Unstyled Life

The boys sit on books because the new table is too high. Or, the old chairs are too low. We haven’t decided which of the two is the problem, perhaps it’s a combination of both, but the end result is that when it’s time to eat, Mikey sits on A History of Art and Nicholas, Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.

At first I thought it was charming, the sight of two small boys perched on thousands of pages. Then the jackets started to fray. A spine weakened. I grumbled to the Mister that they were ruining the books, that we needed proper boosters, that it was just our luck that we gave away the boosters we had before the boys sat at the new table with our old chairs. The Mister had his own opinions.

He said they were just books. I gasped. He pointed out they were getting more use now than they ever did on the shelf. I rolled my eyes. He wooed me with logic, stating it was only temporary, and that the boys would be grown up and out of boosters before we knew it. In the interest of being brief, I can paraphrase my response thusly: not. helping.

In the end, the Mister won. Not because the boys are growing up, that was the ramblings of a lunatic, but because it did seem silly to buy boosters again, especially when they are so ugly. Besides, the books were already showing wear and the jackets long destroyed. A little more abuse wouldn’t make them look much worse, which is funny, because that’s kind of how I feel about  myself right now.

It’s rare, but I do get into funks, and right now I am in a funk. I’m doing a combination 4 and 40 birthday party for Nicholas and the Mister and have little money to pull it together. Maybe I’m nervous it will be a flop. I’m making everything from the decorations to the cake, so it’s reasonable to feel some pressure. I’m not making as much as I would like with my blog, not as much as others with the same or less traffic. Maybe I am frustrated at the ways things are going, maybe I am frustrated that at the heart of it all, I’m not good at selling myself the way others do. I’m angry that I’ve gained back some of my weight. Maybe I’m scared I will never get to where I want to be.

It’s a lot of maybes, and they have me short tempered and frazzled. A week ago Thursday, when the Mister was still out of town and I was scrambling to find their shoes so we could get to school on time, I yelled at the boys in frustration and made Nicholas cry. I felt terrible. I called my mom. I called my best friend. If I had his number, I would have called my priest. On my way out of preschool drop off, I bumped into my friend, Viola, and confessed I was the worst mother in the world. She laughed and rolled her eyes. “I yell at my kids all the time. Take them to McDonald’s for dinner.” I did, and they thought it was magical. I still felt like the wicked witch of west, so I guess dark magic was involved.

This week, more of the same. “How can you lose a toothbrush?!” “This is the last time I’m going to tell you to do your homework!” “By God, if these Bakugans aren’t picked up in ten minutes I’m throwing them in the trash!” And so on, and so on.

On Wednesday, I was trying to vacuum under the table. Heave, drop, smack. I lifted A History of Art and Webster’s unabridged dictionary onto the table and moved the chairs out of the way. Mikey fiddled with the cover of “his” book while I sorted his school folder and give him his homework assignments. The phone rang in the kitchen. A parting instruction before I left: do your homework, no dawdling. I chatted on the phone briefly. I started dinner. I forgot to vacuum. I remembered, and came back out to the dining room.

No Mikey, no homework. I stomped into the toy room ready to give a scolding, insolence the red flag to my raging bull. He didn’t even hear me coming, which was amazing since I had already squawked out “What are you doing…” before I rounded the corner. Instead, he was nose deep in A History of Art, slowly but valiantly reading a paragraph on Mannerism and 16th century Italian art. More shame for me and then, a moment of grace. “Mikey,” I said. “Screw the homework.”

We flipped through the book and looked at all the pictures. He loved the more realistic paintings, especially those depicting famous battles, of course. For every religious painting there was a tiny finger pointing, a firm shake of the head, and a declaration. “That has to be Saint Michael, mom. I’m sure of it.” And then, a while later, “Mom, I think art is really, really interesting.”

For dinner we ate leftovers. I didn’t say a word when Mikey flew through his homework with the handwriting of a serial killer. I was still in the afterglow of the afternoon, happy that the Mister was right. Those books are getting much more use than they ever would on the shelf.


  1. Anna says

    I just want you to know that I laughed So. Hard. at the phrase “the handwriting of a serial killer.” Don’t get too down on yourself; you (through your writing style) will keep us all coming back.

  2. Trianna says

    I want to let you know that I loved this blog. I have two sons and can relate to the whole story. Thank goodness for moments of grace and art.

  3. says

    January and February are reputed funk months. You had that moment of grace and that is what matters. That and the McDonald’s dinner, of course.

