Archive for the ‘Family life’ Category

“Don’t Ask ‘What’ My Child Is”: but do read my essay on Dame magazine

February 28th, 2015

“The writer is White. Her husband is Black. And there are many people who feel entitled to accost the couple with unsolicited opinions about their biracial son.” —Dame Magazine

I’m thrilled to have my essay Don’t Ask “What” My Child Is published on Dame Magazine. It’s an extremely personal statement, which I hope will inspire people to examine how they think about biracial families. Please check it out, and consider sharing and commenting.


Here’s the book that kicked off the discussion in our house.

good news: “cancer” and community

March 13th, 2012

My niece Elyse does have thyroid cancer. But if  you’re going to have cancer, papillary thyroid cancer is not a bad one to have. Its cure rate is extremely high, and hers was caught early, ironically because she was in a car accident last fall. The head/neck scan fall revealed the tumor, which gave the doctors a baseline from which to monitor its growth.

I’ve been wondering if I am guilty of TMI talking about a family member’s cancer so openly online. But my sister and Elyse are not only comfortable with it but also greatly appreciate the resulting support, coming even from people who have never met them, like my friends. I, too, am very grateful. These connections really are the best part of (virtual) community.

why I cleaned my sister’s bathroom when her kid might have cancer

March 12th, 2012

Me: “Pick me up at baggage claim.”

Kathy, my oldest sister: “Where are you?”

Me: “On a plane. You asked me to come.”

Kathy called me that morning two weeks ago tomorrow in tears, and I arrived from SFO into Omaha just before midnight. (In my family, if someone needs help, five other siblings can potentially be dispatched. I’m freelancing now, so I have the most flexible schedule.)

Kathy is a single working mom with two sets of boy-girl twins, 17 and 20 years old, three of whom have special needs. Her life is like a bad Lifetime Network movie. If I told you all of the things that have happened to her and about her kids’ health issues, you wouldn’t believe it. And she’s toughed it out.

The log that broke her back was the possibility that Elyse, her older daughter might have cancer. We should find out tomorrow.

The poor kid can’t catch a break. Recently, she broke her nose in a car accident and needs to have sinus surgery. She had to quit her job because of too many absences, even though they were all health related. Did I mention a drunk driver ran over her hand in a parking lot? If the ER had a loyalty program, she’d be in the 100K tier.

Elyse has a thyroid tumor, which is very common, especially with women, but hers has grown rapidly and is interfering with eating and breathing. It was some worrisome blood-work results, which could be caused by lymphoma (rare, but it’s Elyse, the statistical anomaly), though, that broke her mom. Hearing the “C” word and your child’s name in the same sentence is enough to send any parent into a tailspin.

When I arrived at her house, I knew Kathy had reached the point that every working mom reaches at some point, where you have to decide not to see the gigantic mess in front of you, which you’re too tired and busy to clean up. Because if you even acknowledged it existed, it would send you over the edge. So you buy new socks when the rest are dirty, add to the piles of papers (each representing an overdue to-do), and overlook what hasn’t made it to the garbage can.

That’s why—in addition to going with Elyse to the ultrasound and the surgeon, and taking my sister out to talk over drinks—I spent the next week cleaning Kathy’s bathroom and bedroom. To give her a sliver of control over her rollercoaster life. Tomorrow morning, when she wakes up, before taking Elyse to the hospital, she won’t trip on the way to the shower, can pull a hair-tie out of the designated drawer, and will choose from clothes on matching hangers, tops sorted first by sleeve length and then by color.

In lieu of having the rhinoplasty originally slated for her spring break, Elyse will have the right side of her thyroid removed and a frozen section biopsied while she’s under. The next steps depend on the pathologist’s ruling: malignant or benign? I can’t control the answer, and neither can my sister. But I can make sure that when Kathy gets home, she can focus on Elyse because there’s a little less chaos in her peripheral vision.

Why do “multicultural” crayons include white and black? How about skin tones?

November 6th, 2011


While I applaud the PC nature of Crayola’s “multicultural” crayon set, next time, I suggest the product-development folks think about flesh colors—picture actual skin tones. Really, a white crayon and a black crayon? For the record, in the limited crayon palette at school, Carter reaches for the orange crayon when he draws himself.

