Why the Flu Made Me a Better Mom

The flu arrived on Christmas Eve; it hit me hard, knocked me down and still refuses to leave. I don’t remember the last time I was so sick: fever and chills, aches and coughs… all of that dreaded “crud.” Needless to say, the last week has been horrible.

It’s also been sweet — a  blessing in disguise.

On one of my worst days, as I was laying on the couch cycling through all the PBS morning cartoons with my three and a half year old daughter Maggie, I texted my mom that I felt guilty for all the TV and iPad time. She replied right away with “No guilt! Feel better!” But I wasn’t convinced to let go of the guilt until I was putting Maggie to bed that evening. As I curled up next to her and started drifting off to sleep myself, I realized what a calm, relaxing and fun couple of days we’d had. Sure, we missed out on a few get-togethers and gorgeous ski days, but because I was sick, I was forced to do nothing. To rest. To just be. And to just be together.

So while the flu made me miserable, it also made me a better mom, and brought joy to my daughter. Here’s why.


One: I didn’t yell or raise my voice. I simply couldn’t; my voice was gone. Surprisingly, I only had her to ask her to do something once — get your PJs on, come eat dinner, brush your teeth — and she listened. The whisper worked and didn’t allow impatience or frustration to creep in. And while it was often a struggle to “use my words” and actually speak, bedtime books read in a whisper turned out to have quite a calming effect, on all of us.

Two: I slowed down. Mentally and physically. A simple task like taking the garbage out to the dumpster tapped all the energy reserves of my aching, chilled, weak body. But as we sauntered up the driveway, all bundled up in ski pants and winter gear, not once did Maggie whine that I was going too fast. I was taking my time, and moving at her pace, something I frequently fail to do when I’m rushing from one thing to the next. (I always try to remind myself of this Hands Free Momma blog post, “The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up!” which is such a great read if you missed it!)

Three: I slowed down some more. And actually stopped. I don’t think screen time equals quality time, but when a parent (or in our case, both parents!) is down and out, movies, cartoons and apps are a fantastic option to get through the day! But what I realized this week was that it is rare for me to actually sit still and watch an entire movie. This week was one of the first times I actually sat still long enough to watch an entire movie with Maggie… or in several cases, a couple back to back, like our Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 marathon (she loves those “immions” — not a typo, that’s what she calls them.) When I’m healthy and full of energy, I find myself constantly puttering or cleaning or doing… instead of just playing. Make dinner, do the dishes, tidy the toys, put the laundry in the dryer, finish an email… all part of the endless list of chores and responsibilities that inevitably distract me from spending true quality time with Maggie. The flu forced me to stop. I simply ran out of batteries and there’s no question that we all benefited from the lack of inertia.

Four: I played on her level. The Dayquil/Theraflu/Mucinex-induced fog left only a small amount of brain space to get through the day. I had no choice but to live in the moment, and that was so incredibly freeing. When we made it out to the swings one afternoon, I watched her flop off backwards and lie on her back quietly looking up. So I let my exhausted body do the same; gazing up at a blue-gray sky that was threatening snow was comforting, peaceful and felt like a thing of the past… childlike daydreaming that I don’t let my adult self experience nearly enough. I wish I could say that I always do that, but the sad reality is I don’t. I let my to-do lists distract me from these amazing moments with my little nugget — my happy, curious, adventurous, hysterical kid who, by the way, is growing up way too quickly.

IMG_1923Five: I let her eat cookies. And pie. And whipped cream. And hot cocoa. And “coconuts” (her name for our favorite holiday treat: milk chocolate covered almonds.) It’s not that she’s deprived of sweets. It’s that my head is usually rationalizing healthy food choices over sugary treats. But when I was sick, I simply didn’t have the ooomph to hold tightly to my own “should’s.” Not only was I fine with her indulging, but I loved the resulting sugar-induced “hop on mom” tickle fests, even though I was about as lively as a rag doll.

