The other day, I was regaling a friend with a story of the previous night, a rather atypical evening riddled with Aura’s 10 and 11 p.m. wake-ups and then her sudden bout of midnight-timed chatter. “Oh, you poor thing,” the other mother said when I finished. “You must be so tired, not having gone to bed until after midnight!”

Since I have never been one to turn down free pity, I simply nodded, trying my best for the expression all those subjects in medieval martyr paintings have, that half-smile/half-grimace that makes you really wish you named your kid Joan of Arc instead of Aura, the goddess of breezes in completely unsaintly and nudity-laden Greek mythology.

Umm…oh yes. My point: I kind of hedged the truth. I was still wide awake when Aura woke up for the umpteenth time at midnight, probably tooling around on my laptop or contemplating the wisdom of buying black matte flatware.

Nice? Pretentious? Capable of showing every scratch? I'm all for advice.

That’s because I’m almost always still awake at midnight. I love the night, and always have. This wasn’t an easy thing to manage growing up, especially with a chirpy morning-person mother who was a firm believer in a Good Night’s Sleep, Especially If You Want to Do Well Enough in High School to Get into a Good College.  But once I arrived at the promised Good College (okay, so thanks, Mom), I indulged. Strolls around campus at eleven at night, forays to the university library at two in the morning, impromptu rides for pancakes hours after midnight…the darker, the better.

And it’s still that way. While I was pregnant, I harbored a gnawing fear that I’d have to change, that becoming a mother would mean that I would finally have to give up late nights, in favor of earlier mornings. Yet that hasn’t quite happened. Sure, Aura goes through phases when she’s rising near dawn, but they’re rare. I realize this is in large part because we have trained her to go to bed a bit later than her peers and therefore also wake up a bit later. And I know it won’t last forever, especially once kindergarten begins. But for now I’m thankful to still have my favorite part of the 24 hours, when the sun finally sinks out of sight and the night stretches before me, complete and thick and somehow full of more possibility than the day ever was.

I just hope Aura is better at surviving fewer than eight hours of sleep than I am. If not, I have a feeling we’ll be having the Good College talk sooner than later. But you better believe we’ll have it at night.

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I freely acknowledge that I am not a vision of marital bliss by the time Adam arrives home most nights. He’ll walk in the door, announcing his exhaustion, and I’ll stare at him with something bordering on wrath. Carrot peels from dinner prep stuck to my face, driveway chalk crusted under my nails, a laundry basket wedged under one arm, I begin my oft-repeated litany on how he has NO IDEA WHAT TIRED REALLY IS.

Since both giving and receiving this speech can become dull after a while, I work diligently to mix it up a bit, peppering the diatribe with comments like I HAVE NEVER WORKED SO HARD IN MY LIFE and YOU TRY ENTERTAINING A THREE-YEAR-OLD ALL DAY and—my current favorite—YOU WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT A VACUUM IS IF IT HIT YOU IN THE FACE. (I find that this last one has a certain 1950s fishwife je ne sais quoi.)

Adam stands at the counter patiently, removing his shoes and mixing a cocktail as I continue to remind him of how lucky he is. On his train ride to and from work, he can read the news, relax along with some music. At work, he can participate in intelligent conversation, make critical decisions, brainstorm with peers. The socialization! The lunch options! The utter and complete lack of Curious George and twisted car-seat buckles and bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese!

Yes, I like to suggest regularly that his job is easier than mine. But on days like today, days of sandcastle villages and sunblock-scented salt air and drippy plastic cups of watermelon slush and a little girl who roars with joy every time a wave splashes her, I remember something else: I would never, ever say his job is better.

Apparently, the planets have aligned, the stars have crossed, and a ritual sacrifice of a Polly Pocket or two (RELAX, one of them was already missing her left arm and the other one bore an off-putting resemblance to Mickey Rourke) has been made, for we have a babysitter. This is a rare occurrence, so rare that Adam and I are downright stymied by how to fill a full six hours of evening. All day, as we’ve been in the car or at the grocery store or eating lunch at the kitchen counter, we’ve been trying to make a plan, yet it’s as if the sheer abundance of options has somehow stifled our decision-making ability.

I think we’ve settled on where to eat, since we finally identified a place that meets both our Date Restaurant Requirements. For Adam, this means the establishment employs a bartender whom he can merrily pester and badger and try to stump with his requests for arcane gins and boutique bitters. For me, this means there is not a child in sight. I am nothing but easy to please. Maternal, too.

