TO DO: Write To Do list

Last Saturday started like any other. With my coffee in hand, I sat down at the kitchen table with my special notebook, prepared to start the weekend To Do list.

It’s a ritual. I make so many To Do lists, in fact, that no little scrap of paper will do – I have a bound notebook with a pretty floral cover for this sole purpose.

I know this says something about my psyche. I crave organization. I have a need to feel a sense of accomplishment as I cross each item off the list.

Most of the time, I’m not overwhelmed by the sheer size of the list. Rather, any anxiety I feel is based on the fear that I might forget something. God forbid I forget to get the oil changed in the van or sew on the latest Brownie merit badge.

If it’s not on my To Do list, it probably won’t get done.

I recently filled up an entire To Do list notebook. On the final list on the last page of the book, I’d written:

  • Buy a new notebook.

So, I packed up the kids and we headed to the store. We made our way to the stationary aisle so I could find a suitable replacement.

I studied the selection. Admittedly, I’m picky about my To Do list notebooks. The cover design has to be simple and somewhat stylish and it has to fit nicely in my purse so I can keep my list at the ready, prepared to add or cross off tasks as needed.

Often the content of the To Do lists is unpleasant:

  • Clean the toilet bowl.
  • Mop the kitchen floor. (Ew! Sticky!)

…so I like to pick a notebook that is aesthetically pleasing, at least.

As I surveyed my options, my 7 year-old daughter asked if she could get a notebook too. Assuming she wanted it for drawing, I suggested a large tablet of plain white paper – after all, she’s constantly stealing sheets out of the printer at home.

“No,” she said. “I need a notebook like yours. I need to get organized.”

Hmmm. You’re seven years old, I thought. You need to be organized? Anyhow, I obliged and she picked out a notebook with bright pink flowers on it and an elastic band to cinch it closed.

For the rest of the day, that notebook never left her side. She walked around with a pencil wedged behind her ear and every once in a while, would dutifully jot down something.

I glanced over her shoulder to see that she’d listed several tasks, each with a little box next to it, awaiting a check mark of completion. When she noticed I was straining to see her list, she pressed it tightly to her chest and announced that it was not ready yet.

Well, all righty.

I turned my attention to my To Do list instead. It read:


  • Plan meals for the week / prepare grocery list.
  • Go to the store.
  • Fill out permission slip for field trip.
  • Laundry. (We need clean undies!)
  • Schedule hair cuts for kids.
  • Scrub the bathtub.

I didn’t use the check-box system, but through the day, I crossed off a few items, which felt satisfying.

Later that afternoon my daughter approached – still clutching her notebook to her chest. She told me she’d finished her To Do list and wondered if we could work on a few items together.

“Definitely,” I said. “Show me your list.”

She handed over the notebook. On the cover she’d written: “PRIVATE PROPARDY.” (A clear warning to her brother and sister.)

I opened the book to the first page and began to read.


  • Clean my room.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Eat popcorn.
  • Have a pupit show. (Puppet show)
  • Play sharads. (Charades)
  • Pillow fight.

Her list made me smile. For one, I was pleased that she intended to clean her room without any prompting. But mostly, I loved how she scheduled fun activities.

That night, we worked on completing the items on her list. From room cleaning to pillow fighting, we crossed off each and every “task”. Afterward, we collapsed on the sofa, side by side, glowing with accomplishment.

After I put everyone to bed, I reflected on the day’s events.

I realized that I’d taught my daughter a useful life skill (organization) that she would carry on into adulthood. Hopefully this skill would be useful during her college years as she learned to stay on top of her studies, juggle a full social calendar and care for her first apartment – all on her own. Maybe someday, when she’s in her 30’s with a family, she’ll use these skills to run her house as efficiently, if not more so, than I.

I pulled out my own To Do list to review my progress. I’d crossed off a few items, but didn’t make as big a dent in it as I’d hoped.

While I’d taught my daughter how to organize the details of her life, she taught me to remember to schedule the fun. I grabbed a pencil and added a few more items.

  • Paint my toenails.
  • Watch a movie (one for grown ups).
  • Call a girlfriend.

So now I always try to add at least one fun item to my To Do list. Scheduling fun is just as important, if not more, as scheduling chores.

This week's To Do list, for example, includes:

  • Clean out the fridge. (Ick!)

But it also lists, in equal importance:

  • Build a snowman.

After all, it’s like I always say, if it’s not on my To Do list, it probably won’t get done.

