Cat Sick and the Power of Vulnerability: Fiona Merrick on Parenting and Imperfection

June 10, 2013 in Family, Funny


Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend and penpal, Fiona Merrick, the smart and witty writer behind the delightful blog, Writing in the Sky. Like me, Fiona utterly fails at niche writing, dabbling in a little bit of everything, which always keeps me entertained and coming back for more. Also, I admit to a certain, extreme level of glee every time Fiona documents her sons’ mishaps with talcum powder or icing sugar; I just feel so understood when I see her home riddled with mess, though, you know?

I hope you enjoy Fiona as much as I do.

Beth Woolsey

P.S. Because Fiona is from the U.K., I read absolutely everything she writes in a Mary Poppins voice. I’m certain I’m being culturally sensitive and entirely accurate when I do so. You might at least try to be more mature than me.


Cat Sick and the Power of Vulnerability
by Fiona Merrick

I’d like, if I may, to begin this post by initiating a game with which I know many of you are already very familiar: Good News / Bad News. Beth taught me how to play it, and it’s one of my very favourites. Ready?

Good News: this morning, I flipped our mattress for the first time in years.

Bad News: I was forced to flip the mattress because the cat vomited lavishly all over the bottom sheet of the unmade bed before the day had properly drawn breath, and furthermore was also forced to wash all the bed linen, which was only laundered last week. Those sheets had plenty of mileage left in them yet, I don’t mind telling you.

Good News: today was sunny and warm here in north-east England, so – miracle of miracles – even the super-king-size duvet cover had time to dry outside on the washing line.

Bad News: both my boys have summer colds, and I caught one of them walking right into the newly-spotless and recently-dried duvet cover this afternoon as it blew gently in the breeze, wiping his streaming nose all over it in the process.

Good News: nowadays, my standards are very low indeed and I’m going to sink into that bed tonight irrespective of vomit, snot or indeed any other unpleasant substance that comes my way between now and then.

I know you understand, you mamas of one or two or five or ten kids; I know you relate and empathise and get it, because that’s why most of us are here, isn’t it? We read to know we’re not alone, said CS Lewis, and that’s sure as heck one of the many reasons I show up here at Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids every time Beth blesses us with a new post, because the honesty and the sharing and the warm sense of community we all find here reminds us that we’re not alone. And we need that, don’t we? We need to know that we’re not the only one. I know I need that reassurance, sometimes desperately and urgently.

So I share my cat-sick story – and I have a hundred similar tales to tell – in case something similar has happened in your household this week, so you know that someone’s standing alongside you in all the mess and unpredictability, telling you you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who’s struggling with this parenting lark. You’re not the only one who didn’t have time to deal with an unscheduled cat-sick incident today. You’re not the only one whose house usually looks as if you’ve been recently burgled. You’re not alone. Solidarity’s where it’s at, and I try to embrace this beautiful truth a little more every day, amidst the hilarious uncontrollability of life with children.

I have an initimate friend – the Diana Barry to my Anne Shirley – who reminds me of this often, just by showing up weekly and empathising with me every time. Fiona and I met in our first week of college; named the same and studying Music together, it was inevitable that our paths would cross, but I prefer to call it providential. Almost two decades later, we’re both still living in our university city and bringing up sons, and she visits my house every Friday for coffee and conversation. I could rhapsodise at length about any one of her amazing qualities as a person – and there are dozens from which to choose – but it’s the honesty that I particularly cherish, the honesty which she encourages and offers, and which allows me to say here I am, with a thousand imperfections – let’s be friends who tell each other the truth, shall we?

I know I can open the door to her wearing ripped jeans and no make-up, hair wild and house wilder, and she’ll hug me warmly and step over the scattered toys on her way to my grubby kitchen which never seems to get any cleaner, try though I honestly do. There, we’ll eat and talk and laugh and share and tell truths about the messy corners of our respective lives. And here’s the thing: Fi doesn’t judge me for the things I can’t manage; instead, she tells me about the things with which she struggles as a mother. She never comments on the Lego bricks dotted underfoot or the piles of laundry dropped randomly throughout my comically and chronically untidy home; instead, she tells me about her daily battle with toys and dirty clothes. There’s no need to maintain an artificial façade of domestic competence in front of her, because I know I have her total understanding, which in return means she has both my trust and my honesty.