It’s been so long since we’ve been out alone that I had forgotten that there is more to Date Night than the Date. Wearing something besides jeans, for instance. I wandered upstairs a while ago and started pushing hangers around and pulling open drawers, ever hopeful of finding a fantastic outfit that I already owned but had totally forgotten about, kind of like happens on the makeover shows except that those people are models anyway and reality television continues to screw with me.

I was rifling through one of the drawers when my fingers suddenly tangled in the straps of something. It was only after cocking my head to the side and squinting really hard that I recognized it for what it was: a push-up bra. After gently removing the layers of dust, I tried it on and found it does indeed improve the shirt I was hoping to wear. There is also a slight chance that it makes me look like an overage teenage hooker, but I choose to ignore that part. If anyone at the restaurant says anything, I plan on knocking them flat on their back with my cleavage. Especially if it’s a kid.

As summer sets in, Aura and I are enjoying a rather fancy-free season. Freed from the September–June preschool, etc. schedule, we’ve been sort of meandering, hitting a beach here, an amusement park there, an ice-cream shop or twenty over there. Since it is widely known that I’m allergic to overscheduling (seriously, there are hives involved; BIG ones), this suits me just fine.

What doesn’t sit so well is something I’ve encountered during our recent expeditions, and it is called The Mean World of Playground Graffiti. I never thought I was an out-and-out prude, but I may have to reevaluate. Either that or call the city’s Department of Public Works to request a little scrub-down. Here, let me show you.

It all starts semi-innocently enough. I mean, generations of teenagers have challenged authority. That being said, I myself may have issued such a challenge a little more eloquently. For instance, I would have scrawled “the police” instead of “The Police,” since otherwise it kind of looks like someone is screwing with Sting. But whatever.

Then the first mention of reproductive organs is made and both grammar and decency go all to hell.

Once you get past the fact that we’re talking about a lobster penis, not a “horse penis,” or a  “bear penis,” or peni of any other animals larger than a lobster, another thought jumps out at you. Our friend Spencer does not just have a lobster penis—he IS a lobster penis. Which seems like a pretty bad insult, especially when it’s all underlined like that in Sharpie marker. It’s one thing to have genitalia like a crustacean; it’s another thing indeed to BE the genitalia. I know not who Spencer is, yet I pity him.

However, Spencer is not the graffiti artistes’ primary target. Nope. That would be the much maligned Kristen:

I feel for Kristen. Not only is her alleged sexuality pronounced for all the world to see (the arrow helpfully explaining her sapphic tendencies), the one compliment offered is scratched out and refuted. Suddenly, one senses disagreement among the ranks of this particularly nasty little group of homophobic middle-schoolers.

Yet their differences do not get in the way of their constant need to elaborate. In case we still do not understand what Kristen supposedly enjoys in relationships, there is this charming clarification:

By the time I saw this gem, I didn’t know what I would do first if I got my hands on the graffiti culprits. Would I lock them in a room for a day-long seminar on verb-object agreement and words that sound the same but are spelled differently (words that are called GOD HELP ME homophones)? Or would I simply beat their insensitivities out of them with an especially spiny lobster penis, such as Spencer? I still haven’t decided.

One thing I have decided: This has got to stop. I can be fancy-free and laid-back and all that good stuff with the best of ’em. But then a few days ago Aura pointed to the following and asked, “Why did someone draw an alien on the playground tunnel?”

She’s three. I’m 32. Neither of us needs that drawing to be anything other than an alien. But to be on the safe side I’m so calling the city tomorrow.

I admit: I haven’t been the brightest ray of sunshine around the old homestead as of late. There are probably all kinds of small and inconsequential reasons for this, although I think much of my mood stems from the fact that Aura has been battling one small illness after another these past two months. She always gets better, thankfully, but I can’t help but feel that the two of us have spent more time in doctors’ offices than playgrounds recently.

I know that the getting-better is the important thing. And of course I know that a healthy-happy-Aura is the essential part. Yet sometimes I get so…tired. At the risk of repeating about 500,000 other momblog posts out there, this staying-at-home thing is often (for me, at least) bone-numbingly tired. I have edited entire teacher-edition textbooks, stayed up until all hours of the night planning conferences and writing sixth-grader-friendly recaps of the American Revolution. But nothing compares. Nothing.