Mean teacher

My 7 year-old daughters have entered a stage where they bicker and fight almost all of the time. They disagree over nearly everything. Which show to watch on TV, who gets to use the computer first and even what to wear. (I expected arguments over clothes to wait until they were at least 12 years old.)

However, my girls are in strong agreement on one thing: Miss Donna is mean.

The girls are in an after school program where they can do homework, play games and have gym time before I pick them up after work. The program is run by a woman who is soft spoken, but extremely firm. She runs a tight ship – and she has to. She’s responsible for nearly a dozen kids ranging from first to fifth graders.

Miss Donna expects the kids in her care to speak with hushed voices, sit still when instructed to do so and engage in quiet activities such as drawing, reading or playing board games.

Personally, I don’t think these are unreasonable expectations, so when my girls started coming home complaining that Miss Donna was mean, I assumed they were overreacting.

My girls are typical 7 year-olds. They’re talkative and bubbly, and would rather dance and twirl than sit still for too long. So naturally, I figured they were just getting scolded for giggling too much or being too chatty. I told the girls to follow Miss Donna’s directions and they shouldn’t have any problems.

And we didn’t have any problems – for a while.

One evening, as I picked up the girls, Miss Donna approached with a solemn face and told me there was something she needed to discuss with me. We stepped to the side, slightly out of earshot from the kids. My girls sat and stared at us, knowing Miss Donna was delivering a bad report. They looked frightened.

To be honest, the stern look on Miss Donna’s face scared the hell out of me. Her voice was low and serious; indicating that one of my girls had done something awful – shocking even. Did she steal something? Did she hurt someone? I braced myself for the worst.

“Today, your daughter said a bad word,” she began. “She said a very bad word.”

Before I continue, I need to confess something: I have a very bad mouth. Though never in front of the kids, I tend to pepper my language with what I like to call, “sentence enhancers”.

I’ve always loved the English language and am a self-described ‘Word Nerd’. And as such, I’m simply fascinated by the versatility of the F-word. It’s the perfect word. It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb – it’s incredible.

I love the F-word and like to use it. However, I use it sparingly because I know that not everyone is as fond of it as I am. I never use it at work, in the company of my mother, or in front of my children. I know better than that.

Miss Donna’s expression indicated that my daughter had said something terrible – and I could only guess that it was pretty effing bad.

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, preparing to say the word herself. She leaned in and whispered, “She said…the D-word.”

I stood there, stumped for a few seconds. The D-word? What the heck is that? D? Which one starts with D?

“Oh! You mean, ‘damn’,” I volunteered, a little too loudly and causing some of the kids to look our way.

“Yes,” she said in a hush, “and obviously that kind of language is not allowed.”

I assured Miss Donna that words like the “D-word” were not permitted in my home either. Frankly I was a little relieved that the hubbub was only about swearing. She hadn’t done anything dangerous or defiant. She’d only said one little bad word – and not even one of the really bad ones at that.

I told Miss Donna that I’d speak to my daughter about it and motioned for the girls to get their things together. Miss Donna stared me down and didn’t budge. Her demeanor suggested she expected something more from me. I felt a little like a kid at the principal’s office. At her nonverbal prompting, I added,

“And there will be consequences for her behavior here today,”

This seemed to satisfy Miss Donna. I realized that during our brief exchange, the woman had somehow cornered me against a wall. I edged my way past her, waiving my kids over to the door. They quickly grabbed their coats and backpacks and scooted through the doorway. We all were relieved to step outside.

Without a word, we piled into my van. My daughter, the one that said the offending word, sat with her eyes cast downward, afraid of whatever punishment I was about to bestow. The other one knew better than to act up, so she sat quietly, watching me in the rear-view mirror, awaiting my reaction.

I could now see how my girls thought Miss Donna was mean. She definitely put me on the spot. But despite the fact I felt she had overacted to what in my mind was a minor infraction, I needed to support her.

It’s important that parents support their children’s teachers and caregivers. I have friends who teach and tell me that it’s common for parents to side with their children on disciplinary issues. They question the teacher’s authority and don’t support their classroom decisions, which is wrong.

When parents teach their kids that they don’t have to listen to authority figures, they’re setting them up to fail as adults. What’s that kid going to do when he’s got a boss who’s demanding? Call his mommy? Life is full of difficult people. Learning how to deal with them is probably one of the most important life skills a parent can teach their children.

I needed to put my own impression of Miss Donna aside and support her. I don’t know what it’s like to wrangle all of those kids for 3 hours every day. She’s got to do what she’s got to do to keep things running smoothly – and that means squashing even the smallest infractions. I couldn’t undermine Miss Donna’s authority.

