Nothing Stands In Between Me & Mr. Softee


I have a fond childhood memory of the Mr. Softee Ice Cream Truck.  If what I’ve witnessed regarding memory and music is true, I will be able to travel to the depths of Alzheimer’s disease and still remember the Mr. Softee tune.    Although I haven’t heard it in a dozen years,  today after hearing just the first few faint and faraway notes, I knew it.  He had come back.  I heard  the familiar jingle that once sent me running from my house with change in my hand and hope in my heart that I might soon have a small vanilla cone with jimmies (sprinkles to you non South-Jerseyans) and maybe, possibly, I’d be the one in the crowd that the Mr. Softee Man would pick to win a free cone for the next day.

And that was a million years ago.

Now that I am a full grown grownup and a career weight watchers member, I’m  aware that eating  a Mr. Softee cone has consequences.  But when I heard the music and saw the truck,  I didn’t care if I had the food allowance available for the day, IT WAS MR. SOFTEE!

On my way to the truck, as I skipped in slow motion through the field of flowers (weeds) in my front lawn, I waved the my money out in front of me calling “Stop! Stop! Mr. Softee!”

My daughter got there first and placed her order while I continued my gleeful frolic until, wait, ouch, holy crap, I stepped on a bee in my bare feet.   I grabbed my toe and called out in pain.  “Ow, ow, ow ow.”  My toe started to swell and the pain seared through but  I hobbled like the woman at the back of the race who was determined to cross the finish line if she had to crawl and  I was getting my ice cream!

Mr. Softee was not happy waiting for the middle aged crazy lady to drag her injured self to his window and then once there,  had no idea what to order.  Pain mixed with decisions…. not today… please not today…

An Ice cream sandwich!  Freshly made right there in front of me, YES!   Only it wasn’t called an ice cream sandwich and poor ol’ Mr. Softee had a really thick accent so I couldn’t understand his questions, which frustrated him, and I was in terrible discomfort which made it hard for me.   I was trying not to cry out in pain.  I just  wanted my ice cream.

Finally it was done, and we paid him and exchanged pleasantries as I turned to hobble back to my house.  In my hand, was a waxed paper sac with 3 inches of soft serve ice cream nestled between two big chocolate cookies with beautiful rainbow jimmies all around the edges.   I couldn’t wait.  But once inside I only had a couple of bites and put the rest in the freezer because despite the delicious frozen treat, I still had a throbbing burning painful toe that was beginning to itch like mad.  I could no longer deny it needed some attention.   It was time for a good home remedy and some Benadryl.

Several hours after my bee / ice cream encounter I still have dessert in the freezer and toothpaste (my mothers  solution to most things) on my toe.    I remember Oprah said “listen to the universe.”   Some may think the bee sting was a sign that I should not have gone for the ice cream.   But some may say, “Look at that lesson!  Despite all odds, if you want something bad enough, will find a way to get it. ”

I can’t wait until the next time Mr. Softee comes down my street.  I’m getting a different dessert and next time, also, I’m wearing shoes.


My Perfect World


I often imagine if things were different, (more how I’d like them to be) what changes would I make?

For starters, high school would begin at 9:45 and  end at 2.   Is the goal of our  school board planners’ to provide education or to make parents drag sleeping teens out of bed against a tidal wave of resistance day, after, day?   This is just mean.   I would also offer that school activities end by 5 so we don’t have to go out and fetch our kids when we’d rather be in a robe, holding wine.

And frankly,  I don’t know the last time (um… in 1979 maybe?) that I had to multiply two negative numbers or conjugate a word in French.  Four years of  high school french and all I remember is how to say “I don’t know” en francias.   So.. “je ne sais pas” why we  insist on this stuff.  Teach kids how to balance a bank account, make change, understand loan amortization, and know how many gallons of gas it would take to drive from here to say, Wyoming and back.  Want more?  Try making a budget that is livable, know how to file simple taxes and maybe throw in a lesson on investments and financial planning that doesn’t involve holding a palm out for dad to put money in.    I am also in favor of teaching them to cook in 7th grade so that by high school they can make dinner, because they of course will have plenty of time without the homework

And the words?   I have to side with my daughter on this.

