Saturday, January 23, 2016


"Explain it to me."


"The reason you just deleted the last three chapters of your book."

"They were crap."

"Really? I didn't think they were that bad. Sure, they needed a bit of work --"

"A bit of work? Are you delusional?"

"Hey. Be nice. All I'm saying is that there was some salvageable stuff there. You didn't have to get rid of it all."

"I disagree."

"Are you sure it's about the ending?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm saying, are you sure it was about the ending? Or, maybe it was about ending."

"You're veering pretty far into Psych 101 with that one."

"Bear with me here. You have to admit you've been procrastinating."

"I'd call it writer's block."

"Bull shit. It's procrastination, pure and simple. You know how the story ends. You know what needs to happen. I think you're afraid of finishing it."

"Now you sound like Cam and Angela."

"They're smart. You should listen to them."

"I do. And you're all probably right. Once I finish it, it's done. And that's scary."


"You know as well as I do what happens after I finish."

"You finish your book, it gets line edited and a pretty cover. You send it on its merry way and you start the next book. Easy."

"What if it's not that good?"

"Don't make me slap you. You're being absolutely ridiculous and it's embarrassing."

"I know. I can't help it though. There's this dark little piece of my brain that wonders if I'll be exposed as a fraud."

"Are you?"


"Are you a fraud?"

"Aren't we all?"


"So. What are you going to do now?"

"Plant my ass and re-write the ending."

"Give yourself a deadline. You've been procrastinating that as well."

"I gave myself a deadline. It flew by. As did my three extensions."

"Make another one. You're not finishing it binge watching Making a Murderer. Draw a red circle on your calendar and get this thing off your shoulders. Once it's done, you can start something else. We both know you have more fun drafting than editing."

"A big red circle, huh?"

"Yes. And then stick to it like glue. You can do this. I know you can. And if everyone hates it, well, at least you have me."

"Yeah. You're pretty rockin'."

"I hear the sarcasm, but I am."

"No false modesty for you."

"Why be fake when you're talking to yourself?"

"Right. Because no one ever lies to themselves."

"You don't."

"I know."

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Game of Lif

Growing up, we were not the typical middle-class nuclear family, but, rather, a large, noisy Italian-Irish clan skirting the edge of poverty. It was a household where the family garden was more about survival than hobby and the fishing season held us over for the winter.

While I'd like to pretend the reason we didn't have tv most of my childhood was because my mother was a pioneer in screenless parenting, the reality was we simply couldn't always afford it. We went for long stretches - years - without cable. Instead, we had the movies we checked out from the library: brilliantly technicolor musicals, engrossing silent films, tear-inducing black and white dramas, and terrifying Hitchcocks.

When the rain held us hostage for weeks on end and the films lost their luster, we'd drag out board games and have epic battles: Monopoly, chess, checkers, cribbage, war, gin, poker, Scrabble. We'd spend weeks on one Monopoly game, shortening the title to four letters. "Do you want to play M-O-N-O?" we'd ask our siblings, casually plotting alliances and preparing to economically destroy each other.

And there was always music. Mom had a collection she'd started compiling as a teen. She'd put her 45s on the stereo and we'd dance around the house to CCR, the Beatles, Heart, the Eagles. We'd wish we could be California girls with the Beach Boys and Run, Joey, Run with David Geddes.

We danced on the hardwood floors of the living room, singing words older than us. We put together routines, filled with flourishes and sweeping entrances more suited to the musicals we watched than the music videos we didn't.

Every now and then, Dad, surely exhausted from the twelve hours he spent at the mill followed by more hours making sure we had firewood, would walk into the room and dance with us. He'd grab us up in a two-step and swing us around the room until we were laughing too hard to keep dancing. He had a particular gait, a patented move. Bent a bit forward, he'd purse his lips and swing his arms with more energy than most songs required. He'd twirl us, pick us up, and send us flying into the couch.

Not everything in my childhood was rosy. There were things that still cling like tar to my memories. Maybe, if I were another sort of person, those would be the memories shining clearest. But I am who I am and instead, I cherish those bits and pieces of golden sunshine.

I took two glorious weeks off of work this Christmas. Two glorious weeks during which I spent the majority of my time with the kids. Because of our current custodial arrangement, I'm usually the "work" mom. I'm the homework checker, the lunch maker, the bath and bedtime enforcer. I'm the wake upper, the hurry upper, the we're running later. I'm the homework signer, the letter reader, the bad school day listener. At the end of the week, they go to Chad who spends the weekends with them, taking them on adventures.

But for two weeks I was the stay in bed and snuggler, the brunch maker, the lazy day organizer, the popcorn maker. And for two weeks, we watched old movies, sang the lyrics to songs older than our combined ages, danced in our living room in our pajama bottoms and stockinged feet, and we played Lif.