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Spot goes to school in PJs—why it’s good I don’t dress my son

May 18th, 2011
Pupp Spot (aka Carter) and Mommy on Halloween 2010

Puppy Spot (aka Carter) and Mommy on Halloween 2010

Carter is perfectly capable of getting himself dressed in the mornings. Yesterday, he put on the Dalmatian-print flannel pants from his Halloween costume, usually reserved for PJs. Some parents might disagree with his choice, but I didn’t care. I’m not a morning person, so I’ve been overly sympathetic to Carter when he’s a sad sleepyhead, like Mommy. Even though I know that I shouldn’t, I’ve even dressed him on particularly late, weepy mornings. But this week, I’ve been managing, though not happily, to get myself up and out of his way. I forced myself to practice what I preach in parenting books: Step back, stop nagging, and tell Carter that I trusted him to get himself ready.

And he did. Good puppy!

Why do I care so much about the book The Happiest Mom?

May 8th, 2011

Happy Mothers’ Day! Except for asking (aka pestering, nagging, begging) everyone I know to buy the book The Happiest Mom (Parenting Magazine): 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood ($8.22, 45 percent off at Amazon today). I’ve been mostly off the grid the past several months. Tweeting @bakingwithc, but not blogging (a story for another day). So why do I care so much about this book? I’ve edited dozens and dozens of books, but this one is different. The Happiest Mom published with Parenting magazine (the book includes a one-year subscription) struck a personal nerve with me. I’m going to cheat and share an answer I gave when Freelance Success, through which I met the author, Meagan Francis recently interviewed me for its newsletter.

Q: What makes this project so special for you—you say you really put your heart into it?

A: Heart and soul. I know from personal experience how powerful the support from other moms can be, especially when you have young kids (my son is 6). This book gave me the opportunity to counter some of the recent less-than-enthusiastic press motherhood has gotten and offer practical and emotional support to moms everywhere.

Meagan’s pitch was perfectly timed. I had just read I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids for book club. The book’s message is: motherhood is miserable, but we can get through it together. Worse, there was a growing trend of blogs and books with a similar message—and this was all before Tiger Mom!

Well, we book club moms disagreed. We like being moms. I felt the world needed a different message: being a mom is wonderful, but challenging. By sharing the good times and supporting each other in the not-so-good times, we moms can enjoy motherhood together.

Meagan’s message that you can say “happy” and “mom” in the same sentence resonated strongly with me, and I knew it would with a lot of other moms. The Happiest Mom offers realistic advice that can have an immediate impact on your happiness. This book also gave me a chance to inject some personal advice—how to say “no,” (politely) brush off busybodies, and make a don’t-do list. You know, all those things that nag at you because you “should” do them? Put some on a “never do” list and others on a “don’t do now, but might do later” list. You’ll feel instant relief. Also, look for the “two-minute” rule inspired by Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It will change your life.

fun science for everyone: make magic goo from corn starch and water

December 27th, 2010

I’m know for being science-phobic (I took yearbook instead of chemistry in high school), but the Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists Santa got Carter for Christmas could change that. Today Carter and I made “magic goo.” Try it even if there’s no kid around.

Magic Goo
Simply mix 5 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/8 cup (1 ounce) water in a bowl with your fingers. Squeeze the mixture, ball it up, put it down. What happens? Is it a liquid or a solid? Technically, this corn starch-water mixture is a “non-Newtonian” liquid, which means pressure as well as temperature can affect its viscosity. (Newton was in the temperature-only camp.) When you squeeze the mixture, it feels like a solid, but take away the pressure and it goes quickly back to liquid state.

Of course beyond the science lesson about solids and liquids, tactile exploration is a key benefit of this easy science experiment. Bottom line, though, do it yourself with or without kids because it’s fun.

For more details and a larger-scale recipe, check out Steve Spangler Science’s take on this chemistry experiment. The site’s tagline is “making science fun!” It’s never too soon to start or too late to try.

safety announcement: wear a helmet when ice skating

December 12th, 2010

IMG_1387After being a little angel in the Nutcracker, Carter switched back to ice skating classes on Saturday mornings. (There will be no more double-booking classes on Saturday after the meltdowns that having ballet and soccer on the same day caused.) Today, I skated with him after class.

