In the middle

Lately it feels like there’s a million little things happening at once, but no cohesive story worth sharing that has a beginning, middle and end. You know? Right now we are living a lot of middles, and the beginning maybe isn’t so interesting and the end is still unknown. And I’m having trouble coming up with things that feel worth the retelling when they feel incomplete.

I got a very nice email from a reader who wanted to know how Monkey was doing, and that’s a middle if ever there was one. On the one hand: The surgery was such a success, physically, it takes most of my energy not to spend every spare second flogging myself over our not having done it sooner. It remains to be seen if Spring will kick up his allergies and force him back onto his Zyrtec/Flonase regimen (probably it will), but for the first time in YEARS he’s not on any allergy meds and his nose is clear. You truly don’t realize how annoying it is to live with someone who sniff-sniff-snort-gurgle-SNORTs all day long until it’s all blessed silence, instead.

On the other hand: While his behavior is MUCH improved (like, by a factor of about a hundred), he is only beginning to settle back into school after nearly a month away, and I’m still holding my breath. How much of The Bad Times were him being sick, and how much were him being… him? I’m not ready to call it.

* * * * *

We spent most of Saturday at the next level of the Reading Bowl competition, watching our favorite female nerdling giggle with her friends and eat Skittles and, oh yeah, occasionally answer obscure questions about books. Chickadee does this thing at competitions (I’ve seen her do it at Academic Bowl, as well) where she knows the answer but assumes her teammates do, too, and so somehow she uses this as justification to never buzz in, because by the way, she hates having to do any sort of public speaking. So it’s not at all unusual for us to attend a competition where she doesn’t open her mouth even once, and afterward if we dare to point this out, she huffs and says, “Well I KNEW all the answers!” Like, we should just be 1) using our powers of telepathy to deduce this and 2) congratulating her because how many times have we said that “It’s the thought that counts!” after all, right?

So before this tournament we had a conversation about how academic competition is one part knowing the material and one part BUZZING IN BEFORE THE OTHER TEAM FORTHELOVEOFGOD. And when that loving explanation appeared to fall on deaf ears, we bribed her: Buzz in and answer just two questions correctly, and we’ll let you watch that PG-13 movie we’ve been negotiating over for a while.

It worked. We’d already decided to let her see the movie, of course; but the big grin she flashed me after the second correct answer tempered any guilt I may have felt about our tactics.

They made it on to the next round, and there was much rejoicing. We then went out for lunch with some of her teammates, then sent her off with them and another parent to go do something fun, and then later took her over to a friend’s house for a while. Basically, by the time Saturday night rolled around, she’d been on a non-stop Do Fun Things ride, so of course that’s when she chose to pitch a fit about our unwillingness to take her to the craft store RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE to get supplies for a homework project she’d forgotten to mention.

And our pointing out that we never would’ve let her go hang out with her friends all day had we known she had a project to complete were just further proof that we are mean and awful.

There was arguing and tears and disgust and my tired, oft-ignored observation that nothing is ever enough for her. That we’d spent half the day at her competition, let her go off with her friends, drove her there and back for more friend-time, and yet somehow it’s OUR fault that she “forgot” her project and we are horrible for not dropping everything to take her for supplies.

The promised movie was rescinded. She may have said some things, in her frustration and disappointment. I may have said that her level of ingratitude and ungraciousness in the face of all that is routinely done for her breaks my heart. Because it does, for reasons she will never understand. (And I’m glad she doesn’t—don’t get me wrong—but really, must one experience being a have-not to appreciate what you have? That doesn’t seem right.)

On Sunday she finished her work without complaint and without extra supplies. She did the dishes and apologized and told me she loves me and thanked us both for everything we do for her. By Sunday night she and Otto were bickering and I ended up playing peacekeeper, which I hate.

But this is the middle, with her. I have to believe it’s the middle.

* * * * *

Otto wants to figure out how we can do a vacation with his family, this summer, and we’re working on logistics. It’s complicated; it’s more complicated, perhaps, than it seems like it should have to be. But there’s us, and there’s the kids’ dad, and there’s nerd camp for Chickadee—which one minute I think will be the best thing in the world for her and the next minute I think is going to be too much for her when she can’t even put away her own laundry without freaking out about the difficulties of her horrible life—and there’s only so many weeks in the summer.