It's sat on a shelf in the garage since we moved, the box collecting dust and the yellow square surrounding the white "E" fading until Life became Lif. It's an old version, the cover reflecting a happy family with big hair and shoulder pads. We pulled it out, dusted the top, and opened the treasure inside.

For almost two weeks, we played, dipping our hands into big bowls of popcorn and singing along to music. We laughed as Joseph drew the $250K salary card and lived in a mobile home. We rolled on the floor when Elizabeth adopted her six and seventh child - twins - and tried to somehow make them fit in her car.

We wore sweats and socks, cuddled under blankets, and make pretzels from scratch. I left the kitchen in their hands and they made lunches and dinners, declaring Joseph's macaroni and cheese the best in the world. We napped and slept in, read long novels and short poems. I closed my laptop more often than not, letting the world spin without me knowing the current trending topics or which politician said what.

It was wonderful.

Not everything in their lives are rosy. They are, after all, the children of divorce and dividing their time between even friendly co-parents has to take its toll. Their childhood will include memories that cling like tar. But, they are a lot like me. The memories that will shine clearest are those bits and pieces of golden sunshine created on cold winter days filled with music, laughter, and dancing.

And so much love.

All wrapped up in the game of Lif.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Four Christmases

Time is a funny thing. To paraphrase the Doctor, a second can be an eternity and year a heartbeat. It's been four Christmases since Chad and I separated. Four years of learning and growing and dividing. Whereas before we shared everything - hopes, dreams, fears - now we share nothing but custody.

And I'm okay.

I'm actually better than okay.

The crazy vision I had of he and I co-parenting has, somehow, become a reality. *knock on wood* I've been able to let go of anger and disappointment and focus on building a friendship with the father of my children. I came to a realization very early on there was no way for me not to be his friend. I can't share the highs and lows of parenthood with an acquaintance or someone I can barely stand. They are a part of him, a part of me, and I had to figure out, somehow, a way, to quote Elsa, let it go.

Recently I was asked to contribute on a co-parenting segment of VProud. I was asked what my best tip was for other parents in this situation. I told them to keep expectations low, to communicate, to remember who is important in the equation.

The thing is, though, it's not easy. I think back to how badly I hurt four years ago and how much I wanted him to hurt. I remember how my pen hovered over the "full custody" box on my divorce paperwork. I remember how easy it would have been to cut him out of my life completely - and to try to cut him out of their lives.

You're now scratching your heads in confusion. What about all the "personal journey" stuff I posted? The hopes I expressed that he'd find happiness as would I. Even then, I knew that the only way to make my ideal divorce a reality was to fake it until I made it. I knew I couldn't fall into the bashing, destructive cycle that would ultimately make all of us victims. And I knew I didn't want this experience to define who I am, who my kids are.

Writing the post for VProud, filming the video, and then participating as a panelist on HuffPost Live has all been an amazing experience. I listened as other moms spoke of their co-parenting techniques. I shared some of mine. I know my story is weird. I know people think I'm odd for continuing to push forward as a family, expanding it to include new love interests. I know I'm not normal. We're not normal. And maybe we're not taking the easy road.

But I'm glad this is the one I'm on.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Looking Like a Pro - Kinda

Now that I'm a Baroness, I decided it might be time to create an author page.

Let's face it. With almost 1500 posts, poor Mandyland is a bit cramped for space. So, I've decided to expand and compartmentalize.

I'll still be here, posting about daily life, recipes, and my fear of a tsunami washing away a hiking trail and leaving me stranded with five kids on a mountaintop, but I'll save author-y stuff for the new spot.


Go check it out. I have something new and fun on there.

Be gentle. I only pretend to know coding.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

You Don't Have to Curtsy

It started with a castle.

Nestled in a Romanian forest it was a fairy tale money pit. The listing didn't try to hide the damage hundreds of years had wrought on the building. It was out of my price range, completely, but not so far as to be in the realm of unrealistic if I won the lottery.

So I dreamed.

Of living in a castle, of riding across the open glades, of swimming in the lake, of wandering through the gardens, of dancing in the ballroom, of being a Baroness.

Because it came with the title.

Baroness Mandy.

It doesn't really have a ring to it. Mandy calls to mind a wholesome milkmaid rather than aristocratic hauteur. And even I knew the styling would likely be more along the lines of Mandy, Baroness Cool Romanian Castle which was barely better.

Still...I let my imagination fly in the way of children, ignoring the fact that I was a newly separated mother of two and I'd be better served by an imagination that procured images of a stable income.

Time passed. The castle sold. I buried my jealousy of the unnamed owners under new daydreams of Earl Grey who would, I assume, keep me in tea for the rest of my days. Or his. (He's actually quite old.)

