Legos. Markers. Library books. Angry Birds. And Grace.

I cleaned the boys’ bedrooms.

Yes, I know they should clean them on their own. There are many things they should do. Add this to the list.

I laid down the ultimatum a couple of weeks ago – you have an afternoon to clean your room. If you choose not to, then I will clean it for you. And believe me, young men, you do not want me to clean it for you. My process involves trash bags. And no sharpies for labeling and retrieving.

I wonder if every parent ever has tried this tactic. I remember wailing at the kitchen table, grieving the contents of the trash bag, most of all the lavender corduroy pants. (Let’s all just take a moment for lavender cordury pants.) To put away or throw away: that was the question.

My mom still talks about the time this backfired on her. She swept through my brother’s room, filling bag after bag of his stuff, and she told him he could earn it back. Seven years later, he graduated from high school, and my mom found the trash bag of his treasures where she had hidden it in the back of her closet. At that point, my brother said, “It’s all right, Mom. You can have all that stuff.”

I tend to operate well under deadlines, great and small. When I write, I set my timer for 8 minutes and 44 seconds. Nothing sacred about that amount of time, just a good formula that is neither too short nor too long. And if the timer beeps and I have more to say, well, then command-R. Reset and we’re good to go. Check back in with me in another 8:44.

I do the same thing with cleaning. I set my timer for 15 minutes, thinking, ‘surely I can clean for fifteen minutes. I can do anything for fifteen minutes.’ And then I gain so much momentum that by the time those 15 minutes are up, I barely want to pause long enough to make the beeping stop.

Such was the case with the boys’ bedrooms. I was Tazmanian in my degree of productivity.

What I didn’t see coming, as I cleaned the boys’ rooms was the spiritual metaphor in this gift of grace.

In part, they hadn’t cleaned their rooms because – like their mother – they don’t like such menial tasks. But also, they didn’t clean their rooms because they didn’t know where to even begin in this sea of Legos and markers and library books and angry birds and yogurt wrappers and divorced pairs of socks.

I cleaned their slate.

When they came home, when they saw their carpet once again, they spilled with thanks. Thank you, Mommy! Oh, thank you! One of them actually knelt down to the floor to enjoy the plush carpet on his fingers and against his face. Thank you, Mommy.

They wanted out of the mess. They didn’t know where to start.

I get that, guys. Been there too.


He is a master of blame.


It was my fault when he couldn’t eat all of his noodles.

It was my fault when he didn’t have enough noodles.

It was my fault when he stepped in dog poop in the yard.

It was my fault when his training wheels were too high.

It was my fault when his seat belt was too tight.

It was my fault when he left his bike in the yard overnight.


But this… this one?  Oh, this one is his best yet.


“Mommy, did you eat cake at your wedding?”


“Yes, I did.  And it was a beautiful and delicious cake.”


“And did you eat cake while you were pregnant with Tucker?”




“So, would you say you ate junk food while you were growing a baby?”


What is this, a deposition? “Yes, you could definitely say that I did.”


“I think that’s why Tucker has asthma.  It’s because you ate junk food while he was growing inside you.”


Listen, pal.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just referred to DNA in this morning’s episode, and I thank them for the softball lead into this discussion.  Asthma is in our family, in our DNA.  Poppa has it, Uncle Rob has it, now Tucker has it.  No, I don’t know why Uncle Rob has it and I don’t; I don’t know why Tucker has it and Tyler doesn’t.  DNA, kiddo.


And if you’re interested in looking thoroughly at the effects of junk food in one’s diet, then we can begin experimenting with yours.  Beginning today.