I turned the key in the ignition and announced the punishment. My daughter cried when she learned she wouldn’t be allowed to play on the computer that night. I asked if she knew it was a bad word (she did) and if she knew bad words weren’t allowed (she did). I explained that she had to be punished for doing something she knew wasn’t allowed. It was that simple. She seemed to understand.

That night, watching TV, I saw a 22-year-old girl perform in a singing competition. She was awful. While she looked like a hip, pop star, her singing was off-key and sounded terrible. Anyone with ears could tell this girl was a bad singer.

The judges delivered the bad news. “Sorry sweetie, but your voice isn’t strong enough to be a professional singer.” Instead of accepting the bad news with any kind of grace or dignity, she blew up.

The girl accused the judges (each a music-industry expert) of not recognizing good talent. She went on a tirade, cursing and carrying on. Finally, she flipped the judges the bird and left. The cameraman followed her out into the lobby, where her mother was waiting with open arms.

“Oh honey,” her mama said. “They’re crazy – you’re great!” The girl sobbed into her mother’s bosom. “You’re going to be a star someday, really, you will,” her mama said, stroking her florescent pink hair.

The show put the whole situation into perspective. We can’t shield our kids from so-called, mean teachers – and we shouldn’t even if we could.

One little bad word today could lead to a televised tantrum tomorrow.

Top five benefits of being a single parent

I know it sounds hard to believe, but there are actually quite a few benefits to being a single parent. Sure, it’s hard work – extra long hours, one income instead of two and a general lack of adult conversation — but believe it or not, there are quite a few perks to working solo too.

So, here they are, in no particular order, my list of the top five benefits of being a single parent. Enjoy!


5) The Thermostat.

There's no more wrestling over the thermostat. You set it once and it stays right were you set it – every time.

4) You know where every penny goes.

This benefit isn't about arguing over joint checking account expenses. It's about keeping the joint account balanced. Single parents don't have to chase down debit-card receipts or checks written but not recorded. The issue of keeping the books balanced, simply isn't an issue anymore.

3) Total control of the TV.

Unless your kids are old enough to work the remote, the TV is all yours. Instead of watching SportCenter or televised golf, chances are you’re enjoying a DVR full of Oprah episodes and TLC’s What Not to Wear re-runs.

2) You can cook whatever you want…or not.

If your ex was a picky eater, the meals you cooked were probably influenced, at least in part, by his tastes. It can be pretty stressful, trying to please someone who's hard to please. When you're the only one driving the menu, you can cook what you like, the way you like it.

In addition, with one adult in the house, if you don’t feel like cooking, well...don’t. Obviously you should still feed your kids, but they'll survive with leftovers, drive-through or PB&J (all in moderation, of course). If your kids have a good hot lunch program at school (where they serve hot and healthy lunches everyday), you can skip the more labor-intensive, traditional meals from time to time, guilt free.

1) No more waiting for your ex to pitch in with house/yard work.

Sure, there’s more work for one person to do overall, but the stress and arguments over who will do what and when is completely eliminated. I know of lots of women who beg, nag and bargain trying to get their spouses to pitch in, only to end up doing it all themselves anyway.

Single moms get to save time and just get to getting the work done. There's no arguing. No mental Olympics. No drama. The workload is the same, but getting it done can be less stressful.

~ ~ ~

Now, I’m not saying that being a single parent is better than being a married one. I’d just die if someone read this list and decided to dump their husband because he watches SportsCenter 24/7.

My point comes more from a making-lemonade-out-of-lemons kind of place. Being a single parent means you can do things on your own terms - and that fact alone has certain, undeniable benefits.

Playing stay-home mom

I can still remember the first time I took the week off to enjoy Spring Break with my kids. This would be my chance to see what it felt like being a stay-at-home mom. I was so excited. I planned to savor every second of my vacation away from work.

I started the week ambitious and energetic. I had a huge list of things to do. Actually, I had two lists. One was full of fun stuff like going to the library, spending a day at a water park and letting the kids play at a Playland while I read a book.

The other list contained chores that I normally don’t have time to tackle. Things like boxing up clothes the kids had outgrown, cleaning out the pantry and sewing patches onto the girls’ Brownies vests. Yes sir, I was ready to rock as a full-time, stay-home mom.


We started the week out with a treat – pajama day. We all stayed in our PJs the whole day, lounging about, watching movies and playing board games. I didn’t get to any of my chores, but what the heck? I was on vacation, right?