Life goes on, as it always does, and my dear friends and writing partners kept the running joke with me. Baroness Mandy. The idea lovely irony since I'm the furthest from a Baroness one could get.

But I'm a proactive sort who excels at procrastination under the guise of "creative block". As I stared off into space, trying to sort out a plot hole, I does one become a Baroness?

Option 1: Inherit the title. While there are all sorts of examples of Americans finding themselves suddenly in possession of a title, my genealogy is of decidedly peasant origin. I might find a knight or two nestled in the branches of my family tree, but a Baron was unlikely.

Option 2: Marry a title. On the surface, this seemed like a more workable idea, but there are times one must face facts and realize that while the ability to can and raise chickens can hold an attraction, the aristocracy typically weds commoners of less common talents and uncommon attractiveness.

Option 3: Purchase a title. This was really the most American of choices with a tradition dating back to the Industrial Revolution when, wanting to get a gloss of prestige, Americans married into the aristocracy saving that aging institution from financial ruin. It gave me a moment's pause.

Could I purchase a title and become a Baroness?

Apparently, the answer is yes with a caveat that it's far more expensive than one would think. I muddled it over while Adele sang of fires.

One of my biggest character flaws or charming traits (depending on perspective) is that once an idea takes hold, I'm hard pressed to give up on it. (Yes, yes. Stubborn as a country mule. I know.) In this case that stubbornness was rewarded.

It's been official for a little while now. I've allowed myself time to get used to the idea, to decide if I should have my children address me as "my lady", and if I should add the title to my W2 forms.

After careful consideration - and the assurance that the Federal government doesn't particularly care if I'm a baroness - I decided it was finally time to come out, so to speak, as Baroness Mandy.

You don't have to curtsy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Slowly Learning

When Joseph was a year old, he crawled around on all fours, a wide smile on his face. "Why isn't he walking yet?" I fretted to Chad, consulting milestone information and polling my moms' forum.

When Joseph was two, I stood at the foot of a slide and tried to coax him down. He shook his head and walked carefully to the steps. "Why won't he slide?" I fretted, glancing furtively at nearby toddlers throwing themselves down the slide in abandoned glee.

When Joseph was three, I contemplated sending him to potty training boot camp in Chicago as I threw away yet another wet pull-up. "Why isn't he potty trained?" I fretted, noticing his peers proudly displaying their underweared, rather than diapered, bums.

When Joseph was four, I walked away from the side of the pool where he was gripping the instructor's swimsuit top in terror. "Why won't he relax and play in the water?" I fretted, seeing his cousin diving into the water.

When Joseph was seven, I walked away from where he was trying to ride without training wheels in frustration. "I don't understand why he is having so many problems with this," I fretted, remembering his cousin flying across a dirt path.

When Joseph was eight, he clung to the side of the pool. Again. 

And then...

He didn't.

When Joseph was thirteen months old, he let go of the table and walked towards me, clapping his hands in excitement.

When Joseph was two and a half, he sat on the edge of the slide and let go.

When Joseph was three years and one month, he informed me he didn't need pull ups any longer and he didn't.

When Joseph was seven, he pedaled past me on his bike, taking it off the curb and calling for me to catch up.

When Joseph was nine, he let go of the side of the pool and slid through the water like a fish.

It has taken a while, but I'm slowly learning to let go of preconceived notions, ideas of when he should hit milestones. I'm slowly learning he does things in his own time, at his own pace, when he is ready and when he does...he flies. 

Parenting seems very competitive today. Even when we don't want to be a part of the race, we can't help but compare and in the comparison forget the tiny people in our care. The hardest lesson is the realization our children are not us. They are not tiny versions of our own fears and foibles, joys and trials. They are individuals with their own sense of self.

It's easy to push, to prod, to project. It's more difficult to step back and let them be, to celebrate their strengths and not reject the very existence of their weaknesses.

I'm a slow learner. 

Today, Joseph advanced to a competitive level in swimming. His coaches tell us he has a swimmer's build, his reach is amazing, his form improving at a rapid pace. I looked at the little boy who, eight months ago didn't particularly care to get his hair wet and am awed.

"Do you want to compete in a meet? There are several coming up."

"Nah. I'm good," he said, putting on his shoes. 

"Are you sure?"

"It's not really important to me to compete. I love the exercise and improving my skills." And in his tone and face I see utter and sincere truth.

I paused, my brain filled with visions of ribbons and trophies telling me to push, my instincts screaming at me to halt. I smiled. "That's an awesome goal! If you change your mind, let me know."

"I'd still like to go out for a celebration dinner."

"Of course! I'm very proud of you. You worked hard to advance."

I walked next to him out to the car, proud of myself too.

I'm a slow learner. But I am learning.