Dispatches from the parenting front line--pungent and funny and spot-on--from Winik. When her husband died from AIDS three years back (a story she related in First Comes Love, 1996), Winik found herself a dumbstruck single mother of two young boys: ``My life stretched before me like a hard labor sentence.'' Every tuck-in, wake-up, drop-off, and drive home, every mess to be cleaned and each tear to be wiped away was hers alone. Here she tells of her efforts to do her best by her kids, and that she does: She tells of scrabbling to make a living while still making sure to volunteer at school (her mental bumper sticker for her kids' school is ``Bryker Woods Elementary--Where Parental Involvement Is a Sickness''), along the way offering such advice as ``deliver the store-bought muffins to the bake sale with your chin held high.'' She paws over the strange and confusing terrain of nudity around the home, reading the same miserable (and once dearly loved) book a million times, finding pleasure in the heretofore abhorred world of sports (``a soccer mom, a Cowboys fan, and a frigging golfer''), of her role as stepmother to her boyfriend's two girls, of contending honestly with the questions of sex and drugs (she herself having long, involved histories therein of defiance and risk-taking, and being anarchically bent still), and--a wicked, indelible moment--a slap she administers to her younger son. She delineates a life of quicksilver emotions, from bathetic to eulogistic in the blink of an eye, and avoids sentimentality at all costs: ``Girls are bitches, boys are assholes,'' she notes, though not without affection. Winik fires from the hip, and if her observations are never blazingly original, they are always heartfelt. She's a mother, a loving mother, a good mother.