Off the Script

The snow turns gray and piles up in the tire wells of my cars.

(I usually like to use the word grey, but this is mess is gray.  Not nearly as pretty as the solemn grey one might paint in the entryway of her home.)

The boys love to come out from school and see what kind of frozen madness has stored up in that space.

“Tucker! Come look on this side!”
“Tyler! Look at this – kick right… here!”

And there is an avalanche of gray slush and giggles.

As we got into the car, I said, “Guys, I really appreciate how you weren’t fighting over who would kick the snow off the tires. You were giving each other chances.”

They looked at me as if I had degraded them.

“Mommy, why would we fight? That’s something ’emenies’ would do. And we’re not ’emenies.’  Why would you ever think that?”

(Why would I?  Why would I ever, ever think that?)

“Oh, you’re not? Well, that’s great to hear. Can you tell me what you are?”

They look at each other and think. I’m fishing for something to validate my years of investing in their friendship, both in the past and in the years to come. Something like, Mommy, we are brothers in blood and in spirit and we are forever thankful you had two children and gave each of us a built-in best friend. You know. Something easy like that.

“We are wolves.”

“Wolves?” Wolves?

“Yes. Wolves are in a pack, and they always stick together. A wolf never leaves the other wolves in his pack. That’s like us.”


An even better answer than the one I had scripted for them.

Most of all, because they don’t need a script from me.

Guaranteed Leftovers

In the endless quest to create memorable from the mundane, we changed up our breakfast routine since the school day was on a 90-minute delay. Because it was something like -87 degrees outside.

We would go to the grocery store, everybody could pick out their own breakfast item from the bakery, and then we would have varieties of steamed liquid chocolate at the Starbucks inside the store.

Plus, I had nothing for lunches and I was out of all kids’ meds, so you know… that whole two birds with one stone thing. Lunchables anyone? Children’s Motrin? And oh, look! Donuts!

While Tyler and I went to the pharmacy department, Tuck went to the bakery. He wanted to surprise us with a fun variety. I reminded him to use the tissue papers, don’t touch any donuts with his fingers, and ask for help if he needed it. When I met him at the bakery, he was packing donuts into his second box.

Second box.

“Tuck! Woah! What’s happening here?”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“How many donuts did you get?”


“Lovey, how many of us are there?”

“There are three of us, but I wanted us to have leftovers.”

(God, please give us all the self discipline to guarantee leftovers with a ratio of 8 donuts per person.)

“It’s too much, buddy. It’s too many.” And yet, what can I do? Tissue paper or not, these dozens of donuts had been man-handled.  I would now be buying them.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I just really wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, thank you, Tuck. I am for sure surprised.”

My instructions weren’t literal enough. Not enough details. Perameters. Limitations. An amateur mistake.

And so, as a surprise to us all, we treated the elementary faculty and staff to a treasury of donuts this morning.

Surprise. (!!)

Code Blue: Momma Bear in the ER

Well, the good news, ” she said, “is that Tucker is going to have a great scar. The bad news is that he was hit in the face by the fence gate as it was closing, and we need you to come get him. S-t-i-t-c-h-e-s are a y-e-s.”

She’s the best school nurese ever. And believe me, we give her reasons to know us well.

“Yes? You said yes to the stitches?” See, I had the freedom fromspelling because Tuck was sitting next to her, not me.

“Yes. Yes, definitely.”

Say no more. I’m on my way.

I made phone calls on the way – pediatrician to tell them we’re on the way, after schoolchildcare for Tyler since there’s no way I’ll be back in an hour, and my parents for updates and SOS calls.

(What would I do without a support system? This past weekend I met a widow whose story is very similar to mine, except that she doesn’t have a support system. She doesn’t have the go-to people to call, the ones to help her fill in the gaps and create some margin and run the errands – or just remind her that it’s okay. And she’s clinically depressed. With good reason.)

I came into school with my healthy, happy, optimistic voice. It’s the one that’s meant to convince mostly myself that we are so okay and we can do this thing. If it helps anyone else, that’s a bonus. But really I just need to hear my own voice not panicking.

Sure enough: a deep and wide gash across the cheekbone.

