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Author: toni

~ 05/01/19

There are moments in life that define you.  You don’t always know those moments as they occur. Sometimes it takes years, introspection, and retrospection.

I remember the moment I decided to leave the Catholic Church. It is one of the clearest memories of my childhood. Yes, I said childhood, because I was in 4th grade when I made that decision. You might say that a 10 year old does not have enough understanding of the world to make such a huge decision. But I say that depends on the 10 year and the situation.

My mother was Italian. She grew up in a Roman Catholic household in Lucca, a little town outside Pisa, and had a deep faith in the church. So deep that, despite marrying an American Southern Baptist who brutally commanded obedience in virtually all matters (that is another story of male toxicity) she somehow managed to convince him to raise us kids in the Catholic Church. And so from the time of our births we were exposed/subjected to all the rituals of Catholicism. Baptism, weekly church, catechism classes, first Communions, etc.

There were four of us all in a row. Me, then three brothers. One after another. You can guess why, given the church’s stance on birth control. Every eighteen months or so, with regularity, my mother gave birth. The last two births were difficult ones, resulting in C-sections and had profound and lasting effects on my mother’s health.

You see, she was a child of WWII. In Italy, she grew up among the bombings and poverty. She knew the fear of hiding in the dark recesses of the catacombs of the wall that surrounded her medieval hometown to escape the bombings. She knew what it was to go hungry and traveled the countryside with her mother, older brother and uncle, artists all, eaking out a living by performing marionette shows and songs (she had a beautiful soprano voice) and collecting coins thrown their way. She told stories of sleeping in abandoned, bombed out villas, playing dress up in the elegant gowns that were left behind in the panic to run from the invading forces. She watched an uncle, a Partisan who fought against Mussolini and the Nazis, slowly die from a gunshot wound to the eye. And she recalled joyously the liberation by American troops, signalling the end of the war as they passed out Hershey bars to the jubilant children.

And in the midst of the horrors of war, living in less than sanitary conditions, unable to get medical care, she contracted rheumatic fever which damaged her heart and gave her mitral valve prolapse from which she suffered for the remainder of her days, through three open heart surgeries and which would eventually lead to the congestive heart failure that killed her at the age of 74, one day before her 75th birthday.

So by the time I was 10, a fourth grader, I had seen my beautiful young mother struggle with her health and heart issues. I had more than a few times been the one with her when she passed out in the course of the day,  while doing housework or caring for her brood. And I was the one to call the ambulance,  my brothers running around in diapers in the background.

By the time she had my fourth brother, the pregnancies had taken such a toll on her already damaged heart, that her cardiologist sat her down and advised her against ever getting pregnant again, as it could kill her. He advised her to go on the birth control pill to avoid the life-threatening pregnancy. I think you know where this is going.

I came home from school one day to find my mother weeping. I went to her to ask her what was wrong. And she told me.

Now some would argue that and adult woman had no business telling a 10 year old girl what she told me. But you must understand that I had long been in a role of a responsibility in our home. My mother, who learned English late in life, had trouble navigating the English speaking world. And I was often thrust in the role of translator. No other family around, and an often absent and disinterested father, I helped my brothers with homework. I filled out the paperwork for school. I walked them into their first day of class. So in reality, in our reality, it was natural that she would confide in me.

She explained that she had just come from our church where she had gone to see our priest. She explained to him her dire, life-threatening situation and asked if she might have permission to use birth control.

And the priest told her no.

But, she explained, she had four young children at home, and a husband who was gone for work a lot, and did not want die and leave them without a mother.

And the priest said, “If that happens, that is God’s will.”

God’s. Will.

God’s will that my mother should die rather than be allowed to use birth control. That four children would be left motherless rather than use birth control.

