Open Letter to a New Mother

The author with her newborn twins. Who is who? She doesn’t know.

Dear You,

You’re a mother. F*ck.

In my twenty-five years of parenting, what’s the most important lesson?

Learning how to duck. There’s a lot of crap coming at you, and not just from diapers.

There’s men and the stupid way they look at you holding your baby as if by doing so you are evidence of both traditional gender roles and their fantasy of the perennially feminine woman. There’s bosses and colleagues who just want you to get your work done even if it means pulling all-nighters and skipping the only ten minutes you had set aside for yourself that month.  They won’t ask about your baby’s colic but won’t hesitate to inform you that their youngest is graduating high school and moving out. Both male and female bosses do this, but the projectiles most difficult to duck are the Other New Mothers.  

There’s the Random Other New Mothers on the Street, the Fictional Other New Mothers on Netflix, the Yoga New Mothers, the Mothers with Birth Horror Stories, the Mothers with Imaginary Allergies, the Mothers on Xanax, the Marijuana Mothers, the Just Buy a Snake Plant and Everything Will Be Zen Mothers, the Facebook Mothers, the Mothers who raise pygmy goats and dress them in pajamas, and the worst: Pinterest Mothers.

You need to practice dodging.

Do it with me: tuck your head inside your collar bones, like a turtle, and swim the other way.

This is self-protection. AND VITAL. Once you have found a safe haven, preferably, a bathtub surrounded with lit candles and Lindt truffles, you’ll have a good moment to make a list of life preservers. To get you started, I provide the following, which have kept me alive and mostly sane enough to suck phlegm out of noses with a turkey baster, eat abandoned gummed bologna off the plates of toddlers, and wear the same underwear for days at a time:

  1. Read Nora Ephron. Then, watch all her movies. (Especially Heartburn.)
  2. Take up running. It doesn’t matter how fast you can get away from the house. (That’s a lie. It does.)
  3. Do something that’s feels taboo. Could be wearing a spiked stud bracelet. Could be drawing a tail and horns on politicians you hate. Could be showing up to the “Super-Fun Christmas Yankee Swap” with a vibrator gift-wrapped in cow spot paper.
  4. Buy or make your own art. I had a photo frame on my desk for years. Whenever I went on a Natural History Museum trip with a bus load of children, I bought a postcard in the gift shop of some masterpiece and replaced the one I’d been looking at for months. The importance of re-framing your view cannot be overstated.
  5. Write, if that’s your thing.
  6. If you don’t have a thing, get one.

Love, Christine

P.S. There is no such thing as a natural mother. Men have never been described as natural fathers. The only thing we can do as parents, moment to moment, is to just do the next right thing. Whatever that is, no matter what the other parents are doing. Trust your gut. It made a baby, so you know it’s magic.

The author with her sons. She finally memorized their names.

Confessions of a Floor Stripper

First, truth. I didn’t strip the floors. I know, you’re shocked. 

But I did buy the floor stripper

with every intention of doing the job

Besides gorgeous floors, Greg found a star-shaped nail under the paint

I did, however, strip (half) of the wallpaper

Which was–unpleasant. And there are no pictures because frankly, I was covered in sopping bits of 1980s wallpaper and I just couldn’t find the strength to hold the camera. 

This is our son Spencer’s bedroom. I promised him when we moved in that we would fix it up. That was five years ago. Then: PANDEMIC. Which was followed by: COLLEGE FROM HOME. 

While his twin brother was still on campus at a different college, this was the perfect time* to do what I promised: give spencer a bedroom he actually wanted to be in.

Also: a bed that fit. He’s grown to 6′ 4″ and a bed with a foot board is a no-go. 

Someone had painted the floor a muddied teal. I have nothing against teal, but why would anyone paint over these 1830s gorgeous American chestnut planks? 

i have no idea

Which is what my husband responded every time I walked in to see his progress and I asked. Which he punctuated with a very large sigh. 

when he finished, we stared at them for an entire day

Decorating Notes

The desk was mine when I had my sewing studio. Wanting a space that didn’t feel cramped, but gave Spencer all the room to get his schoolwork done, the floating glass top gives an  illusion of space while providing a bit of storage underneath. Since the desk is white, we chose a chose a wall color with a hint of green. The opera-pleat draperies were sewed from rod-pocket panels I found at HomeGoods for $29.00. Which meant removing all the stitches and completely re-constructing them by hand, but it was worth it. I love the gauzy, sheer quality.   

