Happy Mother’s Day, from the Other Woman and Me!

I’m seeing a lot of Mother’s Day tributes floating around the blogosphere, and I love all of your stories! For a few seconds, I thought I’d write something about how my life as a mom is all rainbows and glitter and unicorns. But then I laughed and said, “Psych!” Because let’s be real: My life as a mom is confusing.

Not confusing as in I mix up my kids’ names and call Bunz by my husband’s name, or Little Bear by Bunz’ name. That happens on a regular basis, and we’re ok with that.

Not confusing as in I feel conflicted about the best parenting strategy, or working versus staying at home, or buying organic versus GMO bananas. Those are all good questions, but in all honesty I have a shit ton of other things to worry about. So I just do what works best for us and let the other moms debate the rest.

No, I mean confusing as in identity crisis confusing. As in, I can’t figure out which woman I am in the very first post on Team Bunz: The Other Woman. I look like one mother with two sons but I feel like two mothers, each with one son. And one of those mother-son relationships is not like the other.

Some of you already know what I’m getting at. When you have one child who’s WAY different from the other, your life as a mother gets complicated. You forget who you’re supposed to be for each child, their friends, and their world. You accidentally send your healthy kid on a playdate armed with emergency seizure medication, and your kid with a physical disability to the playground with roller blades and a helmet.

No? This doesn’t sound familiar? Hmm, ok. Let me back up and try to explain.

You know how we all exist in multiple worlds? In our Professional world, we are insightful and polite and well dressed. In our Private world, we wander around the house in our underpants with crazy hair and no makeup, shouting things like, “WTF is this! GET IN HERE, ALL THREE OF YOU! Who dissected fox poop on my office carpet and didn’t clean it up?”

Well, in addition to my Professional and Private worlds, I have Special Needs Mom world and Mainstream Mom world. I’ve had years of practice compartmentalizing these very opposite worlds, especially since Bunz and Little Bear have always gone to different daycares/preschools. But I’m starting to enter the stage of motherhood where I wonder who I really am. Special Needs Mom versus Mainstream Mom. Anxious Mom versus Confident Mom. Amazing Mom versus Regular Mom. Outsider Mom versus Insider Mom. Me versus the Other Woman. Or is it the Other Woman versus Me? Crap. This is so confusing.

Let me show you how this plays out in the real world.

The best example I can think of is last week, when I went to Little Bear’s school for a parent-teacher conference. I parked my car, walked up a steep hill, entered his school, sat down at a kid-sized table, and thought:

Thank you, God, for allowing my butt to fit in this tiny chair. This is excellent. But – gulp – how embarrassing would it have been if I didn’t fit? There must be an adult chair in here somewhere for when that happens. Maybe it’s in the closet. But the teacher is sitting in a tiny chair too, so maybe not? Ugh. No, wait, hold on … I see what’s going on here. The chair is a test! A healthy lifestyle test. And my butt fits, so I’m pretty sure I’ve passed. Whew.

When I finally looked up, the teacher was explaining the results of a Montessori assessment they’d done. I looked at the paper. Every item was checked off. At age 5, Little Bear can: tie his shoes, hold a pencil, manipulate objects of all kinds, clean stuff, count to 129 (not a zillion and thirty, like he told me. I knew that was a lie), write uppercase and lowercase letters and say their sounds, identify the shapes, be helpful and kind, recite various songs. I should buy the BOB books, she was saying, and work with him on … crap. I can’t remember. In my head, I was thinking we need to work with him on not being a Know-it-All. But then I saw his teacher’s write-up and realized that was going to be a hard row to hoe in the foreseeable future: IMG_5190-crop

Let’s compare this with my first parent-teacher conference at Bunz’ school. Ha! Or let’s not. But for the sake of comparison, let’s revisit that day. I parked my car, walked up a (different) steep hill, entered his classroom, sat down in one of those little chairs, and thought:

My God. I seriously think I need medical attention. You can literally SEE my heart thumping through my shirt. Is this safe? This can’t be safe. And my hands are like ice. OMG, did she just say there’s a video. THERE WILL BE A VIDEO OF BUNZ AT THE END OF OUR TALK. It’s not enough to just TELL me how disruptive he is. She actually videotaped it. Fuck. No, no, calm down. This must be a test to see if I’ll voluntarily pull him from the school before I even see the video. No, I will not fail this test. But OMG. My heart.