  4. says

    Hey Jules,
    Sorry you’re in a bit of a funk, in New England, we call in WINTER…

    My 13 year old son’s handwriting is STILL awful, I can’t read it, but
    his teachers say it’s fine. So fuhget about it! (easy to say, harder to do)

    I totally love that you and Mikey spent time together reading the
    Art book! These are the times he’ll remember.

    Every Mom yells… unless she’s got a team of ’round the clock help or a stressless
    life(and then she’s probably not from this planet), so SHE doesn’t really

    Whatever you do for the combined birthday celebration, will be wonderful, because of your Love! Have fun.


  5. says

    Oh Lord – I’m all mushy inside now. :-)
    Last weekend, instead of doing his homework, my teenage son decided instead he would go through some old papers (and I mean old – like early 1800’s old) he found in a hutch that we inherited from my in-laws last year. So ….. just like Mikey he rushed through his homework later. But he learned that his great-great-great grandfather Wilbur was a teacher & principal and started the very first PTO right here in Ohio. That’s good learning. :-)

  6. says

    My boyfriend’s 6 yr. old nephew plays with Bakugans. The first time I saw them in a toy store, we were looking for toys to buy for his birthday. My boyfriend picked up a Bakugan, and I asked, “What’s a ba-koo-gin?” and he burst out laughing. Phonetics?? You are not alone- everyone has funks- I was in one last week, actually. Be gentle with yourself…

  7. says

    The poster above was right. We all yell at our kids…just like we yelled at our parents and our roomates and our husbands before we had kids. Moments of stress happen and somehow kids push all the right buttons and also seem so inane (my four year old is in a stage at the moment where he requests every statement to him to be re-addressed to a rabbit who is his alter ego…so tedious) and it’s easy to go all to pieces. Don’t let it get you down.

    And we lurkers are here…we’re just quiet! Hang in. Blogging is like the ocean…up and down, up and down….just ride the tide.

    Love that story and the moment you found your son, finding art. Way to recognize it and jump into the scene with him. Almost makes me want to put my sons on books for boosters. :)

  8. Asher says

    can i tell you that i actually thought, “i’m so glad she yells too.”? sorry that made me feel better, but i have to remind myself that it happens to everybody. it gets tough sometimes. i just remind myself that it’s better to show emotion than be a robot. think about it this way, sometimes your kids yell at you and you still love them. :) i have two boys and it amazes me how they get upset and then that’s it…they’re over it. i’m trying to learn to do the same thing. hang in there. please, excuse the lack of caps in this post…bad weather here in texas and sick boys. i’m too tired to hit “shift”. :)

  9. kathy says

    I’m not a blogger and I really am not sure how money is earned through blogging. Would it help if I clicked on an ad or two with each visit? I’ve been without my computer for over a week now ( need to order a new battery) so I don’t have my usual blog favorites easily available ( I’m using my iTouch right now) and I really haven’t missed them. Your blog is one of about five that I would truly miss. I hope this is the year you turn a corner with your blog revenue.

    Beautiful post, by the way. I am so grateful for the days that I am able to appreciate the truly important things in my life.

    • says

      Oh, gosh, that is so sweet of you to ask! Truly, there is nothing you or anyone else can do. It’s all on my shoulders. I’m just a naturally shy, insecure person and not quick to market myself or ask for all the perks some bloggers make. It’s my responsibility, promise. :)


  10. says

    I can’t believe your 6-year-old (six? Or seven?) son is into a clearly adult book on art history – that is something to pat yourself on the back for. Whether it’s your ‘smart’ genes or just your instilling in him a sense of inquisitiveness and interest in art, you should be proud to have a kid so intent on learning cool things. =)

    And you should be proud of yourself for this blog, too! It’s a constant source of inspiration, laughter, wit and comfort for so many of us. Keep on truckin’, Jules! It’s about way more than the Benjamins… though I agree, they can be nice to have.

    • says

      I wouldn’t give two flying flips about money if it wasn’t for my stupid student loans. :( I wouldn’t trade law school for anything, but DANG, they eat up a lot every month.

      I guess I am upset not just because people make money, and I don’t. It’s because of what it represents–they value themselves and get out there and aren’t afraid to take risks…and I don’t. I’ve always been a perfectionist chicken. I hate that about myself!

      • says

        Student loans, ugh. Don’t even get me started. My husband is about to finish his MBA at Michigan and we’re about to be saddled with essentially another (nice, expensive!) ‘rent’ every month. For what seems like forever. But I wouldn’t trade it for him not following his career dreams (he landed a job at in Seattle!) and goals, and neither should you! A law degree in the state of California especially is nothing to shake a stick at. 😉

        I agree, it’s very tough to sing your own praises and sell yourself; something I’m not good at either. At the same time though I don’t think that *all* people who pull in a lot of sponsor/ad money do it because they value themselves more, since there are a lot of great blog writers without any sponsors at all who I would say have very strong and brave voices! So it’s not an either/or situation. I think you’re doing SO well – you manage to have some of both!

