Monthly Archives: August 2015

What Every Mother Needs


When I was a little girl I used to love to creep into my parent’s bedroom when my mother was busy and open up her lingerie drawer.

Inside were all kinds of beautiful, silky fabrics, but what was most wonderful was the smell. My mother would stash fancy soaps among her delicates and it made the contents of the drawer smell like whispering flowers. Then I would peek over the dresser at the mirrored tray that held the exquisitely shaped bottles filled with gold, pink, and amber-colored liquids. On the bottles were printed names like Sand & Sable, Youth-Dew, and Beautiful. I remember watching my mother dab a little perfume on her wrists, neck and behind her ears. I loved hugging my mother and getting a whiff of some blossomy, botanical scent. She always smelled fresh and flowery, like an angel holding a bouquet. Sometimes I would secretly squirt some on myself when she wasn’t looking, so that I could smell like her.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I am a mother of five, and my clothes are constantly covered in some sort of human slime. I spend my most of my time cleaning up after dogs and children, three of whom are male. Do I need to elaborate?

Sometimes I feel as if my day is just a series of cleaning up different varieties of poop. My room frequently smells like a recently changed diaper. My laundry room smells of mildewed rags, and my garage smells of the cat litter box. And then there is the van, a graveyard of dirty socks and half-eaten bananas. Much of my life as a mom is spent battling one odor after another.

I know I am not alone in this, since as mothers, we (meaning our clothes, our hair and our bodies) are literally the catch-all for every type of unmentionable fluid in a variety of viscosities.  Our bodies are loved, battered, climbed on, lunged at, and we are our children’s most favorite pillow, punching bag, pacifier, dish towel and jungle gym. Sometimes it feels like our bodies aren’t even our own. But such is our glorious plight: we are not frigid, far-off, oxygen-deprived planets. We are mini Mother Earths . . . giving, nourishing, replenishing, and also getting polluted upon by all the little inhabitants that depend on us for survival.

One day I went to help in the nursery at our church. I believe I was pregnant at the time. I was with two other women and we started talking about smells. Good smells, bad smells, intentional smells, cover-up smells. We discussed the scents of different types of gum and finally we concluded with the memories of our mothers’ perfume. Instantly I found myself as a seven-year-old again, opening my mother’s drawer and inhaling.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t worn perfume since college. I didn’t even own perfume. And for good reason. What was the point? After you have kids it seems like such an extravagance, and all for nothing. Who is going to smell you? Who is going to appreciate it? No one really cares. Your husband will love you no matter what you smell like . . . right?

I chewed on this thought for a couple days.

After thinking it through, I went to my husband and made a proclamation.

“I’m going to buy something completely frivolous,” I said.

“What is that?” He asked.

“I am going to buy a bottle of perfume,” I said. I let the thought soak for a moment. Then I added, “Expensive perfume.”

Interestingly, my announcement went unchallenged.

And I knew exactly what fragrance I wanted. I had breathed it in on a friend several years earlier and when I asked her what it was she said, “Poeme.” Could there be a more peaceful, blissful name?

So I went to the fragrance counter in a glittery department store and asked for a small . . . no . . . a medium sized bottle. The woman rang up the price. I gulped. I could buy a lot of things with the amount of money it cost. Several days worth of groceries. Four huge bags of dog food. Three boxes of diapers. I have always prided myself on being a practical person. Scott calls me his “low-maintenance beauty queen.” What was I doing, spending all of this money on something that had no purpose? How had I become so materialistic?

I swiped my card. The woman behind the counter put the golden perfume box in a glossy bag and included some free samples of cosmetics. I took the bag from the store, clutching it to my chest wondering if I had just exchanged the family farm for fool’s gold.

That was over two years ago.

I am on my second bottle now. I wear it almost every day. Sometimes I catch a whiff of it on my daughters, which makes me smile, and I have my own ways of knowing that my husband does not regret my purchase, which makes me smile even more. But mostly it is for me, to help me–as the cleaner of children and dogs and toilets and garages–to feel at the very least human, and at the very most a beautiful one.

Every mother needs something that makes her feel human. When your world is in constant chaos, when every day is just a repeat of the last, when you wonder if you have accomplished anything of worth, and when your efforts in civilizing the next generation are shredded like cheese in a grater, you need to have something within your control. You might not be able to control the wild little primates around you, but you can still lift yourself up to some level of refinement, with the hope that eventually the primates will evolve and follow your example.