And sometimes the exhaustion translates into times when I allow myself to wallow in self-pity, in these absolutely disgusting woe-is-me moments where I dwell on the time, the energy, the dedication required to raise a child all day, every day—and to do it the Correct Way. I listen to other mothers talk about how they can leave their children with nearby relatives, and I envy. I hear about husbands who never travel for work, and I sigh. I read magazine articles about children who can play by themselves for a full hour (happily! while dressed in designer corduroys!), and I rub my eyes out of sheer frustration.

Yesterday, that familiar overwhelming feeling of OhGodItNeverStops started to slither through me again. I was on the phone with Adam, who was regaling me with tales of the highbrow cocktail bars and restaurants he’s been sampling while down in New Orleans for a conference. As he was describing what he had ordered for dinner the night before, I was trying to get the vomit out of Aura’s sheets, since a coughing fit had triggered her delicate (read: pain-in-the-ass) gag reflex the night before.

While I balanced the phone between my ear and loaded the detergent into the washer, I found myself tearing up. I interrupted Adam. “This is not the life I pictured for myself,” I said. Adam paused, then said he understood. He said we’d work on making it easier. I sighed, said to ignore me, and wished him good luck in the talk he was about to deliver.

I left shortly after that to retrieve Aura from her two-and-a-half hours at preschool, making a quick detour to the Chamber of Commerce to pick up an end-of-year gift card for her teacher. I had to park a couple of blocks away, and as I was making my way to the office building, my shoulders hunched and head drooped, an enormous gust of wind came out of nowhere. I looked up in surprise, and at that moment a very large, mercifully empty Dunkin’ Donuts cup came flying at me, clunking into the side of my head with admirable velocity and commendable force.

Then the wind died down. The cup rolled to a stop at my feet. As I bent to pick it up and toss it into a nearby trash can, I heard myself laughing. I chuckled a little more when I got back into the car, snickered as I drove to Aura’s school, and mustered up a fully genuine chortle as I parked. And when I walked into her classroom, on the last day of school in what was her first-ever year of preschool, I smiled again.

Because as Aura, completely healthy and completely happy, reached out her still-small arms for a hug, it struck me: Maybe all anyone needs is to be hit in the head once in a while. I tell you, it snaps you right out of it.

Thanks to several readers for suggesting this topic. Much better than writing about mulch. I think.

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“HAHAHAHA,” I cackled. “A girl! Now THAT’S a good one!”

Because, honestly, back in 2006, the only way I was having a girl was if the boy I KNEW I was having spontaneously switched genders before being born. I was pregnant. With a boy. We already knew his first name and his middle name. I had already eyed some towels at Pottery Barn Kids that would look splendid monogrammed with his initials. Really, there was nothing left to do but sit back, eat armfuls of pregnancy-entitled cookies, and wait for the baby to float out in what I had decided would be a pain-free experience, much like a pedicure, or maybe a hot-stone massage.  All in all, it was settled.

Then the doctor delivered the news at the 18-week ultrasound. After I dealt with the shock with luridly inappropriate humor, I began to panic mildly. “We don’t have a GIRL NAME!” I bellowed at Adam. “We’re not supposed to be having a GIRL! The monogrammed towels won’t look as good with GIRL INITIALS!”

For a number of weeks, I spent a lot of time pondering names. I tossed out idea after idea to Adam: Hayden! (before “Heroes” ever started!) Daisy! (so reminiscent of straight teeth and tangle-free hair!) Ella! (would feel comfortable with the other 25 Ellas in her class!) He shot down every single one, prompting many a hormone-fueled argument that unfailingly ended with me pelting him with cookies, then immediately demanding he hand them all back to me.

Finally I went to the library, checked out a bunch of baby-name books, and forced Adam to sit down in the kitchen with me. I presented the plan: We would each flip through the books, making a list of the names that appealed to us. If we had a list item in common, then that would be The Name.

Of course, this plan was compromised from the start, since I had been too cheap to buy recently published baby-name books. Most of the library books had been published, oh, a decade or so before I myself was born. Which is why it should come as only a mild surprise that the name we both listed was Aura, a choice that I imagine many a Woodstock-visiting hippie would have applauded with incense-scented gusto.

