Small changes

It’s already started. But that’s too babyish. I don’t like how I look in this. She said we can’t be friends if I won’t let her use my pencil. Stop it – someone might be watching! They’re just seven and nine, but their awareness of how they’re perceived, and of judging their own worthiness by others’ perceptions, is steadily growing.

Part of this is a good thing. As preschoolers, they didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about how they dressed, what the ate, how they carried themselves. At times, this was adorable (wearing a full-on princess get-up to the grocery store); at others, it made me proud (girlfriend doesn’t care one bit if anyone else thinks it’s stupid to still be into Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – rock on!). Other times, it was not only embarrassing (“So sorry that she started singing right in the middle of the eulogy, sir”) but just plain frustrating (knocking over the entire display at the checkout because of obliviously executed dance moves). Having some awareness of others, of the fact that you are not actually the center of the universe, of how to be respectful – even if it means that you need to stifle the urge to wear your jangliest bracelets to Easter brunch – is super.

11.5 evening dressup

But a lot of it really just plain sucks. Being aware of others and their feelings is fantastic (three cheers for empathy!), but being so aware of others’ feelings that you begin to deny your own is just not cool. Having been a young girl myself once, having survived elementary and middle school and adolescence (mostly), I can certainly remember what it was like to obsess and worry about what your friends – and not friends – would think about virtually everything that you did. I can vividly recall the physical feeling in the pit of my stomach wondering what everyone would think of my Keds, of my carefully-styled bangs, of the fact that I still enjoyed Sweet Valley High well past eighth grade.

So I get it, I really do – that near compulsion to find out what others think of you, and then to base your own opinion of yourself upon it. Getting it and being okay with it happening to my own children are two very different things, however, and I’ll be damned if I just sit idly by. And so we talk a lot, about what it means to be a good friend, about whose opinions really matter, about being confident in just who you are and not worrying about what other people think.

The problem is, you’ve kind of got to walk the walk, and I know I’m not always setting the best example… especially when it comes to compliments. Like so many women (and some men, although – in my own very unscientific case studies – they seem to do this far less than women), I find it nearly impossible to accept a compliment graciously.

“That’s a really cute outfit!”
Oh, well, I just threw it on at the last minute.

“I love your hair today!”
I haven’t even washed it!

“You were really sweet to think of me.”
It was the least I could do.

“Your students must love having you as a teacher!”
Ha, I wish!

As women (or, at least, as this woman), we’re constantly told not to be too pushy. Not to seem too boastful. Not to seem too confident. Not to make it appear that we think we’re better than anybody else. And so we – I – deflect. I demure. I’m afraid that if I accept the compliment, it will maybe somehow mean that I’m trying to brag, that I’m cocky, that I’m conceited.

But here’s the thing: I actually do think I’m a pretty fabulous person. A person with a helluva lot of flaws, a person who takes forever to make dinner because I get so easily distracted, a person who makes mistakes constantly, a person with a lot to work on… But, overall? Yeah. I’m all that and a bag of chips. Or at least a caramel macchiato.

I don’t even know that I realized just how frequently I was deflecting compliments until I heard Ella and Annie begin to do it.

“That’s a beautiful dress you’re wearing!”
Uh, thanks, but it’s old.

“You sang that so nicely!”
I really messed up at the ending.

“Your math has improved so much!”
I still can’t do flash cards that fast, though.

At first, I was naively flummoxed. We’ve taught them to be polite! They know to thank people! WTF?! But it didn’t take long for me to realize that, although society certainly works hard to teach them that accepting praise is not okay, I wasn’t exactly being such a stellar role model myself.

You can’t spend five minutes online, watching the news, or reading a newspaper without seeing some awful something that’s happened to women. Hundreds of Nigerian school girls kidnapped. A young, pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death in front of a crowd of onlookers while police did nothing to intervene. Women in California hunted down by a misogynistic gunman intent on enacting “revenge” for their lack of interest in him. And that’s just in the past month alone.

I’ve pored over the #YesAllWomen tweets and articles and posts that have sprung up in the wake of the Santa Barbara murders. I was so tremendously moved by the stories and examples of how omnipresent sexual harassment, objectification, and intimidation are for so many women… But I was pleased, almost sheepishly, that I couldn’t quite relate. I mean, I’ve only been sexually harassed one time (back in college when I was working and living in the projects; after the incident, Nick would drop me off and then phone my – male – roommates to let them know I was coming into the building. They then stood watch for me until I was safely inside my apartment). I didn’t think that I really experienced all that much objectification or intimidation.

Well. Except for that time in the Bahamas when I was seventeen, visiting with my high school jazz band (music geek alert), and the guy who was manning the parasail boat strapped me into the harness, leaned over and chuckled, “This is the second-best ride in the Bahamas, baby – ’cause I’m the first!” and then actually smacked me on my ass as he sent me up into the air. Or all of the years before Nick and I were married when I carried a whistle on my keychain in case I needed to call for help. Or the number of times my girlfriends and I have been wolf-whistled at. Or how I still, to this day, announce to any strange male who comes into the house (plumber, cable guy, etc.) that my husband will be home soon.

As the stories flooded my consciousness, the embarrassment quickly followed; not at the incidents themselves, but at how they’d become such a commonplace occurrence, I didn’t even recognize them. It has somehow become perfectly acceptable for me to make sure that my clothing isn’t too revealing, even if all it “reveals” is my shoulders, lest I attract unwanted attention. Checking a parking lot at night to be sure it’s safe? Duh. Worrying that the guy who screamed at me in a fit of road rage because I didn’t get out of the left lane “fast enough” might actually get out of his car at the next light and accost me? Just par for the course.

As the mother of two young children, I worry about a lot of things – if they’ll remain healthy. What school will be like. Whether or not they’ll find good, supportive friends. If they’ll root for the Yankees or the Twins (or, God help me, the Red Sox). As the mother of two young girls, I worry for their safety – not so much as children (my Free Range thinking has helped me not freak out too much), but as they grow up. The statistics are so alarming; I can’t seem to find an agreed-upon percentage, but, in their lifetimes, between one in three and one in six women will be the victims of sexual harassment. That’s not just worrisome, it’s terrifying.

And also hard to ignore; after all, I’m already a part of those statistics.

There can hardly be any doubt that we need a full cultural change around women, men, and how we’re perceived and treated. That change needs to come from all of us – every single one – and it’s going to take time. But, by God, it has to happen, otherwise the stories that have been permeating the news recently will become so commonplace, we will cease to even recognize them as unacceptable. And that?

Changing the entire world is a bit beyond the scope of my abilities (despite my aforementioned fabulousness), but changing the world for my daughters is not. They may grow up in a society that devalues them, but they can learn to value themselves. They may be told by others that they are not worthy, that they are too loud, that they shouldn’t dress like that, that they should act like this instead… But they can learn not to listen, and to listen, instead, to their own voices telling them how incredible they are.

silly girls

First, though, Annie and Ella have to believe it. They have to believe that they are smart, strong, capable, funny, delightful, kind, and beautiful, and everything else that makes them such remarkable human beings.
And, quite frankly, I have to believe it for myself, too.

There are plenty of awful things that are said about and toward women. When something wonderful is said – when kind, supportive words are offered instead, it is oh so important that they’re not brushed aside.  Part of believing that we’re worthy and special and awesome means that when we’re complimented, we feel confident enough in ourselves to accept the compliment, and to not worry about how such acceptance may be interpreted by anyone else. In theory, it’s really simple…

“Your presentation was great!”
Thank you!

“I love your necklace.”
Thank you.

“This jello surprise is absolutely divine!”
Thank you!

In practice, it’s quite difficult. I’ve found that it comes off as just a bit disingenuous if you say “THANK YOU” through gritted teeth. It takes almost physical will to force a sincere “Thank you” out of my mouth without offering some side comment, making a sarcastic remark, or immediately changing the subject. But I’m trying, hard.

It’s a small change, but I hope it’s the start of something oh so much more.

For all women.
For myself.
And especially for my daughters.

5.30.14 my girls



All together shattered

Right after Nick and I went on our juice diet (in a word: don’t), I began to add dessert back into my daily regimen as soon as my stomach could handle it. One of the juicing websites I’d been looking at had a recipe for a yummy (enough) sounding smoothie using a banana, ice, almond butter, almond milk, and some cocoa powder – basically all of which were “good” ingredients: no dairy, no grains… Nothing to make anyone jealous, in other words, but basically nirvana after five-plus days consuming only liquified vegetables.

