It started with the pillows.
Every day, I’d notice all the throw pillows from the couch were missing, and every day, I’d find them in Everett’s bed. With a big sigh and an eye roll, I’d reach up into the top bunk and gather my beloved neutral collection, carefully curated from many Target clearance aisles over the years, and carry the whole lot back to the couch.
One day I finally confront Everett about his theft. He looks disappointed that I’ve noticed, and even more disappointed that I’ve asked him to stop.
“Everett, do you … need a new pillow or something?” I ask him.
Carson is standing nearby and jumps into the conversation, pleading for a new pillow as well. Apparently their pillows are flat as pancakes, and have been for a while.
A few months ago, Brett and I upgraded our mattress, which came with two free pillows as a bonus gift. We like our current pillows just fine, so I had stashed the extra ones in a cabinet in the garage. Honestly, I had forgotten all about them until this conversation with my kids.
When I appear in the boys’ room a few minutes later with two brand new pillows tucked under my arms, they both throw their arms around me as if I’ve just handed them two new video games.
“THANK YOU, MOM!!!”
How long had my children been sleeping on old, crappy pillows? Why hadn’t they said anything? Everett clearly attempted to problem solve by swiping throw pillows off the couch to supplement his bedding each night, but never said a word.
Sitting on the floor of their bedroom helping them put on fresh pillowcases, I say, “Hey guys, you know if you ever need something, you can just … ask, right?”
I toss out a few tangible ideas.
“Like if you need underwear, or socks, or a new pillow, or a new toothbrush, just let me know, okay?”
Everett and Carson whip their heads toward me, wide-eyed, shocked, as if they’ve never once considered this. They’re accustomed to asking for food, of course, never letting me head to the grocery store without seven requests. Granola bars! Root beer! Grapes! Cheese! Please get Fruit Loops!! Mom, we need more chips!
But this? Other kinds of stuff? They’re allowed to just … ask? I can see the wheels turning in real time.
Underwear! Everett practically screams. I really need new underwear!
Me, too! shrieks Carson.
And I don’t have any pants!
Yeah, I need pants, too!
Their immediate onslaught of requests is so startling, I burst out laughing in response. I remember when my children were two, three, four years old, back when I used to keep a detailed inventory of every little thing. I was in their room all the time. I knew every book, every toy, every item of clothing they possessed. If they ran out of toothpaste, I knew, because I helped them brush their teeth. If they outgrew their pants, I knew, because I’m the one who sorted their clothes into storage bins and donation piles at the end of each season.
It suddenly occurs to me, as these children have grown both in height and independence, I no longer keep a ledger of their belongings. They do their own laundry. They make their own beds. They clean their own room. Once every few months I go on a PMS-induced decluttering rampage, at which point I might notice something amiss in their bedroom, but other than that, I am mostly aloof when it comes to the state of their stuff.
Apparently while I’ve been teaching my boys to do their laundry and clean their bathroom and vacuum their carpet and generally take care of themselves, I seem to have left out a pretty vital reminder: if you need something, just ask.
My laughter becomes contagious and suddenly both boys are laughing, too. The whole scene is suddenly so comical, this epiphany that my children need socks and underwear and pants, and I had no idea, and I would never have discovered the need had it not been for Everett stealing throw pillows off the couch. The more I think about it, the funnier it gets. The harder I laugh, the harder the boys laugh. Pretty soon we’re all just sitting there on the bedroom carpet like a pack of hyenas, cackling like maniacs.
I recently asked my publicist not to schedule any interviews for March 20-March 29th.
March 20th is my birthday, I explain, quickly rattling off the rest of my excuses: and I have friends flying in on the 22nd, and I’m hosting a book launch party on the 23rd, and my friends don’t fly home until the 25th, and then the book launch date is the 28th, and, you know … it’d be great to have a recovery day after.
I reiterate of course I will be working during that time—spending creative energy on my own writing, social media, launch team, etc—but that it would be so, so nice to have some breathing room that week to be present in my real life, to catch my breath.
When I told my mastermind I was going to make this request, they agreed it was a good idea in theory, but quickly followed up their affirmation with the biggest question of all:
“Will they … let you do that?” they asked.
“I guess I won’t know until I ask?”
This morning I pulled up my interview schedule, a comprehensive Google doc tracking all podcast recordings, TV interviews, and writing deadlines. I check it almost every day to make sure I know where I need to be, and when I need to be there, and who I’m talking to, and what writing assignment is due next.
Looking at the document, I can’t help but notice a new line:
March 20-29th, not available (only for something huge)
I smile with relief. I’ll take it.
Strolling the aisles of Target mid-January, I remember making a mental note as I looked at the shelves fully stocked with candy hearts and boxes of chocolate.
I should buy valentines for the kids ASAP so I don’t have to worry about it later.
I don’t remember if that was before or after the official podcast tour began, before or after my daily to-do list tripled in size, before or after I started waking up at 3am with stress insomnia, before or after Presley got a fever for the 400th time since Christmas, before or after all my childcare vanished into thin air—again, again, again.
All I know is this: I thought about buying valentines early, and then I didn’t.
“Buy valentines” becomes one item on a list of many many many items I think about each day: looming writing deadlines, book marketing tasks, the dentist appointment I still need to reschedule, taxes (ohmygosh taxes!), the dozen upcoming podcast interviews I have yet to record, the pre-order bonuses I still need to finish, the room parent I need to venmo for that class thing, and on and on and on.
On February 11th—yes the 11th—after yoga, and after Carson’s basketball game, I am driving to the grocery store to buy food for the company we are hosting for dinner when it dawns on me that I am one of two parents in this household.
If you need something, just ask.
I call Brett.
“Can you take the kids shopping for valentines today?”
He is more than willing, but doesn’t want to spend his precious weekend hours shopping, so he tells me he will go on Monday.
I take a deep breath. I think about how we’re only three days out, the stores are probably half-empty by now. The selection is only going to get worse. I remind him I am having dinner with friends on Monday night for Galentine’s Day, so he’ll be on his own, figuring this out at the last minute. I won’t be able to help.
“I got it,” he tells me.
I channel my inner Elsa. Let it go.
On Monday night, I slip into a one-shoulder maroon top and my favorite wide-leg jeans. The boys get home just as I’m about to leave. They’ve got bags of candy in their hands, but no valentines. Twelve hours before class parties begin, the shelves are, of course, empty. I stifle an I told you so, curious what the backup plan is.
“I’m going to make origami for everyone,” Everett tells me. He looks confident, capable, totally unfazed at the idea of making 28 pieces of origami in a single night.
Carson opts to hand out Pokemon cards from his vast collection, taping a single Starburst candy to each one.
As I put the finishing touches on my appearance—hairspray, spritz of perfume, fresh coat of lipgloss—both boys take up residence at the dining room table with paper, art supplies, and rolls of scotch tape.
I wish them luck. Tell them how creative they are. And then I walk out the front door to go meet my friends for dinner.
When I get home more than three hours later, Everett is still at the table, toiling away, coloring his Star Wars origami creations and diligently taping candy to each one.
He’s at peace. Content. Making art and working hard.
Come to think of it … I am, too.
Thanks for reading The Second Act! Subscribe for free to support my work.
P.S. My new book, Create Anyway, is available for pre-order wherever books are sold. ❤️
I am stashing this away to hopefully remember to tell our boys in a few years that they can ask if they need something, too. Also, I love how you let go of control & leaned on your husband, your teammate - that is so hard for me, even with seemingly small things.
But why *is* it so hard to ask?!