Stuffed Monkey

Semmens Family (16 of 27)

My son fell asleep without his stuffed monkey a few weeks ago.

This is not a particularly important milestone of childhood – I’m certainly not going to write it down in his baby book. To be honest, a part of me felt slightly relieved. If we were ever to have another “left-the-monkey-at-the-grandparents-house” incident, we would not have to have it overnighted immediately.

This wasn’t the first time, either. Last week, he slept without her for a few nights.

I only noticed because she was under our kitchen table, where he drags her most every morning to sit beside him while he eats his breakfast, in the exact same spot for a couple of days in a row. I hadn’t realized that it had been a few nights without a frantic 8 p.m. search across the house for her, or a 3 a.m. wake up call to retrieve her from under his bed. She laid there on the floor, looking forlorn and forgotten even with her smile sewn permanently on.

Last night, I tucked my son’s blankets around him before I went to sleep. I pulled her out from under the covers and laid her in the crook of his arm. For years, I have done this every night to avoid that 3 a.m. wake up call, but last night I think I did it not to make sure she stays in the arms of a little boy, but to make sure it was a little boy still holding her.

I slept with my own stuffed bear for 18 years, before deciding it would be embarrassing to bring to college. The bear had little to do with comfort, and more to do with the fact it was the perfect shape to wrap my arm around as I slept at night. In college I laid on my side, trying to fall asleep while my arm slumped down awkwardly.

I still have that bear. It’s in a box of my son’s stuffed animals, and my boys toss it around and twirl the frayed cords that hang where its smile once was. It makes me happy to see it, but not as much as my own children’s favorite stuffed animals make them.

My mom used to make me promise to stay little always. She ultimately failed in that endeavor. In the moments when my kids are being irresistibly adorable, I too find the same request on the tip of my tongue.

But I don’t want them to stay little forever. I look forward to the day when we can ride our bikes together, when I can read them Pippi Longstocking, and when they can turn on the Saturday morning cartoons by themselves and I can sleep in for just a little longer.

In the middle of the night, though, when a stuffed monkey snuggles next to a face that looks more like a baby’s than a child’s, I find myself wishing for just one more night like this.

Bath time 


My kids are splashing in the bath tub.

I loved giving my nieces and nephews baths when I was a teenager. I twisted their soapy hair into dinosaur shapes, and told stories of mermaids swimming to distant shores. Afterwards, I wrapped them into fluffy towels and tucked them into bed.

Ever since I was old enough to be left alone, I’ve taken care of other kids. I babysat my first newborn when I was 12 years old, which necessitated a call to my mom when I couldn’t figure out how to stop her from crying. I eventually grew more qualified, and babysitting paid for my gas money in high school and through college. Even after grad school, I still found myself nannying while I looked for a “real job.”

Kids were always easy, fun, or at the very least funny, and I made good money watching them. Until, of course I had my own.

Mine are rarely easy, and are the opposite of good money. Like my previous charges, they are fun and funny, but those moments are sandwiched between frustrating ones as well. I see fellow moms post Facebook statuses saying, “I love every minute of being a mom!” and find myself wondering why I don’t feel that way.

Now that I’m the mom, I can’t hand the tots off to anyone at the end of the day, two twenty dollar bills in hand, figuring job done well enough. Every minute, every moment I am responsible. It’s not the children themselves that are exhausting (although they have their moments.) It’s the work that takes to raise them into adulthood that’s so draining.

It’s the “did I yell too much today?”

“Should I have been stricter?”


“Should I play classical music more often?”

“Am I reading to them enough?”

“Did they eat too many cookies today?”

“Did they eat a single vegetable this week?”

“Should I take her to the doctor for this?”

“Is this bath water too hot?”

“Am I missing it all?”

These are the questions I can’t leave behind at the end of the night. These are what have me so exhausted all I want to do during bath time is to zone out, rather than cherish these days.

As my son sat down in the bath tub tonight, he closed his eyes and said, “ah, this is the life.”

