A Little Better

February was a month of snow and more snow. A month where every single thing was difficult. Where all my normal routines were thrown off. It took me longer to get anywhere and do anything. Quite honestly, it’s been exhausting.

I hoped March would be a fresh start. But it’s already snowed twice and my weather app says it’s currently 6 degrees outside.

It also says that on the 16th we’ll have a high of 58 degrees. I simply cannot believe this. I have been lied to before by this very app, which told me last week that this week we’d have plenty of warm days but then decided we’d just have one. 

On the bright side, this week I’ve had an entirely normal commute time both going to work and going home. That hasn’t happened in a month. For weeks it was an unknown quantity. A commute could take hours, and you didn’t know how many hours. In February we had maybe one or two days at work this month where our whole team is in the office. A couple of vacations, yes, but mostly the commute has been too unreliable to make it worthwhile 5 days a week. 

We had one day with a little melt. It was immediately followed by a deep freeze. So now many sidewalks that were cleared are now covered in an ice slick. (And yes, our day of 45 degrees this week had rain and was followed by two days of sub-freezing temperatures so we’re just repeating this over again.)

Things are better without being good. But we are a beat down bunch over here, so we’ll take better happily. You still can’t park anywhere. You still can’t walk down the sidewalk. It’s still frigid and awful. But I wore sturdy shoes yesterday instead of snow boots and it felt like a revelation.

February is also the month where I give up a significant chunk of my free time to Listen To Your Mother auditions. It’s a completely worthy cause, but now that we’ve finished and selected a cast, I am looking at this weekend wondering what I am supposed to do with it. (Answer: clean my house, cook real food, and hopefully squeeze in a little House of Cards.)

We are all a little less sane than we were in January. At least now we can say it’ll be warm soon. Most of us didn’t dare say that in February. But we topped 40 degrees this week so it’s starting to feel like a possibility. Not that it’ll be all sweetness and light. There are lots of icicles to fall, lots of snow to melt, we’ll probably see more roofs collapse and more homes infested with leaks. But someday soon you won’t have to wait for the bus in the street because the snow drifts are too high for it to see you on the sidewalk! 

It kind of feels like March is the new January. That this is the time when we really get to start over. 

I’d like a vacation. I have a work trip to Phoenix at the end of April. It feels like a long time away. Maybe I can save my pennies and get a new swimsuit. Last year’s new swimsuit doesn’t fit so well since I lost weight over the summer. I can close my eyes and imagine sitting by the pool. I’m guessing I will be out there a lot. Maybe I will take meetings there. Maybe I will make all meetings swimsuit meetings and drink something with a little umbrella in it. Is there a pool bar? I love pool bars and the only time I had one I was pregnant and couldn’t drink. 

I’ve been thinking about moving somewhere warm, which I can’t do any time in the near future and possibly not ever. I’ve been thinking about how I can get myself back under a yellow umbrella sitting on sand and watching waves. It’s progress. Last month it was too wonderful to think about it. I had to block it from my mind. But now I can think of it, even though it makes me kinda sad and wistful. 

So yeah. I’ll take better.

What It’s Like Living In Boston Right Now

Living in BostonSomeone tweeted an article about how Boston needs to stop complaining and enjoy the snow. 140 characters weren’t nearly enough to say just how wrong I think this is. 

Here’s the thing:

This isn’t just some crappy weather we’re dealing with. This isn’t just some minor annoyances that we should just deal with and get over and worry about real problems instead.

It’s a real problem. A significant problem. A problem as big as the giant piles of snow that now line our roads.

This is people missing work, which means people not getting paid, businesses not getting revenue, families that will struggle to pay their bills this month. The snow keeps us inside and puts a huge damper on our city’s retail and tourism economy. 