Big, bigger, biggest

Good, gooder, goodest.

Really, don’t you get it?  No matter how you say it?

She and I?

I and she?

Me and them?

Me & her?

She and me?

Does it really matter?  All we need to know is that the two of you have something going on.

And my personal favorite pet peeve:

adverbs and adjectives — boo hiss!   Why can’t we just say adverbs and adnouns?  The other option would be to change the word ‘noun’ to ‘jective.’  But really, what is a jective anyway?

I have a ton more plans that would improve things but I’ll just hold onto those thoughts for now.

But one more thing I would like to mention in my societal planning for “helen’s better living.”    I would very much to live in a hip urban setting with my two next door neighbors  Mama June and Jimmy Fallon.  I imagine the three of us having the best of times when we run into each other at the supermarket on Saturday afternoons.  We’d talk about our kids, minivans, movies, and how to tweak recipes to create Red Neck Fusion Cuisine.   It would be glorious, simply glorious.  I just know it.

the home office


All moms need an office.     I have two part time jobs, neither of which cost me more time and brain space than parenting, and neither of which gives me an office, or even a desk, and  I would really like one.  A place of my own, where the treadmill to my right isn’t reminding me that my exercise regimen is pathetic,  or a place where the laundry room door isn’t staring me straight in the face saying “You! Come here! There’s work to be done in here!”   How am I supposed to be effective working from home with all these distractions!

Everybody in my family has a place to go and a door to close. They alone command everything inside their room.   If I had my own room, just for me, I imagine it would be glorious.   Nobody would just walk in demanding I help find a missing shoe.  The door, my barrier, would limit my availability to the rest of them.  I’d have office hours. Inside, there would be actual living houseplants for an abundance of oxygen, and I would use aromatherapy and  playlists to set the mood I choose.  All just for me.

Outside, on the door I’d keep a “problem box” with instructions:

  • Please fill out a form and state your problem, all complaints will be read on Friday between 4 & 5 pm.
  • Feel free to offer a solution to the problem for extra allowance.  
  • Forms submitted without a viable solution will be charged a small processing fee in advance of any response from the management.    
  • The turnaround time is about a week.  

I imagine that my office has a beverage container from Crate & Barrel, filled with spring ice water and pretty slices of fruit.   The drinking glasses are so clean that the sun  bounces off of their shine and fills sparkles of light fill the room.  And there is no dog, cat, rabbit, or guinea pig fur whatsoever.

As I come out of the dream scene I just described it becomes clear that I do not have my own room, or a beverage container from Crate & Barrel.    I have a desk in a cluttered room and one glass pitcher from Ikea.  As for the sparkling clean glasses and the absence of pet fur?  (enter laughter here)

So, for now I’ll just appreciate the roof and four walls that I call home.  I could paint the laundry room door a pretty color and put more things on the treadmill to disguise it but maybe, what I should do, is set out to prove what I tell my kids all the time.  It’s not what you think you need that really matters, it’s what you do with what you already have.

Whenever I complained to my own mother she’d always point out the more disadvantaged.   “Be happy you have shoes at all,” she’d say when I wanted really expensive converse sneakers that weren’t in the budget.   Or, “there are children suffering all over the world that would love to have the asparagus on your plate!”

I know. I really do have everything I need but gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I just had an office.    I can hear my mother now,  “be happy you have a place to live and food on your plate,” and I am happy for all of that .  But I wouldn’t mind if I were also happy for an office.


A Plethora Of Planners

hallmark date book 2-17

We’re currently in the seventh week of 2107 and I still haven’t settled on a planner. It used to be that for me,  executing a plan was more of a problem than making one, but now I’m stuck at selecting which planner to use in the first place!

Over the last several years personal planners have become a big deal.  I could  spend a ton of money and time with any one of the planner styles, even though the large refrigerator calendar(that I regularly update and nobody checks) would still be sufficient.