In eighteen years of friendship, we’ve built something within which we can give and receive each other’s confessions like a gift: a now-unspoken sense of you-show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine, which is all the more precious now we’re walking the mothering road together. Her willingness to make herself vulnerable in my company gives me the strength to be vulnerable myself: vulnerable in my imperfection as both a parent and a person.

And it’s powerful, isn’t it, this thing called vulnerability? It’s freeing. Liberating. Another person’s willingness to open themselves up invites us to do the same, reciprocating in kind, completing the circle and perpetuating the wonderful truth that imperfection is, after all, the reality here. It’s what enables us to draw one another into a community, one by one, calling out there is room for you here, and you’re warmly welcomed as we do so.

And I think that’s what we all need and crave, secretly or openly: the opportunity to feel included somewhere, weaknesses and all, with encrusted clothing and unbrushed hair, barely erect with weariness and carrying a unique set of burdens, yet still accepted by others. The load is much, much lighter when it’s shared by two or by many, which is just one of the many reasons why I love and value my friend Fiona so very deeply, and why I keep showing up at Beth’s place every time she offers us, her readers and friends, another fragment of her mama-heart. Those freely-given glimpses of another’s life, mess and all, help me to stumble through the imperfections of my own, and even to find the humour in something as outrageously disgusting as a bedful of cat sick.


Fiona Profile Photo

Fiona Merrick is the writer behind Writing in the Sky as well as a stay-at-home mother and former high-school teacher. She lives in the north-east of England with her husband Ben, sons Joshua and Daniel and cat Mandu.


You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.


Vomit Lift-Off

April 25, 2013 in Family, Funny, Health

We went from “I feel sick” to Vomit Lift-Off in 1.5 hours today. I consider this a victory.

I mean, it’s not a family record or anything. We’ve had middle-of-the-night and out-of-a-dead-sleep yarfing episodes that carry a zero-to-TAKE-COVER rating, so there’s no real competition left there. It’s just, I don’t know, when there’s a kid who’s sort of generally blah without any other overt symptoms and I have to make The Call — send him to school or keep him home — it sometimes takes a while before I get any real feedback.

ID-10043649It’s like being a NASA project manager at every launch ever. You know the launch is coming. You trained for this. You’ve done it before. You’re following protocol. Marking the check-list. The engines are on. All signs are go. The ground is shuddering. The crowds are enraptured. But you don’t know until the very last second if this one’s gonna take off… or fizzle.

This can go on for hours. Sometimes for days. And it’s nerve-wracking. For the project manager and for the poor little guy stuck in the ship.

This time, though? Sometimes it all comes together, friends. The timing. The boy. The bucket. Like a well-oiled machine. Lift-off. Vomit Victory, baby!


P.S. If you’d have told me at the beginning of the mama game that one day I’d consider this kind of day a victory, I’d've cried at my future patheticness. This is why they don’t let us have crystal balls, people. It’s for our own good.


P.P.S. The boy that shaved his head is the same boy who has raging poison oak is the same boy who barfed so successfully this morning. Now, he has access to unlimited Popsicles which makes the entire week, in his words, “TOTALLY WORTH IT, MOM.”

photo (57)

And that’s exactly the kind of perspective he’s gonna need to be an awesome, if somewhat delusional, parent some day.



Rocket Launcher image by digitalart via

Greg’s Not Home Tonight: A Very Bad Haiku

April 9, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny

This isn’t a real post. Just an ode to Greg not being home. In very, very bad haiku.

Greg’s Not Home Tonight

Greg’s not home tonight.
He’s at a meeting for work.
I’m home with five kids.

Three kids are fighting.
I think someone licked the dog.
Two boys are naked.

I’m hiding from them.
In the bathroom. ShhhQuiet.
Don’t give me away.

Shoot. One just found me.
And made me look at his butt.
Hole. At his butt hole.

It’s red and rashy.
His wiping was very bad.
Very, very bad.

Is it bedtime yet?
How about now? Or now? Or
five minutes ago?

When they’re all sleeping,
and the wind blows from the hill,
I’ll miss their bright eyes.