It was delicious, and not just because I was going through chocolate withdrawals. No, actually really tasty – so tasty, I began making these smoothies for dessert on a fairly regular basis. (If you frequent Pinterest, you might notice them called a “healthy” Wendy’s Frosty. They don’t really taste like a Frosty, but I don’t have the heart to tell anyone that.) I have a thing for snacking after dinner (pretzels and a bowl of ice cream and some almonds and cheese puffs and a handful of dark chocolate? Don’t mind if I do!), so I’ve been trying to hold off the bingeing in favor of these frothy beverages. My blender and I are real tight.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, the stupid juice diet kind of ruined breakfast for me, by which I mean that if I consume anything more than a small piece of fruit in the mornings, I feel ridiculously, uncomfortably full until well past lunchtime and then my blood pressure drops and I’m like a foraging truffle pig by mid-afternoon. So I still juice each night and then Nick and I drink up in the mornings (although I no longer even consider “green” juices because that stuff is nasty, man).

One night several weeks ago, I had just finished creating my veggie-fruit masterpieces and was about to pour them into our juice glasses when I somehow lost control of the glass pitcher (who, me?) and accidentally tapped the side of the cup as I added the liquid. Meaning, naturally, that the glass now had a large crack running all along its side and needed to be thrown away.

Strike one.

broken glass
Don’t mind the orange-y funk. That’s what happens when carrots get pulverized.

After filling new glasses and getting on with the rest of my evening, I was taking out the ingredients for my nightly smoothie when the almond butter… slipped… and knocked into the container of the blender, sending it toppling to the kitchen floor. In a feat of contortionism far beyond my abilities, I attempted to catch it mid-fall (which, I’m sure, looked as comical as it felt), but I wasn’t in time.

Strike two.

Have you ever dropped the top part of a heavy glass blender onto a tile floor? If not, let me save you the trouble of guessing what it looks like: INSANITY. Tiny glass bead-lets everywhere, under appliances, in crevices ten feet across the room, on top of furniture (wtf?). The poor dogs didn’t know what on earth was going on (GET BACK! LEAVE IT! GO LIE DOWN! DON’T! FOR GOD’S SAKE, KENNEL – KENNEL!!) and it took me at least thirty minutes of sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping to feel that the floor was finally safe again.

Without a functional blender, you might think that my smoothie dreams were over… Ah, but then, you’ve got another think coming. In no time at all I’d hauled the Cuisinart onto the counter – if it can chop salsa and essentially liquify salad dressing, surely it could make quick work of a banana-chocolate-almond smoothie!

Quick work, kind of.
Effective work, not really.
Ridiculously messy work: OH HELL YES.

See, apparently a Cuisinart isn’t really meant to hold lots of liquid at a time, and as a result, nearly as much of the smoothie wound up on the counter (and cabinets. And coffee maker. And toaster) as remained inside the machine.

Strike three.

broken glass2
I have no idea what the spatula is for. Perhaps to scrape bits of smoothie off the counter?

And so you might, logically, think that this would have stopped me from drinking said smoothie that night. YET AGAIN, YOU WOULD BE WRONG. After all that work, there was no way in hell I was going to let everything go to waste. I drank that damn smoothie, all right… except, I kind of chewed the damn smoothie because I guess Cuisinarts and ice don’t really get along so well.

Strike… Oh, forget it, I’m already out.

Knowing that I wouldn’t last long without the ability to blend things (and seeing that the Cuisinart was clearly not up to the job), I immediately went on Amazon to search for a blender… with a plastic container, because obviously, with my track record, I’d be destroying the new one before I’d even removed it from the box. This one seemed to have the best reviews and was nicely affordable, so if I did happen to, you know… slip up… it wouldn’t have cost me too dearly.

Plus also: it’s name is Ninja. ‘Nuff said.

(Side note: I ordered these pub glasses at the same time because Annie just might have broken another of our original ones the day before, making our glass “collection” look a little like something you might find at a flea market. I prefer to look like a well-stocked bar.)

My Ninja Prep Master arrived two days later (Amazan Prime, holla!), and – whaddya know – it rocks. This thing blends like nobody’s business, pulverizing my smoothies into delicious silky goodness as quietly and swiftly as, well, a ninja. If a ninja blended things. I was immediately smitten and have been using it nightly ever since.

ninja blender
Mine isn’t quite this clean, nor have I made guacamole with it yet, but I’m in love nevertheless.

This past long weekend, we’d planned to go to the lake on Saturday and Sunday nights, but, at the last minute, Nick suggested that we head down on Friday instead. I was hesitant – Ella had a birthday party to attend that night, the girls needed to wash their hair, and we wouldn’t even be at the lake for twelve hours before returning for Annie’s soccer game in the morning. We also needed to do some cleaning and yard work before just heading off for the weekend.

The girls were – naturally – totally psyched to go, and Nick seemed ready to take on the mayhem, but I wasn’t convinced. I hemmed. I hawed. I grudgingly gave my “okay.” But I didn’t really want to go. It was then that Nick – perhaps not entirely seriously – informed me, “You know, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I can just take the girls by myself.”

There was a time when I would have said absolutely not. A time when I wanted to be there, both to spend the time with the girls and Nick, and also because maybe I like to be in control just a bit. Besides… staying in the house overnight all by myself?

But the more I thought about it, the more the glorious possibility stretched out before me: I could stay overnight in the house ALL BY MYSELF. No one needing to be read to. No one needing mid-night checkings-on. No one waking up at ungodly hours and tromping downstairs to play “Let It Go” on the piano. No one snoring next to me (well, Jambi snores, but that’s different). No one to help make breakfast for in the morning.

Sign me up!

The girls were a little concerned (for me) that I wasn’t going with them. Would I be okay? Did I mind staying alone? I assured them that I did not mind staying alone (with three dogs, you’re never really “alone” anyway) and that I would be very, very okay… and off they went. And so I did what any part-time stay-at-home, part-time working, full-time mom would do when faced with twelve hours to herself: I spread mulch. I ran an errand at The Home Depot. I made my juice for the morning. I tidied up.

Okay, okay. And then I curled up with Pinterest and several episodes of “Modern Family” and my ubiquitous, Ninja-made smoothie… except, this time, I added Kahlua. And Bailey’s. Yes, both. Together. And, oh my sweet baby Jesus, if that wasn’t the very smoothest, creamiest, most amazing beverage I have had in a very, very long time.

Batter. Up.

This time, I didn’t even break the glass.

Looks like a milkshake. Tastes like awesome.


Broad stripes and bright stars

For Ella’s first Memorial Day weekend, we drove from our home in Westchester County (30 minutes outside of NYC) to visit my grandparents on Canandaigua Lake, 30 minutes outside of Rochester. It was a nearly six-hour drive – Ella’s first big trek – and, given that I’d only recently returned to teaching full-time after finishing up my maternity leave, we were more than a little overwhelmed by the whole packing-with-a-baby road trip thing… but, if memory serves, it was a delightful weekend.

And it introduced us to: the swing.




Every Memorial Day weekend since – this marks the tenth (the TENTH, omg) – we’ve ventured to the lake (something that is considerably easier now that we’re only thirty minutes away instead of five-plus hours). And, every single Memorial Day Weekend, we’ve taken pictures of Ella – and then Annie – swinging away.



We’ve done other things as well – help clear the beach, bring out the furniture, restock the fridge and freezer, air out the bedrooms, and generally help to get the house ready for the summer, which unofficially begins… NOW.




We’ve eaten hot dogs and hamburgers (every year, without fail) and baked beans and potato salad, lit bonfires, and – when the weather cooperates – have even donned bathing suits and gone for a dip. (After this year’s punishing winter, the water remains at a balmy 55 degrees, so dipping was out. Bonfires and beer, however, were still very much in.) There is red, white, and blue attire, laughing with the neighbors, gasping over how the kids have grown, and hitting the pillow each night thoroughly exhausted, with dreams of the sparkling summer days that are sure to follow.

mem day swing08
mem day swing3



And, ever since the girls have been old enough to understand – even a little – every single Memorial Day weekend, there is a discussion about why we are so tremendously fortunate to have this last May Monday off of school and work, why we can revel in these ever-longer early summer days and dip our toes in the lake that holds so many of our memories.

We talk about the wars our country has fought – the ones, less well-defined, that we’re still fighting – and about the tremendously brave men and women who have served to protect our freedoms. We talk about the girls’ great-grandfathers, their Grandpa Ray, their daddy’s cousins, and the myriad other members of our armed forces.

lake visit11
lake visit9


We have long had these discussions, about what Memorial Day means, about how it’s more than just a three-day weekend where we grill to our hearts’ content, about why there are flags decorating the headstones at the tiny graveyard around the corner. We don’t always watch a parade, and we don’t have anyone in our immediate neighborhood to thank for their service… but we certainly remember.

memorial weekend21
memorial weekend26



It was only this year, however, that I read two different stories (that had been posted by friends on Facebook) and learned when the first unofficial celebration of our troops, and of those who died preserving our freedom, took place. I was surprised and quite moved to discover – back in 1865, just after the Civl War’s end – that newly freed slaves in Charleston took it upon themselves to unearth the bodies of Union soldiers (that had been hastily and disrespectfully buried by Confederate troops) and properly bury them. Following that, the freedmen marched together, alongside some Union troops – with song-singing former slave children and flower-bearing women, too – and celebrated their newfound liberation, while simultaneously paying their respects to the men who had fought (and died) to free them.

annie memorial day 2011
ella memorial day 2011
Just baaaarely squeezing into the baby swing…

We all know that our servicemen and women have fought to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our country itself – including the freedom to not be judged by the color of your skin.  Despite these hard-won victories, the pathway to equality has hardly been without stumbling blocks (nor have we reached its end). It is not lost on me that interracial marriages were only legalized eight years before Nick and I were born – and that, not a generation before us, Ella and Annie would not have had the legal right to even exist. The efforts of those recently-emancipated slaves to honor the men who struggled and died to free them, as well efforts of those men themselves, is absolutely humbling. I am so deeply grateful to them, and to all of the men and women who have served since then.

memorial swing annie7
memorial swing ella1
Okay. So perhaps she’s truly outgrown the baby swing…
memorial swing ella7
Ta da!