He’s right. And I’m worried I’m missing it behind my veil of exhaustion and worry. So tonight I will tell them tales of shipwrecked pirates and far off islands. They are mine, my exhausting blessings.

This is the life.

Holding on

My son lost a balloon today. 

We were in the meat department of the grocery store. I was trying to find the cheapest cut of beef possible, and my kids were eyeing the St. Patrick’s display. Green and yellow balloons were tied in front of a suspicious rack of “O’Garlic”sausages that I doubt anyone in the old country had ever tried. Just as I was about to reprimand them for playing with the balloons, a man burst through the door pushing a tall cart of tightly wrapped packages of chicken thighs with which to replenish the shelves. My youngest, being slow to react  and directly in the path of the cart, was instantly bulldozed. 

In typical protective mother fashion, I reacted by yelling his name much too loudly, causing a look of horror to cross the young employee’s face. My son looked startled, as seems just when you have been knocked down by a cart three times as tall as you. The employee, desperate to make amends, offered him a balloon. To a child, this is far better than never having been knocked down in the first place. Understanding the fraught nature of sibling dynamics, he offered my other son one as well. 

The employee began tying the balloon to my younger son’s wrist, causing the older one to yell, “I don’t want it tied to my wrist!” My protective mother bear instincts having subsided, I returned to my typical sub-par parenting skills and for some reason agreed to that plan, noting, “If you let go, then it’s gone.”

He let go. 

I had just turned back to the meat case when I heard wailing and saw a yellow balloon floating to the top of the ceiling. It should be noted that these cries far exceeded those of the son who was actually knocked down by the cart of meat. A second employee offered to get a ladder to retrieve the balloon. He returned with someone who had been stocking shelves, and with another man that I can only assume was the tallest person they could find in the store.

It was obvious that the balloon was still well out of reach and any attempt to retrieve it would result in far greater injuries than being knocked over by a meat cart. I told them to please not worry about it. At that point, my younger son had already grown tired of his balloon and offered it to his brother. He accepted, although noting that it was somehow, imperceptibly inferior to his own, which was still floating over the frozen fish display meant to entice culinarily inclined Catholics. 

We continued shopping, wandering the aisles and forgetting half of the things we had come into the store for. I felt bad for my son, despite that other maternal instinct of wanting to point out, “I told you that would happen.” There are few things more joyful for children than a balloon, that small, brightly colored defier of gravity. 

I know how he felt watching it float away. I get that same sinking feeling often now – whenever I hear a news story about melting glaciers, animals  disappearing from the earth, or when I realize how quick they are outgrowing their shoes. We are steam rolling to my children’s future and, as in any home, the voices of mothers begging us to slow down are ignored. Childhood is short, and the future is unknown. I want keep the good moments – the ones where my children are basking in sunshine and watermelon drips down their chins – but try as I might, I can never quite hold on. 

The employee tracked us down in the cracker aisle, offering one of the fancy balloons from the floral department, the kind that I never would have ponied up the cash for. He pointed out that this one had a weight on it, so it couldn’t float away, but my son was far more enthralled with the StarWars characters that adorned it. I prodded him to say thank you, and he eventually took a break from grinning ear to ear to do so. 

At home my kids took turns pummeling each other on the head with their balloons. “Be careful!” I hollered from the kitchen. “It will pop if you do that and then we really won’t have any more balloons.”

My oldest weighed his options. “How loud will the sound be?” he asked, enthralled by the possibility. 

“Loud,” I promised. “But then there won’t be any balloon at all.”

This time, he managed to surpress his desire to find out what would happen if he diverged from my directive and hold on for just a little bit longer. 

I’m going to try to do the same. 


Do I go three months without posting articles I have written for other websites? Why, yes. Yes, I do.

For your reading pleasure:

It’s Time to Dress Like a Woman,” Mamalode, February 2017.

This Black History Month, Let’s Discuss the Pay Gap for Women of Color,” Parent.Co, February 2017.

16 Acts of Self-Care that can Help Change the World,” Parent.Co, February 2017.

What is the Value of an Education to a Stay at Home Mom?” Parent.Co, February 2017.

