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mommy musings

LESSONS ON MOTHERHOOD, LOVE, AND LIFE

KRISTINE BRUNEAU

KB Press
Mommy Musings, Copyright © 2017 by Kristine Bruneau

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including
photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without
the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial
uses permitted by copyright law.

ISBN-13: 978-1542863315
For Rob and James

Wisdom doesn’t need a temple to live.
It lives in every part of life, waiting to be uncovered.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am sincerely grateful to: Elizabeth Zack of
BookCrafters LLC for copyediting, Danielle Valente
for the book cover and interior design, Tricia Laufer for
proofreading, and my parents Frank and Linda Argento
for instilling a love of reading, writing and storytelling.
I wouldn’t be this far in my journey if it weren’t for all
my dear friends and family members who continue to
support and encourage me - Thank you!
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction ..................................... i
CHAPTE R 1: Baby in Driver Seat ...........................1
CHAPTE R 2: Happy Birthday ................................7
CHAPTE R 3: The Dog Ate My Breast Pump ........11
CHAPTE R 4: James and the Giant Poop ...............13
CHAPTE R 5: Tangled in Leather ..........................15
CHAPTE R 6: Little Red Mustang .........................21
CHAPTE R 7: Kindergarten Angst .........................25
CHAPTE R 8: Boys and Sticks ...............................29
CHAPTE R 9: The Tooth Fairy ..............................31
CHAPTE R 10: You Can’t Hurry Scrambled Eggs ....37
CHAPTE R 11: God of Discipline ...........................39
CHAPTE R 12: The Right Tilt ................................43
CHAPTE R 13: Hello. Good-Bye. I Love You...........45
CHAPTE R 14: Got Rhythm? ..................................49
CHAPTE R 15: The End Is Where We Begin ..........53
CHAPTE R 16: Tomorrow Is a Better Day ...............59
CHAPTE R 17: The Art of Listening .......................61
CHAPTE R 18: The Alchemy of Joy ........................65
CHAPTE R 19: Kids Are Good for You....................69
INTRODUCTION

W hether or not you are a first time parent,
deciding to have a child is a lot like starting
a home improvement project with an incomplete
toolbox. You have to begin from a mindful posture,
and bring your sense of humor and an open mind. As I
quickly learned: You are not in control – baby is.
A baby is a pure being. In the womb it swims
around and grows, causing all sorts of interesting
physical and mental wackiness to occur in a woman’s
body. Some of these are things she’ll never completely
recover from. What she and her partner will give up,
however, will be paid back in wisdom. The moment
you become a parent is when your ordinary life
becomes extraordinary.
There’s no shortage of advice and help for
parents. More than 12,000 parenting titles are for
sale on Amazon.com as of this writing. Not to be
ignored is the unsolicited opinion and wisdom from
well-meaning family, friends, and strangers. However,
all the advice, research, charts, and infographics don’t
mean a thing unless you experience parenting for
yourself. No one on this planet, including yourself, can
prepare you for the enormity of having children and all
the conundrums that tag along.
When you decide to give your time to your
motherhood project, do it wholly. Don’t wish you
were in some other place or doing another thing.
Once there, give up, give in, and give it all you’ve got.
Get rid of your head trash and think of the time you

Mommy Musings | i
spend with your child as a gift. Go inward, first. Trust
yourself, and then, push onward.
To me, being a parent is a role you act upon.
Within this role there’s work – hard work. When you
experience raising a child, a relationship develops
and deepens. You can’t just have a relationship with
someone without working at it. Anything worth doing
well is hard work. There is joy in the doing and learning
from all the mistakes you’ll undoubtedly make.
Kids are cute and cuddly when they’re small – and
not so much as they begin to grow into “little me’s” and
talk back. Too, our kids somehow become reflections
of ourselves, which can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s
all in how you look at it: the decision to have children,
the incubation of a baby, the arrival of your newborn,
the reality that this is forever, and your reactions to
first-time and recurring situations with your kids.
Throughout the pages of this book are gentle
reminders of why kids are good for you — because
sometimes we forget. As parents, we’re all on an epic
journey of self-discovery. I’ve found that when I allow
myself to see the world through the eyes of my child
and act from an open heart, I learn something new,
which I place in my toolbox. I hope you will, too.

ii | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 1

Baby in Driver Seat
Put your faith in little things – that
is your greatest source of strength.

“I missed you in my sleep,” James said as I leaned in
to wake him one morning.
Surrounded by soccer heroes, angry birds, and
wimpy kids, I climbed onto his bed and put my arms
around him. My little man hugged me back. He was
twelve years old then, but it doesn’t matter; he’ll always
be my little man.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t write
about him. Strange, but I never thought about it
before. I write about James every day. It’s something I
did even before he was born. James saves me.

Before he was born, James was in charge, but
being new to this whole parenting thing, Rob and I
had no idea. We arrived at the doctor’s for a routine
prenatal check. When we asked when baby would be
due, the doctor replied, “Baby come when baby come.
Baby in driver seat.”

What have we gone and done? Our lives will
change forever with this child, this little person we must

Mommy Musings | 1
constantly watch. I will be bringing into the world a
helpless being who will be totally and completely dependent
upon me for sustenance and security. Eventually, baby will
go mobile – and then I won’t be able to let him out of my
sight for fear that he’ll get hurt.
Gradually, this boy of ours will develop his own
personality, rely on Rob and me less for nurturing, and
expect things like a toy, a phone, or a car. Am I jumping
too far ahead? I should enjoy this time in my life, but I
don’t think it’s really hit me yet.

Today, as I write this book and return to reading
those two previous journal entries (penned far in
the past), it brings me back. Back to a place I had
forgotten, a time when I didn’t know I would have a
boy, but knew I was going to have a boy.
I chose “he” or “him” instead of “she” or “her” in
referring to baby back then, even though I decided not
to learn the sex of my baby from the ultrasound. Still,
when questioned by others afterward about the gender
of my baby, I said that I “knew” I would have a boy.
At the time, I also chose not to undergo testing
for genetic “defects” such as Down’s Syndrome and
Spina Bifida. I didn’t want to stress my baby with
amniocentesis or worry about the menu of “what-ifs.”
I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy. I wanted baby to
enjoy it too.
I think it was a good goal to have.

I’m twelve weeks pregnant, and I didn’t realize how
much my body would change. I used to complain about
my tummy roll and bubble butt; instead, I should have
been appreciating my fitness level and muscle tone. Now
– good Lord! – My skin and organs are expanding at a

2 | Kristine Bruneau
frightening pace.
I feel like Alice in Wonderland when she super-sized
herself after eating a spiked crumpet. I’m uncomfortable,
tired, and afraid.
Will I ever feel normal again?

I began to show in only my second trimester.
As I drove into a parking garage in Rochester on
September 11, 2001, everything seemed fine except for
the crazy itchiness around my belly, where my skin had
begun to stretch.
It was just before nine a.m., and as soon as I
entered my workplace, I went on a conference call in
my boss Julie’s office. We were discussing a client’s
direct mail campaign with folks from our New York
City office, located near the World Trade Center. In
mid-sentence, we lost the connection. Puzzled, Julie
and I looked at each other. I dialed the number again
and again. Busy signal. As I was about to punch in the
number another time, our creative director burst into
the room and told us the World Trade Center (WTC)
had been bombed.
The conference room at work had a television.
When I reached the room and looked at the
screen, I saw flames licking away at the WTC
building. And then, a plane flew into the second tower.
More flames and black smoke.
I was stunned. The moment I saw the crash my
world changed. I cradled my swollen belly as tears fell
from my eyes. All I wanted was to go home and pray:
for the dead, the dying, the unborn, and the living. I
needed to go home and hug my husband, my parents,
my brother, and my nieces, and tell them that I loved
them.
A new fear arose inside me: Would my baby grow

Mommy Musings | 3
up under the constant threat of fanatical acts of terror
and war?
That December, a new curve-ball was thrown my
way when I learned that the ad agency I worked for
would close at the end of December: There wasn’t
enough business to keep the doors open, so I would be
laid off.
I realized…I didn’t mind. Work had become
unsatisfying, disappointing, and stressful. More than
anything, I wanted to focus on my baby – and now I
could. Love and nurturing would be my new currency.
Still, staying home wouldn’t mean checking
out from the professional world to which I’d grown
accustomed. I decided I could still take on a freelance
project or two, and keep writing.
One minute, I was driving along life’s fast lane. The
next, I was in the “slower traffic, keep to the right” lane.

“Kristine, Ray died,” my dad said over the phone.
“I just talked to Uncle Ray,” I objected, even though
I knew the cancer in his lungs had spread through
his body in the past few months. “He called me a few
minutes ago. He said everything would be all right. He
told me not to worry.”
Just then, I realized that I had dreamt about his
phone call last night. And I remembered that when I
had last visited him, I had noticed he relied more and
more on liquid morphine to keep him comfortable.
Still, I thought he’d hang on for a few more weeks
because he was a stubborn man who made a living as a
fine artist. Despite numerous critics of his art, Ramón
Santiago was one of Rochester, New York’s most
celebrated artists. His portraits of sultry women and
whimsical creatures have hung in galleries world-wide
and been collected by Hollywood stars.