Pillow Talk

9:04 pm.
“Hi, Mommy.”
“Hey, Tyler! How are you?” (We talked an hour ago. I called them, pretending to be Barack Obama.)
“I’m good. And I just watched the scary scariest thing ever.”
“What did you watch?”
“I watch this guy who put a sword through his stomach and another guy who set his head on fire and then this other guy who had to hold a bunch of things and juggle electric guns or he would be electricked.”
“Well, that’s a whole lot to see! Where did you see this?”
“On Poppa’s TV.”
(Enter: Implicit trust in my dad and his wisdom regarding what my children watch on TV. And if they’re up half the night in terror, he’ll have to answer to my mom who will conquer the sleepless night.)
“So do you feel afraid right now?”
“No. But it was super scary-scariest-scary-so-so-scary.”
At home, we often pray at night for God to wash Tyler’s mind of any scary things he might remember during the day. “Do you want me to pray for you tonight, kiddo?”
“Would you like for me to pray right now?”
“Yes. Sure. That would be great.”
I bow my head here at the sports bar. “Dear God, thank you so much for Tyler and for how brave he is. Help him to have sweet dreams tonight, and please remind him that he is safe. He can be strong and courageous because you are with him everywhere he goes. Amen.”
“A-men. Thanks, Mommy. Here’s Tucker.”

“Hi, Tuck.”
“Hello there, Mr. Obama.”
“That’s President Obama, to you.”
“Mommy, I just watched a guy’s head explode on TV.”
“That’s what I hear.”
“And he wore this hat that was on fire. And he swallowed a sword into his stomach. The show is called America’s Got Talent.”
“And so how do you feel about all of that?”
“Fine. Poppa kept telling me, Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. So I won’t.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“What’s all that noise, Mommy?”
“I’m in a restaurant, eating my dinner.”
“What are you having for dinner?”
“I’m having french fries. With cheese and ranch dressing.”
“What will you eat after that?”
“Well, I think I’ll have a dessert.”
“Please tell me your dessert choices, Mommy.”
“They have chocolate cake, and they have a kind of cheesecake something.”
“Oh! Oh man! If I were you, I would have the chocolate cake.”
“Then that’s what I will do. Because that’s what you would do.”
“Do you think you can get special things on it? Like gummy worms and peanut butter cups?”
“Well, I don’t think they have those in a restaurant like this.”
“What kind of restaurant is it?”
“It’s a sports restaurant.”
“Yep. Baseball is on TV.”
“Is it the Rockies? Are the Rockies playing tonight?”
(It’s 9:07 where he is. Well, also where I am. We’re in the same time zone. But I’m not about to launch him out of bed and downstairs to demand Poppa change the channel from the exploding heads and electrocution so he can watch Rockies baseball.)
“Um, I can’t really see the TV from where I am.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
You are so your father right now.
“I’m not kidding.”
“Well, get up and go over to the TV.”
“It’s a commercial right now.”
“Okay. I’ll wait.”
We wait. And we talk about what he would do if he were a guest on America’s Got Talent. I think he’ll say something athletic, but he tells me something about swallowing swords and electrocuting heads.
“Ah, the game is on again, Tuck.”
“Okay. Who is it?”
“Um, a red team and a blue team.”
“Mommy, read the words.”
“Let’s see. Texas.”
“Texas, and?”
“Texas and a red team.”
“Who is winning?”
“I think the red team is winning.”
“So, not Texas?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“Okay. I’ll be on their team.”
“Texas. They need me.”
“I think that’s a great idea. I bet they really do need you.”
“Mommy, please bring me gummy worms and Reese’s cups. Those are the two things I want.”
“I will look hard to find those and bring them to you.” As is our tradition. Two candy bars is a small price to pay for my dip into the deep end of freedom.
“Here’s Tyler. He’s going to tell you what he wants.”
“Hi, Tyler.”
“Hi, Mommy. Can I have two tee shirts?”
“I will try to find two tee shirts.”
“Batman, please.”
“What if I can’t find Batman?”
“Then pick something you know I like. Not a handsome shirt, though. A picture shirt.”
“Deal. I’ll look.”
“Wait. One tee shirt and one candy bar.”
“Got it.”
“Here’s Grandma.”
“Hi, Mom.”
“Hi there. You have quite the conversationalists. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Including yourself.”

Talking to my children on the phone: my new favorite thing.

Oblivious? Or Choosing Not To Notice…

It’s not that I don’t know that someone else should pick up the dog poop around here. It’s not that I don’t know that responsibility builds character.