We fill up on hamburgers and hot dogs, knowing that we are allowed to eat what we please. We listen to music, knowing that our government does not tell us how we should celebrate and how we should not. We go to church – or not – knowing that we are free to worship whom and what and however we want. We disagree vehemently on everything from gun rights to sports teams (GO YANKEES!), global warming to whether or not Botox is liberating or nasty… because we have the freedom to do so, a freedom that was, and is, given to us by hundreds of thousands of men and women far nobler than I.

memorial swing3
Ever following her big sister’s lead, Annie ditched the baby swing, too…
memorial swing2




We celebrate today, and all of this weekend, because of the sacrifices of these amazing men and women. Our girls laugh on the swings, growing before our very eyes, because of their courage, valor, and selflessness; we are forever grateful. America still has many injustices to overcome, more battles to fight, more wounds to be healed… but one thing is certain: we are absolutely the home of the brave.



mem day swing14 annie
mem day swing14 ella




I don’t think it means what you think it means

As a grammar stickler, I often find myself holding my tongue. It used to be that I’d correct people when they misspoke… but, turns out most people don’t appreciate being confronted with their grammatical mistakes. Especially not in public.

Go figure.

And so I simply “like” the photos on Facebook that are labeled, “Check out how close the killer whale came to Jim and I!” instead of slipping in a subtle, “I believe you mean, ‘Check out how close the killer whale came to Jim and ME!” I chuckle to myself when people claim that they are “nauseous” rather than “nauseated,” but I really want to tell them that they look perfectly un-sickening to me. (Nauseous means something that causes nausea because it’s disgusting – so, a roller coaster could be nauseous and the smell emanating from your teenager’s bedroom may be nauseous, but it’s extremely doubtful that YOU are nauseous. If you’re nauseous, it means you’re so nasty-looking, you’re making other people feel sick.)

And, although I practically have to tie my hands down, I do not correct mistakes in communications that come from my workplace or my daughters’ school and then return them to the sender. I do have scruples.

(I also do know that you’re not supposed to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Nor are you supposed to use sentence fragments. But I tell myself that it’s okay because I’m using it as a brilliant – if ironic – stylistic tactic.

I’m also lazy. Go with it.)

Having bitten my tongue to the point of nearly drawing blood for all these many years, however, I can no longer stay silent on a point that has been irking me more and more with each passing week: the extreme overuse – and misuse – of the word literally.

Nick got me this t-shirt for my birthday last year.
The man knows me well.

For several years now, literally has slowly been sneaking into our daily lexicon (at least here in ‘Merica), popping up in sentence after sentence – where you would never have found it before – and even being used by super-intelligent, well-spoken individuals who, one might think, would avoid it.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

“We were literally about to get in the car when the crow attacked the groundhog.”

“So, I’m on the phone with him when he literally tells me that I look like Cher.”

“She can’t come to the funeral because she literally just found out that her uncle is moving to Guatemala.”

“I’m so angry, my head will literally explode.”

That last example is the most galling because, of course, literally means… well, what it says: it’s literal. True to fact. Not exaggerated or metaphorical in any way. If a person’s head is literally going to explode, you’d think they’d be in agonizing pain. Heck, you’d better haul their ass off to the ER immediately because otherwise you’re going to have a nauseous* mess on your hands. (*See what I did there.)

Much like Vizzini in The Princess Bride… I do not think it means what you think it means.

So, no. It’s highly unlikely that something literally scared you to death… because you’d be, um, dead. Gas did not literally cost you an arm and leg unless the pump was stationed over a land mine. If you literally cannot wait to use the bathroom, you’d better invest in some Depends.

Or perhaps you could just substitute the word figuratively for literally and call it a day.

Misuse of literally aside, I find it so odd that this particular word has wormed its way into our conversations – especially because, the vast majority of the time, it’s completely not needed. You were literally going to the store when “Danger Zone” played on your Pandora station? NO WAY! She is literally going to eat her lunch in five minutes so she can meet us at the rodeo? How… precise?

Literally seems to have replaced really or honestly in our lexicon, but it doesn’t quite mean the same thing. It’s become an unnecessary intensifier, a throw-away word to express a strong emotion. Saying that you were literally standing next to the rabid beaver may be correct (if, in fact, you were standing right beside a rabid beaver), but it’s sort of a weird qualifier to add. If, upon meeting Chuck Norris, your buddy was literally so excited… um, okay, I guess.. but why bother using that word? There’s a whole English language out there at your fingertips (figuratively, duh).

There are times, of course, when literally is not only appropriate but helpful. When you sneak up on someone and get hit by the rock they’ve accidentally chucked in your direction, you could laugh and say that you were literally only a stone’s throw away. If your daughter is holding a flaming marshmallow atop a s’more and waving it around the yard, she might literally light up your world. In these times, go ahead. Use that word. You rock with your bad self.

But, the rest of the time, can we please give literally a rest? There are so many other worthy words out there, just longing to be attached to something important. Simply. Frankly. Truly. Actually. Absolutely. Definitely. Positively. Indubitably. They’re good, strong, deserving words. All we need to do is give them a chance.

The fate of the English language is in our hands.
Or, at least, our mouths.

This collage is apropos of absolutely nothing except I wanted to include something cute in this post and the pups are literally dog tired. HOLLA!

* For the record, I have not literally been holding my tongue when I see grammatical errors. That would really be incredible, wouldn’t it? And quite disgusting. Nauseous, really.

** Fingers crossed for no grammatical errors in this post. OH THE IRONY.


Girls, Girls, Girls

Every year, I ask for the same thing for Mother’s Day: some time to myself, some time with Ella and Annie, and a card or picture “saying something nice.” Everything beyond that is all gravy.

This year, my Mother’s Day was full of gravy – seeing my mom and my aunt and my grandma, oodles of time alone, lovely and beautiful gifts (I did get that GoPro I’d been coveting – lucky girl!) – but, due to some unusual circumstances, I wasn’t able to spend time with the girls.

And, apparently, making Mother’s Day cards didn’t fit into the curriculum, because neither Annie nor Ella brought anything home from school – and then the little stinkers forgot to make me something on their own! I’d love to say that I took it graciously, but I totally did not. I pulled out the Mom Guilt and requested* a card or a note by, oh, this past weekend (a week after Mother’s Day).

* by “requested” I mean “told them that if I didn’t get one, I’d be heartbroken forever.” I usually avoid Mom Guilt at all costs, but when I lay it on, it’s thick.

Fortuitously for us, Nick was going out of town this weekend (unusual, as he is usually away during the week), which meant that it was going to be just Annie, Ella, and me for forty-eight solid hours — more than enough time to make up for not really hanging out together on Mother’s Day. Seeing as how we had only a few obligations and responsibilities, I decided to make it a full-on Girls’ Weekend.

Y’all, it was one for the books.
Or the blog, in this case.

For the past five-ish years, we’ve planted a vegetable and herb garden. The cold weather had caused us to fall behind, but this weekend offered the perfect opportunity to get started – and so, after school on Friday, we headed to our local nursery to pick up the seeds and baby plants we needed to begin our garden.

She was a wee bit excited to take home our plants…

They each got to choose their own veggies… and did sherpa duty, too. Score!

Fifteen vegetables and six herbs (plus strawberries), ready for planting.

Once the car was packed up and smelled like fresh basil (omg delicious), we beelined for the girls’ most favorite store in the entire world: The Dollar Tree. I might have been nominated for Mother of the Year for this decision. By now, I’ve wizened up, so they each had a fifteen minute time limit during which they could spend their allowance to their hearts’ content.


Following The Greatest Store of All Time, Ella needed to go to swim practice – which, while not quite Girls’ Weekend fun, did provide Annie with the opportunity to draw a picture for her class’s Teacher Appreciation gift, so that was kind of perfect. (Was she off drawing my picture? No. But I chose to ignore that in a mature fashion.)