4 | Kristine Bruneau
Later that day, I went for an ultrasound to see if the
baby had turned to the head-down position. Rob and I
had been planning to ask the technician to write down
the sex of the baby and place it in an envelope to hand
my uncle. Despite my uncle’s death, we proceeded as
planned. When we handed my aunt (Uncle Ray’s wife)
the envelope, she said, “He already knows.”

The doctor told us that if the baby still hadn’t
turned by week thirty-eight, we needed to explore
options. What options? Well, for one, the doctor could
try to turn the baby using external cephalic version, an
aggressive abdominal massage that is successful only
half the time (not to mention stressful, painful, and
risky). The other option was a C-section.
I wanted neither. I told my friend Ann, a massage
therapist about the options. So she came to my house
on New Year’s Day to try reflexing points on my feet
that might encourage the baby to turn. She also gently
massaged my belly. When she was there, the baby
moved around a lot, but refused to move in the right
direction. On my own I tried exercises, inversions, and
visualization techniques to get the baby to turn.
After everything, he still seemed to be stuck under
my rib cage.

When I saw my doctor at week thirty-eight, the
baby hadn’t budged. We scheduled a C-section on
January 9th – a week before my original due date.
I left the doctor’s office feeling disappointed
because I wouldn’t be delivering vaginally, as I had
planned and prepared for. The news that a C-section
was in my future simultaneously rattled and relieved
me. I had focused so much of my energy on trying to

Mommy Musings | 5
turn this baby that I was tired.
What I needed was to turn my attention to
delivering a healthy and stress-free baby.

I rubbed my angel worry stone – a recent gift from
my aunt in remembrance of my uncle. This small thing
kept me calm, patient, and mindful while I waited to
deliver my baby.
The doctor was right – baby in driver seat.

Lesson: Have faith in small things because
the road to parenthood is paved with tiny
discoveries, challenges, bumps, and miracles.
Your baby is in the driver’s seat even before he
arrives. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Invitation: Wherever you are in your journey of
parenthood, pause for a moment to appreciate
and reflect upon the small things in life.

6 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 2

Happy Birthday
Dear, dear! How queer everything is today!
And yesterday things went on as usual.
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865 by Lewis Carroll

“H e looks just like a little man!” my husband Rob
exclaimed.
When I caught a glimpse of James in the doctor’s
hands as he held him high above my eviscerated belly,
I said, “He has a lot of hair!”
Baby James had a pelt of dark hair that made him
look eerily like Eddie Munster (according to Rob). To
our great relief, it fell out a few weeks later, and James
remained bald throughout his first year.
The day James Ray Bruneau arrived kicking and
screaming into our lives was long and exhausting.
Rob and I waited thirty-eight weeks – plus an extra
six-and-a-half hours pacing the hospital floor before a
scheduled C-section – for our six-pound, five-ounce,
twenty-inch bundle of joy.
After the nurses cleaned and swaddled James in
blue-and-white cotton and placed a stocking on his
head, Rob cradled him in his arms. Neither Rob nor
I could stop smiling as we looked from our sleeping
baby, to each other, back and forth, again and again.

Mommy Musings | 7
Gazing into my baby’s face, I thought, My dream has
come true!
During my pregnancy, I had a vivid dream of
a little boy picking flowers. The bright sun had
illuminated his golden wisps of hair and fair skin, and
he looked like an angel. I was sure that the child I was
seeing was my son.
It’s true: Nothing can prepare you for the birth of
a child – and nothing can prepare you for the loss of
one. The day my son was born, my dog Gunnar died.
He collapsed in the street only minutes after a brisk
run in the snow-covered hills of our neighborhood.
I didn’t want a dog at first. So Rob worked on me
for months, bringing me a boxer key chain, a boxer
magnet, a book on boxers, and more. (Obviously, he
wanted to adopt a boxer!). Then, after one visit “to take
a look” at newborn pups, I was smitten.
Several weeks later, we brought home a crop-eared,
brindle-colored pup and raised him like a son. We
fed, exercised, and played with him until he grew
to nearly ninety pounds. When Gunnar started
dragging me around the block, I signed him up for
obedience classes. He eventually learned to walk by
my side without a leash, and comforted me when Rob
traveled for his work. Gunnar was my protector, my
companion, my child.
When six-year-old Gunnar collapsed and Rob
rushed him to the vet’s, my thoughts weren’t on
Gunnar. Nor were they on Ruby, our newly adopted
one-year-old boxer. I was getting ready to have a baby,
and I was worried: Would I know what to do? Would
I be a good mother? Would I enjoy being a mom, or
would I regret it? Would the dogs behave with the
baby?
That day, I prayed for my baby’s health. I prayed

8 | Kristine Bruneau
for strength to do whatever it takes to raise my child
to be good. I prayed that the cut on my finger didn’t
turn into a horrible staph infection. I felt my tummy
and stroked the hard, round ball that moved with the
lightest touch. I thought of my grandmother Grace,
who died when I was five. I knew she was watching
over me, as she has my entire life. She wouldn’t let
anything happen to me or the baby.
Guess I was as ready as I would ever be.

By the time James entered this world, my best
friend had left it.

Things happen for a reason that sometimes lies
beyond our comprehension.
I believe that Gunnar watches over James. I also
believe that maybe, just maybe, Gunnar lives on in
James.

Lesson: Neither Rob nor I appreciated just how
the changes in our lives would affect us. We
caught a ride on a roller coaster without brakes,
and the anticipation of giving birth and the
irrepressible joy of holding our newborn son
collided with the anguish of losing our beloved
dog.

Invitation: What changes have occurred in your
life? How are you holding up?

Mommy Musings | 9
CHAPTE R 3

The Dog Ate My Breast Pump
When you’re at the tipping point of
frustration and exhaustion, try laughing.
There’s less mess to clean up afterward.

W hat measures do you take when your canine is
attracted to your breast milk so much that she
eats an important part of your breast pump?
Ruby, our one-year-old pup, was always there
watching James suckle my breast. She was there when
he spit up; she’d lick the milk from the floor, his face,
my hands, and his feet. She also was there to lie on his
blankets or stuffed toys that had fallen on the floor.
It’s like my breast milk was a magnet, beckoning her
to come.
I used a breast pump initially to induce my milk
flow. I continued to use it to store my milk in a bottle
or freeze it for feedings when I wasn’t with James. That
way, Rob and other family members could take turns
feeding James.
One day as I washed my breast pump, I was in
a sleep-deprived haze – and left the parts to dry on
the ledge of our bathtub. Later, I went to collect my
pumping gear, but I couldn’t find the small pump
membranes that stop expressed milk flowing back

Mommy Musings | 11
from the bottle into the pump.
I looked around, at first thinking I must have
dropped them on the floor. Then I checked the sink
and inside the tub. Finally, I realized: Ruby! She must
have sniffed out the soft, rubbery discs, and devoured
them.
I told Rob what I suspected, and ordered him to
keep an eye on Ruby’s poop over the next few days.
After all, what goes in must come out. I also asked
him to buy some more membranes.
Three days later, Rob reported that the discs had
appeared in Ruby’s poop.
“Do you want them back?” he asked.
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good.”
Together, we laughed at the silliness of it all.

Lesson: Don’t lose your sense of humor, and keep
an eye on any small parts that smell like breast
milk.

Invitation: Reflect on your day with your partner,
and laugh about it together.

12 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 4

James and the Giant Poop
We are all slightly insane.

I saw bubbles rise to the water’s surface as James
grunted and lifted his little white tushie off the
rubber bath mat. He looked up at me with his big
brown eyes and smiled. I laughed, thinking that all he
was doing was tooting.
And then he pooped.
“Ahhh!” I screamed as two rather large, dark
nuggets floated toward the drain. Instinctively, I jerked
James out of the bath and placed him on a towel. He
wanted to climb back into the warm sudsy water and
play with his rubber ducky, but the twin turds circled
the defenseless creature like vultures.
I immediately drained the water. Bath time was
over.
“We don’t make ‘ca-ca’ in the tub,” I said. “It makes
more work for Mama.”
I continued to reprimand my one-year-old: “You
need to tell me when you have to poop so I can help
you put on a diaper or sit on the toilet.”
Clearly, James didn’t understand my reaction. He
looked a little confused.
I grimaced as I thought about how I was going

Mommy Musings | 13
to have to disinfect the tub, mat, and toys. I also
wondered if I should disinfect James since he was in
the water at the time of defecation. I reasoned that
because it was a “formed” poop – and he was only
in the water for a second! – that I was relieved from
scrubbing his skin raw.
It’s not like it was James’s fault. After all, he’s only
a one-year-old. It probably felt better than pooping in
his diaper and feeling it mashed like potatoes against
his skin. Unfortunately, the daunting task of sanitizing
the tub was ahead.
While James slept a little while later, I pulled on
my yellow rubber gloves, plucked the brown balls from
the bottom of the tub, dropped them in the toilet,
and flushed. I peeled off the bath mat and threw it in
the washing machine. I picked up the toys and placed
them in a bucket for disinfecting later. I sprayed,
wiped, and rubbed the fiberglass of the tub – and then
I sat on my heels and admired how the tub sparkled.
I was glad I could enjoy the current setting. After
all, finding a way to appreciate poop in the tub takes
practice…and patience.