And my mom sobbed and said she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to die and leave us, but she did not want to go against

 I don’t remember what I said to my mother in response. After my initial horror and disbelief that the church, that God, would demand such a thing, I think I comforted her the best I could.  And then, I do remember getting very angry. And thinking that if these men and this church really believed they had the right to sentence my mother to death, then I wanted no part of it. And from then on, I refused to be a part of it. I refused to go to church or catechism or choir practice. And, to my surprise, they did not make me. I’m not sure why. I didn’t wonder then. I look back on it now and think maybe they were afraid of what I would say at church, to the priest even, if made to go. But from that day forward, the rest of my family attended and I stayed home.

I still, to this day, don’t believe that a god would make such a horrible demand of a young mother. But I know men would. We have seen it. The level of male toxicity in the Catholic Church has been brought to light. In their treatment of women…of children… I don’t say all in the church are guilty. There are good people. Good priests. But there are some men, men in power, who are more concerned with the preservation of institutions than the suffering of human beings. And it is wrong. Even as a 10 year old girl I knew it.  And that is why, to this day, I choose to celebrate my spirituality outside the confines of organized religion.

My mother never told me what she chose to do. I suspected it when 18 months later I did not have another sibling. Or even eighteen months after that. She did regularly attend confession. You know the saying, better to ask forgiveness than permission. The church is good that way.

Author: toni

~ 07/11/16

Glitter Girl by Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb

Glitter Girl by Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb

Greetings Mammakazes!

Is there one among you who does not know the angst and agony that is junior high?

The raging hormones, the insecurity, the struggle to find oneself, to deal with shifting friendships and the feelings of alienation?

I would dare to say, “Probably Not”. Not if you have a daughter or if you were in junior high yourself.

My writing partner Stephen Webb and I have written a middle grade novel that deals with that transitions from child to adolescent, from a girl’s point of view. Perfect for 5th to 8th grade readers. It’s available for sale at Amazon:


“GLITTER GIRL flows like a sparkling river through the shifting sands of 8th-grade Alpha Girls and their BFFs. Puberty rocks at Wendell Wilkie Jr. High, where the motto might as well be ‘Study? I’m here to see my friends!'”  — Richard Peck, Newbery Award Winner”A fun book for teens and tweens. GLITTER GIRL has a lot to say to teenage readers, given it’s the most influential time of their lives. Mostly it’s about friendship and loyalty, and doing the right thing; perfect for a high school library!” — Wondrous Reads

” Runkle and Webb deliver an empowering message about striving to be true to oneself for middle school readers.
” – Kirkus

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Author: toni

~ 05/09/12


Like returning to this blog after an extended absence, I have recently returned to the gym. Not sure what prompted me. The realization that I am an older mom with a 10 year-old daughter who has triple my energy, the way my belly looked like two lumpy blueberry muffins protruding from the top of my “fat” jeans, or the fact that swimsuit season is rapidly approaching. For a woman, these are all powerful motivators and probably each played an integral part in my finally getting up off my butt and committing to losing some weight and getting in shape. Oh, and that really cool MyFitness app I have on my new Smart-phone  that helps me track my daily calories didn’t hurt. Yeah, there’s a little tech geek in me.  

Well, in addition to feeling healthier in general, my return to the gym has opened up a whole new world to me. One of MORNING TELEVISION. Did you know that ellipticals have personal TVs on them? Yeah, you probably did. Tells you how long it’s been since I’ve hit a gym. In my defense, until a recent hip injury, I was always a runner.

Anyway, now that I’m spending an hour a day on these joint-friendly machines, I have seen all manner of drivel compelling stories on the tube. For example, I know that Kelly has a new set. That Lamar and Khloe aren’t happy in Texas. And that most hair stylists are handling scissors and bleaching products while drunk. (BTW that Tabatha is one scary $#@&%).

But just yesterday, I saw something that really got my panties in a bunch. Something so moronic and utterly ridiculous I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.

One of the news shows did a hard-driving, in-depth piece on an Olympic athlete who had started her own line of activewear. As she was presenting her various pieces, holding them up for the camera (and all her potential customers in TV Land) to see, she pointed out what she thought was their most important and sellable feature. No, it wasn’t the vibrant colors that are guaranteed to draw the attention of that rock-hard guy at Gold’s Gym who is busily turning his six-pack into an eight-pack. It wasn’t the revealing little cut-outs that add that titillating little glimpse of the small of your back that silently screams “come hither, rock-hard dude!”