About the art

I think it’s important to be surrounded by the things you love. Spencer loves the rapper Logic and purchased a piece of his cover art. As soon as I saw it, I knew the orange was the pop we needed. 

Spencer also loves hiking Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. The black and white framed canvas is from a photo I took at the summit, on my first hike there with Greg last May, which connects the three of us. The piece over the desk is a copy of a 1916 map of the mountain’s trails that I found on Esty. Its color was the inspiration for the bedding. 

I cannot claim that Spencer’s remodeled room had a hand in achieving President’s List. But I can’t say it didn’t either. 

with a bed that fits under the eave, all you see is stars. 

on to the next room!

*like having a baby, or moving, there is no perfect time to remodel. My method is to jump in and hope I have the strength.


  • Peel-Away floor stripper
  • Benjamin Moore wall color in Green Tint
  • A ton of elbow grease



 I offer these photos of design redemption as testimony: good will persevere. My husband and I have taken eleven bad bathrooms and helped them see the light. This upstairs hall bath, shared by three bedrooms was, by far, the worst.

(No, I am not exaggerating. Click HERE)


Always at the top of my design plan was playing it safe: never a brave paint color, never personality, and NEVER, EVER wallpaper–so that the houses Greg and I worked so hard to bring up to date would sell quickly. But we love it here: the house’s character, the once-farmed land, the barn, the 1830’s stone foundation (OK, maybe I’m the only one who loves that), the profusion of spring and summer flowers that keep me in bouquets for five months straight–I don’t think we’re moving anymore.


















Creativity Crown

faded fragments crown etsy

Last month, I visited my good friend, writer Melissa Wyse, in New York City. Our visit coincided with Santa-Con, of all things. On every street, college-aged young people were decked out like Santa Claus doing the pub crawl. It was 10:30 in the morning. Eager to talk to each other about our current writing projects, Melissa and I escaped the inebriated Santa hat wearers by ducking into a posh boutique in the Village.

Decadence surrounded us

Amidst the glitter and splendor, I was pulled toward a table covered in crowns as if they were magnets. Some of the crowns were miniature and some were larger, the size a person could wear. All were bedazzled. Rhinestones and crystals adorned the rusted metal giving off a Byzantine vibe. These weren’t precious antiques but objects of whimsy. Delighted, I applied one jauntily on my head and said to Melissa, “We should wear one of these when we write.” In the moment, I had been joking and returned it to the display. But two days later, at home in the pre-dawn hours of mid-December, frantically making a list of presents I still had yet to buy for my children and husband, I internet-traveled to the affordable decadence portal Etsy and bought myself a crown.

Actually, I bought a few crowns. I was overcome by their majesty and simplicity, and unlike the British Crown jewels, their extreme affordability. I was overtaken by a desire to scatter crowns around my house. They would serve as little, metal reminders that the creative endeavor of writing is an elevated one. Even if I am wearing fuzzy slipper socks and scattering dark chocolate crumbs while I do it.

Some months ago, after having a private, internal war with competition, I had an epiphany. I decided to forgo applying to writing residencies and submitting to writing contests. I chose to hop off the paved patriarchal path in favor of an unpaved feminine one. This does not mean this path is without ambition. This does not mean it is without discipline.

I am the discipline

This means writing what I love instead of wringing myself inside out trying to write what I imagine might sell. Most importantly, I stopped subscribing to the delusion that there is just one winner in creative pursuits. I exchanged defining my writing life by capitalist success for personal joy.