Lesson: Happiness is a clean tub, until the next
poop. And since there will always be more poop,
one must develop a whole lot of patience (and
practice patience.)

Invitation: Today, take a frustrating event like
poop in the tub, or your child’s temper tantrum
in the store, and ask yourself: Why should I let
this make me act like a devil-mom? Can I deal
with this situation with less emotion, or just take
it in stride and enjoy the moment?

14 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 5

Tangled in Leather
Love is not f inding someone to live with; it’s
f inding someone whom you can’t live without.

“H appy Mother’s Day!” my husband said,
handing me a white box tied with a red ribbon.
I opened it to reveal a gorgeous pair of black leather
pants.
As I fingered their buttery softness, I remembered
recently admiring a mom of three who looked
incredibly chic while standing at a party in a pair of
black leather pants. My ever-observant husband had
also noticed the leather’s alluring quality, and he knew
I had grown tired of my stay-at-home-mom (SAHM)
uniform (jeans and a tee-shirt). Too, I often grumbled
to him about having “nothing to wear” minutes before
leaving the house on a rare night out.
Well, now I did, and the leather pants he had
given me had amoré branded all over their slippery
hide. Wearing the pants however, didn’t sway my
biological clock, which was screaming like a caged
banshee.
“I can’t keep these pants,” I sighed.
“Do you like the pants?” my husband said.
“Yes.”

Mommy Musings | 15
“Do they fit?”
“Yes,” I admitted, managed a clumsy pirouette
before the mirror.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I want another baby.”
With those four words, I twisted a sweet,
gift-giving moment into an intractable Gordian knot.
I wanted to keep the pants, but felt guilty hanging on
to them knowing they wouldn’t fit for very long. The
right thing was to return the pants.
Instead, I kept the pants.
Over the next several weeks, thoughts of dancing
babies ooga-chaka’d on my brain, while my husband
worried about our finances and his frequent travel
schedule: Was now really a good time to have a second
child? We pondered the decision over a couple of
lattés. When the buzz wore off, we accepted that there
would never be an ideal time to have this child. My
husband promised to adjust his schedule, and I agreed
to cut back on unreasonable demands such as washing,
dusting, mopping, and cooking.
So, we got busy.
Month after month, while friends and
acquaintances swelled with their good news, I had
nothing that was going to transform my figure.
Complicating things further, I failed to have a period.
“Low estrogen,” said my OB/GYN, who put me on
a course of hormones to get me ovulating. After a
fruitless year of hormone-taking, I turned to a fertility
specialist.
Months of testing, poking, and prodding showed
nothing abnormal going on inside of me. The outcome
of my husband’s semen analysis was good – lots of
wiggly, motile sperm. Finally, we got a diagnosis:
unexplained infertility. Mine.

16 | Kristine Bruneau
But I already had a baby. How could I be infertile?
The doctor at the center explained that I may
have had this “condition” all along, and that we were
just “lucky” the first time. Lucky? I felt a lump in my
throat.
The nurse handed me a white notebook and
discussed my treatment plan. There were conditions,
cocktails, and syringes. I had to follow the rules of my
chosen experiment. And even if I did, there were still
no guarantees.
What did I expect? It’s not like the doctor could
hand me a Happy Meal and say, “Here’s your baby.
Have a nice day.” I couldn’t just knock on the window
and demand my prize.
Overwhelmed, scared, and totally unprepared, I
opened my new three-ring bible looking for answers.
Instead, I got a crash course in pregnancy percentages
and potential side effects from all the treatments.
The only good news was that I had joined
millions of women each year who embarked upon this
unpredictable emotional roller coaster.
During treatment, I struggled to keep my
composure. I resented swollen bellies the most,
families with two perfectly spaced kids next, and then
the well-meaning mothers or grandmothers who
dared ask the dreaded question, “When are you having
another?”
“We’re working on it,” I always answered. But
often that wasn’t enough to get them to drop the
subject. Instead, they deluged me with advice,
opinions, and stories of fertile wombs until I was
reduced to a sniveling mess.
“Don’t worry, dear, it will happen,” said one.
“I took fertility drugs, and then stopped. Eleven
years later, I had a baby,” said another.

Mommy Musings | 17
And then, there was the completely insensitive,
“All my husband had to do was look at me, and bam! I
got pregnant.”
But I also heard stories from women who had
miscarried, given birth to a baby who died shortly
after, or had a baby who was gravely ill. When I
learned about their troubles, I struggled for words.
My load didn’t seem that heavy. Yet even with this
knowledge, I despaired.

It sucks to not get pregnant when you want to.

Months of anticipation and letdowns left me on
edge. When James didn’t listen, spilled his juice, or did
any of the two hundred maddening things toddlers do,
I overreacted. I screamed. I stomped. I cried. One day,
when James refused to settle down for his nap, I yelled
and slammed a book on the floor.
“You’re scaring me, Mommy,” James said, sobbing.
A monster was raging within me, and my child
had noticed. It was time to drive her out.
“I’m thinking about giving up,” I admitted to my
husband. “But I’m going to feel like a failure if I do.”
“Don’t judge yourself,” he consoled. “It’s okay to
end this.”
After all, the stress and strain of treatment had
frayed the edges of the most important thing we
already had: our family.
Still, I obsessed over my decision. When I visited
the gynecologist for my annual exam, I told her I had
stopped fertility treatment. Sitting there in my paper
gown, it didn’t take long until I had reduced myself to
a muddle of soggy paper.
“Nature is more powerful than any of us,” she said.
“You can’t force your body to get pregnant. You

18 | Kristine Bruneau
can take all kinds of drugs and still end up without a
baby. Focus your attention on James. He needs you.
You’re healthy. Be happy. Move on.”
As a mom, letting go isn’t easy; I’m still wrestling
my inner demons. I have one child. I wanted another,
and then I couldn’t, but I tried, and then I stopped.
But I still have a great pair of black leather pants,
which like my family, fit.

Lesson: Infertility is not a moral failing. Not
having the number of children you expected to
have is far less important than what you’ve done
and what you continue to do with what you
have.

Invitation: Consider your reaction to events that
are out of your control. If they cause you to feel
out of control, where is the opening that will
lead you through the chaos and into peace?

Mommy Musings | 19
CHAPTE R 6

Little Red Mustang
Genius is one percent inspiration and
ninety-nine percent perspiration.
– Anonymous

W hen James turned two years old, we bought him
a jungle-themed potty throne. Many of James’s
friends were already pooping in the toilet; why not
James? Besides, he loved animals, so we thought the
chair might motivate him to poop. “Give it a try,” I
said in my most soothing voice.
I thought I was experienced in this, uh, line
of work because I had house-trained two very
stubborn boxers using a trick confided to me from a
wizened breeder. She told me, “Take an unlit match,
paper-side-up (not the wooden kind), and moisten the
tip with your mouth. Then insert it halfway into your
puppy’s bottom.” Like magic, both our puppies pushed
out the match and their poop. As puppies they got
busy where and when I wanted.
As I reflected on this good-luck match trick, James
continued to sit upon his throne. Eventually he gave
up and asked for a diaper to do his business. I gave in.
(After all, he wasn’t a puppy!)
A few months later, I put James in underwear

Mommy Musings | 21
imprinted with his favorite Disney characters and
rewarded him with a small prize whenever he sat on the
toilet and peed. Several toys later, James finally got it:
Pee in the toilet, and Mommy or Daddy gives me a gift!
Pooping on the potty, however, proved scary for
James. If I continued to urge him to try and use the
toilet when he had to go poop, he would fling himself
on the floor thrashing and wailing. Offerings of plastic
animals, candy, stickers, a fish, and even a trip to Africa
didn’t assuage him. I felt stressed. I was running out
of time since James turned three, and preschool was
lurking around the corner. The rule at this particular
place was that all children needed to be potty-trained
before starting.
A recent Google search yielded more than 18
million pages on potty training from ‘how to get it
done’ to ‘potty training in three days.’ More digging
online and looking on store shelves revealed potty
training dolls, books, videos, music, chairs, and special
wipes to come to your rescue. Web rings and forums,
parenting blogs, and the like abounded to help you get
to your goal of “breaking your child’s diaper” habit.
My friend Mary told me about seeing babies
and toddlers wearing snapless onesies and crotchless
pants when she had been living overseas in Shanghai,
China. When nature called, such children could just
“squat and go” anywhere. Mary’s kids were beyond the
potty-training stage now, but she reflected, “Just think
of how much money I could have saved by not buying
diapers!”
Yes, potty training is a multi-billion dollar industry
– and American parents are suckers.
I caught an episode of “Nanny 911” once where
the nanny decorated the toilet with trees and plants to
get the little boy to “pee-pee” in the potty rather than

