Bodily Liquids

Recently, another far more cerebral copywriter than I am asked me, “What kind of a writer are you?” 

I stared at her blankly, not knowing how to answer. I’ve never been a copywriter with a secret screenplay, collection of comical Haikus or coming-of-age zombie novel in the works. Since I primarily write ads, my words come in short sentences and 30-second time blocks.

And unlike a lot of writers I know who are voracious readers, I don’t pour over Hemingway or even the #1 reco on Oprah’s book list. Nope, I read, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “Geronimo Stilton, Mouse Detective.” Out loud.  I also enjoy Allure and Food & Wine magazine, in luxurious three to four minute bouts of solitude, while sitting on the toilet.

Don’t be jealous. 

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

But then a very astute, inspired answer came to me:

“I want my writing to make people cry or pee.” 

Actually, my first answer was “I want to make liquid come out of other people’s bodies.” But I had to quickly rephrase that, for obvious reasons. That’s E.L. James' territory. And nobody’s reading that stuff for the amazing literary quality. 

(Okay, yes, I did read the entire Shades of Grey series. But as an approaching middle-aged suburban mom, I had to read them so I’m up on popular culture. Had to.)

My intellectual writer friend was super impressed, as you can imagine.

I’m kidding. She wasn’t.

But that’s okay. Because by answering her question, I have become more aware of what I'm putting down on paper. The best kinds of writing elicit emotions from the reader (or listener or watcher.) They connect on a visceral level. Otherwise, it’s just words bouncing off your brain. So if I’m always shooting for emotional extremes, to hit someone’s funny bone or yank at their heartstrings, I’ll occasionally get there. Because, let’s be honest - tears and pee aren’t easy to achieve. Unless we’re talking babies, weddings or jumping on a trampoline after giving birth to two 10-pounders. Or so I’ve heard.

So even if my writing doesn’t always reach bodily liquid territory, I’m at least hopefully creating a chuckle. Or a knowing sigh. Or a smirk. I can live with a smirk.

But to me, tears and pee mean ultimate success. 

Pretty sure that’s a Hemingway quote.

A Good Job

It was about 3:30 in the morning. I’m lying in my 5-year-old’s bed, awkwardly wrapped around stuffies and just-in-case towels and something pokey that was probably Mr. Potato Head's eyeballs that we had ransacked the house earlier trying to find. My poor son had been throwing up every 20 minutes since 10:30 pm. So there I was, feeling exhausted and helpless and impatient, since he had stopped even trying to dry heave into the bowl. Instead, he just lay there all limp and clammy and stinky, like a tiny, drunk frat boy. Only way cuter.

To add insult to injury, the day/night before had been Valentine’s Day, which used to be a big, romantic deal to my husband and I. Seriously nauseating schmoopieness. Handmade gifts. Flowers. Love notes. But that was many years ago, before marriage and kids and impending Noro Virus. Now V-Day had now turned into a tired family dinner and mandatory exchange of uninspired gifts.

Here’s how I’m pretty sure Dave’s and my passive-aggressive thought conversation transpired when we swapped presents:

Dave: “Oh, a trite, motivational book about pursuing my dreams! How thoughtful of you to pick this up near the register when you bought something for the kids.”

Me: “You’re welcome, honey. Maybe someone else’s words might inspire you more than my own.  Oh, neat.  A short, sheer, black robe. Does take returns? “

So, I lay there, jammed against the wall in my son's bed, thinking about this and all the other stuff you think about in the middle of the night. Work and parenting and aging parents and marriage and the everythings that need to be repaired or cleaned or upgraded in our house. And how I could be doing them all better. How that TV commercial I wrote could have been funnier, or how I should have said something smarter in that meeting, or how I should have planned ahead and handmade a Valentine’s gift like I used to, or how I should be more patient with my parents and the kids because I expect the same of them and childhood is short and I will miss these days. And as usual, in the middle of the night, it all seems insurmountable.

I guarantee the very first molehill turned into the very first mountain sometime around 3am.

Shaking me out of my guilt reverie, my son gave the little chokey cry that meant he was going to be sick again, and I helped him. And we both settled back into our uncomfortable positions, mine more mental than physical.