This is dangerous. Our narrow roads are banked with giant drifts of snow. Two lane roads are now one lane, and encountering a driver going the opposite direction can mean someone gets stuck. Four lane roads are down to two lanes. Sidewalks aren’t shoveled. Even sidewalks that are shoveled are narrow and difficult to navigate. People are walking in the streets, streets that are already crowded with cars in snowy conditions. And it’s not just people who can walk. There’s strollers and wheelchairs out there in the roads because we have to get where we’re going and there’s simply no other way. 

Everything is difficult. For the last two Wednesdays I’ve done my usual normal routine. First, drop Tessa at daycare so she can make her morning therapy session. Second, get Graham to school, usually just get home and wait for the bus. But for the last two weeks it’s taken over 2 hours, nearly 3, to get this done. Graham spends nearly 3 hours in the morning in the car and then when we get to his school, which is on a small side street and has little parking on a good day, there’s nowhere for me to pull in and drop him. So we have to park down the street and around the corner and walk up to school. It’s not the worst thing that ever happened, no, but all that happens and I still have to get to work. I made it in at noon yesterday. I had to miss the Parent Council meeting in the evening because leaving in enough time to get there would’ve meant leaving at 4 when I’d already missed the entire morning. It’s a problem.

Driving in this is rough. Imagine every street in your city is down by 1-2 lanes. Just one street with lanes closed can cause backups, we’ve got all of them. And when you hit a side street that is full of snow and you’re sliding around, it’s white knuckle time.

It’s cold. And it keeps being cold. They tell us it’s good because warmer weather during our snow is when you have trees falling and power lines going down and the only blessing in all this is that the suburbs haven’t lost power for days at a time. But with it being cold and staying cold, the snow isn’t melting. We haven’t had anything resembling a thaw since the snow started and my weather app doesn’t show a day where the high is above freezing for the next week. (My weather app describes next Wednesday as “Dreary.” No joke. It also says more snow today and Sunday.)

Roofs have begun collapsing under the weight of the snow. (We’re at over 6 feet of it in a very very short time.)

Our transit system, which everyone in the city and nearly everyone in the suburbs relies on, is old and outdated and is constantly breaking down. Getting on a train at rush hour has turned into a ridiculous farce where you stand on a platform that’s packed with people, wait for a train, and if it comes it’s already so full there’s no room for anyone else to get on. Here’s a few local Instagrams to show you what it looks like:

No train for you. #mbta #latetowork #Boston #snow

A photo posted by Jason Zavala (@braczav) on

It’s not about the shoveling (although that really sucks and have I mentioned no one here has a garage?) and it’s not about the snow days when the kids are home from school (which also suck and have I mentioned the kids have been out of school for 7 days so far this year?). It’s that after the entire city shuts down, when it starts back up everything is difficult. We lose hours of our day. We lose time and money and some people are going to lose their lives because of this stupid snow.

So yeah, I think it’s okay to complain. 

I get that some complaining is useless and stupid. I have a 5-year-old. We are right in the middle of the “No Complaining” thing. But the thing is I may come down on complaining about things that are silly and pointless, but if he’s actually doing something difficult I let him complain. Because it legitimately sucks.

The thing about complaining? It can actually help.

Complaining can get things done. And right now our city and our state really need to hear us complain. They need to know that we can’t be an urban center without being able to get through a heavy winter. We should plan for a heavy winter and be pleasantly surprised if it’s not that bad. We need serious changes, we’ve needed them for decades, and if we don’t complain we may not get them.

Complaining can also help the person doing the complaining. Talking to other people about how bad your commute was is actually a pleasant thing, even if your commute was not. When you’re bursting with frustration, it actually helps to say something and let out some of that pressure.

There’s a reason people go to therapy to talk things out. When you’re facing difficult emotions caused by something out of your control, you don’t just get to say, “Hey, I’m from New England and I love this and bring on more snow yay!!” if that’s not how you feel. You can’t change your emotions just by deciding to change them. 

The view out the window right at my eye level. Can't see the street anymore.