It was their ability to WICK MOISTURE! That’s right. These overly-priced gym clothes are guaranteed to SOAK UP and HIDE YOUR SWEAT.

To this I vehemently, though kindly, say: No thanks, Gold Medalist chick!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the gym and work my butt off so that I can hide all evidence that I have been working like a maniac. When I get off that machine, I don’t want to look like I just spent the morning doing light errands about town. I want to LOOK like I did intervals at levels 10 and 12 for an hour! As I gather my water bottle, cell phone, ear phones, towel and gym bag I want to glimpse my reflection in the mirror and see the sweaty fruit of my hard labor. I want to walk past those who are just entering the gym on the way to their workout and think to myself as I pass them… “Yeah, that’s right, ya’ll. I kicked butt on the Precor today”.

AAAAND…. If I so happen to run into someone I know at the Starbucks after my workout… well, I can’t help it if they admire the sweat stains on my pits and belly, can I?

Okay, maybe admire is too strong a word. Actually, I’m not really so delusional. I know no one is looking at me when I leave the gym. I know the barista is probably thinking “Ew. Why can’t this lady go home and shower before she comes in here?” And I don’t really run into people I know at Starbucks that often. And even if I did, most of the sweat is gone by the time I get there.

I guess I just need to see the sweat for me. So that I can get some outward validation of the terrific mental energy and resolve it takes me to drag myself to the gym everyday. See, it’s not easy for me. And it’s gotten harder the older I get. But I know I need it to feel healthy and better about myself. And honestly, so I can be around for as long as possible in my little girl’s life.

Unlike my mother who had me at 21, I was older when I had my daughter. So I think a lot about my life expectancy and how much of her life I’ll get to spend with her. Because I’m an older mom I’ve cheated myself out of a decade or more of her life. Of seeing where her life leads her, of being a grandmother to her children, of being there for her when she needs me.

So I guess it’s not really the muffin tops or swimsuit season. The main reason I’m sweating is for my kid. Because kids need their moms in their lives for as long a possible. (Whether or not they’ll admit it).  And I WANT to see the immediate results of my efforts – every stinky, sweaty drop of it – because then I know I’m making progress to this end.

So sorry, Miss Nine-time Gold Medalist. This is one mommy who won’t be purchasing your moisture-wicking active wear. I’ll stick to my worn-out Old Navy T’s from three seasons ago. Because, like the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, they honestly display what I have experienced. Pit stains and all.

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Author: toni

~ 02/04/11


What is it with kids and their infinite ability to annoy their parents? Why do they do it? Is it learned behavior? Are they hard-wired? Is it part of nature’s evolutionary drive to prepare parents for the eventual empty nest? You know, so that we feel relief rather than grief when they finally leave home?

Whatever the reasons. It’s FREAKING ANNOYING!

Just today Julia – who is rapidly approaching age 9 which seems to have kicked her annoyance creativity into high gear – was repeatedly rubbing the flat side of an emery board against a blank 3×5 notecard!

How she came to be in possession of these two seemingly disparate and unrelated items is a mystery. What compelled her to continually rub that card with the board resulting in one of the most  irritating sounds since fingernails on a chalkboard or metal pans scraping together  – is also a mystery. The end result, my heightening irritability – was a foregone conclusion.

And it’s not just this. It’s a series of things. Why, just last week I was made to repeatedly listen for the almost imperceptible squeak of air exiting her tear duct as she held her nose and blew.

Again and again she wanted me to hear it. Not because she was proud of it or fascinated at discovering new things her body could do…. No. I’m convinced it was simply to annoy me.

A few weeks back it was the DORKY FACE. This was where she would contort her face into a really dweeby expression and do a thumbs up gesture. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I mean, it’s a free country. Look like a dork to your heart’s desire. It’s what the founding fathers intended. HOWEVER….  