One girl. Two girl. Carter. Mommy. The dominoes fell, and backwards I went, banging my head on the ice. Carter was fine—he was wearing a helmet—but worried about me. The ice skating equivalent of a lifeguard skated me off the ice and set me up with a bag of frozen peas. I’ll be buying myself a helmet before getting back in the rink.

I have a bit of a lump on my head.

When we got home, Carter sent me straight to bed. Then he brought me a jelly-pan tray of candle-decorated sweets to make me feel better. Embarrassingly not homemade, the mini blueberry muffins and mini angel food cake come from letting Carter loose in Mollie Stone’s the other day. (To his credit, he also filled his child-size shopping cart with broccoli, organic raspberries, and Concord grape, apple, and Odwalla icky-green juices.)

showing up a year after the break-in

October 1st, 2010

Unplanned, unintended hiatus. Months go by without blogging, and here I am showing up finally.

Much has happened. Carter has started kindergarten, rides his bike without training wheels, and lost his first tooth. As the “snack coordinator” for Team Dynamite, I officially become a soccer mom on Saturday.

Saturday is also the one-year anniversary of the break-in. I am not the same, and I am not over it. How sad and annoying is that? I still don’t have a new wedding ring, but a titanium (both nonallergenic and airplane grade, how appropriate) one is on its way.

You know you can get anything on Amazon, except, perhaps, peace of mind.

my mother’s day: trauma! drama! and lack thereof, so do you care?

May 15th, 2010

cardsagainOutside of school assignments decades ago, I rarely wrote about my own life until I took a personal essay class from Adair Lara back in 2001. The biggest “aha!”—realizing that readers get bored if everything is going well. Conflict keeps their attention. You also have to show how your experience illustrates some universal truth without it being a cliché. It’s way harder to do than I imagined. I didn’t even attempt it again for years.

Now, I’m writing a blog, where the whole point is to share something personal that I hope will be of value and interest to other people. While I’ve been microblogging on Twitter (bakingwithc) lately, this is the longest I’ve gone without updating the blog. Part of it is I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I just can’t dash out a blog and hit “publish.” To me, blogs are personal essays, so I hesitate to write unless I can deliver a fully-formed essay. (I’ve also been trading writing time for sleeping, but that’s a different day’s topic.)

Which is a very long way to get around to talking about Mothers’ Day, because mine was so nice.

Carter, who was supposedly going to let me sleep in, woke me up around 6 am, because he couldn’t wait to give me my cards. The only problem was he wanted to know where they were. I realize I’m his early-morning go-to guy, but this was one question I could not answer. Jeff got a rare wake-up call, followed by whispering.

The card that Carter made for me at daycare had his handprint on one side and flowers he drew on the other side. He also got me a baby pink Hallmark card pink decorated with chiffon ribbons and a gold seal. “Mommy, I know the bad guys took your jewelry and made you sad, so I got you this card that has jewelry on it to help you feel better.” Put that together with hand-drawn hearts and a signature with both his first and last name on the inside and who wouldn’t melt? (See it’s just not tension-filled essay material.)

Then miracle of miracles, Carter let me sleep some until Jeff brought me breakfast in bed: Mickey Mouse pancakes, grapefruit, cheesy scrambled eggs, and Whitman’s dark chocolate sampler. No complaints there.

And that’s not all! I went to yoga, and my shoulder didn’t hurt! (Thank you, thank you, Dr. George Thabit for ending my year and a half of pain with one shot.)

That’s still not all. I went to hear Anna Quindlen speak. I’m so in love, that’s whole other blog topic.

And to top it off, Carter insisted we go to Dave and Busters because that’s where we went last year. Not my scene, but after dinner, we stopped by Forever 21, a new store to me. Carter picked out an adorable, albeit short, blue polka-dot dress for me. I wore it with skinny jeans to work on Monday and got an unusual number of compliments. (This reminded me of Anna’s comment about how this is the first generation of mothers to dress so much like their daughters.)

So no drama, just a really nice day.

If stuck with me this far, despite the lack of conflict, thank you. I owe you a pithy wrap-up that ties my Mother’s Day to a universally understood experience. But I’m not coming up with it. So, instead, I’ll simply sign off by sending my best wishes to all mothers out there. I hope you, too, had a wonderful day.