The planner I buy annually, (for 10 years now), is from Blue Sky.  It’s a good size for me and it’s sturdy, but my favorite part is that the dates go from June 2016 to July 2017.   It does the planner job quite well but I still look around, because each time I try some new way to keep track of things, it makes me think:  more is possible, I could be better at getting things done, and then I’ll do more.  Who wouldn’t like more?

One of the popular styles of planning is in something called a Bullet Journal.  This a great way (they say) for the creative person to combine planning, doodling, and record keeping.  I tried it, but I got lost in the process.   I know plenty of people who claim to love it, but I spent more time  finding you tube videos about how to use a bullet journal then anything else.   Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

The Passion Planner is also supposed to be great for the “creatives”.  I got one when they first came out several years ago.  I might even have contributed $7.00 to the Kickstarter. You put your hopes and dreams ( and more doodles ) on the pages as well as your wants and needs.   But it turns out that my hopes and dreams cannot coexist with my wants, needs, and grocery lists.   Perhaps it’s just an uneven balance of passion but they just didn’t get along.  So I moved on.

Martha Stewart has a mix and match set up for your pocket calendar  so you can  customize  one.   Mine was very nice but it was so pretty, I didn’t write in it. is another line with planner components, and now I have  tons of little tabs and stickers and even a tiny rubber stamps that says “good job!”  If you are bad at impulse control, stay away from the planner section at Staples.

So, even with all of the options out there, I keep coming back to my Blue Sky June to July 5’X8″ planner.    I spiced it up a little this year with colored pens and vinyl coated paper clips.   I’ve also begun to fall in love with Washi tape which comes in way too many colors and patterns to make it simple, but I like still to try.

Fo now I think I must come to terms with my regular old planner. I did start a project called a creative goal journaling which isn’t a date book but is more of a record keeper for your goals. That’s not going very well either.  I keep forgetting about  tracking my progress in it and I haven’t really had much success in making my goals recently   so it’s just a vicious cycle anyway.

Sometimes I think I should just go back to the days when allI had was that one free datebook from Hallmark.  These were given out every year “until supplies last.”   I remember my Aunt getting all excited about the new one every year.  Maybe I’ll stop into the closest store and see if they have any left even though in the seventh week of the year it isn’t likely.  But who knows?   If nothing else I’ll have a browse at the cards and wrapping paper.  Hmmm…. I wonder if Hallmark has a planner section.  After all, It can’t hurt to look.

Cat and Dog People


I grew up with dogs so I thought I was a dog person.  But then  I got a cat.  Sorry Fido, I’m hooked, on felines.  Ever since I proclaimed my pet partiality I’ve wondered what makes a person pick  team cat vs. team dog. It’s more then just a preference like vanilla or chocolate.  It’s much, much more.

To answer the question, cat vs. dog I turned to the expert on most things – Google. There is enough research and opinion out there to write a thesis on this topic but here are my top 5 findings about dog people and cat people.

  1. It seems everybody agrees that dog people are more outgoing and friendly then cat people. No surprise there, right? Just picture the folks in the park throwing Frisbees to beautiful golden retrievers. Are they not the picture of health and well being, just out there inviting conversation, companionship, or a friendly wave. “Nice throw.” “Good lookin’ dog! “What fun!”

Cat people therefore, are more like, um, cats? You see a beautiful cat who looks like he’d be yummy to pet so you approach him, hand gently extended and you say “hi kitty” in the most loving voice possible.  You get  close to him, maybe even just a few inches away and BAM!  You get a swat, a snub, or the cat simply gets up and walks away with his tail bobbing up and down, flipping  you off in cat language.  Cat people don’t mind keeping to themselves, and if a cat person is not in the mood for you, he or she  will definitely let you know.

  1. Another across the board finding was that cat people are generally smarter and more curious than dog people. There’s a bunch of supporting evidence on this but I’ve always held that dogs are not particularly smart, however they are highly trainable. I’m not sold that trainability equals smart but the majority disagrees with me.


Here’s a picture of a dog named Scout who is internet famous for balancing things on his head, and waiting.   He has outstanding patience.   Go Scout.