 But I won’t miss the
weird stuff. … … … Not much. … Shhh. Quiet.
Don’t give me away.


And how was your day?
You can answer in haiku.
You know, if you want.


I’m a Pee Fight Pacifist

April 2, 2013 in BEGIN READING WITH THESE FAVORITES, Family, Funny, Twins

Look, I don’t usually take on extreme positions here. I’m just not that kind of girl. I tend to be all mushy and “well, there are two sides to every story” and “I’m sure she had the best intentions” and “there’s room for EVERYONE.” On the other hand, I believed Mr. Clinton when he said he did not have sex with that woman so I admit to a certain ongoing struggle with being a Pollyanna.

My point is, I hope you’ll forgive me for stating a firm political position here. It’s just that I believe this very, very strongly.

I’m a pee fight pacifist.


It’s out.

The whole world knows.

I am a pee fight pacifist. I disagree with all forms of pee fighting.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Surely, Beth, you understand that there are times when a pee fight, however distasteful, is necessary.

And that’s what I’m saying. NO. No, I don’t understand this at all. I’m telling you I believe that there are no circumstances which can justify a pee fight. NONE.

But what if the other person agrees to the pee fight, Beth?


Or if they’re really, really bad and have it coming?


Or if we try very hard not to pee fight but negotiations break down?


But what about peece keeping forces? Like, using one’s pee in defense of others?

Still no.

Just no, you guys. No.

I’m like a rock on this. NO.

But here’s another little secret. The Confession of a Confirmed Peecifist:

My children remain unconvinced.

It’s true. Sad. But true. I have not been able to pass my beliefs on to my children.

I caught my twin boys planning a pee fight yesterday. I mean, sure, it was all talk. So far. No shots had been fired. But still. It caught me up short, and I renewed my determination to impose my peecifism on my kids. This is no time for them to think for themselves, friends.

So I engaged in the talks, working hard to articulate my perspective. The correct perspective. The only perspective.

And they remained unconvinced. In fact, the words gross, sick, and I will literally vomit if I ever catch you doing that only seemed to encourage them.

In the end, I appealed to their sense of equity. Fairness. Egalitarianism. I said, “Pee fights aren’t fair. Only boys have hoses. Girls can’t play.” And I made a sad face.

Look, I’m not particularly proud of my argument since I think no one should play, but, like all good negotiators, I was willing to compromise if compromise meant getting my way.

And my boys were sad, too. They like girls. They like me. They don’t want to leave people out. So they called a cease fire. Thank God. Peece before the first shot fired!

Late last night, Cael handed me this drawing, titled “The Pee Fight, by Cael.”

photo (51)In it, he illustrates his inclusive war plan. Namely, to put me on stilts with a specially engineered pee sluice so I can battle the boys.

And look, Mom! We’re all sad ’cause we BEEN HIT. With all your pee, Mom. ‘Cause you are the BEST PEE-ER of us all. And I’m peeing on Cai, and Cai’s peeing on Ian, and Ian’s peeing on Dad. But Dad’s not peeing ’cause I don’t think he would do this game. He’s not really a Pee Fighting kind of guy. 


I have failed.

But all hope is not lost.

No, hope is not gone.

Even in the darkest hour, a glimmer remains.

“Dad’s not really a Pee Fighting kind of guy.”

I pass the Peecifist baton on.

It’s up to you now, Greg. It’s all up to you.



Credit Where Credit is Due

March 22, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny

I’m trying to decide if telling you I was down with the grips is too much information, but you all keep acting like friends so this is pretty much your fault.

The problem with proving I have a brain filter, of course, is the fact that if I tell you all the things I don’t tell you, my proof disproves the point I was hoping to prove. If, on the other hand, I don’t tell you all the things I could tell you, then I get no credit for having a filter at all.

Was that confusing? I’m sorry; the grips took a lot out of me.

In other words, speaking for all the people like myself who say too much, you don’t know all the stuff we do not say and how very much Filter Credit we deserve. So next time your loose-lipped friend talks about “the grips” and not about the liquid acid’s exit plan or trajectory, thank her. Do. Just say, “Even though mentioning ‘the grips’ was way too far and I’m actively gagging right now, thanks for all the stuff you do not say. I hear there’s a lot of it and that you deserve mad props and crazy Filter Credit. Good job, you!”