In his frustration over this, Otto made one of those sweeping generalizations (“You always…”) that relationship experts say you should never, ever do. Argue the issue at hand, don’t drag up ancient history. Except I think there’s festering stuff to be dealt with when that happens, particularly as Otto is never one to play dirty pool. So I tried to draw him out on that and figure out what’s up. We worked it out. And we’ll figure out the vacation thing, somehow.

I think he’s just frustrated by how much is out of our control, right now. I am, too. But I’m the one squarely in the middle, needing to make it okay for the kids, maintain the peace with their father, and let my husband know that as much as I love and adore him, sometimes his inability to fix the unfixable just is, and it’s okay.

* * * * *

I am apparently grinding my teeth at night again. I know this because Otto asks how I slept and I say, “Eh,” because I woke up a bunch, and then I get suspicious and ask why he asked.

“You were grinding your teeth a lot,” he says, worry around the edges of his voice.

“Sorry,” I say, because I am, and because I don’t know how to stop. Well, that’s not true—I do know how to stop: I could just get that expensive bite splint and probably that would fix it, and I even set money aside for it, but then we started talking about family vacations and nerd camp and part of our fence fell over and Chickadee’s rash flared so we started talking about how many we should convert the pool to salt water this year. There are always things that cost money and always plenty of excuses not to spend it on myself.

* * * * *

Monkey’s school just called. His parapro is out today, and he says that her substitute is trying to kill him. Apparently his paranoia was not located in either the tonsils or the adenoids.

I made a deal with him and the guidance counselor: I have a conference call in a few minutes, and I’ll call the school back, after. If he still wants to come home, then, I’ll go get him. If they can work it out in the meantime, he’ll stay. I tried to entice him with the reminder of a class he loves that he’ll miss if he comes home. “She’ll probably ruin that, too,” he cried.

I hope this is the middle.


  1. Ani

    *sigh* The middle is hard. Hang in there.

  2. Megan

    Middles are horrible. But yes, these do all sound like middles. My problem? I am BRILLIANT at seeing (and agonizing) over the middles, the ones with those frustrating, unknown, un-plannable ends, but hardly sparing a glance when the ends do come! Let me know if you figure that one out, hm?

  3. Ginnie

    Before you try the expensive bite splint, you could head over to the drugstore and get one for under $50. Granted, it’s not molded to your mouth but it may be worth trying before you decide to give up on vacation.

  4. jenn

    I’m in the middle too – tween daughter who hates me one minute and loves me the next. ADHD son pushing every boundary I set. Dying family members, with at least one more to come. Frustrated husband for a million little reasons. I hate the middle. It sucks. Hang in there.

  5. The Mommy Therapy

    I loved this post. I love (and fear, knowing I have an 8 month old baby girl) the way you write about your daughter. I feel like I could see myself as her as a young teen. You appear to be doing a wonderful job navigating the seemingly torturous path of raising a productive and “good” young woman.

    Didn’t Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats (a profound work in film, of course,) say something about beginnings being scary, endings sad, but it’s the middle that counts?

    Just listen to Sandra.

  6. Angela

    Here’s hoping you all get through the middles to some happy endings soon. I am sorry Monkey did not have an easy transition back into school. You both deserve a break on that front.

    Mainly I wanted to comment to vote for your getting the bite splint. When I first got one, I noticed that the sore lumps in front of my ears went away, I had fewer headaches, and of course I was not splintering my teeth anymore. Then I saw a great dentist who formed the splint so that it actually stopped me from grinding altogether (by having the incisors contact the splint first, signaling my brain to open my mouth). It does make me drool on my pillow LOL but that’s way better. It’s been such an improvement for me that I dare to hope for you that you wouldn’t regret the expense. Just remember to keep the bite guard in its case, in the same place always, away from Licorice.

  7. Jan in Norman, OK

    Yeah, those drugstore guards work pretty well. Haven’t had a broken tooth since I started using one about 7 years ago.

  8. Rachel

    Middles are hard, sometimes yucky… maybe that’s why they cut them out of donuts? No; that can’t be it, because donut holes are not hard or yucky. Mmmmm donuts… =)

    Anyway, I hope all’s well soon.

  9. vanessa

    I dont have any advice about the middle, but the splint thing does help.
    Also: I bet that when she gets to camp, Chickie will realize that ZOMG she actually CAN do all of these things and she’ll step up to the plate. Or whatever other sports metaphor you want to use.
    Then you know she’ll come home and demand that you do 234234 things for her.

  10. Tracy B

    I feel like I’m stuck in the middle with you. Hang in there, Mir.