They’d opted for pizza for dinner, which was eaten on the couch while we watched videos on YouTube before crashing into my bed for the night. I’d envisioned a relatively leisurely sleep-in — recent heavy rains had cancelled Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, so we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be right away — but we were all wide awake at 5 a.m. when the birds outside my window decided to scream at us that it was MORNING! IT’S MORNING! ARE YOU UP? MORNING!!

I realize that many people enjoy waking up to the dulcet chirps of these winged creatures, but those people are insane I do not, because they never fail to awaken me at an ungodly hour and then I can’t return to sleep while they continue to shriek their greetings at one another. HAVE YOU EATEN BREAKFAST YET? LOOK, IT’S GETTING LIGHTER! HAVE YOU NOTICED? IT’S MORNING!! As a result, our windows are always shut tight when I crawl into bed each night – but, turns out, in the tangle of arms and legs and misplaced bedding, I’d forgotten. And so I shimmied out of bed (the girls prefer that I sleep between them, which is super comfortable) and closed the window, crossing my fingers that we’d all be able to go back to sleep. YES, I CAN SEE THAT IT’S MORNING. YOU WANNA KNOW WHAT I’M HAVING FOR BREAKFAST? EGGS.

Miraculously, we did manage to snooze again… but, at 6:30 a.m., were greeted by my second-favorite wake-up sound: the lurching voopahs of a dog about to vomit. As I’d predicted the night before (when I caught him mid-yard with a long tail hanging from his mouth, omg omg omg), Langston’s stomach could not handle the… rat? vole? mouse?… that he’d ingested (WHY DOES HE KEEP DOING THIS??), and so up it came. At least he was considerate enough to expel the creature’s remains on the hardwood rather than the carpet.

Dogs are so much fun!
And also? Sleeping was pretty much over.

Lack of sleep aside, the morning was beautiful – in the 60s, mostly sunny – and after I got the garden ready for planting, the girls jumped at the chance to get their seedlings and seeds into the ground.

Ella was quite giddy about her cherry tomato plant.

Please ignore my hand in the photo; I’m still figuring out how exactly the GoPro works…

Our “big deal” fun for the weekend was seeing the touring production of Beauty and The Beast, which we ventured to after enjoying a yummy lunch at a tiny restaurant in our little town. Even though Annie declared that she wouldn’t marry the Beast because he was too ugly (um… but… the whole moral of this story is… never mind…), we all thought the show was pretty darn good.

They’re still singing about how Gaston and Belle would be the perfect pair… just like Gaston’s thighs…

I gave them the option of Saturday dinner at home, dinner ordered in, or dinner out — and they chose to dine at one of my most favorite places in the entire world: Wegmans. Which meant we all got exactly what we wanted from the prepared food bar and I could eat Indian food without Nick complaining that he can’t stand Indian cuisine. Bonus!

It was obvious that the day had been just about as deliciously full as either girl could have hoped… so I decided to really gild the lily and take them out for ice cream. Hey, on a Girls’ Weekend, calories don’t count. (At least, that’s what I told myself when I asked for extra hot fudge.)

Why, yes, they are wearing different outfits than in the previous (two) photographs. Three daily clothing changes is the accepted bare minimum ’round these parts.

After our restless Friday night, I gave Annie and Ella the opportunity to sleep in their own beds on Saturday… HAHAHA. That was a good one, Mommy! Thankfully, our second night together was more peaceful than the first (no open windows or puking pups), and our Sunday morning was every bit as slow and easy as I’d hoped Saturday would be. We snuck out of church early (surely God understands) to head to our final official Girls’ Weekend destination: The Lilac Festival.

See, Rochester is kind of known for its myriad summer festivals, but Nick doesn’t really enjoy festivals all that much (too many people and heat and crowds and have I mentioned people?) and I’d been reluctant to brave them solo with the girls. But Ella and Annie seemed more than old enough to be successful festival-goers, so off we went.

The walk into the park was not exactly short, but the girls entertained themselves by running amongst the lilacs and climbing on this absolutely enormous, full-branched tree.

We ogled the food trucks, raced one another on an inflatable obstacle course (well, the girls did; I cheered them on), and stopped at every single kiosk and vendor’s display in the arts and crafts area. Although they’d shown excitement for the doll clothes that we’d found (“They’ll fit my American Girl, Mommy!”) and the trinkets that they insisted they purchase with their allowance money, their biggest grins were saved for the gentleman selling bow ties. Nick wears bow ties almost exclusively these days (largely in honor of his dad; Bill was an avid bow tie wearer) and the girls were ecstatic to find an entire booth of just bow ties – CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? After purchasing the tie selected by the helpful and informative seller, Annie skipped away declaring, “The Lilac Festival is the best EVER!” So that was kind of awesome.

They also got airbrush tattoos. Annie’s was slightly more visible than Ella’s.

On our way out, the girls made me promise that we’d come back to the festival again next year, something that I was more than happy to agree to. We laughed and sang for the duration of the car ride home – and then, shortly after our arrival, Nick returned from his trip and our Girls’ Weekend was technically over.

I used to bemoan his being out of town, especially on a rare weekend, because it was just so difficult – parenting alone, bedtimes, mealtimes, nap times… basically all of the times. But now, it’s so different. Ella and Annie are just plain fabulous human beings – fun and funny and entertaining and great listeners and game to try just about anything – and spending the weekend with them isn’t difficult anymore. It’s fantastic. (That they can wipe themselves and no longer require their food be cut into bite-sized portions is also a huge plus.)

More weekends could be like this one, I suppose – relaxed, full of adventures, devoted to having a blast. But, then again, maybe not. There’s always something that needs to get done, a project that needs tending, rooms that need cleaning, and spending the entire weekend devoted to just hanging out with my children is simply not possible most of the time.

Maybe that’s why this weekend was all the more sweet: because it’s a true rarity. The housecleaning and chore-doing went to crap (although I did manage to mow the lawn and do the dishes) and, instead, every moment was spent enjoying Annie and Ella – enjoying them, enjoying their company, enjoying being their mom.

I know that this weekend was its own special kind of bubble. (Indeed, by this morning, Ella had stomped off to school after being so rude about her breakfast, I’d saved it to give her again at dinner (true story) and Annie forgot her school shoes at home. REALITY CHECK, stat.) But I’ll take it.

It was the best Mother’s Day gift I could have received… and I even got some cards by the end of Sunday, too. (Mom Guilt, FTW!)IMG_7120


Wild Thing

When I met Nick twenty-plus years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, except that it was played on ice and a black disk was involved. And sticks. But only sometimes helmets, because back then, helmets weren’t yet required. (Say what?!) Knowing Nick meant that it was inevitable to not hear about hockey; he was even the mascot for our college’s hockey team, which meant that he skated around the tin can of a field house in a life-sized camel costume. Let me just reiterate that: a camel. On skates. One time, he removed the head of his costume and scared the coach’s (toddler-aged) daughter so much, she hyperventilated.

As luck would have it, my inauguration into the world of hockey couldn’t have come at a more precipitous time, because the New York Rangers were headed for a playoff run in the spring of 1994. In fact, they were actually poised to win the Cup… for the first time in fifty-four years (I don’t normally keep sports stats like that in my head – that space is reserved for far more important information, like the years that “Like a Virgin” and “True Blue” were released – but Rangers fans were so hungry for the win, I’ve never forgotten it).

rangers tix 1995

Living an hour outside of New York City, the Rangers were a logical team to root for, and an especially fun team – given their chances at taking home the title – if one had only just been introduced to hockey. I fell for the team hook, line, and sinker. Nick and I were tremendously fortunate that my dad, who worked in midtown, was able – through his company – to get us tickets to game five of the Stanley Cup finals, with the Rangers up three games to one in the series, and thus poised to win the championship that very night. We watched with depressed resignation as the Canucks were ahead 3-0 several minutes into the third period, then felt the floor reverberate (I’m not exaggerating; the stands at MSG actually moved) as the Rangers soared back to tie it 3-3 — the Cup was ten minutes away!! — only to have the Canucks refuse to back down and win the game 6-3. GAH, THE HEARTBREAK.

I turned down a ticket to game seven (Nick was back in Minnesota and it was a single ticket; I was nervous that, as a solo eighteen year-old female, I might not quite make it out of the arena in one piece, regardless of the game’s outcome), but watched – on the phone with Nick – as the Rangers finally “beat the curse” and won the Stanley Cup. If you’ve got to be indoctrinated into a sport, I highly recommend falling for a team that wins the championship ten minutes later.

nyrangers 1994
Lousy photo of an already super-lousy photo, but still… We were there, man!