Then, in his raspy, exhausted, sweet, five-year old voice, he said the words that he must have intuitively known I needed to hear. (Kids are amazing like that. I also believe they can communicate with animals, but that’s a topic for another day.)

He said:  “Mama. I’m so glad you’re staying here with me. You’re doing a really good job.”

Wait. I was doing a good job?


I wanted to cry. Because I think that’s all most of us really want to hear. In every aspect of our lives. As wives and husbands and employees and bosses and parents and friends and siblings and kids and grown-ups.  We all just want to know that we’re doing “a good job.”

And I realized that I am.  

Because at any given time, I’m doing the best I can.

Oh, sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Especially in the timely and thoughtful gift department. But overall, as my delirious 5-year-old had pointed out, I’m not sucking pretty successfully.

So I kissed him on the forehead and said “Thank you, buddy. I love you.” And fell into the most restful sleep I’d had all night.

For about 23 minutes until he had to hurl again.

But when he did, I held that bowl and gently propped up his sweaty little head like the best middle-of-the-night-vomit-helper the greater Seattle area has ever known.

Cause that’s just what you do when you’re doing a good job.



Hores and Spaceships

You’re looking at my two favorite pieces of art my kids have ever done.

These are my favorite because I love imperfection. Inappropriate things make me really happy. If I meet another mom who reaches into her purse for a pen and instead pulls out a tampon with a half-eaten Tootsie Pop and a hair band stuck to it, I know we’ll be instant friends.

Not because we can complain about how bad it is, but because we can commiserate about how good it is. How funny it all is.

I am a big believer in sharing the mistakes, comparing the messes, admitting my faults and laughing (sometimes crying) about it all.

A friend and art director partner of mine has four kids. FOUR. Whenever we work together, we spend a lot of time sharing stories. Mostly about how, with the help of our husbands and friends and families, we’re barely holding it all together. Her stories trump mine every time (she has twice as many everythings, afterall.) But we both take solace in hearing that we’re all in this together, each doing the best we can. It’s not a competition, it’s a club.

I love my kids (duh.) And I am left breathless by their beauty and sweetness and budding talents almost every day. But you’ll rarely hear me talk about it.

Because I’d much rather laugh about my daughter’s horrible meltdown at the Halloween party. Or describe the adorable way my son sucks at karate.

The beauty is in the imperfection. The stories are in the screw-ups.

This is why I grow so tired in my job of advertisers worrying about portraying parenthood as negative. Of clients insisting we round the corners on the truth, concerned about alienating moms because we’re reminding them of the chaos in their own lives. Newsflash: THE CHAOS IS REAL. And if we embrace it, laugh about it and move on, we’ve shown that we understand what it’s really like to be a parent.

Aspirational is a popular word. “Don’t show the reality, show what moms aspire to be

Nope, sorry. Calling BS on that one. Because I will never be, nor aspire to be, that mom with no clutter on the counter of my unnaturally clean house and perfect hair and no visible panty lines who smiles in utter delight when she opens her dryer to see her kid has thrown a pack of crayons into it. 

In reality, I would LOSE MY SHIT if my kid threw a pack of crayons into the dryer. Even in the name of “science.”  But after I calmed down and used a lot of stain remover, I would begin sharing the story. With everyone I knew. And it would probably spark an even better story from my friend about how her son finger-painted his nursery room wall … with poop. Or how my other friend’s daughter built her entire first grade project out of champagne corks and cages, cause there just happened to be a lot of them lying around.

I don’t want to hear stories of perfection. Good for you, if you have them, but what I really want to hear about is how you spilled breast milk on your male coworker. Or how your 4-year-old walked in on you and your husband, and you told her you were “wrestling.” Tell me about how you burst into tears after dropping your son off at preschool this morning, because you’d yelled at him for picking up gum off the sidewalk and you haven’t slept well for 3 nights and you think the cat may have peed on the jeans you’re wearing because you haven’t had time to clean the litter box. I will laugh and cry and commiserate with you every time.

Cause that stuff is the best. The imperfect moments are the best.