Felines are complete agreement that putting a treat on their head and waiting for the command to eat it is just dumb. I think that makes them smart.  And,  I believe that cat people don’t invest a lot of time or energy in things that make no sense either, thus, smarter.

  1. There is a strong agreement out there that dog people are less neurotic than cat people. I guess it makes sense.  If you have idiosyncrasies, walking or running with a dog, receiving the dog’s love, licks, and constant reassurance that you are the one and only may help ease your problems.  But to say that dog people are less neurotic than cat people? I disagree on this one without a shred of documenting evidence except to say that the term ‘crazy cat lady’ is not without merit.
  1. I’ve repeatedly read that dog people are more tolerant than cat people. I agree, being a cat person I know intolerance first hand.   My teenage children are good examples of cat people.
  1. Dog and cat people each have a different sense of humor. I’m not sure if I understand the research behind this finding but it does go  along with two other bits of information which is this:   There is a higher percentage of females who identify as cat people, thus a higher percentage of males as dog people.   Cat people enjoy satire and irony, dog people think burping the alphabet is a sport and that the fart and dart is funny.

Oh, you dog people!   I like you all, even if you have gone over to the bark side.


My Goal is to have an After Picture


According to Weight Watchers, I am not a lifetime member. Even though I’ve lived through versions of the program when you had to eat an egg a day, liver once a week, and no watermelon whatsoever, I am not a lifer.  Decades ago I was a meager two pounds from goal weight, and now as far from goal as I have ever been, I continue to show up with my member ID card, but I’m not a lifer.

Weight watchers, I almost have to disagree.

After giving all of this a lot of thought, it occurs to me that according to Weight Watchers, “Lifetime” goes forward, from the day you prove that you can arrive at, and maintain your goal weight for six weeks. From that point for the rest of your life, regardless of what happens at the scale, you are a lifer. So what you need is an after picture.

It’s okay. I don’t mind.

Weight loss is so complicated for some of us and simple for others. My husband can buy a box of Mallomar cookies and three days later when he opens the cupboard, he shouts “cookies!” surprised they’re there! He didn’t remember! In the absence of early onset Alzheimer’s I would NEVER forget the cookies. In fact it’s almost a schizophrenic episode for me. I hear the cookie voices summoning me: “Open the box, Helen…open the box.”

But I digress.

I need a weight loss goal worth getting and I need an after picture. The best diet I’ve ever worked is one I call the ‘Wedding Day Diet’. It’s better than the ‘Improve my Health Diet,’ ‘Summer is Coming diet’, the ‘Broken Heart Diet’, it’s even better than the ‘Revenge Diet’. Never before and never since my wedding day, was I more aware of the food going into my mouth, because I really wanted to look good from every angle when there’s a photographer following me around – and not one I can really hide from either.

This leads me to my new weight loss goal.

I’ve seen myself in pictures over the last decade and I hate every single one. I often shrug it off, saying “Wow, that’s a good before picture!” I have more before pictures than I want, or need. I’d like an after picture please, and not one from 20 years ago.

I have to give credit now to those Weight Watchers members who have fought the battle and are winning.  There are many. There are people who do every single thing according to the guidelines, and who do it well. There are even lifetime members who only do most things right, most of the time. Sadly, I am not one of those people.

Weight watchers for adults with A.D.D. should be and add on feature of the program and I’m here to start the revolution.  I begin most days with a plan and the best intentions. Then the cookie voices distract me. The day could still be salvageable but in a perfect weight watchers world I blew it. And there’s dinner to make, tasting that needs to happen, and so on. So start fresh tomorrow? Okay. But, the reset button only works once or twice a week max. Ever had the morphine drip after surgery? It’s kinda like that.

Breaking down all of the possibilities of becoming a stellar Weight Watchers member I realize that I may just dream too big.   My daughter said that about herself once, I think she gets it from me.

When I leave each weekly meeting I’m all charged up and ready to go.  I plan the week like a superstar with food and exercise all planned out and scheduled in. I’m like the Roadrunner kicking up swirling balls of dust before take off.   Problem is that right after takeoff I smash into a tree.