Six: I let her stay up late. Even though she wasn’t napping (that’s nothing new) and was waking up early and was probably fighting off whatever sickies had nabbed us, it required so much less effort — and was so much more satisfying and fun! — to watch her and my husband play contentedly with the new Christmas Legos than to try to rally the troops to bed. No question, vacation is made for exceptions and extra family time and extra fun, but I wonder if that would’ve been as obvious to me if I hadn’t been forced to slow down and observe, shedding the need to control.

Seven: I was content being a homebody. I’m not one to sit at home. Especially when I’m off work and hanging with Maggie, I like to do stuff. We’re always running around, doing chores, going to the pool or skiing or meeting friends… And when we’re out and about, she’s such a trooper, always chiming in from the back of the car “I don’t want to go home — can we go somewhere else?” But this week, I had no choice but to stay at home. I relished it. And so did she. We were never in a rush to go anywhere or do anything, so had all the time in the world to play Legos, work on our new family puzzle, hang around in our PJs and build forts (even if I immediately ended up flat on the floor, resting and beat once it was built!)

For a few days in a row, the first thing Maggie would say to me when she woke up in the morning was: “Are you feeling better mommy?”

The answer is yes. I feel amazing — not yet physically, but my heart is full. I feel so blessed and so appreciative of my  family and this amazing little girl who teaches me so much every day. And if I can’t have my mom nearby to take care of me when I’m sick, a sweet three-year old is certainly a fine replacement.

Slowly on the mend, I’ve caught myself falling back into old patterns, but by simply being conscious of the shift, I know I’ll have the strength to keep the good stuff going. As we head into the new year, I hope none of you get the flu. But I do hope you have the chance to slow down, and just be… whether it’s with your kids, your partner, your human and furry friends, or even just with yourself. Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!


Best of 2010 – Books, & So Much More…

What a year! I went from being pregnant to being a mom. We moved from a 350 sq ft studio (that ladder to the bed was getting rough at 8 months pregnant!) to a 3 bedroom townhome.  Instead of our annual river trip, we enjoyed an extended east coast family trip: Our “raft” was my father in law’s Honda Fit. Instead of a tent, we set up the pack ‘n play at every new house. Our cooler was full of breast milk bottles rather than Tecate, limes and Tequila.

Oh yeah, and I got a Kindle for Christmas (let’s just let that confession slide… more on that in a future post.)

As I recently wrote in an article for Women’s Adventure Magazine, so much has changed since our daughter Maggie arrived and there’s just no way to mirror my former life… nor is that even a priority. It’s not about not being able to. I simply don’t want to. There are other things I’d rather do, most of which involve my daughter.

Reading – both alone and with Maggie – has remained one of my must-haves. While I’m usually a total book snob, I had to forego a good deal of more serious picks in favor of light chick lit and easy reading this year. For example: I tried Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, but at 7 months pregnant, those horrendous labor scenes didn’t sit well. Once Maggie was born, my reading (surprisingly!) didn’t ebb as much as I expected, but my newfound “mommy brain” couldn’t quite handle the intense, thought provoking nonfiction or biting, dark fiction that I’m typically drawn to. Now don’t get me wrong; this reading year certainly wasn’t a bust! In compiling my Top 10 list, though, I just noticed a bit of a bias towards lighter fare.

And of course, in honor of Miss Maggie, I thought it was also appropriate to include a Top 10 Board Book list. (While I had a say in the board book voting, these were vetted by my blossoming seven-month old reader. No, she’s not reading yet, but she is turning the pages!)

**2010 TOP 10**

For those new to my annual list, note that these are not necessarily new books that were released in 2010; they’re just books that I read this year. So, in no particular order…

Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann) –The story takes place in New York City, 1974, opening with a man walking on a wire between the World Trade Center Towers. Hands down one of the best works of fiction I’ve read in years: the characters are rich, bold and gritty; the writing is impressive (yet never got in the way of the storytelling flow), and McCann offers brilliant commentary on our post-9/11 world without writing directly about it. This would make for a great book club selection.

Room (Emma Donoghue) – I first discovered this on the RJ Julia Top 10 list and polished it off in just a couple of days. As a new mom, I didn’t think I’d want to read about a woman who was kidnapped and trapped in a room with her son. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down – it was one of those books I wanted to get up and read when I woke up in the middle of the night. What makes this such a stand-out novel is the narrator: you’re bound to fall in love with five-year-old Jack’s voice, approach to life and perspective of the world.