Nonetheless, we were pleased. Aura means “light ” and “atmosphere,” of course, but Aura is also the goddess of breezes in Greek mythology. It was a pleasant name. It was a meaningful-but-not-overly-meaningful name. And now it would be her name, a name for the girl who was supposed to be a boy.

We didn’t tell a soul about our choice until Aura was born, a decision I slightly regret, since it turns out my poor mother was convinced we had chosen Euphoria, the name I always swore I would use back in my high-school days. When Aura arrived, her name seemed to fit perfectly, and suddenly I heard it everywhere, though always with other connotations. While I was nursing her in the hospital, I saw an ad for the Saturn Aura for the first time. When Adam’s aunt and uncle came to visit only hours after she was born, his uncle handed us a clipping of the morning’s crossword puzzle, in which the clue for #12 Down was “an ineffable light” and the answer was “aura.”

That crossword clue was pretty much on the mark. Aura is very definitely an ineffable light, an indescribable force of delight in our lives. Her name? Well…it has its issues. People often think it must be spelled O-R-A; a few have asked, “Oh, Ora? As in the french fries, Ore Ida?” Aura herself, when in the throes of a rhyming game, often innocently yells out “Aura whora!” thereby shaving five years off her father’s life expectancy.

There is also the fact that I can no longer make fun of anyone else’s choice of baby name.  I mean, you name your kid Aura, you have to be very, very careful in the judgmental department. When I heard that actor Jason Lee had named his son Pilot Inspecktor, I merely nodded. And when I read that Nicolas Cage dubbed his son Kal-El in honor of Superman’s original name, I could only smile wordlessly. Glass houses and all that.

And there you have it. The world’s longest blog post on perhaps the world’s most inconsequential topic. Well, except to me, to whom Aura is anything but inconsequential. As a matter of fact, I think we may have hedged our bets a bit with the whole “goddess of breezes” thing. This one? She’s a full-on gust of wind.

In retrospect, I really should have known better.

Aura has inherited a great many things from her father, including a love of coffee-flavored foodstuffs and an inclination to snicker at me when I am at my most threatening. She also shares his tendency to become completely and utterly submerged in the lyrics of a song. New songs, songs that especially strike their fancy, songs with an unusual tempo—one note and both Adam and Aura are goners, listening and memorizing with a fierceness last witnessed in certain Nordic warriors. Their posture goes slack, their mouths gape a bit, and conversation (at least on their end) screeches to a halt.

Honestly, the trance can be a bit startling the first time you witness it. But once you get used to it, you find yourself almost impressed by such pure, unadulterated absorption. Seriously: I’ve mentioned rogue rocket ships and flying cows and free milkshakes, with zero response.  I did once snare Adam’s attention by yelling, “Look! Megan Fox is driving the car next to us, NAKED AND HANDING OUT BEER!” but later efforts proved that was a one-trick pony.

Given all of this, I really have no excuse for what happened a few days ago. In  my limited defense, it was a beautiful day and I had just picked up Aura from preschool and we had the car windows down, encouraging the spring breezes to mess up our hair. When a hip-hoppy R&B song came on, I just left it, and we car-danced, or at least I did. I knew the song wasn’t going to be age-appropriate, but she was distracted and we were happy and there might have even been a rainbow and some frolicking elves. It was that nice of an afternoon.

Then we parked. As I was releasing my seatbelt, Aura piped up, “Mommy, what does sex mean?” For a second, the whole thing was a bit like a paper cut, when the shock of the unexpected pain makes the world go momentarily silent. Still in the driver’s seat, I swooned as images of second-grade navel piercings and a prepubescent subscription to Cosmo flooded my brain.

Then I recovered, for that is what GOOD PARENTS DO.

After a few unsuccessful starts, I found an explanation that satisfied us both, at least temporarily. “Oh! Sex? Sex is just a silly way some people say the number six. Isn’t that SILLY?” Once I started, it was like I couldn’t stop. “Just like some people say foove for five! One, two, three, four, foove, sex! IT’S SO SILLY, ISN’T IT?”

Days later, I don’t know what scenario scares me most: that Aura sees through the deception and asks again, or that she presents her newfound counting schema at school. As much as the resulting preschool progress report will pain me, I’m rooting for scenario #2. So what if she gets an Unsatisfactory in the Number Identification category? Screw ’em. When she gets homes that day, I’m so going to give her a high foove.