So, I was sick.

With the grips.

But not too sick.

Just somewhat sick. And also tired. And a little bit I quit today. And a lot I’m pretty sure y’all can feed yourselvesAnd completely If you want a bath, figure out how to make that happen, 6-year-old Boy Child.

Then, later, I was very Why is there cracker shrapnel all over the house? And Chocolate chips in the clean laundry pile? Really? And How much water has to hit a bathroom from a Tub Tsunami to count as water damage and start over?

There was a time in my life when I’d have felt like I fell down on the mama job, leaving my kids to fend for themselves that way. Now? I’ve changed my perspective to this:

I’m teaching my kids to be independent.

And these are life skills, baby.

photo (49)

Sometimes it’s all about perspective, friends. And remembering to give ourselves credit for all the stuff others never see.

Credit where credit is due, I say. For all the wild, wonky, wonderful stuff we do every day. Even when it involves quitting. And the grips.

So. What about you? What do you get credit for today? Name it here, friends, and let me tell you, Well done.


Kids Pooped in My Front Yard and I’m on a Podcast

March 19, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny


True story from our weekend.


Some kids pooped in my front yard.

My kids.

The End


That’s not really the end.


Some kids pooped in my front yard.

My kids.

They used toilet paper to wipe.

The End


“Hasn’t this happened before?” you ask.

Fine. Yes, it has.


The wiping is new, though. 



Greg rescued the toilet paper from the yard, I interrogated the suspects, and we found one out of a reported two poops.

No sign of the second one despite ongoing sweeps of the area.

You know what this means?

The Easter egg hunt just got real.

The End


In other news, non-poop-related, I’m thrilled to introduce you to the Dadsaster dads, Mark Staufer and Bryan Erwin, who invited me to participate in the 3rd installment of their new podcast series about dads. (Psst… their 2nd podcast included one of my favorite comedians, Frank Caliendo. One degree of separation, baby!)


Each week Dads Mark Staufer and Bryan Erwin discuss the gnarliest challenges of fatherhood in an honest and comedic way with celebrity guest dads and tips, workarounds and examples from their own family-life.

You know, there are a lot of dads who read over here, and a lot of folks without kids, too, and you’ve taught me a critical lesson over time, which is this: anytime we are honest out loud — any time we are imperfect and beautiful and messed up and ridiculous and broken and mended — we are describing the human condition. Not the mommy condition. Or the parenting condition. Just the human condition. With all it’s gory and glory mixed up together. And, yes, momming gives me lots of opportunities to be imperfect, and momming is my primary medium for art, but you all understood the bigger picture way before I did… that this is about all of us.

And that’s exactly what Mark and Bryan understand. That this is about all of us. Their show is funny first and dad-centric, and then it’s a sneak attack of smart, witty and endearing. They walk the fine line that balances awesome humor, telling the truth and treating people’s stories well. I like them. And I loved doing this show.

Big thank you to Mark and Bryan for the invitation, and I hope you all enjoy the show!

Click here for the podcast, where you’ll see options for free iTunes and mp3 downloads. They introduce me around minute 36, and I’m on around minute 39, but listen to the entire show. It’s rad.

P.S. There’s a point where I mention that God’s a jerk. No lightening bolt yet, so I think the Big Guy can take a joke, but you might want to steer clear of my house for a little bit, just to be safe.


 Toilet Roll image credit to winnond via

Stuff We Step On: It’s Not Just the Legos

March 4, 2013 in Family, Funny

As I read your responses to 5 Quick Questions, volume 2, I noticed a disturbing trend, friends, and I started to develop a theory.

Rather than be an alarmist, though, I took my time analyzing the data. Combing through your stories for the cold, hard, sometimes terrifying facts, and entering all of the information in a spreadsheet.

The results?

Well, I’m sorry, but they speak for themselves.

We want to think it’s the just Legos. I know. I want to think it’s just the Legos, too. But it’s not just the Legos, friends, that’re out to harm us at night.

Stuff We Step OnIt’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.

P.S. Run.