When I finally found the courage to look up, I remember seeing a checklist – and realizing that a few of the items were actually checked off. Yes! Awesome!!! When I started to breathe again, I realized she was sharing some things we needed to work on. Ok, flash cards. Yes. I can make flash cards. Taking his medicine at lunchtime without a fight. Yes. We can handle that. But the iPad kept taunting me, sitting there so presumptuously on its fancy little stand. Smugly waiting to show proof that Bunz is not the absent-minded genius I believe him to be.

When I finally saw the video, I almost cried. Not in a bad way. In a I’ve-Just-Been-Scared-Shitless-and-Now-What-A-Relief kind of way. Bunz goes to a language immersion school, and the video showed him answering questions (and sometimes not) in another language. It was really cute, actually. Now, months later, he loves to watch that video and say, “That boy doesn’t know the answers? He doesn’t, Mama? But I do.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully merge these two Mom worlds, but it’s interesting to imagine how that might play out. For example, if I went all Special Needs Mom on Little Bear’s world, I could seamlessly morph into a Helicopter Mom. If I went all Mainstream Mom on Bunz’ world, I could easily become an Apathetic Mom.

Crossing these new Moms with my Private and Professional worlds, I could imagine myself as an Apathetic Private Mom who shows up to school dropoff in a bathrobe. Or Helicopter Professional Mom who risks spontaneous combustion every time there’s a hint of failure.

I don’t know. None of these sound particularly right for me in this moment. But in the future, you never know … at least then I would have all my marbles in one place!

Hape Modrs Dey, from my loves to you!


In which Bunz wreaks havoc on Ms. C’s kindergarten class

Exciting news, everyone! We recently started working with a behaviorist to address some of the negative attention-seeking behaviors that Bunz loves so much. We’re learning to out-trick the trickster, so to speak.

Our lives are about to be magically transformed:


My husband and I got the idea for a behaviorist from the show Parenthood. If you’ve never watched it, one of the lead characters is a boy with Asperger syndrome. At first we were like: “Why is Minka Kelly following that boy around?” And then: “How do we get a Minka Kelly?”

As we started to investigate, we realized behaviorists are all around. You just have to know where to look. Our babysitter, as it turns out, is a behaviorist. (This whole time, right under our noses. How did we not know that about her?)

But these days she has her hands full teaching energetic first graders. So she recommended we work with her close friend, Jane, who—go figure—is also a behaviorist. For 6 years we knew nothing of these people, and now they’re everywhere.

“Jane has worked wonders in my classroom!” our babysitter said. “I love my life now! Teaching is so easy! I’m never even tired anymore!”

Ok, so she didn’t actually say those last two things. But she did mention something about her life being much easier, which is something I sincerely want to bottle up and present to Bunz’ kindergarten teacher, Ms. C.

I love Ms. C. I love that she is efficient and nice-but-not-too-nice and extremely good at her job. I love that she is creative and smart and communicative and has a sense of humor. And most importantly, I love that she seems to love my Bunz. Or at least tolerates him on bad days.

She is definitely aware of this because I’ve written her at least two (three?) cards saying so. It’s not that I’m a brownnoser. I just really want her to know that as a person, I feel some remorse for wreaking havoc on her perfectly organized classroom. But as a mother, I can’t let remorse get in the way of the best path for Bunz.

And that’s where Jane comes in.

The first time I met Jane for coffee, I could tell she was a perfect match. A lot of skilled therapists work with Bunz, but few really get him. Some view his cleverness, his love of mayhem, his modus operandi as flaws to be corrected. I got the feeling Jane thought they might boost his future star potential if we could make a few little tweaks here and there. It felt good to be on the same page.

Jane explained that she wouldn’t work directly with Bunz – rather, she would work through my husband and I, and Bunz’ teachers. She’ll empower us to implement a strategy and stick with it long after she has moved on to other little tricksters.

It sounded good. So I said, “Okay!”

After our meeting, I called Bunz’ school to ask permission for Jane to observe him in class.

“Hi Principal S, it’s Bunz’ mom. I wanted to — ”

“Oh hi, thanks for calling. Did Ms. C tell you what happened?”

Umm. No? But no matter. I had called at just the right moment to hear about it.

Incidentally, my darling child had grabbed another student’s art project – a paper panda – and torn the ears off. Then he grabbed someone’s jacket and refused to let go as Ms. C tried to wrench it from his aggressive little hands. Then he stomped around a bit and latched on to the classroom emergency backpack. Or maybe that happened another day. In any case, Ms. C marched Bunz straight up to the principal’s office, where she and Principal S explained in their rapid-fire foreign language that his behavior was not acceptable and he’s not to do it ever again.

“Wow, did he understand any of that?” I asked. Usually we have to speak slowly and repeat instructions to give Bunz time to process what we’re saying. In English.