Instead of waiting to be anointed, I anointed myself

The crowns arrived in the mail. The small ones were the size of a thimble, bedazzled and delightful. The larger ones were plain. At my local craft store I purchased rhinestones and metal glue. Listening to Amanda Yates Garcia, the Oracle of Los Angeles, being interviewed on The Witch Wave podcast, I bedazzled my crown. If I wore it, I wouldn’t be able to see it. So, the crown sits on my desk, among a little side-altar of favored objects. They remind me how much stronger my work is when I honor what I write, that for me, the wooded, winding path of discovery with no planned destination is where I must live. My queendom is a place where I do not give my power away. The oxygen is clearer, the sunlight stronger- my work more honest.

My queendom consists of a desk, a sofa, Gigi, my English Springer spaniel, and several towers of books. It’s a small queendom, but it suits me. There is chocolate. There are books. There are rhinestones.

The irony of my newfound approach is that, by focusing ONLY on writing what brings joy to my heart, I had a piece accepted. It was published on Longreads just after Christmas. I am still floating on the experience like a magic carpet.

My jewels might be paste, but I am sparkling

Mama Bird

They’re gone–today. The last two of my children, twins, have left home for college. I have known my youngest boys would grow up and move out for eighteen and a half years. As a concept, it is nothing new. It is not a surprise. But now that it has happened, it feels distinctly new and very much like a surprise.

I have more tools available to cope with this transition than my great-grandmother, my grandmother–even my mother. The internet is full of empty nest resources: blogs, books, and interviews bursting with mother birds detailing their new careers, new husbands, new pets, or new haircuts–things to fill the void. None of it resonates. I don’t want a new career or to leave my husband. I don’t want to get another dog and I don’t want to get bangs.

The plethora of empty nest tools don’t seem useful because I believe I am in shock. I knew, as a concept, that I wouldn’t be hand-washing baby bottles forever, that the children wouldn’t be un-trainable on the potty forever, that I wouldn’t be making sure they didn’t eat sand in the sandbox forever, that I wouldn’t be driving from baseball game to lacrosse game to basketball practice to theater rehearsal–forever. But it damned well seemed like it.

The societal expectation is that I should either be sad, hiding in a corner with a blanket or ecstatically happy, planning a trip around the world. This is so American, as is the phrase, “empty nester.” Since I am an American, I should feel right at home. What I feel is a something I don’t yet have a name for, a something that is describable only as an absence. What will my empty nest be filled with, this new hole punched in the Universe of time? What will I do with our old four-bedroom farmhouse that held generations of children, its rock-dotted lawn which in its one hundred and fifty year history supported horses, dairy cows, and crops of strawberries? This is what I ask myself. Other people ask me too. They ask, because I have a track record of being prepared for everything and having an outfit to match.

Throughout the summer when anyone from my in-laws to relative strangers at yoga class asked how I would fill my time and home once Spencer and Parker left, I shrugged, an unsatisfying gesture that encapsulated my inner turmoil. How could I say that my brain was frantically sifting through solutions to distract myself from their impending absence? I filled the final weeks before dormitory move-in imagining a myriad of solutions. Like turning our back yard into a peony farm, a pear farm, or an art installation comprised of large circles cut into the soil filled with different varieties of moss. I entertained myself with obvious farm names: “Empty Nest Peonies,” “Empty Nest Pears,” and “Oh My God, I’ve Gone Insane and Planted Large Circles of Moss Because My Children Have Moved Out and I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore.” (The website would be simply, “The Empty Nest Garden.) One particularly bright August morning, after three iced-coffees, I considered opening a bakery selling only Bundt cakes covered in chocolate drizzle. (“Cake Hole.”)

I am not prone to drama. I am prone to planning. But, after raising three sons over twenty-three years, I am also prone to be a little tired. As quickly as the peonies, pears, moss, and cakes hatched, I kicked those empty ideas out of the nest. For the first time in my life, I have no plan. I am a mama bird without eggs, living in a nest un-feathered.

With the arrival of a baby there are, if you are lucky, baby showers and special maternity clothes and at least one person, your mother or a very close friend, who looks past all the baby brouhaha, a very astute person, who looks you deep in the eye, and addresses your unspoken fear and uncertainty by announcing that everything is going to be OK. That yes, the baby (or babies) is going to change things but you’re made of strong stuff and you’ve GOT THIS. Oh, how I loved my cousin taking one look at my exhausted face after birthing the twins and kicking each and every member of our well-wishing, celebratory family out of my hospital room. I recall with great appreciation the comment from our pediatrician at the first post-hospital check-up, “You’re doing a great job!” I glowed. I could really use a version of these now.

