Answering readers’ burning questions

Columnist Sarah Smiley answers reader questions about her column, life and boys.

I often get messages, and sometimes actual letters, from readers asking a variety of questions. Unfortunately, I can’t always respond to them, as the family tends to want dinner, but I do read everything (that isn’t in the comments section), and today I’d like to provide some answers.

Is Smiley your real name or is it a pseudonym?

Smiley would be a great pseudonym, but it is my real, married name. I first met my husband, Dustin, when I was a baby, but during the 10 years that our families lived in separate states, Dustin’s last name was pretty much all that I remembered about him. (That and his braces.) When we started dating, friends said, “His last name is Smiley? Well, you have to marry him!” And so I did (although not just for the name.)

My three boys are just beginning to understand the power of their last name. At a baseball game recently, a cute girl asked Owen, “Your last name is really Smiley?” Owen looked a little embarrassed as he said, “yes.” Soon enough, however, he will learn to use this force for good with the ladies: Name’s Smiley, Owen Smiley.

But the name “Smiley” is kind of ironic when I’m writing about depression or I’m making a complaint at a store:

Me: “I’m really disappointed in this service. In fact, I’m very, very angry.”

Them, flatly: “I’ll take your name and tell the manager.”

Me, sheepishly: “My name is Sarah…Smiley.”

Them: (giggles)

“Smiley” also raises red flags when we make dinner reservations—“Sure, Smiley party of 5; we’ll (cough, cough) save you a table when you”—or when I make a dentist appointment—“My name is Sarah Smiley and I think I have a cross-bite.”

What do your kids think about you writing about them for the past 14 years?

I began writing this column when Ford was a baby, so the kids know nothing else. The first newspaper to publish me was in Florida; the second, the Times Record in Brunswick, Maine. Those readers have literally watched Ford grow up in 800 words weekly. Ford is used to people saying things like, “Oh, I remember when your dad took you to the wrong Chik-fil-A for your fifth birthday party,” or “I was so sad when you aged out of Little League.”

As Ford has gotten older, however, I’ve become more careful about the stories I choose to tell about him. I recognize some things are private and off-limits to the public when you’re a kid going through the awkward teenage years. Gone are the days that I can tell you about his Superman pajamas.

But for the most part, Ford, who is an excellent writer and reads a book a week, understands the art of storytelling, and often he will say, after reading my draft, “That’s kind of embarrassing for me, but the story is flat without it, so you have to include it.”

And Lindell, well, he loves being in the column. In fact, he’s angry if he’s not. He’s proud that I told you about his invisible robot friend, Bob, and that he wants to marry a girl named Buckachewey.

Some day, I hope all my boys appreciate that my column is essentially a written record of their childhoods. Although, “some day” is still a long way away for Owen. (See next question)

You must like your oldest and youngest sons (Ford and Lindell) better than your middle child (Owen) because you write about them more.

Many years ago, I wrote an unfortunate column about my boys’ affinity for frozen waffles and what a personal crisis it was when there was a national shortage of Eggos. (Note: readers’ criticism of that column was that I serve my boys frozen waffles, but, let it be known that I toasted them first.)

Owen took the brunt of the infamous waffle column, and after some teasing from friends, he stormed through the door and said, “Never write about me again!” And so I didn’t. If you don’t know much about Owen, there’s a reason for it. While Ford and Lindell argue about who got more playing time in my 800 words, Owen sighs with relief each time he’s absent from them.

Until recently.

In my first draft of last week’s column, in which I wrote a letter to my future daughters-in-law, I was intentionally vague about Owen. I only gave him two sentences that were general enough that they could have been about anyone. But when Owen heard Ford reading the draft aloud (Ford is my first editor), he said, “Could you write a little more about me? You always poke fun of Ford and Lindell, but not me.” Apparently, that wasn’t “fair.”

Which leads to my final question for YOU, my readers: Can a mother ever win?