Tuesday, we managed to get to the library and to McDonalds. Sadly, my little guy missed his nap so the rest of the day I paid for it, trying to get things done with a 2 year-old glued to both of my legs. I didn’t get any of my chores done, but it was still early in the week. I had no doubt I’d eventually cross them off my list.


I said goodbye to housework for one more day, and we hit the water park, only to later return to a total disaster zone. Toys were strewn everywhere and now wet towels and swimsuits littered the bathroom floor. Our eyes, red from chlorine, burned and we all were in bed before 7 p.m.


The kids were up at 6 a.m. (They’d gone to bed too early the night before.) I was determined to tackle the house and it took me most of the day to pile through laundry and get the kitchen and bathrooms into shape.

By the time evening rolled around, I was tired and frustrated. After all, with the kids home all day, the clutter and mess was relentless. While I was cleaning the living room, they were in my bedroom, jumping on the bed, watching my TV and shoving previously folded laundry onto the floor.

When I kicked them out to clean my room, they moved to their own rooms and trashed them in seconds. I was so busy with basic tidying I was too pooped out to tackle any of my big projects.

Also, at this point, everyone’s fuses have grown short and the bickering is constant. Tattle-tailing is at an all-time high and we look more like the family from Malcolm in the Middle than the picture-perfect one on Full House. I’m saying things like, “If I have to come up there one more time, you’re going to get it!” and “Keep your hands to yourself!” with alarming frequency.


By the time Friday came I was absolutely starved for adult conversation. So I packed up the kids and we left for Grandma’s. As my brood raided Grandpa’s snack stash, I hung on Grandma’s every word. She obliged and told me, with great detail, about her recent trip to the casino.

“Really,” I asked, riveted. “They just gave you the free meal tokens?”

She could’ve been reading the back of a cereal box for all I cared. I was just happy to hear someone talk in a normal tone of voice – no whining, no tattling. At 9, they pushed us out the front door, waving and shaking their heads.


When Saturday rolled around I began to feel desperate. Somehow, I managed to blow my whole week and had very little to show for it. I was determined to get the too-small clothes out of the kids’ dressers by the end of the day.

I’d envisioned packing everything away into perfectly labeled storage tubs, to be given to a friend for her kids. But with time waning, I stuffed them into a couple of trash bags and stashed them in a corner in the basement instead.


I always look forward to church on Sundays. It’s partly because I enjoy the preacher, but mostly because during the service, I get to sit alone and listen to an inspirational sermon, uninterrupted.

With my older kids in Sunday school and my little guy in the nursery, I get one whole, delicious hour to sit quietly and listen. For me, that hour is as relaxing as a Swedish massage, honest.

Sadly, this Sunday, the nursery volunteer was sick. I brought my two-year-old into the church and had to nearly sit on him for the hour to keep him quiet. Despite my best efforts, an old lady with bright red lipstick which had settled deep into the creases around her mouth scowled at me.

Sunday night, my daughter informs me she has a science project due the next day. No problem I think, looking at the clock. It’s 6 p.m. – there’s still time. She proceeds to tell me about the germination experiment she was to conduct, wrapping sunflower seeds in a moistened paper towel and documenting when they sprout over the course of a week.

After a little quick thinking, we punt and turn it into a research project (without the hands-on part). I cross my fingers and hope for the best as I shove everything into her backpack. By the time everyone is fed and bathed, it’s 8 p.m.

After the kids settle down for good – drinks of water have been disbursed, under-bed monsters exterminated and threats of “…if you get out of bed one more time…” have been administered – it’s nearly 9.

At the end of my “vacation from work”, I learned an important lesson about myself. I need structure. I need to get out of my house. I need time alone.

Sitting on my couch after a week as a stay-home mom, I realized that I needed to go back to work – and soon.

Working is good for me. Working gives my life balance. An office setting makes me feel professional and confident. The time spent away from my home and my kids gives me perspective on my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a mother and think I’m damn good at it too. But, working outside of my home helps me appreciate my at-home time more.

For me, one of the biggest, most practical advantages to working full-time can be boiled down to a simple equation:

Less time spent at my house = less time spent cleaning my house.

During the workweek, I tidy my house once in the morning, leave and come home to find it in the same condition as I’d left it in 10 hours earlier. When I’m home all day, the cleaning is continuous. I don’t know what’s more stressful for me: cleaning a house that’s continually getting messed up or trying to function in a messy house. Either way, I relish leaving and coming home to a tidy home. And this, for me, is a very big deal.

So there you have it. This week illustrates exactly why I couldn’t be a stay-home mom. I simply need more time away from my kids and home.