I know boys should fold clothes.
I know boys should sort laundry.
I know boys should make their beds in the morning.
I know boys should take their dishes to the sink, learn to load the dishwasher, perhaps even learn to unload it, if our cupboards weren’t so tall that even I can’t reach the top shelf when I stand on the stool.

I know that the second half of the downstairs room – which I haven’t yet named because it seems like it should be the family room and yet the fireplace seems like it’s in the family room and I don’t want to call the downstairs the playroom because I want the football team to go down their someday to play pool and ping pong and watch approved movies, and I don’t want my son to have to invite them to the “playroom” – is filled with boxes. Half-empty boxes, at that.

I know they could at least be – what’s that word? – Consolidated. I know it. I know there are legos on the window sill in the laundry room. I know the boys’ hair is too long, their feet are dirty, and their toenails need trimmed. I know that one’s shorts are dirty and this one chewed a hole through the collar of his tee shirt.

Just please don’t think I don’t know. I do know.

But if I acknowledge them, then I have to do something about it. I have to train the boys instead of doing it myself, and if they are trained to do it then I must follow through with consequences when they don’t keep their responsibilities.

Believe me, it’s easier to just let myself off the hook than to imagine I’m raising helpless husbands and careless leaders.

Or, maybe I do want you to think I don’t know. Maybe just imagine I’m oblivious, that I just don’t know the details of this chaos.

I know. Believe me. I know.

Foreword Afterthought: Basketballs and Defining Relationships

Foreword Afterthought: 

I don’t write about the people I date, have dated, will date. If I go out with him, my respect for him is both implicit and explicit: he will feel my respect in my actions, and the world will see my respect in my words.

When I wrote this piece, I aimed to show what I was teaching my sons about authenticity, about the differences between loving someone or keeping them around for the benefits, about holding a standard for a man who suits me as a lover and them as a dad, about patience and faith and readiness.

After I published this piece, I realized it sounded disrespectful to Sam.  

Sam, I’m sorry.  And you deserve a girl who will light up your world, not the interwebs. 

Please forgive me.

* * *


Tyler left his small basketball in the garage. I ran over it, it popped, and the lesson therein is don’t leave your toys under my van. Unhappy things will happen.

We were in the car yesterday, and Tyler said, “I really hope we can see Sam again.”

Sam and I gave a good year to trying to make a relationship work, and it just never took flight. Not for lack of chivalry, conversations, gifts, or trying. Sometimes you just can’t help the flame find the wick.

“Guys, I don’t think we will see him anymore.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, he’s just not going to come around anymore.”

“Why? He always gave us presents. And I want a new basketball.”

“Well, buddy, I can get you a basketball.”

“Why can’t Sam?”

“He’s not going to visit us anymore.”

“I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

I don’t intend to tell them this, and yet here it comes: “Guys, Sam just wanted more from Mommy than I could give him. He wanted to marry me.”

Silence in the backseat.

“Sam was your boyfriend?” I wouldn’t say it ever got to that point, no.

And then Tyler says, “Mommy, that was your one chance.”

He says this as though I passed on dessert and now there is none left. He says this as though marriage is simply about an offer.

“Lovey, I’m not looking for a chance. I’m waiting for the man God has for us.”

“And he wasn’t the man?”

“He wasn’t.”


“Sometimes someone has feelings, and the other person doesn’t. And it gets tricky and complicated, but you just have to say goodbye when you can’t make it work. Like when you’re playing at the park and someone wants to join your game, but you kind of want to do your own thing.”

“Well, you always tell us to be kind and let that person play the game.”

True. Not my best analogy. “Well, it’s a different kind of game when it’s grownups.”

“So he’s not coming back?”

“No.” And this is why I don’t let you meet the people I have coffee with. Because I don’t want to explain the intricacies of defining relationships to children who don’t yet know multiplication.

“But I wanted a new basketball.”

“Do you want to see him? Or do you want a basketball? Because it’s not a good idea to want someone in your life just for what they can give you. If you want a basketball, we can get a basketball. But that doesn’t mean he is the man God has for us.”


“Okay. Can I have a basketball?”

That’s what I thought.