“You know, it’s amazing how much he understands. When I said he didn’t let go, he responded in English, ‘But I did let go!’  Then I explained that he let go later, not when Ms. C asked him to.”

I’ve never felt more victorious and defeated all at the same time. Elated that he understood; terrified that he might eventually be considered too disruptive to stay at the school.

“So … how soon can Jane start?” I asked.

That was a couple of months ago. I think she started observing Bunz in class the next week.

I like it when Jane observes Bunz because it provides tangible evidence to support the existence of Santa Claus, which I’ll explain later. And also because she’s going to magically transform our lives, which is of course the reason we’re paying her. Of course.

Here’s an excerpt from her very first set of notes:

“Transition after table activity time: Bunz attempted to sit with the wrong group (Ms. C’s group) when he was asked to sit on the carpet and read with Ms. K [his paraprofessional]. Ms. C attempted to redirect twice: Once, by showing him that his name is not listed as part of that table group, and second: by pointing to the smile chart at the front of the room. She counted: 1, 2, 3 … Bunz waited until she was almost finished counting then said, “No!” as he knew that the smile face would be erased. When he continued to attempt to sit down, Ms. C stood up and erased the smile face. He later tried to ring the bell before Ms. C blocked it. This particular scene is reported to occur frequently.”

I immediately typed a long and remorseful note to Ms. C. I’m sure she saw my name pop up in her inbox on a Saturday night and thought, “Dear God. This woman is INSANE.” In my note, I proposed that we aren’t the monster parents that we appear to be. I swore up and down that we didn’t teach Bunz to grab the teacher’s bell and ring it like a maniac. I’m not sure where he gets this stuff, I wrote. I felt so bad.

(Later, my husband said, “You’re really not sure where he gets it? Really? When do you ever follow the rules? There is a clear family history.” After he said that, I thought long and hard about various family members’ life choices. Pop Pop’s tattoo of the exotic dancer; the way he’d wink at me before instigating a major family drama. Being 8 years old and frantically buckling my seatbelt as a family friend/ex-con came running out of a grocery store carrying what appeared to be a swordfish. I realized my husband had a point.)

Fortunately, Ms. C sent a very kind reply that same night, putting my heart at ease. So now you tell me: Is there anyone better than Ms. C?

No. The answer is No.

But back to Santa. While driving in the car the next day, I asked Bunz about ringing the teacher’s bell. Little Bear interrupted and said, “But Mama? How do you know?”

“How do I know what, Little Bear?”

“How do you know that Bunz rings the bell? Who told you?”

Suddenly, the car was quiet. Four little eyes stared at the back of my head.

Now, the thing about riding in my car is that any audio file from my phone could potentially start playing on the stereo at any time. We transition seamlessly from Uptown Funk to The World Is a Rainbow to a phone interview with an expert on fecal transplants. You just never know.

At that very moment, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne decided to start singing, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” There was an audible gasp from Little Bear.

I didn’t even need to say it.

Santa. He’s been watching. He KNOWS.

I looked at Bunz in the rearview mirror and saw his cunning grin and sparkling eyes. For a moment I thought I was looking at Pop Pop’s ghost. Bunz didn’t believe for one second that Santa had reported him. But Little Bear did, and it was hilarious.

So we left it at that.

From Jane’s notes so far, I have learned many things. Mostly that teaching Bunz requires agility and stamina; and that Bunz is even more of a handful than I previously suspected, if that’s even possible:

“English class with Ms. N: Bunz was observed to participate in whole group instructions (e.g., repeating phrases). When he was chosen to come up to the board and fill in a simple sentence with the correct word (He ___ she like to hop), he was observed to pick the wrong word. When Ms. N asked him if it sounded correct, he laughed and said yes. After Ms. N called on the class for another student to come try to pick the correct word, Bunz was observed to grab at Ms. N’s marker and the incorrect word saying, “But I want it!” He was easily redirected to sit down, as Ms. N ignored this behavior. When it was time to break up into table groups, it was observed that Bunz needed redirection to go sit down (he was interested in watching a peer put on a Band-Aid).”

Fortunately, Jane is excited about the prospects of implementing The Plan. Several things are working in our favor, she says. First of all, the school is very supportive. And Bunz has a 1-on-1 paraprofessional for most of the day, which will ensure consistency and follow-through, and give his young para a few tricks for her ever-expanding toolbox. Good times all around.

In a couple of weeks, we hope to roll out The Plan.

I’ll keep you posted!



(aka “Pop Pop”)