22 | Kristine Bruneau
outside in the yard. I thought she was on to something
until I caught James relieving himself – just like a wild
animal ¬might – in my expensive silk bamboo.
That’s when I realized that even expert potty
trainers can’t guarantee results.
Potty training was more time-consuming than I
thought. After nearly two-and-a-half years of reading,
talking to other moms, researching, and analyzing, I
realized that it wasn’t worth pushing my kid too hard.
And guess what? James made it through his first
year of pre-school without incident. The year had
passed, and James had turned four. Yet at home, he still
wasn’t ready to complete his potty training.
My husband Rob came up with his own idea:
If James pooped on the potty, we’d buy him a car!
Okay, okay: Rob was referring to a twelve-volt, plastic
ride-on that James could use to cruise the streets of our
neighborhood. I was doubtful, but why not give it a try?
One afternoon, Rob explained the idea to James,
who upon hearing the on-the-toilet idea, promptly
threw a tantrum worthy of an exorcist – and then fell
asleep. After he awoke from a two-hour nap, James
marched into the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and
pooped!
That evening our family picked up a red Ford
Mustang. (The plastic ride-on version, that is.)
“It has a racehorse on it, so it’s fast,” said James,
referring to the hood ornament.
The next day, I watched James zip along the street
with one hand on the wheel and the wind blowing
back his hair. He had the radio blaring.
I looked at my husband and smiled. To me, Rob
was a genius.

Mommy Musings | 23
Lesson: Potty training requires patience and
genius. What works for one child may not work
for another, but one thing’s for sure: Every
kid will eventually poop on the potty. Oh, and
don’t forget that your significant other can have
brilliant ideas, too.

Invitation: Pay attention to the opportunities
that life presents to you, and try out a new idea
or solution to a difficulty your child is having.

24 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 7

Kindergarten Angst
Fortune favors the brave.

W hile most moms shed tears of melancholy
when they send their squeaky little ones off to
kindergarten in September, I shed tears of joy. But it
wasn’t because I didn’t want my son around.
As the first day of kindergarten approached, I
filled with dread: All summer long I agonized whether
my son James was really ready to leave the feathered
nest. After all, he had a history of “separation anxiety,”
one that we had made great strides to overcome.
However, there was still a glitch.
When introduced to new situations, James quickly
became frustrated. My usually calm son transformed
into a screeching, furless ball of arms and legs, which
proved both physically and mentally draining to
me. At the end of the day, I find myself drowning in
introspection with a Cosmopolitan on the side.
How on earth was I going to get my
five-and-a-half-year-old to board the bus on his first
day?
While reading Real Boys by Harvard psychologist
William Pollack, I panicked over his claims that going
to kindergarten at age five pushes boys into separating

Mommy Musings | 25
too soon from their mothers. Pollack insists that
this separation “is a mistake with serious emotional
consequences” such as depression. He also reasoned
that wild mood swings in boys are due to “earlier,
unrequited longings for connection and a fear of
shame.”
Frankly, that’s not what I wanted to read. I knew
now my son was going to develop a complex requiring
psychotherapy and drugs for the rest of his life because
his mama shipped him to kindergarten before he was
ready.
My shrewd sisterhood scoffed at these assertions,
and insisted that my boy would be just fine.
I had prepared my boy for his upcoming
independence via two years of pre-school, five years
of babysitters, two weeks of day camp, and loads of
playdates-sans-mom. My husband and I had raised
him with love and understanding, and given him tools
to work things out. Might it be time for the next step?
After all, it was only half-day kindergarten, about the
same amount of time as James’s preschool day. What
could happen?

The voice inside me agreed: “Believe in him. He can do
it. Trust him.”

As “K” day loomed nearer, more and more people
asked James if he was looking forward to kindergarten.
His reply was a simple but honest, “No.” He wasn’t
excited. He didn’t want to go to a new school with
different teachers and lots of children he didn’t know.
Nor was he eager for a stranger to drive away with him
in a large, yellow cage.
During the last days of summer, James would
often ask, “Why do I have to go to school?”

26 | Kristine Bruneau
“To learn,” I would answer.
“I don’t need school,” he would say.
“Everyone needs to learn,” I would correct, adding,
“Mommy and Daddy went to school. Your friends go
to school. It will be fun.”
James didn’t buy it.
The night before his first day of school, James
worried that he wouldn’t find his classroom. I drew
him a map, which we had to review several times
before bed. As I tucked him in finally, James squeaked,
“I’m not brave.”
“Yes, you are,” I replied. “You don’t have to be
brave all by yourself. I’ll help you. Your teacher will
help you. Your friends will help you. You can do this.”
As my son fell asleep, I prayed that the situation
would improve. But we had another crisis the next
morning: “I can’t do it,” James said, sobbing.
I tried to soothe James by saying all the nurturing
things I could remember. When nothing seemed to
work, I left him in a teary ball and walked away. And
then something miraculous happened. He stopped
crying, got off the couch, and got dressed. By himself.
“C’mon, Mom,” he said, strapping on his backpack.
“I’m ready to go to school.”
I ran after him as he marched towards the bus stop
– where, to his delight, he saw several boys and girls he
knew. His best friend Caleb was there waiting with his
big sister Colby. James smiled and wriggled in next to
them in line.
Seven-year-old Colby took charge, wrapping
her arms around both Caleb and James. “I’ll help
you get on the bus,” she said. “And show you to your
classroom.”
She was a dimpled angel; a toothless ambassador
taking my son beneath her wing. My heart soared.

Mommy Musings | 27
When the bus pulled up, James climbed aboard.
It had become something he wanted to do – and he
didn’t need my help. He had solved his own problem
and, for the moment, mine too. All the worrying,
hand-wringing, dialogue, and preparation had paid off.
I watched the bus turn away, took a deep breath,
and exhaled. He’s on his way.

Lesson: Your child knows when he’s ready to take
on today’s obstacles although it may cost you a
high level of anxiety in the meantime.

Invitation: Say this little mantra with your child
today: “Hip, hip, hooray! I am happy, brave, and
ready for today.”

28 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 8

Boys and Sticks
Walk softly and carry a big stick.

O ne warm, cloudless, spring afternoon, I walked
with my son’s little hand in mine towards the
cul-de-sac where neighborhood boys gather to play,
shoot baskets, ride bikes, and chase each other. Our dog
Ruby bounded on the lawns next to us. It was a sweet,
blissful moment that ended as soon as James saw them:
boys with sticks. James dropped my hand and took off
to join in the revelry. If only I had a stick, I thought.
When I mentioned this little episode to my
husband, he mused, “Boys and sticks never end.”

Suddenly, sticks had become a metaphor for penis.

Anyone who has ever raised a boy knows that boys
like to play with their sticks. My son found his during
a diaper change when he was a few months old. It
seemed as if he’s never let go of it: in the morning, in
the bath, at bedtime, for the rush to the bathroom, or
just to hold while watching TV.
Boys can’t help it. It’s just there, all the time.
And as my son said quizzically to me one time while
holding his stick, “Sometimes it’s big and sometimes

Mommy Musings | 29
it’s small.” His observation left me fumbling
for a clinical-yet-brief explanation for my then
three-year-old. In the end, I was speechless.
“Does it hurt?” I asked James once. “No? Then,
leave it alone.” I made a mental note to delegate the
future “big talk” to my husband.
Apparently, boys never outgrow the fascination
with their sticks, or anything phallic for that matter.
Their imagination transforms a simple wooden stick
into a sword, club, or spear. Boys become warriors,
battling for glory until someone gets hurt, or yells,
“Oh, my nuts!” And then they roar with laughter.
Sticks are everywhere you look.
Sticks are in architecture, art, sports, music,
games, and Google. As boys become men, they invent
different ways to use sticks; some useful, some not
so much. They range from stick shifts to the “brick
dick” water tower in Ypsilanti, Michigan; from Albert
Paley’s towering steel sculpture at Bausch + Lomb’s
(former) headquarters in Rochester, NY; and from
historically phallic electric guitars and cigars and to
what went on in the infamous Clinton-Lewinsky
affair. I could go on, but you get the picture.
As I watched my son run with the pack in a
Lord-of-the-Flies kind of way, I knew that his stick
obsession was more than just a Freudian stage. It’s part
of being a boy. But still, I’m glad I don’t have a stick.

Lesson learned: Sticks may or may not always be a
good thing to have.

Invitation: Watch your child play with a toy, or
machine for a few minutes, and see what he ends
up doing with it.

30 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 9

The Tooth Fairy
You never know what you can do until you try.