Growing up, I would sometimes overhear my mother’s friends proclaiming the wish to live on an island–alone.  Then they would sigh. These were usually women who had little boys. I have had versions of the island–places I could hide. It has been a sun porch, an old leather sofa I tucked under the eaves in my bedroom, and during the preadolescence years, the bathroom where I would organize lipsticks by color in the hope that a small drawer of order would tame the testosterone-fueled chaos on the other side of the locked door. (It didn’t.)

Now that my entire house is essentially my own island, I am in shock. Our house includes a living room and a den. All of our sons are over six feet tall. Besides their bedrooms, while they were here, they also commandeered both the den and living room, sprawling on sofas. Now, there is now just me, my husband, and our dog. The three of us share a bed. The hard truth is that the three of us have been living on our island’s periphery for decades, giving the boys most of the space.

It is tempting to move. Clearly, we only need one room big enough for a bed, a bathroom that can double as a greenhouse for all my potted ferns, a tea kettle, a hot plate, and a washer and dryer. Then again, on an island for three, are clothes really necessary? Pretty soon I’ll be like some of the elderly ladies I see in the grocery store pushing a half-cart. In its basket: one head of lettuce, two peppered chicken breasts, and a quart of Ensure. Great. Besides internalized misogyny, now I have internalized ageism. I’ve leapt from vital to unvital with the purchase of two college food plans.

Absence is frightening. In America, having children is considered a blessing. Not having them, is considered, if not a curse–something close. Especially for women. And yet.

And yet, I wonder if the reason I have repeatedly rejected every bursting-nest idea (did I forget to mention opening a Bed and Breakfast? “Empty Nest Beds”) is because I want to fully embrace the emptiness without feeling like The Invisible Woman: the woman who is not actively mothering. I imagine we un-mothering mothers are like an Olympic track runner who has retired but is still super-fit and sees hurdles everywhere. The impulse to jump must be strong. I want, somehow, to resist the impulse to jump, to over-mother my newly grown children in a huge, tight embrace of protection and love and so I resort to trolling their Instagram feeds. I aim to be the sort of mother who allows mistakes to be made by my newly winged boys and by me. I aim to welcome the absence not as a void to be filled but as a glowing circle that I melt into like a tight muscle yielding beneath a massaging hand.

It’s worth a shot. But check in with me in a year, I’ll probably have a puppy and bangs.

Heat Wave

The weatherman cometh

“Sunday we’re cranking up the heat and humidity AGAIN, with “feels like” temperatures well above 100 degrees. This heat can be dangerous, but only if you’re not taking care of yourself. You know what to do!”

-very stoked Connecticut meteorologist

I know exactly what to do. Pack a bag and hop a plane to Menton, Provence. Which, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph is “the thinking person’s Côte-d’Azur.”


“It has the lazy sunshine zest, two vast beaches of sand and shingle, unambiguous light and Alps dropping direct to the sea – but without the airhead assumptions of more ring-a-ding spots farther west. Wintering British nobles long ago set a tone, establishing gardens, good manners and Belle-Epoque elegance.”

Sounds f’ing brilliant. I detest ring-a-ding.

Very expensive house on the coast of France.

Which is why I picked it as my delusion of grandeur.  Like the central theme of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh (from which I co-opted this post’s title), I need a little self-deception to deal with life. Especially the hot and sticky parts.

I have a fool-proof three-part plan.

1. Remodel entire house to resemble a French chateau

O.K.-remodeling the entire house is not possible. I have twins going to college in 6 weeks. But hanging IKEA tab-top panels on the inside of our side-porch was possible. They flap in the wind just like IKEA tab-top panels on chateau side-porches.