  11. Randi

    I know how it feels to play the “bad” parent – the one who has to enforce the rules. It’s never fun and I don’t think any kid realizes how much their parents heart break when it happens. As for Chickadee and camp, I bet you’d be surprised. Kids always act SO much different around friends than they do around their own family.

  12. elz

    Oh my, the middle is well…blergh. I was wondering how you were going to entice Chickadee to answer for the next round of comeptition. She needs to ring in with 4 correct answers and you’ll take her to see “Black Swan?” That’ll cure her of ever wanting to watch a R movie! heh.

    Good luck. On all of it. I’ve heard that the long-term costs on salt water are really low (meaning less on ongoing maintenance), but the conversion? Holy heckballs, man, that is expensive. Of course, we are not going for a big party (which I was DYING to plan) for our 10th anniversary so we can remodel our backyard. Being an adult is sometimes a whole lot of NOT fun.

  13. Melissa

    For what this is worth – I was a preteen who didn’t do ANYTHING for myself at home, but went to camp for 2 weeks and suddenly was all self-sufficient. Of course, after about two weeks at home I reverted to my lazy entitled ways…

  14. Erin

    Just wanted to say that I was much like Chickadee when I was a tween/teen. I was supersmart, mouthy, believed I knew better than basically everyone around me, and so on and so on. SO MANY of the incidents you describe make me cringe, as I remember doing the EXACT same things to my mom when I was her age.

    But here’s the good news: I’m 30 years old now, and my mom is my VERY best friend. We never fight, never argue–honestly. Sometimes I’m sure we cause eyerolls, but for the most part, we love being together and get along like we never could have imagined when I was 13-17.

    She’ll get it, eventually–she’ll realize how wonderful you were, how much you taught her, how valuable the lessons were, how much she relies on them now. If she’s like me (and I think she is) she’ll spend the rest of her life reminding you how much she loves you, how much she appreciates you, how much her childhood and young adulthood shaped her into the person she becomes. Because I know that every good thing in my life is a result of my parents’ love and support–even when that love and support made them very (temporarily) unpopular.

    You’re doing the right thing, every day, and she’ll realize it eventually. In fact, she realizes it now, she’s just too stubborn to admit it. Hang in there–I promise it gets better.

  15. Kristine N

    Mir, youir plate is so full. We all have our “middles” in one shape or form. Some worse than others. All I can say is hang in there. You are doing a great job.

  16. Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck

    While there’s nothing anyone can say to fix a lot of that stuff, I do have one suggestion. I too grind my teeth and have been told by my dentist to get a nighttime mouth guard, which I have not done because it’s expensive and I know for a fact I will never ever wear it. However I am considering just getting a sports mouth guard–the rubbery ones that athletes wear. I wore one to play field hockey in school, and you get it and boil it and mold it to your mouth…and I don’t see how it would be different than the dental one except it costs literally like $10 at a sporting goods store. I mentioned it to my Primary Care Physician and she didn’t know how it would be different either, so I think I may do it. At least then when I don’t wear it, I will only have spent $10. Maybe that would help you too? Just a thought…about the one thing I could potentially help with.

  17. Mamaspeak

    Wanted to add my 2 cents on the mouth guard. I have one. Meh. For the price? Really meh. I would take it out, while asleep, & toss it across the room. It doesn’t work as well if you don’t leave it in. Go figure. (you might want 2 try the cheaper version 4 a while, is what I’m trying to say.)

    I wish there were easy answers re: family stuff. There’s not, other than to keep telling each other that you’re all important to each other & keep talking. (((hugs)))

  18. laura

    you’re pretty,


  19. Beth R


    You’re totally in the uncharted middle there. And as frustrating as it can be for us control freaks, sometimes all you can do is control two things: what you’re putting in your mouth (food) and what you’re putting on your body (keep the undies on the inside and you’re rockin’).

    Don’t be afraid of reaching out to those who love you; I know sometimes all it takes to get my freak-out level to settle a bit is a little bit of daddy lap time. Granted, I’m a bit too big to crawl into my dad’s (step-dad, mind you… remember what I said about genetics vs. parenting a couple of days ago!) lap anymore, but a good visit and hugs can help a lot of things.

    And if there’s anything any of us out here in the vast intertubes can do to help, just let us know! We’ve never met, but I’d be honored to call you my friend.

  20. Another Dawn

    It is most definitely the middle for Chickadee. My 21-year old has, over the last few weeks: shovelled the driveway without being asked, insisted on buying her own groceries and not once groused at me for how much of my time a community theatre production was taking up. They do grow up. Eventually. But the middle feels L-O-N-G.