Over the years, I’ve come to not just tolerate hockey, but to really enjoy it. Nick and I have seen NHL games in Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, Hartford (so long, Whalers!), Boston, Montreal, Columbus, Denver, and St. Paul, and each one has been a thrill (although my all-time favorite game was actually the AHL Frozen Frontier game we shivered our way through in December). I am fully able to follow the games and understand what’s going on, even with the refs’ hilarious hand gestures (I think “tripping” is a particularly ridiculous movement) – and, despite their often bumpy noses, I’m more than happy to root for players from all teams who are particularly easy on the eyes (Mike Modano and Patrick Sharp, I’m looking – happily – at you). I’m more than a little proud to say that it’s gotten to the point where, when we take girls to games, I’m able to answer the majority of their questions (correctly, thank you very much) and can narrate what’s happening in language that they actually understand. I’d probably make a great color commentator. Now that my long-term sub job is over, perhaps I should look into that.

It’s no secret that Nick lives, breathes, and sweats the Minnesota Wild. He dreams in dark green and red. He knows every player’s position, alma mater, height, weight, and whether or not they prefer iPhones or Droids. (This is an exaggeration. But only slightly.) It’s been a tradition of ours for several years running to try to catch the Wild in person somewhere across the nation – this year, saw them play in Buffalo – but Nick watches the rest of the games at home.

And when I say “the rest of the games”… I do mean ALL OF THE REST OF THE GAMES. Every game. All of ’em. Right in our living room.

I’ve heard the term “football widow” used to describe women (or, perhaps, male partners of gay football fans?) who are essentially left alone on Sundays during the NFL’s season – which runs for, what, five-ish months? Sixteen games in the regular season, plus a few weeks of playoffs, right? So, we’re talking, like, twenty days devoted to football, plus some Monday nights too, maybe. Let’s bump it up to thirty just to be crazy. Thirty days spread out over five months. SUCH HARDSHIP.

By contrast, the NHL regular season lasts for SEVEN months, with each team playing 82 games. EIGHTY-TWO GAMES spread out over the course of SEVEN MONTHS. Or, to be more specific, that’s eighty-two nights, afternoons, and evenings where Nick was watching the Wild play. I’m not so good with the math, but that appears to be a crap-ton more hockey than football.


To be fair, although Nick makes us all recite the Wild roster every night before dinner, he does not require that he be home for each game. It’s not that he’ll skip them (don’t be absurd), but rather that he’s absolutely willing to “miss” a game to do something else – spend a holiday with family, coach soccer, have a conversation with us that doesn’t involve the words “penalty” or “icing” – and then watch the DVR’d recording at a later time. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer hours are devoted to the Wild, but rather that watching the Wild live rarely gets in the way of anything else on our calendar.

nmh 2 of 52 rink
Our backyard rink last year.
Helmets are apparently not required here, either.

When the calendar is empty, however, all bets are off (unless you’ve bet that Nick will be watching the Wild). The good news – for me – is that I really enjoy hockey (see above). The other good news is that Nick is one of the most amazingly fair-minded sports fans I’ve ever encountered. I don’t just mean that he’s a good sport – although he is certainly that – but that he always, always roots for the good game — the fair, evenly-matched, well-called, proper-sportsmanship-displayed game. He’ll be the first to say when the Wild has played badly, or to admit it when they score a goal that shouldn’t have been allowed. He also can’t stand what he calls “homer” announcers – the ones who call the games as though the Wild are the second coming of Christ and the opposing team is Satan – who cannot be objective and even. I mean, he wants the Wild to win, of course… but if the other team beats them fair and square, if they were truly the better players, then so be it. They deserved to win. The Wild did not get “gypped.”

Basically, while Nick may be a fan of the Wild (maybe their biggest fan, like, ever), he is an even bigger fan of the game of hockey. And, actually, of sports – and sportsmanship – in general. We have watched as our favorite baseball teams (Yankees for me, duh) lose, but if the other team’s pitcher is throwing a perfect game, we’ve cheered for the perfect game. Because as Nick has taught me, sport transcends teams. Even the Yankees or the Wild.

Last night, the Wild’s season ended. They had made it into game six of the second round of the playoffs, but couldn’t quite pull off the win against the Blackhawks. Throughout the game, Nick yelled, loudly, each time the Wild had a good scoring opportunity – which was often, with pucks bouncing off goal posts and coming *this close* to going in. But the Hawks’ goalie was on fire, making seemingly impossible saves time and time again, and every time – alongside the anticipation that the Wild might score and the crushing disappointment when, yet again, the puck didn’t enter the net – Nick would proclaim it a good save.

He’d said all along he’d be satisfied with the season if the Wild made it to the playoffs. They did, and then some, so I know he’s pleased. He’s also readily acknowledged that the Hawks were the deserving winners of this series. But I know he’s bummed that the Wild won’t be playing game 7 – or any games thereafter.

Well, at least not until October, when the 82-game madness begins all over again.

For my part, I’ve got mixed feelings about the end of the hockey season. On the one hand, it’ll be nice to not begin family meetings with a rousing rendition of “The Good Old Hockey Game.” Plus, now that the TV won’t be dedicated to hockey, maybe I can finally catch up on the dozen “Modern Family” episodes on our DVR. On the other hand, I love how much Nick loves the Wild – how fully invested he is, how much it psyches him up – and I’m sad for him that those days are over. Also, now that he’s more available to hang out in the evenings, some of my Pinterest time may have to give. *sigh*

home rink
First skate this year. It was really, really cold… so Nick’s wearing his Wild hat. Of course.


Because Nick is out of town today, I was the one to have the following conversation with Ella this morning:

“Mommy, did the Wild win last night?”

No, sweetie. They didn’t.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Daddy’s going to be bummed.”


“But did the other team play well?”

Yes, they did.

“That makes it better, then!”


Like father, like daughter

p.s. Go Rangers!!

Hear… and now

I grew up in the hang-out house. You know the one – that place where people are always gathering, especially in junior high and high school. In a lot of cases, the hang-out house is the one where the parents are the most lenient, where the kids can get away with the most, from drinking to overturning tables to debating how to TP the neighbors. My house was… uh… not that house. My friends and I were dorks nerds just not into that kind of thing. Our get-togethers consisted mostly of us just relaxing in my basement, playing music, drinking soda and eating junk food, and talking about God knows what.

Which sounds really lame, now that I write it all out.

In our defense, we did kind of have the most awesome basement of all time. It was really big – the full length of our house – large enough to hold a bowling lane (although we didn’t have one. Duh). But we did have lots of other amazing amusements – real arcade games (pinball was my favorite, although the guys seemed to enjoy the race-car game), a ping-pong table, a pool table, a great seating area with couches that we could totally destroy (although, again, being rather straight-laced, we did not), and a jukebox. That held records. You know, the things that came before CDs. Which are the things that came before MP3… Never mind.

Oh, and access to the fridge in the storage room. That was critical.

So, anyway, that’s where my friends and I spent a great deal of our middle and high school days, be it for actual parties or just, you know, chillin’. (Once, our school’s Valentine’s Day dance was cancelled due to snow, but having already bought our dresses and corsages and whatnot, we didn’t want to skip it… so my friends just came over to my place, semi-formally dressed, and we held our own dance right in the basement, all Footloose-ing it out to the records from the jukebox. That was a particularly… pungent… night.)

Except that at least one of my friends was usually missing… because she (it was usually a she, although it was known to be a he from time to time) was upstairs in the kitchen, chatting with my mom. Invariably, at some point during the gathering, someone would be looking for another friend – not playing pool, not on the couches… – and it would finally dawn on somebody else, “Oh! She must be upstairs talking to Emily’s mom!”

And there they’d be, sitting on the high bar stools at the kitchen island, gabbing away about anything and everything – soda for the friend, iced tea for my mom.

(As an aside: my mother adores iced tea. At home, she prefers the Crystal Light variety and almost always has a pitcher of it in her refrigerator. You know exactly how much water to add because she’s drawn a fill line with a Sharpie around the edge of the pitcher. Anyway, that’s been her go-to drink for almost all occasions – my mom doesn’t drink alcohol – and at least 90% of the time, she’s got a small glass of it waiting for her, which she drinks slowly, and then refills. Lots and lots of iced tea.

Except I found out at my wedding – when I was almost 26 years old – that at least one friend of mine was convinced, all those years, that my mom had been nursing a glass of bourbon. MULTIPLE GLASSES of bourbon, just a little bit at a time, resting happily at the island. I’m not sure that my mom has ever even touched a bottle of bourbon, much less consumed it daily – for more than a decade! – in front of all of my friends. I think I nearly peed my pants when I found out my friends thought she was a quiet lush.)

I’m not sure what they talked about, because I rarely joined them – in part because, hey, it was my house and my party (or nerdy get-together), and I wanted to be with the rest of my friends… and in part because, well, to be honest, their conversations seemed kind of private. Not in a, This is a secret! kind of way (after all, they were sitting in the middle of our open kitchen, with people ostensibly coming and going throughout their chit-chat), but there was a subtle vibe that this was a special conversation, to be had between the two of them. I would often lean in and add a sentence or two, but then I’d gravitate back downstairs, leaving them deep in laughter and thought.