So this week, I’m going to go public and say I’m adjusting my sights and lowering my expectations. I am going to dream a little smaller because I don’t really like smashing into trees. I want to navigate the forest and enjoy the walk around. I’m going to be better, not perfect, at managing my diet, and avoiding the trees.

After all, if you think about it, if I keep smashing into trees, my after picture, even a skinny one, would look kind of awful.


Finding Your People


cgsqdbquqaak2qnI attended the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop last April. There was recently a request for attendees to comment on successes they’ve had since that time.  If you know this particular group of people, you would know that successes are measured in many ways.. “I finally found the courage to ask for what I want,” or “I finished and published my novel” are both acceptable answers.  I thought long and hard about my own answer to this call for success stores ,because  I did not finish a novel, nor did I find courage to speak up.   I found my people.

Every meeting, everyday, every meal, snack, session, and after hours moments led me to the most interesting, loving, and funny people you could imagine – and not always in the knee slapping belly laughing kind of way. I sat next to a woman who lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide.  She shared her story with me, how she came to terms with things and now she was looking to find her “funny” again,   It’s as if the ‘funny’ was a drug. Of course there were outlandishly funny people there, including stand up comics, humor bloggers, even TV personalities known for their funny side.   And there was no shortage of fiction and non-fiction writers of satire.   The most hilarious new greeting came from a  person who told me “I don’t even know why I’m here!  I’m not even a writer!”   She was looking for something new.

Some of us find our people at Wal-Mart, some at Armani.

It’s important to find your people, no matter what age you are. I found my people in college where I learned how to party, and the value of hard work. I found my people in my first ‘real job’ where all of us post grads suffered under the hand of a boss who makes Michael Scott seem average. I found my people when my twins were born and a bunch of the moms of twins joined in joy and misery.   I found my people at Erma.

From every stage of my life I’ve found my people, because I go out and be where we can find each other.   I’m not always looking for them, I  don’t know who they are, what they look like or when they will show up.    I know it when they come however, because they fill up a space I didn’t know was open and it just feels right.  

The best piece of relationship advice I ever got was from a friend who was from the young professional version of me – those people.   I will never forget what she said while I was despairing about meeting that someone.   “Just do what you like to do,” she said.  “You’ll find like minded people who like to do what you like to do, and then you can do that together.”  In fairness my mother probably said that to me, many times, but let’s face it, mom advice is usually only good in hindsight.    

I spoke to my friend, the advice-giver recently,  and even though it had been years and years since we spoke, it was as if it was just the other day that we parted.  

Once you find even one of your people, they will always be with you, in different geographies, or sizes, or importance, but they never leave, they’re you people after all, and you are theirs. 




Cell Phone Graves

My daughter’s phone is “toast.” We remedy this by rummaging through our stash of old and broken phones, searching for one that works well enough to replace her’s which is currently inoperable, and this will have to do for now.

As I watched my husband bring  the motherlode of shattered phones to the kitchen to decide which one was most viable, I said to him, “I wonder. Will we have more broken hearts, or more broken cell phones when we die?”  I’m hoping it’s phones because there are already so many of them!

Years ago, with five people on smart phones, and three of them still fairly young, our foray into the care and maintenance of cell phones was rough.  Phones were dropped, stepped on, even lost in the woods where a good samaritan found it two weeks later, took it home, charged it up and called us.   I never thought I’d see that one again until – there it was, in my mail overnight with a note from the very nice little girl who found the shiny object on the dirt path, under the leaves.   I did have my daughter send her a thank you and a present in case you were wondering.


Over the years we have amassed many phones with shattered screens, water damage, or sometimes both. One of the funniest incidents (in hindsight of course) happened the night my oldest daughter was bragging about being the only one who hadn’t broken a phone.   While she gestured her arms wide, and said “EVERYBODY,” the phone flew from her hand, hit the concrete next to the edge of an in-ground pool, and then bounced in and sunk to the bottom.   It happened in slow motion I swear it.  Even nature muted while we watched it fly from her hand, hit the concrete, and swish slowly back and forth until it rested on the very, very, bottom.