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

Today I’m driving to the station because I’ll need my car for a delivery shift after work and if I have to get back to my house, my commute could take 90 minutes and I’ll lose a good hour of time. Or more. So I’m going to drive over with my shovel and see if I can find a spot and it may not work out and I may be pretty frustrated and if I can’t get my work done in the office I may have to cancel that shift and lose the extra money it would’ve brought. If that sounds extreme, take my word for it that it’s not. It’s completely possible that I won’t be able to find a parking space and that the piles of snow will be far too high for me to shovel into. Paid lots are packed full because street parking is virtually nonexistent on many of the city’s streets. 

I just checked Twitter and the train line I take to work has “limited service” today. Meaning they’re running less trains. Meaning every station will be full of people waiting. And I think I may just have to cancel that shift. We just can’t win.

We just can’t. If your friends who live here have been moaning about the weather and you’ve playfully said how it’s so warm where you are and you wish you could have some of that snow, you should probably know that we are way past joking. We are tired and beat down and every single day is a struggle to get to work and leave again, to drop off kids and pick them up, to do anything. 

Want more? Follow @jessicaesquire on Twitter or  Like Don’t Mind the Mess on Facebook. Or check out Boston reviews.


You know those stories you hear from someone who’s successful and accomplished and they tell you about how they grew up disadvantaged and you’ll hear them say something like, “My mom worked 3 jobs to put food on the table.” You know that story.

It’s a nice story. A story of sacrifice and reward. You think of that mother and you see her as someone noble.

Well, right now I am working three jobs to put food on the table and make sure our bills are paid and we have a place to stay. I have my 9-5, I have freelance writing projects due nearly every week, and I have my new part time delivery job. 

I’m writing this on Saturday night. I spent all week doing my 9-5 from Monday to Friday. On Monday and Tuesday nights I took care of kids. On Wednesday night I came home and worked on freelance projects. On Thursday night I took a shift on delivery. On Saturday morning I got up and took a delivery shift, a longer one than I expected. I was working until 3, then I took a few hours to run errands, then I came home and started working on freelance jobs. On Sunday morning I’ll get up, work another delivery shift, and then pick up the kids and start the week over again. The only time I wasn’t working this week was Friday night.

So let me tell you something. Working 3 jobs to put food on the table sounds noble.

Working 3 jobs doesn’t feel noble. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for your kids, it doesn’t matter if it’s to put food on the table. You don’t get to feel noble, you don’t get to feel fulfilled or satisfied. You don’t get to feel like it’s all worth it, or at least it will be eventually. 

You’re too tired and busy to feel those feelings.

All you feel is tired and busy. That’s pretty much it.

And honestly? If I had the time and capacity to feel my feelings, I don’t think I would feel particularly noble. Other people have a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear without working 3 jobs. It’s not like working harder or longer makes those things any better or more worthwhile.

I’m taking a break from my work at the present moment because I’m fading. The deadlines don’t care that I’m fading. The hours I have to put in don’t care either. These things must be done and that’s that. Tomorrow will be another day, and after that there will be more days, and the days will just keep coming. I have a tiny blip in a couple weeks, a period of about 30 hours where I’ll be mostly off the hook. It won’t be enough, and I won’t be able to stretch out and relax enough to feel ready to get back into the grind again. But that’s life. That’s how things are right now.

 Oh, and “now” has morphed into Sunday night. Because I went back to work on my projects and then collapsed of exhaustion around 10. My morning of work and afternoon of kids has me beat enough that I’ll probably be in my bed at 8:30, which is coming up soon. Tessa is making little noises from her bed. She wasn’t feeling well at her dad’s house and it’s possible I’ll be sharing my bed with her tonight, which will be a setback for the week for sure. 

