Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Dear Zen Mother,

We are about to have our 3rd child and our car is not big enough to hold all of us. I hate the thought of buying a minivan. Besides purchasing an SUV, can you suggest an alternative vehicle?

Lindsey from North Carolina

Dear Lindsey,

You can’t dig to China, there is no Santa Claus, Rhett Butler never comes back for Scarlet and I have no alternative to offer a growing family other than the ubiquitous, suburban, home away from home, minivan. And let me add, I feel your pain.

Several years ago, I was pregnant with my third child. It was a day I’ll never forget. After running some errands, I pulled into our driveway in my sporty, Scandinavian-made car. My husband stopped his yard work and said, “You know, three kids, two baby seats and a hockey bag will not fit in your car. We should get a minivan.” From behind the wheel, I stared at him in disbelief. Seeing the look on my face, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s no big deal, is it?” I resisted the temptation to run him over.

For the next six months I tried to figure out a way to fit all the kids, their gear, the dogs and my work stuff into the car. Since my husband was now locked in the front hall closet, I did not need to accommodate his large frame. I spent hours in the garage unbolting, moving and bolting seats. I removed the convenient storage bin, the spare tire and the glove department. I hired an engineering firm.

One afternoon, while soldering the dog crate to the ski rack, my husband came into the garage and asked me if I would like to go out for dinner. While curious as to how he cut the rope holding him upside-down in our maple tree, I decided to accept his peace offer.

I should have suspected him right away. He took me to a crowded restaurant so, you know, I wouldn’t make a scene and announced he was trading in my car for a minivan the next day. As you can imagine, I was full of questions. “How could you do this to me? After everything my car and I have been through? Is nothing sacred to you?” I could have thrown a drink in his face. I could have screamed. I could have broken the dishes, but considering my husband would be spending the night next to the compost pile, I took pity on him and acquiesced. After all, our third son was due any day.

In time, I learned to adjust. Even my fantasies adjusted. I no longer dream about Hugh Jackman singing to me. Now, I dream about Hugh Jackman singing to me while I’m driving a pale yellow, 150 horsepower, 5-speed convertible Volkswagen Beetle with 17-inch alloy wheels and anti-locking brakes.

My tale ends well. The minivan has been indispensable to our lives, and when I throw dinner scraps out the window to my husband, I let him know as well.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Miracle on Ice

Editor's Note: With all the talk about hockey moms, evangelicals, and lipstick-wearing dogs, here is one from the archives. Enjoy!

Dear Zen Mother,

My kids want to play ice hockey. I’m terrified they will get hurt. How can I deter their interest?

Debbie from Newburyport

Dear Debbie,

Be forewarned, you may be interfering with a higher calling. In our town, there are two religions. One is celebrated at a church, the other at the local hockey rink and what God has created let no man put asunder.

Our divine encounter occurred in the middle of the night. A cherub resembling my five-year old boy appeared at my bedside. “Mom,” said the angel, “all I want to do is play hockey.” I bolted upright and screamed, “Noooooooooo!” but the apparition was gone. My husband awoke and asked what was wrong. “Jack wants to play hockey,” I said. “That’s ridiculous,” said my husband. “He doesn’t even know what hockey is.” We tiptoed into his bedroom. There was our little angel, sound asleep, with an autographed picture of Wayne Gretzky tucked under his arm. We fell to our knees in reverence. It was time to join the faithful.

“You have to be the bow,” my sister explained when I told her of the night’s celestial event and my subversive plan to sign Jack up for Irish Step Dance instead. “Gibran wrote, ‘You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.’ Jack will do what he wants. You can only guide him at this point.” I hung up on Miss I Quote Obscure Writers but she had a point. “Be the bow,” I repeated.

Our journey to enlightenment started with hockey registration. A jovial coach explained the schedule to me. If I understood him correctly, I would be spending the next 342 days driving to various hockey rinks in North America. Overwhelmed, I muttered my new mantra: Be the bow. I took the schedule from the coach’s hand and drove over to the sporting goods store.

Once there, I met the zealots: hockey moms, women who can style their hair, apply lipstick and tighten ice hockey skates in a single bound. “New this year?” asked a pretty redhead as I stared at a row of hockey sticks. I nodded. “You’ll need the right safety gear,” she said. The woman proceeded to list a dizzying array of hockey equipment: shin pads, elbow pads, shoulder pads, mouth guard, neck protector…I thought I might throw up in the $85 hockey bag I just purchased. I wondered if it was too late to interest my son in Origami. Be the bow.

Sunday morning arrived. We dressed Jack in his hockey uniform and buckled him into the back seat of the car. He looked like a small turtle in an oversized shell. I burst into tears. “I can’t be the bow!” I wailed. My husband understood but covered my mouth with hockey tape all the same. We arrived at the rink and Jack skated off without waiting for a kiss from his overprotective, bow-less mommy. From the stands I watched him learn to turn, stop and skate backward. It was time to scrimmage. Within seconds of the face-off, Jack had the puck and was skating toward the net. I stood, ripped the hockey tape from my mouth and screamed, “Put it through the five hole!”

I have no idea what I said but two hockey moms stood up behind me and yelled, “Amen!”

Monday, September 01, 2008

Over Exposed

As a general rule, I try not to take my children out in public. I also try to limit the number of visitors I have to my home. This greatly reduces the chances of the Charmin display catching fire at the end of Aisle 7, or the Mary Kay rep being asked to hold a poisonous snake since mommy is busy trying on smelly creams. By diligently adhering to this “less is more” philosophy I have saved the planet from disaster at least 26 times. Al Gore should be calling to thank me any minute.

Of course, children need a little something called “exposure” so they can develop beyond the constitution of your garden-variety asparagus. And since I am not a very good gardener, I decide it is time to venture forth into the world with my three boys in tow, and a pad of sticky notes for impromptu “I’m sorry my child broke your priceless Henry Moore sculpture; My college art professor said his work is overrated anyway.”

The outing is a visit to our local children’s theater – a charming, outdoor stage company that presents classic fairytales. Today they are presenting Hansel & Gretel. By intermission, I have given the boys five time-outs, picked bubblegum out of the pigtails of the little girl in front of us, and responded to the very rude man behind me, “Well it’s a little late for birth control now, don’t you think?”

Halfway through the second act, exasperated and suffering an asthma attack from saying, “That’s one, that’s two…!” I decide the woodcutter’s wife was on to something. I grab the kids by their collars, stomp on stage, and throw them into the old witch’s oven with a sticky note that reads, “Sorry to interrupt your delightful interpretation of H&G. I hope you enjoy the children. The middle child can be tough. Use extra salt.”

But the stage manager confronts me before I could leave the theater because, and I should have known this, you can’t place children inside a pretend oven on a stage during a performance unless the kids are cast members.

So we return home to our sanctuary where explosions can be contained to a fifty-foot radius, and visitors are limited to the mailman, who was relieved to learn Tarantula bites are not fatal, and my mother, who loves her grandchildren unconditionally as long as their hands and feet remain in view at all times.