The Best Way to ‘Go Green?’ Go outside,” Parent.Co, February 2017.

Why I’m Raising My Sons to be Feminists,” Parent.Co, January 2017.

Paid Family Leave Would Actually Make Businesses Stronger,” Parent.Co, January 2017.

6 Resolutions We Hope Our Elected Officials Make This Year,” January 2017.

Is Part-Time Employment the Ideal Situation for Working Parents?” Parent.Co, January 2017.

A Lack of Paid Sick Leave in the U.S. Is a Public Health Concern,” Parent.Co, January 2017.

You Spend a Ton of Money on Child Care, So Why Are Caregivers so Poorly Paid?” Parent.Co, January 2017.

If You’ve been to One Family Holiday Party, You’ve been to them All.”

The Crock-Pot and the Promise of Having it all,” Parent.Co, December 2016.

7 Books that Teach Young Children about Racial and Social Justice,” Parent.Co, December 2016.

What I tell My Kids about Working Moms,”Parent.Co, December 2016.

Pumping at Work: Rights, Tips, and Tricks,” Parent.Co, December 2016.

How Much is a Stay-at-Home Mom Really Worth?,” Parent.Co, November 2016.

Paternity Leave is Essential to Building Healthy Families,” Parent.Co, November 2016.

Find your voice


My husband told me if I wanted to become a writer, I needed to set aside time every day to write and develop my voice. At least that’s what his favorite sports blogger had suggested.

I don’t do that. And I don’t particularly want to do it tonight. Instead, I want to go back upstairs, lounge on my couch, watch TV and knit a hat that I will finish just in time for next winter.

I don’t want to find my voice. I want to rest my voice, to go the next hour without saying a single word to anyone. I don’t want to say,

“Pull up your pants.”
“No, you can’t pee on the floor.”
“Just try the spinach.”
“Should we count them? 1, 2, 3, 4…”
“Once upon a time…”

I just want a bit of silence. Or rather, the mind-numbing noise that comes out of a cable network dramedy that can drown out any of the voices bouncing around my head for an hour.

Those are the voices I want to ignore. The ones saying things like,

“You really should have done more today.”
“Why aren’t you folding the laundry?”
“Should you really be eating that ice cream? Don’t you know sugar is bad for you?”
“Why did you let the kids have so much sugar today?”
“And watch so much TV?”
“Why aren’t you writing? You can’t just say, ‘I want to become a writer’ without actually writing.”

You become a mother the moment you hear your child’s voice. Truthfully, probably before that – the moment you hear a heart beating and see it flashing on a screen, or the moment you think to yourself, “This is real.” But that first loud complaint, their protest against the light, and the cold, and the freedom is what transforms us.

The subsequent ones are not as darling. The ones that wake you in the middle of the night, the ones that come after hours of trying to figure out anything that could possibly be causing them discomfort, the ones that demand a different meal for dinner – those have lost their charm. They leave you bedraggled, thinking please just five minutes peace.

In the years since my children were born, I have watched them find their voices to both my delight and dismay. Their demands for food and comfort are much louder and specific than a newborn’s cry, but less heartbreakingly urgent. They tell me I am the worstest mama in the world. They tell me I am the bestest mama in the world. They ask me unanswerable questions, or at least questions that would require a PhD in astrophysics to answer. They mispronounce words and I don’t dare to correct them, because how long will they say,

“Mama, I’m tiwed and want to go to fweep.”

And in those years, I have had to find my own voice as well. I’ve had to break out of my shell and introduce myself to mothers at playgrounds. I’ve had to speak up when a doctor dismisses my concerns. I’ve had to advocate, cheer, console, and correct every day for the past four years.

I write so I don’t forget what these years are like. I write in case maybe, possibly someone out there feels the same way I do. I write to exist in a world where stay-at-home mothers often fade into the background. I write because I have changed so much since becoming a mother that sometimes I feel like I no longer know who I am.

And so I write to find my voice.