Maybe they discussed school. Perhaps extra-curriculars. My girlfriends might have told my mom something they were nervous about, a crisis, a problem. They might have shared boyfriend woes (or lack-of-boyfriend woes) or told her that something special was on the horizon. I do know that she gave them advice, and I know that they appreciated it. But, mostly, I think that she just listened to them and made them feel heard.

And maybe that’s another reason why I never wanted to butt into their conversations: because I already felt heard by her. It’s no secret that I like to talk (*ahem*), so, as my mother, she didn’t really have much of a choice but to hear me. But to really listen is something different altogether… and, man, did she listen. To my oral school projects and my concerns about friends. To my sobs as I cried over a loss or a boy. To my shaking voice as I expressed something I was afraid of. To my elation. To my switching subjects a dozen times in thirty minutes. To my piano pieces. To my rambling stories.

Whatever it was, she listened.

So, having already felt heard, I didn’t mind sharing her with all of my friends. Many of them referred to her as a second mother; rather than be jealous, I was proud. Yeah, she’s an amazing listener, isn’t she? And she’s got enough listening to go around. How cool is that?!

It’s been years since I spent Mother’s Day with my mom – living away from her, it just hasn’t been possible – but this year, she was coming to Rochester for a few days, and they happened to coincide with Mother’s Day, so I got to spend yesterday with her. And also Friday night, where she (and my stepdad, Steven – Pops, if you’re a granddaughter) attended Ella’s 90-minute swim practice. I talked almost non-stop for the entire hour and a half. She listened. She and Pops came to Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, where she and Ella sat on a blanket. Ella talked… and Grandma listened.

All Saturday afternoon and much of Sunday, my girls chattered away – let me tell you this! And then! Guess what! – and Grandma listened. And, even though it was Mother’s Day – a day I might have enjoyed with just my girls, or just my mom – I didn’t mind. In fact, it was just right. My children talking, Grandma listening. Full circle.

It doesn’t even feel like sharing anymore. It just feels like happiness.

I admit: I may not always give my girls my full attention. Sometimes this is by choice (they do not need to have my undivided concentration for everything that they do, no matter what “they” say about making every single moment count!!). Other times, I’m distracted but should – or would like to – be paying them more mind. But, when they talk, I make it a point to listen. To really, truly listen. Sometimes, I even have an iced tea at the ready.

I know how important that can be. After all, I learned from the best.

Unless they’re singing “Let It Go” again. And again. And again, for the love of God.
Then, I think it’s best for all of us if I just tune out.

mom and us
My mom with my brother, Taylor, and me.
Taken well before middle and high school, but with cool Maid of the Mist rain gear, so it’s okay.

The One Where Nothing Happened… But It COULD Have!

Yesterday, the most terrifying* thing happened: my girls were unexpectedly home alone** for over 90 minutes! Their babysitter never showed!! I wasn’t home!!! Nick wasn’t home!!!! THERE WAS NOBODY HERE OMG OMG OMG.

* Except… It wasn’t actually terrifying at all.
Isn’t that the weirdest thing?

(** Also, they weren’t alone. But they could have been! More on that in a moment.)

Lemme ‘splain.

On Thursdays, I teach piano lessons, so our babysitter, S, gets the girls from school, supervises their homework-doing and snack-eating and backpack-emptying and sometimes-playing, generally makes sure they don’t maim one another, and does awesome babysitter-y things with them. We adore her.

The girls walk home from school, but Ella likes to go independently, so S and Annie walk together, while Ella comes at her own pace. Yesterday, when Ella arrived home shortly after 3:00, as usual, she noticed that S and Annie weren’t here yet. After a few minutes, she began to consider that Annie was just sitting at school alone, so she hightailed it back, found Annie, and the two of them walked home together. They then said “hello” to the new lady who has been cleaning our house (I’d avoided the mere thought of a cleaning woman for years, but my recent sleepless balancing act caused me to count my blessings and reexamine my priorities; she comes once every two weeks, this was her fourth visit, and she’s been superb), and then pondered that they were, for all intents and purposes, home alone.

They tried calling my cell phone – three times, Mommy! – but the call wouldn’t go through, because they’d forgotten to dial 1 for an out-of-area number (yes, I still have my phone number from before our move seven years ago. I KNOW, I know). They also tried to text me from their iPads, but again, nothing went through because they “needed a password, but you won’t tell us the password, Mommy, because you don’t want us buying stuff whenever we want to.”

At least I know my meager parental controls are effective. Those in-app purchases can really be a bitch.

Because they weren’t technically alone – our housecleaner was working upstairs – they decided all was well, so they did what they always do: followed their checklist. Within an hour, they’d emptied their backpacks, brought their papers into the kitchen, helped themselves to a snack, and completed their homework. (Ella did technically bend the rules by reading aloud to Annie instead of a responsible adult, but hey, the cleaning lady was still working, so I can’t really fault her.)

kickass checklist
Man, it was nice out yesterday!

When everything was checked off of their list, they headed out to play in the backyard around 4:20 – just as our housecleaner was finishing up. She, too, noticed that S was nowhere to be seen and contacted me, catching me mid-teaching. Given that this is a rare occurrence, I thought maybe something was up, so I asked my student to go ahead with her piece while I took a moment to check my phone (something I never normally do during lessons)… and had the following exchange with our cleaner:

kickass text1

I knew that something was seriously awry; S has never just not showed up, not once in several hundred afternoons and evenings spent babysitting our girls. So I apologized profusely to my student, explaining that now I needed to make a phone call, and dialed S, hoping that she’d answer, hoping that she was okay. The moment she picked up (people don’t really “pick up” anymore, do they? You know what I mean) and heard that it was me, she gasped with recognition. “Oh my God. I am SO sorry, Emily – my grandmother is in the hospital, and I’ve been with her all day, and I just completely forgot about babysitting.”

She then explained that she would leave the hospital immediately and get home to the girls. I tried to protest – Was she sure? Was it an emergency with her grandma? I could cancel lessons; I could call Nick? – but she was practically already out the door. So, after a failed attempt at contacting a neighbor, some more distracted instructions and critiques to my very patient piano student, and a few more communications with our cleaning lady, it was determined that she – the housecleaner – would remain at home with the girls until S could arrive.

kickass text2

When S got here, fifteen minutes later, I’m told that Annie and Ella essentially looked up from playing and said, “Oh, you’re here!” and then went right back to what they were doing. The cleaning lady went home. S played with the girls, fed the dogs, threw the ball for Langston, and then apologized even more when I returned home, promising this would never happen again and refusing payment of any kind for the time she was with our girls.

And… that was that. They played outside until just before dinner and got absolutely, deliciously filthy. They cleaned up, ate dinner, made their lunches for tomorrow, had dessert, read books, went to bed. The end!

Sounds terrifying, right?!

For so many families these days, though, this would have been terrifying. The What If game would have begun: What if they’d gotten abducted on their way home? What if they’d choked on their snack? What if they’d gotten hurt? What if there was a fire? What if the cleaning lady wasn’t actually a nice lady after all? What if she’d molested them? What if she offered them poisoned apples? What if they’d gotten scared? What if they’d gotten into an argument and knocked one another to the ground? What if they’d gorged on candy? What if a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door? What if aliens landed and tried to beam them up into their mothership?

Never mind that none of these actually happened, and that the girls were calm and happy and safe. Something could have happened. And those Could Haves and What Ifs are often so omnipresent – no matter how unlikely they might be – that panic and hysteria and anger frequently take over. Children – fending for themselves, not relying on an adult or being under constant supervision?? Unthinkable! Something awful could have happened! Fire the babysitter! Quit teaching piano! NEVER LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT AGAIN!!

At least, that’s how it so often seems these days.

But – and maybe we’re strange (okay, we’re definitely strange) – neither Nick nor I felt that way, not even a little. Yes, I was upset… but not that the kids had been on their own, nor that they spent time “alone” with someone we don’t know very well, nor that S hadn’t remembered to get them. (On the contrary – at first, I was worried that something had happened to her, and once I learned about her grandmother, I was heartbroken for their family. It never dawned on me to be upset with S.) No, I was upset that our lovely new housecleaner rearranged her afternoon in order to make sure my girls weren’t alone – upset for her, because I’m sure she had somewhere else she needed to be, and watching my children certainly wasn’t part of our original hiring agreement.

You can read stories left and right about how children are becoming less and less independent; how often they’re supervised; how little they play outside; how playgrounds are being closed because they’re “dangerous;” how college students are completely flummoxed when faced with doing laundry because they’ve never had to do it before; how recent college graduates bring their parents with them to job interviews (omg!); how every person who ever comes into contact with any child for any reason needs a CIA-grade background check.