Which prompted me to make a second call to the pediatrician: ‘So, remember when you told me that if there was any exposed flesh from the inside of the wound, then I should take him directly to the ER? Yes, I’m calling to let you know you I’m not coming to you. Thank you for your help and familiarity and short wait, though. I’ll see you the next time we have an ear infection.”

It is by far the busiest I have ever seen that ER. (And if you’ve been reading a while, then you know I’ve visited that ER under various levels of panic, anxiety, duress, and emergencies.) In all my visits, they’ve never told us in triage: “I’m sorry to tell you, but there’s a long wait in front of you.”

Tuck and I settled in for a rousing and competitive game of War, which distracted us from the woman in loud labor and the man who was shouting obscenities and asking for someone to call an ambulance, though I’m not sure where he thought the ambulance would take him.

I think it was roughly two hours before they were ready to see us, and then we had a double room with a kid who was getting stitches in his eyebrow, followed shortly by a woman who had fallen at Walgreens and broken her hip and nobody could bring her pain medication fast enough.

I always make friends with the medical staff, for just oh-so-many-reasons. They’re working stinking hard, often with people who have little patience or coherence. I’d like for our room to represent a delightful break from the routine, such that the nurses will want to visit more, hang out with us as much as possible, and get this job done. Plus, it never hurts to make friends with the one who wields power over the IV needles as well as the popsicles.

All of that to say, I’m the kind of mom you want to have in your ER.

Unless, that is, you’re going to make promises to my son that you cannot keep, and if you’re going to make your decisions based on what is true for other children, not one who is resistant to lidocaine.

Well, then. I might not be your best friend by the time the night is done.

They began with a topical anesthetic cream that was guaranteed to numb him up. “You won’t feel anything, buddy. I promise,” she said. But then she irrigated the wound, and I will tell you what, he felt something.

And let me just say this: Tucker’s hurting face looks exactly like Robb’s hurting face. The red-faced, white-knuckled fortitutde of “I haveto just do this, go go go, please don’t stop until you’re finished but get it right the first time” – that’s the face I saw on my son.

“That’s hurting him,” I said. “I’m not sure he’s numb yet.”

“No, it shouldn’t hurt.” And she went right back to flushing the wound, and he went back to the red face and white knuckles.

“But it is. Listen to me. It is hurting him.”

I know what she thought. She thought I was a helicopter mom who would like for her son’s experience in the ER to be largely about vending machines and teddy bears. She thought he was afraid and dramatic and neither of us could be trusted. What she thought couldn’t be further from the truth.

So she poked the wound with a needle. “Can you feel that, Tuck?”

“Yes. It hurts. It’s sharp poking in my face.”

She was quizzical. “Huh. Well, it shouldn’t hurt.” Except it does.

Enter eye contact from this mom. The one that says “Do not move forward with this procedure until he is numb, and don’t try to tell me he should be because the truth is he isn’t.”

So the nurse comes back and applies the topic cream again, we wait again, and they begin the procedure again, she promises him it won’t hurt again, she begins poking his open gash with a needle, only to learn that is not yet numb – Again.

“Huh. This is just puzzling,” says the pediatrician. “Well, I’ll be back with some lidocaine. We’ll give that a try.”

She came back with lidocaine and a partner. I’ve been here before and I know this scene: my child is about to be restrained. And bless you for bringing a nurse to help you, because I learned long ago that I will not hold my child still so you can hurt him. I need for him to know I’m on his team, even though we’re all on the same team with the same goal toward his wellness. But, as much as it depends on me, he will not associate the fear of being restrained with the feel of my hands on him. Nope. This body comforts his. That’s my rule. So, good call bringing back-up.

So the nurse holds Tucker while the put the needle right into his exposed tissue, and I take my post of keeping his eye contact and counting for him. He knows that when I’m done counting, this present horror is over with. And he knows he can count on me.

Meanwhile, I am feeling the familiar heat rising up my neck, the tunnel vision, all the things that mean my own consciousness is about to give up. No. No. I’m not fainting. I will not. I ask for water and I take off my sweater, and we do what is in front of us. Because that is all there ever, ever, ever is to do.