W hen I was a little girl, the Tooth Fairy seemed
like a young, beautiful, and magical creature.
She could fly on silvery, gossamer, wings and had lots
of money. I’m not sure how she earned her money, but
that wasn’t important. What mattered was that she
snuck into the rooms of sleeping children, collected
teeth from beneath pillows, and replaced the nubs with
shiny quarters. (I know, I know. I’m dating myself.)
Important things to know about the Tooth Fairy
when you’re six years old:
• She can fly anywhere she wants, anytime, but
mostly at night.
• She’s kind. She gives her money to children,
who can’t wait to spend it (usually on candy).
• She has lots of money locked in a vault
somewhere in Tooth Fairy Land.
• She’s smart. With her superior brainpower, she
knows when someone loses a tooth, where they
live, and the moment they are sound asleep.
• She prefers clean, minty-fresh teeth.
• She makes jewelry with the best of the teeth
she collects.

Mommy Musings | 31
• She carries a magic sleep-wand that she waves
over kids who wake up while she’s working.
• She wears a pink tutu.

When I grew up, I wanted to be the Tooth Fairy. I
believed, however, improbable, that I could do this job.
One day I would meet the Tooth Fairy and become
her apprentice. When she retired, I reasoned, I would
take over her gig.
I don’t remember when I stopped believing in
the Tooth Fairy. I think it was about the same time I
accidentally discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real.
One afternoon, while my mom was upstairs doing
something, my brother Steve and I were alone in the
basement. For once he wasn’t using me as a punching
bag, and together we schemed to search for our
Christmas presents. We weren’t allowed in the laundry
room, so naturally that was the first place we looked.
Neither of us thought that the gifts on our Santa lists
would be nestled in the familiar Sibley’s department
store bags alongside toys and clothes we requested
from Mom and Dad.
Shocked and guilt-ridden about our discovery,
we swore not to tell Mom, because we knew we’d
stumbled onto something big – the truth about Santa.
Our decision didn’t matter: Mom called us on our
little crusade when she took one look at her laundry
room that looked as if it had been ransacked by a
bunch of squirrels. We came clean to her, yet tried
to justify that there was a Santa and she was just
his helper. We were upset, and worried that Santa’s
deliveries were over for good. She may have said then,
“If you believe, you will receive,” or at least something
to that effect.

32 | Kristine Bruneau
My dream to become the Tooth Fairy died that day,
and I hadn’t really given it much thought until James lost
a tooth.

James lost his first tooth at six and-a-half, long
after many of his friends had lost theirs. He couldn’t
wait until his wiggly bottom tooth finally fell out.
“Mommy,” he would ask, fingers in mouth, “When will
I loof my toof ?”
Many times a day he would open his mouth to
show me his tooth and say, “Look, Mom, it’s weally
wiggly.” I would nod in agreement, and James would
walk around the house with his fingers wrapped
around his tooth.
One day James had had enough and said, “Pull it,
mom.”
I wiggled it and said, “It’s not ready.” In reality, I
couldn’t bring myself to extract it. It sent shivers down
my spine to even consider pulling it.
However, James couldn’t take it anymore. He
pinched his bottom tooth and pulled. Out popped the
bloody kernel.
“Look! My toof !” James said, his face resembling a
little pumpkin. And then my cute little pumpkin-face
dropped it on the floor.
“Get it before Ruby does!” I said, not really looking
forward to having to search dog poop for a baby tooth.
Luckily, James fell to his knees and rescued it
before Ruby knew what happened. We then placed it
in a cup far away from her curious nose.
Before bed that evening, I helped James place his
tooth inside his small, tooth-shaped box (purchased
just for this occasion) and tuck it beneath his pillow.
He was excited for the Tooth Fairy to come take his
tooth away and leave him with a treasure. James said

Mommy Musings | 33
he was hoping for a soccer jersey. I gently reminded
him that the Tooth Fairy only carried cash.
When the excitement finally wore off and he
zonked out, I ran downstairs to grab my wallet. All
I had was a five-dollar bill. While his tooth seemed
worthy of something more substantial than the quarter
I received as a kid, was five bucks too much? A dollar
or two seemed more in line with inflation rates, and I
scoured the usual places for loose bills – jacket pockets,
the dryer, junk drawers, and couch cushions. No luck.
I had hyped the Tooth Fairy all day; I couldn’t say
she forgot. So it was either the five-dollar bill or face
my son’s bitter disappointment. I made a mental note
to be better prepared in the future with a stash of crisp
dollar bills. After all, I am the Tooth Fairy; better start
acting like one.
I slipped into James’s room and pulled the tooth
box out from under his pillow. I slid his tooth into my
hand and replaced the box along with the folded bill.
His long, golden eyelashes fluttered and he emitted a
soft moan, but didn’t awake. I think I held my breath
the entire time, but Operation Tooth Fairy was a
success.
I returned to my room, and marveled over the tiny
jagged Chiclet. This little bone-like substance had six
years of stories to tell. I dropped it in a small jewelry
box and tucked it beneath my socks in the top drawer
of my bureau.
Every so often now, I’ll pour the troops into my
palm and recall their exploits from poking through
pink gums, to nuzzling the dog’s hindquarters, to
biting cousin Julia’s finger, and finally to detachment.
It took me over thirty years, but I had finally
achieved my childhood dream: to become the Tooth
Fairy.

34 | Kristine Bruneau
Lesson learned: There are many elements within
ourselves and the world that undermine our
fate. Often we are reminded of our own belated
recognition of what we already have and know to
be true.

Invitation: If you’ve kept your children’s teeth,
take them out and look at them. What stories
do they contain? If your kid is older, you might
consider sharing the memories with them.

Mommy Musings | 35
CHAPTE R 10

You Can’t Hurry Scrambled Eggs
Haste makes waste.

H urry should not be confused with speed, which
is moving fast. Speed is necessary when running
late for an appointment. Hurry means to act quickly,
and robs you of time. When you hurry to get out the
door, you forget things like keys, phones, lunches, your
kid, groceries, and more. When you hurry, you make
mistakes and mess things up like breakfast. Trust me, I
know. I learned the hard way.
Eggs made in a hurry taste awful. What’s worse
is that my family refuses to eat dry, flaky eggs. James
often tells me that I am “the most horrible egg maker
in the world.” Rob agrees with James.

If two people in your family say your scrambled eggs
suck, you need to think about changing something.

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked Rob one day.
He told me that it’s not so much that I’m in a hurry,
but that I’m not present when I make scrambled eggs:
I don’t stay focused on the task.
“Oh please,” I said, ready to dismiss his comment
with a fling of my spatula while at the same time

Mommy Musings | 37
visualizing all the other things I do while waiting for
the eggs to “hurry” up and cook. I put dishes away, tidy
up the kitchen, check email, feed the dog, and do other
tasks to keep my life moving forward.
I guess I do “hurry” eggs. When I hurry scrambled
eggs, I cause a ripple effect: Not only does my family
refuse to choke down my eggs, I create waste and add
time to my already tight morning schedule. Too, when
rushing to make eggs, I’ve burnt myself on the stove.
Multi-tasking isn’t always a good skill to possess,
especially when making scrambled eggs.
What is the opposite of hurry?
Slow down.
I’ve found that the more I stay present cooking
eggs and gently fluffing them in the pan, the better the
scrambled eggs. I also found that I gained time by not
having to make another breakfast, and I saved money
by not tossing a few good organic (and expensive!)
eggs into the garbage.
Still, my scrambled eggs continue to be a work in
progress. I guess I’ll just keep at it.

Lesson: Your hurry is not my worry.

Invitation: Take a moment to think about a task
or two that you rush to get done. Is the task
done well? Do you have to do the task over again
because you missed something? Does hurrying
up the task leave you feeling good about
yourself ? What will you do differently?

38 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 11

God of Discipline
No matter how hard we try to do the right thing,
sometimes we end up doing the wrong thing.

S ome days, James reminds me of the little boy
chasing his dog with a fork in Maurice Sendak’s
Where the Wild Things Are. In Sendak’s classic tale, the
boy’s mom gets fed up with her son’s mischief, and
calls him “Wild Thing.” To which the boy replies: “I’ll
eat you up,” prompting his mother to send him to bed
without any supper. The boy falls asleep, and dreams
about taming man-eating monsters.
One day, James got angry with me because I put
him in a Time-Out for bad behavior. I had warned
him to stop whining (as he couldn’t get ahold of his
friends to play) and quit arguing with me (like it was
my fault his friends were unavailable). And then he
threw a container of markers across the room. That was
the last straw. He hit the magic number three.
“TIME OUT!”
Upset, James called me “stupid,” and said I was
“the worst mommy ever.” Just as I was teetering on the
edge of something drastic, my husband, who witnessed
the whole thing, showed remarkable Zen-like restraint
and said, “Who’s evolved?”

Mommy Musings | 39
That is one of our favorite lines from the movie
Night at the Museum, and “Who’s evolved?” has
become an inside joke between the two of us. There’s
a scene where a monkey slaps the face of night
watchman Larry (played by Ben Stiller). As Larry
raises a newspaper to return the slap, Teddy Roosevelt
(played by Robin Williams) interrupts the assault and
says, “Who’s evolved?”
The answer is, “I have,” (but just barely.)
After a few minutes, I edged up the stairs to James’
room and heard him say, “Please, God, help me. Please
change my mom’s mind, so I can get out of Time-Out
and play with my friends.”