Half Broke Horses (Jeannette Walls) – After The Glass Castle, I’ll read anything from Jeannette Walls. This “true-life novel” is based on the hardscrabble life of Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who’s tough as nails. (This is a quickie read.)

One Day (David Nicholls) – I love British writers… what a fresh perspective from the same ole! This novel follows Emma and Dexter on a single day – July 30th – over the course of two decades. Each chapter leaves you wanting more… but you’re left hanging… until the next year’s chapter comes along and you get a sense of what’s filled the time between. Friendship, family, passion, pain, love… it’s all the usual suspects for a drama, just rejiggered with a fresh unique backdrop.  (I just read that this is already being made into a film… if it were 10 years ago, they could’ve just cut and pasted the cast of Bridget Jones.)

A Widow for One Year (John Irving) – I tired of John Irving for awhile, but this novel won me over again. I love his multi-generational stories, his writing, his hubris-filled characters. In this case, the autobiographical references make it that much more appealing.

American Wife (Curtis Sittenfeld) – I fell in love with Curtis Sittenfeld after reading Prep, but wasn’t interested in American Wife since it was loosely based on Laura Bush. I did finally pick it up and the likeness isn’t lost (especially towards the end.) However, the character development, storytelling and sharp writing make it absolutely worth reading. I cannot wait for her next book…

Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden) – when I was up in Whistler for the 2010 Paralympics, I found a gem of an indie bookstore called Armchair Books. When I asked the owner for his recommendations of books by Canadian authors, he immediately pointed me to this novel of WWI. I wasn’t in the mood to read about trench warfare (can one ever be in the mood to read about war??), but I’m so glad I followed his lead – this is a good pick for both men and women.


The Source of All Things (Tracy Ross) – I just reviewed this for the Spring 2011 issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine – it’s one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Keep an eye out for this one (available until March 2011.) I’ll also be doing a Q&A with Tracy for the WAM site and am working on setting up a book signing with Tracy at The Next Page, so stay tuned!

Tara, Maggie & Signe

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World (Signe Pike) – I stumbled on this book by accident, but I was meant to read it. It’s as simple as that. The author, Signe Pike, leaves her Manhattan career as a book editor to journey to England, Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man in search of faeries. (OK, stay with me here…!) But this gorgeous memoir-slash-travelogue isn’t just about searching for fearies; it’s about the childlike wonder of things we may not be able to see or prove… about connecting with the earth, people, places… about believing something bigger than ourselves. You don’t have to believe in faeries to appreciate this book; all you need is an open mind. Signe has such a fresh voice, her writing is exquisite and witty, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. What more can you ask for? Best of all, in the perfect serendipitous kismet that the story is built on, Signe happened to be in Summit County, Colo. this month on a ski vacation. Our last-minute book signing brought in nearly 40 people and we were enamored with Signe’s charm, warmth and energy!

Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball (Bill Madden) – for baseball fans only. A great insider look into the bigger than life personality that was Steinbrenner, including of course the whole Billy Martin fiasco (I guess that should be fiascos, plural), the business of baseball, and what made George tick. Disclaimer: I am a Yankees fan. And yes, this is my first public admission of such a fact since I may be the only Red-Sox-fan-turned-Yankees-fan out there. Go ahead and stick that right up there with my passive Kindle confession ( :

Born to Run (Christopher McDougall) – I walked by this book so many times in different bookstores, thinking it was only for intense runners, ultramarathoners and the like. I was absolutely wrong and so glad I finally picked it up. Diane (who used to own Hamlet’s Bookshoppe in Breckenridge, Colo.) summed it up best, writing “it is about so many things… running, leadership, guts, passion, business, elite athletes, fascinating characters…” If you’ve ever run – and I’m talking about ever, even if the last time was playing tag when you were six – this is worth checking out.

2010 Board Books Top 10

Since Maggie loves to eat everything, our motto is “First we read the book, then we eat the book.” You should see all the chewed up corners of the covers! For those of you with kiddos – or anyone looking for a good baby gift – hope this list offers some good suggestions.