I wonder if I’ll ever tell the kids about this time. Will they ever ask me what it was like after their dad and I split up? Will they ever be curious about whether we went through hard times? Of course, all this assumes that eventually times won’t be hard. I force myself to think that way. I think that I could meet someone, get married again, and go back to the bliss of a household where two people can share the responsibility of meeting financial burdens. I think that the kids’ dad could be making a lot more money in a few years, which would mean my child support payments could go from miniscule to actually helping. I think that maybe we’ll move somewhere that I could find an apartment at half the price I’m paying now. I think that things could change at work, or maybe there will be a different job in a few years, or whatever other tricks of fate could have an impact on my monthly paycheck.

Part of me insists there’s no need to tell my kids about my struggle. But most of me disagrees. Most of me thinks it’s important to show that adulthood doesn’t mean you’re free from trouble. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes or that bad things won’t happen. Things go wrong, life takes turns, you shouldn’t judge someone for their misfortune. If I tell them, that’s how I’ll do it. 

And who knows, maybe one day, years from now, one of my kids will be at a microphone, telling the story of their single mom working three jobs. I’m hoping if they do, at the end they tell everyone about how thanks to their unbelievable success they’ve sent their mother off to a beach to retire in luxury.

An Open Letter to Hot Wheels

Dear Hot Wheels,

No one was more surprised than me when my train-loving kid decided he was into “Team Hot Wheels.” (Which he must refer to as all three words together at all times.) I was skeptical, I gave it a few months, but it appears to be sticking. So he got Hot Wheels for his birthday and now it’s a part of my life.

At first I was happy. Have you seen how much Thomas trains cost? It is a truly ridiculous amount of money. You’d think James’s shiny red paint was made of rubies. There is a whole aisle of Thomas at the toy store, which is one reason we never go there. Even worse, now there are two kinds of Thomas tracks: the wooden rails and these horrible, annoying plastic rails. Because I didn’t have enough sets of tracks already. And, of course, the two require different trains because they’re not compatible with both. 

So hey, bring on Hot Wheels. They’re cheap. They’re all over the place. There aren’t any cartoons with creepy computer animated trains involved. 

One of my son’s big presents was a special track with a launcher and a loop. He loves it. LOVES it. 

The problem? It doesn’t really work. Although it’s had hardly any use, the launcher can’t send the cars all the way around the track to start over. Sometimes if we change the configuration we’ll find one that works for one or two cars, but the majority of the ones he tries barely make it past the loop. 

Okay, fine, I get it, not all Hot Wheels cars are compatible with all tracks.

But you have no coding system! Even the cars that CAME WITH THE TRACKS don’t always work on the tracks. You don’t have special race cars that work on race tracks, which would make a ton of sense, but no. 

I have caught on to your ploy. You want my kid to think he just needs more cars or more tracks to make it work. So you are making my life miserable because you can’t actually make toys that are consistently branded that work together. 

There are many indignities we face as parents. There are toys we hate, movies we’re forced to sit through, activities where we serve as nothing but chauffeur. But at least we do this stuff because our kids love it and legitimately enjoy it. But you? Not so much. My kid’s enjoyment is nowhere near what he wants or imagines it could be. He gets disappointed every time we turn the damn thing on.

For now I think we’ll be sticking to the tracks of the non-launcher variety (speaking of which, 2 D batteries? Seriously? I swear you could launch a rocket into space with 2 D batteries) or avoiding them all together and making our own. 

Because you sure seem to have it out for my kid and I’m not going to make it worse.



No One Came to This Autistic Boy’s Birthday Party… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

Forgive me for the Buzzfeed-style headline. But the events of Saturday are just such a roller coaster ride that I feel like if there’s ever a time when I’m going to get all Upworthy on y’all, it’s now.

If you’re a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably been following the saga of Graham’s 5th birthday party. This was the first year I decided to give him a real party. A party with invitations handed out and RSVP’s requested instead of just calls to our friends down the street.  I learned from last year that summer birthdays are tough. I handed out invitations early this year, made sure every kid got one, about 15 in all. I gave my email to RSVP and waited.

And waited.

Last week (a month after handing them out) we got our first RSVP: it was a no. Also no’s from all our local friends who would love dearly to come, but are just gone.