Bemused that my exuberant six-year-old had asked
for the Big Guy’s help, I was also miffed to learn that I was
the object of divine intervention.

Did I overreact? Did I do the right thing?
I read somewhere in the multitude of parenting
books and websites available to me that it’s a natural
part of a child’s development to want independence
and exert his individuality. My mom and dad referred
to demonstrations of “individuality” as “acting up.”
They had no problem squashing such rebellion back
in the 1970s. If we “acted up,” my brother and I were
spanked, sent to our room, or both.
We endured other disciplinary actions too, from
hair pulling, to washing our mouths out with soap,
and to throwing books, shoes, or anything else within
easy reach. Unfortunately, that kind of discipline didn’t
completely end our juvenile transgressions, but it did
instill temporary fear, which was the point. I matured
without visible scars and hadn’t given much thought to
parenting until I had my own child.

40 | Kristine Bruneau
I knew that I wanted to guide and train my
little guy to make good choices, but there’s a lot of
free will buzzing inside a pint-sized human. A few
minutes later, James walked out of his room. Instead of
admonishing him for coming out before I called him, I
asked, “Would you like to talk?”
James sniffed and said, “Can we start over?” And
then we hugged.
James is learning and so am I. A parenting bible
with all the answers doesn’t exist. However, I’ve found
that when I’m clear, present, and calm with James,
I can help him make the connection between his
behavior and its consequence.
Maybe God helped a little after all.

Lesson: There’s no pocket guide to disciplining a
“little me,” no matter how far and long you look.
Instead of searching for the answer to perfect
parenting, perhaps all you have to do is wait for
that moment when your child enlightens you.

Invitation: Today, seek a moment of
enlightenment from your child.

Mommy Musings | 41
CHAPTE R 12

The Right Tilt
Def inition of tilt: (n) the act of tilting:
the state or position of being tilted.

J ames wanted to go to soccer camp, but he changed
his mind on the first day. Clinging tightly to my
hand, my then eight-year-old said, “I don’t want you to
leave me here.”
I tried to soothe him and said that I would see
him in a few hours.
“I don’t want the babysitter to pick me up,” James
cried. “I want you!”
I was able to leave only when James was distracted
with some older kids at the school gym helping to run
the camp.
I couldn’t understand why it seemed that James
suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of my leaving him,
or trying something new. He had been to a few day
camps before. But this week his separation anxiety
continued, and by the fourth day of the same ritual,
I was exhausted from trying to smooth out my son’s
worries. What’s more, my husband had been out of
town on business all week, making our family (and our
support system) incomplete.
Rob surprised James by arriving home a day

Mommy Musings | 43
earlier than expected. When James saw him, he yelled,
‘Daddy!’ in a little-boy voice that made my heart swell
with joy. James jumped into Rob’s arms, nestling his
brown curls beneath his father’s chin.
The next morning on the last day of soccer camp,
the three of us held hands and walked towards the
gym. James’s worries seemed to have vanished.
“I’m happy,” said James, with a wide toothless grin.
“I’m the right tilt.”
Yeah, me too.

Lesson: Being the “right tilt” means that your
world is in balance. When James knows that
mom, dad, and dog are nearby, he can do things
on his own with confidence. There’s always a
shoulder to lean on, arms to embrace, a furry face
to kiss, a familiar voice to soothe him. Take an
orb out of his world, and James feels the void.

Invitation: What’s out-of-tilt in your world right
now? How can you right it?

44 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 13

Hello. Good-Bye. I Love You.
Happiness is hearing: I love you, Mommy!

O ne evening when I left the house to play tennis,
James, then seven-years-old, said, “I love you,
Mommy.”
These four words made me stop. It didn’t matter
what kind of crappy day I had, or how busy I was. I
don’t recall when this ritual began, but they continue
to be the best words I could ever hear.
Holding James as an infant, I couldn’t help but
kiss the top of his head and coo, “I love you!” every
chance I got. It was a very one-sided love affair since
James couldn’t speak – but he sure could cry!
As James grew, he cried less, and smiled more.
When he awoke in his crib, I recalled spending several
minutes listening to him through the baby monitor as
he chirped to himself. It was hard to wait to swoop in
and cradle him in my arms.
At fifteen months, James continued to scoot
around the floors on his hands and knees. One day he
knelt beside me on the couch, wrapped his tiny arms
around my neck, and planted a wet kiss on my cheek.
“I love you,” I said. James placed his lips against my
face and made juicy smacking noises, over and over.

Mommy Musings | 45
As a sleep-drunk toddler, James liked to climb up
and nestle into my lap while kissing his stuffed duck
blanket Quack-quack. “I love you,” I would say, resting
my chin on the fuzzy curls atop his head.
Once James reached school age, our morning
rituals shifted again. Just as James announced “Bus!” at
the top of his lungs, he would scan my lips for traces
of lipstick. If I wore lipstick, he kissed me on the
cheek; if not, he kissed me on the lips.
“I love you, Mommy,” said James, giving me one
last lingering look before he boarded the school bus.
James’s soft brown eyes and tousled hair melted
my heart.

When he wasn’t with me, I felt like I misplaced
something precious – a nagging feeling that dulled a bit as
the day wore on, but never really disappeared until I was
with my son again.

Our wrinkled-faced boxer Ruby felt the same way,
I think. She’d pad in and out of rooms, sniffing for
James when he wasn’t around. Eventually, she’d circle
her dog bed, then heave and sigh into her nest. On
school afternoons, I’d take her to the bus stop, and
the moment she sighted James she’d begin her happy
dance of wriggling herself into a kidney bean and
snorting. With flattened ears, she would hop up on her
hind legs and lick James’s face when he got close.
I think Ruby and I felt in balance again once
James was back at home.
James is a few years older now and Ruby is gone,
but it still feels as good to me when he’s at home. Now,
at bedtime, as James begins to fall asleep, I kiss him,
finger his curls, and say, “I love you.”
“I love you Mommy.”

46 | Kristine Bruneau
Lesson: “I love you Mommy” are the four best
words I could ever hear.

Invitation: How often do you hear “I love you?”
Now, consider how often you say, “I love you,”
to your loved ones. What might happen if you
started saying it?

Mommy Musings | 47
CHAPTE R 14

Got Rhythm?
What joy rhythm brings to those who have none.

I confess: I “ain’t got no rhythm.”
I like to listen to all kinds of music, but I don’t
understand how to make sounds that are pleasing for
anyone to listen to, with or without an instrument.
Taking violin lessons, however, may have been the
best way for me to uncover some rhythm buried deep
inside of me.
When my eight-year-old-son chose to play the
violin, the “Suzuki Method” was his school’s preferred
music instruction. Developed by Japanese educator and
violin teacher Shin’ichi Suzuki, the Suzuki Method is
based on hearing the music first, rather than studying
theory, and then playing. Parent involvement was
essential to the method’s success. However, I don’t
think Mr. Suzuki had me in mind when he made the
requirement.
Having never played an instrument before – I
doubt the flutophone counts – I don’t know how to
read music or recognize notes by ear. I can barely
clap in syncopated time. Usually I cheat and watch
everyone else’s hands so it looks like I’m keeping up,
but I really have no idea.

Mommy Musings | 49
Around the house, I make a lot of noise –
slamming doors, drawers, and cupboards – but where’s
the music in that? I tend to break coffee mug handles
and chip plates whenever I put things away. I grip
everything too tightly, including my tennis racquet.
How could I show my son to gently play a violin?

I rented a violin thinking I could change my past and
somehow nurture James’s musical abilities.

I arrived at James’s first lesson, violin in tow, only
to discover that I was the only parent who had rented
an instrument. I tried to remain cool while I waited
my turn along with the rest of the students for the
teacher to tune our violins.
Every week I attended a group lesson with my
son, led by the teacher. There was lots of repetition
and progress was painfully slow, but James’s teacher
was extremely patient and encouraging of all students,
including me. He gently corrected finger placement,
adjusted posture, and encouraged everyone to loosen
their death grips. I was in awe of his tenacity and
passion for teaching us how to play. However, I have
to confess that I couldn’t wait to play something other
than “Mississippi Hot Dog.”
At home, the first sounds James and I produced
while moving the bow erratically across the violin
strings caused our dog Ruby to howl. Her plaintive
wail still puzzles me; did she want to join our violin
lollapalooza, or did she want us to stop? After several
weeks of practice, our tone improved a little – although
Ruby continued to howl. I came to realize, though, that
James had progressed much faster than me.
“James, where the heck is B note?” I asked.
“Here, Mom,” he said, pointing to the second, or

50 | Kristine Bruneau
“A,” string while rolling his eyes.
I must have seemed like a hopeless case of
non-musical ability; instead of helping my son learn
the notes, he instructed me.
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, it’s really
not my fault. Gladwell’s theory is that talent, plus
hard work, plus luck, plus cultural background equals
success. In his book Outliers, Gladwell explains that,
“…by the age of 20, elite violinists had totaled 10,000
hours of practice; good violinists had 8,000 hours
under their belt; future music teachers had just over
4,000 hours.”
Ten thousand hours seemed to be the magic
number in achieving success or expert status. I did the
math: If I wanted to master the violin, I would have to
practice nearly three hours every day – but I’m old by
eight-year-old standards. Did I really want to spend
ten or more years of my life working on that goal? I
had a lot of other things on my bucket list, and this
seemed like a distraction.
When it came time for the first-year Suzuki
students to perform in public, I worried. It had been
just three months, and a mere handful of hours, since
the first-years started. Would James know where to
put his fingers to make a pleasing noise?
In the end, it didn’t matter. What I saw on stage
was excitement and determination. I realized that
whether or not my kid hit the notes just right, I knew
where he started from, and I was proud of the current
moment.
James and his pals didn’t overthink the music. They
tried their best to follow along with the rhythm. When
they messed up a note or two, they didn’t care because
they didn’t really know which notes they skipped.
After their performance, the boys and girls faced

Mommy Musings | 51
the audience with their violins tucked under their
right arms and their hands clutching their bows. As a
group they bowed to resounding applause.
While I will never advance beyond “Mississippi
Hot Dog,” I was humbled by my Suzuki journey. I may
have found my rhythm after all.