Jamberry (Bruce Degen) – we were turned on to this fun rhyming book from cousin Noah. This was the first book Maggie started to actually pay attention to. She loves the page where the bear and the boy go over the waterfall with their berries… wheeeeeee!

Haiku Baby (Betsy Snyder) – beautiful book all around: the words, the pictures, the kanji on each page, the sentiment. What a fun way to introduce haiku and poetry. (But what’s a hippo doing on top of a mountain??)

The Going to Bed Book (Sandra Boynton)– I may be one of the few moms who’s not a fan of Sandra Boynton. Hey! Wake Up! tells the rabbit he’s too small for basketball and the elephant he’s “too big to use the swings… you should go do big guy things.” Really, how can you already limit and discourage kids, let alone infants? However, I do like The Going to Bed Book – as does Maggie. This is the first book we read when we’re getting ready for bed and as soon as we start, she settles into nighty-night time.

Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson) – a favorite for after naptime. Great sounds throughout, including plenty of snores, a burp, a sigh and a sneeze. Also appropriate since when Maggie was first born, I’d wake up in the middle of the night not to her cries… but to Joe’s snoring! (One of those things that’s funny only in hindsight…)

Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown) – I had never read this until a friend gave it to us as a gift. We used to read this every morning when we came downstairs. We’ve since learned that daddy does much better animal sounds. Speaking of which…

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin, Eric Carle) – a classic of course that has caught Maggie’s attention since our east coast trip. Most fun to enjoy together with daddy – I read the book and he jazzes it up with animal sounds. I’m even impressed with his teacher (think Charlie Brown, wah wah wah wah) and children voices!

I’ll See You in the Morning (Mike Jolley) – my all-time favorite bedtime book, which I’ve bought for almost every friend who’s had a baby. This is part of our bedtime ritual, and far better than Goodnight Moon. This is a real gem that still hasn’t reached the popularity it deserves.

Can You See a Little Bear? (James Mayhew, Jackie Morris) – love the international flair of this one. Gorgeous illustrations that  I probably appreciate more than Maggie at this point.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (Al Perkins) – Best rhyming and repetitive rhythm book I know. Plus, we love all the drumming in it!

Little Green (Keith Baker) – what’s not to love about a hummingbird zipping and dipping and curly-cueing around your yard? And Maggie especially likes this one because there is so much turquoise in the pictures (she gravitates towards toys and books that are bright blue – I know, who knew that kiddos this little had color preferences?!!)

There’s nothing quite like a baby to keep you smiling and keep you on your toes! Maggie’s taught me so much already, but most of all, to keep things in perspective. And with that sentiment…

…as we head into 2011, here’s wishing everyone lots of quality reading time, many adventures and happy, healthy days ahead!

Blogging Hiatus

Well, I guess I could’ve posted this to my faithful readers – do you really exist?? – before I took a hiatus, but my mind was otherwise occupied.

Here’s the reason I’ve been taking a bit of a blogging break:

Maggie Akiko Kusumoto was born May 26, 2010 !

At two months old (already! where does the time go??!!), she is a true blessing and gives us new reasons to marvel at her every single day.

When she was still just a couple weeks old, I was a bit discouraged when she wasn’t interested in listening to some of my favorites…  I’ll See You in the Morning, Guess How Much I Love You, and On the Night You Were Born just didn’t seem to capture her attention. Looking back, I can laugh… what did I expect? That she’d come out of the womb a reader? Well, yes! ( :

While reading board books wasn’t an early favorite activity (though it is now!), she DID love her black and white books. She’d sit in her baby pappasan chair or turn her head while we were changing her and just stare at the contrasting images of animals, a flower, a butterfly.

I would definitely recommend these to new moms, since they were such a hit with Maggie: Xavier Deneux’s My Circus and My Animals; Tana Hoban’s Who Are They?, What Is That?, Black and White; and Peter Linenthal’s Look at the Animals.

So, as Miss Mags grows – and grows into more reading – I’ll try to do a bit more blogging on our favorites. But if you don’t hear from me, chances are I just have my hands full with my favorite little nugget.