It’s just… Nick and I haven’t bought into it. And, for the most part, our neighborhood hasn’t, either. Step into our yard and you’ll see loads of kids of all ages outside – with no adults in sight – riding bikes, running from yard to yard, roller blading, playing baseball in the cul-de-sac. Our girls are growing up where walking to school is encouraged, ironing isn’t just for grown-ups, and playing with hammers is par for the course. They earn and spend their own money, bake their own cakes, order for themselves at restaurants and stores, and sometimes even cook meals. Maybe it’s some kind of retro Pleasantville… but I’m so freakin’ glad that we’re a part of it.

Seen at school today. Helmets? Check. Crossing guard? Check. Walking bikes safely across the street? Check.
Parents? Nope.
(Yes, I recognize the irony that I, a parent, took this photo… Carry on…)

About five years ago, I came across a book and website by Lenore Skenazy titled Free-Range Kids. Although I hadn’t realized it, Nick and I have been “free range” parents all along: we believe that Ella and Annie are smart and capable – not, to quote Ms. Skenazy, “invalids who needs constant attention and help” – and we treat them as such. We think that the world has way more good people than bad, and that the best way to allow our kiddos to grow into successful, happy, healthy adults is to give them the tools they need to do so… which does not include our hovering over their every move.

After attending a (funny, well-spoken, generally fabulous) talk given by Ms. Skenazy (one of my fellow mom friends was so taken in, she called out and asked if Lenore would marry her…), I was even inadvertently featured in one of her ParentDish articles, which resulted in commenters calling me a ridiculously irresponsible parent who did not deserve to have my children; some even called for my death (!). A year later, I wrote to Lenore to let her know how my parenting had changed – or not – since that incident. She posted my letter on her website, part of which read:

But also?  It made me think.  It made me re-assess how I DO parent, and made me look more carefully at WHY I parent as I do.  And the outcome?  I’ve become even more Free-Range!  If  THAT’S the mentality of others out there – paranoid, terrified, helicopter-ish to the max – then I know I *HAVE* to continue with Free-Range thinking and parenting more than ever, to ensure that my daughters grow up to be confident, strong, and capable, and to look at the world knowing that dangers do NOT lurk around every corner, that most people ARE good, and that they, themselves, are competent.

Confident, strong, capable, and competent.

I may have written those words over three years ago, but they are just as true now as they were then.

Did Nick and I want our girls to fend for themselves for nearly 90 minutes? Nope. Did we want them to be stranded by the babysitter? Of course not. But life is not perfectly in our control (if it were, there would be a Starbucks on my corner, believe me), and sometimes these things happen – and when they do, we’re doing our best to ensure that our kids posses the skills and the confidence to navigate the changes.

Ella and Annie could have freaked out. They could have completely panicked, worried themselves sick, and been utterly unable to determine what to do next. They could have been taught that predators and molesters lurk around every corner, and might have been terrified for our housecleaner to be with them. It could have been one of the worst afternoons of their lives.

Instead, when I got home and found them playing in a pile of dirt out back, reveling in one of the first warm days of the year – covered head to toe with filth – and said to them, “So, I hear you had quite the afternoon!”, they looked up with delighted eyes and said, “Yes, we did! We found dinosaur bones!” And then proceeded to hold up some kind of… bone… that is certainly not from a dinosaur and so I don’t even want to think about what it really is and why it’s lurking in our backyard.

kickass digging
God only knows what they’re digging up…

When prompted, they admitted that they were worried… But not about themselves. They were worried that something might have happened to S. The rest? S being missing, walking home alone, taking care of their snack and homework and unpacking, chatting with the cleaning lady, and ultimately waiting for S to arrive and play with them? So unworrisome, they hardly even acknowledged that it was unusual.

But it was unusual – because it’s never happened before, because of how they handled it, and because of how so many other kids and parents would have handled it.

For a moment, when I first received the call from our housecleaner saying that S wasn’t home, I nearly did go down my own list of What Ifs… But then a strange feeling came over me, and it became so powerful, it drowned out everything else: gratitude. I was so grateful that our cleaning woman cared enough about our girls to contact me. I was so grateful that she was able to stay with them a little while longer. I was so grateful that S cared enough about our daughters to leave her grandmother and race to the house to babysit. I was grateful that she fed the dogs; that she played with the girls; that she took such ownership for her mistake. I was humbled that she refused any payment.

Sometimes, it really does take a village. Our village is tremendous.

When I took another step back, though, what I was most grateful for and astounded by was my children. Yes, Nick and I hope that we’re teaching them to be confident, strong, capable, and competent… but it’s rare that we have an opportunity to see whether or not our efforts are effective. But, you guys! HOLY CRAP. They walked themselves home. They fed themselves (a healthy snack! Not just junk! [Well, they did ‘fess up to eating some chocolate, and Ella squirted whipped cream straight from the can into her mouth… but it would have been disappointing if they hadn’t bent the rules a little, right?] They even put their dishes in the sink!!). They did their homework. They played nicely together and did everything that they normally do after school, flawlessly – so much so, our housecleaner didn’t even realize that S wasn’t here until it was time to leave. And throughout it all, they remained calm and happy, because they were confident in their own abilities and knew they were badass enough to smack this unexpected curveball out of the park.

They’re hardly perfect, and we’ve still got a helluva lot of parenting to do… But, yesterday, Annie and Ella were pretty much the biggest seven and nine year-old rockstars in existence. Hell, maybe we don’t even need a sitter anymore! Holla!

(Don’t worry. We’re not letting S go anytime soon.
But it’s nice to know that, in an emergency, Ella and Annie are the ones you’d want on your team. Take that, Jack Bauer!)

We learned something else, too: that we need to have our phone numbers written somewhere that’s easily accessible. S could have been contacted much more quickly had the girls been able to reach Nick or me immediately. Or maybe I should just change to a local cell number… Nah.

So, there you have it. The terrifying afternoon that was anything but. Nevertheless, we thought that ice cream was in order – not to comfort our “traumatized” daughters, but to let them know how proud of them we were, and to celebrate their levelheaded stupendousness. I can’t think of a better way to start Mother’s Day weekend.

Except maybe with the wine I had last night after I finally got home. Nothing may have happened, but wine is usually a good idea.

kickass icecream
Yes, they wore their pjs to get ice cream. All the rockstars are doing it.



Throwback Thursday: The Gift

Photos have always been really important to me. It didn’t matter if I took them or someone else did, if they were technically “good” or quick, blurry snapshots – I’ve loved them. While I’m not terribly hoard-ish (yes, that’s a word; because I said so) in most areas of my life, I do hoard photos. I’ve got boxes of old pictures, some containing frame-worthy gems, others with envelope after envelope (from the stores that used to offer 1-Hr Photo Development! – remember those?!) of out-of-focus images, often in duplicate or even triplicate, of people and places whose names I can no longer recall.

Doesn’t matter. They’re photos and, like books or chocolate or Sauvignon Blanc, I simply cannot bear to part with them. This may seem odd or at least not terribly practical, given the amount of space that the physical photos take up in my basement and the digital photos take up on my hard drive(s)… but the pictures make me happy. All it takes is a few moments sifting through image after image to completely lift my spirits, make me gasp (in both good and bad ways), and make me smile. Which is also like books or chocolate or Sauvignon Blanc. I may be onto something.

GranMary came to visit a couple of weekends ago, and we had a really delightful time with her. As I’ve mentioned, little gives me more joy than seeing our family and friends just soak up my children, and GranMary’s visit provided plenty of opportunities for that. I loved the way that Annie and she giggled together on Friday night before Ella got home from swimming – a little time, just the two of them. I loved how I was awakened on Saturday morning by the girls’ raucous laughter from GranMary’s bed, after the girls had crawled in with glee. I loved how she and Ella cuddled in to watch one of the Harry Potter movies while Annie was at a Girl Scouts outing – a little time, just the two of them.

I loved watching Mary and my grandmother chatting away over lunch. I loved a chilly Saturday afternoon spent inside, with the girls scarcely leaving GranMary’s side as they did projects (she always brings some; it’s a highlight of her visits) and watched more Harry. I loved the opportunity to sit and talk with her after the girls had gone to bed, while Nick was at a party for his hockey team – a little time, just the two of us. I loved how GranMary gamely participated in our scavenger/egg hunt, seemingly unfazed by the dozens of children shrieking about our backyard in search of chocolate and money. (Then again, who could blame them?) I hated it when we said goodbye for another few months and Nick drove her back to the airport – a little time, just the two of them.

I hate that Bill is no longer here to come out and see us, but I love that Mary still does. I love that we’ve made our own relationship with her, in part because she is GranMary, but in part simply because she is herself, and we want her in our lives.

And Bill is not entirely absent from her visits; we talk about him all the time, wistfully, longingly, but almost always with laughter. This visit, GranMary surprised Ella and Annie with little photo books for each of them – pictures of them with Grandpa Bill. Many of the photos, I’d already seen, but some were new to me and they took my breath away. See, I thought I’d already sifted through my Memories Of Bill, had pored over everything I could recall, turning them over in my mind and reveling in their comfort… but here were moments that I’d never seen before. Memories that I never even knew existed.