Lesson: Practicing an instrument or anything
when you’re very young makes a huge difference,
and kids reach success faster than adults. Also,
don’t overthink the music in your life.

Invitation: Observe your children when they
make music and allow the rhythm to flow
through you.

52 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 15

The End Is Where We Begin
I miss the little wagging tail; I miss the plaintive,
pleading wail; I miss the wistful, loving glance;
I miss the circling welcome-dance.
– excerpt from In Memorium, by Henry Willett

“I miss Ruby,” said James as he walked into my
office one morning.
“Me, too,” I said.
James folded himself into my lap and began
to cry. As I rocked him, I thought about our eight
year-old-boxer, Ruby who had grown up with James
since he was a baby. We had put her to sleep when
she struggled to draw breath from her cancer-riddled
lungs two days after Christmas. The decision was
sudden, but not completely unexpected since she had
collapsed many times over several weeks, her breathing
growing more difficult with each episode.
It had been three months since we made the
decision to put Ruby to sleep and our house felt empty.
As my fingers stroked James’ messy curls, I recalled a
boxer I had seen a day earlier: The undeniable square
head and pushed-in snout had been poking out from
a car window, eyes squinting from the blast of sweet
spring air. Was this a sign?

Mommy Musings | 53
“Mom,” James sniffed. “When are we going to get
a puppy?”
“Honey,” I said, “You know Dad isn’t ready for a
puppy. Besides, a puppy is a lot of work–”
“I will take care of the puppy,” promised James.
“Hmmm,” I said, knowing that I would be the
primary zookeeper.
“Can’t we just look on the computer?” James said,
“to see if any boxer puppies have been born?”
“Well,” I said. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt just to
look.”
A rabbit-toothed grin spread across James’s
tear-stained face.
We searched for breeders online, and discovered
there was one nearby with a recent litter of four
puppies. Another sign?
“Can we see them?” asked James.
“This was posted a month ago,” I said. “The
puppies may have found homes by now.”
“Please?”
James clasped his hands under his chin and tilted
his head. It was hard for me to resist his big, brown
eyes.
“Oh, all right,” I said, reasoning that the puppies
were probably gone. When I called, I learned that
there that one pup was left. The breeder, Elmo, said
he was thinking of keeping him because of his calm,
sweet disposition. Before I could stop myself, I
explained that we had just lost our boxer of eight years,
and my young son desperately wanted another.
“Ruby really looked after James,” I said. “Could we
at least take a look?”
When I hung up the phone, we had an
appointment to see the puppy that afternoon. James
could barely contain his excitement. He clapped his

54 | Kristine Bruneau
hands and jumped up and down. And then he ran
circles around the kitchen, slipping and sliding in his
socks.
“We’re just looking,” I reminded him. “Don’t get
your hopes up, James. We don’t know if this puppy will
be right for us. Besides, we still have to tell Dad.”
Losing Ruby had been hard on all of us, especially
Rob. She was his little girl who helped plug the hole
of sadness when we suddenly lost our first boxer,
Gunnar. I wasn’t sure he was ready for another dog, let
alone a puppy. But I was about to find out.
“Daddy! We’re getting a puppy,” James announced
as soon as Rob opened the door, suitcase in hand.
“We are?” Rob said, hugging James, and casting a
surprised look at me.
“I will be responsible,” James said, his words
spilling out at high-speed. “I’ll give him attention and
feed him. I’ll walk and play with him. I’ll take him to
the bathroom and train him. You’ll see. A puppy will
cheer us all up.”
“Slow down, buddy,” laughed Rob, who had
returned from a business trip to California. “It sounds
like you thought a lot about this.”
James nodded. Then he ran to the desk, grabbed
a pencil and paper, and began to list everything he
would do to help with a puppy. He showed us his
finished “contract.”
“We’ll take a look,” Rob said. “But no promises.”

No dog barked as we entered Elmo’s house.
Staring wide-eyed at us from their crates were boxers,
Boston terriers, and Chihuahuas. On the far side of
the room, James spotted the boxer puppy. He was
brindle – dark, with caramel stripes like a tiger, and a
snow-white chest. Except for the puppy’s long, floppy

Mommy Musings | 55
ears, he looked exactly like our first boxer Gunnar.
“Why didn’t anyone choose him?” asked James,
staring at the puppy who was eyeing him curiously.
“I think it’s because he’s different from the others,”
replied Elmo.
Then he explained that the puppy had a pink eye,
but it wasn’t really his eye that was pink, it was his
eyelid. “All dogs have a third eyelid that helps keep the
eye clean,” explained Elmo.
“It looks like skin,” said James.
“That’s right,” said Elmo. “His third eyelid stands
out more in his right eye than his left because it
doesn’t have any pigment, or coloring. So his eyes look
a bit odd.”
Elmo opened the crate and out walked the puppy
right towards James.
“Do you want to play?” asked James, and he rolled
a green rubber ball.
The puppy gave chase, and returned to drop the
ball at James’s feet. When the puppy pawed and
pounded at his toy in a playful cat-like way, we all
laughed. It was a natural boxer trait to “box.”
Then James called out, “Here, puppy!”
The puppy trotted to him with the nub of his tail
wagging. James walked around Elmo’s kitchen with
the puppy trailing after him.
“The pup is really good with James,” said Elmo.
“I’d rather see the puppy in a home with kids.”
I looked at Rob and smiled. “I think we’re ready,” I
said.
Rob nodded.
“What should we name him?” I asked.
“How about Beck?” Rob suggested.
Beck was short for Beckham, as in David
Beckham – arguably one of the world’s greatest soccer

56 | Kristine Bruneau
players. His name was emblazoned across the back of
James’s and Rob’s LA Galaxy soccer jerseys they wore
that day.
“I like it,” said James.
Beck licked his hand. He must have agreed too.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Elmo.

Lesson: There are beginnings in life, like bringing
home a puppy, and endings, such as a death of an
old friend. We need both to learn from.

Invitation: Today, think about the beginnings
and endings in your life. Stop and think about
where they might lead.

Mommy Musings | 57
CHAPTE R 16

Tomorrow Is a Better Day
I want always to be a little boy and to have fun.
– from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

“Y ou’re supposed to wash your hair when you
bathe,” I said to James who was sitting in the
tub, arranging his plastic animals along the edge. “It’s
part of getting clean.”
“But I don’t feel like it,” said James.
“Why not?” I said through clenched teeth. James
had rubbed my last nerve on a long day.
“It’s not now,” he answered.
I sat back on my heels and thought about what he
had said. While James plays with his animals in the
tub, talking to them and splashing water, the furthest
thing from his mind is washing his hair. During bath
time, he builds a world that he believes is real and
completely devotes himself to that moment. It’s a
world in which Arctic and Antarctic animals live in
harmony because when James plays God of the Tub,
wherein anything he imagines can happen.
I thought James was procrastinating, even though
he didn’t know the meaning of the word. Grownups
know – and some of us are pretty good at postponing
things we don’t like to do, especially as a regular

Mommy Musings | 59
practice. As an example, I hate ironing. I’d rather pick
up dog poop than stand in the basement pressing
shirts. Ironing is really not that important to me, so
I own less shirts that require an iron. I can get away
with this, but James needs to practice good hygiene.
He needs to shampoo his dirty hair.
I watched James float on his back, enveloped in
snowy-white bubbles fizzing like a soft summer rain.
As I considered him, his eyes fluttered and closed. He’s
in his zone. I knew that if I waited too long, I wouldn’t
be able to motivate James to shampoo his hair.
So what?
So what if James doesn’t wash his hair today?
What’s the worst that could happen? It smells a bit
funky?
While clean hair is important to me, James doesn’t
care. So it finally dawned on me what James meant
when he said: “It’s not now.” If something isn’t urgent
and important, then it doesn’t need to be done right
now. Tomorrow is a better day to do what he doesn’t
believe is the most important thing to do at the
moment.
That night I didn’t force James to wash his hair. The
next morning before school, I squirted spray gel on his
curly mop. Guess what? Everything was all right.