But, that was several years ago and since then everybody’s attention to phone maintenance has significantly improved. Lucky for us.  Currently, with the exception of that one sad back-up phone in place, we all  do pretty well keeping our phones up, running, charged, and in good repair.    But my poor husband,  who waited a long time to get a new phone because somebody else always seemed to need one before him, just got the Galaxy Note 7.  You know, the one that catches on fire?  We charge it overnight in a heavy dutch oven so if it explodes we will be safe.

red-dutch-ovenNow, the good news:  Today is the day when Samsung replacement phones are available so we can go back to a regular charging set up and put the red pot back on the stove where it can be used for other burned things  – like my pot roast.

I might make a tiny cell phoned shaped cake in honor of the occasion.  But I don’t want  jinx things.


My Daughter Wants To be Vegetarian

From Your Teen for Parents Magazine, September 2016  –  (subscribe to the print edition of the magazine, you won’t regret it.  Subscribe)

Mom, I Want to Be a Vegetarian! Becoming a Vegetarian-Friendly Family

becoming a vegetarian

By Helen Chibnik

It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The chores are done, dinner is sizzling in the oven, and you finally have some time for yourself. But just as you finish No. 2 across in the Sunday crossword puzzle, your 16-year-old daughter appears before you to say, “I’ve decided not to eat meat anymore, or chicken, or fish. I’m becoming a vegetarian.”

You peer at her over the top of your glasses and without taking a breath, you point toward the kitchen and say, “Well then I don’t know what you’re going to eat for dinner because do you smell that? It’s a stuffed roaster, with gravy!”

This was the scene in my home about a month ago.

Because teenagers are filled with mini-rebellions against pretty much everything, I wasn’t sure if her announcement was a well-thought-out lifestyle change, or a temporary insurgence against beef. But when she didn’t leave the room I added, “I guess you’ll have to learn to cook.”

Becoming a Vegetarian

We want our tweens to be assertive, to maintain their values, and to live their best lives, don’t we? Of course we do. But I have three tweens and a job and no time or desire to learn new recipes or change the way our family eats.

I outlined why becoming a vegetarian wouldn’t work for her:

1.  You’re an athlete, and you won’t get enough protein.

2.  Nobody in our family likes tofu.

3.  I don’t know how to cook without chicken stock.

She still didn’t leave or get upset with me, so I folded the newspaper and gave her my undivided attention.

“Okay, why?” I asked.

“Things have changed, Mom,” she began. “We don’t need to eat like cave people any more.” She pointed to our family dog. “Would you eat Lucky?” she asked.

“Of course not,” I answered. “He’s our pet.”

“Some people have chickens for pets. And you know what else? Consuming meat like we do is a problem. It’s hurting the planet, and I don’t want to be part of the problem. You’re always telling us, ‘Don’t be part of the problem.’”

So there it was. She was using my advice against me. Damn her for being so incisive!

For dinner she had a plain baked potato and steamed carrots. As I ate the crispy skin from my chicken thigh, I started to dislike her for her healthy choices. What was my problem?

The next day at her request, we went shopping. I had to fight my herding instincts to let her go down the health food aisle but I managed. Staring at us were cellophane bags of things like almond meal and spelt. “What is spelt?” I asked, in a way that might have been a little snarky. She shrugged and looked at the bag. “I don’t know. Maybe they have recipes online. Let’s look at the package.”

All of a sudden I was disarmed. This wasn’t the 16-year-old “I know everything” adventure I was expecting. I calmly explained that this was new to all of us and our whole family couldn’t change overnight.

“I know,” she said. “I don’t expect you to change, I just want to change myself.”

She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

So, I had it all wrong. She was happy to be the vegetarian member of a carnivorous family and I was the one being immature. She wasn’t judging us. She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

With the pressure off, I made a few vegetarian dishes with surprisingly little resistance from her two younger sisters. I haven’t gotten to the point where I serve the entire family chickpeas and almond loaf for Sunday dinner, but I have learned that understanding and acceptance are more important than what cooks in the oven.

