Another story about Jessica

“You’re being a pain in the ask,” Jessica tells me, and for a horrified moment, I think I’m going to burst into laughter.  That’s not exactly how the phrase goes, of course, and there’s something extremely amusing about my daughter’s serious face as she says it.  She’s resisting bedtime, a thing she doesn’t do very often, but when she does, she really means it.


Even so, I don’t think she realizes how rude the statement is, and it’s up to me to enlighten her.  The main problem with the lecture I’m about to embark upon is that she learned the phrase from me. I swear like a drunken sailor, even on a good day, and thirteen years of mothering hasn’t cleaned up my mouth yet.


“Honey,” I tell Jessica, “that’s not a very polite thing to say.”


“Oh,” she says.  “Is it like ‘shut up’?”


“Exactly,” I say.  “Let’s find another way to say what you mean.”


“Okay,” she agrees and ponders for a moment.  Then she says, “Mom, you’re being a jackass.”


I clear my throat. No, this is not one of those situations where you can ask, in righteous indignation, “Where did you learn that!?” I know exactly where she learned that.


I look at my feet, trying to figure out a reasonable way of teaching the lesson all parents must eventually teach: Do as I say, not as I do.  I have bright purple toenails and a toe ring with blue beads and suddenly I realize that all that’s missing is the tattoo on the small of my back and the cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth and I’ll be one of Those Mothers.


Maybe I already am.  I gave up housekeeping years ago, along with religion and regular exercise. I have never appeared at a PTA meeting, and I think a slice of berry pie makes an excellent breakfast.  So I’m afraid I’m not going to win any mother of the year contests, since these appear to be based on serving healthful whole grains to one’s offspring, keeping sensitive ears free from foul language, and dousing the home environment in anti-bacterial soap on a daily basis.


I remind myself that there’s more than one way to be a good mother.  And I like the mother I am, the person I am, even though I do have a foul mouth.  If Jessica grows up separating housekeeping from mothering, I’ve got no complaints.  If she grows up and remembers that mom loved her more than life itself, I’m pretty sure the fact that I never helped out at the bake sale won’t affect her self esteem too much.


“Well,” I say, giving up on the lesson because I figure I ought to save being a hypocrite for an occasion when I really need it, “I’ll try to do better.”


I hustle her off to bed and tuck her in, a ritual I’m pretty sure she has no intention of outgrowing, and I say “Goodnight, sweet girl,” the way I have for all the years of her life and she hugs me and kisses me on both cheeks, like a European, and says, “I love you, beautiful mama,” just the way she always has since she learned to talk, and I know that for all my sins, I must be doing something right.  Even if sometimes I am a pain in the ask.


  1. Well, I've always thought you were a pain in the ask. (hah!) But then again, “I love you, beautiful mama” has got to be one of the most beautiful things a daughter has ever said to a Mom.

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  4. I think only good mothers are a "pain in the ask." If your kids don't tell you that (or something similar) at least once in a while, You are not doing it right.
    Keep up the good work!

  5. Here via a retweet! Loved this, especially since I too am of the foul-mouthed persuasion (and trying hard to curb the tendency).

    “Well,” I say, giving up on the lesson because I figure I ought to save being a hypocrite for an occasion when I really need it, “I’ll try to do better.”

    I may be a lone voice in the parenting wilderness, but I think this was a splendid response.

  6. Funny story….. maybe I enjoyed it so much because I can relate SO much… Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Just discovered your blog. Love it! Purple toenails and a toe ring – you're a rockstar mom! Seriously, I worry too because my language has deteriorated drastically since my daughter was born. I have created new cursewords that are the filthy combinations of two and three other really questionable words – it happens spontaneously. And it shocks the cr*p out of me whenever I hear "son of a long-overly-descriptive-obscene-phrase" come out of my mouth. I figure I'll just tell my daughter what my mother told me: "those are grownup words, children are not allowed to use them" (…"especially not in front of their teachers").

  8. I laughed out loud at this – and you have to picture that knowing that I'm sitting at my desk in an empty house, laughing LOUDLY all alone.

    This post is perfect in every way.

  9. Jennifer, I'm one of those who first came to your blog with that post about Jessica. This morning I caught on with your posts of the last weeks and am delighted and relieved that Jessica is recovering well from her surgery. Like so many of your commenters have already said, your story, because of what it is but also because of how you tell it, is riveting. That's a poor word to describe my reaction to it, but even if I used every other word in my synonym finder, it would be inadequate to express the effect you have had on me. And obviously thousands of people shared my view – I'm glad for the massive response to your story.

    I feel as though I know you a little bit, and like that little bit a lot. You're admirable, brave, an exceptionally good writer and exactly the right person to be Jessica's mother. Have my fingers crossed for your book deal – your instincts are right. Best wishes, Deborah

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