Martyrdom and motherhood are basically the same thing, sometimes. When I had surgery just four months after my daughter was born, I refused painkillers because I didn’t want Maddie’s breastfeeding to be disrupted. (Okay, this would be more impressive if it hadn’t been a laparoscopic surgery. I was sore, sure, but it wasn’t torture or anything.) When I need to finish writing a piece for my critique group, and Maddie is being particularly screamy, I let out this long, exaggerated sigh, and I say, “Well, I guess I’ll just put this aside until you’re in bed, and I’ll stay up until midnight finishing it.” Then there’s the very true cliché about making myself a warm lunch and getting to eat it around dinnertime when it’s stone cold. I’m a martyr sometimes, and I get a really annoying motherly pleasure from it. Then I ran over my toenail with the metal bottom of Maddie’s highchair, and I stopped being a martyr for a while.

I used to have a infant who slept through the night. We’d put her down at 9:00pm or so, she’d sleep until 6:00am, and then I’d pull her into bed with me, feed her lying down, and we’d nap on and off until 10:00am. It was phenomenal. When other mothers told me that I looked/sounded/seemed great, I didn’t reveal my secret, because a.) I am always a little worried that someone is going to kidnap my baby, and this would only make her more attractive to potential kidnappers, and b.) it seemed a little naughty. No one else got to sleep in with a newborn, so it must be some form of illegal. In response to these women, I shrugged my well-rested shoulders and said, “Well, I really love being a mom.” Now, that part is still true, but the rest is not. Madeline doesn’t sleep anymore. She goes down at 9:00pm, and screams and screams. Then she falls asleep, and wakes up anywhere between two and eight times throughout the night. Last night was one of the really, really bad ones.

I received an email this morning from a current student at my alma mater. She was putting together a Where Are They Now? newsletter piece about some of the graduates who are continuing to work in their fields of study. Mine was creative writing. I wrote out the blurb she asked for, but I was pretty loose with the details. And with the definition of the word “working.” I write and edit, but I don’t actually get paid for most of it. And when I do, I take a picture of the check for posterity, which tells you exactly how rare those checks are. I told her about grad school and some of my publications, and that I’m juggling my writing life with my stay-at-home-mommy life, because writing with a five-month-old daughter in the picture is hard McFricken work. I didn’t actually use the word McFricken in my blurb. There are many things I didn’t tell her.

“You HATE me!”

These were the words shouted at me last night as I closed the door on my daughter.

And she was right.

At that moment, I hated her.

I know I’m not supposed to say that. I am breaking the #1 commandment of motherhood: “Thou Shalt Not Say ‘I hate my child,’ even when thouest feeleth it from the very depths of thine soul.”  And I hate myself for saying it.   I really do.  I imagine all of the awful things that could happen to me, or her, once I say this horrible thing and how very, very sorry I will be for thinking something like this.  Surely fate will come down and show me something really worth hating.  But if I don’t say it, I am going to burst.

I HATE my daughter!!  Aaaaaaaaahhhhh…that feels so good.

I didn’t say this to her, of course.   I just thought it.  Hard.   I knew it was a momentary reaction to her behavior and I’m savvy enough about this whole “mom thing” to know I’m supposed to use phrases like “I can’t stand how you’re acting,” “I don’t like how you’re behaving right now,” or some other politically correct statement that won’t scar her for life.   Something that specifies that it’s her actions I despise, and not the person performing them.  But I can’t imagine a scenario wherein a hostage would tell her gun-wielding captor, “I really hate how you’re acting right now.”   The momentary truth is just so evident.   I was hating her.

My littlest girl is no walk in the park.  She’s not even a walk on a dirty, rocky beach.  Quite frankly, she’s more like a tough climb up a steep mountain…like Kilamanjaro or Mt. Everest.  She’s REALLY hard to parent.  She doesn’t listen, she never does what I ask — and she whines.  A lot.   To make matters worse, when she whines she uses a scratchy shriek that makes you want to peel the corneas from your eyes.  She cries, she complains, she rebuffs, she criticizes, and she is showing early signs of an obsessive compulsive disorder I am definitely not qualified to handle.  I’m tired.

Every night is a battle.  A battle to get her to sit at the dinner table, a battle to get her to leave the table to take a bath, a battle to get her out of the bath and into pajamas, and then — our “Waterloo” — the battle to go to sleep.  I submit my demands, she balks, I fight back, some possible “French” is exchanged, and her poor brother, who sleeps on the bottom of their bunk bed and has to listen to the whole thing, loses.

This girl even has a routine.   Every night she pees three separate times, each time thoroughly washing her hands as if she’ll be performing surgery.  She asks my opinion on what pajamas she should wear. She puts on the ones I don’t pick, and I am then commanded to “fill them with love.”   This consists of a two-minute ritual where I hug the pajamas, kiss them and hold them to my head and body while thinking pleasant thoughts.  If it looks like I’m not happy while I do it — I must start over.  And smile.  Then she needs to “stretch” before she gets into bed.  If I’m lucky, she climbs the ladder to her bed without coming down to pee again and stays there to organize her stuffed animals.  She lays her “chilky” (silk blankie) down on her pillow just so, then as I say “Okay, honey…it’s time for kisses and hugs” she comes up with a million questions that have absolutely no bearing on the task at hand.  “Mommy? Can I have a playdate tomorrow?” “Mommy, what was that big word you used this afternoon?” “Mommy, I think I want bangs.   What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think you should go to sleep.”

“But I want to know if you think I should get bangs.”

“No.   I don’t think you should get bangs.  They’re hard to keep and you are beautiful the way you are.”

“But I want bangs!”

“Then get bangs.”

“But I want to know what you think!”