We wait again, and they begin the procedure again, she promises him it won’t hurt again, she begins poking his open gash with a needle, only to learn that is not yet numb – Again.

“Huh,” she says. “I’ve just never seen anything like this.”

Meanwhile, Tuck is ready to climb right out of that bed. She’s ruined his trust, and with good reason. He sat up, ringing his hands, leaning into me with all the courage I’ve ever seen. I’m telling you, that boy. My hero.

Then she said, “Well, should we just do the stitches? I mean, the pain meds aren’t working, and it’s just three stitches.” (It turned out to be five stitches, by the way, so add that up to the list of false truths.)

“No,” I said. I was cradling my son’s head against my chest, letting him catch his breath and cry. “No, you are not doing stitches if he’s not numb.”

I looked her squarely in the eye.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You have one more try, so it better work. Either choose a different medication, a stronger one, or give him every last drip of this one. You get one more try. I’m going to count to five, and when I’m finished, the shot will be over with. We will start when Tucker says he’s ready. I promise you – I know this child, and he will cooperate when he’s ready and he knows teh plan.”

I looked at Tucker. “Buddy, you can do this. One more try. If this doesn’t work, I won’t ask you to trust them again.” (I didn’t know what I was going to do instead, but I was prepared to raise some holy hell. This is modern medicine, people. And these are stitches, for crying out loud. Get. It. Right.) “I will count to five, and it will be done. Let’s practice. I’ll count and you breathe.”

We practiced. And we decided he didn’t need to breathe, just blow. Inhale, exhale – that’s too much to remember. Just pretend I’m a birthday candle, lovey. And blow me out.

“You ready, kiddo? Because you can do this. I’m on your team.”

The doctor and nurse were patient. Wisely patient.

And then Tucker said he was ready, which in itself is an act of courage that makes me want to crown him King of the World.

The nurse held his head. I held his hands. The doctor started the injection. I counted to five.

And blast it all, she wasn’t finished at five. “Six… seven…” and then she was done. But then she said, “One more!” and injected again. (One MORE?!) And I counted more slowly, determined to let my son know he could trust me. When you hear five, we are done with the worst, buddy. I promise you.

I’ll tell you what: every single one of us needed recovery after that. That’s when I realized my mom had come behind me, and she was massaging my shoulders. She was the mom taking care of her baby while her baby was taking care of her baby. “You’ve got this, Trish. You’re doing great,” she whispered to me.

And, would you believe? Just as I promised them, Tuck was absolutely cooperative and still and a total trooper – once he was numb. He didn’t trust them, and I couldn’t blame him. The doctor said, “One more stitch, I think.”

And my sweet boy laughed and said, “You think? You think.”

Mental note (and a physical note in his chart from this day forward): Tuck is resistant to lidocaine. Bring out the big guns from the start, because this? Cannot happen again. Ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, he was a rockstar. And, might I say, I owned that room.

Science Fair, O Science Fair. I’d Rather Write You a Sonnet.

Robb and I had this foolproof plan. With our collective energies and varied interests, with his left brain and my right, with his love for the periodic table and my affection for the dictionary, our kids’ school projects would be a snap.

And we planned for our kids to benefit greatly from our unified expertise. I would help them with english and literature assignments, and he would help them with math equations and science experiments.


Then Robb went to heaven, taking all his science expertise, logical preferences, and the left side of our brain with him.  And now it’s time for the early-elementary science fair.

(Do you hear that slow and methodical click-click-click that’s getting louder and faster? It’s my anxiety. Inching up the first hill of the Magnum.)

(A shout-out to Cedar Point and all of you in northeast Ohio, America’s RollerCoast.)

I pretended not to notice the paperwork about the science fair, since – after all – it is optional until fourth grade. And then my children came home all hyped up about the science fair, optional or not, as if it’s just a matter of mixing together egg yolks and mustard and leaving the bowl out overnight.

“We are not doing the science fair.” I put myself to sleep with this mantra every night.

And so, guess what though? We’re doing the science fair. Scientific Question, Hypothesis, Recorded Method, and a tri-fold display and all.