Summer birthdays are harder than I thought. As someone who had a winter birthday, and who moved so often that birthday parties weren’t that common anyway, I didn’t get it until this year. It is HARD. And it’s harder when I don’t have anyone’s contact information. Boston’s elementary schools aren’t just divvied up by neighborhood. The kids in his class come from all around, we don’t have a tight-knit community, we don’t call each other for playdates. And he’s been in an Early Childhood class where several of the kids are special needs and that complicates it even more. 

I started to worry. 

The party was scheduled for a trade-off custody day so that both parents could attend without messing with schedules. I chose a spray park near our house and chose 10 a.m. for a start time. The park is usually pretty quiet before noon and I planned to arrive right when they opened at 9:30 when it’s a ghost town to get us a table for the cake.

Saturday morning, the big day, I got to the park early with Kathy, the maker of Graham’s Hot Wheels cake. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I felt my stomach turn. The little spray park had already been invaded. The doors were open even though it wasn’t open yet. There was no one there now, but someone had been there. They’d come, set up all the tables under the little bit of shade, added several chairs, put up a stereo system, set out a grill, and hung balloons and Happy Birthday signs. Whoever they were, they’d taken everything.

I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I waited. We asked someone in the park nearby and they reported that people had been there and then left. It was quarter to 10, the kids showed up with their dad. Still no sign of the other party. So I called it. The area wasn’t one you could reserve, it was not cool to take all the tables at the park, so we took one back and moved it to an open space. 

People started showing up… to the spray park, not to the party. No sign of the other party either. Just kids from the swimming lessons next door who’d just finished and were now over for some fun. 

A girl who goes to camp with Graham was there. She hadn’t been invited or anything, but it was a happy coincidence. 

There are times when you’re glad your kid doesn’t pick up on stuff. And I was so glad that Graham hadn’t fixated on the invitations to his party. I was glad he didn’t remember that he’d given me that list of 15 names. I was glad that he was happy to run around knowing he was having a birthday party and there was a cake and he was having fun.

Time passed. Kids came and went. It stayed pretty quiet at the park. Still no sign of the other party. Still no sign of any of Graham’s friends. 

And then something wonderful happened.

It was Graham’s best friend Dennis. The one he talks about often, the one he says he misses, the one he calls “my best friend Dennis.” He’s an IEP kid like Graham. His mom came, too, and said she’d tried to email but by the time she got the invitation from Dennis she couldn’t make out the address. She’d made some attempts but they hadn’t made it to me. I didn’t care. I was so happy.

I cried. I cried behind my big sunglasses, grateful that they hid how crazy and foolish I looked. 

Dennis brought presents. Graham opened them and was thrilled. A new Spiderman bracelet was put on. Cake was eaten. They ran through the spray. They played with Graham’s new Hot Wheels race track. As far as Graham was concerned, it was the best party. And I had to agree.

And those people who claimed the tables for their party? There was no sign of them until we were leaving. So nice of them to claim all that space and not use it for hours. Sigh.

We said goodbye to Dennis, had lunch, drove around and then drove around much longer than necessary because both kids were asleep and why stop?


I’d been updating online, of course. Letting everyone know Graham was happy even though no one showed up. And then letting them know someone had come! Hooray! 

But when I finally got to Twitter, well, that was when the story really started.

The internet was sad to see Graham alone at his birthday party. The internet decided to help. By this time I assured the internet that Graham did have a friend come, that this was all unnecessary. The internet did not care. The internet wanted to know what would make Graham happy. 

So this little boy who is so easy to make happy will be pretty thrilled when the internet sends him to see Thomas the Tank Engine at Edaville next month. Internet, I have no words. So I’ll just take lots of pictures. And until then here are a couple from the spray park. Tessa, who wouldn’t touch the water a month ago, is now sticking in hands and feet and is ridiculously cute. And Graham, I look at pictures and see this long, lean kid whose face sometimes looks so grown up and I don’t even know what to think.