    Poor wee Monkey. I was so hoping the tonsilectomy would double as a paranoiaectomy.

    Good luck with the phone call. I hope it all works out.

  21. RuthWells

    Oh honey.

    If Monkey is anything like my Aspies (and he is), changes in routine are brutal. Having been home for so long and now being back at school, his system is on overload. Give it a least a week before you decide the surgery wasn’t helpful for the paranoia.


  22. Lynda M O

    Middles, teenage daughters, grinding teeth–sounds like LyndaLand ten years ago. The teenager is 25 and bought her own place a block away. The bite guard (even at $300) was well worth it and I sprung for the tooth whitening, specially molded to fit my mouth, upper and lower pieces, too. Whiter teeth make you Prettier!!

    Middles-well, there will always be middles it seems. To the marriage, the kids, the house and grounds repairs and renovations… That’s ok, cuz ends are harder. My only sister died at 49 unexpectedly-talk about an Ending that we don’t want to see….

  23. Celeste

    Mir, for what it’s worth…. I bought one of those $3 mouth guards that kids use when they play sports. My drugstore sells them by the first aid stuff. You dip it in boiling water and stick it in your mouth, and it molds to your top teeth. Oh, and cut the tab off the front. It helped me a lot. If it doesn’t work, it was only $3.

  24. Celeste

    Oh, and another thing. I have a 14 yr old girl who is doing many of the same things Chickie is. It’s not you. It’s not your household situation. It’s not your parenting. It’s just kid stuff. It will all work out eventually. At the bottom of it, she is a good kid. Just keep praying and loving her. That’s all we can do.

  25. Frank

    I am firmly in the camp dubbed “She will figure out a whole lot about herself and life when at Smarticle Camp”. The one thing I hope she can figure out is that it is OK to be smart, to know things, and to speak up (like to competition). Of course, it’s prolly tough to learn to do it w/o sounding obnoxious. Being around other Smarticles (i DO so love that term) may help… and might give her some strength to handle the mean people who dump on smart people in school.

    Oh… and just bite the bullet (so to speak) and get the dang bite guard already…

  26. liz

    Sending love and hugs.

    Re: Camp. As a kid of divorce, camp was an enormous relief for me. Time where I didn’t have to deal with parental stuff. Ahhhh.

  27. J from Ireland

    Oh Mir, only last week I was saying how wonderful my nearly 14yr old daughter was…..this week its like living with a nettle, everything I do bothers her.
    This post is a reminder to me of why I love this blog the best, you are so real, the good bits and the bad bits of life and I just love that.

  28. MamaChristy

    With Chickadee, it is most certainly a middle – take heart. I’m curious what the movie was.

    Monkey has you to love him – that will be enough. I’m sure of it.

    It’s only money – get the bite thing. And go on vacation. Don’t go into hock for it, but you don’t know what will happen next year and you might wish you’d gone on that vacation.

    And yes, you are very pretty.

  29. Karen

    Get the mouth guard thing. Grinding your teeth also gives you headaches.. not sure if you’re prone to them.. but…

    We tend not to take very good care of ourselves when we are constantly tending to others… but it’s so important. Do it.

    Want to laugh? We had dinner at my mother’s house two weeks ago and we brought our little moptop dog, not unlike Licorice, over there with us. While we were at the dinner table, she came running out of my mother’s bedroom very pleased with her find. She had my mother’s mouthguard in HER mouth. GACK!!

    My mother simply said.. OH, GOOD JOB BAILEY!! I’ve been looking for that for months!

    You’re welcome.

  30. MomCat

    Thinking of you and Yours, Mir. Hang on…it will get better!

  31. Little Bird

    Chickie is just coming into her teenhood! I’m not entirely sure she can help it. Give her time. Like ten years or so. She WILL grow out of it.
    Poor Monkey, getting back into the swing of things is always tough. He’s got to love the fact that he can breathe without issues though!
    I too vote for going to the drugstore and getting the bite guard that you throw into boiling water. I have one. It works like a charm!

  32. Chris M.

    Dear Mir,

    I love your writing, and I had to de-lurk just say just one thing:

    “and there’s nerd camp for Chickadee—which one minute I think will be the best thing in the world for her and the next minute I think is going to be too much for her when she can’t even put away her own laundry without freaking out about the difficulties of her horrible life—and there’s only so many weeks in the summer.”