For me, this means splurging on a bottle of perfume that is slightly more expensive than I can afford. But for you it might be different.  It could be as simple as a shower. Or a fluffy towel that is only yours. Or trimming your nails. Or getting a haircut. Or having time to run in the morning.  But you must have something, even if it is just making your bed in the morning, so that you can prove you are a lady and not a mountain man.  Because sooner or later in your day–it will happen, you know it will–all hell will break loose, and when that happens you can take a deep breath and say, “at least I made my bed this morning,” or “at least I exercised,” or “I know things are crazy right now, but I smell darn good.”

I have a good friend from college. We worked together during the summer at an outdoor camp. We rode horses, we climbed trees, we slept in tipis, we canoed, we dug latrines, we cleaned outhouses. We went days without showering, and we slept the whole summer under the stars. Now she has kids of her own. Once she called me out of the blue and we caught up on each other’s lives. “You’ll never believe this, Chelsea,” she said, “but now, I wear pearls.”

I can believe it.


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The Last Hurrah

School starts tomorrow. That means we are back to a schedule. Back to lessons. Back to hanging out in the dreaded Great Van of Happiness after school. But before the summer is all swallowed up in regimented learning, Scott and I wanted to take our kids on one last camping trip. A trip they would never forget. An adventure to end all other adventures. The mother of all excursions. Something . . . epic.

This is what we came up with.

Day One: Swim at Stone Mountain

There are a lot of waterfalls that come off of this huge mountain. Most of which have signs on them that say: “If you swim here you will probably die.” In fact, there is a special place in one of the parking lots labeled “Ambulance Parking Only.”  We went to one of the “safer” waterfalls. This one just had a sign that said “Danger, slippery rocks.” And yes, they were slippery. Wonderfully slippery!

IMG_7052IMG_7037 IMG_7057 IMG_7083IMG_7140 IMG_7147It was beautiful and magical.

It was the perfect place to stage a kiss. If you are into that sort of thing. IMG_7101(Well how do you think we got five kids?)

When we were done we grabbed our towels and drove across the border to our favorite campsite in Virginia. It was raining when we set up our camp, but no one gets wet who camps with Scott Dyreng. We spent a toasty night in our hammocks getting our rest because the next day we would be biking. Seventeen miles.


Day Two: Bike down the Virginia Creeper Trail

IMG_7194Welcome to Damascus, headquarters of one of the coolest bike trails in the country. They even have a shuttle service to get you up the mountain, because yes, all seventeen miles is downhill.

I count going down this trail as one of my top ten favorite experiences of the past decade. IMG_5779Golly Mister, that’s a lot of bikes.

We crossed about 20 bridges left over from when this trail was a railroad.
IMG_7153We saw wildlife, like these black snakes, sunning themselves.

And there were waterfalls all along the way.

This is Levi, chillin’ in his chariot.IMG_7170IMG_7171

We even brought our dog.IMG_7188

As you can see, my assassination attempts have failed. Not only does he live, but he is pampered.


Of course, we had a couple of crashes, and we documented each crash for posterity. Luckily all the crashes occurred in mud so they were all in slow motion.

We carried the evidence of our journey on our backs the rest of the day.

When we finished it was back to base camp for watermelon, Mountain House dinners, popcorn over the fire, and a good night sleep.

Day Three: Hike Grayson Highlands, VA

The next morning we got up, had a gigantic breakfast (including donuts brought by some morning visitors!) and headed out on the final leg of our epic trip. We were on the hunt for Grayson Highland’s famous wild ponies. IMG_5772

All along the path we found these: IMG_5774

And these: IMG_7204And these:IMG_0209

The hills were filled with berries and cows, but no ponies. So we split our group and sent scouts ahead to see if they could find them.

We knew the ponies would be discovered sooner or later.

IMG_7210 As the great optimist Scott Kelly says, “Where there is this much manure, there’s gotta be a pony!”

In the meantime we picked berries.


And did berry experiments. We made berry honey, mashed berry jam, and exploding berry and peanut butter sandwiches. Mmmm . . .to die for.

There was even time to take naps in the shade. IMG_5681

In the end we didn’t find the ponies. . . the ponies found us!