Our foray into vegetarianism scared me at first. But given the chance to hear one another out, we learned how to talk about it and to see things from each other’s point of view, in a new and more mature way. She didn’t know it, but she was also teaching me how to be a better parent.

For my daughter, becoming a vegetarian had more to do with her growing independence than anything else. So as much as I will miss our trips to our favorite burger place, I would rather eat with her at Earth Foods then eat without her somewhere else. And I’m happy to say that I still serve burgers. My daughter doesn’t complain when we eat them, and I don’t mind that she doesn’t partake.

Now, when we sit down to Sunday dinner, we offer each other a healthy portion of agreeing to disagree because as it turns out, family harmony is the best dish of all.

Dance Mom ? or no.

This is a piece from Working Mother Magazine that I wrote recently. We just signed a contract to dance another year. I signed the check with a a sigh.


The Reluctant Dance Mom

She wanted to quit, and then quit some more, but her girls showed her the way to stay.

Mom and two dancing kids

Illustration: Marie-Eve Trembly/Colagne

What do you do when you hate being a “dance mom”?

It’s no coincidence that our dance studio is in the same shopping center as the supermarket. They know how much a working mom loves the chance to multitask! That’s what I was thinking a decade ago when my 4-year-old twins, Emily and Heather, first skipped off to the studio door, pink flouncy tutus bouncing behind them, leaving me one glorious hour to grab groceries and run errands. Little did I know my Saturday morning routine was the first step to becoming a dance mom, and not the kind who can rock a hair bun.

Five years later, the girls asked to try out for the competition team, which meant all-day Saturday rehearsals. My mind went straight to open afternoons, catching up at home and having quality time with my husband and their big sister, Melody. There would also be three weekend competitions away from home, every winter. OK, I thought, I can do that. I handled making lesson plans (I teach music) and grocery lists away from home well enough, but what I could not handle was being a dance mom—an animadversion of a NASCAR pit crew who has five minutes to fetch, fix and feed little girls between dances and not lose her cool over a hairdo change.

And yet, soon I had to contour makeup, track costume pieces and remember which jewelry went with which routine. My kids complained that it hurt when I combed out an up do, and screeched if I made ponytails too tight. I lost lipstick and earrings in a cavernous makeup case called a Caboodle, and suffered their bad attitudes and meltdowns—but that wasn’t the worst part.

After three years of trudging through dance competitions, a tidal wave of drama struck when their group of dancers hit the preteen years. Encouraging words between team members became gossipy whispers and blatant snubs. There were parties and sleepovers that didn’t include my kids, and the emotional work was exhausting. But when I got a text from Emily that said, “All the girls in my class planned a Secret Santa behind my back, and they just exchanged gifts right in front of me,” my heart broke, we’re done,” I said.

But they wanted to stay. And I had to support them. It was difficult encouraging them to remain on the team when I disliked it so much. And just when things seemed to hit bottom, some of my now-former mom buddies became cliquey and competitive too. When the whole group, minus me, showed up in a Facebook photo after a night out together, I felt left out and disheartened. But then, strangely, I became grateful. Because all of a sudden I knew exactly how my kids felt—unimportant and forgotten—and I realized how much they needed me. “There are other teams, other ways we could spend our weekends, “I told them. No, they said. They wouldn’t be pushed out.“OK, then I’m in too,” I replied.

I dreaded the next competition, and I thought about using the buried-in-work excuse to keep my face in my laptop. But my twins, now 12, continued to practice the choreography that put them next to the very girls who caused them pain. They were showing me something: Put your differences aside and get the job done. Do real teamwork. Show up.

And that’s what I did. I pretended to like it, hoping I would grow into the part. I found like-minded moms I now enjoy at dance competitions, and I pay less attention to the rest. I take my playlist and earbuds, and head out for a walk when I can. Six years into dance competition, I’m happy to say the girls and I rarely argue at events, probably because they now manage their own Caboodles. I still hate being a dance mom—but you’d never guess.