    I was once a nerd Chickadee who couldn’t put away my own laundry without freaking out about the difficulties of my horrible life. And I can promise you that your first thought is correct — it will be the best thing in the world for her (no matter what happens there). Trust me in this, you won’t be doing her any favors trying to protect her this way. Whatever the complications it brings to your summer, the sacrifice — for her sake — will be worth it.

  33. Sarahtoo

    Man, the middles can really suck. I hope you get back into the good parts soon!

  34. parodie

    Oh Mir. Sometimes I wish I cooed just make things better for you, too.

    One thing worth noting: camp almost always makes kids more independent, especially smart girls like Chickadee. She will almost certainly struggle but it will be a good, productive, character-building kind. Or so I found, as a camper, counsellor, and counsellor trainer. Camp can be magic.

  35. JennyM

    Middles suck.

    When dealing with a lot of middles, I like to psych myself out a little bit and pick one of the many things and tell myself, “Self, by this time next week(tomorrow)(etc.) at least *that* big thing I’m worried will be water under the bridge one way or the other, and the world will keep turning, so how bad can it be, really?” Sometimes it works.

    I’ve tried drugstore bite guards, but apparently my tiny mouth is the wrong shape for all the pre-made ones. I may see if one of those moldable athletic kids ones will work. At any rate, if there are always plenty of excuses not to spend money on yourself, there are always plenty of reasons to go ahead and have the dessert. The yummy dessert-y bite guard.

  36. Stimey

    So much here, but you hit on something that kills me: snorting. Jack had a stim last summer where he snorted ALL THE TIME and I don’t think it was because of anything physical, but I almost murdered him. I am very happy for you that you (and Monkey too, of course) don’t have to deal with the snorting anymore.

    Good luck. Hope Monkey makes it through the day!!

  37. Cate

    I can fully appreciate the struggle of being in the “middle”. In the past 6 months, my Mom got diagnosed with cancer, quickly followed by mother-in-law, financial woes abound, my son continues to hate KIndergarten, and my 3 1/2-year-old daughter still doesn’t sleep through the night!

    Despite these struggles, it’s important to remember that the “middle” is where our life happens. No matter what you’ve got going on, it will inevitably change. For better or worse, your life will likely look different in the days, weeks, and months to come. I often find myself, “just wanting to get through this part!”, but then I realize that “this part” is my life and I don’t want to rush that.

  38. Katie in MA

    Hang in there, dear. The middle is what makes the ending so good.

    (Also? That is a LOT of change for Monkey. He will be better tomorrow. Or, um, whatever day came next since I am catching up and not sure how recent this post is.)

  39. Beverly

    She may have said some things, in her frustration and disappointment. I may have said that her level of ingratitude and ungraciousness in the face of all that is routinely done for her breaks my heart. Because it does, for reasons she will never understand. (And I’m glad she doesn’t—don’t get me wrong—but really, must one experience being a have-not to appreciate what you have? That doesn’t seem right.)

    Oh, how this resonated with me, the mother of a sometimes shockingly ungrateful 14-year-old daughter. There is comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

  40. Genevieve

    Mir, the bite guard makes a GIGANTIC difference for me. I’m still grinding, but I’m not breaking teeth (leading to root canals) any more. Having it properly adjusted helps hugely with migraines and regular headaches as well.
    Your health is worth spending money on.

  41. Julie

    Mir ~ I know kind of how you feel. Our family feels like we’ve been stuck in the middle for awhile now. Keep your head up!!

  42. Lori in MN

    I cried the entire day after depositing my (12-yr.old) baby at his ride to Boy Scout camp for the first time. He could not figure out how to get his clothes into drawers, and now he was going to be responsible for all of his own stuff INCLUDING cooking and cleaning up after meals while sleeping on the ground??! He came home happy, healthy, and at least an inch taller. And put away all of his own stuff. Camp will be great!

    On another note, my dentist says they can’t make a mouth guard that can be worn during the day… I tend to grind my teeth while listening to my daughter scream “you hate me!!”…

  43. mk

    I have been reading your site for a couple months now but this is my first comment. I just had to put my 2 cents in about Chickadee. I am 20yrs old now (21 in a month! :) hehe) but I was a horrible rotten teenager. I am embarrassed of the things I did/said. i can guarantee Chickadee will not put you through the HELL I put my parents through ( especially my mom). Unfortunately, the teenage girl attitude will most likely get worse into highschool.

    But there is light at the end of the tunnel! My mom is my BEST friend now.

    All I know is I never want a daughter! Don’t they say it comes back 10X worse then what you put your mom thru? :)

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