As you can see, they are pretty tame wild ponies (except for the one that bit Danny’s shoulder).

What do you do when you are surrounded by tame ponies?

You take pony selfies!

And then it was time to start heading back. Back to schedules, back to lessons, back to school.

IMG_5767We will miss you, Virginia. Until we meet again.

We drove back home Saturday night. By Sunday morning I already had a dream of our next adventure.

We went skydiving.

In the Bahamas.

Scotty, are you game?


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Blue Ribbon Bathrooms: Getting Kids To *Really* Clean The Bathroom


When a parent says “clean the bathroom” they have something very specific in mind. They want to see smooth counters, a sparkling mirror, hair-free floors and a pristine toilet. When a child hears “clean the bathroom” they have a vague impression that they are supposed to take the cleaner and spray as much as they can, and then take a rag and wipe as much as they can, and when their arm feels like it is about to fall off then they are done and it is time to play.

Let’s just say that for children, cleaning the bathroom is not intuitive.

Over the years I have had many informal training sessions with my kids, teaching them how to keep the mirror streak-free and how to keep the counter from getting sticky and to always remember that little forgotten ledge at the back of the toilet. But even after all this, when I told the kids to “clean the bathroom” it never seemed to meet my hopeful expectations.  Sometimes the bathroom looked worse after they had “cleaned” it than before.

I have realistic expectations, I know they are children and that they shouldn’t be expected to clean as well as an adult. And that I should keep my standards low.

. . . or should I?

In my heart I had a hunch that they could do a really good job on the bathrooms if they wanted to, and if they had a clear understanding of what “clean” really meant. Plus I wanted the child, whatever her age was, to feel success for whatever level of cleanliness she achieved. And if she went the extra mile I wanted her work to be rewarded. So this summer I introduced the idea of Blue Ribbon Bathrooms. This is based on the concept of Good, Better, Best. This way they can see that there are different levels of clean, and all levels are rewarded respectively.

There are three parts to the Blue Ribbon Bathroom plan:

  1. I assigned each child a bathroom for the entire summer.  This was important, since this would be her bathroom to take care of. The better she cleaned her bathroom the first week, the easier it would be for her to clean the next week and so on.


    Naomi gets the half-bath since she is younger.

  2. I made a list of what I felt like was a Good cleaning job, a Better cleaning job and a Best cleaning job, laminated it and stuck it on the wall in each bathroom.


    The full, readable version is printed at the end of the post.

  3. Then I gave them incentives to match their results. The first incentive was that they got a “ribbon” on the door to show the world what level of cleanliness their bathroom had obtained.

    I couldn’t find ribbons at the store with toilets on them so I had to resort to my own trusty pen, paper and scissors.

    The second incentive was that they got stickers that could be traded into cash at the end of the summer. A Blue Ribbon bathroom would receive 20 stickers, a Red Ribbon bathroom got 10 and a Yellow Ribbon bathroom got 5. (These stickers were part of a much larger incentive program that also included getting stickers for instrument practicing, book reading, and other chores that lasted the entire summer. Each sticker, at the end of the summer, could be traded in for 10 cents each. But you could use other incentives, too.) The third incentive was the most important: if they cleaned their bathroom well, than the next time they had to clean it it wouldn’t be so hard. The better they cleaned, the less they would have to clean in the long run.  This was what I really wanted to teach them.

Even if the kids settle for doing a yellow or red ribbon bathroom, I am still happy. This system has worked great this summer (although not perfectly) and so far it has been the best way to help them understand the difference between a dirty bathroom, a clean bathroom and a spotless bathroom.

Best of all, when a bathroom has really been cleaned, from the faucet all the way to the folded triangle in the toilet paper, and the Blue Ribbon has been placed on their door, I can see the pride that they are feeling, knowing that they went beyond Good or Better but they did their very Best.

Here are the requirements:

Yellow Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned

Red Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned
  • Toilet bowl scrubbed
  • Trash taken out
  • Toilet paper refilled

Blue Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned
  • Toilet bowl scrubbed
  • Trash taken out
  • Toilet paper refilled
  • Rugs shaken out
  • Floor swept
  • Floor washed
  • Cupboards washed (if needed)
  • Tub cleaned of soap scum and hairs
  • Cleaned behind door
  • Toilet paper folded in a triangle


Filed under Parenting