Because every once in a while I get a glimpse down the road, a decade or two, and I can’t handle the fallout from this seemingly small and insignificant decision. My children could become riddled with their own science anxiety, haters of learning, all because their mother said no when she could have say yes, so long ago when it was all so much easier, involving celery and food coloring or a jar that has been cracked with the fascinating expansion of water in the freezer.

But no. She said no. And so now, they don’t know anything and they’ve become afraid to ask why.

I nixxed the celery and the food coloring, though I encourage you to give it a try if you’d like to know how chlorophyll or photosynthesis or pollenization or food coloring works. Something like that.

Anyway, we’re turning the ol’ volcano experiment on its head by asking: Will a balloon explode from the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar?

Stay tuned, folks. Stay tuned.

(Google says yes. And they promise me an easy cleanup.)

An Author Visited the Second Grade

I sat in the rocking chair in the corner of the classroom, the one surrounded by a colorful rug with shapes or letters or continents or something both educational and decorative at the same time.

His teacher introduced me. “Second graders, this is Tucker’s mom, and she’s an author. See this book? She wrote it, and she’s going to read a bit to us today. Tuck, would you like to introduce her?”

“Yes. This is my mom, Mrs. Tricia Lott Williford. And she writes books. Only this is one of the practice ones, and the cover has changed to a girl in a blue dress who isn’t my mom and her hands look different from my mom. But she wrote this book, and it’s dedicated to me and my brother, and all of your moms should buy it.”

Excellent PR, kiddo. You should be my sidekick or something.

Tuck stood next to me as I spoke to his classmates, and I put my arm around his waist just as I did with my own students. There’s nothing like that shining moment when you can stand next to the sweet-smelling teacher with the jingling bracelet – especially if that teacher is your mom.

I jumped right in. “Well, you might know: Tucker’s dad died three years ago,” they nod their heads in agreement; this is no secret in the facts of who we are. “He got very sick really fast, and the doctors couldn’t save him. But I want you to know: he had a special problem that made him die quickly, so you don’t need to be afraid that this will happen to you or your parents. It’s not something that happens very often.”

I’m addressing the little worriers in the classroom, the ones who can’t help but feel afraid that crisis is contagious.

I read a small passage, a few paragraphs that are funny, light, not traumatic, and very kid-friendly. In these paragraphs, our family is having dinner and the boys are melting down around us, and it ends with Robb telling the boys they really needed to stop complaining, stop negotiating, and please just eat their dinner. He tells them to be respectful to their mom because she prepared the meal, and in our family, we are respectful.

“Do you know what I love about this?” I feel surprised by how instinctively I recall my classroom techniques. “When Tucker’s dad was alive, he was teaching Tucker and Tyler how to be respectful gentlemen. And you know what? They are so kind, thoughtful, respectful – such great boys. And their dad helped them learn to be that way.”

(I don’t even care if the entire class zoned out during this last paragraph. There’s only one child who needs to hear these public declarations about him, his dad, his courage, and his character.)

(Tuck was beaming and nodding. His way of saying, “See? What she said? I’m that.”)

I open the floor to questions, and we continue with a dialogue of how books are written, what is the process, is this really a job, can kids write books, and do I feel sad.

“Those are such great questions! You know what, this book that you see – it seems pretty perfect and complete, doesn’t it? Guess what…” I lean in close to whisper, “there are some mistakes in this book! And sometimes – you might not believe me, but sometimes – my writing was terrible. Sometimes I wrote something and thought, Well, that’s no good! It’s a good thing I can start over again with a new page! That’s how it is with writing: it isn’t perfect the first time, and it’s so important to let yourself make mistakes while you’re figuring out just what you want to say.”

(And while publishers determine the market and editors work on the subtitle and a marketing team troubleshoots the ways the title could cause some inaccuracy in search engines. Grace and patience, learning from the imperfect: this is the path.)

“Am I sad? Sure, sometimes. We do get a little sad sometimes, don’t we, Tuck? But we have learned that even when the worst thing happened, we were still okay. So no matter what happens?”

Tuck said, “We will be okay.”


Dear Tricia of Three Years Ago, To you, the girl who cannot eat or sleep and is fading away into a skeletal frame:  Someday you will visit your son’s class to talk to eight-year-olds about how to process sadness, grief, and greatest loss.  And you won’t even cry.