“Livi.  I don’t want to talk about bangs right now.   It’s bedtime.   I’m going to sing ‘Snuggle Puppy’ now.  Are you ready?”

“You’re not getting it!!!!!!!  What if I want bangs and you don’t think I should get them!”

Are you kidding me???!!  These sorts of philosophical debates that can’t be solved with a simple “yes” or “no” are the hallmark of our nighttime discussions.   Needless to say, she persists in trying to get a satisfactory answer to her quandary (for which there is none…) while I try and get her to forget about her Extreme Makeover and go to sleep.

I’m seriously at the end of my rope.

I want to go back to that time when she was a little baby and we would stare into each other’s eyes with mutual love and affection.  Our “conversations” consisted of smiles, blinks, and the occasional burst of gas.   She was so sweet.  She was so loving.  She was sooooooo good.  I called her “my party favor” because she was such a treat.   I miss that girl so much.

I love her.   Of course, I love her.  She’s my baby.   She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s loving… (see how I keep telling myself all the good stuff?)  But I want to love her all of the time.   I want to be able to hug her and kiss her juicy cheeks without her screaming at me for some infraction I never intended: “OW! You pulled my hair!”; “You’re squishing me!”; “Your breath smells!”   I want to fill her up with my love and spoil her.   But I can’t.  She forbids it.  She lays down the gauntlet by finding a way to hold my attention using a negative scenario.  And we both lose.

I don’t know how to win.   I don’t even want to “win.”  I just want peace.  And to get some kind of recognition that I am in charge — or at the very least, that I pay the rent.

I’ll do anything — therapy, counseling, smudging (an ancient ritual where you burn sage to get rid of the evil spirits).  You name it.  I’ll try it all.  Because I love this girl fiercely.  Not the actions.  But the whole girl.

Always.  Usually…

My child wants to stab somebody and I’m a little concerned.

Out of respect for that child – and fear of losing future playdates – let’s call the child, “Sylvia.”

The other day my boyfriend, Scott, was in the playroom with the kids and “Sylvia” said very matter-of-factly, “I feel like stabbing someone.”

Scott shot “Sylvia” a look of horror.

Sylvia saw the look and said “Uh-oh.  Am I in trouble?”

Scott, that hippie man of mine, didn’t want to get “Sylvia” in trouble for sharing her “feelings” – even if they were about maiming someone – and calmly said “No.  You’re not in trouble.  I am curious though…are you angry about something?”

“No.  I just really feel like stabbing someone.”

He sat “Sylvia” down and explained to her why stabbing is bad.  It’s not right.  It could really hurt someone.  And saying you want to “stab someone” means you want to cause someone a lot of pain.  “Do you see why stabbing is wrong?  You don’t really want to stab someone, do you?”

“I still want to stab someone.”

Scott was out of his league so he brought “Sylvia” to me.  I was in my room folding laundry and he said  “Sylvia has something to tell you.”  Standing at the foot of my bed covered in folded laundry, I could only see the top of Sylvia’s head as she said “I really want to stab someone.”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I really want to stab someone.”

Was my kid some kind of psychopath?   Maybe she was just expressing emotions of anger.  In a world where our children are bombarded daily with easily remedied violence in the media, this was normal, right?

We’re told we shouldn’t engage our children if they say “I hate you” or “I wish you were dead” or “I want to kill you.” Did Sylvia’s laissez-faire attitude toward “stabbing someone” fall under that category?  Do I punish her for her feelings?  Squelch her freedom of speech?  I mean, wasn’t she entitled to “feel” like she “wanted” to stab someone just as long as she knew she wasn’t supposed to actually stab someone?  Hey, I’m divorced, I have an ex, I’ve been there.

So I said to her “Why do you want to stab someone?”

“See Scott????  I told you if we told her she’d want to know “why”?”  Sylvia was pissed.

I looked at Scott.  Yes.  Sylvia was a psychopath.

Scott, standing arms length away from Sylvia, said “Sarah…Sylvia didn’t want to tell you she wanted to stab someone because she knew you’d ask her “why” and she has no idea “why”.

“Oh.  Well, Sylvia, do you know what “stabbing” means?”

Sylvia made an “I told you so” face to Scott and was silently tilting and jabbing the head in my direction.  Like I was the problem.

Scott explained to me that in their previous discussion in the playroom, “Sylvia” and he discussed what “stabbing” meant, why it was wrong, and that she didn’t know “why” she felt this way.  She only knew she wanted to stab someone.  I could see she was frustrated.

Not really knowing what to do, and trying really hard not to freak out, especially since…well, she hadn’t actually stabbed anybody – and because letting your children express their emotions is supposed to be a “good” thing, or so they say – I said the only reasonable thing I could think of.

I asked “Are you going to stab someone?”


“You know you shouldn’t.”


“Yes.  I know.  But I still want to.”

“Do you want to talk about anything?

She was totally exasperated with me. “Noooooooo!”

“Alright.  But you’re not going to…uh..stab someone?”


“Okay then.” I shrugged.  “You can go.”  As she walked out of the room I added “You can talk to me if you figure out why you want to stab someone!”

“Yeah.  I know!”  She shouted from down the hall.

I’m not sure if I handled the situation the right way or if I should take her in for psychiatric evaluation, but I think I did okay.  After all…no one’s bleeding.

But maybe I’ll only give her plastic knives just in case.


My office smells like old snacks.

Apparently, this is what happens when you trade your corner office for a minivan.  I really miss the old digs: the custom-ordered swivel chair; the view down 56th Street from 40 floors up; space to “think.”  And all of this guarded by an assistant who sat outside my door ready to intercept anyone who might try to enter the inner sanctum uninvited.  It was luxurious, organized…peaceful.