Some people might think that admitting all of this makes me appear to be a less-than-ideal mother. I’ve had bosses whose wives were stay-home moms, sneer at this suggestion.

But I strongly believe that deep down every mom needs time away from her house and kids. It rejuvenates the spirit, rekindles the fire.

And how much time away varies from mom to mom. For some, a quick trip to the grocery store by oneself does the trick. For others, an extended weekend every now and again is what it takes. And others, like me, need a slice of time away every day in order to come home recharged.

And there’s nothing wrong with admitting it.

No doubt about it

It’s hard being 100% responsible for little people. In my case, I’m 100% responsible 90% of the time. That means that generally, the lion’s share of tough parenting moments are mine and mine alone.

Since the day my boy turned 5 months old, there’s been nobody else around to lend a hand with late-night misery. I remember being up all night with a crying infant, then trying desperately to stay awake and be productive at work the next day. And this went on for months.

In addition, when the kids get sick, I’ve typically the only one to deal with fevers, vomit and taking time off of work. Of course, to the kids, nobody else will do when it comes to backrubs, making toast and snuggly hugs. And honestly, there’s no way in the world I’d let someone else step in – though that doesn’t mean that it isn’t exhausting.

Being the only referee in a game where you’re clearly outnumbered is tough. At my house, there’s no man-on-man defense. I’m stuck playing zone – all the time. Negotiating disagreements, breaking up brawls and maintaining a level of peace and harmony with only one set of adult eyeballs is challenging to say the least.

Sometimes, to put it bluntly, single parenting can suck.

Whether you’re a single mom because of divorce, death or military leave – or you’re a married mom who’s alone because your spouse works long or odd hours – it’s a tough gig. There are times when you feel like everyone just takes and takes from you, depleting your time, energy and your sanity.

It can feel like the world, including your own kids, is conspiring against you. And at the end of the day, you either collapse into bed, asleep before your head hits the pillow or lay awake at night, praying for the strength to get through another day.

But, on the flipside, when you’re a single parent, you get to be the only one to reap the benefits and bask in millions of tiny little victories.

Those precious times when your kids look up and say, “Love you, Mom,” are all yours.

I remember the day I taught my daughter to ride a two-wheeled bike. It was frustrating for us both, but when she rode off down the street, I was never more proud of her – or of myself. When my girls’ science fair projects earned blue ribbons, I was just as proud as they were. I helped them pick their projects and I helped them document their progress with painstaking detail. Every time I pass the ribbons, which hang in a place of honor on the fridge, my head swells a little. And someday, when my kids get their college diplomas, I’ll be on cloud nine.

Part of what makes those victories so sweet is that I don’t share them with anyone else. I put in the long hours. I do the legwork. The parental credit is all mine.

Last night, my youngest was sick. It was awful. He was up every few hours with a throbbing ear infection and congestion that made it hard for him to breathe. At 3 a.m., as I tried to relieve some of his discomfort with “Mr. Snuffy”, our bulb syringe, I cursed the fact that his father was probably sound asleep across town.

Eventually, my son and I ended up falling asleep on the floor in his room.

At 7 a.m., with my ear to the carpet, I was awakened to the sound of a chair being pushed across the kitchen floor below. Instantly, I was wide awake, wondering how much trouble, two seven year-olds could get into trying to make their own breakfast. I felt frustrated, knowing I’d gotten too little sleep to face whatever disaster was waiting for me downstairs with any kind of patience or objectivity.

But when I opened the bedroom door, I nearly melted at the sight of a little stool, perfectly set with my breakfast. There was a bowl of cereal, mug of milk, a folded section of newspaper and even a small vase of daisies. This sweet gesture touched me so deeply. It renewed my spirit and instantly gave me strength to face the day.

There are times when your kids recognize that someone needs to take care of mom too – and this was one of them. And I was so proud of my girls for understanding this and stepping in.

After my initial surprise, again, I thought about the kids’ dad. He was probably still sound asleep miles away. Instead of feeling resentful or jealous that he got a peaceful night’s sleep and I didn't, I felt really sorry for him. Sure, he misses out on the hard stuff, but he also misses out on great moments like these.

Even though being a single parent is the hardest, most frustrating thing I’ve ever faced, it’s also the most rewarding, fulfilling thing I’ll ever do. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything – not even a full week’s worth of uninterrupted sleep. And I bet that other single moms feel the same way.

So for now, I'll just continue take things one day (and night) at a time. And drink lots of coffee in the process.