2. Install a pool.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. See: “Twins going to college.” Instead, we tossed our English Springer spaniel Gigi into our car, drove 15 minutes to a lake you’re not supposed to swim in, and engaged in some very warm water frolicking. And while my husband and I were still sweaty and hot, Gigi was happy. But as everyone knows who has a dog, if the dog is happy–everybody is happy.

3. Drink

Dieu merci! A delusion that is possible.

Rosemary Margarita

2 oz your favorite silver tequila

1 oz rosemary infused simple syrup (bring to boil over medium heat 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and 6 fresh rosemary sprigs. Simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Combine all in a cocktail shaker

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Garnish, pour and add seltzer to the top.


Engage in Delusion of Grandeur. Drink. Repeat.



It’s May and all I want to do is surround myself with flowers.

In my little corner of the world, there is presently a profusion of plant life. The lilacs are opening one bud at a time. The unmistakable scent of cut grass drifts inside through open windows. Last fall, my husband cleared brush beneath some flowering bushes and now we receive the reward: an explosion of Lily-of-the-Valley.

Perfume is everywhere.

I find that I’d rather stay home and smell the air than do just about anything else.

Anything but Brimfield, that is. The Brimfield Antique Show and Flea Market in southern Massachusetts began in the 1950s and is comprised of thousands of vendors selling everything from pristine antique furniture to broken laundry baskets. It’s amazing.

The vendors are friendly, happy to talk for as long as you like–whether you buy or not–and there are bargains at every step. The show comes to town in May, July and September. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, the first show of the year. Needing a piece of furniture for the dining room, especially now that my mother has gifted me my great-grandmother’s china, I also hoped to find a pair of folding French bistro chairs for the patio. My list was small, the market, massive. I brought my husband, a giant iced coffee, and a small wad of cash.

Some of the vendors’ tents are decorated as if by set designers. Curated with deft hands, they encourage lingering.


I don’t move through the vendors with any sort of plan. I move by instinct and it drives my husband bonkers. “We didn’t go down this aisle,” he’ll say. My response is always, “I’m not feeling that one.” Which has about a 10% success ratio.

But it’s fun, and Brimfield is all about fun.


In fact, the juxtaposition of silver flatware alongside loose Scrabble pieces seems to encourage it.


I was distracted from my task. I bought flower pots. “Possibly,” I thought, “I will find nothing I came for.” But then, down the last aisle, success. The sideboard was old, but not precious. The price? $100.00. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even hesitate to haggle. My iced-coffee was almost gone, and I’d whittled away cash on flower pots. (Flower pots! What was I thinking?!)


I was thinking I can never have too many flower pots. And I would be correct. On the way to back to the car, we almost tripped over a vendor with a healthy inventory of folding French bistro chairs. $50 each. The car full and wallet empty, we made for home.


The Reluctant Curator

LOve can make you do crazy things.

LIKE when your mother asks you to come over because she and your father are selling their house and downsizing. Only love can make you ignore the overwhelming feeling of a boa constrictor squeezing the reluctant yes out of your body when she says she has a collection of boxes from the attic with your name on them.

I speak metaphorically. The twenty or so boxes had other names on them. Old names. The names of my dead relatives: I knew what was in those boxes: china teacups and old silver. Formal objects no one uses anymore.

I’m part of the IKEA generation. We’re comfortable breaking things. My favorite mug has a giant chip in it.  My desk is full of scrapes and gouges. I once forgot a stainless steel teapot on the stove and it melted. Just the teapot–but the stove would have been soon to follow but for my late-but-timely skill turning off the burner. When I chip all the mugs or need a new teapot, I take a trek to IKEA: Scandinavian Land of the Allen Wrench where they design the packaging of a dining room table for ten to fit inside a Mini Cooper.

I admit to being seduced by IKEA’s international Marketplace. It’s chock-full of cheap chic dishes and orchids that always make me think I can keep one alive more than a week. IKEA is what our grandmothers called the Five and Ten, but updated and with Swedish meatballs.

But some things just can’t be replaced. Like mothers. There I was, face-to-face with mine in one of two rooms that were my parents’ newly downsized home surrounded by my family tree in boxes. The no I had mentally constructed as a shield on the drive down dissolved into air. She’d seen resistance on my face and was pouting.  I was a good daughter, wasn’t I? Was that a tear in the corner of her eye?

