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I was maybe 8 or 9 when my mom bundled us up in snow boots and
winter jackets and pulled us out the front door of the only home we’d ever
And we never went back.
It is what it is. It always will be, I guess. Sad marriages
and alcoholism and broken hearts often tend to explode in our faces. We emerge
from the soot clouds walking head on into new places, whether we like it or
not. Not everyone of course; some
people are lucky enough to get to skip out on all of that stuff.
But for those of us who’ve been there, walking through a
dark snowy night, holding on to a very scared mother’s hand, you know what I
And so it went. Around the corner at my grandparent’s tiny
house we set up shop: me, my younger brother Dave and my mom—along with my
mom-mom and my pop-pop and my uncle whenever he wasn’t away at college. The
house was dilapidated. To be blunt, I always suspected, even at my young age,
that it was shifting hard to the left, threatening to come down like some
bizarre junkyard hubcap tower that should have rained hell down long ago. It
was like this ancient museum of mustiness that smelled of burnt vegetable oil
and scrapple smoke, and it was choking on a thousand different monuments to three
decades ago. Even the calendars had kind of been abandoned. The once golden carpet was so worn away it often looked as if it wasn’t just dirty, but that it was
actually just dirt with a splash of sunshine on it.
We liked it, though.
I mean, suddenly there we were, the three of us, free from
the chains of disappointment and fury that had marked our lives together as an
attempted family almost from day one.
There wasn’t a lot of room in the old place, but I guess my
mom and her parents decided right away that my brother and I would have the
biggest rear bedroom to ourselves. Love decides certain things, without words
or even much discussion at all, really. The big acreage went to the two
brothers spinning around in a dad-less daze.
From then on, and for the next 30 years or so, we were more or less inseparable, my brother and me.
The bunk beds arrived right after that. I have no idea who
paid for them or anything. I can’t even recall who put them together for us,
but, for what it’s worth, I really do remember the afternoon when the long boxes
appeared out of nowhere, spread out all over the chipped-up linoleum floor we’d
Dave and I were ecstatic, about the beds, about sharing a
room, about the very newness of our
lives, I think. We were together in a
land of relative peace, one where my mom’s teardrops weren’t as predictable as
the moon in the sky, and it felt like Christmas morning every single day there
for a while. The pain would hit us later, hard and unexpected, the way that
But, oh those bunk beds. From then on, and for the next 30
years or so, we were more or less inseparable, my brother and I. We played
dirt lot baseball and street football together, and we fished for suckers together
and traded worthless baseball cards with a bunch of our hood-rat friends, but
also, always together.
And down the years we fought each other with warrior hearts
and relentless fists.
It’s all raw beauty, the kind you’re lucky if you ever taste
for even an evening or two. But we feasted on it for most of our lives. And it
all started back then, with the bunks.
Two kids hurling themselves off a burning pirate ship; two
brothers chasing each other up and down a fat wooden ladder like October
squirrels; a couple of best friends chattering hard to each other deep into the
school night, lights long off, about everything under that kind of sun that
hangs out over a young man’s life.
I can’t prove it was the bunk beds, obviously.
Not with science or
anything like that, anyway.
But I know a thing or two that science will never, ever
comprehend—trust me on that. And this is one of them.
So last month, as my wife and I started getting ready for
the birth of our third kid, on the afternoon when two cigarette-y dudes arrived
in a truck to load in and set up the second set of bunk beds I’ve ever
known, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the feeling that I was
witnessing something eternally badass and magic; a little something called Violet
and Henry, pushing 5 and 3, bunking up for a wide-open stretch of nights,
making way for their new little brother to have a room to himself for awhile.