 How many times I had to LOOK MOM LOOK! I can’t even tell you. But if I had a nickel for every time. Well, I’m sure I could have purchased a $20 Starbucks card…minimum.

Yes, I tried the “your face will freeze like that.” I’m not opposed to lying in dire situations. Like when irritating behavior (hers) meets hormonal fluctuations (mine) in what could potentially be a China Syndrome situation. But she’s too smart for that. She would only smile and do the dork. AGAIN! Thumbs up for the try, mom!

Sometimes the torture takes the form of Britney Spears. Yeah, I know. Horrifying, huh? But it gets worse. Julia actually shrieks the words to “Toxic” at the highest range of her vocal chords while I’m drying her hair. To make matters worse, this usually occurs around 8 pm after 12 hours of cumulative small annoyances. As you can imagine my tolerance by then has worn thin… very thin.

Am I a bad mom because I  don’t find absolutely everything my child does to be delightful and worthy of kudos? Am I a bad mom that sometimes I want to yell at the top of my lungs STOP IT! YOU’RE DRIVING ME FREAKING INSANE!

I don’t do it. Know why? Because I remember that in college I was famous for a little thing called THE SAILOR CHICKEN FACE. So famous in fact that I almost did it on live TV once… But I begged out.

And when I look at my kid, contorting the left side of her mouth so that it almost touches her ear, sticking out her tongue in an attempt to reach her nose, crossing her eyes in opposite directions while making a sort of  “bastard child of a thousand maniacs” sound — ALL AT THE SAME TIME… I remember, I was like that too. And it didn’t stop until I was WAAAAY past legal drinking age. In fact, I think it got worse around that time.

So maybe she’s doing it to annoy me. Or maybe it’s genetic. From her mamma. Like her astygmatic brown eyes and her love of carbs. And well, I can’t blame her for being who she is… can I? Then I WOULD BE a bad mom.


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Author: toni

~ 01/07/11



MOM #1: Want to go for a cup of coffee after drop-off?

MOM #2: Can’t. Got to get home and clean. My cleaning lady is coming today.


Bizarre but true. Most women I know who have someone come and clean their home feel compelled to actually CLEAN before the cleaning person comes. Why you ask?

Well, after talking to many moms and doing a little much-needed soul searching, I have found that there is more than one reason for this.  And sometimes, these reasons work in tandem to create this bizarre and, yes I’ll say it, ridiculous behavior.


1) We’re hard-wired to please.

2) We don’t want the cleaning person to think we’re dirty.

3) We have to get rid of the mess on top of the dirt so they can actually get to the dirt to clean it.

4) We don’t want to seem rude.

5) We live in mortal fear that they will discuss our personal dirt with one of our neighbors for whom they also do housework.


This strange pre-cleaning cleaning is not only exhibited in stay-at-home moms who, arguably, have a more flexible schedule that allows them to more easily engage in this baffling ritual. Nope, it is also a common phenomenon displayed in even the most haggard, overly-booked and stretched beyond her limits working mother who barely has time to shave her legs in the shower let alone pick up for someone whom she is specifically paying to pick up.

Even I, a working mom who works out of my home, have been guilty of this. Because it mortifies me to think that, while I am typing away at my computer, my cleaning person  is in the bathroom next to my office quietly judging the condition of my toilet. Or that she shares the details of my family’s personal hygiene with friends over margaritas. Ew.

I mean, how can I look her in the eye knowing that behind  her smile she is secretly replused by the little hair clippings I may have neglected to brush out of the corner of my countertop last time I got too impatient to wait for my next hair appointment and took my dull scissors to my bangs. (Sorry Patrice, but yes, you’re going to have to fix those….AGAIN.)

I don’t know what the solution is. Meditation. Xanax. Growing out my bangs.

Until I figure it out, I will continue my pre-cleaning cleaning compulsion. And continue to wish that the complusion manifested itself WITHOUT the impending visit from my cleaning person. It’d sure save me a few bucks. Sigh.