  11. says

    I like your blog. You don’t know me so you probably don’t care but I enjoy the musings, the tales, the delicious nerdiness. Because I am a mom of two toddlers that went to graduate school and now stays home and for a long time had to justify that I was still worthy, still smart, still….

    And your blog reminds me that I am still all those things.

    In the last month I have been asked by three retailers to wholesale my products to them. I change the subject because I don’t like to sell myself either. But if I want to stay home when the youngest goes to school in a few years then I figure this is the time to start selling. Or marketing–that sounds better.

    And there is this one blog where she is our age and is uber-popular and I cannot stand the site. Yours is better.

  12. says

    You will make money because no one on planet earth can write and make people laugh like this without getting some sort of reward. I agree the line”..Mikey flew through his homework with the handwriting of a serial killer…” Soooo funny. It’s all so close my dear:)

  13. says

    Reading through your post and your comments, I would say you’re the furthest thing from chicken, Jules. You’re intelligent, witty, introspective, analytical — and ethical. You know as well as I do that there are certain lines that get crossed, certain editorial standards that get blurred. Certain promises that are made.

    You don’t need to do what other bloggers do to make money. But, yes, you do need to believe deeply in the talents you have and find your own way forward. The writing you do here is risky. You don’t value that highly enough, because it’s who you are. Take what comes naturally…that’s what you have to offer (and “monetize”).

    I just wish I could come through the monitor and give you a good shake! Or maybe just mix up a gin and tonic. :)

  14. says

    You are an incredible writer – one of the very few narrative blogs that I follow. Keep it up! I think slow and steady is better in the blogging world in terms of longevity, anyway.

    This made me laugh: ” He said they were just books. I gasped.”

    I once made the mistake of referring to my books as friends. My husband will not let me live that down. :)

  15. says

    Like Marisa said, yours is one of the only narrative blogs that I follow–all other are design or craft or comic blogs. I don’t like to use an RSS feed, because I prefer to move down my list of bookmarks and be surprised when one of the blogs I read has a new post. Your blog is the last daily-click blog on my list, and it’s last because it’s the one I relish the most (I’m not kidding).

    I linked your How I Met the Mister series to my (male, non-gay) friend because I just loved it oh-so-much, and wanted to share it with my friends. His response after he’d read it: “That blogger is pretty” and then “Okay, the mini Jane Austen in me just went a lil giddy reading how she met her husband.” You have a talent for writing, and I’m sure you know it as I’m sure you’ve been told it your whole life. But what makes your talent *so* special is that it’s accessible to your readers, and that’s oh-so-highly marketable. I’m constantly in awe of your ability to conjure up these seemingly one-off sentences that are pure literary genius.

    I don’t have children, I’m not married, I’m not particularly religious/spiritual, and I’m in a completely different stage of my life. But I read your blog because you’re the type of person *everyone* wishes they knew in real life. And I read your blog because, when you become a famous writer, I can tell people I’ve been reading your work for *years* and I’ll finally get to feel hip. :o)

  16. Kelly says

    I am really, really behind on your blog and just read this post. We all have moments. I have such guilt when I am short with mine. ( Well, lately my whole life is full of guilt, but that is another story). You know how hard we worked to bring them into the world, I think what right do i have to be short with a 2 year old, but it happens. As for the weight, I have gained soooo much after having Ainsley, it is not even funny. I went back on weight watchers for 3 weeks and my milk supply tanked. With Aiden, I could have fed 2 babies (maybe because he was a twin) and this time, unless I stay fat, I will not be able to feed my baby exclusively. I guess I will just be fat a while longer. Good thing our kids don’t hold things against us. We are, after all, mommy.

    And homework is overrated. The teacher in my house hates it and wishes he did not have to saddle the kids with it.

  17. says

    as a lover of books, i too would have gasped if my husband had told me, “they’re just books.” but books are meant to be loved, and i’m with rachel: i’d take a kid who’s quirky and fun and imaginative and into art books over a kid who does his homework perfectly any day of the week. sounds to me like you’re doing just fine…

  18. says

    For what it’s worth, I think you sound like a wonderful mother! A little hollering now and then is to be expected :) Besides, how many kids can say their mamas took the time to hand make pencil cases, saint costumes, glittery dinosaurs, orange cakes and gluten free cookies for a bake sale?

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