping Tru off at preschool {and apologizing to his teachers for completely forgetting his backpack, containing his essential snack and pull-ups}, I noticed three super-cute mommies in their darling outfits chirping hellos and describing their days to each other. I knew none of their names…or which kids belonged to them. I realized they were also happily putting kites in a box by the kids’ cubbies and I vaguely remembered a note – stuck in the forgotten backpack – about donating kites to the classroom for some event by some date. Damn.

I drove away in my minivan {at least I got that part right}, imagining them all gleefully shadowing their preschoolers next week during See How We’ve Grown Day, which I can’t attend because it’s Business Trip Day for me. My mind started racing as I pulled out of the parking lot. What if I can’t find someone to take my place? What if Tru feels abandoned? What if the cute and friendly mommies think I’m a mean and shitty mommy?

I know this path to crazytown like the back of my hand. I’ve traveled it countless times since first becoming a mom nine years ago. And, by now, I know I’m not alone – other moms fall into these rabbit holes, too. Nevertheless, it feels agonizingly lonely. So, my back pockets are filled with gentle reminders from wise ones to get me through these valleys.

Byron Katie reminds me that what other people think of me is none of my business. Yes! Thank you.

Anne Lamott tells me this is one thing they forget to mention in most child-rearing books, that at times you will just lose your mind. Yes! Thank you.

And Erma Bombeck says before you try to keep up with the Joneses, be sure they’re not trying to keep up with you. Yes! Thank you.

That wisdom helps me shift gears, helps me clear the crap off my personal windshield and see myself clearly again – as a mama who’s doing the best she can. For me, the solution to this angst is not to throw a mommy tea party with the wedding china we’ve never used – nor is it to give up and go fly a kite. The best response to this inner mama mayhem is to force myself to look at what’s going right; to have my own See How We’ve Grown Day. I forget sometimes {okay, most of the time} to reflect on how my kids are thriving, to recognize ways I’m thriving, to confide in the friends I already trust and adore, and to pat myself on the back for the ways I am present for these boys of mine.

Got other tricks and wisdom in your back pockets? Do tell!