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Author: toni

~ 12/07/10


Have you ever been involved in a mommy carpool where you switch off with another mom for drop-off or pick up at school? And if so, have you ever been ONE BOOSTER SEAT SHORT because you forgot it in your husband’s car or forgot to switch back with the other mom?

If you’re like me, you HAVE at one time or another found yourself short on a car seat. And not only are the safety implications overwhelming. You are also faced with the horrific dilemma, pondering the most dreaded of all questions.


Oh yeah. You’ve been there. I know you have. And it’s a tough decision, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like the days when we were kids and we called dibs on riding shotgun at age 4. Or we battled over who got to lay down in the back of the station wagon while on that 400 mile car trip to Grandma’s. Heck, forget child safety seats. We didn’t even use seat belts! I don’t know about you but our seat belts were nothing but an space-consuming annoyance (we had 4 kids!) and pretty much ended up stuffed inside the crack of the seat only to emerge on the rare occasion when one of us rooted around in there in search of a lost quarter.

Nowadays we mommies know better. Because we have been bombarded with (and by “bombarded with” I mean we have obsessively GOOGLED) statistics about child survival rates in car accidents where a child WAS NOT in a child safety seat. So we’re pretty much horrified at the prospect of any child going without.

So what do you do when you’re one car seat short and you can’t get ahold of another mommy to bring you a spare?

If you are like me and every mommy I know, the answer, while not simple, is obvious.


It’s true, in the couple of instances it happened to me, my daughter went without. And I’m not the only one who has made this decision.

My MAMMAKAZE carpooling friend did the same recently. When she forgot to get the booster seat back from me after I did drop off, she put my daughter in the booster and her SON  went without! This is in spite of the fact that my kid is only 2 inches away from legally being without one and her son is more along the line of 6 inches away. And we’re not the only ones! I’ve polled other moms and they’ve made THE EXACT SAME DECISION!

Crazy, isn’t it? Despite the fact that nature has wired us to protect our children at all costs  (I mean who wouldn’t choose to give the seat on the lifeboat to their kid instead of taking it themselves?) this car seat situation is one instance in which all those millions of years of biological hard-wiring are COMPLETELY OVERRIDDEN.

Why is that? Why would a parent choose the safety of another’s child over theirs? Well the answer is simple.

We don’t want to seem rude.

No kidding. The horror of being whispered about in coffee klatches around town behind our backs – of being labelled “that selfish mom”, it’s enough to short-circuits the synapses. 

Okay. It’s not as simple as that.  The truth is, this choice is all about the question:  Could we live with ourselves if something happened to the precious child of a good friend entrusted to our care? On the flip side is: Could we live with ourselves if something happened to our own child? I mean, not since ABRAHAM has a parent had been faced with such a dilemma! Okay, I exaggerate. At the very least, it’s a maddening CATCH 22 with no good solution!

So in order to cope, in order to prevent being frozen in our tracks, incapable of doing anything, we simply BOIL IT DOWN to … not wanting to be RUDE.

After all rude behavior is well, RUDE! Plain. Simple. Easy.

And while Emily Post may have never written rules on the subject, in the unwritten book of Mommy Etiquette it is the appropriate thing to do. You know, like letting the mommy with the green light pull into the drop-off lane because SHE HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY instead of making that right turn on a red and cutting her off to get into that drop-off lane first! (Are you reading this mommy in the white Mercedes?!)

Anyway, I don’t know what the answer to the problem is. Hauling an extra car seat around seems extreme. But then crossing your fingers and hoping for the best on that 1.5 mile car ride home is pretty iffy. Especially if you’ve read the statistics stating that most car accidents happen within five miles of home – which I know you have because GOOGLE is a mommy’s worst best friend – next to WEBMD.

I can’t think about it right now. I need to hit the internet and try to self-diagnose this patchy area on my right forearm before pick-up. Wait. Where did I put the extra booster?


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