Lesson: Sometimes, tomorrow is a better day to
do something.

Invitation: The next time you’re performing a
task, or thinking about it, ask yourself these
questions: Is it important and urgent, right now?
Can this task be done another day? Is it worth
doing? If it’s not important and not urgent, why
is it on your list?

60 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 17

The Art of Listening
Know how to listen and you will prof it
even from those who talk badly.
– Plutarch

I believe that my number one job is to listen,
attentively and with genuine interest to the person
who is speaking to me. Yet, I sometimes find that I
don’t practice this with my own child. One day, James
began to talk about his last soccer game and how the
captain of his soccer team determined the toss-off.
“Toss-off ? What’s a toss-off ?” I asked.
“Mom,” James said with an eye roll. “You should
really know this by now.”
For three years, I’ve watched James play in more
than fifty soccer games. How could I have missed this
critical piece of information?
“The toss-off determines who gets to choose
the side to attack at the beginning of the game,” he
continued. “We toss a coin, or do rock, paper, scissors.
That’s what they do in professional soccer, too.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
“You need to pay attention,” he said.
Touché. While soccer pros don’t employ rock,
paper, scissors to determine the start of play, they do

Mommy Musings | 61
toss a coin. According to the “Laws of the Game”
drawn up by FIFA, the international governing body
of soccer, the start of play begins with tossing a coin.
The team that wins the toss decides which goal to
attack in the first half of the match. The opposing
team gets to take the kick-off to start the match. For
the second half, the teams switch ends, and the team
that won the coin toss kicks off.
To a non-soccer player like me, it’s all very
confusing. However, my little conversation with James
made me think about the importance of listening with
an attentive mind and heart. Listening seems obvious,
doesn’t it? Every day we listen to our kids, our spouses,
our bosses, our friends, and our co-workers.

Research implies that we don’t give conversations our
full attention; we forget seventy-five percent of what we
hear.

Other factors also make it difficult to listen fully.
These include distractions (dog barking at bunny
outside the window), cultural differences (British
speech patterns can be especially baffling), selective
listening (But I didn’t hear you say, “Turn the TV
off !”), defensiveness (Who, me?), making assumptions
(When you “assume,” you make an “ass” out of
“you” and “me.”), being judgmental (”I’m grateful
that I’m not as judgmental as all those censorious,
self-righteous people around me.”), and head chatter
(”I wonder if these jeans make my butt look big?”)
Kids are naturally curious. They ask questions, poke
at the inner and outer workings of things, solve problems
independently, and share their frustrations with people
who don’t interject or ask too many questions. The latter
takes a lot of self-restraint on my part.

62 | Kristine Bruneau
I’ve found one of the best times to listen to my kid
and his friends is snack time:
“I had a rough day.”
“My teacher yelled at me.”
“Sixth-grade reading is really hard.”
“My favorite part of school is recess.”
“I try to always wear black.”
“My teacher thinks we’re the best class she’s had.
She doesn’t like seventh graders. They talk back too
much.”
Kids seem to have their own language and
understand each other when most grownups haven’t a
clue. While listening requires energy, focus, presence,
and concentration, what matters most is to start
listening to your kids.

Lesson: Kids know more than you think.
Listening with your mind and heart is hard, but
when you give it your full attention you might
discover something new.

Invitation: How well did you listen today?

Mommy Musings | 63
CHAPTE R 18

The Alchemy of Joy
We are shaped by our thoughts; we become
what we think. When the mind is pure,
joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
– Buddha

I found a moment of joy during my son’s final
elementary school concert – a nose-fizzing,
eye-watering, break-your-heart-wide-open
kind-of-joy. In the black-and-white sea, a quick
glance at the shoes revealed my James – the only boy
in the band (having switched from violin to trumpet)
– wearing unsanctioned red-and-black “kicks”
(Manchester United colors). The room’s light had
created a haze around his wild, tousled, curls, giving
the appearance of a halo, a sure sign that our earlier
clash over toothbrushing had been forgiven.
However, my alchemy of joy didn’t occur during
his song; it happened as I listened to the orchestra’s
rendition of “Ode to Joy.”
Beethoven’s symphony suddenly took on a new
tenor for me as I fought back tears sure to ruin my
mascara. “Ode to Joy” might as well have been named
“Ode to James,” because James – a fifth grader as
I write this – will soon move on to middle school

Mommy Musings | 65
with all of its lurking, pre-pubescent challenges. The
bittersweet concert I attended marked the end of
another chapter in his childhood.
The music was magic. I closed my eyes to the
vibrato of memories. Before the bleating honks of the
horn player, there was the low drone of the cello, and
the dreadful wail of a beginning violinist, invariably
joined by our pooch’s howl. How James loved music!
From singing along with Baloo in Disney’s Jungle
Story, to shaking maracas at an island library during
a Nantucket monsoon, to belting “Won’t you be
my valentine?” into a microphone, and to chanting
“Bar-ca” during a Barcelona training session (where his
idol Lionel Messi plays), these moments fluttered like
wings upon a bird’s breast.
“I don’t have an off-button,” James exclaimed once
as I poked him in the ribs and side in search of it.
He’s always a tilt-a-whirl of energy – kicking a soccer
ball, throwing a football, or shuffling, tumbling, and
racing around the house with Beck at his heels. While
James’s enthusiasm can be exasperating, I don’t really
want to dial him down.

You see, James plays with joy in his heart.

I’ve observed James and his friends slide in mud,
hunt for frogs, swing, climb, jump, and tackle each
other. While they play games like hide-and-seek and
tag, they’ve come up with different rules and inventive
names like “death football,” and “keep-away-from-
the-zombie-while-bouncing-on-a-trampoline.” And
when it gets dark, or dinner beckons, they’re reluctant
to leave their fantasy worlds, often scheming for a
sleepover to continue their fort-building past twilight.
Memories click-clacked like slides in an

66 | Kristine Bruneau
old-fashioned carousel until Beethoven’s masterpiece
was complete. I opened my eyes against the
applause-filled auditorium and joined in clapping my
hands. I had been transformed in the alchemy of joy.

Lesson: Joy can be found in the nooks and
crannies of life, especially when you’re not
looking for it.

Invitation: What was your alchemy of joy today?

Mommy Musings | 67
CHAPTE R 19

Kids Are Good for You
Stay curious.

“H ow do I get to be like you guys?” my husband
Rob asked the three boys sitting around our
kitchen table eating ice cream.
The boys lifted their smiling moon-shaped faces.
Their mouths were smeared with rainbow-colored
sprinkles, and their lips curled in delight at the creamy,
cold goodness of cookie-dough ice cream sliding down
their throats and into their small, flat bellies. All three
shrugged in response – and dug in again.
The moment was too precious not to capture with
a picture. So Rob grabbed his cell phone and told the
boys, “Say, ‘It’s good to be a kid!’”
Instead, one boy shouted, “Kids are good for you!”
We laughed and took the picture, but what he said
lingered in my brain for the rest of the afternoon.

“It’s okay; I’m a man.”
James was responding to his dad’s admonishment
of why he shouldn’t undress in front of the window.
Where he came up with this particular idea, I don’t
know.
Like most kids, James is a curious creature who

Mommy Musings | 69
says the most interesting things. Often he will parrot
something I’ve said and turn it back on me: “Breathe,
Mommy.” Other times he says something that makes
me pause: “Nonfiction makes you smart.” Some gems
cause me to scratch my head: “I burped an idea.” And
others make me smile: “I like the smell of sweet dog
breath.”
James and his friends make up impressive stories
and grand ideas. All too often their imagination
involves dirt and water. I’ve witnessed my son and his
friend build a moat in the front yard, a beaver dam in
the back, and a habitat for crocodiles on the side. They
play hard – the dirtier a project is, the more fun. (And
usually more work for Mom to clean.)
Hours pass, and my son finally returns home too
pooped to move. His eyelids droop. He reaches for
my hand while nuzzling his blanket. Eventually, the
sandman takes over and he becomes my sleeping angel
with impossibly long eyelashes.
He still has a smudge of ice cream on his cheek.

Lesson: Kids are good for you. They have a way
of grounding you and show you what’s really
important in life, which at the moment might
be as simple as to play hard, get dirty, and eat ice
cream.

Invitation: Explore and be curious with your
child. What did you learn, today?

70 | Kristine Bruneau
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KRISTINE BRUNEAU has
made a career from writing and
communications. Her commentaries,
stories, and reviews have appeared in
a variety of publications, including
the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester
Magazine, and Rochester Woman Magazine. She blogs
regularly at KristineBruneau.com.

Mommy Musings: Lessons on Motherhood, Love,
and Life is the title of her first book. She lives in
Rochester, NY with her husband and son.