It was amazing.

The girls loved their books, too. After going through each page, asking about every picture, smiling and laughing, I wasn’t sure what they’d do with them… But then I discovered that Annie had taken her book to school to share it with her friends, and that Ella keeps hers beside her bed. It seems that they’ve inherited my photo-loving gene (and the book-loving gene and most definitely the chocolate-loving gene; it remains to be seen what they think of Sauvignon Blanc).

Mary also brought a small collection of individual prints with her, which she gave to Nick and me – all pictures of Bill, most of them with us in one way or another. I’d seen nearly all of them, and cheerfully thumbed through the pile without really paying them too much mind… until I found this one and was stopped cold.

bill and me
Bill and me, May 2013, laughing like nobody’s business

Looking at it, you might be thinking: that’s cute enough. You’re both laughing, ice cream seems to have been involved, and you look like you’re having fun. A nice picture… if you don’t count the faded smudge at the top of the photo (an errant finger? late afternoon sun?) or Bill’s compression socks or the way the cuff of my capris is practically cutting off the circulation in my calves.

I see those things, too, but I don’t care even one bit… because this is the only photo I have ever seen that contains just Bill and me. We have photos from our wedding (Nick’s and my wedding, not Bill’s and my wedding… Although I do have photos from Bill and Mary’s wedding…), from before our wedding, up North, downstate, with Ella and Annie, with Nick, with Mary – and many of them are delightful photos – yet none of them contains just Bill and me.

Believe me, I know. I looked. Hard.

Why this matters, I’m not sure. It’s not like there’s anything unspecial about photos containing other people, too. But somehow, it gives me incredible joy to have this photo of the two of us, obviously enjoying one another’s company, laughing and generally getting a kick out of life.

I hadn’t even known this photo existed, hadn’t known that Mary had surreptitiously snapped it a year ago during Bill’s last-ever visit. I’m so very glad that she did, though, and that she printed it out and gave it to us. It is, without question, one of the most wonderful – and unexpected – gifts I’ve ever received.

I can’t wait to stumble upon it again when I go through our photos (and eat chocolate and drink wine) and relive the memories of that day.

Nah, scratch that. This one’s going on the wall.
Joy that big should be shared, don’t you think?

They’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do here

On Thursday, Nick and I went out to dinner to celebrate twenty years of being together. We found a new (to us) gem, a little Cuban spot with scrumptious food and festive decor, leaving the girls with a sitter, B, who is also (relatively) new.

Upon arriving home – stomachs uncomfortably full, but feeling quite content – we relieved B of her responsibilities and got to the rest of our romantic evening. Meaning that Nick went upstairs to use his iPad while I tidied up downstairs and edited some photos.

See? After twenty years, that spark is still fresh.

Nick hadn’t been gone more than a few minutes when he called me up, saying I needed to see something. I obliged, assuming that perhaps the girls had fallen asleep in some strange or adorable way, and was surprised when he led me to the master bathroom.


Um… What am I looking at?

“All of this stuff is out!”

Uh, okay… 

Judging by the brightness outside of the window, you can probably tell that this is a dramatic reenactment. I do strive for authenticity.

“I think that B was going through your jewelry.”


“Your jewelry is all over the counter!”

I can see that, but I really don’t think…

“She must have heard the car and run downstairs in a hurry.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what actually happened.

“She’s a lousy thief if she thought we wouldn’t notice.”

That’s because she’s not a thief at all.

“Then how…”

I think that the girls must have been in here, playing around with my earrings.

“Why would they do that??”

Because they’re girls? 


Ella, especially, really likes to try on my earrings.

“But why would she have come in here instead of using the other…”

I don’t know, but… Yes, look! That’s it!

“What’s it?”

Those earrings, the big hoops. They were in the girls’ bathroom and now they’re in here.

Exhibit A: Dun dun DUNNNNN.

“And that means…?”

It means that Ella brought them in here and was trying them on. B wouldn’t take the time to rummage through the earrings in another bathroom and then bring them in here if she was just going to steal them.

“Okay, fine. But why are the cabinets open?”

Uhhhhh… Maybe I left them open after I got ready? I sometimes leave things open and don’t remember…

“Yeah, but I was in here after you. They weren’t open.”

Well, I’m not sure why they’re open, but…

“Do you think B was going through our prescriptions??”

Yes. She was probably trying to steal my Xanax…

“Do you think we should…”

… which is a bummer for her because I don’t keep my Xanax in here.

“… check to make sure everything’s okay?”

No! I’m telling you, B had nothing to do with this. The girls were here. I don’t know how the cabinets got open, but I’m sure that it wasn’t B. 


Later that night, my assumptions were confirmed when I discovered that my makeup – which is kept in the girls’ bathroom (it’s confusing, I know) – was scattered all over the place and nearly every one of my hair products had been moved. At first, I thought that perhaps everything was missing (and, I’ll sheepishly admit, I had fleeting thoughts that perhaps our sitter was, in fact, a cosmetics thief), but a closer inspection found everything still in the cupboard – just in a completely random spot from where I’d left it.

Ella and Annie were all over this. I knew it, but I needed to hear it from them, and I was concerned that if I accused them of being messy boors, they might not ‘fess up after all. (I’d love to say that they’re honest and forthcoming all of the time, but… well… I’m trying to model such behavior by not lying, myself.) So I decided to try a different approach.

Hey – how was it last night with B? Did you all have fun?

“Yes, it was great!”

Awesome! What did you do?

“Oh, you know. The usual. Ate dinner, watched a show, played a couple of games.”

“We also tried on some nail polish, but we used the wrong kind – you know, the kind that peels off instead of regular? – and so now both of us lost all of our polish while we were sleeping, so that’s kind of a bummer.”

That is a bummer. You know what else is a bummer?

“No, what?”

We don’t think we’re going to be able to ask B back to babysit anymore.

“Why not??”

Because we think she was stealing things from us.

(In case you’ve ever wondered – yes, people’s mouths do actually drop open in surprise. I saw it with my own two eyes. Twice.)

When we got home last night, all of my make-up and hair stuff was in new places. B must have gone through the cupboard looking for things.

“Um, mom…?” (eyes down, voice quiet)


“B didn’t go through the cupboard.”

How do you know?

“We… might have… been looking for more nail polish remover. So we might have moved your stuff.”

“By accident.”

And you didn’t think to put any of it back?

“I guess we just forgot. But B didn’t do it.”

Okay, well that’s good. But I’m still concerned about the stuff in my bathroom.

“Your bathroom?”

Yes. My earrings were all over the place. I think that B was rooting through them.

“Actually… (even quieter than before) That wasn’t B, either.”

Why not?

“Because it was… me. I was in your bathroom. With the earrings.”

You were? What were you doing?

(* crickets *)

Were you trying them on?

(still crickets from Ella)
(rapid, vigorous head-nodding from Annie)
(*side note: only Ella has pierced ears)

Is that why you were in my bathroom?

“Yes. I’m really sorry.”

Have I ever let you try on my earrings before, just for fun?


Exactly. You just had to…

“Ask you.”

Right. And when you were done, you needed to…

“Put everything away.”


“I’m sorry about that.”

Well, I’m glad to know that it wasn’t B, but I’m still concerned about my medicine cabinet.

“Your what?”

The cabinets in my bathroom – the ones with the mirrors – were wide open. I’m glad to know that B wasn’t in my jewelry, but it looks like she was in my cabinets.

“Well… Uh… That’s not true, either.”

Then why were my cabinets wide open?

“We, um… We miiiight have been looking for more nail polish remover.”

“And we miiiiight have looked for it in your bathroom cabinets.”

“And we miiiiight have forgotten to close them when we were through.”*

I see. (*mystery solved!)

“But B didn’t do any of that. She didn’t go through the cabinets or your jewelry or your hair stuff or your makeup.”

“She can still be our babysitter.”

I’m really glad to hear it. That was a close call. Phew.


So, on the bright side, my children were unwilling to let the babysitter take the fall for their indiscretions. They owned their behavior, apologized, and said they’d do better the next time around. All good things.

On the other hand, there was a little stretching of the truth. Plus ransacked jewelry. And remodeled cupboards.

But perhaps most disappointing of all: they weren’t even remotely capable of covering their tracks. I mean, if you’re going to root through your mom’s earrings, open up your parents’ medicine cabinets, and rummage through and rearrange your mom’s cosmetics in the search for illicit nail polish, the least you could do would be to hide the evidence, you know?

Ah, well. There’s always next time.

This wasn’t taken the night we discovered their shenanigans, but it may as well have been, because they sleep this way all the time.
They may be lousy rule-breakers, but they do have good taste in nighttime headgear.