So, I packed my Mini Cooper with all twenty boxes and when I wasn’t looking, my father wedged in an Arts and Crafts chair with a seat in need of re-caning. When I reminded him I had a two hour drive home and now I couldn’t see out the rear window he said, “Don’t go backwards.”

Excavating the boxes’ contents on my dining room table the next day, it hit me that what used to be someone else’s functional object, was now mine, a broken object in need of fixing. Including: a fully crazed set of 1910 bone china, one ton of threadbare linens, forty floral mismatched teacups and saucers, and one doll with a cracked head.


I won’t tell you what happened to the floral teacups because my mother has spies everywhere. But I kept the mostly unusable crazed china, washed the linens, and made plans to have the chair re-caned. I must have felt really guilty about the floral teacups because I felt a bizarre flush of excitement at the idea of restoring the doll with the cracked head. This was weird because 1. I saved no dolls from my own childhood and 2. dolls can be creepy.

Which is exactly what my 18-year-old twins said when I took her out of the box with my name on it. There she was in her creepy glory: a 117-year-old 14-inch leather-bodied doll with frozen joints. Her head was wrapped in a linen napkin. Peeling away the napkin revealed a yellowed face held together with Scotch tape. Placing her carefully on the table, I reached into the box and pulled out an entire Victorian wardrobe of handmade, doll-sized custom clothes. I was smitten. I reached into the box one last time and unwrapped a velvet hat. If I wasn’t already committed to restoring the doll, the hat did the trick. The size of my palm, it was moss green and accented with jaunty feathers.


Love can make you do crazy things, like drive to a doll hospital in a downpour. While I drove I imagined the doll hospital lady removing the doll from its bag, cradling its cracked head and saying “How wonderful, she’s worth thousands!” I imagined selling the doll and buying my parents a bigger place where they could keep all their heirlooms.

I was still engaged in my fantasy once I arrived. I snapped photos of the doll hospital lady, a diminutive woman with meaty hands, removing the doll from its bag and zooming in for a close-up—photographic proof for my mother that I am a good daughter—that I was not prepared for what came next. She swiftly grabbed the doll’s face with one hand and cracked it like an egg shooting its eyes out onto the counter as if they were a pair of yolks.

I almost fainted.

While holding my doll’s eyes in her hand, the doll doctor spoke on the phone with her sister in Florida, a collector of antique doll clothes. With her other hand, she held the velvet chapeau up to the light. “You should see the hat. You’d die.” Then my doctor looked at me, the phone attached to her ear with her shoulder and said, “You wouldn’t consider selling the clothes, would you? The doll isn’t worth very much. The head was an early example of plastic–celluloid. She’ll need a new head.”

Then she held the doll’s eyes up to the light and said, “But we can re-use these—they’re hazel, like yours.”

I felt a little nauseous. I swallowed and stared at the broken doll on the counter.

“She was my great-grandmother’s,” I said. Adding the new refrain to my vocabulary since my mother downsized and outsourced her heirlooms, “I want it restored.” Then I said something I never imagined saying for any reason whatsoever:

“I’ll take a new head and I’m keeping the clothes.”

My doctor sighed and hung up the phone and I felt the potential of paying my parents to keep their heirlooms fly out the window.

But because of love, I did as I was told. While the doll was being operated on, I went home and soaked all her clothes for two days in a bucket of hot water and Oxyclean. Afterwards, I air-dried the clothes on a towel and ironed them. But because I’m part of the IKEA generation, first I had to buy a new iron. I paid the $150 doctor’s bill, photographed all the doll’s Victorian clothes, packed them in tissue, and attached the tag the doctor gave me, to the doll’s foot, detailing its age and details of restoration.


I never showed my mother the eye yolks on the table photos. Just the restored doll herself, with her new head and original eyes, the same color as mine. A long time from now, my sons will just love inheriting her. Because love can make you do crazy things.


Expert doll repairs by Calling All Dolls in Cobalt, CT